Politics without politics – a local election guide

Progress without PoliticsPhoto from David Small

We have a week and a half to send in our votes for local body elections and then a few days later we’ll have a dramatically changed city council. Quite an exciting time, but the main barrier to informed voting seems to be that most candidates are doing their utmost to portray themselves as being non-party-affiliated and sometimes even ‘non-political.’

For some reason, this phenomenon seems particularly strong in Christchurch – Wellington have a Green mayor and Labour candidates.

I guess candidates want to cash in on cynicism about politicians, and appeal to our lazy post-modern ‘post-political’ ‘post-ideological’ political ideology. But it does make it rather hard to tell what they’re actually standing for, when nobody really follows local politics, and then all we get from the candidates is vague billboards and a paragraph of meaningless platitudes.

I’ve been looking into what lies behind these meaningless platitudes. Here’s what I’ve found out – four quick questions I think are worth asking:

1. Who voted for Marryatt’s pay rise?
2. What do the parties mean?
3. Who are the independents?
4. How about the mayoral candidates?

1. Who voted for Marryatt’s pay rise?

The seven right-wing councillors who voted for Tony Marryatt’s $68,000 pay rise won’t hold the balance of power anymore after the election – Bob Parker, Sue Wells and Barry Corbett are stepping down.

But the other four are standing again – Jamie Gough and Claudia Reid are standing for I-Citz in Fendalton-Waimairi, and Ngaire Button and Aaron Keown are standing for City 1st in Shirley-Papanui. There’s been some helpful billboard adjustments to remind us of who they are.

Gough is grovelling and asked to be forgiven, pleading youth and inexperience. $538,529 probably doesn’t sound like too much to a member of the Gough family… I guess he didn’t realise how pissed off everyone would be.

Anyway, hopefully voters haven’t forgotten how pissed off we were. James Dann is predicting two of the four will make it back – hopefully it’s less.

2. What do the parties mean?

I-Citz (Independent Citizens) ≃ National

I-Citz are “in essence, the local body version of the National Party.” Their typo-riddled website boasts of formal independence from national political parties, and National officially don’t dabble in local politics (see John’s comment below). But I-Citz’ candidates are all right-wingers such as the aforementioned Jamie Gough, Helen Broughton (who’s taken a better stance on Marryatt than her I-Citz colleagues) and conservative blogger John Stringer.

The People’s Choice = Labour

People’s Choice (formerly Christchurch 2021) was founded by Labour Party members in 1995. They’re open about their connection to Labour on their website.

The current People’s Choice councillors (Yani Johanson, Jimmy Chen, Glenn Livingstone) seem to have done pretty well from what I’ve heard.

City 1st ≃ National/ACT

A new spin-off of I-Citz and the now-defunct City Vision, City 1st try harder than the other parties to act like they’re not a party. I challenged them about this on their Facebook page and while Ngaire Button responded, she didn’t give me a good explanation of what makes her party not really a party. There were a few more comments today, but before I got a chance to read them, they deleted the whole thread and seem to have disabled all comments on their page. Thankfully I was paranoid enough to expect this and save some screenshots.

Anyway, Aaron Keown stood for ACT in the 2008 general election, while Button appears generally right wing and stood for I-Citz last time.

Saying the names of these ‘independent’ parties with a Sean Connery accent seems to make them more accurate.

A ‘network of the like-minded’ ≃ ??? Greens ??? Student Volunteer Army ??? Gap Filler ??? A Paradise Built in Hell ??? Well-meaning yuppies ???

I learned today that apparently four other council candidates are standing as a loose alliance – Raf Manji, Vicki Buck, Ali Jones (more on them below) and Erin Jackson.

They’re not using shared branding and they don’t have a group name, but they know each other, agreed to stand in four different wards, and seem to be into the same kind of things: participatory democracy and budgeting, environmental sustainability, community collaboration, ‘e-democracy’ and social entrepreneurship. All four are endorsed by It’s Our City.

They’re arguably just as much of a party as the others, and perhaps a lot of the same criticisms I’m making to City 1st apply to them too. But I think they’re a more genuine alternative to ‘party politics’ than City 1st – they seem to have a quite different view of how to do democracy. They also seem more genuinely bipartisan – they seem keen to work with Dalziel as mayor, and they seem more left than right, but not in really a traditional sense. But they’re enthusiastically endorsed by the right-leaning Sam Johnson, who’s not standing this time but he’s amongst their group.

At least, this is the impression I got from the one not-very-critical article I read. I’m not sure how reliable that article is (Gen Y? Really? Vicki Buck was mayor when Gen Y-ers were born). Seems interesting though.

