There’s something about the Auckland mayoralty race that reminds me of the American presidential election. A seasoned campaigner, apparently of the centre left, but with friends in all the Right places. And a business champion with visionary ideas, somewhat prone to contradiction, with no political track record, and proud of it too.
When I was a student, we protested user-pays education a lot. Phil Goff was often the central target of our protestations, because as Minister of Education, he designed and implemented it. He reduced the government’s per-student subsides to universities, and set up the loan scheme, thereby offloading the cost of education from the taxpayer to the student.
So I’ve never been a huge fan (sorry taxpayers). Up until about 1990, a year of tuition cost the average student a few hundred bucks. Today, combined student debt is somewhere north of $14 billion.
It’s possible that as the architect of user-pays education, Phil Goff was pursuing the agenda of Roger Douglass and Richard Prebble (i.e. privatisation), rather than his own. Although that’s a purely speculative turning of the other cheek on my part.
The thing I like most about him: when the chips were down in the 2011 general election, having inherited a poisoned chalice from a defeated Helen Clark, he did something that hardly ever happens: he campaigned hard on policy. In particular, I seem to recall that he pushed hard on capital gains tax on property. Funny, that.
Meanwhile, on paper, at least, Vic Crone ought to be my kind of gal. I like her designey approach to stuff. People like her are especially fond of reverse-engineered solutions: start with the end user, figure out their requirements and needs, and design solutions that fill the gaps. It works a treat in all sorts of hip, new businesses. It’s how ferociously ambitious corporates – and their people – display empathy.
I like people who ask the question: what is the problem we’re trying to solve with X? I’m not very fond of Xero, but I don’t suppose that’s her fault. And it may be true – as she does and must claim – that the people skills and agenda-setting skills required to run a business are transferable to council.
Of course, Dick Hubbard attempted the same thing a few years ago. It didn’t really work for him. What did work for him is that he wasn’t John Banks. You can’t imagine the people I’d vote for on that basis alone. Thank God it’s not a criteria this time round.
And sometimes, the user-experience, designed-solutions approach shoots itself in the foot. A few days ago on Morning Report she asked “What is the problem you’re trying to solve with elected representation?” I’ve run a fair few user-experience design workshops in my time, and I’ve learned the hard way that there is such a thing as a stupid question, even in creative design workshops, let alone political debates.
To be fair, she was responding specifically to Guyon Espiner’s questions about whether the Maori statutory board should be replaced with Maori seats on council: Maori wards in Auckland, similar to the Maori electorates in general elections.
In that context, the question may be worth something. The answer would probably look very much like what David Hay has been championing: open source democracy. Yes please. John Palino said “If you’re not managing growth, you’re not managing.” That’s bullshit. I say, if you don’t understand that Maori have a unique and awesome role as tangata whenua, then you’re not listening. The more diverse we become, the more Maoritanga has to offer.
In fact, the question “what are we trying to solve” seems to haunt the entire mayoralty race. I’d have thought anyone who’s not talking about making housing cheaper would be a non starter. But when Espiner asked if the candidates wanted to see the price of houses fall, there was a palpable gag reflex as they all scrambled to be the first to say nothing. It seems – despite the crisis of affordability – cheaper houses is not something that Aucklanders will vote for.
Eat that, behavioural economics!
This is no doubt where Chloe Swarbrick comes in. Yes, David Hay is saying it too. But the housing debate in Auckland has been shaping up for some time with entitled old folks on one side, and disenfranchised young folks on the other. She was good on Waatea news too. She said if she was elected, not only would she get a house-sized salary, but that her policies would also help bring the price of houses down and make them more affordable.
Goff and Crone are largely aligned on this, so far as I can tell: advocating for intensification under the unitary plan and kicking central government’s ass. Crone is also up for a bit of consent fast-tracking. But I don’t trust right wingers on that: it usually means they just want to take away the costs – and even the awareness – of trashing the environment. Or you end up with shit buildings. Like we need – or can afford – that to happen again.
Mark Thomas doesn’t even mention housing affordability in the policy page of his website. Palino is an outlier with his call for more satellite towns. I’d hate to see that unless it was accompanied by an even more aggressive transport catch-up plan than Auckland is already waging. Not going to happen.
I’m pretty sure I’ll vote for Goff, because he feels like the natural successor to that other ageing white guy under whose watch transport has flourished and so has the waterfront. I’ll be voting against Crone, because a) she’s untested and b) she’s mates with Powerful Rich People who also support a kind of politics that is doing far too much harm to be even remotely trustworthy. Come to think, that’s probably their agenda: President Boag’s puppet mayor.
I know I’m going to be thinking a lot about Chloe though. If – and it’s a rather tall ask – she can knock together a massive amount of support in lead up polls, I’ll have to give her some consideration.
I know what you’re thinking. Why not just vote for her? Because we all know FPP doesn’t work like that. It’s easy to speculate that Chloe might have done better to stand for council. But – hey – what’s the point of being young and sensible, right? Plenty of time for that. Not.