Standing in the Shadow of the Red Flag

Written By: - Date published: 10:30 am, November 25th, 2015 - 47 comments
Categories: activism, class war, democratic participation, elections, labour, local body elections, local government, phil goff, Politics - Tags: , ,

There was a brief discussion on The Standard about whether it appropriate for Phil Goff to win the Auckland mayoralty as an independent. Regular commenter Atiawa asked this question:

“Why would Goff stand for the Auckland mayoralty as an independent candidate considering his life-long commitment to the Labour Party?”

Why indeed?

In the parties century of political activism, I can’t find any Auckland mayor who officially stood under the Labour banner. The nearest I can get is Ernest Davis, who was a millionaire beer baron back when being a millionaire meant something. Davis was clearly associated with the workers’ party, but again, I can’t find any record of this staunch (and complex) Labour supporter actually flying the red flag in his successful campaigns. Readers with better historical knowledge may be able to point to instances where this has happened and I’m happy to have the record corrected.

Of course, Auckland was a much more narrowly defined area until the Lange Labour government introduced local government reforms in 1989. These changes ended the independence of neighbouring boroughs such as Newmarket, Mt Eden and Mt Roskill and established the Auckland City Council as arguably the most powerful single local government body. The more recent reforms have further consolidated the Queen St council as the major player in local government. The role of Mayor of Auckland can reasonably seen as being as politically significant and, in some ways, equivalent in power to a Government Cabinet Minister.

Actually, I have no problem with Goff standing as an independent this time. To be an effective Auckland mayor, he will have to appeal across the political divide. The repeated endorsements from John Key will certainly help!

National, as we know, preferred to use the Citizens and Ratepayers vehicle (now Communities and Residents). Prior to the formation of the National Party, the Reform and United parties stood joint tickets. There have been many left leaning coalitions and City Vision was probably the most successful of those, ending decades of of C&R dominance in the Queen City. Many current left MP’s in the Greens and Labour have cut their teeth as City Vision councillors and local board members. The same applies to the Future West coalition in the city’s western suburbs. Good results and good experience.

I know that there have been candidates in other council elections in the past who have officially represented Labour. For example, veteran campaigner Richard Northey stood and won the Maungakiekie-Tamaki ward in Auckland under the Labour banner.  The local local board there also went to Labour candidates, as did the local boards in Mangere-Otahuhu and Otara. However, it’s clear that the vast majority of candidates at every level in Auckland, and from every political perspective, stand as independents.

It appears that both major parties accept that at local government level, the tickets should de-emphasise the links to national politics and present as broad community groups. This concept has worked since the twenties, but I think it might be time for Labour to re-think the strategy. If not in Auckland, where the coalition with the Greens is clearly working, then maybe in the provinces, where the party struggles to make headway.

New Zealand seems unique in this approach. The major parties in the UK, Europe and the USA most often stand under their own name. Council elections are regarded as both workouts for general elections and important indicators of a party’s prospects nationally. But not here, apparently.

I’m a firm believer in the Popular Front. The Bulgarian communist leader Georgi Dimitrov recognised the fascist threat in the early thirties and campaigned for progressive parties to put aside their divisions to oppose the common foe. His was a hard fight at a time when Stalinism was being established in the USSR and the naive alternative, Trotskyism, was still convinced that a purist worldwide revolution should be the goal. In the face of a direct threat, unity is vital. Division is often fatal, particularly when the opposition is singular in its purpose.

But these are different times and there are limits to the political effectiveness of united fronts for the constituent parties. Subsuming your own identity within the electoral grouping does not enhance a party’s wider prospects. As noted above, it can be a great learning experience for candidates and a test of a party’s electoral machine, but it does little to broaden the appeal of a individual party.

