Last night, in a cunning ploy obviously devised by our cruel dictatorial overlords the Rugby Party, the opening electoral statements of the main political parties appeared over one hour of primetime telly on TV1, while at the same time on Sky, New Zealand was demolishing Australia at Eden Park. This ensured that only those who dare risk accusations of treasonous disloyalty or who planned to watch it for free on Prime an hour later were watching the politicians. The hour of TV time was allocated according to the size of the political parties, and the running order was more or less in order of size. First up was National.
The current Government offered a slick commercial interspersed with artfully-shot footage of a coxed eight rowing team on a beautifully flat lake, soundtracked by a tense, moody instrumental 'adapted' from Eminem. The rowing footage is slick, noticeable for its use of a crew of men and women but only containing Pakeha rowers. In a sit-down interview format National's policy platform was pitched by the Prime Minister, with only fleeting glimpses of other National Ministers during transitions. Key was confident and insistent, getting his points across clearly, but it was quite some time before there was even a hint of a smile - which came during a segment on New Zealand's entrepreneurial talents. National's clip extolled the success of having reversed the migration outflow to Australia, which is more likely a result of the end of the minerals boom in Australia than any great policy success in New Zealand. Offering a dig at Australian Labor, Key cited instability over the Tasman to obliquely stoke fears of a multi-party coalition that Labour would need to stitch together if it was to form a government. This emerged as the closing theme of National's polished, 'steady as she goes' statement - New Zealand is heading in the right direction, so don't mess with success and don't 'risk it all on who knows what direction' - this being the cue for a brief visual joke of a rowboat crewed by a chaotic mix of Wiggles-lookalikes primarily in red and green jumpers.
Next up it was the Labour clip, and leader David Cunliffe clearly got the 'warmth' message because he was smiling until he was fit to burst. As opposed to John Key's smart conservative suit and blue tie, Cunliffe was in a fleece, with a long extension cord flung over his shoulder, because the Labour film is set in a working bee at the Onehunga community centre (a building in which my grandad attended school in the 1920s when it was part of Onehunga Primary). The theme of Labour's clip was 'positive action to make New Zealand even better', and the clip contained almost no criticism of the Government's record. Multiple party spokespeople offered policy proposals in staged conversations with locals, covering the usual bases of the economy, housing, education, health and community engagement. Some of the questioners were a little stilted, but the politicians delivered their pitches fairly naturally. Labour's clip was also noticeably multicultural, as a point of difference from National's. It finished with Cunliffe urging voters to send questions to the 'Ask David' section on the Labour website. One can only hope they've got good moderators to ward off the trolls.
The Green Party piece was a tag team affair, with co-leaders Metiria Turei and Russell Norman exuding cheerful positivity before a relatively abrupt shift to rather ominous music to draw attention to critiques of National's record, something Labour avoided completely. Turei lambasted Hon Paula Bennett for canning the Training Incentive Allowance that had helped both Turei and Bennett obtain qualifications as single mums, while Norman admitted that he's from Brisbane and hinted at potential petrol-head roots with his statement, 'Check it out! A classic Mitsubishi Magna!' (He used to work in the manufacturing plant, presumably back in Queensland). Metiria managed to embarrass her teenage daughter walking on Piha beach, talking about 'her future kids'. Russell reveals he was treated for cancer aged 15 - which makes this the most personal of the election broadcasts.
A billowing New Zealand flag and a natty black suit signalled the next entry, New Zealand First's venerable Winston Peters, who extolled the virtues of the country's 'serious natural resources'. As opposed to, say, the rather silly resources like the famous jelly mines of Timaru. The NZ First presentation was the usual mix of old-school conservatism with a social conscience, garnished with a topping of anti-immigration and opposition to foreign ownership. Most of Peters' piece to camera was stern and even grumpy, but there's an edit near the close, after which he appears to have been told a joke, because he's almost chuckling as he delivered his closing statement.
The be-quiffed United Future leader Peter Dunne offered a paean to the joys of the middle road in politics. Thankfully there are no bow-ties in sight. In his short time allowance Dunne managed to give a big shout-out to the fishers, the hunters, and the trampers, who he claims to represent in Parliament.
Then it was time for the fun end of the hour, with the unpredictable appearance of exiled former NZ First MP Brendan Horan, who appears with a few colleagues as the mysterious New Zealand Independent Coalition, stressing the importance of re-electing MPs who value local voices in Parliament, particularly if those MPs used to be on the telly and have granny-charming smiles.
The moderately peculiar ACT leader Jamie Whyte who absolutely, positively isn't racist, appears in the surreal environs of multi-millionaire party backer Alan Gibbs sculpture-studded grand estate with his very presentable Malian wife. Policies are outlined in what looks like a mid-1990s version of Powerpoint with plenty of Times New Roman and lots and lots of yellow. Supporters are urged to back Whyte's colleague David Seymour in Epsom to ensure ACT is represented in Parliament, which is somewhat challenged by displaying a very unfortunate and unflattering photo of said candidate.
In the most surprising offering of the evening, the Internet Mana Party shows where Kim Dotcom's $3m donation to the party went - into a flash, Jetsons- or Ren & Stimpy-esque cartoon with the party's talking cat and two cute kids. It's all very meme-y and quotable ('Futuristic transition!'), but you have to wonder what Hone Harawira makes of it, given there's very little policy laid out, other than the importance of 'awesome radical hoverboards'. Why? 'Because: futuristic reasons'. The clip is linked below, which does not imply endorsement of anything at all, other than of weirdness and talking cats:
Next, would-be kingmaker Colin Craig appears to promote his Conservative referendum-led vision to a small gathering. He wants to 'be the party in this country that takes issues back to New Zealanders'. Good luck with that, Colin.
Brilliantly, the hitherto and henceforth totally obscure Focus New Zealand leader Ken Rintoul recorded his video message on his home computer's Skype camera, so the screen is letterboxed square and only uses two thirds of the TV screen, and there's constant interruptions from a noisy budgie in the background as he speaks. Highly entertaining, and even better is the fact that Ken hasn't bothered to upload the clip to Youtube.
Perennial triers the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party pop up to broadcast their triennial message into Middle New Zealand's living rooms that smoking dope shouldn't be a crime. A selection of party members each read a part of the script, so I guess you could say it was a joint effort. (Thank you!)
Finally, Social Credit appears to remind people who remember Bruce Beetham that yes, they do still exist. Well done on that front. (What, you've forgotten that in 1981 they got 20.7 percent of the vote? Those were strange days indeed).
My only query arising from the hour-long broadcast is: where was the Maori Party's clip? Did the party's retiring co-leaders not submit an application for free broadcasting time, or not submit their clip in time? The Elections website indicates the party was allocated two and a half minutes of screen time, so it was a huge missed opportunity, if so.