I spent yesterday at the Fieldays in Mystery Creek -- always an exciting day out. For four days every year in this attractive river valley, a small city grows up devoted almost exclusively to celebrating production, innovation and the backbone of New Zealand's wealth production.
"Almost exclusively" since on those stands manned by government employees (of which there are mercifully few) the virtues of production, innovation and wealth are celebrated only in their destruction, just as they are at three-quarters of the stands manned by the few politicians who bother to show up.
This year there were just four political parties represented: Labour, NZ First, National and Libertarianz. (The ACT Party apparently wasn't interested in the chance to talk to 150,000 people, the United Party and Maori Parties are either disinterested or insufficiently resourced, and it's unlikely any agricultural producer would want to talk to the Greens.)
The organisers obviously had a sense of humour -- they placed the Libz stand right next to the National Party stand. Naturally, this proved enormously useful in directing punters next door to ask one of the fifty-odd curly questions we'd prepared for the National MPs in attendance to answer. I even slipped over and asked a couple myself: I was particularly fascinated to hear Kate Wilkinson's answer to whether or not National is a party of compulsion -- the answer is apparently both "Yes" and "No" and "I was misquoted."
Improvements are already under way to reflect this contiguity. As I write this, for example, a small sign is being attached to the Libz stand containing excerpts from the National Party Constitution, inviting punters to ask the National MPs next door if they still believe in such phrases as "Individual freedom and choice," "the avoidance of unnecessary controls," and "competitive enterprise and rewards for achievement," and how exactly those beliefs are given expression in National Party policy. Answers will be recorded for posterity.
Our job was made much harder however by National's failure to erect any signage telling punters who they were or any lighting to relieve the gloom of the poorly lit indoor venue, resulting in passing punters being accosted out of the gloom by small people in ill-fitting suits with whom they were utterly unfamiliar.
It wasn't just embarrassment that was to blame for National not putting up any signs. Since the taxpayers of New Zealand funded the nearly ten-thousand dollar cost of their stand, the Electoral Finance Act required their signs to be accompanied by a parliamentary crest the same size as the party logo, something for which they had been wholly unprepared. The stand therefore consisted only of one reception counter, one card table with chairs, one large flower arrangement and four hay bales, presumably to give 'local colour.' Of policy or pamphlets, there was little sign.
Such scruples however didn't bother either Labour or NZ First, whose stands abounded in tax-paid regalia without any matching crest, and in NZ First's case a large framed portrait of His Winstonness in pride of place. Intelligent patronage at both these two seemed slight -- no one appeared eager to engage the Labour wimmin in discussion (what would there be to talk about?), and the only people I saw at the NZ First stand were an elderly couple being helped to a seat by Doug Woolerton, and what seemed to be their Downes Syndrome grand-daughter, who stood pointing happily at the portrait of Winston while dribble rolled down her chin.
Such is the support base of Winston First, and the interest by farmers in what Labour has to say.
UPDATE: A few people have asked about the signs at our own stand - which was ringed with red tape on which appeared our officially mandated authorisation statement, and dotted with conspicuous displays of the 'Not Taxpayer Funded' logo.
Three things worked particularly well in drawing in passing punters and raising a smile:
- a sign prominently displayed on which was listed just some of the departments, agencies and quangoes Libz recommend for abolition;
- that picture at right, which was turned towards the National party stand;
- a paraphrase of Voltaire's famous quote emblazoned across the back wall :
“New Zealand will never be completely free until the last bureaucrat is strangled with the guts of the last politician.”
Frankly, by the time the punters started talking to us they were already smiling so hard they were only too happy to have Libz literature and ideas thrust upon them.