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The Carter Columns - This Week's On The Left

Election Day memories - On The Left

by Jordan Carter

In 1996 at the time of the general election I was coming into bursary exams at high school, and the whole event sort of washed over my head. Since that time, I've been variously a vaguely interested spectator, a nearly arrested student protester, a paid student protest organiser, an erstwhile Labour Party member, and now a Labour Party activist.

This developing stream of political consciousness hit its first real test at last weekend's General Election, where all of a sudden it was immensely important to me that we won.

It's hard to describe to someone who doesn't share the feeling what it feels like to go into an election campaign unsure of victory. I think a lot of us have our doubts, and I know that I was very sceptical about our chances of forming a Government right up until the start of the week before the election. The Shipley interview on Crossfire on the Sunday prior made it evident that we had the policy edge over the Tories; and the TV One debate on the Tuesday confirmed that view.

But you just never know. I spent that entire week on tenderhooks, wanting to do more to help out with the campaign but realising at the same time the work had been done. I did allow myself to hope - last week's On The Left was written largely on the Thursday before the election. But you dare not hope. The thought process is very odd; you sort of think that if you dare to hope you might win, you won't, so you try not to allow yourself to think you're going to win.

As a result of all this wondering, I had a very bad night before the election, finally getting to sleep about 2am after going out with some friends, and then waking up at 7am to head in.

Our sector of the Auckland Central electorate was based at the top of Khyber Pass Road in Grafton, and after stopping in there to get a Scrutineer's pack, I moved on to the polling booth at the Whitecliffe Art School, where I spent the day from 8:55am to about 4:30pm.

Scrutineering is odd. You sit there with a Labour rosette on, you look at the voters but you can't talk to them. They look at you, they see your rosette and they do one of two things: smile, or nothing. Nobody reacted badly to my presence, though annoyingly a few people did try and talk to me. The cardinal rule: DO NOT talk to the voter.

I had the pleasure of sitting next to an Alliance scrutineer all day. She was a lovely woman in her 70's, and we really got on well the entire day.
I think she expected me to be hostile or something, but we had quite a few similar ideas and certainly a common understanding of the importance of this election.

That was something that hit me several times throughout the day. How important the election was. It didn't really make it into the public's mind until the last week I don't think, but people finally had their say on the mindlessness of the last fifteen years. A very clear division on a number of issues - taxation, labour law, ACC reform, economic policy and national direction - and the party of the working class won. Labour challenged the establishment rather more than we have since the 70's, and we won.

It's still sinking in.

But back to the day. The end of scrutineering was followed by a dash to HQ, to pick up doorknocking sheets to get the Labour vote out. Bond St, and other areas of Grey Lynn, suffered four excited Young Labour people knocking and asking "Hi, just checking if you've voted yet... yes? Good, sorry to bother you." Back to HQ for half an hour of discussion, then off to McDonalds for a quick dinner before being back at Whitecliffe for the count at 6:55pm.

Three hours and ten minutes it took, to count 550 ballots and 1100 referendum papers. The polling staff did their best, but were tired after 11 hours already on the job to that point. Several mistakes were made, and recounts occurred. While Auckland Central is a Labour electorate, I was surprised to see the strength of the Labour party vote - more than double the number that National got at that booth.

I began to hope.

Escaping from the booth and running to the HQ in the rain, I began to wonder if we'd done it. Got in and delivered the booth results to a staffer who banged them up on the board. I saw the TV just in time to see that Rotorua was saying "piss off Noddy!" to Max Bradford. That made me (a tertiary student) very, very happy.

After a brief excursion to Titirangi to get a friend at about 11pm, I was back in the HQ watching TV and drinking. Some delightful results - by the time we left to go to Avondale at about 12:20am, some incredible results were apparent. A Labour MP on the North Shore! All the Maori seats looking Labour. Cunliffe turning a 5000 National majority from Marie Hasler into a 5000 vote majority for himself in Titirangi. Mark Gosche taking Maungakiekie. Steve Chadwick turfing Bradford in Rotorua.

Wellington Central was still tight at that point. Ruth Dyson in Banks' Peninsula was a surprise but a welcome one.

My thought getting into the car was "National will have to support MMP after this result..."

Avondale was excellent. Arriving about 12:40am, just after Helen Clark started her victory speech to us, the joy in the room was infectious. It was the first real time I felt "yes, we've actually done it." And we had.

Labour has 716,715 votes at this point, compared to National's 563,461. The Alliance outpolled ACT. The Greens outpolled New Zealand First. A clear decision in favour of the centre left.

After some gems at Avondale (hugging the Prime Minister Elect, and telling David Cunliffe his majority of 5,237 were good moments), me and my dad (who I had drafted into the fight) took off to a friend's house to sup some champagne, before getting home about 2:30am.

They said you couldn't win an election promising to raise taxes.

We did.

They said you couldn't win an election promising to intervene in the economy.

We did.

They said you couldn't win an election promising to protect the environment and breaking logging contracts.

We did.

They said you couldn't promise to nationalise an industry and win an election.

We did.

They said you couldn't win an election promising to increase the power of organised labour.

We did that too.

Yes, an election of surprises. Labour winning 9 electorates with majorities of over 10,000 votes. 41 electorate seats to National's 23.

Now the trick is to use the mandate the people have given us for good, not evil, and to build the kind of society everyone can take part in. We've got the tools, now we have a job to do. The Labour Party and its MP's in Parliament are going to be at the core of a very interesting Government.

Helen Clark is going to be a very interesting Prime Minister too - in the last week she's appeared very comfortable and down to earth. Her continued development will be well worth watching.

So, there's the election day rant + thoughts afterwards.

Till next week,

Jordan Carter

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