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Chris Ford: Local elections 2013 - the Green/Red tide is coming in

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

The Green/Red tide began to come in if the results of this year's local government elections are any guide.

As a new Green Party member, I am absolutely delighted by the results posted by my Green comrades in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin in particular. Green candidates, some high profile (like former MP Sue Kedgeley) and relative newcomers (like Aaron Hawkins in Dunedin and Vernon Tava in Auckland) won council and community boards seats. Also Green-affiliated Mayor Celia Wade Brown narrowly fended off a challenge from right-wing and very sexist former cricketer, John Morrison with a good third placing going to another left-leaning candidate and Alliance Party member Jack Yan.

In Christchurch, it was the Labour Party aligned People's Voice movement that returned a whole swag of councillors. Undoubtedly they will largely support former Labour MP and now new Mayor-elect Lianne Dalziel. Dalziel's victory was long expected but not the drubbing that the Tories received in council seats throughout Christchurch. Labour's good showing there should particularly worry home town boy John Key as National's second term was largely won there in 2011.

However, the right did make some clear gains around the country as well.

In Dunedin, one left-leaning Councillor Teresa Stevenson lost her seat while another former left-leaning Councillor Fliss Butcher retired. These losses and the victories of, among others, former ACT MP Hilary Calvert (who was the highest polling council candidate) and the re-election of Dave Cull as Mayor will give right-wing, anti-progressive forces a slight majority on council.

In Auckland, right-wing businessman and former television personality John Palino came within 50,000 votes of toppling the centre-left (if he can described as that) candidate and re-elected Mayor Len Brown. Not only did Brown suffer from the combined effects of a poor turnout and an energised right-wing vote but he also lost votes to various candidates from the left, include Mana's John Minto who collected an impressive 11,400 votes approximately. No doubt Len's infamous fence-sitting during the Ports of Auckland dispute cost him votes on the left - something that Brown should reflect on!

And an energised right-wing vote on a low turnout base are the main reasons why such candidates as Christine Rankin were triumphant in Auckland. For those who haven't heard the news yet (and I only saw this in the Sunday Star-Times) she won a seat on a local board in Auckland and, notably, for Colin Craig's Conservatives. No doubt there are countless other Tories who masqueraded as 'Citizens and Independents', 'Ratepayers' or even as plain old 'Independents' who were elected up and down the country yesterday. These councillors will continue to push, wherever they have been elected, for rates to be reduced through service cuts, contracting out and privatisation. I expect that this recipe will be pushed much harder now in Dunedin which in general elections usually tilts leftwards.

But the switch to or retention of left-leaning mayors in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and even provincial centres like New Plymouth (Harry Duynhoven) and Rotorua (Steve Chadwick) portends well for the left at the 2014 General Election. Although many voters in local elections do tend to cast aside their usual political affiliations, the election of a healthy number of centre-left or Green-left candidates in the four biggest centres could be the first tentative sign of either a cliff-hanger election or even an outright win for the centre-left next year. After all, some central government issues were injected into the campaign including the push for a living wage, issues of housing affordability and supply, and the growing imbalance in regional development between the larger centres of Auckland/Christchurch and the rest of New Zealand. If a considerable number of the few people who bothered to vote made their choices around these issues, then this could indicate that the Greens and Labour are beginning to win the argument with middle New Zealand, hence, the election of a good number of candidates who are aligned with or are members of these parties.

While the Nats and their allies will inevitably push the line that local election results are hard to read from a parliamentary electoral standpoint (which to a certain extent they are), I think that the election of a considerable number of Green, Labour and even independent left candidates in many of our main centres is the first confirmation of a trend we are beginning to see in the opinion polls. Long may the Green/Red tide continue!

 

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