Losing my innocence, with NZ First

Things aren't all as you'd imagine at the NZ First political convention, writes James Elliott

There’s nothing like attending a political event to either confirm or dispel your preconceptions about politicians and their supporters. And so yesterday I went to my first political campaign launch, for NZ First.

It’s not something on my own bucket list but I assumed it would be for at least some of the others attending. And that was my first preconception dispelled as I tacked on to a fast-moving group of fit young people in activewear carrying drink bottles and towels, and headed for the Highbrook Convention Centre.

Before I had time to ponder a change in attitude, and clothes, they all strode purposefully into the Jetts gym on the corner leaving me to catch my breath as I made my way to the Convention Centre and the dispelling of my second preconception.

No merch! I had assumed there would be some NZ First-branded merchandise on hand to raise funds for the party and to remind attendees where they had been on Sunday afternoon. Maybe they had sold out. A quick inquiry to the media gaggle confirmed there had been no merch all weekend but that, intriguingly, TVNZ’s Katie Bradford had somehow got her hands on a NZ First-branded keep cup. Before I could investigate further, my attention was grabbed by a large green monster with horns and bloodshot eyes. Cupgate would have to wait.

My preconceptions told me that NZ First isn’t averse to the use of props and stunts, so I assumed the green monster was a walking satirical symbol of the threat posed to New Zealanders’ hopes and dreams by the Greens. Maybe Ron Mark was carrying some six-shooters to go with his Stetson hat and he would slay the green monster in the name of the Provincial Growth Fund and strictly-controlled immigration. Sadly, it wasn’t to be and another preconception went by the wayside. All that the green monster was prepared to disclose to me was that he was engaged in confidential political marketing and that he had under-estimated how hot and uncomfortable he would be.

It was time to take a seat. In my case, next to Perry (not his real name) from Northcote (not where he lives) who told me Shane Jones should be wearing Ron Mark’s Stetson hat to go with his “cowboy attitude”, that he had got through lockdown by ignoring it and that I should be looking forward to the gold card so that I could go to Waiheke for free and get drunk.

Any further insights from Perry were drowned out by what I assumed to be carefully selected music to introduce the dear leader - George Ezra’s “Give me one good reason why I should never make a change” and Elvis Presley’s “The Wonder of You”.  It fell to Darroch Ball to introduce Winston Peters accompanied by a swelling choral crescendo in the form of Ennio Morricone’s “On Earth As It Is In Heaven”, the translated opening lines of which are “The king rounded up all the insurgents / and listened closely to their gibberish”, an obvious reference to the 17 policy remits discussed on Saturday, including remit 7 “ … that metallic brake pads sold or installed in NZ have the requirement to have low or copper free friction quality …”.

And then he was among us, Winston making his way to the podium through the adoring throng. 

Winston wasted no time in reminding us there were 63 days to the election and what we had to look out for. I had assumed there would be obvious digs at National and the Greens but it turns out the party we need to be afraid of most is the “They Party”. They want to close your voice down, They want a wealth tax, and They think taxpayer funding can fix any problem. Perry was nodding in approval. I made a note to ask him afterwards what he knew about this dangerous “They Party”.

Winston was on to NZ First’s achievements of the past three years. “We opposed woke pixie dust”, he claimed, his best line so far based on laughter and applause. So good, that he did a remix and played it again “woke pixie dust it has been and we’ve opposed it”.

NZ First has also opposed the light rail plan for Auckland, his chief criticism being that “they won’t tell you how much it’s going to cost”. Another “they” was starting to get confusing. It turns out this “they” are from Peter Pan’s Never Never Land although it’s not clear why they want to build light rail in Auckland. Perry seemed to know why. He was nodding again. But this time his nodding stopped when his chin rested on his chest. I resisted the urge to check for a pulse.

Winston was winding things up, filling in all the remaining squares on the NZ First bingo card – police numbers, a billion trees, and immigration.

Then Winston was done. We were standing, except for Perry, and clapping - the clap you do above your head to show that you really mean it. Winston beamed as the DJ cranked up John Farnham’s “You’re The Voice” because nothing says supporting New Zealand’s future like swaying awkwardly to an Aussie barnstorming ballad waving a “Back Your Future – Party Vote NZ First” placard.

I headed for the exit, keen to overhear what the punters thought of the show. The green monster was gone, as was my opportunity to get a branded keep cup.

As for the punters, from what I overhead the biggest question in their minds was “Where’s the bus?”

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