Len Brown shows how it’s done

I don’t know much about Manukau mayor and Auckland Supercity mayoral candidate Len Brown, but this I do know: the guy has fire in his belly, and is prepared to stand and be judged by the authorities and his constituents.

This speech (audio, or edited video here if you can get it to work) is old-fashioned public-sphere politics — both rhetorical and substantive — done properly. He admits misusing his council credit card, calls in the highest authority in the land to investigate it, and says let the cards fall as they may.

This is an object lesson on accountability and due process for Chris Carter. Two senior progressive politicians, both fighting for their political lives over the same issue, and two radically different approaches. Where Carter has recoiled from public scrutiny and repeately refused to take any responsibility for his wrongdoing, Brown has done the opposite, calling for the highest standard of oversight and demonstrating that he will accept its outcome. He has both appealed to the values and culture of liberal democracy in asking that assessments be made on the substance of the allegations against him, and appealed to liberal democracy’s civic institutions to provide the best possible basis for that judgement.

Win or lose the election, Brown has acted with integrity and demonstrated his commitment to democracy, and as far as that goes, he’s already beaten Carter hands-down. But even in terms of electoral advantage, he has played a huge liability into a potential — depending on what the A-G’s investigation shows up — advantage. While such heartfelt contrition is a poor substitute for not having done wrong in the first place, the electorate likes a candidate who is prepared to stand up and be counted like this, and moreover, it tends to like a candidate whose commitment to the job is as strong as Brown’s clearly is. So this mayoral race just got interesting.


26 thoughts on “Len Brown shows how it’s done

  1. I would also note that in terms of the polynesian community, this passionate contrition goes down like sweet sweet wine and is part of the formula of sinning/repentance and crucifiction/resurection that happens every time some preacher/chief up in the islands gets caught buying a new car with other peoples money.

  2. passionate contrition goes down like sweet sweet wine

    Interesting observation, Jono, and a wicked choice of comparison given the circumstances.


  3. Well put. There is not one jot of conscious misappropriation in Mr Brown’s actions, inadvisable and wrong as they were. They’ve been rectified, the full spotlight will be played on the $780 (or whatever) and you may well see him emerging stronger from this.

    I liked the fact that one of the accusers (Cllr Quax) was, according to Morning Report, required to return $1500 to the MCC as a result of not attending a course paid for by the Council. Biters bit.

  4. If the media coverage of some of Mayor Brown’s expenditure is to be believed, he practises “buy local”, which will likely be a plus in South Auckland.

    Verses Mr Hide’s 50k initial mailout the sums are rather pathetic. Yeah, Brown will obviously be stumping up soon on his own electioneering, but Banksie gets ‘extras’ for free by proxy with his C&R aka ‘Shits and Rats’ network.

    I worked in South Auckland through the 80s and feel it would be more than ok for the values of the best of that community to have a chance of being at the helm of the super city, intriguing even. I don’t now much about Brown either, and he is no Al Sharpton or anything similar, but there is definitely some “Reverend” type resonance there.

    Hell, I can even see Westies going for Brown.

  5. oh, “Hide-ean” slip, should be “Banksie’s 50k initial mailout”

  6. This speech is old-fashioned public-sphere politics — both rhetorical and substantive — done properly.

    I beg to differ. That was a full on EMO. The only one I have seen that is more pathetic is the first few seconds of that infamous Leave Britney alone plea.

    If you seriously think that voters will be impressed by the spending or the Emo then I am willing to bet on the outcome of the mayoral election.

    The guy is deservedly toast.

  7. Phil, where do I suggest voters will be impressed with the spending? Quite the opposite.

    But re the speech. This wasn’t a “Dean scream” moment. And with respect, he could have led a rousing chorus of God Defend New Zealand and you’d still be hating on him.

    The aim isn’t to attract people like you who’re dead-set against him. It’s to persuade his own supporters and the undecided middle ground that he’s worth supporting in spite of his imperfections. Whether that’s the case or not will, I suspect, depend more on the scale and magnitude of the imperfections as revealed by the A-G and his political enemies than anything else.

    Since I don’t know them (haven’t been paying much independent attention to the mayoral race and reflexively distrust anything Slater, Odgers et al. field as evidence in such cases) I’m not confident as to the campaign’s outcome. But I do know perception politics and there is a time for the sort of ritual abasement we saw there, and this is such a time. If he fails to win the Auckland mayoralty, the performance won’t be the reason.


  8. Lew – I like to think I am reasonably fair minded. imho, dignity, humility, contrition and genuine sincerity are what is required in these situations. Witness the way Cameron’s immediate apology immediately after the release of the Bloody Sunday Saville enquiry along with the result itself has gone a very long way towards satisfying those affected.

    Then ask yourself whether Obama’s wittering against BP is helping or hurting.

    I dislike Clark’s politics intensely but I have never doubted her integrity or her sincerity.

    It is anyway a sideshow that will absorb far more time than it warrants. The FSA is far more important.

  9. Do you think that throwing himself on the mercy of the A-G is a stunt? If so, it’s a very dangerous one. The A-G might find something worth censuring him for. No, I reckon he’s sincere and genuinely contrite.

    Completely agree about Bloody Sunday. Now let’s see ’em prosecute.


  10. Chill Phil,
    Kiwi Politico writers air kiss only on rare occasion in my experience. Mayor Brown may end up skewered on some minor technical scrutiny, but don’t count on it. The corporatisation of Auckland city remains the prize which fuels this campaign and residents are becoming more aware of this.

  11. The last grasp of a politically dying man. If the AG investigates, and IF he reports before the election he will certainly find issues. We will agree to disagree on sincerity and contrition.

