How the capital was won


Yesterday’s New Zealand local government elections were great for Labour right around the country.

As well as many council and local board successes, the mayors of Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington, Whanganui and Rotorua are now all Labour members. This means that 49% of the New Zealand population has a Labour mayor – which is very impressive.

In Wellington, Labour did particularly well. Not only did they retain the Lambton Ward council seat vacated by Mark Peck’s retirement, but they gained a seat in the Northern Ward with Peter Gilberd. And of course, Wellington has it’s first Labour mayor in 24 years in Justin Lester.

Lester’s campaign defied expectations and won with an impressive majority of almost 7,000 votes.

How did Labour get over the line? Highly targeted field work, and a lot of it. It’s not a new concept, but one that has just seen it’s best ever New Zealand execution. It’s a model that has seen extensive use in Australia in recent years (Victoria 2014, Federal 2016 and NT 2016 in particular) and has now proven it’s worth many times over. Sydney University’s Stephen Mills has written an excellent summary of the use of field campaigning in Australia in 2016 – check it out.

Firstly, Wellington Labour recruited an army of over 250 volunteers to knock on doors and make phone calls. Around 40% of the volunteers weren’t party members – they were regular Wellingtonians that were mobalised into action instead of rusted on branch members who would prefer to spend their time debating policy remits. From what I’m told almost all of the campaign’s regular canvassers had never taken political action like this before.

This small army, plus Labour’s candidates themselves, had over 60,000 personal conversations with voters during the campaign (these are phone calls or door knocks, just meeting someone at a street stall at a market doesn’t count)

Justin Lester personally spoke to 14% of the people who voted (the campaigns are given lists of people who have and haven’t voted, very useful to try and encourage people to vote who haven’t yet done so). Think about that for a second. If you voted in the Wellington City Council election, there was a 14% chance that the Labour candidate spoke to you – either over the phone or on your door step – that’s impressive.

And while the campaign went on for months, 10,000 of Labour’s 60,000 voter contacts were made in the last two weeks – when undecided voters were making up their minds and people finally got around to voting.

No doubt more analysis will be done of the results (particularly once the special votes are counted and included), but from the result one thing is clear: people power made a huge difference in the Wellington City Council election.

Labour’s newly created Community Action Network has 250 trained recruits who know how to talk to voters and make persuasive conversations.

This is how you win.

6 Reasons Why Nicola Is Wrong

This is a guest post by Reed Fleming.

Following the announcement by Justin Lester of sensible policy to tackle the housing crisis in Wellington, and to make swimming free for under 5s, mayoral hopeful Nicola Young attempted to join the contest of ideas this week, but perhaps shouldn’t have bothered.

In a Facebook essay, Young bemoaned the impact of street beggars on Wellington’s ‘look’, in a disappointing dogwhistle to the right. Here’s 6 reasons why she should’ve held fire on writing it:

1) It won’t work

It shouldn’t need saying that bans like this don’t work. Just like liquor ban zones drive drinkers to the Botanical Gardens, a ban on begging in the CBD would send beggars to Brooklyn shops, J’Ville shops, Island Bay shops, Kilbirnie shops. Will Nicola ban them there too? Will she call police to enforce the ban? What about when she’s not looking? While she’s making sure that anyone employed by Council to enforce the ban won’t be on a living wage, because she hates that too, what would the cost of enforcement be?

And where would Nicola draw the line between street performer and beggar? In the unlikely event Nicola won and brought the ban into effect, what’s to stop beggars from becoming legal street performers by beating on an upturned bucket? Case in point: weird gorilla costume guy. Beggar or sidewalk Beyonce? Who decides?


2) It doesn’t solve the problem

“Hard on beggars, hard on the causes of beggars”, except, Young has no plan to be hard on the causes of beggars. Out of sight, out of mind isn’t a solution. It’s just a dogwhistle to her well-off base and donors who’d rather not be pestered by the urban peasants. As Lambton Candidate Rev Brian Dawson and Local MP Grant Robertson pointed out, (both of whom get an earful from CBD constituents on the issue) a compassionate approach which invests in social services and housing will solve the problem, not criminalising being poor.


