What happens when you place a group of agricultural students in an indoor National voter with their local candidate? Alex Braae attends Lincoln University’s election debate to see the political equivalent of slaughterhouses.
Despite the protests of most of the candidates, there will only be one winner in Selwyn’s voters this time around.
It was released by former National lawmaker Amy Adams, who enjoys the country’s largest private majority. As a combination of rural Canterbury, farm service towns, and some suburbs, there’s no way to party else.
Next in line for the chair is Nicola Grigg with a background in agriculture and a career including journalism, public service work and a long stint in the office of former Prime Minister Sir Bill English. Even in the seat of a weak National candidate will run everywhere, Grigg is a very strong first-time candidate, aand as the debate held by the Lincoln University student association showed, the other parties mostly brought out fresh meat.
Labor has installed Reuben Davidson, a member of the community council on Banks Peninsula on the eastern edge of the constituency. He is a longtime TV producer (including working for seven years at What Now) and has been involved with community work since the earthquake. But the ranking list of 67 is less demanding.
Davidson, however, came prepared with answers to pre-marked questions around student welfare, agriculture, resource management measures and Māori graduation and imprisonment rates differences. Most of the answers were read from notes. He had a nightmare draw of having to give the first answer to the floor’s first surprise question – about what his party wants to do about the urban-rural divide.
“This is a problem, and it is something we need to address,” he began, before turning to talk about RMA and local development funding. Davidson is also somewhat upbeat saying that if voters turn him into lawmaker for Selwyn, he will ensure a decent share of the coffers ends up with voters.
Grigg pounced. “I applaud your sentiment, but it’s very hard to believe that when we have a prime minister who is openly talking about it being an industry of the past, and we have an environment minister who is openly against agriculture.” The first point which seems to point to Ardern’s soundbite from the first leaders debate which the National candidates happily misinterpreted, and the second is probably something that David Parker would challenge, even if many peasants believed he held that view.
But Grigg is in a fine room for that rhetoric. Leaning on the table as if it were a farm gate, he pulled out statistics on fencing and riverside planting, how the money was all out of the pockets of farmers, and how, in fact, most urban areas violated their resource agreement over waterway pollution. “It is frankly hypocritical now for the government to turn around and say ‘hey farmer, thank you for getting us out of the Covid lockdown’ when in fact, all they’re doing is making things a lot more difficult.”
“My 65-year-old dad came down on Mount Somers, wringing his hands and saying ‘I don’t know how to grow crops to get out of this rubbish’,” said Grigg before stepping aside to the audience. . “He might say nonsense but I can’t say it now.” The people who caught it, liked it. After all, in the school that trains the next generation of farmers, many of them might be able to relate.
While their skirmishes were taking place, a full scale war broke out between the Act candidates and the NZ First candidates. The Act was represented by Stu Armstrong, a health care industry salesman with end-stage cancer, who is running for the party in favor of the End of Life Choice referendum. NZ First has no candidates, but the Youth Wings star Jay McLaren-Harris flew from Auckland to represent his party.
He was the oddball among the crowd, wearing a sharp suit and displaying the subtle demeanor and speech of someone who had spent several terms as a senior cabinet minister. “I speak your language, I was where you were,” he said in the introduction, pointing languidly at a room full of students in hoodies and leggings.
It started with McLaren-Harris talking at length about the Act’s (now overturned) policy to return interest on student loans. As he spoke, Anderson waved his hand and shouted that it was no longer party policy. The next time he got the chance to speak, he chided McLaren-Harris for not keeping up with the news. “Maybe he’s too busy with the SFO,” said Anderson.
The final candidate on stage was Canterbury University freshman Abe O’Donnell who had a brutal day at the office representing the Greens. Maybe in another room that was more politically sympathetic, he would shine. But in this case, he emerges completely from the depths, stumbling through an answer that begins with a strong statement of party policy before straying and arriving at a sudden conclusion.
Some burly lads in stubbies and boots quietly mumble over most of his contributions. The ripples were broader when O’Donnell raised regenerative agriculture, a concept that hasn’t really emerged in mainstream farming circles. Sometimes it’s almost like watching a torturous teen comedy where the main character forgets that it’s their day to appear in class. The afternoon was frozen by McLaren-Harris, who embraced him in a friendly, if patronizing, debate at the end of the debate and prompted the room to applaud O’Donnell for running for the 18-year-old.
Perhaps the best out candidates were the ones who weren’t even invited. Calvin Payne, an independent who runs the catchy slogan “No Payne, No Gain”, jumped to his feet near the end and begged the audience to vote for him as a local. Several students called her afterwards and asked disappointedly why she didn’t have a chance to talk more.
Turnout was strong, with over a hundred students coming to hear their candidates. It doesn’t sound like much, but Lincoln University only has about 2,000 full-time students. They listen in attentive silence, ask good questions to ask candidates and for the most part come up with answers that make sense to them.
For many of them, especially those who will live around Selwyn, it will probably impress as the first look at a politician who could represent a seat for a generation. Grigg will do a lot to get ideas for future peasants – that he and the National Party are now and forever on their side.
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