Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

PoliticsApril 27, 2020

The 10 most thrilling backdrops of Zoom parliament

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

Just like the rest of us, it turns out our elected representatives have a lot of weird stuff in their homes and offices. 

Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning for the past four weeks, members of the parliamentary Epidemic Response Committee and invited guests have met online for a series of Zoom meetings. Like many other Zoom meetings happening all around the country, these have been long and often quite tedious, fraught with technical glitches and awkward breakdowns in communication. Unlike most other Zoom meetings, however, the Epidemic Response Committee is live-streamed to the nation.

At any given time there will be around 500, sometimes as many as 1,000 people watching across parliament’s Facebook and Vimeo accounts. Some of these people will understand what is being talked about. Others, like me, will end up forensically analysing every pixel of the speakers’ video frames for something, anything of interest.

I am not the only one who has been doing this. Paul Henry dedicated a whole segment of his TV show earlier this week to the ERC’s Zoom backgrounds, and RNZ published its own analysis on Thursday. For what it’s worth I have evidence to prove I had this idea first, but was worried about getting yelled at for making fun of politicians’ houses during a pandemic. Apparently it’s fine!

But one thing nobody has done thus far is rank the 10 most intriguing backgrounds of the ERC, from the mildly intriguing to utterly compelling. So that’s what we’re going to do now…

10. Willie Jackson, antiques

Never thought I’d say this, but I’d like to hear more about Willie Jackson’s antiques. Wouldn’t have picked him for an antiques guy, but the evidence is there for all to see – literally everything in the background of this shot is an antique. Even the curtains? This man is the Lovejoy of New Zealand politics.

9. David Seymour, scarf

The Act Party leader told RNZ the artworks that appear over his shoulder were drawn by the Year 1 class at Remuera’s Victoria Ave School. I’m more intrigued by the scarf he’s pinned up next to them. What’s it all about? Is it a sports team scarf? Sports fandom and David Seymour seems an unlikely mix, but what other type of scarf would you pin to a wall? Consider this an OIA request.

8. Dr Ayesha Verrall, poster

In lieu of sports, we are all allowed to pick one previously unheralded public servant or niche academic to idolise during this pandemic. Many went hard and went early and chose Ashley Bloomfield or Siouxsie Wiles, but not me – I’m an Ayesha Verrall fan. The contact tracing expert has one thing and one thing only pinned to the pinboard in her office. Is it a contact tracing cheat sheet? No, it’s a bloody big Star Wars poster. Looks like it’s from a recent Star Wars movie, could even be from one of the video games. I don’t know, I don’t even like Star Wars.

7. Mark Cairns, fish

At first glance it looks like Port of Tauranga chief exec Mark Cairns has selected a surrealist green screen background here, but look closer: it’s all real, baby. My question here is actually on behalf of committee chairman Simon Bridges, who asked Cairns if he had caught the fish himself. He never got an answer because Cairns’ microphone was still on mute, and once he got it going the moment had sort of passed.

6. Deborah Russell, chickens?

Most politicians stare straight down the barrel of the webcam when talking to the ERC, but not Labour’s Deborah Russell. She’s mounted her webcam sort of to the side of her screen a little bit here, and I suspect she may even be operating a standing desk setup. Anyway, what I would like to know is: is that or is that not a chicken coop, and is the MP for New Lynn keeping live poultry in the house.

5. Kieran McAnulty, cricket bat

I didn’t know a single thing about Labour’s Kieran McAnulty before watching the ERC meetings, and the only thing I know about him now is that he is a lad who loves his cricket. I would ask the story behind the cricket bat on his wall but I suspect that’s exactly what he wants, and it would be like the time I went into the cricket museum at the Basin Reserve and missed half a session because the museum attendant wouldn’t stop talking about World War Two. I’ve learned my lesson.

4. Louise Upston, hats

The single most intriguing item of furniture on display at the ERC meetings belongs to National MP Louise Upston. It’s to the left of the frame. Not the Christmas tree on top of the bookshelf, next to that. It’s a bookshelf with no shelves, no books – just hats.

3. Todd McClay, blue wall

A lot of people have commented on how blue National MP Todd McClay’s wall is. It is extremely blue, in fact I reckon I probably haven’t seen an interior wall that blue since the 1990s. Makes me want to eat a Mediterranean salad full of sundried tomatoes and feta, preferably from a recipe by Peta Mathias. Anyway, while we’ve been staring into the blue depths of McClay’s wall, an intriguing switcheroo has gone unnoticed. The first pic here is from the April 8, the second from last week. At some stage in between he’s swapped out the painting of a lady holding an umbrella for what looks like some kind of Parisian street scene, and I can’t be the only one who’d like to know why.

2. David Parker, flame wall + light switch

The second I saw Labour MP David Parker’s Zoom background I instinctively knew he was from Dunedin. This paint job is the most Dunedin shit I have ever laid eyes on, and I should know because I saw my fair share of weirdly painted interior walls growing up in the southern city. People focus on the flames here and fair enough, but I’d like to draw your attention to the black door frame and that ancient light switch (Parker’s wiring is almost definitely not up to code). This is how you know he’s Dunedin through and through.

1. Michael Wood, ???

Labour MP Michael Wood sits closer to the camera than anybody else at the ERC meetings. It’s almost as if he doesn’t want people to be able to see what’s going on behind him. And what’s going on behind him is something that’s been troubling me for weeks. While most committee members sit in the same position every day, Wood seems to rotate around a fixed spot in his office like he’s some kind of sundial. Most days the wall we see behind him just has a couple of framed university degrees on it, but on at least one occasion there has been a different and quite frankly alarming wall in the background.

As you can see, this wall appears to be covered in ancient newspaper clippings, and there’s a statement art deco lamp which we can only assume Wood uses to illuminate the wall as he works deep into the night. But doing what? In my mind there are only two possibilities: Michael Wood is either solving or planning a murder in his spare time. My question for the MP for Mount Roskill: which is it?

Keep going!