Colour amid the beige
The election is dominated by colourless and choreographed walkabouts by party leaders and spin-doctored blandness. Politicians have taken most of the risk out of their encounters with the public. The polls suggest this will be a no-surprises election, with National retaining the huge lead over Labour that it has had for years now.
The pundits say there will probably be a low turnout for this very reason: the result is an all-but-foregone conclusion.
But there is life among the ruins and colour amid the beige. Here and there are unpredictable candidates and lunatic-fringe policies. Rich Christian businessman Colin Craig has launched a Conservative Party challenge to Act and the National Party. He is spending more than $1 million of his own money on billboards that have popped up all over the place.
Jeff Lye, a 46-year-old truck driver who is fourth on the list of the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party, argues that this would be the answer to the economic crisis, youth unemployment, the rebuilding of Christchurch and cancer.
The eccentric former mayor of North Shore, Andrew Williams, is now carrying a banner for New Zealand First. Williams, who while mayor urinated outside the council building one night after spending hours in a bar, claims he is destined for parliament because Winston Peters' party will hurdle the 5% barrier. Few pollsters agree.
Sue Bradford, the left-wing MP who quit the Greens in disgust over their alleged swing to the right, is now giving Social Welfare Minister Paula Bennett a run for her money in Waitakere. Bradford, the beneficiaries' champion, clashes with the minister who is trying to drive them out to work.
And the most colourful MP in the House, Hone Harawira, is now trying hard to tone down the abuse and the insults and to look more presidential. He even now says he regrets his attack on "White motherf---kers".
Meanwhile, the once-influential Maori Party is facing an uncertain future, with its widely respected co-leaders Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples due to retire in the next parliamentary term. How do things look for the party that teamed up with National, a party traditionally spurned by Maori voters?
The Firebrand: Sue Bradford
by Steve Kilgallon
Sue Bradford once declared there were three ways to force change: to throw rocks from outside the system, to build organisations from inside the "shell of a malfunctioning system" or to go inside and change it from within.
When Bradford quit parliament in 2009, dismayed at her Green Party's drift to the centre, she never expected the second or third avenues would remain open. So she returned to option one, and the indefatigable grassroots activism that has defined her career, right back to her 1980s street protests with the Unemployed Workers' Union.
"All three ways [of enacting change] are still equally valid and necessary," she says now; to prove it, she is part of the Auckland Action against Poverty group which organised the storming of last month's National Party campaign launch.
"This work outside parliament is just as important as building our own organisations inside a rotten system," she adds. "I have done all these things in my life and whatever happens on November 26, I will still be political. One of the hardest things since I left parliament has been seeing people on the street who say `Oh Sue, what have you been doing since you retired from politics'. I have not retired from politics, politics is not parliament, politics is everywhere in life."
When Bradford turned up to the launch of Hone Harawira's new Mana Party on April 30 this year, she hadn't realised it would be open to non-Maori, let alone she would become a candidate. Her divorce from the Greens was already complete, and she says "at heart, the Green leadership is happy I'm not there; I certainly would have held them back. It is much easier for them not to have radicals like me around". And she was enthused by what she saw as the arrival of a genuine left-wing working-class party in the mould of the original British and New Zealand Labour parties.
Alongside veteran activist John Minto, her biggest task may be making Harawira palatable to white voters – and even simply helping them realise they can vote Mana. She says Harawira's divorce from the Maori Party matured him and exposed his true leadership qualities and he has been misunderstood. "We're almost like a translation service: our task is to say Mana is for all of us who want to change the world on this kaupapa; don't be frightened, Mana is here for everyone."
Mana seems a broad church, but Bradford – taking a three-month campaign break from a PhD thesis at AUT University – says: "We are all well known, we are staunch in struggle: we are very different, but we are all fighters, we are people who don't sell out and we've got a long track record of working for causes and people from the ground up, in different areas."
She admits the new party is still piecing together policy and is engaged in an "uphill battle against time to get credibility" but says if Harawira and Annette Sykes win their seats and the party vote delivers another MP or two, they can make an impact and show "Mana isn't just about Hone but a whole group of intelligent, courageous, principled people from different backgrounds with a lot to offer".
And then, says Bradford, they can make an impact: "I understand about being a small party in parliament and what a small group of committed people can achieve... I certainly made the most of it with the Greens." She did, authoring the infamous "anti-smacking" bill (she prefers the prosaic "amendment to Section 59 of the Crimes Act"). She accepts that will remain the "biggest thing I have done" but says her work is unfinished.
"I have always looked for the most important issues, where the cutting edge of politics is, where the best place to put my energies are," she says, when asked if she ever tires of fighting the good fight. "I made the choice whose side I am on: the disenfranchised, young, children, low-wage workers, beneficiaries, women and the unemployed."
