Mike Yardley: Does Raf Manji have a prayer?
OPINION: He's spirited, suave and urbane. Smart, driven and gumptious. But is Raf Manji's political audacity an ill-fated flight of fancy, or does the city councillor have a genuine shot of dethroning Gerry Brownlee from his kingdom?
On Saturday I chatted to the "radical centrist" about his grand designs on Ilam. He was quick to channel Emmanuel Macron, citing the new French President's spectacular ascendancy to power, smashing apart the party establishment. He admires Macron's independent stripes and pragmatic pursuit for solutions, unbound from the shackles of political ideology.
Many prospective voters who pay only a passing interest in politics, particularly millennials, may well connect with this free-wheeling, parochial indie. Others may see it as naked opportunism.
His campaign launch underpinned his sole focus on being Christchurch's Pork-Barreller-in-Chief. His intention of making it a coalition pre-condition that he be appointed the next Minister for Christchurch Regeneration, is bold, if not brazen.
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His call to shoot for the hosting rights of the 2026 Commonwealth Games is already polarising opinion. It's an interesting marketing proposition for the rebuilt city, but mindful that "ratepayers are maxed out," Raf envisages the taxpayer footing the bill.
Will they want to? During our chat, he was particularly scathing about the government's "North Korean Central Planning" approach to the Central City and the level of compulsory acquisitions that "removed many established business to create a few laneways."
What about Christ Church Cathedral? "It should be restored. Absolutely. I've never had a doubt about it."
Assuming he wins, scores the portfolio and the Anglican Synod votes to demolish the building for a cheap, contemporary new build, what would he do?
After much mulling, he proffered, "Take it off the church and make it a tourist site or take the site and tell them to build their new church elsewhere."
He's promising several hundred million dollars for the various Red Zone projects being floated. "The Government's got a duty and obligation to pay for it."
I approached Gerry Brownlee for a comment on this, to which he responded, "At first glance, it would appear he's proposing spending less than we are."
On the lightning-rod of immigration Manji says, "Cut the numbers drastically. The low-skilled stuff." Yet he also subscribes to super-sizing the population of greater Christchurch, "from Amberley to Timaru. What the right population number is, I don't know."
He's consistently supported the Unconditional Basic Income concept, praising the Opportunities Party (TOP) for pledging to pay every 15-23 year old $200 a week, no-strings. Yet Manji also shares the concern that 10,000 young Cantabrians on welfare aren't engaged in education, training or employment.
He believes the state should ensure that every such individual is on a productive pathway. Yet he struggled to reconcile that interventionist, conditional approach with his endorsement of a weekly unconditional $200 UBI hand-out.
Who should Ilam voters give their party vote to? "That's up to them."
How will Raf cast his party vote? "I haven't decided it." Further prodding elicited, "If you want structural change – you vote TOP."
Raf Manji certainly deserves credit for restoring order to the city council's financial house from the simmering train-wreck that the Parker/Marryatt regime had cooked up. But bending the arc on rates rises remains seriously unfinished business for this council.
Manji is particularly proud of securing the council's $635 million global insurance payout – New Zealand's largest ever insurance settlement.
There's no denying his disregard for Ilam's incumbent. "I was dealing with a Minister who wasn't that helpful to the council…. I was banned from going to meetings with Gerry a long time ago – because I had a voice. I was red-carded."
There has been speculation that approaches were made to various political parties, including National, about recruiting Raf Manji as a high-ranking list candidate. He emphatically rejects making any such approaches.
In March, I wrote in this column that Manji's decision to stand for Parliament, just six months after the local body elections, was impertinent.
Even though he is supremely confident of conquering Ilam, Raf revealed that should he lose, he probably won't serve out the council term, beyond next year's Long Term Plan. So Waimairi ward voters may well face a council by-election, whatever happens in Ilam.