Politics

‘The pressure is on’: crunch time on the campaign trail for Erica Stanford

In her third candidate diary entry for the Spinoff, the National Party’s East Coast Bays hopeful Erica Stanford reveals the workload, the unexpected pleasures of door-knocking and the terror of a TV interview.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my supporters and tender my resignation.

JKLOL. Seems to be the thing to do though, doesn’t it? It’s been a crazy month. But despite lots happening only exactly two things have changed this month, everything and nothing.

While the leaderships, slogans, hoardings and policies of other parties may have changed, our plans, my plans, remain exactly the same. We always knew that this was going to be a tight election and that we would need to take our positive message of strong economic growth, job creation, rising wages and opportunity out to every single voter to gain their support for another three years.

On the trail with Paula Bennett

Now it’s the last round of the fight, the home sprint, the final countdown. However you want to look at it – the time is now and the pressure is on.

As I write, I’ve returned home after taking my son to martial arts and swimming. I’ve run lines with my daughter for her school play and I’ve taught her to belt out the national anthem with perfect Māori pronunciation. I oversaw piano and drum practices. I listened to my five- year-old read. The dishes are done, the washing is on, the kids are in bed and I’ve seen my husband out the door to indoor cricket. The house is finally quiet and I’m rugged up on the couch in my PJs with a bowl of chips that I have successfully hidden from my kids all week.

I am now officially done with my day job and I am campaigning full time. My couch and PJs time has been radically reduced, replaced by meetings, debates, events, dinners, public meetings, café catch ups, media training and more meetings. This past month has really been about learning how to balance everything so that I don’t burn out, and now I am ready for this, the home stretch.

I have an amazing team of over 70 local volunteers who bake, leaflet, organise, put up hoardings, make phone calls, stand on street corners with signs, and look after me. We door knock around 500 houses a week and although there is only one poll that counts, etc, etc, the feedback we’ve been getting is extremely positive.

The surprising part for me is how much I love door knocking. Invading people’s privacy to talk about myself was not something I was looking forward to, but connecting with locals and talking politics on doorsteps has been interesting and rewarding. We have knocked on thousands of doors and of all the campaign activities it’s by far my favourite. You can’t beat speaking to people one on one. We have knocked on the doors of newsreaders (they wouldn’t tell us which way there were voting), classmates and teachers of mine from school, and even an ex-boyfriend.

Aside from doorknocking, I’ve been thrust into dozens of unique situations over the past few months and I thought I take you behind the scenes and look at some of these situations.

Hoardings up, Midnight Friday July 22

A great team of supporters are up at midnight putting up wooden frames and corflutes in the freezing and driving rain. We break into groups and are off. My husband and I are in a borrowed truck with big billboard corflutes on the back. We nail the first site – in and out in the blink of an eye. We are high fiving and talking up how amazing we are at this hoarding gig. It’s 12.30am. At the next site, there is nowhere to park really, other than yellow lines, so my husband decides to park partly on the grass and partly on the sidewalk. Given the sodden terrain, I immediately advise him against this course of action but he convinces me that he knows what he is doing. As soon as we stop, the truck sinks about half a foot in the mud. Several attempts to spin out are unsuccessful. We try using my corflutes to try and jam under the spinning/sinking tyres. No joy.

The sight of a muddy wheel spinning on my face is not something I thought I’d ever see, at 1am. In the rain. Covered in mud, wet and cold, eventually we give up and call AA. We have to wait for an hour. An hour of me doing my diplomatic / political best to not completely melt down at my husband. I was calm as we sat in stony silence but it’s fair to say that one side of the cab of the truck steamed up a lot more than the other.

AA saved the day (night) and we were off, very relieved that our predicament was not caught by opposition parties and up on Facebook.

The Nation: New candidates panel

I spent a number of years as a TV producer, so I figured switching to the other side of the camera shouldn’t be that hard. Spoiler – it was that hard.

The trick I learned from being on The Nation is that the best preparation is to know absolutely everything about everything. And never wear silk.

Lisa Owen is a great interviewer who really knows her stuff. Whether it was rapid fire, or more in-depth questions, you had to be en pointe or you were toast. I knew this going in, which made it even more terrifying. I had four days’ notice, so plenty of time to ensure I was on top of every single possible topic that might come up.

I had a mixture of butterflies and impending vomit in my stomach the whole time and subsequently sweated a little (lot) more than normal. My green silk top did not fare well at all. Overall, it went really well and I was stoked. Credit is due to the wonderful lady in make-up who took my situation in her stride and jammed tissues under my arm pits.

Meeting Vanguard

As part of my campaigning, I have visited every school in the electorate. Many, I had visited before in my role as MP Support to Murray McCully, but there was one that was new to me. Vanguard is an extremely successful charter school in the East Coast Bays electorate. The school takes students from all over Auckland who have not been achieving at mainstream schools and sets them on a new path.

The day I visited it was heaving with rain. I was met by a couple of polite students in immaculate uniforms who called me ma’am and held an umbrella over me. I was ushered in to what I can only describe as an enormous hanger with a tin roof. The noise of the rain was deafening. I walked across the concrete floor toward 180 students who were lined up and perfectly still, their hands behind their backs. I stopped in front of them. The atmosphere was electric.

The students performed a haka, the first haka that has ever been performed for me. Words cannot describe the power, emotion and mana that poured out of these incredible young people. I knew it wasn’t appropriate to smile, but that’s all I wanted to do. This was one of those moments in your life that you never forget.

I sat with a dozen students afterward, and they shared their very personal stories with me. And if I thought that the haka was going to be the highlight of the visit … I was wrong. These impressive young people and inspiring stories blew me away. They were from all over Auckland; their stories were all different but they shared a similar theme: they had been failing at school. They had been involved with the wrong crowd. They cut class, got in fights, self-harmed, some were from broken families. The common thread, was that before coming to Vanguard, they didn’t believe in themselves or in their ability to succeed.

One by one they told me about their time at Vanguard and their inspirational journeys. Each story of hard work and achievement blew me away. Some of them were off to University, others to the armed forces; some were heading in to apprenticeships or straight into work.

But it was the look in their eyes that was the most impressive. They looked confident. They were proud of themselves. They were excited for their futures. And I am excited for them.

Charter schools are a bit of a hot-button issue in this election so it was great to hear the point of view of the parents and the students. I look forward to watching these students become leaders in their communities in the next few years.

Time to wrap it up, diary … Must get up early to get the daughter off to netball practice, finish off a piece of direct mail to young voters, door knock, prep for a business gathering, a Grey Power meeting, organise a function and check if my hoardings made it through the night. Lots on and the time is now.


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