22 December 2013

Should Granny Herald stick to her knitting?

The editor of the Herald on Sunday has praised the editor of sister-ship NZ Herald (aka 'Granny') for calling on the Mayor, Len Brown, to resign. Granny on Sunday described this as 'gutsy journalism.' While Mr Brown certainly has reason to reconsider his position, let me explain why the Herald's outburst was not 'gutsy journalism.'
1. It was not journalism. It was political intervention.
2. It was not gutsy. It was climbing aboard a popular moral bandwagon.
It is perfectly normal for editors to interpret current events and to publish reasoned opinions on them.  It is the job of journalists to expose wrongdoing by those in public office.
But demanding a political scalp is a step too far. The Herald's call for the elected Mayor to resign is no more acceptable than their calling for us to vote National … or Labour or Green or whoever.
Please, Granny, stick to the knitting.

Who'll date Len Brown now?

A very good article by Catriona MacLennon looks at the Len Brown affair from the point of view of gender politics and discrimination. In as much as Bevan Chuang may temporarily have derived benefits from her relationship with Mayor, these benefits depended on her providing the Mayor with sex. As it's the Mayor's responsibility to treat people equitably according to their professional merits (not according to their sexual utility), then his behaviour is a form of discrimination. Len Brown should ask himself, for instance, how he would feel if an older man treated one of his daughters in the manner that he treated Bevan Chuang.
As for Ms Chuang, it is clear that she no longer derives any benefit at all from her relationship with the Mayor and her public exposure of it. In fact it's the opposite, as we read that her career is now in ruins. Len Brown can't be sacked by the Council or recalled by the people who elected him, and he appears to be hoping that the summer break will see the storms pass so he can rebuild his position. That may be a weak position, but meanwhile, Bevan Chuang appears to have been sidelined for key roles.
With the benefit of hindsight, it would have been wiser for Ms Chuang to have consulted someone more sensitive to her situation as a woman and more politically impartial, like Catriona MacLennon, about going public with her story. Unfortunately, Bevan and her story were used and abused by practitioners of the darker political arts, and this complicated matters from the word go.
Had her story not been exploited by unscrupulous opponents of the Mayor for the aim of removing him from office, then there could now be a clearer focus on the relevant matters of gender, sex and discrimination that are raised by Ms MacLennon.
In the long run, though, it is unlikely to be these particular concerns that could force the Mayor's resignation, although they do contribute to his loss of moral authority. It is the wider erosion of public confidence in him, his being shunned from public occasions, and the questionable association with Sky City that most threaten to undermine him.

19 December 2013

Brown survives, for the time being

Len Brown's acceptance of a strong motion of censure by the Auckland Council has been coupled with a 'keep calm and carry on' approach as he shows determination to remain in the Mayor's office.
Given the harsh words spoken by some councillors against him, and by many Aucklanders, the next question is whether he can survive until the 2016 election. It's unlikely that those who have vehemently opposed him will just drop the matter now. I'm sure that someone will be digging for more dirt.
Legally speaking, Mr Brown can stay on in office. Resignation always was, and remains, entirely up to him. But if his opponents persist in making life seriously difficult for him, then the Council may remain divided and become dysfunctional. Len Brown has a knack for staying calm under attack, though, and his opponents may well find, if they continue with their shrill and moralistic criticisms, that they (and not Mr Brown) will look like the cause of the Council's problems.
We are now all very well aware of Mr Brown's misdemeanours. It's worth recalling that we learned about them as a result of a botched attempt to make Brown pull out of the election or later to stand down. It was sheer gutter politics. It would be a pity to see that kind of tactic get rewarded.
Len Brown is getting his punishment. It will be quite a feat of political and personal determination if he can get through this and serve out his term effectively. I shall watch with interest.

18 December 2013

The Brown-Out Effect

"Reputation of power is power; because it draweth with it the adherence of those that need protection." Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 1660.
And conversely, as those who once gave support or needed protection draw away, the reputation of power declines.
The Whaleoil blog and the EY reports on the conduct of Mayor Len Brown provided a basket of dirty laundry for people to rummage through. And we can each choose how far we'll rummage through it and how much fuss we'll make about the stains and the bad smells that we may find there.
The NZ Herald went out on a political limb to condemn the Mayor, demanding that he leave office, thus elevating its editorial column into its own front-page "news." So, Mr Brown's "reputation of power" evaporated a little more.
Some people have taken to the street to protest their disgust with him.
More comment to follow once the Council has considered a vote of censure and (possibly) a vote of no-confidence.

14 December 2013

Should Len Brown resign?

I imagine that quite a number of politicians, mayors, councillors and directors around the country are quietly hoping that no-one does an EY report on their behaviour like the one that has just been done on Len Brown. After all, before yesterday, it would have been so easy to neglect to even think that a hotel-room upgrade should be invoiced and declared back at the office as a gift. And how many personal calls have we made lately on our work phones?
(Fortunately, I don't have a work phone, but I must remember to bill my employer for those work-related calls made on my personal phone! And how I wish I even got any room upgrades that I could have neglected to report!)
So, while I agree with Fran O'Sullivan that the Mayor of Auckland has been found to be in the wrong (that is, in breach of Council policies), I can't for a moment agree with her puritanical take on it.
She insists that Brown ought to resign. Has she thought about the consequences of that? It would mean a costly by-election and a major disruption to the leadership of the city's business. Furthermore, there is no obvious, politically credible contender to take his place. Who would we end up with as Mayor, if Len resigned, and would Auckland be any better off?
I say to Len Brown, "Mate, keep it in your pants, report any freebies from now on, and get on with the effing job. If you're any good at it, then you can stand again at the next local body elections and the voters of Auckland will have their chance then to judge your performance and your character."
By 2016, we will have had time to see it all in perspective, rather than be rushed into judgement by high-minded columnists and the like. Now, it may well turn out that Len Brown loses the public's confidence by then and bows out of the next election, or maybe stands and gets defeated by a new face. So be it. That's politics.
The Council, if it chooses, could move a motion of censure against the Mayor, now that the facts are on the table. Even councillors who support Mr Brown would find it hard not to vote in favour of such a motion. So be it. But can they please get on with the job of running the City now? We don't need another election.

04 December 2013

Take a bow, Mr McCready!

The High Court has upheld the decision that there is enough evidence for John Banks to stand trial on charges under the local electoral law. Regardless of the finding of the forthcoming trial, Mr Banks and the ACT Party both suffer further damage from this.
But there is at least a hero in this sorry story: Graham McCready, the retired accountant who mounted a private prosecution against Mr Banks after the police decided not to prosecute the case. The courts' decision to make Mr Banks stand trial, and the Solicitor-General's decision to take over the prosecution both vindicate Mr McCready's David-and-Goliath struggle.
Mr McCready has acted in the public interest by ensuring that the allegations against Mr Banks can now be tested in court. Even if Mr Banks is ultimately found not guilty, then we should still applaud Mr McCready for undertaking this extraordinary civic duty, and for doing what the police decided not to do.
The integrity of electoral law is vital to the democratic system. Mr McCready's actions have helped to maintain that integrity.