Mike Lee: The election of paradoxes

How the ‘insider’ was really the outsider – and vice versa.

I also offer my congratulations to new councillor Pippa Coom and the successful local board candidates. I called Pippa on election day to congratulate her because, though I was then only 154 (then 150) votes adrift, it was clear to me that she had won.

I recalled the example of Alex Swney and Greg Moyle, my opponents in the 2010 and 2013 elections, who graciously congratulated me on my victories.

There was, I must say, an inevitability about the outcome. As an independent, I was up against the Labour Party and the Greens (City Vision) – and on the other side, C&R. I was also up against an array of interlinked activist groups ‘Rock-Enrol’, ‘Action Stations’, ‘Generation Zero’ who made a considerable effort to get rid of me. More than that, I was up against the Mayor and the Super City/CCO establishment – and therein lies a paradox.

The removal of a long-standing incumbent from office by a ‘fresh voice’, ‘progressive’ candidate is not a new story in politics. But in this case the outsider, after nine years on the local board, was the real insider, the establishment favourite, strongly supported by Mayor Goff, and closely aligned with council and AT management. Paradoxically, it was the political veteran, me, who was the outsider; the anti-establishment candidate leading an insurgency campaign which, despite the odds, was supported by just under half the voters.

What were these odds? In 2018 the council, on the recommendation of a political working party led by Labour veteran and Waitemat-a Local Board member Richard Northey, radically redrew the Waitemat-a & Gulf ward boundaries (but confusingly not those of the Waitemat-a local board). This on the grounds the ward contained “too many people” – 119,000 was the figure used – for one councillor to represent.

That the ward contains the CBD where a very high number of residents are on temporary work permits, or are international students, which meant only 51% of the population were electors (whereas across Auckland and New Zealand the ratio is 68% electors) was disregarded. My case against this change was set out in a report I tabled with the council, summarised in Ponsonby News October 2018. To no avail.

Voter-rich Parnell, Newmarket and Grafton, containing 16,000 electors, were transferred to the Orakei ward, which now extends from the Tamaki Estuary to Symonds Street. It is clear to me that the real objective was to remove the ostensibly ‘blue’ areas (where, incidentally, I lived and had built up personal support). In other words, it was a political gerrymander to make Waitemat-a & Gulf more City Vision-friendly. Last week, the 2018 Census figures were finally released. Rather than 119,000 people living in the Waitemata & Gulf ward, it was only 102,000 – 17,000 less than the council claimed. The change significantly lowered both the votes cast but also the voter turnout percentage for this ward. The whole exercise constituted an unfortunate conflict of interest.

My other problem was the claque of pro-intensive development ‘progressive’, especially the hypeactive Simon Wilson, whose long campaign of denigration reached its low point with an extraordinarily vituperative attack on me in the NZ Herald mid-election campaign.

Finally, there was the dismal 35% voter turnout. In part, a reflection of public disillusionment with the Super City and its corporate culture. Rather then accept these implications, the council decided to get actively involved in the election to boost the turnout. In the last days, a small army of council officers hit the streets armed with cardboard ‘ballot boxes’ and piles of special voting forms. Voting ‘pop-ups’, ‘one-stop shops’ and ‘voting events’ were held, where people were enrolled and encouraged to vote.

Unconventional, and on the face of it laudable, except that at ‘World Homeless Day’ where street people were fed, entertained and enrolled there were speeches from Phil Goff and sign-waving City Vision candidates in close proximity to ‘voting booths’. Similarly, at Auckland University where ‘Democracy and Dumplings’ enrolling/voting events for students sponsored by ‘on-line magazine’ Spin-Off working closely with the council – featured City Vision but no other candidates. This activity was highly questionable under the Electoral Act. Not surprisingly, special votes show a disproportionate spike for City Vision.

I am revealing this not because of rancour or sour grapes – but because a worrying precedent is being set here.

As this is my last column for the Ponsonby News I especially wish to thank editor Martin Leach for having me as a columnist. I have represented this wonderful community since February 1992 when I was elected for Auckland Central in an ARC by-election. It has been a great privilege to serve you over that time. So, from me a kiss and a wave and it’s goodbye. (MIKE LEE)

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