Brian Edwards Media

Banks or Brown? Brown or Banks? Who’s really Mr Nice? Who’s really Mr Nasty? Who’s neither?

YES, BUT WHICH IS WHICH?

It’s confusing. I thought I knew who Len Brown was and I thought I knew who John Banks was. Crudely expressed, Brown was Mr Nice and Banks was Mr Nasty. There’s something reassuring about that sort of simplistic delineation of character. For one thing, it makes political options easier. Given the choice of having Mr Nice or Mr Nasty run things for us, we’d all choose Mr Nice of course. Or would we?

Deborah Hill Cone expresses an interesting view of this in this morning’s Herald. In a column headlined Bad is best – the good guys don’t get the job done, she writes: 

‘Personally, I’d choose a bolshie Churchillian with a filthy mouth and bad temper but great leadership chops over a well-spoken, mild-mannered, hand-holding type.’ 

She’s not alone. If you look at the men and women New Zealanders have chosen to lead the country, a very clear picture arises of our taste in Prime Ministers. A perception of strength, bordering on tyranny, is the essential prerequisite. We prefer the bully to the (perceived) wimp. Muldoon and Rowling provide the clearest example. Muldoon, most people would agree, looked like a bully; Rowling, in reality a very strong personality, came across as weak and ineffectual. Muldoon beat him in three elections. 

At the local body level, Banks and Hubbard illustrate this phenomenon. Aucklanders got rid of Banks because he was nasty and they thought they wanted someone nice. Hubbard was nice. But it didn’t take the citizenry long to realise that nice wasn’t what they wanted after all. Banks was back. As Hill Cone rightly observes: ‘Hubbard would be welcomed into anyone’s knitting circle but that may not be the first quality on the list for great mayors.’     

My current confusion arises from the fact that, between Brown and Banks,  I’m no longer sure who is Mr Nice and who is Mr Nasty. Both leopards seem to have changed their spots. 

I first became aware of this in the Campbell Live debate between the two contenders. 

Banks generally talked policy. And he was generous to Brown, at one point saying, ‘My opponent is a good bloke and he’s an honourable candidate.’ 

Brown spent much of his time attacking Banks. He began his opening statement: ‘Aucklanders, any bully, any dictator will tell you he’s offering strong leadership.’ 

He continued in much the same vein, adding insult to injury by rudely refusing to look at Banks when Banks was speaking. For some of the time at least, Brown actually looked rather nasty. 

This morning’s Herald contains a 44-page ‘Super City Election Guide’. Brown has a full page ad and a quarter-page ad in this supplement. Banks, surprisingly, has no ad at all. 

In Brown’s  full-page ad, headed IT’S A MATTER OF TRUST, the two candidates are compared side by side on twelve issues. A good policy or record in office gets a tick; a bad policy or record in office, gets a cross. Brown (referred to as ‘Len’ throughout) gives himself 12 ticks; Banks (referred to as ‘Banks’ throughout) get 12 crosses with a question mark on the issue of whether he can be trusted. 

It’s an attack ad. Its principal function is to warn you about John Banks. 

Attack advertising is commoner in the United States than it is here. Candidates and their media advisers in New Zealand have tended to regard it as counter-productive. Kiwi voters don’t like it. Attacking ‘nice’ Mr Key was a significant mistake made by Labour in the last election. 

But in this case it’s also confusing. For one thing, it sits uneasily with Brown’s warm-fuzzy, inclusive, strongly Christian image. Nothing very charitable in name-calling and stone-throwing. That, one might have thought, would sit more comfortably with Banks. 

But it’s Banks who now seems to want to be Mr Nice. 

What the hell is going on? 

Here’s my guess. Brown’s media advisors have said: ‘Len, you’ve got to change your wishy-washy image. You’ve got to start looking strong and decisive.’ Banks media advisers have said: ‘John, your reborn “caring, concerned man of the people”  image has worked well for you. More of the same please.’ 

Both pieces of advice amount to this: ‘Stop being yourself. Pretend to be someone else.’ 

