Sunday, November 27, 2011

My two seconds of f(l)ame

Yesterday was election day and it turned out to much more exciting than I expected. Not because of the election, although that certainly had its moments, but because of the fiery publicity stunt in Cuba Mall. I was sitting on a bench outside Matterhorn, trying to do the crossword, when a car pulled up (it's a no-car zone there) displaying some message about fractional reserve banking. The driver, wearing an orange high-vis jacket, got out and spray-painted a dollar sign on one of the benches and "What is fractional reserve banking? Google it!" on the ground. He then asked the handful of us who happened to be there what fractional reserve banking was. I made a reasonable stab at his question. Next he said he was about to do some magic trick to make his car disappear, and offered to pay $1000 to anyone willing to record it. Nobody had a camcorder handy and I got back to the cryptic. Then BANG! and the car was suddenly in flames. I must have shouted an obscenity or two, then dashed into the comic shop where I watched the car go up in smoke. The stench was terrible. A couple of shop owners tried to extinguish the flames before the fire brigade and police came. The man made no attempt to get away; I think he wanted the publicity and chose election day to pull off his pyro party trick. I made a police statement and even gave a statement to some student journalists. I have since Googled "FRB", yes I can see problems with it, but setting light to your car in a public space isn't how I would choose to raise awareness.

On last night's news, there I was! My first ever TV appearance, as far as I know.

I've always quite liked elections even though I switch off from a lot of the political machinations that take place in between. The first election I clearly remember was the UK election of 1992 when I was twelve. You had more charts and graphs than you could possibly shake a stick at, and boy did I love that! Peter Snow was very excited by his swingometer and so was I. Unlike Kiwi elections, the polls in the UK don't close until 10pm and the bulk of the results aren't known until after midnight, which was well past my bedtime. Mum and Dad let me watch for a bit, but it was only the next morning that I learnt that John Major's Tories had won a close race. We happened to live in Major's constituency of Huntingdon. It's true blue there, so under FPP your vote is rendered pretty much meaningless.

By the time '97 rolled around, the Tories had been in power my whole life, and I have to admit it felt good to see Labour sweep to power in a sea of red, a landslide win largely brought about by the disproportionality of FPP. In 2001 I was old enough to vote but was living in France; I could still have voted if I'd wanted to but in that particular election I couldn't see the point.

So I voted in a general election for the first time at the age of 25, and as I was out of my electorate I got to cast a special vote. Boy did I feel special. For some reason I found the NZ election of 2005 fascinating. Just like in the UK, urban areas tend to go red while rural electorates vote blue, but the way the votes are counted means the story plays out very differently on the night. In the UK, the votes for each constituency are pooled together and counted in one location, so the very compact urban (left-leaning) areas are counted quickly, while remote areas (the Orkney Islands being an extreme example) take all night. So Labour tend to sprint out to an early lead only for the Tories to come back strongly at the end. In NZ, each polling station counts its votes separately; some booths in the back and beyond in Canterbury may only get a dozen (probably National) voters, but in urban electorates like mine some stations will take thousands. This all means that the pattern you see in the UK is reversed in NZ. This wasn't something I'd thought about, so when Labour overturned a big deficit to sneak home, it took me by surprise.

Three years ago we had a change of government but everything played out almost as expected. This time I found the whole thing a lot more interesting. The biggest highlights and lowlights for me:
  • The Greens. It'll be 11% when the specials come out; maybe a 14th MP. Both Turei and Norman are highly intelligent people, they ran a great campaign, and I think the party will continue to do well until green policy becomes so "obvious" that such a party no longer needs to exist. In Wellington Central (yes I know we're all hippies here) the Greens trailed Labour by just twelve votes (in the party vote) on the night.

  • Winston First. I didn't see that one coming. He will add some flavour to the next three years even if I wouldn't trust the man as far as I could throw him, and he come with the nice little side benefit of preventing National from getting an overall majority. John Key's asset sales just get that little bit harder.

  • John Key himself. National didn't really score a resounding win in this election, but Key sure as hell did.

  • The badly-designed referendum. If you answered yes to the first question, do you answer the second? Who knew? And how many people had the foggiest idea of what all the other voting options were? I've got a maths degree and STV messes with my head (despite that I still thought it was the best non-MMP option).

  • The tied vote in Christchurch (specials still to come). What are the odds of that? And it goes to show your vote really does count - who would have thought that?

  • The TV3 coverage. Really good I thought, even from Paul Henry who I haven't always had much time for. Just one thing - I wish they'd stop saying "60% of the votes have been counted." No, 60% of the polling places have been counted, which is a totally different thing.
It's been another glorious day in Wellington (even if it's blowing a gale now). This morning at the waterfront market there was some march involving drums and bells. I had no idea what it was about. But I love the fact that Wellington people care about stuff and like to express themselves. That's the sort of place I want to live in.

We've got the autism group tomorrow night. No doubt the election will take up a fair old chunk of proceedings. If you're autistic, I'm guessing a big National win isn't quite what you want.

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