In the fifth of a weekly election diary, National’s Hutt South MP Chris Bishop explains the merits of “human hoardings”, and gets ready for the death overs of the campaign. Labour MP Deborah Russell will also contribute each week.
Election campaigns are nerve-wracking enough; but modern campaigns have the added complication of voting actually being open while the campaign is in the equivalent of what is known in ODI cricket as “the death” – when every ball has to be perfect; when batsmen are scrambling for every last run; when every mistake matters more.
Voting opened on Saturday morning last week and my team and I spent a lot of last week getting ready for it: arranging scrutineers, briefing them, sorting the logistics of our “Get out the Vote” operation. Modesty and the necessity of competitive advantage prevents me from going into detail: but I’m bloody proud of my team.
I suspect the general public has little to no idea about all of the enormous machinery that goes into a modern political campaign. Let’s just say this: it’s a lot. By the way, almost all of it is done by kind-hearted and public-spirited volunteers. MPs and candidates probably don’t thank them enough – we should do it more.
On Saturday we’ve arranged for 100-plus people to do “human hoardings” on The Esplanade in Petone in the morning, when the traffic is at its busiest. Opinions on the utility of sign-waving by the side of the road vary from MP to MP (even inside parties), but I’m a fan – they don’t make someone change from red to blue or vice-versa in an instant, but with a sophisticated communications strategy and hard work, they accentuate a core message: we’re working hard for your vote.
Thankfully the reaction is really positive, but my Saturday is full of irreconcilable timetable clashes: MPs simply can’t be in two places at once, and so I have to leave the Wainuiomata Rugby Club annual prizegiving early to dash across town to be at the Acting Out Youth Theatre production of the Wizard of Oz; and I can’t make the annual “Walk of Champions” plaque unveiling on Jackson St (every year the local business association lays down new plaques the street honouring Petone and NZ sporting legends).
The same thing happens on Tuesday night – when I’m due to be at a Wellington on a Plate dinner to support local food waste charity Kaibosh (tickets purchased pre-election date change), a final Hutt South Meet the Candidates, and a transport (cycling-focused) debate in Wellington. Plus, there’s the Press Leaders’ Debate. All at the same time. I choose the local Meet the Candidates. We’re all exhausted, as I suspect the live broadcast (now on YouTube) makes clear. Everyone’s ready for the end.
Mass advance voting really raises the stress levels for candidates. At least back in the day when 95 percent of votes were cast on E-Day, there was nothing more that could be done (literally, basically). Now you ride and fall on voter feedback during the whole period: “I voted for you today”, “Sorry, not this year”, “You must be joking mate.” I suspect October 16 will be like the final few balls of the Cricket World Cup final last year: stress levels rising and falling on small, individual moments. That wasn’t good for the stress then, and I suspect it won’t be again.
I spent ten minutes with a voter once in 2014 who told me he’d already voted for Trevor Mallard, but after talking to me for a while he said he’d changed his mind, and would go back to the polling place and change his vote. No amount of explanation from me would convince him that wasn’t allowed.
Then there’s the people who are confused. I spent ten minutes with a voter once in 2014 who told me he’d already voted for Trevor Mallard, but after talking to me for a while he said he’d changed his mind, and would go back to the polling place and change his vote. No amount of explanation from me would convince him that wasn’t allowed. He insisted he’d done it before and would do it again, and that he wanted me to win. He went off to change his vote. I never saw him again. And I lost.
The week’s been a blur of leafleting, train stations, phone-calling, visits, early starts and late nights. Thursday night is the Hutt Valley Sports Awards – 1200 people in Taita to celebrate the best of Hutt sport. Jenna’s my date, but we nearly don’t make it – there’s a crash on SH2, and it takes me 20 minutes to travel less than 800 metres home to get changed (someone should really do something about Hutt traffic…) I have to collect all of Jenna’s clothes and make-up so she can get changed at the venue, plus deal with two campaign matters simultaneously, and I’m desperate for a feed, having not eaten all day.
In the midst of all this, I decide to train it to Taita to avoid the traffic, but manage to miss the train at Petone station. I’m in the taxi when the (late) train arrives! We make it. Just, although my quick trip to the bathroom turns into a 30-minute journey of chats, pats and friendly advice… meaning I miss the main course.
That’s election time.