Last night Megan and I wandered down our street to attend the regular Northcote Baptist political debate.Â Iâ€™ve never been to one, despite the fact that one occurred last election, but I thought it was really good.
Now apparently, our electorate is a bellwether electorate.Â Seeing as I didnâ€™t know what that was until I read that article, I may as well tell you.Â Itâ€™s basically an electorate that is seen as having a makeup representative of New Zealand as a whole and therefore indicative of how people in New Zealand feel about the parties and what will influence their votes.Â I can imagine this logic being pretty solid, except for the distinct lack of sheep and cows.
I donâ€™t know how many debates there will be in our electorate, but if I assume this is one of very few, we can consider it pretty significant.
First a bit of disclosure.Â Iâ€™ve been a national voter in previous elections.Â However I have a lot of respect for what the current government has achieved.Â I thoroughly support Kiwisaver, Working for Families and the upcoming tax cuts.Â I also think the Labour management of the economy has been very solid.
The audience for the debate was probably about five hundred people from around the community (though a fair number were from the church).Â There were representatives from all the major parties (and one very minor one).Â The two contenders for Northcote are Hamish McCracken (labour) and Jonathan Coleman (National).Â
The debate was very structured with each candidate being given a three minute opener, followed by one minute opportunities to answer questions and then a two minute close.
The topics were fairly diverse, but with an obvious lean towards issues important to those with a faith background (from the floor).
All the candidates were heavily applauded for their behaviour, maturity and attitude towards each other, however Jonathan and Hamish were as much at each otherâ€™s throats as would be expected.
My perceptions of Jonathan Coleman were impacted by the amazing physical and vocal similarities to his leader, John Key.Â By this I mean that if John Key got hit by a bus, Jonathan could just stand in and no one would notice John was missing.Â It helped that the words coming out of Jonathanâ€™s mouth were predictable and straight from the party notes, but it was still uncanny.
It was the first time Iâ€™d had any exposure to Hamish and Iâ€™m sorry to say I did not have a positive impression.Â He seemed like he was constantly talking down to us, perhaps he struggled to switch back after using that attitude on Jonathan.Â He was fiery and vocal, but whereas Jonathan seemed to back off from his antagonism and sarcastic remarks as the evening went on, Hamish kept on with them with an unabated enthusiasm.Â The most amusing point was when in a rush of blood to the head and in response to the Act candidate he (perhaps purposefully) said that New Zealand didnâ€™t need a change of government and didnâ€™t need a government of change.Â Purposeful or not, that comment didnâ€™t go down well.
Neither major party said anything remotely interesting in terms of policy, just attacking each other in all the predictable areas.
The real interest was in the other candidates who were campaigning for the party vote but had no real chance in Northcote.Â
For United Future there was a really genuine gentleman who fully represented the values of United Future but lacked a level of professionalism.Â It was particularly unfortunate when he proved that he didnâ€™t know the history of UFâ€™s own leader Peter Dunne, by attributing his work on a past tax cut to National instead of Dunneâ€™s party at that time, Labour.
For the Greens there was a very reasonable, softly spoken woman whose various characteristics and not least her name, left me thinking of Jeanette Fitzsimons.Â She came across very well (being applauded for various policies including banning of alcohol advertising and banning poker machines in bars), and her evening was summed up when asked a question which pretty much said â€œI agree with so many of your policies, but I canâ€™t vote for you because of just a few of your loopy onesâ€.Â I know thatâ€™s not a question, but thatâ€™s essentially what was said, and also what was widely felt given the church-oriented audience.Â She didnâ€™t have an answer as of course she couldnâ€™t.Â I think the Greens could be polling at 10-15% if they just moved a little more towards the centre.Â She was almost universally disapproved of when she was the only candidate to say that the government had a place interfering in families (re: smacking law change).
The real story in my opinion was the Act candidate, Nick Kearney.Â From memory (his bio isnâ€™t on the Act partyâ€™s website) he is an ex-police officer and now lawyer.Â On the law and order oriented questions (of which there were a few) he spoke eloquently and from experience and was easily the most professional person there.Â He knew why he was there and openly admitted that unless there was the biggest voting swing in history he wasnâ€™t going to win the seat, but implored people to give their party vote to Act.Â I think he is a bright spark for the future and would like to see him higher up Actâ€™s list (currently 13th) and also running seriously for Northcote.
Finally there was a gentleman from the â€œKiwi Partyâ€.Â The Kiwi Party exists in my opinion solely to respond to a feeling commonly expressed in Christian circles.Â That thought is â€œI would vote for United Future but I donâ€™t want to support a labour government.â€Â Right on the front of the Kiwi Partyâ€™s brochure it says that the Kiwi Party will not support a labour government.Â TheyÂ also have some nice policies which would suit me such as income splitting for couples with children and a few others.Â The candidate openly admitted this was his first debate, and he made a few amusing comments, but he at least achieved his goal of raising the profile of the party.Â I hope for their sakes someone in the party has an electorate seat they can win.
So all up, did last night help me decide who to vote for?Â No.Â Did it sway me one way or the other? No.Â What it did do was give me an opportunity to see some of the candidates, get interested and now really feel part of the election campaign.Â
Good job Glynn, Peter and the others who played a part in pulling off such a great event.