For the Labour Party I think it’s time they seriously consider putting up tickets in next year’s council elections under the red flag. If the left is to win Government, Labour must pick up more support in the provinces. It’s not good enough to just have a few MP’s outside the major urban areas. The provinces have been abandoned to their fate by National. If it isn’t Labour championing the needs of towns like Gisborne, Whanganui and Dunedin, who will?

My proposal is that Labour pick a couple of small towns and one larger city and run a Labour ticket in next year’s council elections as an experiment. Let’s see if we can win under our own name and then let’s look at the results in the General Election eighteen months later and see if there is a related improvement. I reckon local Labour Party members will embrace the chance to fly the red flag in their communities. I’m equally sure that local voters will be happy to see that the Labour Party is more than just the Parliamentary caucus and is not just a 3 yearly parliamentary electoral machine.

I don’t think it would hurt Labour to stand under the scarlet standard in council elections. I believe there is nothing to lose and much to gain if candidates are proudly and publicly Labour at a local level. Could it hurt to try? Readers, would you be more interested in local body elections if you knew for sure what the politics of the candidates were? I suspect the answer might be ‘yes’.

47 comments on “Standing in the Shadow of the Red Flag”

  1. Bill 1

    I’ve never understood why local elections don’t have up-front party participation here in NZ. It’s struck me as almost dishonest insofar as I doubt the actual independence of candidates running on assumed independence.

    Anyway, not only would standing as a party give voters a bit of a heads up on (often) quite unknown candidates, it would be a perfect opportunity to generate party enthusiasm or trust at the local level (assuming the elected reps don’t fuck up) that would flow seamlessly to the national level.

    A ‘no-brainer’ I’d have thought.

    • Atiawa 1.1

      I agree Bill.
      I could understand left leaning Labour/Greens aspiring politicians standing previously as independent candidates, however I’m not so sure about Goff who was a Labour cabinet Minister and party leader. It doesn’t sit comfortably with me.
      Ratepayers are more likely to gain greater satisfaction/value from their elected representatives when a group of like minded people are able to make decisions in their collective interests rather than the independent councilor who is guided by his/her individual and friends beliefs and thoughts.

    • The Greens actually do run local candidates already. (At least, they do here in Wellington) They just may not have an Auckland presence yet.

      • Visubversa 1.2.1

        Labour and the Green Party have been in a political arrangement called City Vision in parts of Auckland since 1998. They also work together in Roskill Community Voice and Future West. In some Wards it is obviously smarter to stand as Labour – South Auckland ones in particular. Most of the time it works very well.

      • ln the 1970s the Cambridge Branch NZLP put up a full ticket fpr the local council Caused quite a stir and the local Tories really went on the abuse.we did not win but our branch membership,increased by 100 ,quite something for Blue Cambridge.

  2. Sanctuary 2

    I can understand why local body politics was historically pretty much free of political parties – local governance was about drains, roads, rates, rubbish, sewage, parking, petty by-laws and all the dross minutaie of local administration and democracy that the great ideological struggles of government are but a sideshow.

    But the supercity especially is a different kettle of fish. It is moving inexorably towards the status of a quasi-federal state within New Zealand, complete with it’s own funding streams and monopoly utility assets. And with independent funding comes the ability to pursue political agendas at variance with the prevailing central governments ideology or policies. In that environment, you need to know what sort of politician you are electing, not just the title of some front organisation he or she is standing for and from which you can have no idea of where they actually stand on the political spectrum.

  3. Colonial Viper 3

    It is right for Goff to distance himself from the Labour Party.

    • Skinny 3.1

      I agree, campaigning under the Labour banner would be a disaster in Auckland. Hence Goff takes no chances, I have seen enough Nat voters saying they will vote for him, under the LP ticket this may not be the case. Interesting hearing Key saying there is a popular right-wing candidate about to throw his hat into the contest, someone he believes can win the Auckland Mayoralty. Sounds like Key has shoulder tapped a ex pat Kiwi from abroad, if so expect Key to be plugging them through his MSM mates.

