PM's coffee break gatecrashed in Blenheim

SCOTT HAMMOND/Stuff.co.nz

The National Party leader kept his message to Marlborough voters on the economy - National's bread and butter.

A Labour candidate gatecrashed the prime minister's coffee break in Blenheim on Tuesday with accusations of National supporters pulling down her campaign billboards.

Prime Minister Bill English was at BV Gourmet when Labour candidate Janette Walker confronted National's Kaikōura campaign manager Tim Leslie.

Her campaign signs on Middle Renwick Rd, near Marlborough Airport, had been pulled down, and Walker claimed National supporters were behind the attack.

Walker's accusations prompted an angry response from Leslie, normally National's man behind the scenes for Kaikōura.

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"I did not touch your signs," Leslie is caught saying on camera, pointing his finger at Walker.

Prime Minister Bill English, flanked by his Kaikōura MP Stuart Smith, addresses the media in Blenheim.
SCOTT HAMMOND/STUFF

Prime Minister Bill English, flanked by his Kaikōura MP Stuart Smith, addresses the media in Blenheim.

After Leslie left, Walker approached English, who shook her hand and they exchanged pleasantries about their campaigns, under the wary eyes of English's diplomatic protection squad.

Walker said afterwards she did not go to the cafe intending to confront anyone about the signs, but made a casual comment when Leslie sat down beside her.

"I was at Crossroads when everyone says, 'Bill's over at BV, maybe you could go and say hi'.

Prime Minister Bill English stopped in at BV Gourmet in Blenheim on the campaign trail on Tuesday. (File photo)
STUFF

Prime Minister Bill English stopped in at BV Gourmet in Blenheim on the campaign trail on Tuesday. (File photo)

"So I sat down at the cafe and Tim Leslie came and sat beside me, which I thought was a bit bizarre. So I said how the signs had just been replaced because 'your young Nats keep pulling the signs down. But guess what, I'll just keep replacing them'."

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Leslie threatened her with legal action over the comments, Walker said.

"I'm not worried about Tim Leslie. I'm not easily threatened," she said. "I was being a bit flippant and he just took it badly."

Labour candidate for Kaikōura Janette Walker did not plan to bring up the billboards, she says. (File photo)
RICKY WILSON/STUFF

Labour candidate for Kaikōura Janette Walker did not plan to bring up the billboards, she says. (File photo)

Leslie declined to comment.

National MP Stuart Smith said he was there at the time, but the cafe was crowded and he did not hear the exchange.

"She was clearly not in a very good mood. I don't know what she's talking about actually. My understanding was the wind blew the signs across the road and into the vineyard, someone told me that."

Prime Minister Bill English has lunch at the Clubs of Marlborough, in Blenheim, organised by the Marlborough Chamber of ...
SCOTT HAMMOND/STUFF

Prime Minister Bill English has lunch at the Clubs of Marlborough, in Blenheim, organised by the Marlborough Chamber of Commerce.

Smith did not get involved with any campaign billboards except his own, he said.

"National people have nothing to do with it. The campaign is going very well and we're certainly not worried about the opposition."

Walker's confrontational style was "just her personality", Smith said.

"As far as I'm concerned, the more she speaks in public, the better it is for me."

The rest of English's time in Blenheim was comparatively quiet, visiting tractor drivers and New World supermarket in the morning, followed by lunch put on by the Marlborough Chamber of Commerce at the Clubs of Marlborough.

"It's been a real pleasure getting around Blenheim, just seeing the pattern of growth and confidence," English said.

English spoke to the region's business leaders about the importance of a strong economy so the Government could afford to pay for the rebuild after natural disasters such as the Christchurch and Kaikōura earthquakes.

He was confident State Highway 1 would be open by Christmas, but did not give an official date.

More young people were staying in the country than in previous years, which showed the country was an attractive place to live and work, he said.

"We can look our young people in the eye, as I was able to do this morning, and tell them their prospects are better than they were before."

A hospitality representative asked English how Marlborough could attract more skilled workers, saying many companies were considering reducing their teams because they could not fill positions.

It was an issue faced by many regions, because the regions were "doing well" and more positions were opening up, English said.

But the Ministry of Social Development was working hard to get as many beneficiaries into jobs as possible, he said.

 - The Marlborough Express

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