Candidates and Volunteers keep our democracy alive

Peter Dunne

Peter Dunne

Wellington, October 15, 2020

                           Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins (Picture from The Conversation)


It is probably just as well that the All Blacks are playing the Wallabies in the second Bledisloe Cup Test of the year in Auckland on Sunday, October 18, 2020.

For many, that will be a welcome shift from the election campaign that is now rapidly drawing to its close. There seems to be a sense abroad that people are ready to move on from the intensity that has typified politics this year.

When Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern followed former Prime Minister Sir John Key’s footsteps and announced the election date in February, neither she nor the country could have imagined the circumstances that were about to unfold as a result of the arrival of Covid-19.

Rather, the political situation at the time was starting to look like we were in for New Zealand’s first one-term government since 1972-75. That quickly evaporated as the government’s response to the pandemic took hold.

Political Rulebook rewritten

Soon, Covid-19 was dominating every aspect of our lives.

It even led, at short notice, to the original election date having to be deferred a further four weeks because of the Auckland outbreak in August. This was the first time ever that an election date was changed once it had been announced. Moreover, the political rulebook was being rewritten by the pandemic. The Leader of the Opposition who took to trying to hold the government to account for its response found himself so thoroughly out of step with the prevailing public mood that he was unceremoniously dumped by his party.

This was dramatic enough, but even more dramatic was the chain of events that it precipitated, leading to two more changes of leadership in the National Party before election day.

Smooth sailing for PM 

Meanwhile, amidst the turmoil, the Prime Minister was able to sail smoothly on, reassuring with a smile all those who were worried and anxious about the impact of the virus, that all would be well.

Suddenly, the issues on which her government had previously been struggling to the point where election defeat looked more likely than not were totally forgotten.

Two errant Ministers were got rid of, and, with the exception of a couple of overworked loyalists, the largely incompetent remainder were quickly put in the broom cupboard, until after the election.

No-one seemed to mind, or even to care very much, and the government’s popularity just kept soaring. Indeed, the harder the Opposition tried to criticise and draw attention to the government’s failings, the more popular the government became.

But now, most people just want to get the election over and done with, as the record number of those opting to cast their votes early suggests. The bizarre run of events this year seems so protracted and inexorable that it is no surprise people seem very keen to put 2020 behind them, and to start afresh on what will hopefully be a better year in 2021.

However, while politics has run its course for many of us this year, there is still the ritual of election day to go through before we can settle down for the rest of the weekend.

Mix of old and new

In that regard, it is time to spare a thought for the candidates and Party workers across the board who have worked so hard in recent months to get their respective Party messages across, as they seek public support for their parties. In many ways, they are the lifeblood of our democracy.

Amongst the candidates there will be those who will be re-elected to Parliament this weekend, as they and most of us always knew they would be.

They will be joined by those who will experience the excitement and drama of being elected for the first time. For some, it will be the culminating relief of having made it; for others it will be the unexpected delight of having succeeded against the odds. For all, though, there will be the relief of the campaign being over, bringing with it the chance to return to a steadier pace of life.

And then there will be those for whom the outcome will be one of intense disappointment.

Demonstration of friendship

They may be new candidates who not have succeeded where they thought they would, or seasoned politicians having to come grips with the reality of being tossed aside unceremoniously and perhaps unexpectedly by the electorate, and their political careers, however long or brief, distinguished or not, now being at an end.

They will be alongside others whose expectations were much more realistically modest from the outset, and for whom the experience will have either whetted their appetites for next time, or simply turned them off politics altogether.

All of them will have been supported by a swathe of loyal volunteers who week in and out for months now have been trudging the streets, stuffing pamphlets in letterboxes, or knocking on doors to drum up support, and more recently checking that election billboards were not being damaged by either vandals or the weather.

They do this because of their commitment to their respective candidates and party’s ideals, at the expense of their own time. Even in the era of electronic communication and social media the system relies on their commitment probably more than ever to get candidates elected.

Whatever their respective fates, or what we think of them or their policies, all these candidates and volunteers deserve our respect and gratitude for their tireless efforts to make our democracy effective. A big thank you to all of them.

Now, to make the weekend complete, the All Blacks just have to win on Sunday.

Peter Dunne was a Minister of the Crown under the Labour and National-led governments from November 2008 and September 2017. He lives in Wellington.

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