Speaker by Various Artists

Raising Eyebrows

by Keith Ng

A lowly student media hack getting free drinks, warm welcomes and love aplenty: sure signs that the election campaign is well and truly under way.

National candidate, former mayor, United Future President and shoes salesman Mark Blumsky launched his campaign to oust incumbent cabinet minister Marian Hobbs from Wellington Central on Wednesday.

Showing off his considerable clout in Wellington, Blumsky staged his launch at Wellington's sweetheart, the Embassy Theatre (thanks to Blumsky's good buddy Grant "Wheeeeel of Fortune" Walker, apparently). That, and he managed to get a crowd of ~300 despite some pretty awful weather (even by Wellington standards).

The movie they chose for the night was Campaign, which, despite the name and the subject, was a pretty ballsy choice - given that the movie portrayed campaigning as nothing but misery, disappointment and, at best, self-delusion. That, and the main drama of the story revolved around the National's 1996 Wellington Central candidate, Mark Thomas, getting completely rogered by his own leader and party president. Noting Don Brash and National Party President Judy Kirk sitting in the front row, Blumsky remarked: "Lightning never strikes in the same place twice!"

Well, at least I found that funny. Perhaps it was all the free booze I was guzzling down. Just perhaps.

Despite the perfect environment, a well-orchestrated event, a supposedly friendly audience, Blumsky got a dead quiet reception from the crowd. Except for the loud, obnoxious drunks down the back, where I was. ACT supporter and debater Chris Bishop made a point to yell "hear! hear!" at every right-wing comment that was made ("Bah! Where's the crowd?"), while debater Joe Connell furiously demanded that Blumsky get himself some speech writers ("Where's the theme? WHERE IS THE THEME?!?").

There were odd little quirks in the speeches, too, like Blumsky's assertion that Hobbs' #9 list ranking means that Labour knows she'll will lose, immediately followed by Brash getting up and saying that National has so much confidence in Blumsky that they've given him a really high list ranking. Anyway...

At least the movie did remind people that Wellington Central is often a very hot race. This time around, the candidates' profiles and the genuine competition should be enough to generate a fair amount of heat. National has a chance here to whack a cabinet minister, too, so there's a lot of pride riding on this race.

But the battle between the campaign managers will be interesting as well. Blumsky's campaign manager is Kiwiblog's David Farrar, and in Hobbs' corner is Just Left's Jordan Carter.

With NZ's small blogosphere tapping right into the heart of the race, this will be a unique chance to discern the role of blogs in relations to the wider democraptic system. Will the real world race mirror the battle in the blogosphere (and alienate normal folks)? Will the blogs be used to fuel media interest? Will the whole set-up create a feedback loop, turning the whole debate into a loud screeching noise? Will the world ever be the same again?

My prediction for all of the above: Yes.

Incidentally, Carter has said that he won't be lured by Farrar's baiting... though I'd imagine that a unilateral ceasefire can only last so long.

Back to Blumsky, the centrepiece of his campaign is, I kid you not his eyebrows. Apparently it's supposed to represent his sense of humour. As in "ha ha, look at me - I have big eyebrows!" Or maybe it's like a Sampson thing, where if you shaved his eyebrows off, he'd go all corned-beef-and-peas.

He also made a very fascinating claim that he is from the liberal, urban wing of the National Party. Hmmm. It's better than trying to run as a conservative, rural Labour candidate, I suppose. Still, it a bit telling that Blumsky's campaign material is lacking in National logos, or even the obligatory blue. He portrays himself as the Wellington man, and doesn't really do the whole The Party is Mother, The Party is Father routine, though there was a rather unconvincing rendition of We Love Our Dear Leader.

So he's kinda like Wellington's own John Banks. But less angry at... you know... stuff. And with bigger eyebrows.

Along with his conveniently timed departure as President of United Future (precious!), it makes you wonder how much his heart is really with National. And while all the urban liberal maverick renegade stuff will count in his favour for Wellington Central, down at Party HQ, I suspect it'll raise some eyebrows.

Editor's note: Keith Ng will be covering election events for Public Address henceforth. We'll get him his own blog soon.