The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

a tale of two debates - part I

This week I've been a good citizen by attending two Pakuranga candidate meetings, to listen to some and support others.

Monday's debate was at St Mark's, a Catholic church. The chairing and format were well done, although the set questions were a bit repetitive - I noticed that the Christian party candidates repeated themselves quite a bit in their answers. Instead of opening up questions to the floor you were able to submit written questions beforehand, which was a good way to keep the question-asking short and snappy - truly questions not statements! It was a big crowd, although not a huge room, and people were pretty well behaved.

Quite a diverse bunch of candidates - Pita Paraone (NZ First), Bronwyn Yates (Maori Party), David Jesze (Destiny), Michael Wood (Labour), Jill Ovens (Alliance), Judith Collins (National, replacing local MP Maurice Williamson), Irene Bentley (Greens), Ewen McQueen (Christian Heritage), Meng Ly (Progressive), Bronny Jacobsen (Act) and Ian McInnes (United). Apologies to any candidates whose names I have inadvertently mangled.

Interesting moments included Ewen McQueen mentioning child abuse (which made me very glad I was in the crowd, not there as a candidate, as I cracked up). Ian McInnes proclaimed that abortion was the second biggest sin in NZ after not accepting Christ into your life, and Bronny Jacobsen, from the Liberal Party, surprised me by opposing a woman's right to choose.

I was very interested to see Judith Collins' performance, as I had always had the impression that she was quite snarky. I had hoped she would be a bit less prickly in a friendly electorate, but alas she was still very abrasive. In particular she failed to talk about any policy except tax and totally refused to answer a foreign policy question about whether she supported Helen Clark on Iraq or Don Brash and the USA. She pretty much lost her rag at this query, and even after other candidates answered sat sulkily with her arms crossed.

Judith made the ah, interesting claim that she had heard from married couples who have decided to split up purely because it is financially advantageous to them. I have to suggest that your relationship may have other problems if you are actually doing the numbers on this. She really was very slick at avoiding answers but playing attack dog instead - I didn't even realise until after the debate that she didn't actually say where she stood on abortion, just talked about her defeated Care of Children Amendment Bill. Frankly I think this was an odd strategy from Collins, given that it was a pretty friendly audience for her.

Candidates were looking quite tired. Although of course I'm biased, I felt that the better speakers (in terms of style, not content) were Jill Ovens, Michael Wood, Ewen McQueen and Judith Collins. Pita Paraone has a booming voice, but is not that good at communicating - plus one of the candidates told me afterwards that he just read from the NZ First policy book for virtually everything - disappointing from an MP. Wood had a good line on National's tax cuts - constantly referring to it as the "$92 a week for MPs tax cut" which went down well as most people, regardless of political persuasion, don't seem to like the idea of MPs getting more money.

A few other observations:
- the friend who went to the debate with me (thanks S!) found David Jesze, who is number 2 on Destiny's list, reminded him far too much of Dr Strangelove to take seriously
- most of the leftish candidates talked about actual people as examples, which was a good way to connect
- Destiny apparently want every article/tv news piece/radio broadcast to be prefaced by the political affiliations of all of those involved in its production.
- Collins made a couple of quite wacky policy corrections when queried. Firstly that the 90 day grievance free period will only be if both employer and employee agree - why would any employee agree to that if they didn't have to? Secondly that the accommodation supplement for those in state houses would be topped up to cover the market rentals - why not just have income related rents and save admin money?? Thirdly National want to abolish the Maori seats because MMP has given Maori more representation, but they still want to have a referendum on whether we should keep MMP - so what if they abolished the Maori seats (without referendum) and then changed back to FPP? I don't know if these policies are accurate, as so little detail has been released by National.

All in all I thought it was a very well organised and illuminating debate. With the exception of National and the Maori Party there was a lot of policy information given, as well as everyone talking about the vision thing a lot too, which always gives good insights into the general nature of a party IMHO.

Part II now up.

Update: Labour candidate Michael Wood's version of events is here.

Update the Second: Howick and Pakuranga Times report on this debate is there.


Nigel Kearney said...

It's annoying when people change their message according to the audience. When the meeting is at a Catholic church, suddenly everyone is pro-life and all kinds of other things as well. The Green candidate in my electorate is a pro-life Christian but only mentioned this in the meetings at Catholic places.

span said...

when i spoke at a church sponsored debate in 2002 i was quite upfront about my stances on issues like abortion, the definition of a family, etc, communicating them honestly and without offending anyone, and that was respected, even by those who disagreed. you shouldn't change your message for different audiences, although you do need to tailor the delivery.

actually the Green candidate at the above meeting said a strange thing about abortion too - she said that the Greens were concerned about women having second and third abortions. i think what she meant, knowing the Greens, was that there should be education for those who have abortions, but the way she delivered it made it sound as if one abortion per woman per lifetime thanks very much.