Every three years or so, like some bizarre migratory bird, I return to the scene of my pre-school education for the Aro Valley meet the candidates evening. It's a little strange these days, living in another suburb, in another electorate, but there's something good about knowing you can, at least in some ways, go home.
Like every other time I've been, there was a collection of excitable Act-voting commerce students, who will move out of Aro Valley as soon as they can, and will never look back, except to complain about something or other. No one ever mentions these people, but they are generally a sizable minority - or perhaps they just make a lot of noise near me and annoy me.
The key thing I like about the night is the heckling. Last night's was better than last time. I realised one of the things which pisses me off about national politics is the absence of the heckler. By heckler I mean the person who in 2-5 words points out the flaw in the politician's argument, and opens the space for the argument to move forward into a new place. For example, the nice young man who is standing for United Future (Vaughn Smith) started explaining that UF would do good things for families and communities, and a heckler promptly said "Define family". It immediately framed the major problem with his argument, and invited him to sort out what he was going to do about it. He eventually said "I define family the same way you define family". I doubt it, sonny, I doubt it.
Some of the heckling was less useful, more in the harsh but fair category. David Somerset (Progressive) was hassled for being old and constantly referring to historical events. Both things were true, but they didn't help anyone think about the issue he was discussing. Also Rebekah Clement (Gordan Copeland's Kiwi party) received a mighty "oh you poor thing" noise when she attempted to explain sadly to a large number of politically passionate students that young people today often felt like they couldn't change things. It was true she'd just failed to meet the minimum standards of a competent speaker (varying your material to suit your audience), but it didn't help anyone think about young people who really are alienated.
However, even the less useful heckling maintains the space for audience members to shout out something. It's much more difficult to start heckling after there has been 25 minutes of polite silence. So on balance, I choose the noise.
Interestingly, Don Franks (Worker's Party) got the biggest cheer for his version of ĎAll Things Bright and Beautifulí (íthe workers made them allí). I found it interesting, because he wasn't being cheered for a particularly smart comment, or a taking a popular policy stance, the audience just seemed to respond to the warmth of his attitude and (possibly) the fact his singing was pretty good. You can hear it on the Radio New Zealand coverage for at least a few more days.
Stephen Franks got by far the biggest boo, for failing to answer the final question "which party would you vote for if you couldn't vote for the party you are standing for". Last time he said National, so it might have been a useful indication of where he'll head for his next party. Interesting to note his review of last night is vastly more positive than his offensive, snide review of the 2005 edition. I will be interested to see if he polls better in the Aro Valley booth than Prebble (Act) did in 1996, and Blumsky (National) did in 2005. He'll need to get into the high 200s to do so.
On the whole I thought Grant Robertson (Labour) did well. The most negative response he got was related to the Pledge Card $800k. He seemed open, thoughtful and reasonably leftist, and he placed himself firmly in the region with his memories of living 2 buildings away from the hall when he first moved to Wellington.
Sue Kedgely waffled abominably and failed to give her audience any thoughts they hadn't already heard. This was a shame as the Aro Valley community centre polling booth generally votes around 20% green and is covered in policy people of varying flavours, and she could have planted the seeds for policy debates the Greens want to have during the 2011 campaign.
Appleby (I remember seeing him in the 1996 campaign) was witty, and focused. Dim-post is not wrong in concluding that he sounded "fairly sensible". Likewise, Bernard Darnton (Libertarianz) was warm, funny, and worked the view of his party neatly into every answer. Regardless of the underlying position, the audience generally appreciated consistency and intelligence from the candidates.
Heather Roy started well, but possibly never recovered from being water-pistoled for going over her 2 minutes in her opening address. She missed an opportunity believe it or not (Richard Prebble received over 200 votes at the Aro Valley polling booth in 1996). Not to mention the extended audience through the videos of the event which are in news media and photos on you-tube. Like Richard Wallis (Alliance) and Grant Brooks (RAM) she didn't end up making much of an impact on me.
Many thanks to the organisers and Brian Crump for making the evening possible (and biscuited!), and the others who manuhiried up and put away the chairs.
I remember the 1984 election. It had the strong sense of being a welcome breath of fresh air.
In 2008, Labour is struggling a bit against a general mood for change, so I was interested to notice who out of the current MPs were in Parliament in 1984.
Helen Clark (first elected 1981)
Michael Cullen (first elected 1981)
Phil Goff (first elected 1981)
National/New Zealand First:
Winston Peters (he was first elected in 1978)
Lockwood Smith?!? Lockwood Smith is the longest serving National Party MP?
Well, I'm not sure if it is the crying baby, being in too many bands at once, my new headphones, or an unfortunate mixture of the three, but my tinnitus is getting bad enough that it is starting to become pesky. As the prospects for it getting any better are minimal, I'm possibly looking at 50 years of high-pitched squealing whenever I'm in a quiet environment. That's bad enough, but the thing which is really bugging me at the moment is I don't think I've done anything more irresponsible than I've been doing for the last 20 years. I always thought I'd get more warning than this.
If you see me with earplugs in, it'll be because I'm trying to stop it getting any worse.