One photo, one vote

This is what it comes down to on the campaign trail: What's the selfie conversion rate?

Pitiful as that is, it is a thing. 

Both main parties are talking up the rate of selfie photographs taken with their leader against what the other lot is getting in malls and walkabouts. Both reckon a photo shared is a vote won.

One side boasted yesterday it had its selfie-taken-to-vote-received ratio up to 1-1. Every smile a winner. They suggested it should be a subject analysed by a political scientist.

Or a psychoanalyst.

The desire by partisan party members stacking shopping mall walkabouts for photos with their leader, or for photos of their kids, parents, spouses or siblings with that leader is almost understandable. The broader desire by passing shoppers for that photo is something else.

The selfie or staged photo has been a campaign thing since forever, when Apple introduced reverse cameras and before that when digital cameras became ubiquitous. 

This campaign it is everything. Very few people even bother to raise their personal issues when they run into a leader. In the old days, like 2014, people used to bring up things like problems getting prescriptions for their gout or battles with their neighbours over driveway fences or conspiracies about the secret, global grid government and its exercises in mind control.

Journalists used to bother to strain to listen into these conversations, waiting for the one member of the public who might have a story. Now they can just follow the Labour or National Party Instagram feed.

It is not all about Jacinda Ardern and her smile, which is a political collectible in rare demand at the Avondale market and, later at LynnMall. At Westfield Albany on Father's Day Bill English is being asked - asked - for as many pictures with punters as the woman whom he accuses of dazzling the public with "stardust". Him, with a crinkled cartoon-character smile that only his six kids could love.

Earlier, English had been challenged at a farmers' market by two men in a discussion which included the Pike River mine and Ardern had attracted a man to the Avondale market crowd whom her Diplomatic Protection Squad minders had ushered out of her path. But the raw politics is rare.

Not only is the transformation of campaign events into moving photo booths tedious, it also slows down politicians' movement to a pace that means walkabouts go virtually nowhere. Ardern is marginally quicker. She cuts to the chase with some people, asks if they want a photo and even holds the camera and shoots for them if they seem indecisive or starstruck. 

MPs and candidates are on hand to shoot group shots for her, and for English. I even fulfilled my democratic duty when an iPhone was being waved plaintively in front of her and a vote at LynnMall. 

The Herald journalist Steve Braunias, who had narrowly beaten Ardern at ping pong for an article but was at LynnMall shopping yesterday, waited his turn to take a photo of his daughter Minka with his vanquished opponent. He went down on one knee to take the picture.

Babies are being handed over to politicians as ever, but now coerced into looking at the parent's phone as well. Few seem to want to appear on the parent's Facebook feed, however historic, however much referred glory it conveys.

Charlotte Garrett gets her chance to quiz National leader Bill English on climate change during his walkabout in Albany. Photo: Tim Murphy

Ardern's visit to LynnMall came three days after English did the exact walk. The crowd of shoppers was bigger, being a Sunday, and she walked half as far into the mall, but that apart the reaction was much the same. They both have appeal for the Facebook and Instagram post. Both attract a high proportion of Chinese, Indian and other minorities wanting to be recorded for posterity.

Ardern is a huggy character. People posing with her get a pretty warm arm around them. (Some of the young and some old, familiar Labour workers get full, two-armed body hugs.) 

English is a readily agreeable subject, but careful at times to keep a closed fist as he puts his arm around the voter's back. His small talk is, more directly and more often, on whether the person is going to vote and if so will it be for the blue team.

Both leaders had photos with two workers from Just Jeans at LynnMall. English asked Jenny Dass and Anna Dyson how they'd vote and Anna told him "probably Labour". Yesterday they came out of their shop to score the photo double, loudly telling Ardern they would be voting Labour.

Dyson said afterwards English's visit had achieved one thing: "It did make me go and enrol. So I can vote for her."

Which is not to say his selfie conversion rate is terminal. At Albany he stopped to talk to Charlotte Garrett, aged 19, from the North Shore. He asked if she was voting National. She asked about climate change and National's response. At last, an issue.

She said afterwards: "I said it depends on your commitment to [fight] climate change. He did make a good point or two, that they had already put in steps, which was quite good to hear." Was she reassured? "More reassurance than I have got from anyone else." 

A few metres, but about 20 minutes, further on, a National Party volunteer thrust Niki Talmar of Milford into the Prime Minister's path for a photo. She was literally gobsmacked. Her mouth dropped open and she blurted out: "This has been on my bucket list for so long." Minutes later she explained, as National organised to send her the photo for her social media, that: "I'm just a lowly school dental nurse. These sorts of things don't happen to me."

Across the top of the Waitemata Harbour, Ardern was introduced by New Lynn candidate Deborah Russell to "Lauren and Ruby ... they've got you on their fence."

At that moment things came full circle. Ardern was the one photo-struck. "Oh thank you," she gushed. "The one with me...?" and she outlined a big portrait frame with her fingers in the air.

The slow march of high shutter speeds is nirvana to campaign staff looking to build imagery of their leader being mobbed. "It's bedlam isn't it" one observed to no one in particular at Lynnmall.

As English came to the end of a full 100-metre hour through his mall the deputy National leader Paula Bennett hugged a random blue-shirted Nat and exclaimed: "See, I told you he is a star."

You almost sense, in Ardern's mind, that the rockstar thing might have gone too far for her. At Avondale she said: "I'm not on my own in this. I'm surrounded by fabulous candidates," and "The movement for change you are seeing is not me on my own. It is the people around us who believe New Zealand can be better than we are."

Her local candidate, Russell, was having none of that in her thank you after the leader had spoken. "I think the best reason to vote Labour on September 23 is Jacinda. She's warm and gives us hope." And hits.

Away from the public's cameras but staged for media cameras, both parties did talk policy yesterday: English and Bennett in a fire and brimstone attack on gang members and drugs and Ardern in a family home announcing better rights and conditions for renters.

From those two, the policy conversion rate will be no greater than 50 percent.

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