The Multimillionaire: Colin Craig
by Adam Dudding
LOOK LARRY," says cheerful multimillionaire Colin Craig. "I've got a moustache!"
And indeed he has. Amid the thicket of election placards beside a main road on Auckland's North Shore, a billboard for Craig's newly minted Conservative Party has been artfully defaced to give Craig not only a big bushy moustache but a Harry Potterish lightning scar on his forehead.
It's Wednesday afternoon, Craig is driving his BMW SUV back to his city electoral HQ after recording a few radio ads in a bedroom recording studio belonging to a party supporter. He seems genuinely chuffed with the graffito. "At least they've not given me horns."
In the back seat is Larry Baldock, evangelical Christian, failed campaigner for the right to smack children, and leader of the recently dissolved Kiwi Party, which won 0.54% of the vote in the 2008 election and last month threw in its lot with Craig's party. Baldock, up from Tauranga for the day, is third on the Conservatives' list of 52 candidates.
Not even Craig seriously expects any of his 51 colleagues to win their seats, and the party is polling little over 1% for party vote, way below the 5% needed to get into parliament by right (but a touch higher than Act, Mana and United Future).
But Craig – who last year bankrolled his own losing shot at the Auckland super city mayoralty and expects to spend up to $1.4 million more on this campaign – insists that he's going to win his electorate seat, the rural district of Rodney, north of Auckland.
"I've got the connections. My dad was a councillor. And in the mayoral campaign I got 20% of the vote in Rodney." (He got 8.8% Auckland-wide.)
Auckland University politics professor Raymond Miller is sceptical about Craig's chances, pointing out that under MMP "no one has ever won a seat coming from total obscurity in this way". Jim Anderton and Peter Dunne held electorate seats for minor parties only after gaining office with a major party.
Craig isn't bothered. This is only the start of a four-week campaign.
He looks younger than 43, with clean-cut good looks (especially since losing that mayoral-campaign beard), though there's a touch of middle-age spread around the midriff, and his strong smiley teeth are yellowing.
He grew up in Howick, did an accountancy degree and set up a practice before branching into property management – "service industries, keeping buildings running". He's made five or six million from his businesses, and came to politics late, provoked by leaky buildings, anti-smacking legislation and the creation of the Auckland super city.
He's into fiscal prudence, social conservatism, hard work, the family unit, referendum-based democracy, law and order, smacking kids – that sort of thing. Joining a big party would have meant compromising those principles so he's used his money to create his own party.
Not that he was spending his cash on much else.
"I was given $50 for my birthday, which was January, and I've still got it, because I can't think of anything I want to buy."
He gets budget brands at the supermarket and doesn't own a boat or a sportscar. The BMW is actually 18 years old and he'd never buy a car new.
"I've always felt I could use my money in better ways."
Craig lives in Albany and has been married to Helen for 20 years. They have a six-year-old daughter, homeschooled for now, though that's got nothing to do with him being a Christian.
Actually, he doesn't even attend church, and his is definitely not a "Christian" party, but he does believe in intelligent design, and sees the Ten Commandments as "a basic platform".
He's rather straight. He's never smoked a cigarette. He never took a toke of the "wacky backy that got smoked around university when I was there". He'll have a glass of red, "but I'd never have a bottle". He didn't have sex until after he married – "never saw the need".
Any vices at all?
"Um ... I am a competitive soul. I love competing on things, perhaps even when I would be wiser not to."
Ooh, this sounds promising – what kind of unwise?
"If some young 20-year-old challenges me to sprint around the block I'm going to say yeah! And am I going to lose? Yep!"
That is, frankly, pretty boring. Has he worried he and his party are just too dull to win votes?
He blushes and laughs a little loudly. "I haven't!"
Then: "I see government as needing to be responsible and make good decisons. Sometimes that is boring."
Craig likes to read inspirational books. The last thing he read was about Obama's election campaign. "It was called Dare to Win. It was Dare to Win, wasn't it? It might have been Dare to Succeed. Something like that."
Did he draw any great insights from it?
"No, I didn't actually."
The Drug Crusader: Jeff Lye
by Steve Kilgallon
Jeff Lye reckons he has a great housing policy, but he doesn't want to share. In 2008, he says, he came up with the idea of GST-free fruit and vege. "And look who's using it this year," he retorts.
But Lye, a 46-year-old truck driver, father and grandfather fourth on the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party list and electorate candidate in Waitakere, is ready to reveal their "economic recovery" police, "the only one where we don't have to borrwo money to make it work" - which is, you may not be stunned to learn, based on the lucrative cannabis industry.
"When National took over, we had a $5 billion surplus," he says, "now we have an $18b debt. If you say we're better off, I can't see how."
Lye also reckons cannabis is the answer to the ecomonic crisis, youth unemployment, the Christchurch rebuild, the Kiwifruit psa crisis and yes, inevitably, cancer.
