The red tide is sweeping Christchurch; barricades are going up in Hereford St, the hammer and sickle has been raised above the council chambers. Or has it? Without wanting to down-play the success of the left in the local body elections, I think it’s worth tempering the enthusiasm. Somewhat.
So what happened? Well, Lianne Dalziel won the mayoralty with a commanding majority and a good return. It is a strong mandate (I’m not going to say “awesome” as I think she’s said that enough already). There was a worry that the non-contest for the mayoralty would lead to a low turnout; I think it was important that Dalziel got a good number of votes, and she did. It was just a shame that she didn’t get to go up against Bob Parker – with the backlash against the Marryatt-team, he would have got his ass handed to him on a plate. While some will eulogise his two terms in charge, I would hope that history remembers him for more than just the Orange Parka. He showed media savvy and leadership for about 3 months in September 2010; the mood was already turning against him in early 2011 before the February quake. He led well in the wake of that disaster; there might have been 12-15 months of his two terms in which he performed competently, the remainder was pock-marked with poor decisions – the Henderson deal, the Ellerslie deal, the Marryatt saga and the building consents debacle, to mention but a few.
At the council level, there will be 9 new faces – six of them from the People’s Choice team. I don’t want to detract from the result, but need to put a few caveats on it. Firstly, the Banks Peninsula result is at this point to close to call – with Andrew Turner ahead by just 5 votes. Once special votes have come in, I’d expect it will still be close, and that it will proceed to a recount. So let’s say there are 5 PC councillors. It’s worth remembering that in 2010, we had 4 PC councillors – Yani Johanson, Glenn Livingstone, Jimmy Chen and Chrissie Williams, who resigned mid-term. Johanson, Livingstone and Chen have retained their seats, as well as Phil Clearwater in Spreydon-Heathcote and Pauline Cotter in Shirley-Papanui. Clearwater did well, but was helped by the two long-serving incumbents stepping down. Cotter was assisted by the voters of Shirley-Papanui punishing Ngaire Button and Aaron Keown for their abysmal record at council.
So while I’m not trying to detract from the result – which is fantastic – I think suggestions that Christchurch has “gone left” and is punishing the government are premature. This was an extraordinary election, in which the electorate has punished Parker’s so-called “A Team”; Keown, Button, Claudia Reid and Helen Broughton were thrown out at the ballot box, whilst Sue Wells and Barry Corbett had the political nous to see the writing was on the wall months ago, and chose not to stand. Jamie Gough is the only councillor to survive this ballot, which shows just how bleak the Fendalton-Waimairi ward is.
Possibly the biggest casualty has been the centre-right “independent” groupings. While People’s Choice is openly Labour, in Christchurch the “National-in-drag” grouping was Independent Citizens. That was then rebranded as “iCitz”. Then there was the split, with Ngaire Button leaving to form her own independent non-political political party City First with Aaron Keown. Gough was the only councillor to return on the iCitz tag; Claudia Reid and Helen Broughton both lost their seats, and as mentioned before, but I will gleefully mention it again, City First got precisely zero (0) councillors. I assume that the right will try and rebuild their presence at the local body level; they may want to look at what Labour has done with the People’s Choice.
That said, I’m not convinced that the People’s Choice did that well. In two wards where I thought they could or would pick up a second council seat (Burwood-Pegasus and Hagley-Ferrymead), they didn’t. In each of these wards, People’s Choice had a high-profile councillor seeking re-election (Livingstone and Johanson) along with a council vacancy (Peter Beck and Tim Carter). A strong Labour presence on the ground in these wards sadly didn’t translate to a win for either Robyn Nuthall or Tracey McLellan, who would have been bold, female voices on Council (only 3 of the 13 councillors are women; time to talk about man-ban again?) So while the People’s Choice team should be satisfied with the effort, they should be wary of getting too carried away with the results.
To build on them in 2016, it will be critical that our councillors perform well. Given their 5, maybe 6, seats, People’s Choice should be able to lay claim to the deputy mayoralty. While Johanson and Livingstone are the most senior of the team, I would suggest that maybe Clearwater is the best choice. Though he will be learning on the job about being a councillor, he has a long history of representation at the community board level. On top of this, he has been instrumental in leading the People’s Choice organisation for quite some time, alongside Community Board member Paul McMahon. They have been a superb job to keep the organisation running, rebuilding it from the ashes of the old Christchurch 2021 group – which almost fell apart on a couple of occasions. He knows how to manage people and egos, and would be a calm, sensible voice in what will be a very challenging transitional period.
The only other option I can see for deputy would be Vicki Buck, who won a council seat with the largest return of any candidate. However, there is some animosity between her and the People’s Choice camp, so while I’m sure she would bring a wealth of experience as a former mayor, it might be a bit “back to the future” for a supposedly forward-looking council. The Press’s favourite, Raf Manji took the second Fendalton-Waimairi seat, and will be interesting to see how he performs this term. I will be watching closely to see how Dalziel goes in working with the fresh faces like Manji, Ali Jones and Tim Scandrett. Given that the disunity of the last council was one of the nails in Bob’s coffin, how she pulls this team together will be one of her most important tests.
This was a remarkable election for Christchurch, and while I don’t want to detract from the individual campaigns of the various candidates – successful or otherwise – they need to realise that they are there mostly because of who they are not. Hopefully by 2016, we’ll be re-electing them because of who they are, and what they stand for.