Kumeu event: Key close to getting ejected
Prime Minister John Key may have been speaking to a sympathetic local audience, but he came the closest to being kicked out in his own back yard.
Key shared the stage tonight with fellow candidates in the Helensville electorate, and those of Te Tai Tokerau, at the Kumeu Baptist Church.
While the audience seemed to favour the local MP, who won Helensville with a majority of more than 21,000 votes, he was accused of breaching the strict rules of engagement of the debate.
These stipulated that candidates were not even meant to refer to each other, or their parties, but on several occasions Key attacked Labour's policy directly.
Event organiser Holly Ryan said that Key was the only candidate who came close to being ejected from the event, when he was eventually given a warning. Had he repeated he would have been out.
"If he'd gone that way again, yeah [he would have been removed]," Ryan said, agreeing that this meant he was the closest to being asked to leave.
"When he pushed it, I invited him to leave."
Ryan said she was disappointed with the quality of the questions submitted for answer. A number of the questions appeared to be asking candidates to recite their policy.
"If you saw what I was doing, it was taking a long time to find questions that were worth asking," Ryan said.
Key left the debate quickly and did not comment to the media, but his opponents said he should have been ordered to make an even earlier exit.
"He broke the rules time and time again," Mana leader Hone Harawira said.
While he believed the organisers had shown Key favour, Harawira said he was not concerned as it was Key's electorate.
Internet Party leader Laila Harre said she would have preferred to be able to engage in debate with Key, but she was able to make her point.
On several occasions she declined to answer questions on Helensville issues, even though she is standing in the seat. Harre said afterwards that she was really pushing for the party vote, in a bid to change the government.
"I think that this electorate will have an MP with plenty of time on his hands after September the 20th," Harre said.
The church was overflowing for the much anticipated candidates meeting, and organisers had to lock the doors within 30 minutes of letting in the crowd which had started gathering two hours before the debate’s start time of 7pm.
About 50 people were left outside, forced to watch the action on a big screen showing a video live stream of the debate.
Key earlier sought to down play the event which was not being billed as a debate, but as a chance for voters to meet their local candidates.
Expectations of a showdown had built after a day in which tensions were ratcheted up between National and Internet Mana over recent incidents including Key's effigy being burnt.
"Not much ... if you are looking for fireworks," he said.
"I mean it's a 'meet the candidates' so it's a five-minute opportunity to talk about issues in the Helensville electorate. That's where I'll be directing my comments."
The meeting was an opportunity for voters in the electorate to talk to their candidate.
"It's not a debate. If it was a debate I'd be having it with [Labour leader] David Cunliffe because I debate the leader of the Opposition."
Key arrived at 7pm to cheers and boos from the crowd of about 200.
Harre arrived to an equally big cheer.
Outside protesters chanted and sang.