  4. tracey 4

    Interestingly today Mr Smith, venerable Minister for the Environment, was at New World for a new campaign for recycling soft plastic bottles.

    Which New Work I hear you ask? Why the one in MT Roskill where the long standing MP will not stand in 2017.

    Coincidence I am sure.

    The history of the Red Flag

    and the song

    The People’s Flag is deepest red,
    It shrouded oft our martyred dead,
    And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold,
    Their hearts’ blood dyed its every fold.

    So raise the scarlet standard high.
    Beneath its folds we’ll live and die,
    Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
    We’ll keep the red flag flying here.

    Look round, the Frenchman loves its blaze,
    The sturdy German chants its praise,
    In Moscow’s vaults its hymns were sung
    Chicago swells the surging throng.


    It waved above our infant might,
    When all ahead seemed dark as night;
    It witnessed many a deed and vow,
    We must not change its colour now.


    It well recalls the triumphs past,
    It gives the hope of peace at last;
    The banner bright, the symbol plain,
    Of human right and human gain.


    It suits today the weak and base,
    Whose minds are fixed on pelf and place
    To cringe before the rich man’s frown,
    And haul the sacred emblem down.


    With head uncovered swear we all
    To bear it onward till we fall;
    Come dungeons dark or gallows grim,
    This song shall be our parting hymn.


    I wonder if, like the British Labour Party, our LP has forgotten the roots of both the song and the flag or knows it well and has deliberately distanced itself from the association…

    For something lighter

    “The Red Flag” was parodied by singer-songwriter Leon Rosselson as the “Battle Hymn of the New Socialist Party,” also known as “The Red Flag Once a Year” or “The People’s Flag Is Palest Pink.” It is intended to satirise the perceived lack of socialist principles in the Labour Party. The initial parody was widely known in the 1960s, sometimes sung during late night parties at student conferences. It was revived in the early 2000s in response to the centrist reforms associated with Tony Blair.[13] A version which began “The people’s flag is palest pink, mum washed it in the kitchen sink” was popular among schoolchildren in the 1950s, which may have inspired Rosselson’s version.

    A version of the lyrics sung regularly at the Liberal Democrats’ Glee Club, also dated to the mid-sixties, is:

    The people’s flag is palest pink,
    It’s not as red as most think.
    We must not let the people know
    What socialists thought long ago.
    Don’t let the scarlet banner float;
    We want the middle classes’ vote.
    Let our old fashioned comrades sneer,
    We’ll stay in power for many a year.[14

    • RedBaronCV 4.1

      Well that should get rid of a good chunk of the Mt Roskill New World customers if it is widely publised. I try to vote with my money if I see a business owner supporting NAct.

      • tracey 4.1.1

        Yeah. I switched from countdown to New World to support NZ owned and that hire people to pack my bags, rather than me doing it myself (of which I am capable but surely better to have someone get a job from it?)

        So, what to do now.

        • Karen

          Actually Tracey, Countdown have unionised staff with better pay and conditions than New World offers their staff. Just ignore the self service booths there in favour of a real person.

          • RedBaronCV

            Yep I always support the local jobs here, in the banks with the ird etc etc. Always ask if the call centre is local.

          • tracey

            I do that Karen. I stopped the self service queues after someone brought it up here a year or more ago.

            And that’s the crux Karen. Countdown probably are shafting all consumers and suppliers with their standover (reverse loss leader practice) AND profits going offsore…

            So, I fruit and veggie at my local fruit and veggie store. Buy my meat online and have the choice between the devil and his brother for the rest.

            Nonetheless Mr Smith in Mt Roskill… starting to build a profile for the nat candidate? I note all the people outside were in suits or part of the recycling group (and predominantly white and male…. Smith didn’t go near a worker inside (to my knowledge).

            • Karen

              Personally I will always support a business that is union friendly, so it is Countdown for me for all those things I cannot get at my local vege shop, fish shop or butchers.

