Politics

Chlöe Swarbrick: ‘Something I’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? I just want a dog.’

The 36 Questions Project is a series in which Meg Williams takes a politician on a date and asks them the 36 Questions, a series of conversation starters designed to make two people fall in love. In this final instalment, Williams dates Green Party candidate Chlöe Swarbrick.

Previously on the 36 Questions Project: United Future leader Damian Light, TOP leader Gareth Morgan, Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox, Act Party leader David Seymour, and the 36 Questions in full

“I’m just trying to figure out,” Chlöe Swarbrick said to me, “if I get into Parliament, am I allowed to take a dog into Parliament? I don’t know, probably not. Things would get a little bit unhinged if every MP was allowed to take their dogs.”

It was the Saturday before the election, and after numerous attempts to organise a date to ask each other the 36 Questions and try to fall in love, Chlöe Swarbrick and I were finally having coffee together in the Onehunga Cafe. We had been trying to organise it since June, but Chlöe’s calendar has been so full that any hopeful attempt had been bumped by door knocking or a debate or simply being in another city.

Question four asks, “What would constitute a ‘perfect’ day for you?”

“For me, right now, it would honestly just be getting sleep,” Chlöe said. “I mean in the context of my life right now my perfect day would be to do absolutely nothing and to have no obligations. Other than that, yeah just no pressure. To not be ‘on’ would be the perfect day. And food. Food is always important. Halloumi…”

Chlöe was distracted by the sight of a baby, and told me about her love for children, and also dogs.

“Do you know what I’m doing on election day?” she said. “Actually, this would be my perfect day. I’m going to sleep, and then in Maungakiekie, at a pub called the Flying Moa, they are doing a sausage dog race! So I’m going to wake up in the morning, have a coffee, hopefully have some kind of good breakfast, and then will just roll to the Flying Moa, hang out with sausage dogs, because they’re so soft. Sausage dogs are the best dogs because they don’t molt, they’re long, they’re warm and soft and they have big ears. There was one right next to the bucket fountain the day that we announced the mental health policy. Oh man, it was just great.”

With a sausage dog in Wellington’s Cuba Street Mall. Photo: Tim Onnes

Chlöe doesn’t have a dog as yet – her life is far too full on and she would barely be home to take care of it if she had one. But her longing for something warm and cuddly is evident. Question 14 asks, “Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?”

“Sausage dog,” Chlöe says. “That’s something I think about and want… I just want a dog… and haven’t got it because cost, time.”

Chlöe lives with her partner, Alex, who she met at university. On her perfect day, apart from sleep and hanging out with sausage dogs, she said that it would also be spending more time with Alex.

“That’s probably been one of the most challenging things about the campaign,” she said. “Particularly over the last week, I’ve either not been in Auckland, or I’ve come home at midnight when he’s already in bed. Funnily enough, I met with Marilyn Waring – she was in the National Party about 40 years ago, nowadays she’d be a Green MP, she crossed the floor over the nuclear stuff and Muldoon called her a feminist anti-nuclear something something. So yeah, I was asking her for advice on, you know, how to get through this and if stuff happens after the election, and she goes, ‘Say goodbye to your friends and family because they’re going to have to be there for you but you’re not going to be able to be there for them, and if they’re not there for you, you’re not going to be able to survive.’ And I get that, but it’s a hard realisation that you have you lean on other people and they can’t necessarily lean on you.”

I like Chlöe a lot. I know I’m probably biased – we’re both Young Greens and so naturally have similar political ideologies. One of the first times I met Chlöe was back in January this year when we shared a ride to Young Greens Summer Camp – an annual event which takes place at Jeanette Fitzsimons’ farm in the Coromandel, and is exactly how you would imagine it to be (vegan-only meals, bathing in the river, whatever else you might imagine). We picked her up from Olly, the gallery-meets-coffee-and-donut-shop she runs with Alex in Mount Eden, and she handed out coffees and donuts to each person also sharing the ride. On the road, none of us could quite stop talking, and I knew then that she was an extremely clever person. Perhaps freakishly so.

