Auckland’s new Mayor, Wayne Brown, can credit his victory to rigorous polling by one of the country’s top political operators.
Tim Hurdle, who has worked closely with the National Party and its former campaign consultants, Crosby Textor, is a freelance political consultant who specialises in analysing campaign polling.
Hurdle teamed up with NZ Herald political commentator and long-time centre-right political media consultant Matthew Hooton to advise the Brown campaign.
Hurdle’s polling found an electorate that was angry and fed up with big visions and ideology and just wanted the Auckland Council to focus on the basics like the massive disruption to the city from road works and the Central Rail Loop and whose central business district had become overrun with homeless substance addicts.
They wanted crime like ram raids dealt to and weren’t much interested in having the Council solve climate change.
The Auckland frustration over transport was evident in voting in the inner city Waitemata ward, which saw one-time City Vision councillor and critic of Auckland’s light rail proposal, Mike Lee, replace current City Vision councillor Pippa Coom.
City Vision is the vehicle the Labour party uses for Auckland city politics.
Lee ran as an independent.
Perhaps an even more pointed message to the Government came from Julie Fairey, the wife of the architect of the light rail project, Transport Minister Michael Wood, who standing under the City Vision banner, was running third in the Albert-Eden-Puketāpapa Ward; not high enough to make it on to the Council.
That squared with Hurdle’s research. Voters didn’t want big projects; they wanted lower rates and everyday things to work.
The right-wing Ratepayers Alliance (linked to the Taxpayers’ Union) said in a tweet: “The results aren’t yet final, but Mayor-elect Brown will govern with a fiscally conservative majority on the Governing Body. This a historic victory for ratepayers struggling under the financial burden of high rates.”
But it was the same everywhere — even in Wellington, where the Green candidate, Tory Whanau, won the Mayoralty.
The city faces constantly rising bills for ambitious projects like its restoration of the Town Hall while it deals with decaying water infrastructure and eight per cent rates increases.
Her campaign might have highlighted Green hobbyhorses like cycleways, but she was also careful to talk about keeping the rates down.
She, too, was polling heavily and had access to advice from her former colleagues at Capital Government Relations, which includes Labour’s campaign manager, Hayden Munro, among its partners.
What will worry the Government is that Labour-aligned candidates did not do well across the country.
Both Brown and Whanau defeated Labour candidates who had been endorsed (albeit at the last minute) by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Efeso Collins campaigned for the Auckland mayoralty as an official Labour candidate, (correction. He was an independent on the ballot paper but was endorsed by Jacinda Ardern) but there was little enthusiasm within the party for his campaign.
In Wellington, Paul Eagle ran as an independent to the point where he held a separate election night party from the Wellington Labour party function.
But he couldn’t hide the fact that he is also a Labour MP.
His failure and the distance he sought to put between himself and Labour means his political career must now be over.
Labour Party sources in Wellington say he is highly unlikely to be re-selected for the Rongotai seat.
But it wasn’t all one-way traffic against Labour.
Glenda Hughes, a recently retired National Party board member and close associate of the party’s former president Peter Goodfellow was dumped off the Greater Wellington Regional Council.
Linda Cooper, a high-profile member of the National Party in west Auckland who was endorsed by Paula Bennett, lost her seat on the Council.
Wellington voters were indiscriminate in their choices on the Regional Council.
They elected four Greens to the 12-member Council but dumped high-profile green-leaning independent Roger Blakely, who was the country’s first Secretary for the Environment.
But as far as voters were concerned, he was also chair of the Greater Wellington Council’s transport committee, which was held responsible for the capital’s “bustastrophe”, which saw the city’s bus service descend into chaos in 2019.
Former National MP Nick Smith credited his win as Nelson mayor partly to the Government’s three waters policies.
National Leader Christopher Luxon echoed that view and said National would repeal Labour’s Three Waters reforms and “ensure water assets remained in local ownership.”
But “Communitiers4Demcoracy”, the campaign against There Waters, which was launched by a number of councils, was more cautious last night, as was the Minister, Kieran McAnulty.
Neither were willing to comment on the results; a spokesperson for Communities4Decmroacy said they were still studying the results.
McAnulty’s silence suggests he was doing the same thing.
But the election results were mixed.
A Masterton District Councillor, Tina Nixon, who got national publicity when she called the Government “a pack of lying deceitful bastards” over the reforms, failed to win her campaign for the Mayoralty.
Waikato Regional Council chair Ross Rimmington, an outspoken critic of the reforms who claimed Rimmington Māori were “usurping and jeopardising” the future development of the country at a Local Government New Zealand Three Waters webinar at the end of October, did not make it back on to his Council..
As usual, a number of former MPs stood for Mayoralties and Councils.
Only three were successful; former National Ministers Maurice Williamson, on to the Auckland Council and Nick Smith as Mayor of Nelson and former NZ First Minister Ron Mark, as Mayor of Carterton.
Apart from Paul Eagle, former NZ First MP Fletcher Tabuteau missed out on the Rotorua Mayoralty, which was vacant after former Labour MP, Stevie Chadwick retired.
The new mayor is 30-year-old Tania Tapsell, a rising star in the National Party.
Someone that age was against the overall trend of most Councils.
For example, the West Coast Regional Council saw the return of seven conservative male councillors, a majority of whom are over 60.
That may be explained by the low turnout around the country, particularly in the cities.
Local Government New Zealand President Stuart Crosby said nationwide turnout was 36 per cent and was lowest in urban centres, where it was 36.4 per cent.
It was 40 per cent (down by 6.5 per cent) in the provinces and 45 per cent (down by seven point five per cent) in rural areas.
Those figures may undermine any attempt to draw nationwide conclusions about trends from this vote.
Nevertheless, the result in Auckland will worry the Government.
Hurdle’s research indicates that delivery is the big issue. That may mean a re-evaluation of the still uncompleted heavy reform agenda the Government has to get through between now and next year’s general election.
An electorate in the same mood as Auckland on Saturday would see National in Government, possibly in a landslide.