Why does the Tauranga MP look like he’s being held hostage while promoting his party? Mad Chapman investigates.
Thirty seconds in I knew there was a formula. In a busy Due Drop Events Centre in Manukau, the National Party was launching its campaign with cultural performances, a rark-up speech from deputy leader Nicola Willis, and a party video featuring all the candidates. But would it really feature all the candidates? Some candidates are more popular than others, so when Tim van der Molen – who was just stripped of all portfolio responsibilities after being found in contempt of parliament for threatening beahviour towards a Labour MP – appeared saying a very quick “get our country [back on track]”, it was clear everyone would be included but not everyone would star.
Candidates largely filmed themselves on their phones, speaking directly into the camera as if sending a virtual happy birthday. The video opened with Willis in her office, then featured Chris Luxon in his and other senior party members like Shane Reti and Chris Bishop. Other members appeared after, introducing themselves and their electorates and urging viewers to party vote National. Everyone was either outside campaigning or in their office.
The approaches were indicative of the MP’s style – some stood at the beach in their electorate, others on farms and others still on the street with National signage. Evidently there had been a brief sent out and everyone followed it. Popular MPs like Erica Stanford got significant time, others got only a few words.
I watched and held my breath for one man. I wanted to see Sam Uffindell.
Uffindell has been nothing but PR misery for the National Party since his decidedly mediocre maiden speech a year ago, followed by revelations that he had beaten a fellow King’s College student with a bed leg and subsequently left the school. Uffindell has mostly laid low since then, but reemerged in July after proudly stating that he did his family’s grocery shopping once a month to give his wife a break. Unsurprisingly, the National media team has blocked interview requests for him during the campaign.
But now there was a party video to show off all the amazing candidates on offer. What would he offer?
About halfway through the video, the clips began to get shorter. Where Chris Bishop said whole sentences, lesser-known candidates simply said their names or “get our country” or “back on track” or “party vote National”. The video itself began to speed up, as punchy videos tend to do, with choppy cuts, but still each person appearing, saying a quick soundbite, and disappearing. Where is he? I wondered, finding myself growing anxious about his omission, surely the only person in the world besides Uffindell himself even thinking about it.
My colleague Toby leaned over to speak to me but I wasn’t listening. Candidate after candidate appeared on screen and I feared he would never appear. Maybe his standing was so low as to not warrant a mention at all.
But then there he was.
And then there he went.
Quite literally, if I had blinked at the wrong time, I would’ve missed him. Revisiting the livestream of the campaign launch reveals that Uffindell was on camera for all of a quarter of a second. Watching it live, it appeared as if he had simply opened his mouth before being cut off, but on review, Uffindell manages to say the word “National” in the 14 frames that he is onscreen.
Not being onscreen a lot isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Judi Dench won an acting Oscar for Shakespeare in Love despite only being onscreen for eight minutes. But evidently in the campaign video, screentime had some correlation to reputation. Van der Molen’s quick cut was first, but there were at least two others who also only got to say one word. One was Barbara Kuriger (see: “significant conflict of interest”) standing in a field, apparently mid-tornado.
However only Uffindell broke from the visual brief. Rather than recording on location or at a desk, Uffindell’s frame is reminiscent of a hostage video. Filmed under low light, a low ceiling, and in front of a black wall, his suit making him blend into the background. What happened?
Is Sam Uffindell being held hostage so as not to further embarrass himself? Was he not trusted to film in public? Or did he simply fail a very simple assignment to film a friendly party video? The meritocracy strikes again.