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Unfranked #41 Question time in Aro Valley

  • September 9th, 2005

‘This is worse than water torture for me. You just want entertainment while I believe the issues are vital to our future” were Green MP Sue Kedgley’s opening lines to the Aro Valley community election forum.

I could sympathise. That notorious Wellington Central forum can make democracy look bad. Partisan roasting can drown any earnest attempts to reason. Wit is valued but logic and facts are immaterial or worse. They are sooo boring.

Yet on reflection democracy triumphed. The meeting worked like question time in Parliament. Important information emerges out of a sometimes riotous and often puerile process. It is extracted precisely because the targets are at the same time anxious to please, and flustered.

I learned things I did not want to know about leading fellow candidates; Labour’s Marian Hobbs and National’s Mark Blumsky, a former mayor. But first, more background.

Wellington’s Aro Valley is the native habitat of an endangered species; the remnant for whom communism was never given a fair chance. Many live comfortably now as policy analysts, beneficiaries of the Labour bureaucracy boom. They and their related species are host reservoirs for once virulent diseases, like “CIA paranoia syndrome”.

So Tuesday evening’s favoured candidate was an intense youth communist, appropriately full of envy, conspiracy theories and hate. This delightfully old-fashioned specimen seemed modelled on Pasternak’s Strelnikov from Dr Zhivago.

In that gathering, if anyone else could have been confident of a rapturous reception it should have been Ms Kedgley, but she never fully recovered after the opening heckler wanted to know whether she had arrived by bike or by broomstick.

Still, under the expert chairing of broadcaster Tim O’Brien, the meeting distributed their jeers and cheers surprisingly even-handedly, largely according to delivery performance not political alignment.

The forum made every question challenging, whether it was shrewd or not. Ms Hobbs revealed early the long term shadow of her years as a member of the Communist party.

I’ve been puzzled in the past by dislike for Ms Hobbs. I’ve seen her as an amiable duffer at worst, yet she’s faced derision even from Labour colleagues.

I saw another side in a nasty schadenfreude as she clapped in rapture at Strelnikov’s analysis of the New Orleans disaster. According to them it is the predictable reward of freedom and free enterprise.

It got worse. She told a man who identified himself as involved with Stagecoach, the operators of the Wellington bus service, how distressing she found it that the system allowed him to make a profit. According to her, that profit is just the measure of “how much they are fleecing us”.

She was avidly for the proposition that Maori language instruction be made compulsory at primary school. “Of course – it should be taught as our basic language, and that means it must start at primary school”.

On that question Mr Blumsky too wowed the crowd. He would also make Maori compulsory at primary school. He considered the Treaty a partnership but not a living one.

Clearly a wobbly National caucus will give ACT work to do in reinforcing Dr Brash’s commitment to end the rule of the mythical partnership.

Mr Blumsky also showed the limits to his political flexibility with a touching residual loyalty to the party he chaired until late last year. Asked what party he would be in if National did not exist; he declared that it would be United Future; on the grounds that National was philosophically closest to them.

More work for ACT in holding National to its recently rediscovered commitment to freedom and personal responsibility?

But it was near the end that most candidates revealed their craven need for approval. Asked what we would do to reduce crime, Strelnikov’s solution was to drastically cut police numbers – because they are rapists and oppressors, responsible for so much crime. Other candidates endorsed this bold insight in various degrees. Murmurs of approval grew to tumultuous clapping. Clearly the analysis chimed with the crowd experience. It must be awful living in the Aro Valley where so many must be victims of police rape and villainy.

Carried away by the judgement of the collective Minister Hobbs found herself bouncing with enthusiasm. Flapping her arms she joined in the ovation as each fringe candidate added endorsement to the move to get rid of the Police.

What a flake the Labour Party has inflicted on Wellington.

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