The Kumeu candidates debate last night covered topics ranging from the very local, to the global: local roads and round-a-bouts, through the internet, poverty, health, jobs and education, to climate change, the TPPA, and the GCSB. Roads and rules were a recurring theme.
I set off for Kumeu yesterday evening, thinking I’d be getting their early enough to get into the venue. I’d forgotten about peak traffic on the North Western motorway. It was a slow crawl until I got past the Lincoln Road exit (Henderson). In off peak times it should only be about 25 minutes from New Lynn. It took nearly an hour.
On the journey, we had to squeeze over into the next lane to let an ambulance, sirens and lights) through. At around the same time 2 ambulances with sirens and lights raced down the city bound lane. Life on the highways can be dangerous. I’d have gone by public transport it’s not really an option for getting to Kumeu in peak time, let alone for going back to New Lynn later in the evening. There is no choice but to go by car and hassle with the traffic.
The drive into Kumeu was a slow crawl – obviously a lot of people headed in that direction. Kumeu people, are well organised – both a positive and a negative. The locals were friendly and welcoming. There were people directing the traffic to car parks. Already there were people queuing outside the hall with banners and placards.
Around 6pm when the meeting was due to start, the waiting crowds were let into the hall. And then there was a long wait. People were milling around, some people put up a dolphin banner:
The meeting didn’t actually start to closer to 7pm. Meanwhile candidates arrived and were milling about, all campaign and party banners and placards were taken down before the meeting started – including the dolphin one. The Labour candidates found a way to fill in their time (phones to ears):
The headlining candidates were the last to arrive – making a kind of star entrance. Hone Harawira arrived, then did a hongi and greet with all the candidates. John Key arrived (amid cheers accompanied by quite loud boos) and greeted all. Laila Harre arrived, hongi-ed with Kennedy Graham, but noticeably only shook hands with John Key.
So the meeting began – the rules were laid down strongly – no talking about other parties or candidates or debating with them. A little later booing was outlawed. This left cheering as the only acceptable crowd response – so I used my cheers very selectively.
So many strict rules set up a growing desire to break protocols and get real. Candidate meetings in electorates, should be about members of the public being able to directly engage with their wannabe representatives. In a democracy, I would expect a free flow of two way engagement, with the public given a chance to test the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate.
But it seems, in Kumeu last night, many on the right wanted their “democracy” strongly mediated and controlled. Speakers were able to deliver their carefully crafted speeches and campaign slogans as if on TV. Mostly it was just the same old party lines that I would have expected. This meant that I loved any of the rare expressions of spontaneity, and local engagement.
The speaking order had been drawn from a hat. First up, Kennedy Graham, green electorate candidate for Helensville. He always speaks well on international issues and climate change.
As someone who votes Green because it has strongly left wing policies, values, and processes (of collaboration), I was a little taken aback by one of Graham’s opening statements: that the
Green Party did not “easily fit into left or right” wing politics “Green movement cannot easily be placed on the left-right spectrum”. He said this was because they were for both freedom and equality. Here he seemed to be subscribing to one of the myths about the left – that it is anti-freedom. And in view of the highly controlled and disciplinarian values espoused from the right at Kumeu, freedom is hardly something universally espoused by the right.
On reflection, I noted Graham had said “easily fit”.
When the Conservative Party candidate, Deborah Dougherty, spoke, she also seemed about strict discipline and control – at least when it comes to law and order, the prison system, and like the ACT candidate, protection of property.
John Key was second speaker, and went on about how his government had improved SH 16, the North Western Motorway, to Kumeu. Well, I guess if that’s what the people of Kumeu want. Later in the question time (questions submitted in writing from the floor, and selected by the host) Key claimed his government had improved Auckland’s rail, with double-tracking etc. Well, that was all started under Labour. He said that when the train line ran to Helensville, it wasn’t used. The answer to that, is cheaper, more efficient and well-planned public transport.
Graham’s statement, that the Greens would improved bus and rail transport to and from Kumeu and Helensille, got a big cheer from me.
In the context of the rules set down, the local Labour candidate, Corie Haddock, was a breath of fresh air. He was a bit hesitant as he kept looking at his notes. However, he spoke of a real connection to the local community, recounting his experiences and engagements with people there.
The local Maori Party candidate, Te Hira Paenga, was a stand out. He moved the lectern off the stage, onto the auditorium floor, and was a lively orator – speaking directly to the people of his experiences, aims and hopes.
Key’s speech and answers were his usual salesman spiel, of (alleged) facts and figures, reeled off so quickly there’s no time to dispute them – his eyes blank and expressionless. And he just couldn’t resist breaking the rules of answering a questioning by doing his in-the-House routine of attacking Labour first. The host (Holly Ryan) was distracted, and only pulled Key up when people from the floor started calling: “rules! rules! rules”. She threatened to expel him from the hall when he persisted (as reported on Stuff).
Earlier, Key had praised Ryan, saying they should have her in the House; that she’d make a better speaker than the current one – now that sounded like Key didn’t rate Speaker Carter that much.
Marama Davidson, Green candidate for Tāmaki Makarau, spoke from the heart and soul, about ending child poverty and the importance of giving all a good start in life and education.
There were complaints about people being shut out of the hall, due to the size of the crowd. Some members of the press were shut out, left watching the event on a screen.
During the speeches and questions, the sounds of chanting outside could be heard. While John Key was answering a question, the noticeable sound of a haka could be heard from outside.
There was an opportunity for members of the public to engage more informally with the local candidates after the meeting – but John Key raced off early.
Laila Harre spoke well, on changing the government, Internet access for all, etc. However, she did her party a disservice by not engaging on local issues, choosing to focus on the party vote. But I don’t think she’ll gain many party votes in Helensville, by showing little interest in their local concerns. Hone Harawira spoke with some passion on ending poverty. However, like many other speakers, it sounded like he’d said it so many times before on the road trip, that he was not as inspirational as he can be.
But the fault is as much with the format as the speakers, who, within the set rules, couldn’t do much more than repeat their campaign lines. Engaging with the public directly is a way to fire up candidates, and to get them speaking off the cuff, and from the heart.
Leaving the hall, it looked to me like there had been more spontaneity, heart,, soul and community spirit outside the hall during the meeting, than inside.
Update: The Stuff video here includes exerts from the speeches by Key, Harre, and the excellent response from Penny Bright to attempts to muzzle her – one of the real, and heartfelt speeches.