I’m writing this column in the thick of the campaign, taking a break from door knocking and fixing hoarding signs on a day when the rain is thumping down.
All campaigns are nerve wracking under the MMP system, where the margin between success and failure is fine. The difference between having the opportunity as a Cabinet Minister to improve the lives of fellow New Zealanders, current and future, and the frustrations of being an opposition MP is colossal. That’s why we fight so hard.
We’ll have had a total of seven ‘meet the candidates’ debates in the Epsom electorate during the campaign so far. These have been robust and reasonably good natured affairs. One of the most enjoyable so far was at Brothers Beer in Mt Eden, partly because the candidates each had a nice glass of craft pale ale to help the debate along. We also gathered in the old Blind Institute building in Parnell, the lovingly restored old Methodist church in the heart of Mt Eden village, St Kent’s school hall at the bottom of Victoria Ave, and there are still more to come at the time of writing.
At each, half the crowd comprises the supporters of various candidates, peppering opposition candidates with tricky questions and their own with friendly ones. The rest seem genuinely interested to gain deeper insight into the thinking that drives the candidates, beyond the soundbites of media coverage.
The Epsom electorate happens to have four sitting MPs currently standing for re-election: David Seymour for ACT, myself, David Parker for Labour and Barry Coates for the Greens. David Parker is not a resident, but he’s stood here in the past and as a senior member of the Labour caucus adds something to the debates.
It has been commented upon a couple of times that the entire line up of 7 candidates have been male. This is a pity, but thankfully unusual. Of the neighbouring electorates, Maungakiekie, Mt Albert, Mt Roskill and Auckland Central – most of the candidates of the leading parties are female. Tamaki is a bit like Epsom.
The issues raised at these meetings have tended to be national ones, or Auckland wide: plans to ensure the economy remains internationally competitive, taxes, housing affordability, inequality, transport and mental health have predominated.
The point I’ve made throughout is that when I first stood in Epsom in 2011 we were borrowing $350 million a week as a country ($18 billion for the year). There were three drivers: we’d inherited structural budget deficits from Helen Clark’s Labour Government, the Global Financial Crisis had increased unemployment and we were determined to support those most vulnerable, and the Christchurch earthquakes. They were frightening times. Since then, in large measure due to Bill English’s competence and determination, we’ve restored the Crown’s books to surplus and now have choices about where to invest. We’ve proposed a mix of new spending to produce better public services, investment in infrastructure, repayment of debt as we always should during the good times, and tax relief or family incomes packages.
Finally, as a candidate I can say it is a joy to campaign in this country. People feel strongly about the issues we debate, but with very few exceptions I’ve always been treated with courtesy and moderate respect. That’s something to celebrate.