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PoliticsJune 23, 2017

‘The culture of politics can take a few lessons from rugby’: Kiri Allan kicks off full-time campaigning


In her third candidate diary for the Spinoff, Kiri Allan writes about the emotional rollercoaster after chucking in the day job, growing a layer of skin to deal with the scrutiny, a gathering of women who get shit done, and rugby as a metaphor.

The boxes were full of random papers I’d accrued over the past few years and my colleagues had gone out of their way to acquire an appropriate second-hand “last day” outfit, fitting for my new career aspirations. As I pulled away from work that day, I had a real what-the-heck-am-I-doing moment.  You know the one –  when you feel like you’re stepping away from the safe ground you’ve become accustomed to, and are making a leap into the giant unknown.

A ‘second-hand’ outfit from colleagues

I went on leave from my day job to campaign fulltime a couple of weeks ago now. Since then, Jeremy Corbyn revived the UK Labour Party and once again confirmed that you can’t trust the polls, that politics can change in an instant and that if you can touch the hearts and minds of people with a genuine message of positive change, they will respond.

I have been living on the road and discovered that my car is not only a means of transport but can also act as a pseudo office, bedroom and definitely wardrobe. The East Coast is the roughly the size to traverse of Vanuatu (or Samoa and Jamaica combined), so driving is an absolute core competency of the role. I have also spent the last few weeks meeting with CEOs of listed companies, NGOs throughout the electorate, water scientists that are concerned about our waterways, families that are working hard to try and get ahead and so many amazing people that want to see New Zealand be, quite simply, better than we have become.

It has been an emotional rollercoaster. First, the fact that I’m a newbie political candidate means that I’m trying really quickly to learn the ropes of a new job, in a very public (and therefore potentially highly embarrassing) manner! I am used to being in highly stressful environments – but being a political candidate with every move, word and Facebook post open to the scrutiny of strangers is a different kind of intense and I have had to adapt (and grow a protective layer of skin) very fast. Second, meeting with so many people, from all sides of the political and socio-economic divide, who need government action in so many different spheres of life, has been eye-opening and sad but also inspiring and solidified my resolve for standing for change. Third, I have quickly come to realise that the culture of politics currently enables, in fact thrives on, division and sensationalism. Not the contest of ideas but the division of people, party, culture, class, and race. When we have a generation of kids that need us to be working together to bring about change, I feel annoyed. Because we can, and in deed we should, be better than this.

Our people, our country women and men, deserve a vision that is inspired and ambitious. Whether you’re right or left, I’m sure that the overwhelming desire is to see people housed and living a good life. But the political spin from the pundits and the politicians alike, is based on divisive, and often uninspiring rhetoric. No wonder there’s a generation of folk that feel somewhat disillusioned with the current political establishment.

Canvassing in Gisborne

I recently attended an “unconference” (a loosely structured conference that focuses on the exchange of ideas) called “Women Who Get Shi# Done” with 110 women from all walks of life (commerce through to social services) and, I’m most certain, all political leanings. In this forum I was reminded that there is something special that happens when dialogue is shaped around building upon our common ground, as opposed to that which separates us. Instead of focusing on our differences, it results in everyone contributing positively to solutions for the social ills that most folk can see. Unfortunately, politics is rarely based on what we have in common but instead on trying to score political points – to “win” the game. But it’s an odd thing really, when the consequences of the game are the lives of people. Real people.

On the note of games, I went to the Māori All Blacks v the Lions on Saturday. It was a scrappy game and the Lions deserved their win. But rugby, I’ve always said, is a metaphor for life. Rugby is a game for people of all shapes and sizes – from your short cheeky half backs through to your tall, lean locks, to your big stocky props. Regardless of your class or creed, there’s a role for everyone on the pitch, and the real art of the game is in how that group works together to win. You know, rugby is also unique because you have to throw your body on the line for your team mates. You have to have each others’ backs. And finally, once the game is over, you shake hands with your opponents, and often seal the deal and have a good laugh with a beer and a feed. You tend to know each other’s families and there’s a culture that pulls you together, more than it drags you apart.

From my first two weeks in the job of a full-time budding politician, I think that the culture of politics can take a few lessons from the culture of rugby. Politics should be about garnering the best ideas from the best people and working that into tangible action plans. It should be about playing the ball and not the (wo)man; it should be about focussing on our values, as opposed to personalities; it should be about fostering a vision of hope, not building on a brooding culture of fear; it should also be about seeing the role of the various unique people in the team, building on good ideas, and throwing ourselves on the line to get the win. But the “win” is not just winning an election and being in power. The “win” is tangibly being able to improve the lives of “the many, and not the few”.

If you scratch the surface of New Zealand it is scary what you find. For example, it includes 90,000 young folk not currently in employment, training or education. Ninety thousand. Approximately 10% of the entire population of Gisborne are young folk, between 18 – 24, that are not in employment, training or education.  ONE IN EVERY 10 PEOPLE. Far too many of our kids are leaving school, without a future, without a place in the world, and often, without hope. This hits home at a very real level for me – currently, my youngest brother (and doppelganger) is one of these young folk.

With Lucy at Kaiti Mall

Who wins from that? No one. The kids themselves aren’t happy – just look at our terrible youth suicide statistics. New Zealand misses out on the productivity of each of those individuals that fails to hit their potential (if you want to look at it through a crass capitalist lens). Then, as is often the case, these young people end up living their lives leaning on the state to prop them up. Well, that sucks because the taxpayer carries that kid, and that kid doesn’t get to hit their stride. Two failures for the price of … well, plenty.

People want a vision, and we as politicians need to provide one, alongside a plan of how we are to achieve change. Labour has a vision for a better New Zealand and practical ideas to implement that vision. We see an equitable New Zealand where people have access to housing, jobs, health care, quality education and a rivers that our kids can learn to bomb in without having to worry about e-coli poisoning. We need to get these basics right. To get there we are proposing a number of initiatives including: mass state-funded construction of new homes; three free years of university and training so that people can upskill without having to financially overly burden themselves with loans; reversing health underfunding; and funding specialist mental health teams to help out 40,000 people through early intervention. Our challenge is to communicate that vision in a way that speaks to the hearts and minds of New Zealanders.

With youth from Q-munnity in Tologa Bay

I’m proud to put my hand up for the Labour Party. We have a vision of an equitable New Zealand – “for the many, not the few”. It’s a New Zealand that puts people and our environment first so that all of our kids growing up here can have a slice of the pie that is the Kiwi Dream. We have a 100-year track record of fighting for the underdog. Right now, the growing mass of underdogs needs us more than ever to fight for the Kiwi Dream.

From July 7 to 9 I have people coming in from all over the country to Gisborne, mostly young folk, who are concerned about the direction our country is headed and are building a grassroots movement to bring about a change for those that need it most.  This makes me feel hopeful. Spending time with 110 women at the “unconference” focused on doing practical stuff to make real change makes me feel hopeful. Our country needs a fresh approach, and with three months to go to the election, we need everyone on board, to throw ourselves on the line.

Let’s be the change. Come at us 23 September!

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