            • Nessalt

              you gave up self service queues to help workers but you order your meat online? so you’re a contradictory luddite?

              • Online deliveries still have to be prepared and shipped. Supermarket workers go through and prepare the bundles, it’s just instead of having a checkout worker scan them, they have a truck worker deliver them. It’s probably more labour-intensive than ordering in person, (and certainly moreso than self-service) it just shifts some of that labour away from the busiest periods.

    • Mike the Savage One 4.2

      Nick the D*ck should get rid of plastic bags and most one way packaging full stop, had he any damned guts to do something for the environment. This is just more tinkering around the edges, as recycled plastic bags and wrappings do not result in any good quality goods made from recycled material. It is at best second to third rate plastics what comes out of recycling that, and it may even be cheaper to fire the stuff through a furnace as part of a generator that produces electricity from burning such rubbish (filtering the toxic stuff out of the fumes of course).

      New Zealand, like many other western nations, that go on about the “green” image are a joke, to be honest. We should not get more recycling but first of all go back to re-used packaging, such as we once had when milk was still delivered to homes, in reusable glass bottles. But as most are now convenience addicts, it is hard to convince the lazy minds and bodies, to change thinking and habits.

      That is one area where Auckland as the largest city in NZ could lead the way, by bringing in rules under the RMA that does actually do more to reduce waste, that is altogether, so that only minimal amounts need recycling and even less go to landfill. There is a real job for Phil, I wonder whether he is up to annoying the convenience-obsessed and consumerist Aucklanders, used to buy and turf out one way stuff.

      • Macro 4.2.1

        Absolutely. NZ is adjacent to one of the worst polluted areas of Ocean in the world and is the breeding ground for about 70% of sea birds all of which are now under threat because of this massive rubbish dump.
        I and my wife refuse plastic bags for all our purchases – we carry our own bags, and for our meat I visit the local butcher and supply my own reusable tinfoil trays.
        It was a bit strange at first – but the local shops now know we don’t want their bags and are happy not to press one on us. The old plastic bags we have have been reused may times – spuds, carrots, etc. Paper bag if we have one, for the home baked bread at the market. It can be done and does not need a lot of thought.

  5. tracey 5


    So when Len Brown was being denoted as Labour, that was more the use of it as a sneer by the Right (genuine question)?

    • I’m pretty sure he also stood as an independent, but was endorsed by Labour.

      • tracey 5.1.1

        he was also affiliated with the Labour Party, does that mean was a member? I, perhaps wrongly, assumed Goff stands as an independent to pitch himself to both sides?

        • te reo putake

          Brown has been an LP member since he was 17. I just checked and he won the Manukau mayoralty as an independent too. I guess you’re right that the independent tag helps get broad support.

    • Hanswurst 5.2

      I seem to recall Phil Goff expressing satisfaction at the election of a “Labour mayor” in footage of him congratulating Brown on the latter’s victory in the inaugural super city election. I couldn’t find any footage online in a quick search just now, though.

  6. Ad 6

    For Auckland, Councillors Ross Clow and Alf Filipaina stood successfully under Labour.

    For the Whau and Mangere-Otahuhu and Otara Local Boards, a majority stood and won under Labour.

    Whereas in the centre of Auckland it’s the City Vision coalition, which is predominantly Labour with some Greens. In the Waitakere Local Board the same thing was called Vision West or something.

    While in some suburbs it may be horses for courses, the Labour brand has been ridiculously undersold in local government. And when Labour activists have the conviction to get behind proudly Labour-branded candidates, the results are that targeted turnout can win otherwise unlikely seats. Fewf are now naively saying that party politics should be kept out of local government. Unite or be crushed.

    Against that, Labour are polling not well, have very little money to contribute to a local campaign let alone a central one, and it’s not a brand that resonates at all well with any male over 40. So I can see why it’s not entirely attractive.