3) It won’t win votes

Of course, like any candidate in an election, Young made the announcement to win votes, –specifically right wing votes. Young is a former National Party candidate, and she’s in an ugly battle with at least one other candidate from the right: Bill English’s sister-in-law Jo Coughlan. It’s an STV election so preferences are all important. Every round a candidate needs enough votes to stay in as others get eliminated. Young needs right wing votes in order to scoop up Couglan’s preferences and make into the final rounds of voting.

Except, once Young’s picked up all the conservative poor-hating votes, she faces the uphill battle of meeting a Labour candidate in the final round. Justin Lester can expect to pick up many rusted-on Labour voters that continue to elect Labour MPs at the central government level with and where Labour candidates have substantial margins in three of the five wards.

Party vote stats from 2014 reveals that Rongotai and Wellington Central, electorates which make up 2/3rds of the WCC area, are among the top 10 seats in the country for combined Labour and Green party vote. Over 58% of the Rongotai electorate voted Labour or Green, and similar is true in Wellington Central. Appealing to the far right isn’t a winning strategy, because 42% of the vote does not a Mayor make.

Either Young knows this and she’s actually throwing the mayoral election in order to raise her profile for the local ward, as some speculated in 2013, or: she’s got a losing strategy. Time will tell.

4) It’s a bad strategy against Lester

Following on from why it won’t win right wing votes, it’s also not a good strategy to take votes from Lester. Lester, who potentially has to beat Celia to his left, and Young (and maybe Porirua Mayor Nick Leggett) to his right, is positioning himself as a centre-left nice guy. He’s communicating his business cred, and presenting market solutions to fix the housing problem. Not only has he got many of the cities mostly-left voters in the bag, he’ll be hoovering up moderate voters who’d typically think twice about giving their first preference to a Labour-endorsed candidate. Veering hard right does nothing to win back these voters from Lester.

5) It’s hypocrisy

Young hates street beggars because they’re annoying, confronting and slow us down on the narrow footpaths of Wellington. But cast your mind back a little and you’ll remember: she’s guilty of it herself. As pointed out by At The Drivethru Podcast, it was only a few months ago that she was begging for signatures under a false pretense that traffic signals depicting Kate Sheppard would be replaced. Young had no problem then with strangers asking for things, or loitering around ATMs. But that was her. And that was then. And this is now – in her latest crusade to cleanse the streets of the great unwashed.

6) She admits that she is ineffective

Nicola Young was elected in 2013. Since then, she has been at the top table of decision-making for New Zealand’s third largest local government body. Not only is Young a Councillor, but is the lead of Central City Projects and sits on the Urban Development Committee – she is among the best placed to implement this type of policy, but has instead remained silent for 3 years.

In many other instances, such as the Island Bay Cycle Way, she’s taken a stand, done the numbers and changed Council policy. All of sudden, she’s all but admitted she was an ineffective “backbencher” sitting around the Council table. Besides the fact the Council table has no benches, and no back row of seats, Young has it wrong by thinking we’re going to believe all of a sudden that this is an important issue to her.

And of course it raises the question – if all Nicola Young can do after three years on a $90,000 salary and a powerful seat on Council, is point fingers at others, come up with a dud policy that won’t work, won’t solve the root cause and won’t win votes – then maybe it’s time she stood down? The contrast between her and Lester, who last month got a motion through council to save the local night shelter, is as clear as day now. Wellington can have someone who gets things done, or who sits on the sidelines.

Nicola, Wellington’s embarrassed for you.

Māori representation in local government and Pākehā liberals.

Submissions on the mixed-model Canterbury Regional Council Bill were heard yesterday, and there was a lot of pākehā liberal surprise that Ngāi Tahu back a mixed-model council, even beyond the next term. In many ways this follows on from earlier liberal surprise that the Māori Party would be backing the Bill, which lead to the surprise that Ngāi Tahu supported the Bill. (Ngāi Tahu’s views being particularly important in the context that the Māori Party will be the swing votes for this legislation, and the party’s kaupapa suggests that Ngāi Tahu’s views, as the iwi most directly affected, will play a substantial role in their voting behaviour.)

In all honesty, it’s not really a big surprise that Ngāi Tahu weren’t huge fans of the elected Regional Council, and nor is it a big surprise that they would advocate a model which places them on an equal footing with central government.