He's impressively researched and begins hurling figures the moment we sit down in the ALCP's spiritual home, the Daktory "cannabis club" in West Auckland: the marijuana market is worth $1b a year, so legalised and licensed, would return $150m in GST alone. Legalisation would save $1b spent on law enforcement and jailing 750 prisoners a year for cannabis-related crimes. The hemp industry would offer a $1b annual return and 100,000 jobs on a range of "48,000 cleaner, greener products".
They're not, he says, a single-issue party, rather, everything logically flows from legalising the weed.
"You can't promise stuff when there's no money," he reasons. Totting it all up, he reckons the economy would gain $3b to $5b a year and every Kiwi would be at least $60 up.
"I get a lot of people saying we really support what you are doing but it is a waste of time voting for you," Lye says with exasperation. "Every single vote counts, and when you get 12,000 people saying this, that's 12,000 votes you just missed out on."
Lye is campaigning only for the party vote and reckons a lofty 7 per cent would give the ALCP power to help Labour back into government. "That's our promise: we're not like Winston Peters, who says vote for me and get rid of National, and then does a deal with them," he says, chortling. In fact, it's about their only pledge. "We don't promise... we're not going to fill people's heads with bullshit and preposterous promises you can't fulfil."
It's not apparent that Labour are aware of this commitment: Lye met their Waitakere candidate Carmel Sepuloni at a candidate's meeting but says she didn't really talk to him.
This is a party campaigning with its totem in jail: 61-year-old Dakta Green (formerly Ken Morgan) established the Daktory in a New Lynn factory unit – sandwiched between a Chinese importer and an auto-repair shop – where more than 2500 members enjoy pool, foozeball and vending-machine cannabis, $4 chocolate and $2 chips. After a police raid, Green is serving a 27-month sentence (tripled on Crown appeal) for cannabis offences; Lye says he's a political prisoner because the Crown's appeal was motivated by ensuring Green was inside during the election.
His replacement as New Lynn candidate is a boyish 20-year-old, Sean Norris, who declares he's stepping into "very big shoes" but wants cannabis legalised to stop kids trying it for the "thrill of breaking the law".
Norris claims to use cannabis to ease insomnia; Lye, who says he takes it for severe stomach ulcers, agrees securing medicinal exemptions is step one. After that... "No one has ever died in the history of mankind for using cannabis. Ever," he says grandly, then tails off a little. "Direct sole use, that is, mixing it with something else, well, I couldn't comment."
One of Lye's best rhetoric flourishes comes when he tells me the law on cannabis is a breach of our civil rights, human rights, and the Waitangi Treaty. How so? Well, he says, the Treaty allows Maori to use the land for survival, but they risk arrest if they plant cannabis. "People say if you win the Lotto – $50m last week, we all dream about it – you would be able to buy your way into parliament," he says. "If I won Lotto, I would just take them to court. It would only cost $1m and we would win."
Instead, the financial realities are restrictive: the Daktory has covered his $300 registration fee and the ALCP provided a single 12-page glossy mailer, but Lye paid for his own billboards and leaflets. "We do fundraising, but people think it's so we can buy another ounce."
He sold his truck and took six months off work to concentrate on the campaign. Afterwards, he intends to re-train as a marriage celebrant. "Yeah, to be honest, I can't wait until it's over so we can get back to work," he says.
And those answers? Youth unemployment (end criminal records for cannabis, making kids better job prospects), Christchurch ("hempcrete", seven times more elastic, three times stronger and half the weight of regular concrete), Psa (offering cannabis for hemp as an alternative crop for growers) and cancer, well: "There is proof cannabis cures cancer. Proof. All over the internet. If people choose not to believe it, that's their ignorance because there is factual-based proof."
The Bad Boy: Hone Harawira
by Anthony Hubbard
Hone Harawira is trying to look statesmanlike: we have his own word for it. Gone is the ranting and personal abuse. He has to look presidential now that he is leader of a party. He is even sorry, he says, about his outburst against "white motherf---ers."
He is also trying to lighten up and laugh at himself. He recently appeared on The Jono Project television comedy, with the Pakeha comedian playing the role of the man proposing to his daughter (Harawira once said he wouldn't want her marrying a Pakeha). Harawira goes to meet Jono's family in a plush house and is served by a black waiter.
The new approach has done him no harm in Te Tai Tokerau, where a recent Digipoll put him ahead of his Labour opponent, Kelvin Davis, 42% to 35%. The Maori Party candidate, Waihoroi Shortland, was on 20%.
However, it does not seem to have boosted the prospects of his Mana Party, which is virtually invisible in the national polls.
Davis says the new Hone is just a "smooth and shallow" facade cooked up by his advisers like Matt McCarten. "If you scratch underneath, there's the old victim-based, grievance-based activist, and I don't know how long the facade can last."