  7. Anne 7

    Readers, would you be more interested in local body elections if you knew for sure what the politics of the candidates were? I suspect the answer might be ‘yes’.

    I think the answer is a ‘yes’ but for a different reason put forward by TRP.

    The main reason why most candidates for local body elections have run as ‘independent’ – or loosely defined tickets – was borne out of experience. Rightly or wrongly, voters find party political involvement in LB elections to be anathema to them. That’s the way it’s always been and I don’t think anything has changed.

    It has long been a farce because the Cits and Rats have never been anything else but National in drag, but they conned the voters for decades. That’s why they dominated Auckland Councils for so long. It took Labour (remember this was FPP days) a long, long time to cotton on, and start up their own “loosely defined tickets” and since then their fortunes have improved.

    Therefore I say, leave things as they are. Voting habits are notoriously hard to change.

  8. alwyn 8

    I didn’t think that the Labour Party had ever stopped running candidates.
    In Wellington at least they had a number representing the party in the last Local Body Election.
    Here is a press release that was issued by The New Zealand Labour Party at the time.

    • Thanks, Alwyn. When I was researching for the post, I concentrated on Auckland, but I was reasonably confident that there were Labour candidates elsewhere. I just didn’t know where exactly.

      • alwyn 8.1.1

        You at least know something about our largest city.
        As a Wellington resident I can only offer a parody of L P Hartley’s line.
        “”The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”,”
        and change “past” to “Queen city”.
        I suppose “Queen City” is still used for Auckland or am I even out of date on that?

        On the other hand our current mayor ran as an Independent, even though she had been on the Green Party list for Parliament at one point. She had the gall to use orange as her campaign colour. As a UK born person I would have remembered the Northern Irish troubles and the difference between Orange and Green.

        • tracey

          Haven’t heard it called that in a long time alwyn. City of Sails (sales) maybe but not Queen city for a long time

        • te reo putake

          Ironically, I’m the atheist chair of a Catholic football club. Our bhoys and ladies play in green, but our away colours are orange. That’s a nod to the club’s Dutch dominated post war history. We’ve got a Northern Ireland born player who swears he only plays well in the orange away kit and that the green shirt makes him want start fights with himself. You can take the boyo out of Belfast, but you can’t take Belfast out of the boyo, apparently.

  9. Richard Christie 9


    Because he’s always been Labour, but never been Labour.

  10. Tiger Mountain 10

    yep, it makes little sense in a class society to claim independence, one obvious problem is all of the current parliamentary parties present as cross class–representing “all New Zealanders” when in fact the bourgeois parliament is itself a part of the state superstructure enforcing private ownership, and currently via the Nats and ACT openly facilitating private penetration of publicly owned assets and services

    but if you want to talk pragmatism and reforms the least local government voters need to know is where Mayors stand on Living Wage, CCO type organisations and flogging off public assets

  11. Tiger Mountain 11

    yep, it makes little sense in a class society to claim independence, one obvious problem is all of the current parliamentary parties present as cross class–representing “all New Zealanders” when in fact the bourgeois parliament is itself a part of the state superstructure enforcing private ownership, and currently via the Nats and ACT openly facilitating private penetration of publicly owned assets and services

    but if you want to talk pragmatism and reforms the least local government voters need to know is where Mayoral candidates stand on Living Wage, CCO type organisations and flogging off public assets

  12. pipalbany 12

    My only question is who or how Labour would fund these local body elections, the coffers are a bit barren for the Parliamentary Election machine. and there seems to be a dearth of fundraising at local level that is channeling into the main coffers, or is there funding or fund-raising going on at local levels that would allow a candidate to nail their colours that clearly to a mast?