There is, however, some interesting friction here in that traditional liberal thought flinches at any allocation of voting rights on anything other than a one-person one-vote basis, while liberal pākehā are also (ostensibly) committed to the Treaty relationship and iwi governance partnership. While the Māori/General Roll system for House elections is an unusual system, within each Roll voters remain allocated to geographically defined constituencies of equal size using the same voting system as each other. Similarly, the Māori ward system preserves those features at a council level, where it is used (Bay of Plenty Regional and Waikato Regional Councils). Māori wards are also a very difficult structure to implement: only one Council, Waikato Regional, has used the Local Electoral Act provisions to introduce them.

As Ngāi Tahu’s lobbyist James Caygill points out, Māori wards are not iwi representation. Iwi representation will generally have the characteristics that it is non-geographic (i.e iwi membership is not determined by the physical location of voters) and non-proportional (i.e it is unlikely iwi representation will directly reflect the number of iwi members as a proportion of the population of the authority.)

In the Te Arawa Partnership model, Te Arawa elects an independent Board which then nominate members to council committees, including voting members for the Strategy & Finance and Operations & Monitoring committees. The Te Arawa Partnership is therefore non-geographic and non-proportional. The nominees are appointed by the elected members, and the Council is not bound by committee recommendations.

There are precedents for non-geographic constituencies. They were a feature of the British Commons until 1950, in the form of the University constituencies. There is also a great deal of precedent for disproportionate representation of communities of interest at the local government level in New Zealand. The Banks Peninsula ward of the Christchurch City Council is half the size of the other wards in order to better represent isolated rural communities, as is the Stewart Island – Rakiura ward of the Southland District Council. From a liberal perspective these appear anomalous, and personally I have my doubts about them, especially given the tendency to over-represent whiter, richer rural areas — a sort of country quota for our local government. Nonetheless, they are a feature of our local democracy and do ensure that certain kinds of community are represented when they otherwise would not.

Ngāi Tahu argue that as they hold mana whenua in the Canterbury region, the Treaty relationship indicates they should have a direct voice at the Council table. But, as Ngāi Tahu also observe, iwi representation is not Māori representation. Does the Treaty partnership call for non mana whenua Māori to be represented at the local government level? How can this be accomplished alongside mana whenua representation? In Auckland, the Independent Māori Statutory Board represents mana whenua and other Māori (mātāwaka) with specific positions tied to mana whenua and mātāwaka, while in the future Te Arawa will look to build mātāwaka representation into their structures for the purposes of the Partnership. The IMSB has had difficulties implementing urban Māori representation, and Willie Jackson is challenging certain decisions in the courts, while Te Arawa have not yet revealed how they will achieve this.

These are hard questions, particularly when put alongside dominant pākehā traditions that value geographic constituencies of equal size. Liberal pākehā need to be more aware of the complexity of these issues: “Māori wards” are not the answer to every question of representation, and may in fact be actively unwanted by iwi. At the same time, iwi representation does raise difficult legal and political questions. Canterbury Regional Council will only have full members appointed on an iwi basis as a result of an ad hoc Act, and it is unlikely that other councils would be able to act in a similar manner. There are also real questions about how the legitimacy and authority of members appointed on such a basis will be managed within the context of a political system that presumes legitimacy derives primarily from direct election by the residents of a district.

As Māori seek to take on an active partnership role in more aspects of government, these questions will keep coming up in relation to major urban authorities, with significant political responsibilities. In order for representation and governance models to be sustainable, they will need to enjoy broad based support. Resolving these questions proactively and effectively will be an important part of successfully transforming rhetorics of Treaty partnership into governance realities at the local authority level.

The author is the chair of the People’s Choice in Christchurch, but the views expressed are entirely personal.

Where to now for Labour in local government?

Saturday’s local government results have had many lefties celebrating. We now have Labour-aligned mayors in Auckland, Christchurch, Porirua, Rotorua, Wanganui and Masterton. In many areas, particularly in Christchurch and Auckland, Labour candidates have done really well in picking up council and local board seats.

I was particularly pleased to see a good number of young Labour members stand, and get elected. I’m sure I’ll forget someone, so I’m not going to attempt to name them all, but Young Labour really stepped up to the plate with some fantastic candidates, many of whom got excellent results. I really hope this is something that continues.

