Leaving Politics At The Door: Len Brown Wins a Second Term



MAYOR LEN BROWN has made the transition from people’s champion to safe-pair-of-hands. Three years ago he was swept into office on the seldom-cast votes of the marginalised and excluded citizens of South and West Auckland. Last Saturday he was re-elected: securing fewer than half of the votes of barely a third of Auckland’s eligible electors. The strongest testimony to the safety of Len Brown’s hands? That the Right saw no compelling reason to run a serious candidate against him.


With the benefit of hindsight it is possible to see Len Brown’s at least nominal allegiance to the Labour Party as being much less about principle than it was about selecting the path of least resistance to political power. To the professionally-qualified but ideologically tepid man or woman harbouring large ambitions, Labour offers a much less exacting means of social ascent than navigating the complex networks of power which New Zealand’s “old money” has spent the best part of 150 years constructing.


This has been especially true since the early 1980s when Labour’s ambitious young president, Jim Anderton, oversaw the social transformation of the Labour caucus by selecting young, upwardly-mobile urban professionals to carry Labour’s banner in the marginal parliamentary seats. Socially wet, but economically dry, these MPs became Roger Douglas’s most willing accomplices in the wholesale destruction of Old Labour.


Following the election of the Fourth Labour Government in July 1984, this new breed of Labour activist delighted in deluging conference delegates with pamphlets urging them to “Join the Yuppie Revolution – or get left behind!” The party of the trade unions was said to be passing into history; the political future belonged to those who could practice the fluid politics of identity while simultaneously applying the inflexible formulae of the free market. A young, up-and-coming lawyer like Len Brown could join this sort of Labour Party without hesitation.

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Len Brown’s political style combines the volatile (and often conflicting) demands of identity and marketplace with great skill. In some ways that makes him the last (and arguably one of the more adroit) of the 1980s Rogernomes. Certainly his conduct as Auckland’s Mayor: his refusal to back the Maritime Union in its battle with Ports of Auckland; his “neutrality” in relation to the Glen Innes evictions; and his open disdain for the more traditional leftists on the Auckland City Council; all point to a man who is much more neoliberal than he is social-democratic.


The next three years will test Len Brown’s political skills to the full. Increasingly, the Labour Party and the wider labour movement are abandoning the ideological inertia of the Clark Era for a much more overt and aggressive restatement of social-democracy. Brown’s “centre-left” persona will thus become less and less convincing as his political alliances and economic decisions identify him more and more as a politician of the centre-right. Should a David Cunliffe-led Labour Party win the 2014 General Election, the Auckland Mayor’s lack of ideological sympathy with the incoming regime will be difficult to hide.


A Labour-Green coalition government determined to do more than talk about housing the poor may not find the private developer’s charter that Brown’s Unitary Plan represents at all equal to the challenge of placing thousands of low-income families into well-designed, well-constructed and affordable accommodation. The extreme neoliberal ideology which informed the constitutional design of the Auckland super-city may similarly be deemed unequal to the scope and urgency of the other big changes Auckland must undertake. Rather than presenting himself as the man in the vanguard of the city’s infrastructure development, Brown may find himself running to catch up with a central government unwilling to see Auckland’s development stymied by the neoliberal diehards running Auckland’s CCOs.


The big question that Brown must, therefore, answer is: What kind of leader will he be when politics can no longer be “left at the door”?


In that signature, and very telling phrase, all of Brown’s essential conservatism; all of his unspoken devotion to thestatus quo; and all of his determination to govern not according to the dictates of principle – but through the judicious use of patronage – comes shining through.


While the reactionary precepts of neoliberalism remain enthroned in Auckland, Len Brown’s role as its loyal and avuncular major domo is safe. But should the fulfilment of a radically divergent and genuinely left-wing ideological project demand that politics not only come across the threshold of local government but also take its rightful place at the council table, then Mayor Brown’s avuncular mask is likely to slip, and the fiscally and socially conservative family lawyer he has always been will be revealed. At that point the Left – seconded by the new “centre” its radicalism has called into existence, will discover that they have no further use for him.


Mayor Brown sings Pokarekare Ana beautifully: it’s just a pity he never learned the words to Solidarity Forever.



  1. While I agree with much what Chris is saying about Len Brown and his background, his personal (opportune) views and actions, I do not really think he will have much trouble “adjusting” to a more social democratic, yes more left of centre Labour Party led government.

    Len is simply a perfect turn-coat, he can talk to various groups by pandering to their differing interests, views and preferences, and he switches from one kind of speaker to another without much problem.

    Hence he can appeal to the South Aucklanders at one time, and to the ones in the west, north and east of Greater Auckland at other times.

    His direction also has shown how he can virtually embrace the central government, and work well with them, despite of all gripes about some details.

    That is what has made me highly suspicious of the man, hence I did not vote for him this last election.

    Len will prove that he can naturally turn inside out or from right of centre to left of centre, should the government change in 2014. He will then probably suddenly follow slightly different ideas and agendas than now. A “reborn” “social democrat” he may then suddenly wish to call himself.

    Len the chameleon, he can feel at home and work well in any environment. A turncoat as they are described in the best dictionary. He will march with the port workers under a Cunliffe led government, I can really picture it!

    • You and Chris have Len summed up. As the words go “The Peoples flags a shade of pink, Its not as red as you might think”!

  2. Len has absolutely no vision. The city rail link, second harbour crossing, AMETI, and east west link. These are all projects that have been around for years. Three of them are massive roading projects, so its just more of the same, pleasing the roading lobby.

    What is the point of being the Mayor if you don’t actually have ideas and a plan of your own?

  3. The fact his recent Chinese mistress Bevan clearly found him unexciting in bed and politically means it is fairly save to assume that Brown is essentially a plodding middle class lawyer who leans to the left, but it is hardly likely to be attracted to radicalism or the view of the brighter less constricted Auckland left. At the more than surface appearance Len Brown could hardly be expected to be more radical than Mike Moore, and therefore Brown is even more of a pure administrative and PR frontman than Key.
    From my point of view Auckland is basically a conservative working class city which public life is dominated by the predjudice and self interest of working class whites. Few international cities would be more restrictive and unexciting than Auckland – which absurdly panders to the outdated gays and islamists with ridiculous PC and is massively hostile to the raunch culture that dominated female US college life. Auckland to me seem massively hostile to the modern free western hetrosexual society. I find Auckland allien, backward and annoying. It is a city with a huge working class prejudice againts the maoris and mentally ill in particular and is at least 40 years out of date. The late 1960s and 1970s never really happened here. Certainly the key points in history when the Isle of White rock festival when the leading rock groups Stones, Mitchell, Who. Nash decided the working class were morons when they demanded free concerts. In other words the really intelligent left became capitalists at 27 or died. Charlotte Rampling in the most blantant and brilliant outrageous night porter gave the left the ultimate fist up the arse in 1974.

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