“Most of my friends”, says Nicola Young, “are screaming lefties.” This is apropos of the view in some parts that the city’s newest councillor — one who happens to have her eye on the mayoral chains — is rather right wing. “That’s not the case,” she says, lightly but firmly. “I think I’m a centrist.” She works in PR, is involved with various arts organisations, and has helped raise funds for opera productions. Socially, she says, “I move in a very wide circle.”
Her background is impeccably of the Right: her father, Bill Young, was the National MP for Miramar from 1966 to 1981; one of her sisters, Annabel, was a National list MP between 1997 and 2002, and a second sister, Rosemary, is married to the former hardline National cabinet minister Max Bradford.
But, Young says, her father’s seat was the most marginal in the country; the lesson she drew from that was that “everyone’s a voter”. She herself stood for National in Rongotai in 2005, but is no longer a party member. After not getting elected to Parliament, she vowed she would “never go near politics again”, but says that Porirua Mayor Nick Leggett — generally seen as a Labour figure — “waged a campaign” to get her to run for council. She also describes another Labour person, fellow councillor Paul Eagle, as her “political bestie”.
Young may look, and occasionally sound, like a member of Wellington’s elite, living in an Ebor Street apartment with a capital value of over $800,000. But she has also been a solo mother who raised two children during a 20-year stint in London “with no support from their father”; at one point, she says she “couldn’t afford to go out for coffee. It’s not like I have always had this privileged existence.”
She calls herself “an iconoclast”, and says: “I don’t want a Wellington which is only good for rich people.” Some would argue she shouldn’t then have been one of the few councillors to vote last year against giving poorly paid council staff a Living Wage of $18.40 an hour. But she dismisses the Living Wage as “showmanship”, and says things like stopping bus fare increases would have a much greater impact.
She also backs a Warrant of Fitness for all rental housing. She is, however, “against government intervening too much”, and would be open to ideas like re-examining the higher contribution that central Wellington businesses make to the rates bill. “I’d certainly want to have a really good look at it. I don’t see the fairness in that. We’ve got to make sure businesses do well in Wellington.”
Last year Young ran for mayor as well as council, and plans to do so again in 2016: “Absolutely, I will have a go.” She’s open about her belief that the city has been “becalmed” for the four years of Celia Wade-Brown’s tenure. In preparation for 2016, and in order to be a better councillor, she’s assiduously learning about areas that aren’t traditionally her strengths, like social services. A sharp, inquisitive mind (she went to university aged 16, and later trained as a journalist) is clearly an asset — as long as mathematics aren’t involved. “Statistics don’t really do it for me,” she says, adding later, “I’m not a number-cruncher.”
But even if successful in her second bid, Young doesn’t want to become a political fixture. She makes no attempt to hide her contempt for the councillors she thinks have been around too long. “Twelve years [on council] is long enough. If you haven’t achieved something in 12 years, you’re not going to achieve it.” So what do her long-serving colleagues, such as Andy Foster (22 years on council) and Helene Ritchie (28 years), think about that? “They don’t like it,” she says, eyes twinkling.