This is a guest post by Reed Fleming.
Following the announcement by Justin Lester of sensible policy to tackle the housing crisis in Wellington, and to make swimming free for under 5s, mayoral hopeful Nicola Young attempted to join the contest of ideas this week, but perhaps shouldn’t have bothered.
In a Facebook essay, Young bemoaned the impact of street beggars on Wellington’s ‘look’, in a disappointing dogwhistle to the right. Here’s 6 reasons why she should’ve held fire on writing it:
1) It won’t work
It shouldn’t need saying that bans like this don’t work. Just like liquor ban zones drive drinkers to the Botanical Gardens, a ban on begging in the CBD would send beggars to Brooklyn shops, J’Ville shops, Island Bay shops, Kilbirnie shops. Will Nicola ban them there too? Will she call police to enforce the ban? What about when she’s not looking? While she’s making sure that anyone employed by Council to enforce the ban won’t be on a living wage, because she hates that too, what would the cost of enforcement be?
And where would Nicola draw the line between street performer and beggar? In the unlikely event Nicola won and brought the ban into effect, what’s to stop beggars from becoming legal street performers by beating on an upturned bucket? Case in point: weird gorilla costume guy. Beggar or sidewalk Beyonce? Who decides?
2) It doesn’t solve the problem
“Hard on beggars, hard on the causes of beggars”, except, Young has no plan to be hard on the causes of beggars. Out of sight, out of mind isn’t a solution. It’s just a dogwhistle to her well-off base and donors who’d rather not be pestered by the urban peasants. As Lambton Candidate Rev Brian Dawson and Local MP Grant Robertson pointed out, (both of whom get an earful from CBD constituents on the issue) a compassionate approach which invests in social services and housing will solve the problem, not criminalising being poor.
3) It won’t win votes
Of course, like any candidate in an election, Young made the announcement to win votes, –specifically right wing votes. Young is a former National Party candidate, and she’s in an ugly battle with at least one other candidate from the right: Bill English’s sister-in-law Jo Coughlan. It’s an STV election so preferences are all important. Every round a candidate needs enough votes to stay in as others get eliminated. Young needs right wing votes in order to scoop up Couglan’s preferences and make into the final rounds of voting.
Except, once Young’s picked up all the conservative poor-hating votes, she faces the uphill battle of meeting a Labour candidate in the final round. Justin Lester can expect to pick up many rusted-on Labour voters that continue to elect Labour MPs at the central government level with and where Labour candidates have substantial margins in three of the five wards.
Party vote stats from 2014 reveals that Rongotai and Wellington Central, electorates which make up 2/3rds of the WCC area, are among the top 10 seats in the country for combined Labour and Green party vote. Over 58% of the Rongotai electorate voted Labour or Green, and similar is true in Wellington Central. Appealing to the far right isn’t a winning strategy, because 42% of the vote does not a Mayor make.
Either Young knows this and she’s actually throwing the mayoral election in order to raise her profile for the local ward, as some speculated in 2013, or: she’s got a losing strategy. Time will tell.
4) It’s a bad strategy against Lester
Following on from why it won’t win right wing votes, it’s also not a good strategy to take votes from Lester. Lester, who potentially has to beat Celia to his left, and Young (and maybe Porirua Mayor Nick Leggett) to his right, is positioning himself as a centre-left nice guy. He’s communicating his business cred, and presenting market solutions to fix the housing problem. Not only has he got many of the cities mostly-left voters in the bag, he’ll be hoovering up moderate voters who’d typically think twice about giving their first preference to a Labour-endorsed candidate. Veering hard right does nothing to win back these voters from Lester.
5) It’s hypocrisy
Young hates street beggars because they’re annoying, confronting and slow us down on the narrow footpaths of Wellington. But cast your mind back a little and you’ll remember: she’s guilty of it herself. As pointed out by At The Drivethru Podcast, it was only a few months ago that she was begging for signatures under a false pretense that traffic signals depicting Kate Sheppard would be replaced. Young had no problem then with strangers asking for things, or loitering around ATMs. But that was her. And that was then. And this is now – in her latest crusade to cleanse the streets of the great unwashed.
6) She admits that she is ineffective
Nicola Young was elected in 2013. Since then, she has been at the top table of decision-making for New Zealand’s third largest local government body. Not only is Young a Councillor, but is the lead of Central City Projects and sits on the Urban Development Committee – she is among the best placed to implement this type of policy, but has instead remained silent for 3 years.
In many other instances, such as the Island Bay Cycle Way, she’s taken a stand, done the numbers and changed Council policy. All of sudden, she’s all but admitted she was an ineffective “backbencher” sitting around the Council table. Besides the fact the Council table has no benches, and no back row of seats, Young has it wrong by thinking we’re going to believe all of a sudden that this is an important issue to her.
And of course it raises the question – if all Nicola Young can do after three years on a $90,000 salary and a powerful seat on Council, is point fingers at others, come up with a dud policy that won’t work, won’t solve the root cause and won’t win votes – then maybe it’s time she stood down? The contrast between her and Lester, who last month got a motion through council to save the local night shelter, is as clear as day now. Wellington can have someone who gets things done, or who sits on the sidelines.
Nicola, Wellington’s embarrassed for you.