In 1975 my parents witnessed their first real election. Drunk on the exciting freedoms of multi-party democracy, they cast their vote according to conscience not strategy, and as the results came in, they discovered that they were the only two people in Mt Roskill who had voted for ...the Values Party.
True story, apparently. It may have just been a partial count that came up onscreen, but every family's got to start their national foundation-mythology somewhere. A secret ballot was something so special and worth savouring that they even kept their votes a secret from each other - it was only revealed when they saw that TV election special scan down to Roskill.
Phil Goff: seventeen million
National Party: not many, if any
Values Party: two.
In the tradition of antidemocracy and unsecret ballots, here are some thoughts on who I think my parents are voting for. No prizes for guessing how I vote - and who cares anyway? I'm totally predictable politically, as is everyone else on Public Address (except maybe Keith). Parents though... everyone loves a story about Tze Ming's parents and their quaint, Southeast Asian Doctory ways - how did they produce a daughter like that, and with their upper-middle-class tax bracket, which way will they go on Saturday?
At about the age of seven, trying to decipher the Herald front page, I asked dad "what's tax?"
"Tax is the means by which the collective will extracts wealth from the bourgeoisie in order to build the glory of the state through monumental architecture!" he exhorted, spittle flying across the room onto the portrait of Kim Il Sung. "Never forget my child, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few!" He thumped the Little Red Book rhythmically on the dining room table to emphasise his utilitarian diction.
Ah, no. Actually he harrumphed and said "Well income tax is a levy from individual income, collected by the government."
Cutting my losses with whatever 'income', 'individual' and 'government' were, I went straight for the jugular with my potent follow-up: "Um... What's a levy?"
Sweating now like Pansy Wong the other week, his comeback was something along the lines of: 'It's... it's a tax!'
Not a great communicator my Chinese-guy dad. After that fruitless experience, I gave up on talking to my parents about politics for at least another seven years. Along the way, ethics were formed through reading the Isaac Asimov Robot series in Mt Roskill Public Library, and socialism and race-consciousness turned up through finding a lot of rich white girls at my highschool to be kind of mean, snobby, spoilt and racist. I think I may have actually assumed during this time that my parents were conservatives... weren't everyone's parents conservatives? Especially Chinese doctor parents?
I should have noticed that my mother, ever an oldschool Chinese pragmatist, would always say her favourite song was Lennon's 'Imagine'. "It's very sensible," she'd say. A rather grounded, kitchen-floor-scrubbing entryway into hippy ideology. She was never a hippy though. Being a hippy was actually illegal in Singapore. One would expect those 70s ideals to have lessened over time. And in fact last night, almost bashfully, apologetically, ma said to me "it's terrible, but as I get older I just get more and more intolerant....
...of conservative right-wingers."
Leftened over time then.
This surely meant I had a good chance of avoiding the tendency of becoming more conservative as I got older, and like her, may become more radical with age. She disagreed, noting that I was a nutbar radical to start with, and would find it difficult to build upon that. "I was much more conservative when I came here," she said, "I came from Singapore, remember?"
Why, how could anyone forget! Oh wait, I'm thinking of that other woman from Singapore.
Given the Values Party punt on her first go at voting, she probably meant morally or socially conservative. Decades of working at the Alice Bush Family Planning clinic on K'Road though, that'll tear you a new moral vacuum. But I suspect she was always left wing. Unlike the situation of Paul Buchanan who chose to immigrate to New Zealand in the late 1990s on the vague impression he gained from a 50-year old brochure that it was a socialist paradise, it turns out my parents came here for the actually existing socialist paradise qualities of 1973. Then, throughout the 80s and 90s, they wished we'd gone to Canada instead, but tried not to mention it.
Ma has just given up her surgery practice, mostly out of 20 years of accumulated reform fatigue. For 23 years, she ran a GP practice in Orakei, on the corner of Kepa Rd and Kupe St. She's giving away the game to the Ngati Whatua marae clinic - they're a better deal for her patients. PHOs may have worn her out, but her view is that the system just needs some fine-tuning, and the results are actually being seen. The people who need primary care most are finally getting it, lots of it, and this is bringing down hospital admissions. My ma, she's so down with the streets that her doctoring acronym is Doctor RAP - look, she even tags it over her own bronze doctor-plaque. Here she is, frontin' all ruffneck on her last day, with Doctor Who, Milford Gangsta.
She was in the doldrums last night with the election odds turning. "The country back into debt!" she groaned, "Not again! It's so depressing!" She was slumped into my couch, reluctantly watching the Leaders' Debate. "Hey look, he's saying Helen Clark's not mainstream!" I mocked, trying to maintain cheer, "Oh, actually he's saying anyone who doesn't want a tax cut isn't mainstream! That's you! Mum, did you know you weren't mainstream?"
"Oh but if they get in, they won't be able to get the tax cuts past Winston Peters mum, don't worry, they won't be able to do anything. And then their government will collapse in like, a year or less." I don't like seeing my mother unhappy. I'll say anything!
She then watched part of the marijuana-is-bad-for-kids'-brains-mkay? documentary and totally agreed that marijuana is bad for kids' brains mkay? She's a doctor, mkay? Then announced she was voting Green. "I think they lie the least," she said firmly.
My mum is cool.
Later, there was a commemorative tear or two watching Jordis (half Tongan! That means she's practically a New Zealander) sing 'Imagine' on Rockstar: INXS. I think it's narrowing down to a two-horse race between Marty and Suzie. Jordis is so great, but - let's just say I've imagined her future. And I'm not the only one.
And dad? He's a retired radiologist who used to work on the Shore, so I think he may have never actually met a Maori or a prostitute. And I think he's actually voting Progressive. Now that's retro.