'They don't notice you': Bill English finds his supporters in the heartland

After opening a shiny public building, Bill English dashed across the plains, put on his gumboots and found his base - ...
DAVID WALKER/STUFF

After opening a shiny public building, Bill English dashed across the plains, put on his gumboots and found his base - Canterbury farmers.

After opening a shiny public city building, Bill English dashed across the Canterbury Plains, put on his gumboots and found his base.

The prime minister was in the region to shore up votes in the heartland, putting a clear wedge between himself and his opponents.

He has sought to wring every remaining vote out of rural New Zealand, away from the ripples of Jacindamania.

English also received a warm reception at the Anthony Wilding Retirement Village in Christchurch.
DAVID WALKER/STUFF

English also received a warm reception at the Anthony Wilding Retirement Village in Christchurch.

Tuesday's campaign saw him dance to some of National's greatest hits: Infrastructure, farming and the older generation. 

It began at the opening of Christchurch's Justice and Emergency Services precinct, the $300 million, 42,000 square metre facility in the central city.

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Tuesday's campaign saw English dance to some of National's greatest hits: Infrastructure, farming and the older generation.
DAVID WALKER/STUFF

Tuesday's campaign saw English dance to some of National's greatest hits: Infrastructure, farming and the older generation.

The complex was officially opened, with a plaque bearing English's name, but it is not quite finished. Workers could be seen staying clear of the formalities in the parking building, where loose wires dangled from the ceiling.

The building will officially open for business in mid-October, well after the election, following delays by contractor Fletcher Construction that reportedly cost the company $100m.

In his speech, English talked about social investment and his hope the building would stay as empty as possible.

"We're opening a building today and a big part of it is we want to see empty, eventually. To imagine it filling up and staying full forever is simply to contemplate intergenerational failure. We don't contemplate that."

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He soon found the party faithful in Ashburton, where he spoke at an event hosted by Irrigation NZ.

English received a standing ovation before he had even spoken a word – as one audience member later put it, he was preaching to the converted.

But he relished rejecting Labour's water tax, characterising his opponents as opportunists who did not understand rural New Zealand and the work that had been done.

"We want to achieve higher environmental standards and apparently no one's thought of this until about six weeks ago. It's all new, apparently, lifting the quality of water in our rivers – brand new idea," he said.

"All that tells you is they [opposition parties] take no notice of you. They have no idea what you do, how you do it or why you're so good at it.

"We're backing you".

Farmers were "being lectured" by people who did not understand the regions and National was committed to both raising productivity and environmental standards.

"Any politician who does not know about the intensive, difficult, critical, collaborative work that's gone on around water quality must be living on another planet," he said.

"It will be cash sucked out of your business, taken out of this region, sent off to Wellington and people who don't even know what you do or how you do it will be deciding how to make you do it better. And that's a ridiculous waste of time and money."

After leaving the meeting, he donned his gumboots at Akaunui, a farm near Ashburton. Afternoon tea was served from the back of a ute, watched over by a farm dog.

On his return to Christchurch, English stopped at Anthony Wilding Retirement Village in Halswell, where he received a celebrity welcome, mobbed by selfie-seekers young and old.

In a brief speech, he said the Government's economic stability had come on the back of the previous generation and lauded the recent global pay rise for aged-care workers.

"It's great that New Zealand is in a strong enough position that we've been able to negotiate with the staff a significant pay rise that recognises the very special work they do," he said.

As he began to tell them why they should vote National, he was told the residents had all voted earlier in the day.

"So that's it?" he said, jokingly. "It's all over?"

 - Stuff

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