Island Life by David Slack


Waiting For Roddo

Matt McCarten thinks John Key would make Rodney Hide Minister of Education. Would Rodney settle for that? And are we counting our chickens before they’re ready to be caged or gassed or macerated?

First things first. If National gets better than 50%, they don’t need nobody. Theoretically. John Key says he’d get himself some partners anyway, even if he didn't need them. Theoretically. The man is making a first rate job of the world’s longest job interview. He relentlessly provides the approved answers. I believe in thinking outside the box.
There’s no ‘I’ in team.
My greatest weakness, Paul, is that I’m just so keen to get stuck in.

What’s the reality, John? The reality is they won’t make 50. MMP militates against it. The sheer size of that group of voters who are not responding to the pollsters militates against it.

The reality is that John picks up the phone and talks to Rodney. And maybe Pita. And maybe Peter.

Let’s say Rodney and three or four other MPs - Sir Roger, for example - get their chance to shine. I see Lockwood and Maurice being happy as sand-boys. I see a reasonable chunk of National party voters being no less happy. The Labour Plus punters might feel rueful.

My reference point is an outing last month to Wild Bill’s Rib House restaurant here in our little seaside village.

I am determined to give our little girl a good civics education, but it’s easy to put a foot wrong. Into our mailbox fell a letter from Rodney Hide. He promised to take 500 bucks a week off our tax in a very crisp and clear pamphlet, and he accompanied it with an invitation. Come to a meeting to hear how we’re going to do what’s right. Wild Bill's Rib House.

I said to Karren: that could be interesting. Karren said she thought so too. We’d need to get a baby sitter. Or, I said, recalling how much she’d enjoyed our recent encounter with the judicial system, Mary-Margaret might like to come too. We asked her. We explained about an interesting man called Rodney Hide who wears a yellow jacket and yet still manages to get people to take him seriously. We explained about the ACT party and Roger Douglas, and the argument he had with David Lange and what it was like in the Beehive when Mum and Dad worked there. Would she like to come and see what a political meeting was like? Well sure she would.

When someone is trying to sell you something, read the material carefully. Even if a politician closes the letter with words like
look forward to seeing you there, don’t take that to mean that he himself will be attending.

We arrived at Wild Bill’s Rib House on a cold Monday night. When Roger Douglas was a cabinet minister, this site was one of the best restaurants in Auckland. By the time Derek Quigley was on TV telling Lindsay Perigo about a new Association of Consumers and Taxpayers, it had become the Devonport Bar and Brasserie and it was a drinking hole for real estate agents, who make up 87% of the village labour force.

Hard times in the late nineties put the pinch on and the regulars drifted away. The proprietors put in pokie machines and it became the kind of bar you can smell at a ten-paces remove from its open doors.

A year or two ago it changed its name to Wild Bill’s Rib House. This was our first visit. There were a half dozen patrons in the front, and to the rear of the bar, where the bench seats offer a cosier setting, a smartly dressed man was arranging chairs. We got our drinks, found a seat and waited patiently. Over the next quarter hour, the little gathering swelled in size and by the time we ready to begin, there were fully a dozen people gathered to take part in the democratic process.

Mary-Margaret asked: Is Rodney Hide here? We looked around. No.

At the back of the room a neon sign blinked on and off: “Gaming”. Out of sight, the pokies were cranking. A trail of customers would appear from behind the wall fetching their empty glass, or clutching their packet of Rothmans, heading for fresh cold air, squeezing behind the man with the rosette.

A wreath of smoke ran from the front door through the bar and back to the gaming machines. Mary-Margaret wrinkled her nose.

There were two speakers. The first began by telling us the problem with New Zealanders: Everyone with get up and go had got up and gone. He plunged ahead with his oration, but Karren and I sat there beside our daughter aborbing what this man had just said. None Taken, I thought to myself. Karren was working to suppress a laugh.

We listened to a careful substantiation of the calculation that would yield us a tax rate fully half of what the government is presently imposing on its long-suffering citizens. It was delivered with the expertise of the most assured of multi level marketing consultants.

But inevitably a point was reached when the audience interrupted to put questions and offer contending arguments. The spending on health is a tricky beast to wrestle with at the best of times, and clearly tonight we were going to see a protracted struggle.

Unfortunately at this point, we had been going for twenty minutes, there was no sign of Rodney, and Mary-Margaret was finding this episode of the democratic process rather less captivating than a murder trial. We took our leave.

But the philosophy of the party rang in our ears as we made our way home. What should we do? Get up and go?

Or at our age were we already too far gone?

More significantly what about that stonking tax cut Rodney told us about? This election may indeed be, as Helen Clark avers, about trust, but in our household, it will be as much about reading the brochures carefully.

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