Last night I attended the most entertaining political meeting ever. It was organised for the public to hear representatives of the small parties (not Labour or National). Originally planned to include only the small parties currently represented in Parliament, heavy lobbying by the Destiny Party (yes, the Sinn Fein of the Destiny Church) resulted in opening up the forum to any small party that wanted to be there.
The result was the most ethnically, politically, generationally and amusingly diverse event I have ever attended (including those where the McGillicuddy Serious Party appeared). The audience was initially stacked by Destiny Church members- mostly well dressed Maori adults (and I had to assume my gaydar was malfunctioning when the camp-looking white guy identified himself with Destiny). Before long however, the god-botherers were completely outnumbered by rangatahi (young Maori) in their Maori party t-shirts. There was standing room only, and the crowds spilled out into the courtyard where even the youngest were mostly quiet and attentive throughout.
The usual suspects for a political meeting (the old white guys) were quite the minority, not only in the audience, but also the panel. Ah, the panel... even more interesting than the audience, and how often can you say that in politics? Maori outnumbered Pakeha, women outnumbered men, loonies outnumbered the sane.
The two current MPs (Metiria Turei, Greens and Muriel Newman, Act) were, at their respective ends of the spectrum both very professional and well spoken. I thought Muriel was remarkably brave in holding firm to her hobby horse of anti-Maori 'privilege' in such brown room, where big black-clad Maori men leaned against the door posts in comfortable bouncer poses. Metitiria was equally brave and more articulate (not to mention right-on) saying she was proud to have supported the Prostitution Law Reform bill while being heckled by Destiny congregants.
The Cannibas Law Reform woman was a complete space cadet, but very sweet and I felt a bit sorry for her even while I couldn't help joining in the laughter (more at her, than with her, I'm afraid). The Progressive woman was as uptight as the Cannibas rep had been loose. She read straight from a prepared speech that went way over the time limit and involved far too many big words. She was a little more likeable at question time, but it must be a thankless task trying to represent the Jim Anderton party as something greater than its one part.
The two octagenarians from the Democrats actually forgot that they weren't called Social Credit anymore and talked about Beetham in the present tense. It's a shame really that they are so passe because not all their economic analysis is rubbish. There were two representatives of the Maori party, but we will only remember Tamati Something, an immensely charismatic man who very well may end up in parliament, though I would think the Maori Party would be worried about such a loose cannon, since most of his speech was variations on "the party policy is 'x' but I think 'y'".
But the highlight of the night was the preacherman from Destiny whose speech was accompanied with murmered support from the congregation in the manner of gospel churches calling halleluiah during a sermon. He wasn't particularly coherent but that doesn't matter does it, as his emotional appeal was based on nostalgia for a fantasy of the family as a safe haven.
New Zealand First and United Future did not send representatives, if they had, the panel would have no doubt been skewed back towards boring white males. They probably thought it wasn't worth coming because who could have anticipated the TV camera (Maori TV I think) and the huge crowd. Admittedly few in the huge crowd could be classed as undecided voters, that most attractive of political prey. Except me, I still haven't decided where to put my electorate vote to best use, even if my party vote has long been firmly planted.
I left during question time when someone started ranting about the ACC conspiracy and it seemed like most of the fun part was over. I went with a feeling that I am very pleased with MMP which we might just be starting to get the hang of. I came away impressed with the new Maori party's ability to mobilise rangatahi who are usually the most disenfranchised voters in the country. I was impressed with the local Greens for organising such a generous, inclusive, successful event, in which they happened to stand out as the most reasonable of the small parties.
This may be the highlight of my election campaign experience. I don't anticipate anything involving the big parties being nearly so hopeful. But, dear readers, if you have an opportunity to attend a small party event in the next few weeks, I recommend it, if only for entertainment value.