Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The campaign comes to us

Tonight I went to a local “Meet the Candidates” night, my first and probably only such event during this election campaign. It was very different from any other I’d been to before, and not always in a good way. These are my entirely subjective and very opinionated reactions.

I’ve never been to the venue before, and I didn’t know or recognise anyone apart from a realtor, so I started out feeling uncomfortable. I was early, and so was Jon Reeves, the New Zealand First candidate, who greeted everyone who came in the door. He creeped me out instantly, and yes, I suppose that was personal.

I stood for quite awhile, but it reached a point where I was feeling more awkward and uncomfortable doing that than becoming one of only a handful of people who were sitting down, so, I sat down. I picked an end chair so I could get up and take a photo (above). At nearly 7:30, a woman came in and sat in the chair in front of me, she seemed nice enough, and said to me, “I thought they were starting at 7…” and I replied “I think they wanted us here by then so they could start at 7:30.” I thought I’d read that somewhere, but I now think I was mistaken. However, that ended up being the case, anyway, so—does that make me correct after all?

Five candidates showed up, but no one was there for the Green Party, who were to be represented, but not by a candidate. The organisers were unsure whether the person was just late or not attending, and that was a very bad look.

Numbers were drawn for each candidate to give a maximum ten minute speech.

The first candidate was an independent named Ian Cummings. I’d seen his ads in the paper, where he talked about being a “family man”, which I thought was a dog whistle to social conservatives, especially because he also touted his being on the Board of Trustees for a Christian school as being a qualification for being a Member of Parliament. Turns out, I was correct.

He said that the fact that he wasn’t part of a party was somehow a good thing because there was no party whip to make him vote a certain way. I didn’t really get how that was supposed to mean anything when, as an independent, he obviously wouldn’t have a party whip. He went on to say that voting for him would bring real change, though he didn’t explain how one lone MP could do that. He added that he was "very much for life", opposes abortion and euthanasia, and added that he "doesn't like evolution". In his long and rambling speech, he was at times belligerent, other times incoherent, and often just plain loopy. I was busy Tweeting when he finished—over time, and after not saying much worth listening to—but even if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have applauded. I have principles, after all, and I don’t give respect to those who do not deserve it. I didn’t boo him, and that was all the respect I felt he deserved or that I could provide.

The Labour Party candidate, Baljit Kaur, was next. She also made an often rambling speech introducing herself. She didn’t make an obvious connection between her background and standing for the Labour Party, apart from one or two offhand references to Labour.

The Act Party candidate, Anthony Smith, followed Baljit. He began by congratulating and complimenting Baljit for her speech. He then made clear that he was not asking for the Electorate Vote, that the National Party candidate would win, and he just wanted people to give their Party Vote to his party. He was also shorter than his allotted time, and the only one who didn’t run over time.

The National Party candidate, and current MP for Hunua, Andrew Bayly, was the next to speak, and was the first one to talk about actual issues. He was impressive in his talk about electorate issues, but talk about issues facing the country were less persuasive since I don’t support the National Party.

The New Zealand first candidate was last (which made me chuckle). He said that if NZ First Leader Winston Peters holds Northland, which he’s MP for at the moment, then he would be an MP because he’s 16th on the Party List. That would actually probably require them to get at least 13% of the Party Vote which, based on current polling, is a tall order. We’ll see. Still, that was the high point of his talk.

He talked about the "iwi-isation" of the National Party because of their association with the Māori Party and what he alleged were consultation requirements in changes to the Resource Management Act. He was actually parroting ex-Leader of the National and Act parties (at different times) Don Brash, who is now part of a racist group called “Hobson’s Pledge”. Most of what Brash and NZ First are saying is utter rubbish and pretty openly racist (NB: NZ First Leader Winston First is Māori).

NZ First guy then complained about immigration, and said they want "a breather" with only 10,000 immigrants for "a few years". He then attacked National Party Leader Bill English, and uttered the cute but banal phrase, “red or blue, nothing new”. He talked quickly and bombastically, which is how he got through so much—though he of course ran over his time.

Questions were next, and the first was utterly bizarre: A guy had a go at Labour because before Andrew Little resigned as party leader, current leader Jacinda Ardern said there was "no Plan B". As I said on Twitter, “WTF?!” Baljit didn’t do a good job answering, in part because she didn’t understand the question. Actually, neither did I.

