Election 2020

Campaign diary: Deborah Russell, MP

In the first of a weekly election diary, Labour MP Deborah Russell explains how you campaign when the campaign is on hold. Tomorrow is National's Chris Bishop.

This is now a campaign diary of not campaigning.

Parliament finished up on Thursday last week, and in the way that Covid-time goes, that already seems an age ago.

By Friday, I was back in my electorate, ready to get fully immersed in campaigning. Everything was lined up for six incredibly busy weeks. I checked in with my campaign team, checked in with my staff, and spent the evening with my family.

It says something about NZ politics that my most successful tweet from this week of campaigning was a photo of a chip buttie.

Saturday started with a bit of brand maintenance – getting my hair coloured and cut – and then into our big nationwide campaign launch. Singers, kapa haka, great speeches from Clarke Gayford and the PM, huge roars of approval from the crowd. The best moment for me was one that hasn’t made it onto news coverage: after a stunning haka and poi display, the kapa haka group led us all in singing the national anthem, acapella, in te reo. It seemed that everyone in the Town Hall knew the words. This is a huge change from my childhood and even young adult years – that te reo is so much more widely known and used by all New Zealanders.

Sunday morning was our usual stand at the Avondale markets: saying hello to the punters, making sure people are enrolled to vote, giving away the last of our Labour balloons. Then more meeting people at the New Lynn gurdwara with MP for Te Atatu Phil Twyford, and, in the afternoon, out door knocking in Laingholm. Pretty much all of the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area was added to the New Lynn electorate in the boundary redraws, including the townships along the northern edge of the Manukau Harbour from Titirangi through to Whatipu. Getting out there to knock on doors is a critical part of my campaign. The response to me and my team has been overwhelmingly positive: virtually every person I’ve spoken to on the doorstep has been a Labour or Greens voter.

I also got the standard contradictory responses from consecutive door knocks - “You look much nicer than your photo!” followed immediately by, “Your photo looks much better than you.”

At the market. Photo: Greg Presland

Monday was an electorate office day, followed by the Oratia Residents and Ratepayers AGM that evening. Tuesday was a joint phone calling day in our campaign headquarters on behalf of Labour women running in tough blue seats. Then I raced home for a regularly scheduled caucus Zoom call, but it was cancelled. That was unusual. Then came the news that the PM was holding a special press conference at 9.15pm.

That was worrying.

And now, we wait. Wait for the daily updates, wait for news of what happens next, wait for word that we can restart our campaigns.

Limbo.

I’ve got plenty of constituent work to carry on with: talking to local business owners, helping people with immigration and housing and welfare issues, making sure I’m doing my bit to get official information out about what is happening, trying to talk people out of rumour-mongering. All the usual work that an MP does, but all done from home. In between, I’m making re-usable masks for my family and my campaign team and my staff.

But there is now no campaign to report on, and like everyone, I’m not sure when it will start again.

Our first hustings meetings were booked for Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evenings next week, with a business event on Wednesday evening, and in between I was planning on visiting schools and door knocking and leafleting and phone calling – all the usual work of a busy election campaign. It looks likely that not much of that will happen now as our focus moves – properly – to the work of helping people to get through.

It’s our job.

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