In the first episode of Youth Wings season two, Young Nat Dallas Kete visits her hometown to reminisce on how her childhood led her straight into politics.
In a memory box at her grandmother’s house is Dallas Kete’s proudest possession. It’s a handwritten card from former prime minister John Key, nestled alongside other items from Kete’s childhood – like a buzzy bee toy, a fairy decoration from her fifth birthday cake and, of course, a handful of National Party membership cards.
Kete, 24, is the regional chair of the Northern Young Nats. She’s been surrounded by politics her whole life and is a self-proclaimed “politics nerd”. In part this is thanks to her Nana – her “best friend” – who has been involved with the National Party for decades. On election days past, Kete remembers playing on the playground while her grandparents assisted at the polling booth. She was taken doorknocking as a young child and went to her family election night party every three years.
As a young child, she recalls having coffee with her Nana and her local MP, National’s Lindsay Tisch, and realising she was starting to enjoy the “whole politics thing”. In her teenage years, she confesses to spending “many, many good times” lurking outside Tisch’s office to see if anyone important would ever emerge. “I think that was kind of the beginning of all things political for me,” she says. At one point, she was even doorknocked by a young Jacinda Ardern during her unsuccessful Waikato campaign in 2008 (Kete recalls telling her mum “I like this woman” and being told “don’t say that in front of your grandmother”.)
After such a political childhood, it seems inevitable that Kete would end up continuing on that journey as a young adult. Though she says “National was never forced” on her, in 2019 she joined the Young Nats, becoming the northern branch’s chair just a couple of years later. Her time as a Young Nat overlapped with National’s disastrous 2020 election campaign which saw the party fall to one of its worst results in history. But for Kete, it resulted in something positive: that’s when she met James, a fellow Young Nat who is now her fiance.
“Someone once said that you can almost kind of compare it to those who have gone through a shared trauma,” Kete says of that election campaign. “You tend to bond with those people.”
While she started out her National Party journey during the party’s most trying period, that all seems to be behind it now. Of course, it’s impossible to predict for certain how this year’s election will land, but it seems highly unlikely it will be a repeat of 2020 for the National Party. In contrast to National’s Youth Wings star for our 2020 series, who described the brutality of seeing multiple leaders at the top of National’s ranks in the post-Key years, Kete has only seen two in her time with the Young Nats – Judith Collins and, since late 2021, Christopher Luxon.
As Kete’s fiance says, the party’s trajectory has changed in the same timeframe the two have been in a relationship. “I think through all that trial and tribulation we’ve gone through, the whole campaign 2020, one good thing to come out of that was Dallas,” he says. “And ever since meeting her… even the party’s fortunes have been better through two successful by-elections – and maybe a successful election this time?”