The National Party, I have often thought, is a large, extended family of sorts. We have our fair share of inbreds, of high-flyers, of plodders, of cringers, of those who suffer their little misfortunes, and those who always seem to be blessed by fine luck. There are many whom I would not choose to associate with, but there’s something still rather comforting about the idea that they’re not commie pinkos, and that they’re celebrating their electoral holy days in my church, and not with the infidels.
Blessed are the capitalists, for we shall not just inherit the earth, but farm it productively.
I had spent election day in a safe National seat, about to become much safer, with the confirmation of a fresh, vibrant new candidate to its ranks. At seven o’clock, as the booths closed, and the troops began to flow back in to watch the start of the count, the wine started pouring and the beer began pumping, I spared a thought for the fortunes of the Labour Party in these safe blue seats: at the polling stations they had been few and far between, supporting insipid Labour candidates, and receiving no support from the local organisations. While National ran a smooth-machine—food and drink runners for the hundreds of local workers, with hand-signed notes from the candidates and cookies baked by the candidates’ spouses—the workers’ party didn’t care its folk. Or perhaps E-Day support was one thing they couldn’t charge against the taxpayer.
Yes, dear reader. The thought I spared for the Labour campaigners was that they were a bunch of SUCKERS.
With an eight o’clock start, after eleven hours of running between booths, phone calling, and scrutineering, I was looking forward to getting pissed.
And at the local campaign headquarters, it was boozing within a family atmosphere. One of the campaigner’s two-year-old children was rolling around the floor, threatening to pull down the displays, drink a bottle of Jif, and seemed very keen to embark on a career of alcoholism. As I tapped my glass against his bottle of Pump, he and I said “Cheers” simultaneously. Something told me that kid is going to go somewhere, someday.
But local campaign gigs tend to fade once the count starts coming in, so soon I was off to the National Party’s regional gathering at Alexandra Park for the rest of the evening. I walked in the door at 8:30pm, as Richard Worth was conceding defeat to Rodney. By this stage I was sufficiently intoxicated to be quite audible to the media rabble, as I muttered: “Good riddance, you useless, pompous cock,” as I wandered past him.
By that stage in the evening, the advance votes—those cast prior to election day—had been counted. The small, rural booths were coming in quickly. The swing to the Nats was phenomenal. The mood was up-beat and excitable. A clear scent of victory was wafting through the air.
I made my way straight to the bar. On my return, I spotted one of the ghosts from National elections past. We embraced as joyously as two straight guys can, and began to give our respective analyses of how the day had gone. In a lubricated state, I remarked to him that I wasn’t annoyed that Rodney had picked up Epsom, and that I’d thought Don Brash had left a subtle opening for National Party voters on the eve of the election, when he’d stated that National voters will do what is best for Epsom. This statement invoked a flash of bitterness in him, as he recalled that as a National candidate some aeons earlier, he had been shat on far more conclusively by the Party machine.
“Ah, but you’re still here now!” I say to him, and down my drink quickly as I find another excuse to leave for the bar.
Now, by this stage, the bar is being well patronised. So the only theoretical means of not queuing all evening is to buy three drinks at once, and only line up a third as often. This, like Paul Holmes’ move to Prime, is fine enough in theory, but in practice doesn’t work out. Because it means I just end up drinking three times as fast. Which, given my purpose to get solidly sloshed, is not such a bad idea.
Here I am, juggling three glasses of bourbon. I bump into a TV3 reporter. He greets me by name, and I offer him a bourbon. He refuses, on the grounds that he’s supposed to remain sober in case the Prime Minister-elect, as opposed to the next leader of the Opposition, needs to be interviewed. We chat for a few minutes about how things have gone, he expresses his joy—in a straight way—that Rodney has won Epsom, and we agree to get very boozed if I’m still standing by the end of the telecast.
Next come a few more activists. They’re Young Nats, and appear to be enjoying themselves as merrily as I am. A very fine-looking female walks past us, and that unspoken wager of the ages has begun. I only retreat when I realise that the female in question is the university student daughter of one of the newly-elected National MPs, and temperance gets the better of me.
On the big screen, the ubiquitous image of Hone Harawira pops up, as I am returning with another armful of drinks. I realize that a former senior MP of yesteryear is standing next to me, so I swill two of my beverages so as to avoid appearing gluttonous, and turn to him. “You know who Hone looks exactly like?”
“Who, Insolent?” The former MP asks.
“He’s the spitting image of that rogue businessman, whose board you sit on now that you’re no longer an MP,” I say.
The former MP is slightly annoyed, so I offer him my remaining bourbon to succor him, which he refuses, and I leave him and his indignity to himself. Another trip to the bar is required.
The barman already has my order ready, before I announce it. I trod off and introduce myself to a newly-elected MP. He’s still in good spirits, as our Party vote is still ahead. He then asks me for my opinion.
“Frankly, I think we’re fucked!”
“Pardon?” he asks.
“Yeah, we’re fucked. Our numbers are dropping… Labour’s going to pass us soon, because the larger booths in built-up Labour areas take the longest time to count.”
“Why’s that?” he asks.
“Because they’re staffed by particularly thick returning officers. They don’t count very well.” I then expound on a sudden theory I have established that a housewife in Remmers is far more numerate than a primary school teacher in Manurewa. Either this particular novice MP is extremely diplomatic, or he sees sense in my logic, as he agrees with me. I then point out that even if Labour is within three seats of us, they have shown during the campaign that they will give away anything for reelection: that Winston and Peter Dunne will go anywhere that the baubles are most shiny.
I down my bourbons, grab a handful of olives and garlic sausages, and return to the bar. The numbers on the screen are favouring my analysis. I harangue a few more people, and then the Leader arrives.
I have sat through many Leaders’ speeches over the past fifteen years. Some of them have been desultory. Others have been bitter. One of the most memorable, as it was the most audacious and booze-fuelled, was Mike Moore’s “long, cold night” taunt to Jim Bolger in 1993, in which he made the most disastrous verbal plays of his political career.
But Don Brash is a sober man. He had a captive audience approaching a thousand, who knew they had come so close to outright victory. He told it plain; as plain as he had throughout the campaign. “We don’t have a Government, but it’s too early to concede,” he said.
And he thanked people. Michelle Boag was the first name to come from him—and rightfully so, as it was her work three years ago that nominated the dream team that was now deciding National’s fortunes. Not just the MPs, either—a swollen proportion of the activists were present on election night through Michelle’s superior organizational and leadership skills.
It was an outstanding speech of non-concession. It signaled clearly to Labour that this term, even in Opposition, National will not concede an inch. And we don’t have to: Labour is in the last throes of Government—they may drag it out three years, but that doesn’t mean that its show will be any less dead in 2008. Don Brash created the appetite for a smaller state, for radical tax reductions, for fiscal accountability and prudence. And half the caucus, who were not there prior to this election--owe their allegiance to him.
And then it was time for me to wander off. A karaoke bar beckoned. I tallied, in my taxi, with the thought of making an appearance at Rodney Hide’s party, but I had forgotten the venue.
But I was prudent with my boozing. On a better night, I would have had three years’ of tax cuts to spend at the pub. Not that night. Not for a little while yet.