In the fourth of a weekly election diary, Labour MP Deborah Russell receives unexpected gifts from her constituents and gets ready to cast an advance vote. Tomorrow is National’s Chris Bishop.

This week our 2020 campaign has finally started to feel a little more like previous elections. Our confidence about being around other people is growing, as the number of Covid cases in the community has dropped, though we’re still observing all the protocols for Level 2.

Sunday afternoon was spent with a business forum on the North Shore. I gave a speech on challenges for small business, and then listened as Rod Oram, Terry Baucher and Nipun Wadhwa all gave comments and feedback.

The forum was hosted by our North Shore candidate, Romy Udanga. I know Rod and Terry well, so having them dissect my speech in a public forum was a little disconcerting. But my comments were well received, and we had a great discussion.

On Wednesday I headed over the currently wonky harbour bridge and along Onewa Rd to Northcote, to go door knocking with our candidate there, Shanan Halbert. He’s in a full-on battle to take the electorate and has a very busy campaign office right on the main street of Birkenhead. The whole area is slathered with signs for Shanan and his main rival, sitting MP Dan Bidois, in about equal proportions.

Shanan and I started our morning with coffee and a gossip. Campaigning is team work, and a lot of the responsibility for keeping that team going rests with the candidate. It’s good to have a chance to debrief with one another, and it’s good to be out and about in someone else’s space for a short time.  I had thought that there was an extraordinary amount of building going on in New Lynn – we’ve got about 200 Kāinga Ora units under construction right now with more to come – but there are even more being built in Northcote.

Back in my own space it was more street corner meetings, more telephoning, more leafletting. This was the week of people coming to my meetings to give me things. In Blockhouse Bay, Chris Harris and his son came out to give me a copy of Te Rātaka a Tētahi Kōhine, a translation of The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank.

Deborah Russell with a copy of a copy of Te Rātaka a Tētahi Kōhine, a translation of The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank, given to her by Holocaust Centre of NZ chief executive and constituent Chris Harris (pictured with son). Photo: Greg Presland.

Chris is the chief executive of the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand. The Holocaust Centre has a project to give copies to every Member of Parliament, and happily for Chris, I turned up in his neighbourhood. His son is not old enough to vote yet, but he had some serious questions to ask me about our policies.

Right on the border of New Lynn and Glen Eden, Utkarsh and Disha who both teach at Oaklynn Special School came out to give me a letter from one of their students, Liam. They asked me to pass it on to the Prime Minister.

As it turned out, I was at an event with the Prime Minister the next day so I was able to hand it over. Bless her, she sent me a video to thank Liam. I sent it through the digital grapevine and it went to Utkarsh who passed it on to Liam. Later on I got a message back from Liam’s mum: “You have made our year, Utkarsh. Liam has the biggest smile on his face.”

Some of the encounters are not so pleasant. As we were packing up our last meeting for the evening on Wednesday, and just after most of my team had headed home, a passerby out walking his dogs came up to me to give me a piece of this mind. “You didn’t write back to me!  You made me lose $1.5m.  I’ll never vote for you.”

After a bit of, shall we say, intense conversation, I was able to establish that the “you” in question was not me in particular, but various people in government. That defused the issue a little for me personally. Nevertheless he carried on with increasing agitation, to the extent that I took a few steps back. I felt very uneasy, and I was very grateful for the presence of my remaining volunteer.

A small joy to end the week – my Easy Vote card arrived. I still get a bit of a thrill seeing my own name on the list of candidates in my electorate. Early voting opens this Saturday, and I’ll be casting my vote at LynnMall when the doors open.

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