  13. RedBaronCV 13

    I quite like candidates to have some form of endorsement from established parties – at least for larger centres and bodies.
    Even when you have been around a while it can be tedious trying to sort through the ticket to work out who is going to vote for what if elected. How a newcomer copes I don’t know.
    An endorsement also helps to sift out some of the less desirable candidates as the parties do care about their reputations. At the last elections, quite apart from the usual single issue candidates, there were candidiates in jail awaiting trial and subsequent conviction, some who were seriously ill before nomination, unlikely to recover and died soon after election day. Then there are the muddlers, the clueless etc etc. and some good people who will miss out.

    I’d also like a bit of non financial support for endorsed candidates post elections, maybe drawn from the local community. If they want to be re-elected then they have to generally cleave to the values supported but they get piles of stuff to analyse so a bit of help may not go amiss.

    Mainly they get information and analysis from council officers and officers have been caught briefing some councillors and not others depending on what they support. I have seen councillors who are great in some areas but with the help of a bit of independent analysis could put more pressure on council officers to widen the values they use or put a wider agenda up front for consideration.

  14. Mike the Savage One 14

    Is it not for the fact that local body elections, especially here in Auckland, do get a rather low turnout and participation rate, that there is a need to try and appeal across party lines?

    I think that it has been reported before, that of those that still bother to vote, most seem to be those with some vested interests, which would include property ownership (rate-payers) and those with business interests. As far as I know voter participation in Auckland is low among those that do not own property, who are renters, who are ordinary workers and who are at the same time often not that well informed on what goes on in their city.

    And the lowest participation is among those that are not even in work due to unemployment and/or health reasons, same among many of a younger age.

    With that in mind, it is not at all surprising that Goff and others try to run as “independents”, as that makes them appear as wanting to reach out to voters and residents that bother voting, many of whom may feel little inclined to vote for a person that openly carries the “Labour” brand.

    As no candidate addresses a major issue, that is trying to activate and interest the many non voters, we simply continue to get a repeat of the same of past years, on local body and national level. Those that vote are home owners, and others, who are very interested in keeping their interests considered and looked after. So we can already predict what Phil Goff will stand for and do, as he will depend on the votes of many middle class and upper class people with their very vested interests here in Auckland.

    If only someone had the guts and resources, and ability of course, to mobilise the large number of disenfranchised and marginalised, we could have very different results and a different future for Auckland, but it seems, that as campaigns depend on financial support, again coming from the better off, we will not get any change soon.

  15. Penny Bright 15

    I’ll be running a full frontal Mayoral campaign against the neo-liberal ‘Rogernomics reforms’ which have made the Auckland region a ‘Supercity’ – for the 1%.

    That may help inspire some of the 64% of Auckland voters, who didn’t bother in 2013 to participate in the 2016 election?

    What is Phil Goff saying, or, more importantly, what has he ever done to inspire real confidence in anyone but the ‘corporate 1%’ in whose interests the Auckland region is currently being run?

    (I first encountered Phil Goff back in 1985, when he was the Rogernomics Labour Minister of Housing, and Labour had just lifted the rent freeze.

    Which affected low-income renters.

    I was one of those fighting those neo-liberal Rogernomics reforms – that Phil Goff was helping to implement.)

    Penny Bright

    Confirmed and serious 2016 Auckland Mayoral candidate.

  16. rhinocrates 16

    What “life-long commitment to the Labour Party”? It was only a vehicle for his ambitions and his only loyalty was to himself and to Douglas. The only reason he didn’t follow his idol into ACT was because he thought that he was going to be PM and he’d never be that in a minor party. Labour’s well rid of the toxic bastard.

  17. FlashinthePan 17

    I think TRP’s on to something but, as others have mentioned, this could backfire for Labour as most people don’t like politics in their local bodies.

    However, a cunning underdog like Winston could use the local body elections as a great forerunner to the general election in branding NZ First as the “party of the provinces”. Finding good candidates would be their biggest challenge.

    NZ First tapped into a provincial resentment towards being taken advantage of by National in the Northland By-Election that they’d be mad not to tap into.

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