I’m not generally one to offer Bob Parker advice. As you might have gathered, I’m running for community board in Hagley Ferrymead, and while that doesn’t put me in direct competition for Bob’s chains, I am part of 2021 / the Labour Party machine which have lined up against him. I sorry if that disappoints anyone – though I’m proud of my associations, and happy to make sure that my allegiances are out in the open. I’m not sure whether anyone remembers about 5 weeks ago, when Bob was behind in the polls, that he was forced to admit that the National Party was backing him after the ‘endorsement that wasn’t actually an endorsement’. I could go into the ins and outs of how the National Party have both supported Bob whilst marginalising local Labour MP’s and left-wing councillors, but I will save it for another day. When I’m particularly angry.
No, what got my confused today was an interview Bob Parker did with RDU’s Breakfast with Spanky this morning, which you can listen to here. The first couples of minutes are typical Bob, smarmy patter about how down with the kids and the common people he is (FYI Bob, Holly Smith was cool about 4 years ago, today the kids are into Dane and the Rumbles) before some platitudes about how Bexley isn’t the councils fault etc etc. About 5 minutes in, Spanky says “So you’ve appointed Ian Athfield as …” and Bob comes in super quick to say “No no, I didn’t.” This is the problem with both the Athfield appointment, and the legacy of Bob’s first term. It’s called process. I don’t think Mr Parker has ever met Senor Process.
I went to the press conference where Bob presented Ian Athfield to the media, at with my cynical hat on (I wear it most of the time) it was clear to see that this was his attempt to dissipate some of the anger about the loss of heritage buildings in the first week of the quake. He was effectively saying “Here is Ian Athfield. See, I do care about old buildings. Ian is going to go away and come back with a plan, conveniently sometime after the election. That way, I don’t have to commit to doing anything that people might not like, but I maintain the pretense of caring.” My problem with the appointment from day dot was that Athfield had been given no clear mandate from the council – it hadn’t gone through council, and now, according to Bob, it’s got nothing to do with him. According to Bob this morning, the NZIA appointed him, he’s working for free, and it has nothing to do with council. He’s just a dude, sitting in an office for 6-8 weeks, coming up with ideas. So if that’s true, why did Bob then spend an hour wheeling Athfield out in front of the nation’s media, when he could have been paying more attention to the situation in Avonside or Bexley?
I feel a bit sorry for Athfield really, who has been caught up in the middle of all of this. There was a piece on him in the Press at the weekend, which was quite good – though Athfield himself wouldn’t be interviewed for it. I have tried to find a way of getting in touch with him – I’d like to invite him to some of the meetings that Save Christchurch Historic Buildings are organising, but there is no reference to him over at the city council page. The architects, art critics and general people in the know that I’ve talked to about him all say he’s the right guy, and one said that he’s unlikely to get caught up in the politics of the whole thing.I hope that he doesn’t, and I hope that the incoming council and whoever the mayor is, find some way of utilising his skills. However, the confusion, emotion and anger that has surrounded this appointment make me worry about how it’s going to work. I think it is totally justified to ask questions about the process, though the editor of the Press disagreed in a frightening final comment in the editorial of September 16:
Complaints about Parker’s alleged failure to follow proper procedure to help bring this about are spectacularly beside the point.
One wonders whether “the point” that complainers like me are “spectacularly beside” is the Press’s campaign to get Bob re-elected.