Now that’s really, really bad advice, not least because it insults the intelligence of the voters and the voters know it. 

As for me, I could happily vote for a really nice Len Brown or a really nasty John Banks. I might even share Deborah Hill Cone’s taste for ruthless bastards. But I’m not at all sure that I want anyone running the Super City who got in pretending they were what they weren’t. 

As I say, it’s confusing.

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26 Comments:

  1. Brian, I think there is some truth in what you have outlined here. Both are attempting to cover their perceived weak flanks.

    However – it is becoming really frustrating that the media and the commentariat continue to make the personal qualities of the two candidates the sole focus of their analysis.

    While it is important for voters to get sense of what the two men are like as people, surely it is more important to actually examine their respective policy records and programmes. This is where Banks has been brilliantly successful so far. His record reflects his hard-right political principles, and he has never ever broken ranks with the odious C&R on policy.

    He may be “strong” or he may be “nice” but what would he actually do as our leader? The answer is that he would continue to implement a C&R agenda – higher user charges, roads over public transport, favouritism to the eastern suburbs, and no interest in social issues.

    You can also add his lies about Brown supporting a poll tax to the “nasty” column – http://cityvision.org.nz/news_stories/259

  2. Personally I gave up being confused after having spoken at length to both. It was the nice Mr Brown I had coffee with and i came away with the impression that he had few ideas about a city but a rich vocabulary of community buzz words – a vision marching towards a battalion of committees. I am on record as opposing the nasty Mr Banks (he quite wrongly but kindly gave Brian Rudman and myself a leading role in his downfall) but I have subsequently come to the conclusion that his defeat to Hubbard was a cold shower he learnt from. I am not ashamed to say that this time out I think he is the only candidate that has the bottle for this job – poisoned chalice, hospital pass or whatever other cliche for political risk it may be. Perhaps this is just some kind of post traumatic stress after a decade of unfulfilled promise from the left – although I have not given up on its principles – I am happy to take the risk on three years of productive tyranny than three more years of fuzzy bureaucracy.

  3. I’ve known John Banks for a long time having worked with him on the radio – and I’ve often said my preference for voting for someone will most likely be swayed if I know that person. I know John Banks and like him – so I was probably going to vote for him anyway BUT when you line up the candidates and look at their record of public service – John Banks has it all over Len Brown. His experience in both local and national government is almost overwhelming in comparison. And if people overlook that because he was nasty about homosexuals 20 years ago, or said something about Italian sailors in jest on a radio show then they are seriously skewed in their thinking. We need this experience for the first Mayor of this new City of Auckland. Len Brown, as Banks says is an honorable candidate – and might make a decent Mayor one day – but not this time around. Auckland needs to work on so many levels, most of which are technical – not wishy-washy “bringing communties together” bollocks. Not this time.

  4. Vote for Andrew Williams then. You could be in no doubt what you would be getting with him.

    I have been following the campaign from a distance but I have not been able to discern any great vision from any of the candidates. they all seeem very eager to spend a lot of money of rail corridors, tunnels and bridges but I would find it diificult to say which of them is most likely to make a positvive contribution to the lives of Aucklanders. Perhaps those nearer to the campaign might be able to tell me.

    It might have been better when settingup tthe new city if all past mayors and councillors had been excluded from running for office.

    • Vote for Andrew Williams then. You could be in no doubt what you would be getting with him.

      The very reason why I could never vote for him.

  5. And if people overlook that because he was nasty about homosexuals 20 years ago, or said something about Italian sailors in jest on a radio show then they are seriously skewed in their thinking.

    Oh, c’mon. It’s a stream of nasty statements over the past 25 years, as recently as his denigration of Maori Television as “apartheid” and “racist” four years ago. And, for that matter, his hugely cynical declaration a couple of weeks ago that Brown’s support for Maori seats on the Auckland council was evidence that Brown wanted to “divide Auckland along racial lines”.

    Has Brown been a bit underwhelming? Yes. Has Banks changed a bit? Yes. But that’s quite a big bag of free passes you’re handing around there.

