Right. I said I’d make a start of some election stuff at some point and here I go. There’s a week or two until the ballot papers arrive. Plenty of time for reputations to be polished or indeed to have chai latte spilled all over them. Or maybe some worse substance. The candidates have been announced, the billboards are up and the coverage has begun.
I’ll do what I can to shine a light onto the issues and personalities and I hope many of you will join me.
But first, a recap. Just to refresh our memories.
The 2010 election, the first under the new Super City arrangement, gave us the rather inelegant spectacle of no less than SEVENTEEN candidates all jostling for the five available seats on the new Local Board. During the campaign, all candidates followed the customary Waiheke habit of running as independents and generally avoiding any kind of pigeon-holing along ideological lines.
Only Jim Hannan, Herb Romaniuk and Jo Holmes had any perceptible right wing tone to them and this was not played on to any great degree by their opponents. All the rest ran on the amiable default setting of Waiheke Left/Green vagueness to varying extents.
But then there was the current local councillor Denise Roche and former councillor Faye Storer. Here at least we had a feeling of a grudge match being played out. Storer, after three consecutive terms as Waiheke’s voice on the Auckland Council, found herself defeated by Roche in 2007, leading to the infamous ‘Letter to the Gulf News’ episode in which Storer’s partner, (Who REALLY should have known better) penned a furious missive denouncing the fools, traitors and gullible swine that had DARED to challenge Storer’s right to rule this island in perpetuity.
If there has been a more sphincter clenchingly embarrassing moment in Waiheke politics then I can only assume that either my brain has wiped it from my memory or it has been kept from me by kindly people who know me to be a sensitive and easily upset chap.
Well, the results were something of a surprise. While Denise Roche got a thumping majority with a whopping 2239 votes, (That’s over 50% of the electorate) she looked back to find herself isolated by the already tight bloc of Faye Storer, Jo Holmes, Don McKenzie and Jim Hannan while the rest of the field, containing all her possible allies, lay in a tangled heap, having diluted their vote so disastrously that none of them got elected.
It was, quite frankly, horrible.
But far worse was to come as Storer then proceeded to lock up the new board’s functions a good week to ten days before the actual swearing in and leave her mortal foe to twiddle her thumbs on the side-lines. It is sometimes observed that Storer is a born politician. This move disproved that pretty firmly. A born bureaucrat possibly, but no savvy politician would have pulled such a stupid move at that stage of the game. Had she simply kept quiet until the board were sworn in and the fuss had died down and THEN stiffed Roche in the stupefying confines of the board room she would have saved herself all that fuss and bother. But no. Her impatience got the better of her and the result was not only the alarmingly noisy protests at the swearing in ceremony but also losing any shot she might have had of the traditional honeymoon period with the electorate.
Still, when it comes to Making Her Own Reality, Storer is pretty accomplished. Her speech at the swearing in showed this. It seemed to have been written the day the results were posted and had not been altered in any way to acknowledge the storm of controversy that she’d managed to whip up since. “I’ll just ignore it,” she must have thought, with Thatcherian grandeur, “These are my PEOPLE. How well I know their childish foibles. Three years from now they will have forgotten all this and my policy triumphs will have convinced them that I acted for the best.”
Well the three years have come and gone. And now it is time for the reckoning. Time to see how well the artificial reality of the board will hold up once it gets put to the test.
Speaking with Alex Stone and Chris Walker on the radio the other day I observed that the most notable ‘achievement’ of the board was to have created the most divided atmosphere in the community that I could remember. The other chaps disagreed, recalling stoushes and spats from years ago that had our island in an uproar. They were quite right. But, I can’t recall an election in which the incumbents were so reluctant to get out there and campaign in person. This is the real heart of the matter as far as I can see. The incumbent board members calling themselves ‘The A Team’ may be all around us on their billboards, but have yet to get out and about in any serious way.
Could this be a long overdue sense of reality creeping in? A possible realisation that just because they lucked in on 30% support last time doesn’t mean they can repeat the trick? Has all that stonewalling and arrogant dismissal of community concerns become so ingrained that they have lost the knack of looking us in the eye and asking us what WE think?
It is also interesting to note that while the main thing the A Team have to worry about is an electorate still fuming over three years worth of being ignored and patronised, the biggest albatross around their necks has to be their own support base. That curious cabal of over stimulated and angry folk who do their best to keep up vocal encouragement for their pals without ever getting any good at it.
It is all social media’s fault of course. Back in the days when we all had to wait for newspapers to arrive before we could figure out what to take umbrage at, the pace of outrage and response was slow. Now it is immediate. You say one thing, I say another, he takes it out of context and she shares it with a hundred others who all get the wrong end of the stick and start furiously beating about the mixed metaphor with it. Some call it terrible, some call it progress, I call it bloody hilarious. The internet is indeed a playground and local politics is a hundred times as much fun as it used to be as a result. But maybe not as much fun for the aspiring candidate whose supporters are making them look bad online. Take the example of the board supporter with the brand new and boringly blank Facebook account. They proudly set up a photo of a pebble, a car, an ink blot or a bull’s bottom rather than their own likeness, then, confident that this is in no way making them look like a prize tit, barge into large online forums yelling and screaming. Then, when asked to debate properly, they go away again, curiously convinced that they have made a good impression and furthered the cause of their chosen side.
It is strange behaviour indeed. Yet no stranger than the advice the board must be getting from many of these same people. ‘Stick to your guns! Be bloody, bold and resolute! They are just HIPPIES! They will probably forget to vote! March on a road of bones! The marina thing made you look strong and decisive! Thirty per cent support is easily enough! The Ladies are not for turning! This board will last a thousand years!’ And so on……
Not the soundest advice but whatever works for them I guess.