    On Bloody Sunday I think little would be served by prosecution. There are 3000 others who died in the troubles who have not had their justice through an inquiry. Martin McGuiness was carrying a sub machine gun that day. I think people would see things as being too one sided if soldiers were prosecuted. Saville did not find the killings unlawful. Better things rest where they are.

  12. I guess we’ll see whether your prognostications are borne out, then, Phil.

    Not that I want to drag the thread offtopic, as far as I’m concerned the extent of investigation and legal action carried out should be at the disrection of the wronged party, not the party whose agents committed the wrongs. but as far as I’m concerned if the families of the Bloody Sunday victims want the highest authorities in the land to investigate to their fullest extent, then that’s what they should get. The burden rests with the Crown to investigate its own wrongdoing and bear the consequences of it. If the Crown can persuade them that little/nothing is to be gained from it, then well for them. But for the Crown (or anyone else) to decide that enough is enough is a moral hazard.

    In a way this is the same principle I discussed with regard to Brown: the ratepayers of Manukau deserve nothing less than a full investigation by the A-G, and to his credit Brown has given them one voluntarily.


  13. Lew – They had a lawyer representing families on the R4 today programme this morning suggesting the families were satisfied with the result and the feeling to keep going was just not there. Up to the authorities to decide whether prosecutions of certain soliders for perjury were warranted but it looks like closure may have been gained.

  14. Yeah. I’ve seen conflicting reports. But as recently as the end of last week the families were vowing to go to the fullest extent, both criminal and civil (with the former heavily circumscribed already, and the latter more likely to proceed).


  15. @ Phil. My pleasantly dogmatic Irish ancestry, including being 4th gen NZ, helps drive my support for various local Maori solidarity issues and other …fyi In the week when ‘hunger striker’ Bobby Sands died May 5, 1981, a mere 200, some H Block committee supporters, some unionists, marched up Auckland’s Queen St bearing a mock coffin in pouring rain, roundly abused by thousands of bystanders.

    Better things not rest I say. Better to resolve things.

  16. Bollocks. Only one step above the usual Mail aggression in response to any challenge to its beloved, imaginary, mythologised Britain, and below Hastings’ usual standard. It’s easy to say “let bygones be bygones” when it’s your lot in the gun.


  17. It is a bit hard for the right wing smear machine to make the mud stick on a lack of a GST receipt when their man Banksie is using $120,000 of ratepayer’s money to get a mate to write a hagiography of himself.

  18. Particularly when one such hagiography-by-a-mate has already been published. Goldsmith’s book does a good job of one thing: illustrating the awfulness of Banksie’s early life and upbringing. It does so wihtout apparent exaggeration (I believe none is needed) in order to provide stark relief for his achievements and magnanimous, far-sighted views — which unfortunately are hugely exaggerated.


  19. I’m particularly interested in the hysteria with which DPF is pursuing this. Generally if he thinks something is a decent scandal, he just presents it without huge amounts of commentary and lets the badness speak for himself. But he’s hyping this up and spinning for all he’s worth, which to me indicates that he thinks the incident needs a little boost before it gets into genuine scandal territory.

  20. What’s particularly interesting about DPF’s take is that when the current Council does something bad it’s always ‘the Auckland Council’, not ‘John Banks’. So if Banks fucks up, it’s an argument for the Supercity, and if Brown fucks up, it’s an argument for John Banks as Supercity Mayor.

  21. I think Len Brown left it far too long before admitting responsibility for his misappropriation. When I heard the audio apology, I felt cringey embarrassment. His performance may appeal to the pacifica vote, but I think too many people would have had the same reaction as myself. Brown needed to front up like man, not an overgrown cry baby. Sadly, I think that John Banks prospects have just got brighter.

  22. The aim isn’t to attract people like you who’re dead-set against him. It’s to persuade his own supporters and the undecided middle ground that he’s worth supporting in spite of his imperfections.

    I’ll be surprised if it works. Supposedly “left wing” politicians still don’t get it. You get more points by attacking first, not by defending yourself. The latter simply makes you look weak.

    The left have been getting hammered for years by the same trick, and they are too dumb to stop it.

  23. Well, it’s clearly a damage-mitigation play rather than an attack. For what it’s worth I agree with your one-line analysis, but it’s hardly germane to this particular case, which is a response to generally legitimate allegations of wrongdoing. As far as that goes, it beats other commonly-employed strategies, viz: ignore; hang head in shame, apologise and withdraw; come out fighting against the messenger; all three, but in the wrong order.


  24. I could add that the strategy of making politics a sickening and childish dogfight over trivialities is one that also benefits the right, as people will simply give up in disgust.

    And this whole affair is a triviality. In the end, Brown is just someone we pay to do a job, as are officials from private corporations we patronise. Anyone who has ever worked in a moderately nice hotel knows that the latter are far more feckless with their customers’ money than public officials ever are.

    It has been a great success for the propagandists of the right to portray spending by public officials as somehow different from the public spending of officials of private companies. They have managed to maintain this illusion even where the differences are non-existent (for example, officials of nominally privatised state utilities).

    In the end perks are simply a lubricant to ensure that an organisation runs smoothly. Getting uptight about them is childish.

  25. What I like about Brown is, he is a ‘real person’ standing up to represent the people. Banks is a political puppet of National and ACT, that is so obvious it’s sad and embarrassing.

    Those who are crazy about Banks are obviously National and ACT fanatics determined to see their ‘wealthy superiority’ politics continue to dominate the average citizen.

    Brown is the one hope the average Kiwi has of fighting back against this frightening machine made up of the very rich, the very brainwashed Nat and ACT supporters, and the mainstream media.

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