[Update: Phil Twyford’s Red Alert post is well worth a read for a good summary of how the left did on Saturday]

But it wasn’t all sun shine and rainbows. Here in Wellington, we lost a long standing and dedicated councillor in Leonie Gill, and hard working Labour member, Daran Ponter from the regional council. In Auckland, the chair of Labour’s local government sector council, Richard Northey, lost his council seat. And I’ve heard some unsettling things about Labour’s results in the east of Christchurch.

So that brings us to the question of where does Labour go from here in local government?

On Saturday we saw the success of many strong Labour candidates, running smart, locally informed, data-driven campaigns. The benefits of these to the wider Labour movement are huge. Not only is it an excellent training ground for candidates, campaign managers and activists, but it ensures that Labour is deeply connected with the communities that it hopes to represent.

I’ve had this blog post from the New Statesman saved in my bookmarks for sometime – Labour must embrace localism. I’d strongly encourage any Labour member considering local government to take a read.

Fundamentally, the party needs to decide if it’s going to take local government seriously. This Saturday activists and candidates have shown that it can be done. But if we are going to really connect with our communities, we need to do better. I’d suggest that this would involve seriously reforming the local government sector council, so that it becomes a campaign engine room, which is able to assist local branches to resource and implement decent campaigns. It would mean drawing upon the resources and expertise of our MPs (Phil Twyford’s work with the Labour Henderson-Massey team is an excellent example) and sharing best practice.

But first, I think there needs to be a strong decision to take local government seriously, rather than treating it as a poor cousin.

Christchurch local government results

The under-reported story about the Christchurch elections has been the rise of the Labour-linked People’s Choice ticket. The People’s Choice now has 6 Councillors out of 13, outright majorities on two of the six metropolitan community boards, and the chance to build working majorities on three more.

There’s two aspects to this: firstly, how did it happen, and secondly, what should the new People’s Choice dominated council do?
The People’s Choice ran a campaign based around hard work, clever strategy, and Labour values. It wasn’t a campaign driven by money or media profile. From memory, only one People’s Choice candidate appeared on the front page of the Press, and that memory’s not a happy one. The spending figures aren’t available yet, but I’d be surprised if any People’s Choice candidate spent anywhere like as much as Erin Jackson, Raf Manji, or Aaron Keown, let alone the representatives of Merivale money, Jamie Gough and Paul Lonsdale.
Instead, the People’s Choice worked hard in the community, getting out there, doorknocking and meeting voters. They focussed their efforts on those communities where progressive values are important, and made sure that those communities were able to turn out and vote. And they talked about Labour and Labour values.
Not every People’s Choice candidate is Labour, but many are, and the People’s Choice’s values are very much Labour values. Voters know what values are important to them, and we need to communicate that we share those values. Being clear about our political position is good strategy. Hiding behind “independence” or, worse, “non-political groupings” isn’t just kinda weird and creepy, it doesn’t work. Being honest and upfront does work.
Now the People’s Choice has won elections, what should they be aiming for?
The People’s Choice should be expecting to have a say in how the council works. They have several senior figures, people like Yani Johanson, Phil Clearwater, and Glenn Livingstone, who are capable of taking on leadership roles within the council. They should be pushing for their key policies, especially around healthy homes, openness and good government, a living wage, better public transport, and more. And Lianne will need solid support to make sure her mayoralty’s the success it should be.
They’ll also need to stand up against proposals that go against the values of equality and justice the People’s Choice represent. With six councillors, they can expect to have a say in every key decision, and should make sure they use that power. Voters will be unimpressed if the People’s Choice doesn’t deliver.

The Egonomist on local government changes

My friends at the excellent podcast, The Egonomist, covered the subject of local government reform in their latest episode. It covers the subject well, and is well worth a listen. The clip in question is here. You should also check out their website, and subscribe on iTunes.

And if you really care, make sure you make a submission on the bill. Annette King has setup a submission guide, which can just take a few seconds. So you really have no excuse…

Down with the kids?

This just in from Christchurch.

The right-wing local government ticket, “Independent Citizens” have undertaken a bold new re-branding exercise to ensure they are relevant to the youth of the city.

