7:00 PM. The most infamous election event in the nation takes place in the tiny community hall off Aro Street. The hall is standing room only with more crowds (known throughout the evening as ‘the outsiders’) peering in through the windows. Radio New Zealand announcer Bryan Crump has taken the evening off work to act as moderator – he warns the crowd that while heckling is encouraged he will not tolerate any ‘Hooton’s’. Each candidate will have two minutes to speak. Ninety seconds in someone will sound a gong, at two minutes they will thump the keys of a rickety old piano standing near the stage. If the candidate continues to speak they will be drenched with a high-powered water-pistol.
7:05 PM. The candidates introduce themselves:
For the Alliance Richard Wallis from Masterton, an English teacher who promises to move to Wellington Central if we elect him.
For United Future Vaughn Smith
For ACT Heather Roy who demands to know if there are any undecided voters in the audience. One woman puts her hand up. Roy exceeds the two minute time limit and is the first candidate to get drenched – but certainly not the last – while the gleeful crowd chants ‘zero tolerance’. Crump assures her that the water-pistol is ‘scented with rose-water’. ‘It bloody is not,’ Roy replies.
For Labour Grant Robertson who assured us he would stand up for public servants.
For the Green Party Sue Kedgely who ominously warned us that ‘the bees are disappearing’.
For National Stephen Franks
For the Workers Party Don Franks (apparently no relation) who somewhat resembles Elvis. The crowd helpfully point this out to him throughout the entire evening. Franks instantly bursts into song, treating us to a socialist version of ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ (‘the workers made them all’)
For the Libertarianz Bernard Darnton who demands to know who stole his election billboard. Darnton announces that he has a one point plan to solve all our problems: Freedom. A heckler in the crowd replies that freedom’s just another word.
For RAM (Resident Action Movement) Grant Brooks. It is hard to hear Brooks over the members of the audience shouting ‘Baaaaaaa’. He announces that RAM is a serious player in the upcoming election and the rest of his address is drowned out by laughter.
For the Kiwi Party Rebekah Clement, a young and attractive candidate and the crowd is intrigued when Bryan Crump announces that he has watched her ‘nice thing on YouTube’.
Clement: The Kiwi Party is a new Party . . .
Heckler: It might not fly!
Clement: And I want to be part of it because a lot of young people feel that they can’t make a difference in politics . . .
Heckler: You can’t!
For the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party Michael Appleby: He greets the audience warmly as his ‘natural constituents’ and congratulates us for being the ‘highest’ electorate in the country (in terms of voter turnout). Appleby boasts that this is his 5th appearance at the Aro Meet the Candidates event. ‘How’s it going?’ Asks a heckler. Appleby is a weirdly hypnotic public speaker.
For the Progressive Party David Somerset, a scriptwriter. He recites a short poem and boasts that although 83% of the country have never heard of his party they are actually part of the government.
8.00 PM Questions from the floor. The questions were highly varied. The most acrimonious ones were aimed at Stephen Franks in regards to his various remarks about gays and lesbians. A middle-aged businessman with a scottish accent asked Grant Robertson what role he played in the Labour Party pledge card scandal. Robertson greeted the questioner with a familiar wave. ‘Are you going to be at every candidate meeting sir?’ He asked wearily.
The two ‘major party’ candidates were asked about the Treaty of Waitangi. Stephen Franks gave the most considered reply of the night and actually addressed the question. Franks tended to over-complicate his replies and it was often hard to figure out what he was trying to say. His Obama-like emphasis on nuance might make him a good MP but it is not an effective strategy when you have two minutes to explain something to 300 jeering hippies with a water-pistol trained on the back of your head.
Someone asked Franks if he was a Christian. He replied he was an agnostic.
In response to a question about Climate Change and new roads like Transmission Gully the United Future announced his party supported the roading project. ‘Then its doomed,’ called a heckler. Darnton from the Libertarianz questioned the fiscal prudence of spending a billion dollars to re-elect Peter Dunne.
‘What does ‘Raaaaaaam’ think?’ Demanded the audience. They supported public transport.
Michael Appleby explained that if we legalise cannabis and use hemp for biofuels we solve all our transport problems. One of the creepiest aspects of the evening was that Appleby started to sound fairly sensible.
Heather Roy proposed we use nuclear ships to import bananas. Stephen Franks tried to deliver another nuanced, complicated answer and got soaked with the water-pistol.
8.30 PM More questions:
Don Franks from the Workers Party was asked about his parties prison policy. ‘The whole country would be a prison’ shouted a heckler.
United Future promised free universities for all. ‘Even stupid people?’ The Progressive candidate proposed to pay for a socialist state by raising John Key’s taxes. Heather Roy slammed Labour government spending as poor investments. ‘What about Dancing with the Stars?’ Michael Appleby offers to sell us all ‘cannibonds’, redemable for free dope on the day cannabis is legalised.
8.45 PM The traditional closing question for each candidate is who they would vote for if their party wasn’t in the running:
RAM candidate: Declares there are no differences between any major parties, tells us he would vote for the Maori party and is then drenched with the water-pistol.
Green: Sue Kedgely would vote Labour.
Alliance candidate: Maybe RAM or the workers party.
Progressives candidate: Would vote for anyone who would talk about the siege of Gaza.
United Future: Performs a song in which the audience stamps and clicks their fingers while he raps. Labour.
National: Offers to talk about Gaza to capture progressive candidates vote. Cops out and refuses to answer question; possibly aware of Nicky Hagars eyes boring into him from the audience.
Kiwi Party: Not Labour.
Libertarianz: Would support Labour as they are a convincing argument to dismantle the entire state.
Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis: Would vote for Stephen Franks as he is ‘an honorable man’.
Workers Party: Anyone who would raise the minimum wage to $20/hour
9.00 PM The evening draws to an end. The moderator Bryan Crump is rewarded with a $20 cannibond.