Camp Goff: old news, new tactics

Phil Goff's latest lift of his skirt reveals nothing new about his mayoral ambitions, but something more about his thinking and tactics

Sometimes it's funny to see how news unfolds. Just about every news organisation has run headlines today that, as Paddy Gower revealed this morning, Phil Goff has booked a venue at Westhaven for November 22 to announce his run for the mayoralty. But much of the rest of today's buzz is nothing new.

It's been long known that Goff will stand and that he will announce before Christmas. Both Morning Report hosts, for example, have done interviews in recent months accusing him of one of the longest political stripteases in history. It's also long been known that Brown's key backers and advisers have told him he doesn't stand a snowball's and needs to come to terms with the fact it's time to move on. Herald readers have been told as much.

One of those advisers is David Lewis -- previously of this parish, as one of Pundit's original scribes -- who ran Brown's mayoral campaigns and is now set to run Goff's. He knows as much about Auckland campaigns as anyone and his nous regarding advertising spends and key policy buttons to push was pivotal to Brown's first win against John Banks.

So there's nothing especially new about all this, except the time and place. At the same time, this veil by veil reveal is telling.

Before I go on, I should spell out that I think Goff is all-but unbeatable in this race. There are no serious candidates on the horizon, least of all ones that can compete with one of New Zealand's most experienced, hardest working and most centrist politicians. Auckland is won in the centre of politics and the south and west of the city. Goff has a good lock on all of those.

What held back Goff as Labour leader was a sense that after almost 30 years in parliament he was yesterday's man. You can't sell a new era for Labour with the same old face. It remains his only real weakness in this race -- that he's past it and too much an insider. But voters will want someone who has the political skill to take it to the Auckland bureaucracy and the Wellington contacts to get transport going. Goff ticks those boxes. But most crucially, he's not trying to rebrand a losing party. He's starting fresh in a new role, so the 'old man' tag is harder to pin on him.

But the growing public expression of this run suggests three things. First, that Goff has got some sort of clarity in his head about potential overseas postings once his mayoral time is up. I suspect what Goff really wants to crown his political career is some time as our man in London or Washington. I think his initial reluctance to run for mayor was influenced by fear of losing that opportunity. But presumably he's either decided to let the chips fall where they may, or had some assurances that a job is still on the cards; just somewhat delayed.

Second, I assume that Lewis and co have been able to bring the money on board. Remember, mayoral races are expensive. You don't get the free taxpayer ads of a general election and those billboards don't paint themselves. Goff must be comfortable he has the private donations ready to roll.

Third, with talk the right in Auckland (led by Michelle Boag and Nikki Kaye) are actively seeking a candidate, Team Goff has decided to send a clear message: 'If you want to run, it'll be against me. Have no doubt'. Goff is trying to scare the others who may be toying with a run out of the water by (effectively) announcing early. Does anyone on the right -- even the supposed new face who is being sought -- want to go head-to-head with Goff? It will be expensive, they will be up against huge experience and an old hand with name recognition. This is a shot across the bows that may make some think twice.

What's more, it's a Hillary-esque move that establishes him as the frontrunner and positions him as 'the obvious choice' in many voters minds. He's now the one to beat.

The question is how the right responds. Key and his ministers have been benign in their comments; even encouraging. Goff, after all, is on the right of Labour and no great threat to National. Given the mayoralty is likely to be beyond them, Plan B is likely to centre on running hard at the council seats. Like the Republicans in the US Senate and House undermining Barack Obama's presidential action whenever they can, a strongly right-wing council could make life difficult for Goff, even turning him into something of a lame duck.

So while Goff looks as close to a dead-cert as we've seen for a long time in New Zealand politics, that's only the start of the battle for him and his advisers. And there's nothing new in that, either.