The most upbeat runner in the Auckland mayoral race has felt obliged to perform a weird half-withdrawal. And not for the first time, writes Toby Manhire
Nudges and winks to the electorate have become a familiar part of MMP politics in New Zealand, with messages beamed to loyal supporters about how to vote strategically.
This is most famously encapsulated in ceremonial cups of tea, an approach that worked neatly until it didn’t any more.
In the case of the nudgiest, winkiest seat of them all, Epsom, Paul Goldsmith has gurned his way awkwardly through successive campaigns as the “Vote National, I’m National, don’t vote for me, vote for the other guy” candidate.
His insouciant too-cool-to-want-to-be-elected styles spawned, inevitably perhaps, the #Hipsters4Goldsmith movement.
But spare a thought for Mark Thomas. Hard-working, impassioned and full of smiles, relentlessly upbeat and a properly nice guy, yet cruelly cursed with terrible luck and the political instincts of a newt, Thomas has announced this morning that he is no longer in the race for the mayoralty, after concerted lobbying from Concerned People that he should stand aside. Scratch that: he is in the race for the mayoralty but he is kind of no longer, you know, really, well, in the race for the mayoralty because Phil Goff is going to win, and so he’s going to focus his efforts on explaining to everyone why Phil Goff is bad.
Only the hardest of hearts couldn’t feel some sympathy for Mark T, who is left fluttering in the breeze like a plastic shopping bag stuck on a power line, making semi-coherent noises about his still-standing-not-really-standing status.
The most brutal thing of all is that the ghosts of 1996 have hikoied all the way up State Highway 1 from Te Aro to Aotea Square. Mark Thomas, as documented in the brilliant film Campaign, was the National candidate for Wellington Central who got cut off at the knees just a few days before the general election, with party leader Jim Bolger determining that the way should be cleared for ACT top-Rottweiler Richard Prebble.
As Tim Murphy put it in his account for the Spinoff earlier this year, the shots of Thomas taking the call from Bolger, just a few days shy of two decades ago, are something else:
It is one of the saddest sights in New Zealand politics. Sadder, possibly, than those images years later of Bill English being heckled as he walked home alone and desolate across parliament’s forecourt after being deposed as National Party leader.
In Tony Sutorius’s documentary, Thomas let off one F-bomb on camera (“Fucking Prick”), as he took calls while driving, eating a pie and changing gears on his manual car simultaneously. Remarkably, he re-gathered himself, behaving for the rest of the film with more decorum than any dead man walking could be expected to exhibit.
And today, Thomas has pretty much acknowledged that his kneecaps have been smashed into pieces again.
Since just about the start of the mayoral battle, senior National Party aligned figures in Auckland have been dismissive, or worse, about Thomas, urging him to let Vic Crone have a clear run. Thomas has refused today to go so far as to endorse Crone, but he’s still been hobbled, thrown on to the burning National party pyre for a second time, 20 years after the first cruel sacrifice, and so confirmed his status as the most tragic figure in New Zealand politics – a battered mortal in an unforgiving and actually pretty mean cosmos.
What next then for The Most Tragic Figure In New Zealand Politics? It is time – surely, Mark, surely – to chuck it in. Focus on the consultancy game. Open a market stall selling delicious single-origin chutneys. Or, fuck it all, tell them you’re not going to take it any more and stand as an independent in Epsom.