    But for me, the dealbreaker with respect to Banks remains the nature of a number of people around him. I’ve heard nothing from him in the campaign that makes me feel any better about that.

  6. So you are not allowed to be philosophically opposed to Maori television? You aren’t allowed to use hyperbole to make your point? Maori TV has given the Maori Party a free ride on EVERY issue and has given them a captive audience and you aren’t allowed to express your dislike of it as a concept? I don’t have a problem with that but I can certainly see how some can.

  7. I think being a decent person is one of the most important things about anyone in a position such as PM or Mayor……being “decent” to others to the less fortunate to whoever says much about a person….and for me thats Len Brown!

  8. So you are not allowed to be philosophically opposed to Maori television? You aren’t allowed to use hyperbole to make your point?

    I would prefer a candidate capable of expressing criticism without describing MTV as “the apartheid channel” and “one of the most disgusting apartheid TV stations in the history of the world”. In the same inane broadcast, he also claimed (baselessly) that Judy Bailey had been paid $25,000 to host Anzac Day coverage, and mused about her stealing the greenstone carving she wore on camera.

    And this was just before his current mayoral term. I’m all for giving people a chance, but your implication that all the nastiness happened 20 years ago is simply wrong. I’m really not willing to vote for someone who has indulged in such public vileness so many times.

    This is why all we hear from Banks in this campaign is his canned lines. The last thing they want is for him to start improvising.

  9. And with respect to Banks’ crew, we do all seem to have forgotten that Jock Anderson at NBR wrote that he was approached in June by “a person linked to Auckland mayor John Banks” with a really nasty, and baseless, purported scoop involving Brown’s family. This seems quite a bit worse than Brown’s apparently unfriendly eyeline in a TV debate (where he was obliged to look at the host anyway).

    The reports of the heckle squad that follows Banks around to public meetings during this campaign are depressingly familiar too. I’ve seen Act weenies do this sort of thing at meetings before, and I’m buggered if I’d indulge it with my vote.

    • This seems quite a bit worse than Brown’s apparently unfriendly eyeline in a TV debate (where he was obliged to look at the host anyway.)

      I obviously agree that what Banks’ supporters are here alleged to have done is far more significant than looking away when your opponent in a debate is speaking. But you’re incorrect in saying that Brown was ‘obliged to look at the host anyway’. He certainlly wasn’t. Of itself, the looking away, which to my mind expresses contempt, is of no great moment. I merely mentioned it in the context of Brown’s apparent overall stragegy of expressing disdain for and attacking his opponent.

  10. A few blogs back I was criticised as “constitutionally determined to see the worst in your fellow man and woman”. Judging from some of the comments here regarding Mr Banks’ past I am in good company.

  11. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1eQIUoi5Ug

    John Banks says he cares more about the penguins in Antarctica than he does about social issues in New Zealand. Maybe he should get a job with D.O.C rather than being the mayor of a large city of human beings.

    • John Banks says he cares more about the penguins in Antarctica than he does about social issues in New Zealand. Maybe he should get a job with D.O.C rather than being the mayor of a large city of human beings.

      He did say that. A rather silly thing to have said, which I don’t doubt he later regretted. He also went on to explain to Oliver Driver what he meant. That isn’t in your clip. This was a long interview with four parts. Your clip is somewhat selective.

  12. A few blogs back I was criticised as “constitutionally determined to see the worst in your fellow man and woman”. Judging from some of the comments here regarding Mr Banks’ past I am in good company.

    One might equally observe that that seems to have been Mr Banks’ own problem at various times in his public history.

  13. What confuses me about both Banks and Brown is that they’re not stupid men — no matter how hard they try to prove otherwise. But they seem to be afflicted by the same disease that struck Gillard and Abbott across the ditch: So terrified of saying anything that would piss off a focus group they ended up babbling incoherently, while the media filled the policy void with increasingly absurd and trivial process stories.

  14. And, Russell, yes plenty of the people around Banks bring me out in hives. I don’t actually have a clue who’s advising — and financing — Brown’s campaign.