Since then, we’ve hung out and chatted a few times, and every time the dialogue we engage in is refreshing. Almost everything Chlöe says has meaning. Not a wasted word comes out of her mouth. Often, when a person speaks and their words are transcribed into print, a lot of what they say doesn’t really make much sense. There are usually breaks in their sentences, lots of going off topic, a lot of the time questions that you ask aren’t really answered. Chlöe, however, has this amazing ability to be fully articulate when she speaks in a way that really bridges the gap between her spoken word and her written word, which is a quality usually exclusively held by elderly academics.

“I’d be really keen to be a lecturer,” she said when I asked her question two (“Would you like to be famous? In what way?”). “I don’t really care about ‘fame’ in that respect. I just care about being able to have space to research stuff and then talk to people about ideas. But the issue with academic institutions is they’re quite often ivory towers. I don’t think there’s enough academics participating in public discourse.”

Question one asks, “Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?” Chlöe’s answer was Naomi Klein.

“She wrote No Logo and has for a very long time written very intelligent and strong arguments about how the current economic paradigm is failing us and how we need to move away from it. Her latest book, This Changes Everything – maybe it’s not her latest one, but that’s the one that I read – was about the inherent connection between an economic system that exploits people and the planet, so basically how it’s all connected. It’s funny because that’s basically now coloured how I see inequality and climate change… But Naomi Klein, probably just because she’s so clever and I would like to absorb all of that by osmosis.”

At the 2017 Green Party Conference on July 16, 2017 in Auckland. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Question nine asks, “For what in your life do you feel most grateful?”

“I mean, I could say that I just feel grateful for life,” Chlöe said. “And the opportunity to do things, because there was a period in my life where it didn’t feel like I was going to keep living. But it’d probably be my dad.” I had just met Chlöe’s dad outside of the cafe when I turned up. Chlöe was sitting with him and her grandma waiting for me. When I arrived, Chlöe began to say her goodbyes, and her grandma asked to get a photo of Chlöe and her dad. To see such pride in the eyes of a father and grandma is very sweet.

“So my dad,” Chlöe continued, “Paul Swarbrick, who I got my last name from. He’s responsible for who I am, and I’ve got this real vivid memory of when I was – how old are you in primary school, when you’re in year two? Seven? I was doing my first ever school speech and you know it’s like the classic sort of speech, you have to figure out a topic, so my topic was the double standard between adults and kids, and how kids have bedtimes and adults don’t and it’s really unfair, and we don’t get control of our diets and stuff.

Dad asked me to do my speech in front of him because he’s always really supported me in writing and stuff, and this was the first time I’d ever given a speech and I didn’t know what I was doing, and I started delving into this thing and Dad goes, ‘Yeah but bla bla bla,’ and I was like, ‘Oh shit, I need to change the whole thing, I hadn’t thought about that, this is wrong.’ And he said something along the lines of, ‘No, this is how you participate in a discussion – you have to understand the other perspective and give a rationale for why yours is the better position,’ or whatever, so basically the foundation for how you have a constructive argument. Yeah so, my dad. My dad is amazing. He’s been a big influence on my life and is why I am who I am.”

The next question asks, “If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?”

“If anything had changed in the chronology of my life I don’t think I’d be who I am today. I know that’s the worst answer… I don’t even necessarily know if I would say that I like the person that I am, I would say that I’m still working towards that. But I am who I am and, again, I can’t change that, but I enjoy working towards doing something meaningful, and I don’t know if I’d necessarily be in that position had other variables changed. And I love the people who are in my life. Campaigning has become something that I never knew that I wanted to do but love as well, but I’m also getting a little bit tired of just campaigning. I want to change things as well. What about you?”

I told her that I wish I was raised to have better eating habits.

“Oh! I would love to have learned te reo,” Chlöe said. “Does that count? That would have had a major impact. That’s not really my parents, it’s just a terrible colonial education system.”

We didn’t get through many of the questions. Chlöe had to go home to have a quick recharge before heading out to do more campaigning. She gave me a ride into Mount Eden and we chatted more in the car – about leftist politics, post-election plans, relationships. I don’t think we fell in love, but (and like I said, I’m probably biased) I sincerely hope that when she’s an MP I will get the opportunity to continue to chat with her.

Previously on the 36 Questions Project: United Future leader Damian Light, TOP leader Gareth Morgan, Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox, Act Party leader David Seymour, and the 36 Questions in full

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