Grant Robertson joined the increasingly popular Vote Chat 2011 election series today held in front of good number of interested students, members of the public, the Dunedin Clark & Curran Support Crew Inc., and the media. More impressively, the conversation was updated via Twitter, and a substantial number of questions were asked and answered, indicating the inherent value in social media and new technologies being able to connect people with politicians. This guest blog post by James Meager provides a summary and evaluation of Robertson’s performance. [Read more below]
Robertson is an impressive man, in stature, in style and in substance. While the conversation never went into depth about issues of the Labour Party leadership (an issue which has naturally died down since the decision to stick with Phil Goff has passed the political point of no return), he appeared not totally uncomfortable with repeated suggestions of his potential to be a future Prime Minister. On the subject of his sexuality, he made it clear that he thought New Zealanders would not see that as a barrier to the top job, and certainly he didn’t see it as defining him as a politician.
This naturally brought up the subject of homophobia, with Robertson’s colleagues Trevor Mallard and Clayton Cosgrove featuring in the media lately for their homophobic taunts of “tinkerbell” to National MP Chris Finlayson in the debating chamber. Robertson’s position was clear: while he certainly does not think Mallard is homophobic, he absolutely condemns the comments made (as well as Damien O’Connor’s “gaggle of gays” reference), and has made it very clear to his colleagues that such behaviour is totally unacceptable. While he found some irony that the criticisms came from Stephen Whittington, a candidate for the ACT Party whose electoral fortunes depend on John Banks (who Robertson said was not the most tolerant of individuals), it does not change the fact that he absolutely condemns that behaviour.
When questioned on Rena, Robertson thought the Government has done nothing but blame others and has not shown good leadership. When it was put to him whether he thought this was “Key’s Katrina” he said that it demonstrated the Government’s preference to sit on the sidelines, and while it wasn’t officially Labour strategy, the reality is that they’ll keep hammering away at Key’s smile and wave persona. On what Labour was doing in all of this, he said it was important that they were asking questions, however they wouldn’t put a moratorium on oil tankers and container ships.
Robertson was big on reducing debt (albeit through a different approach, as he thought the tax cuts handed out were a terrible idea), thought asset sales is an economic absurdity, and sympathises with the current “Occupy” protests (although he won’t be able to attend one himself). Labour would encourage sustainable industries, renewable energy and reduce reliance on being producers of protein. This raises an interesting point about the threat of the Greens, which he brushed off, maintaining that Labour is still a much larger and more successful party, and that while he would love to work with the Greens he thought they were trying to be a little clever by positioning themselves as a party which could work across the spectrum – thus the only way to vote for change was to vote for Labour.
When it came to election predictions Robertson was uncharacteristically vague. He couldn’t rule out Winston, thought Act might get a couple, didn’t know if the Greens would reach 10% (but probably not – who knows), thought the Maori Party will lose Te Tai Tonga and perhaps Waiariki, and indicated Hone was worried about the Te Tai Tokerau polls (and that Mana wasn’t a prospect for a coalition agreement). He thought there was no chance of National getting more than 50% (and in fact doesn’t even think they’re there now), and when pressed on Labour’s fortunes he admitted that while something like 26% wouldn’t be a disaster, it certainly would not be good.
So after all was said and done, it was a very safe and very credible performance from Robertson. He was pressed hard on issues of homophobia and responded well. He certainly would make a very good Leader of the Opposition (should Labour not quite make it through in November). He has a solid link to young Labour voters as a former student President and Otago scarfie (telling tales of being the victim of Otago law professor Andrew Geddis' dead-seagull-in-the-bed prank, and inhaling-but-not-enjoying) as well a robust opponent to the voluntary student unionism legislation. He also has a good history as a diplomat and advocate for the public service. If I were a Labour Party supporter, I think I’d be heading out to Mitre 10 and picking up some supplies for Camp Robertson – it looks like it would be a popular destination, based on today’s conversation.
But be careful, for if Geddis has any part to play, you'll need to make sure you don't set up camp next to the ocean.
The University of Otago Vote Chat takes place every week until the general election. The interviews occur in front of a public audience at the University of Otago Media Production studios, where the conversation is filmed for livestreaming on the internet and as a podcast for iTunes.
The intention is to make these political meetings rather different from the usual stage-managed and bland affairs that can happen during election campaigns. So there’ll be lots of challenging and quirky questions, and the MP won’t be allowed to revert to simply giving the usual well-rehearsed campaigning speech. The audience can help by heckling, cheering, or merely tweeting their reaction and questions to the Twitter feed – using the hashtag #OUVoteChat2011 – which will be projected up on the lecture theatre screen.
If you’re in Dunedin there is still the ability to come along and participate and/or watch – but seating is limited to about 45 or so – so turn up early. The Media Production Studio is on the 2nd floor of the Owheo Building, 133 Union Street East (Cnr of Union Street East and Forth Streets). You can see a map here:
If you want to watch the live-stream of the interviews, go to:
Eventually all the interviews will be available as podcasts to download from iTunes, but in the meantime you can also watch them on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/user/OUVoteChat
Some weeks there will be more than one politician. Future politicians include Bill English and Tau Henare. To keep up with all the detail, there’s a Facebook “Vote Chat 2011” page here: