Questioning politicians

Written By: - Date published: 9:36 am, September 22nd, 2008 - 15 comments
Categories: activism, election 2008, national, slippery, wages, workers' rights - Tags:

We’re keen to help you get active this election campaign. That’s why we’ve launched Campaign Hub 2008 and its Facebook group to give you info, access to materials, and tips on campaigning. It’s great to see so many people have downloaded leaflets and posters from the Hub or clicked through to Vote With Both Eyes Open to use their materials. If you haven’t seen any posters or leaflets around your neighbourhood yet, why not print them off yourself? There’s nothing to stop you making a contribution of a little time and energy, even if you are also helping out other campaigns.

I just got an email and thought I would share it because it’s an excellent example of how to put a politician on the spot:

John Hayes, the over-zealously accelerating National MP for Wairarapa was speaking to a town hall meeting. A member of the audience asked ‘John, can you please guarantee this audience that a National govt would continue to consistently raise the minimum wage – at least to cover inflation – which the Labour-led govt has done for the past 9 years, in order to support our lowest paid workers?’ According to the report, Hayes tried to avoid the question and waffled about MMP but the questioner insisted on yes/no direct answer. Hayes then snapped ‘No, we believe in tax cuts, not the minimum wage’.

That’s a bombshell answer. Hayes’s answer basically says that under National 500,000 workers would become worse off as inflation eats their minimum or near-minimum wages (these only rise when the minimum wage does, National has said it won’t cut the bottom 12.5% tax rate and tax cts can’t make up for wage stagnation anyway). That would undercut economic demand and living standards in poor communities leading to stagnation, higher unemployment, and higher crime – just as it did in the 1990s. It puts Hayes in line with comments from National labour spokesperson Kate Wilkinson but seems to contradict John Key who has told workers National would raise the minimum wage (no specifics, of course).

Note how the question managed to draw these answer out of a politician who didn’t want to give it. The question included framing facts: Labour has increased the minimum wage every year for the past 9 years. It made clear to the audience the ramifications of not rising the minimum wage: our poorest workers would be unsupported. It was specific enough to prevent Key-esque evasions: it says ‘consistently raise’ and ‘at least to cover inflation’, which prevented Hayes from fobbing the question off with a vague promise that the minimum wage would go up even though it might actually go down after inflation. Insisting on a real answer when Hayes didn’t want to give one exposed his evasiveness to the audience and brought out the bombshell. That revelation should come back to haunt Hayes

You can do it too. Get along to a candidates’ meeting, the Hub has a weekly list of them, and ask a question. Make it on a topic you know, include a framing fact, shut down the obvious evasions by asking for a specific, and make it relevant to the audience by mentioning consequences. Kiwis deserve to hear these answers before they vote; it’s up to all of us to make sure they get asked the questions.

15 comments on “Questioning politicians”

  1. Great idea Steve, If Helen should venture North to kerikeri I shall make a point of asking her if she really believes in the fairies at the bottom of her garden. They must be real because 50 polls since Key became leader of the nats show them over 50%. And even UMR have shown this.
    In the face of this evidence she must be fairly certain about these fairies..

  2. Pat 2

    Some (17 year old activist) sends you an email with a one line quote from …. who? John Hayes? What ministerial portfolio is he going to get?

    I was hoping that a blog like The Standard would discuss topical issues, like what Labour’s potential coalition partners had to say in the media yesterda e.g.

    Russell Norman on Campaign 08.
    Hone Harawira on Agenda.

  3. Scribe 3


    Totally agree with your notion of informed voting. I’d rather someone voted NZ First because he/she agrees with its policies than vote for National or Labour “because I always have”.

    Re: John Hayes, he wasn’t driving the vehicle. And at least he eventually answered the question. I suppose that’s the inexperience of someone who hasn’t been a minister and spent countless hours NOT answering questions in the House.

  4. Matthew Pilott 4

    Mmmm of course, Pat, minimum wages isn’t a ‘topical’ issue. Unless you happen to be on or close to it, I suspect.

    Incidentally I did see Norman on Campaign 08 last night. One thing surprised me – they said he was very similar to Rod Donald. In my mind, they couldn’t be more different – what did you think of the comment? I think it was from Plunkett.

    Apart from that there was little suprise – some vague questioning, and then the media reps whip themselves up into a lather over Peters (clearly the least consequential of all the questions asked of Norman) while I yawned and went off to brush my teeth.

    What did Hone have to say for himself?

  5. Thanks for the all the tips!

    It will help me to do my bit for National and get rid of this extreme left Government.

  6. Santi 6

    “Questioning politicians’ with questions such as:

    1) Mrs. Clark, please tell us the reason for your staunch support of the “dis-honourable” Winston Peters despite his blatant (and continuous) lying to the NZ public and Privileges Committee?

  7. no worries brett

    scribe. you should hear harawira when he gets going on the tories. so he’s not afraid of criticising labour? so what?

  8. santi. she prefers ‘Miss’ or Helen

  9. higherstandard 9

    Hardly extreme left Brett – oddly in my opinion the most left leaning government of recent times was probably Muldoons.

    If Labour get in again I would expect them to head a bit towards the “left” on some issues although the left/right name game and divide is meaningless cak anyway it’s just more useless labelling of people.

    Would be refreshing if sites/commentators judged issues on their merits rather than who proposes them and whether it’s perceived to be of the left or right.

  10. higherstandard 10

    Miss or Ms ?

  11. Felix 11

    She prefers Miss. Yeah, I know but there it is.

  12. DS 12

    >>>Hardly extreme left Brett – oddly in my opinion the most left leaning government of recent times was probably Muldoons.<<<

    In real terms the minimum wage reached its all-time low (at least in the lasty forty years anyway) under Muldoon. Muldoon was hardly pro-worker.

  13. Scribe 13

    scribe. you should hear harawira when he gets going on the tories. so he’s not afraid of criticising labour? so what?

    Wrong guy, SP. It was Pat. I’ll leave him/her to respond.

  14. Pat 14

    Matt P – I thought Russell Norman came across quite well. His unemotional demeanor and honesty might see the Greens pick up some support when the leaders debates start. Not sure about the Rod Donald comparison though.

    Harawira on Agenda – Trotter covers the main thrust on

  15. theodore steel 15

    Okay, I get really really sick of the whole minimum wage thing. I am on “close to the minimum wage”. 50c above it. I have worked for the minimum wage, after time and effort put into that job I was given several raises. I was earning well above the minimum wage at $17/hr. Why should my hard work and commitment be denigrated because other people fail to get raises. There are jobs out there. There are innumerable jobs offer well above the minimum wage.

    I have school leaver qualifications. I have limited experience in my field (less than a year). I have consistently shown throughout all my jobs that I am a trustworthy and hardworker.

    One job I didn’t get paid well. I quit. I got a better paying job. It’s easy.

    raising the minimum wage contributes to push up inflation, thereby effectively devaluing my raises I earned. My income becomes worth less as prices go up.

    I have never had a problem surviving on a low wage, or the wage I am currently paid. I do not have any dependents, but could support them, and have put a significant amount of money into savings in case I do need to support dependents or suffer an unforseen event. People living beyond their means is a greater problem than the minimum wage.

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