  15. 15

    The real odious Tony (TROD)

    From a distance, it seems like an election of spin and image – not policies. I think trust should be the core of any vote. Do I believe Banks has really changed his spots…dunno, but I’m going to enjoy watching from afar.

    Both candidates are a sad indictment of any “Super” City.

    I’m really waiting for Parker to loose the ChCh election…at which point he’ll be joining the National Party for a trip to Parliament…John Key’s successor?

    • I’m really waiting for Parker to loose the ChCh election…at which point he’ll be joining the National Party for a trip to Parliament…John Key’s successor?

      Despite Anderton now saying he’ll give up parliament and just be Mayor of Christchurch, I think it would be very foolish to assume that Parker will lose the mayoralty.

  16. @ BE: “Muldoon, most people would agree, looked like a bully; Rowling, in reality a very strong personality, came across as weak and ineffectual. Muldoon beat him in three elections.”

    In fact, Labour received a higher percentage of the vote in two of those three elections. Leadership opinion-polls from the time (and indeed my own memory) suggest Muldoon was deeply divisive – half of the electorate loved him, half absolutely hated him.

    @ Hamish Keith: “I am happy to take the risk (with Banks).”

    But surely, Hamish, it’s lower-income Aucklanders who’ll be taking the real risk, here ?

  17. We all thought, that Len was amenable and affable, until he was asked if he paid for his lunches. Then, he got all defensive to the point of being quite shirty. All that wailing and crying, “Woe is me” self-pity; it was hardly a confidence-inspiring display from a Super City mayoral aspirant.

    The very public self-flagellation, was a media beat-up. Quite literally. All, in his shameless quest to induce an outpouring of public sympathy and recrimination, for having been asked the question in the first place. And, to think, he’d just climbed out of his sick bed, too.

    But my initial exuberant optimism is being replaced by a growing accretive uneasiness as to his ability to act, selflessly, and with integrity. And I begin to intuit that, maybe, he is not as stable as he could be, after his forced lacuna. Because it did show up by way of his irrational behaviour. He came back to work, eyes inset and sickly complected; almost spectral-looking. Health-wise, he appears to be on the improve.

    Banks can “bank” on his preternatural good looks which provide a telling contrast to the more murine-looking Brown. That may count for something when it comes to some of the female voters.

    @ Craig: I’d say, Aaron Bhatnager is Banksie’s “consigliere”. Better, that his coterie of
    shadowy advisors cause you to breakout in hives rather than boils.

  18. “I think it would be very foolish to assume that Parker will lose the mayoralty”

    I think you’re probably right…but I reckon that Labour will be hoping Parker wins ChCh now – which I guess is ironic. National’s planners must be lining him up…

    His performance has been really quite impressive. He looks much better surrounded by dirt and disaster than he ever did as a TV presenter…he was always too perfect…in a creepy way.

  19. I would agree with the comments regarding Parker; his management of the crisis has been first rate and totally changed my view of him. Sorry, Jim but you are history and your attempts to pick holes in Parker’s handling of the crisis just make you look petty and churlish.

    So we now need a volcanic eruption in Auckland so that we can compare the crisis manaagement skills of the three mayors.

  20. Why on earth should a small-to-medium-sized city in a nation not currently at war want a Churchillian leader?

    The old growler was superb when Britain’s back was to the wall, tyranny triumphant across the rest of Europe and the Luftwaffe raining down death and destruction every night. But he wasn’t much cop at any other time.

    The last thing we need is Banksie trying to be Rudy Guilliani trying to be Churchill.

  21. Whoever gets the job may end up with far more than he bargained for.This may not be a dream job more like a nightmare.I have never liked Banks and his arrogance.Perhaps hes a natural for this job.After listening to the 3 candidates on the national programme I was suprised to learn that none of them considered the idea of the conglomeration of Auckland into one body at this pace to be seriously flawed.

  22. Well just go look at this website http://northshorecitycouncil.net.nz
    then go look at Andrew Williams facebook page and response to this council stuff up.

    http://www.facebook.com/MayorAndrewWilliams?v=wall&ref=ts