3. Who are the independents?

The best way to find out about unaffiliated independents seems to be to google them and see what they’ve done before, and check if they have blogs etc. I can only comment on a few…

Fendalton/Waimairi: Raf Manji seems an intelligent guy with his finger in a lot of pies. My impression was that Faimeh Burke is most famous for her husband, Sir Kerry Burke, a former Labour MP and one of the ECan councillors the government dumped in 2010 (but see Jean-Luc’s comment below).

Shirley-Papanui: Ali Jones is a prominent critic of EQC and advocate for claimants. Jono Corfe is the quizmaster at Chch’s best pub quiz.

Riccarton/Wigram: Vicki Buck is bringing herself back (yet sadly without taking great pun opportunities). She was a popular (independent) mayor from 1989 to 1998 and since then has worked in clean energy and set up Unlimited and Discovery One schools.

4. How about the mayoral candidates?

Lianne Dalziel = Labour

I almost forgot to the mention the mayoral race, because it seems to be in the bag for Lianne Dalziel (but please nobody mention seismic shifts). Dalziel is running as an independent but she’s been a Labour party MP since 1990 (she’s stepping down to run for mayor). Since the earthquake she seems to have battled for the people of Christchurch better than most local MPs, particularly for her Christchurch East electorate. It’s a shame she won’t get a chance to take Gerry Brownlee’s job when the next Labour government gets in. But I think she’ll make a pretty good mayor, particularly if she follows through on social housing promises.

A fun fact about Dalziel that you won’t read elsewhere: as an idealistic teenager just returned from Cambodia, I e-mailed every MP and asked them to sponsor me for the 40 Hour Famine. Lianne Dalziel was the only one who did – she sponsored me $40.

Paul Lonsdale ≃ National/Business

Dalziel’s main competition, Paul Lonsdale, is best-known as manager of the Central City Business Association, which meant driving the youths away from the Hack circle before the earthquake, and managing the Re-Start container mall after it. He thinks political organisations should be run like businesses rather than political organisations (so he’s moving in the opposite direction to the ‘post-corporate’ democratic ideas of Manji et al).

Following a familiar theme, Lonsdale claims to be “completely apolitical,” but all his friends seem to be National Party/I-Citz members, and he thinks we need to work alongside Brownlee et al rather than challenging them. He also thinks dumping ECan democracy and selling council assets makes sense.

16 comments

  1. coNZervative

    Interesting post Caleb. A few honest and open thoughts:

    1. I agree, psuedo groups are a joke. Ngaire Button’s group was formed 2 months before the election, some suggest uncharitably so she could get out of paying her iCitz levies. One of the City 1st team is a convicted fraudster (he’s open about that). Hearing some of them speak, they are almost completely incompetent. It was to iCitz members behind our back, that Ngaire went first, trying to recruit to her team after telling iCitz she wasn’t recruiting a team. So, we have integrity issues and a bad after-taste following Ngaire’s involvement. There were also financial issues I won’t go in to. But we wish her well.

    2. Ali considered standing with iCitz and in Fendalton-Waimairi, but eventually decided not to. I think she then made a last minute decision to stand in Shirley-Papanui, perhaps because Raf was standing in Fendalton. In the booklet it is unfortunate the first line of her bio (which apparently decides 65% of voters) is “doesn’t live in the Ward.” If elected, Ali will follow the well worn conveyor-belt in Chch of ex-media personalities getting elected to public office on higher surname recognition. Ali and I are related.

    3. Have you heard Faimeh Burke speak? What more can be said. Watch her The Press video.

    4. I would not rate Gemma Maslin at all. She is a lovely kid, but not cut out for public office or speaking on platforms. This is a critical moment for Chch, we need people with life experience.

    5. I think you’re right, that Vicki Buck will get elected (it’s mainly why Sally Buck was continually elected, people thought she was Vicki). But watching Vicki’s fluffy video, it is clear she is out of touch, and the Council is now a very different and more complex beast than in her day when smiles and happiness and ‘positive energy’ got you thru. I hope she can bring a genuine contribution to the Table and move beyond the Labour thing.

    6. I agree with the comment about Raf’s political naivety, but that is not always a bad thing. He has experience of value to a Council. He will probably knock Claudia out. Jamie has been hurt electorally by the Marryatt thing but could hang on due to his name recognition, which really, is what Local Body is all about, and why its a steep slope for people like me.

    7. The iCitz-National thing is over blown. We’ve never had any money, support or even encouragement from National. When several of us asked Nat Mps if we could put signs up on Nat supporters fences, we were declined, them not wishing to blur the lines. One or two iCtiz members I think may be National party members too, but to less of an extent that Labour-People’s Choice. I’ve never seen any connection between Nat-iCitz.

    Best ~ John Stringer (Change on Council)
    Council candidate: Shirlety -Papanui ward
    iCitz (Independent Citizens) ticket (because role-modelling teamwork is of value).

