If you had told me the media were going to focus on a Canterbury Labour candidate invoking Shakespeare, I would have hoped it was me. The thing is, the James Macbeth Dann for Ilam campaign, superbly managed by Public Address alumnus Stephen Judd, is a by-the-book one. Door knocking. Phone canvassing. Thousands of deliveries. Emails from Stephen telling me not to say stupid things. It’s a hard slog, it’s not particularly glamourous, and it’s not very media-friendly.
I’m standing in Ilam because I think the rebuild has been handled disastrously, and the person overwhelmingly responsible is the local MP, Gerry Brownlee. While we are realistic about our chances, we think that what is happening in Christchurch should be a defining issue of the campaign. Every vote I get in Ilam sends a message to the Beehive - the recovery isn’t working. We should be debating convention centres and cost-sharing agreements, housing and transport. I’ve done my best to raise these issues - on the doorstep, in the media and through my blog.
But a serious conversation about Christchurch’s debt track, rising rents and EQC inspections isn’t as fun as a debate with Colin Craig and Jamie Whyte, or another expose on the critical issue of Epsom school zoning. With launch of Nicky Hager’s book, this election has launched itself into a surreal orbit. The last two weeks have been consumed by the Prime Minister being asked very specific questions about a book he deliberately hasn’t read.
It’s been a respite from the sideshows - Jamie Whyte, Kim Dotcom, Colin Craig, Winston Peters periodically saying something stupid or controversial and getting a whole lot of attention. One positive about Dirty Politics is that when National emerge from the filth, they may have to resort to “the issues that matter to New Zealanders” - you know, policy and shit.
There are big questions - massive questions - that could be asked of National about their plans for this city. In 2011, they ran on the slogan “Rebuilding Christchurch” (named after my blog, of course) and that was about as detailed as they got. In 2014, it seems to be the same.
There are a number of questions that I think the people of Christchurch deserve to have answered.
What are you going to do to fix EQC, and all the insurance claims that are still outstanding?
Are you going to renegotiate the cost-sharing agreement with the council, or are you going to stick with the plan of forcing the council to pay for things that they can’t afford, like a stadium, whilst compelling them to sell productive council assets?
And, probably most importantly, if re-elected, would a National-led government have Gerry Brownlee as earthquake recovery minister, or would you look to find someone who wants to work collaboratively with people, rather than unilaterally imposing a vision upon them?
Key likes us to believe that he and National are “safe economic managers”. The growth this country has had (outside of Auckland property) has largely been driven by Canterbury - both the dairy boom, and the rebuild.
With the bottom falling out of the milk powder market, there is little Key can do to restart it - he can’t nuke ECan twice. So that leaves the rebuild as the major driver of the country’s growth. You’d think with something that important, we’d be having a serious conversation about it. This is of national importance, yet gets next to no coverage.
I’m trying my best to raise these issues, and the profile of the campaign. I’m still regularly blogging about it, both at my blog, and occasionally over at the Standard as well.
I’m part of the editorial team of a new book that is launching at the end of the month, explicitly about the rebuild and the Blueprint. I’ve done some slightly left-of-centre things, such as this video, or my twitter avatar, to draw attention in different ways.
But the reality is that the media would prefer a sensational, stupid, or salacious hook rather than a solid campaign. That might be better for attracting eyeballs or advertising, but it doesn’t help when you’ve got a complex, convoluted subject like the rebuild. If the coverage of the contest in Christchurch continues at this trivial level, then it will be the people of this city - left, right, unenrolled, everyone - who will be worse off.
Authorised by James Macbeth Dann, 2/250 St Asaph Street, Christchurch.