The rightwing Christian candidate was then asked about his pledge to keep “bad” people out of New Zealand, but he clearly had no idea how he’d actually do that. He said New Zealand didn’t want to have the problems that European countries have with terrorism, and so we’d have to keep the bad people out. He was asked again, and specifically if he’d have to draft new legislation, and he claimed again that he didn’t write laws, apparently failing to grasp what the job of an MP actually is, before admitting that new legislation might be necessary. He was then asked point blank if he was really saying he wanted to keep out brown people, or whether he only wanted to let Christians in, but he again failed to answer the question directly. To me it was clear he was using dog whistles again, and he meant keeping Muslims out, but I must emphasise that he did NOT say that.

The most bizarre moment was when somone asked a question about funding for apprenticeships, then when candidates didn’t answer the way she wanted, she clarified that she really meant ensuring Kiwis get trades jobs, not immigrants. National’s Bayly did the worst on his answer to this question, because he didn’t want to spend money, but said they already were—very confusing.

Another question was about the proposed tax on the commercial use of water, including for farming. Questioner wanted to know the parties’ positions and whether they supported “giving money to iwi authorities”. This came from the woman I spoke with about the start time, and I realised she wasn’t nice, after all. In fact, by this point I’d stopped being surprised at the not-very-subtle racism so easily expressed by so many frightfully nice people.

NZ First guy was asked about “bottom lines” for a coalition deal in the event that Winston Peters really is the kingmaker. He said the repeal of RMA amendments—which was the topic of his earlier racist rant—was “fundamental”, and added his Party has TEN (!) bottom lines, which National’s Bayly rightly mocked them about.

By this point, I was having trouble paying attention to the questions and answers. Crime: Most candidates avoided answering directly, but the rightwing Christian candidate said something was wrong with Council because there was crime (again, “WTF?!”). Baljit and Bayly both assured us more cops were coming, but neither had specifics. Early Childhood Education: Some nice platitudes, but National wouldn’t be spending any more money, Labour would, NZ First thought more money was needed, rightwing Christian candidate thought it was uncessary and government shouldn’t pay for such things (yet again, “WTF?!”)

The most popular question was someone wanted to know why National today announced ultrafast broadband for tourist areas when our local area can’t get it, and sometimes can’t even get a telephone landline. Lots of applause for that one, but no enlightening answers—or maybe I just wanted it all to stop by then.

I’d never seen or met any of the candidates until tonight, and my initial impressions of all them were my final impressions, but underscored:

Labour’s Baljit Kaur was woefully unprepared. She didn’t have a good grasp of party policies, and so couldn’t “sell” them to the audience. That would be acceptable early in the campaign, especially with the change in Party Leader and changed policies, but by this point, at the end of August and a little over three weeks until Election Day, it’s not good. If she’s ever a candidate again, she’s got to fix that.

NZ First’s Jon Reeves creeped me out even more by the time the forum was over. Listening to him made my skin crawl, and I found him boorish, insufferable, and more than a bit of a jerk. I hope he doesn’t get into Parliament.

The rightwing Christian candidate I was suspicious of going in, but grew to really dislike by the end, and not just because I’m sure he doesn’t like people like me. Most of the time he clearly didn’t know what he was talking about, didn’t understand how Parliament works, was out of his depth, and constantly tried to just “bloke” his way of rhetorical holes he’d dug for himself: He’d tell blokey jokes or display a sort of folksy dumb act—at least, I think it was an act. He was annoying and thoroughly unlikeable. But the good news is that he won’t get many votes. Of course.

National’s Andrew Bayly put in the strongest performance of any candidate, had a better grasp of the issues than all the others combined, and seldom veered into snark. He was lightyears better than the National guy who’s the MP for Northcote, where we used to live. But, he was still representing National, a party I don’t support, so I disagreed with a lot of what he said. Still, if we have to have a National Party guy as our Electorate MP, we certainly could do a lot worse. I spoke to him after the event, and he actually seemed like a decent guy.

And that was probably my only campaign-related event this year. We may run into politicians out glad-handing somewhere, but that will be by accident. And that’s actually okay with me: This year I was determined to take time off from politics, and I’ve succeeded. But one thing hasn’t changed: I STILL can’t wait to vote!

In the photo above, the moderator is standing talking to the candidates about the rules. The candidates, who are all seated, are, from left to right: Baljit Kaur (Labour Party), Anthony Smith (Act Party), Jon Reeves (New Zealand First Party), Ian Cummings (Independent) and Andrew Bayly (National Party).

Disclosures: I’m a supporter of the New Zealand Labour Party, but have no position of any kind with them, nor am I in contact with party leaders. All opinions expressed are entirely my own, based on more than 40 years closely following election campaigns.

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