    Personal blog: http://www.coNZervative.wordpress.com

    • calebmorgan

      Thanks for your thoughts John, they’re useful.

      Interestingly I don’t think the National party allows its name to be directly attached to any local body candidates/parties (I’m open to being corrected on this). John Morrison (another media/sporting personality) is described as a National councilor on the Wellington City Council Wikipedia page, but I think that’s probably just a wiki editor’s way of describing him as right-wing… his profile on vote.co.nz clarifies that he’s never been a party member. The right-wing party in Auckland is called Communities and Residents (formerly Citizens & Ratepayers) and I don’t think it’s officially attached to National the way Auckland City Vision is to Labour and the Greens. In contrast, Wellington, Auckland and (to some extent) Christchurch have Labour, Green, and Mana candidates.

      By the way, what happened with your complaint about City 1st’s branding being too close to that of the electoral commission?

      • coNZervative

        No, the Nats don’t affiliate in Local Body politics in any way. Any connections are only personal, ie Roger Bridge making a small personal donation to Paul Lonsdale, but RB has also donated to Peoples Choice.

        There was a remit at a Nats Conf. once asking the party to get more involved as a counter to the Labour party in local politics, but it was defeated. “National” is a generic term tossed about by a lot of media.

        Re the Complaint: the Electoral Officer for CCC has probably only read it this morning, Monday. I’ll expect a reply at some point. There may be more complaints yet, as the City 1st team are campaigning (perhaps deliberately) over the lay line. Several cross-party candidates have been discussing this.

  2. Lara

    I’ve done my preliminary run through my voting booklet, which is always a fun time. I’ll happily admit that I will not be voting for Lianne Dalziel: she was Minister of Immigration when I was 16, and deported a 16 year old Sri Lankan girl who had claimed asylum here after suffering years of sexual abuse. She was also at the forefront of the Ahmed Zaoui affair. I just cannot trust her judgement and, lets be honest, can still remember the footage of a drugged, handcuffed 16 year old being wheeled through the airport. Just no.

  3. Keir Leslie

    The Manji-Jackson-Buck-Jones grouping is basically soft-tory, unfortunately. Buck’s idea of participatory democracy is unaccountable charter schools, while Erin Jackson has been an ineffective and insubstantial UCSA president who, when commenting on the massive staff cuts in the Arts, only managed to say that “Arts students are very resilient”, which, really.

    John Stringer has very regressive and disappointing views on queer people, which is a pity, because otherwise he seems ok, as far as iCitz go. (And also, I see looking up thread, he’s kinda patronising.)

    • Lindsey

      “Buck’s idea of participatory democracy is unaccountable charter schools”
      Not sure that is true. Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti school which Buck was/is? associated with, actually strongly opposed Charter Schools as they were constituted by Hekia Parata. This is despite being an alternative school themselves. Member of their board was on consulting committee re Charter Schools last year.

    • calebmorgan

      In response to your comment I asked a question to candidates from her ward about charter schools on vote.co.nz .
      It still hasn’t appeared though… not sure if they’re still accepting new ones.

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  5. Jean-Luc Grault

    I have done some research on the candidates beyond media coverage.
    Briefly, it is not true that Faimeh Burke is mainly famous for being married to Sir Kerry Burke – Faimeh has been a very effective elected Community Board member in Fendalton Waimairi ward for the past 9 years. She is very active in her local community, her policies are rated very highly by various independent bodies and her work on major projects for the community is well documented. In their recommendations for City Council members, the IOCI (Christchurch, It’s our city – http://ioci.org.nz.) has endorsed Faimeh Burke.

    • calebmorgan

      Thanks Jean-Luc, that’s helpful. It was unfair of me to make that comment without doing as much research as you have. I was going to vote for her anyway as an alternative to I-Citz, but now I’ll be more reassured in voting for her.

      That link to It’s Our City is very useful, I’ll link to it.

      Do you have any comments about any other candidates, or have you written anything anywhere that can deepen my understanding of people I’ve commented on and/or enlighten me about people I haven’t mentioned?

      • Jean-Luc Grault

        No problem. Happy to share my research. There is also a very interesting blog from James Macbeth Dann http://rebuildingchristchurch.wordpress.com/tag/elections/ , article called “Vote early, vote hard, vote often” where James would also vote for Faimeh Burke. James also gives his views on the candidates in the various wards.
        I thought your article is very interesting and pertinent in helping us shaping our views on the candidates. I share your opinion and I agree that we should not vote for the I-Citz candidates – Gough and Reid as well as for the City 1st candidates, – Keown and Button. The problem we face today is with the people who have been elected as mayor and councillors. We need people with skilled, proven experience who can make the hard decisions as councillors and at the same time demand effective public consultation. I believe your recommendations align with what Christchurch needs. Thank you.

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