Harawira told the Sunday Star-Times that he was being "statesmanlike" because "it's a case of having to. There are far greater expectations on my shoulders right now. Those sorts of obligations, to a national base and to other candidates, require of me that I conduct myself in a more appropriate way. It's a bit of a struggle but I'm doing my best".
He had toned down his firebrand side, although sometimes "I can feel it rising to the surface." Then "I take a deep breath".
Also, "I now regret the white mo-fos comment. Because I think that set me back." It had set back "the credibility that I'd built as a member of parliament".
The bitterness remains between him and the Maori Party, which threw him out after he accused them of selling out to National. The result is a fracturing of the Maori vote, with the high-polling Greens likely to be in a better position than Maori to negotiate with National.
"Congratulations to the Greens – they're polling really well," says the new, polite politician. However, he said, it was too early to make decisions about post-election deals with National.
One of the reasons Mana was polling low nationally, Harawira said, was that its main supporters are the poor and the young, and "the people who don't usually enrol to vote happen to be the poor and the young."
Harawira agreed to appear on the comedy show because "it's not that hard to laugh at yourself". There had been a proposal to cast Act's Don Brash as Jono's father, he said, but this had obviously not panned out.
The Survivors: The Maori Party
by Anthony Hubbard
The Maori Party's star has dwindled and it now faces an uncertain future. Its great strength has been its co-leaders, Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia. Both are retiring next term.
The party's disastrous split with Hone Harawira has weakened it and it will return to parliament as a much reduced force. Its influence with National is also likely to be reduced.
National now looks set to win enough votes to govern by itself. John Key will still be keen to do deals with the remnant of the Maori Party, but he has less need of them this time. The Greens are likely to be the main third party, and the one Key needs to woo.
The Maori Party had five MPs at the start of this term. Next term it might have as few as two. Harawira looks likely to retain his Te Tai Tokerau seat in the north. The sitting Maori party MP in Te Tai Tonga, Rahui Katene, seems very likely to lose her seat. It is not impossible that the Maori Party's Te Ururoa Flavell will lose Waiariki, where he is facing a strong challenge from Mana's Annette Sykes. Turia and Sharples might be the only survivors.
The party hoped to unite a wide range of Maori voters under a single banner. This has proved impossible, and probably always was. Maori are politically divided, like all other ethnic groups.
Co-leader Turia insists the party is no lame duck and the departure of the leaders will not weaken it. There were some "very talented" leaders in waiting, such as Flavell.
"I have no qualms about finishing, because the party and the strength of the party does not reside in any of us as individuals," she told the Sunday Star-Times.
Turia, who says she will retire at some point during the next term, says "I would never have left the party if I thought it was going to create any weakness."
However, she did say it was "a shame" that "Pete and I have decided to move on at the same time." However, the party might decide to have only one leader instead of two.
Sharples has said he would retire at the 2014 election but would remain co-leader till then.
Asked whether the party would have less influence on National this term than last, Turia said: "We've built up a really good relationship and whether they ask us to be in coalition or not, I think the point is that we have strong enough relations to go to the prime minister and other ministers on issues that are important to our people. And we will do that."
The Maori Party would have more power in coalition: "You can challenge things a lot more when you're sitting at the same table. But I'm not going to have an expectation that that is what will happen for us. As you say, they could very well govern on their own."
The split with Harawira was "a shame. Of course it's a shame. And I think the biggest shame for me has been the fact that... Hone, when we went with the National Party, it was what he wanted as well... He was very keen to go with them and all this anti-National talk is nonsense".
Sharples, in an interview with the Star-Times last month, said the split with Harawira "caused quite a backlash, which I believe is a shame. Because I believe it's time that our people stopped being victims and followed the lead of so many Maori – of being entrepreneurs and holding their head up high and going forward."
He said he regarded John Key as a friend. "I particularly like the way he likes children, and his sense of humour, which often drops him in the poo."
At the same time, Sharples said he himself had probably been "too soft in his language" and had not done enough to differentiate the Maori Party from National.
The party says it has voted more often against National than for it. However, says Turia, "both Maori and Pakeha have told me they have liked the fact that we've been able to show that we can be disciplined and constructive in working with a party that hasn't had a history of working with our people".
Key had invited the Maori Party to work with National in 2008 even though National had enough votes with Act to govern. He had wanted to send a message about national unity.National would also know that the ethnic mix of the population was changing quite quickly. By building strong relationships with the Maori Party in future, National would again "send a particular message to our country about being more united in purpose and in strategy".
Recent polls have put Rahui Katene behind her Labour challenger, Rino Tirikatene, in TeTai Tonga, and Flavell is facing a strong challenge from Annette Sykes in Waiaraiki. Harawira, according to a recent poll, leads in the north.
Sunday Star Times