Ladies and gentlemen… I give you… iCitz!


If you live in the Riccarton-Wigram ward, then this alone should be reason to vote for Natalie Bryden, the People’s Choice-Labour candidate for the current local board by-election. Get out there and vote!

Nick Leggett on the role of local government

Nick Leggett, the Mayor of Porirua City, has caused a few headlines this week with his take on the government’s proposed local government reforms.

His main point is that councils’ first priority must be infrastructure, but that does not mean that they don’t have a moral obligation to look at the wider picture and highlight areas of need or concern to central government and advocate on behalf of the community.

He made the point very well on Back Benches this week…

Christchurch – Making Progress

I’ve sat down a number of times to write about what I saw, felt and thought on 22 February 2011.

I was in town having lunch…I crossed it to get back to work and check on staff … then trekked out again on foot to get home and deal with flooding and liquefaction.

I saw things I’ll never forget.

I can’t or won’t watch a great deal of footage – it’s still way too raw. But really I think I’m just sick of the damn day, and I’m especially sick of the media treatment of it, as though that’s the bit that matters. So I’m not going to inflict another overwrought account of that day on you. It’s not 22 February that truly matters – as a progressive, it’s what comes after that matters.

Following the quake “munted” quickly became the word of the moment; hell it became the word of the last year. But as a friend reminded me when he visited from Melbourne, “munted” just doesn’t cut it.

There is no other way to say it: Christchurch is fucked.

We need Christchurch to work. Calls to abandon it, move it, or supplant it are idiotic and ill informed. The nation needs an effective alternative to Auckland and for all sorts of reasons that place is and will remain Christchurch.

But I’ve spent much of the last year angry, upset, and generally frustrated with what I see as the failure of many, and especially our leaders (local and national), to engage with what’s actually happened in Christchurch. That goes double for those who ought to know better – those on the left.

Plenty of people have been working hard – I don’t accuse anyone of laziness. But way too many continue to confuse heat with light, energy with results – just because you’re busy, doesn’t mean you’re doing any good.

What I’ve found particularly frustrating is that Christchurch is a city full of need and opportunity. It’s a city full of fear and anger – crying out for those of us on the left to turn that into hope and action.

Certainly, I have my own views about a large number of policy issues including Transport, Environment, Housing, Health, Small Business, Arts, and Local Government to name but a few. I’m sure I’ll write about them over the next year.

But, on this the anniversary of the quake that broke my city, I want to issue a challenge:

To the Labour Caucus – every one of you.

You have a year – a year to understand how rebuilding Christchurch presents a challenge to our nation and an opportunity, in your portfolio, for our party and our country to advance our progressive agenda.

In a year’s time I expect all of you to be able to articulate and advance policy that will help rebuild Christchurch, and build a stronger more progressive nation.

You will need to come to Christchurch regularly. It is quite clear to me that one cannot understand what is happening here without seeing it in person.

You must not accept the government’s notion that this can and should be managed through one Ministerial portfolio. Lianne is doing an excellent job of holding the Minister to account, but she alone cannot fix the problems or seize the opportunities before us. You must come to see your portfolio through the lens of Christchurch.

Ours is a city of new horizons, it could be the most progressive city in the most progressive country in the world. We can build it back green, and progressive. We can throw away old models and ways of doing things. It’s simply up to you to grasp this opportunity – every one of you.

I look forward to hearing from you in a year.

Letter from Christchurch – Local Government Frustration

Local government seems to be rising up the ladder of issues people are taking an interest in.

Patrick posted earlier in the week about the Shape the Future group in Wellington.

Aucklanders got briefly interested in how their city’s governed over the last couple of years, but it seemed like a passing fad – and sadly far too few Aucklanders engaged, or continue to be engaged, with what were and are extremely important issues. A pity – the Royal Commission papers and report were fascinating.

Local government has certainly occupied the minds of many residents, ratepayers and citizens here in Christchurch for a number of years, and it’s been a large part of our frustration (still growing btw) with how things have been managed since the earthquakes began. (For those keeping count we just passed 10,000 quakes since September 2010 – here’s the map)

Continue reading “Letter from Christchurch – Local Government Frustration”