I wrote this a few weeks ago, for no reason other than it popped into my head. I thought I might post it on here someday but it’s a bit random so wasn’t sure. In the light of recent events in (supposedly) the largest democracy in the world it seems strangely prescient. This is not a direct response and I honestly haven’t changed a single word since I wrote it. I’d like to say it could never happen here, the democracy I vote in, but it seems democracy is a fragile thing, and even one of the MPs mentioned below (who is now the Deputy Prime Minister) has said that we shouldn’t be complacent and should be careful to listen to others’ views. I generally keep my political opinions to myself, although anyone who knows me will know which way I lean, but I’m a rule follower, and I follow the laws of my country (and any I visit for that matter) whether I voted for that government or not. One thing in our favour is our media, which is, for the most part, fair and balanced, rather than the bi-partisan bias seen elsewhere.
Much is being made about the imminent closure of a Wellington café. Personally I won’t miss it – they never serve hot coffee (it might scald the milk, the only Wellington café I know to have that problem) and the staff border on rude. But apparently, if you want to be seen it’s the place to be, and the theory is that many a political idea/plan/policy has been nurtured within its walls. If only walls really could talk, we might find out that politicians actually discuss their kids, the latest TV drama, or the state of the traffic over their coffee much the same as the rest of us do, leaving office work to, well, the office.
Wellington is a government city, the capital of New Zealand, despite not being its largest city (thankfully for those of us who live here!) My first encounter with a politician wasn’t auspicious; in truth none of them were. Waiting in a restaurant to pay the bill, I stepped out of the way of a staff member and right onto someone’s foot. I was horrified – I was no lightweight even then – and voiced multiple apologies, checking there were no bones broken. The man was grace personified – nothing to worry about; it’s fine; these things happen. I think his teeth were grinding together as he smiled. As we left Neil said you know who that was, don’t you? I had no idea and he had to enlighten me that the foot I’d just mangled belonged to the Finance Minister. I’d seen him in the news but hadn’t recognised him. He later lost his position when his party lost the election and has since retired. I understand he walks with a limp.
I’ve since seen many familiar faces on the streets around the city, sometimes even being able to put a name to them. But I failed yet again on my next encounter with a member of New Zealand’s parliament. Volunteering for a local charity, I was greeting people at the door at a fund-raising event. I smiled broadly at the man, thanking him for coming, asked him my normal first question, had he heard of us? He looked vaguely familiar and I presumed I’d seen him before at similar events. We chatted for a while as I explained the premise behind this fundraiser, what we hoped to achieve. He listened politely, smiling and nodding, then continued into the bar. A short while later it dawned on me who he was – the shadow Finance Minister and one of our keenest supporters, who likely knew more about the charity than I did. He didn’t stay long and, as he left and I apologised for blathering on and not realising who he was, he laughed and said, I prefer it that way. His party is now back in Government and he’s tasked with steering NZ’s finances through a pandemic and probable global recession; he’s a lovely bloke.
A couple of years later I literally bumped into a jogger on a path through the bush behind Karori. Again, apologies were offered; again they were graciously accepted, this time with some slight puffing. Again, he had gone on his way when Neil enlightened me – I’d just nearly bowled the Finance Minister (seeing a pattern here?) a known keep fit enthusiast. He became Prime Minister a few months later, a car with a couple of burly looking blokes parked outside his house every time we walked past the only sign that someone important lived in the area. (I don’t think it was personal, although he may have expressed concern about locals who didn’t watch where they were going.)
I write this to make the point (finally! I hear you cry) that we don’t make a fuss of important people on these islands. Due deference is (usually) applied, but you won’t see a motorcade with police outriders racing through the streets, or if you do it’s a visiting foreign dignitary who expects this sort of treatment. As I’ve proved, you can bump into a politician anywhere and not even realise they are Cabinet Ministers. My last encounter was a few months ago, shortly after our strict lockdown was eased a little. Walking past a local children’s park we noticed a man watching us. We then noticed another one in a parked car, and a third leaning (too) casually against a wall, a curly wire hanging from his ear. It screamed someone important! We looked around and there, amongst other parents and small children, a young woman played with her child. Despite how much we would love to shake the hand of the wonderful Jacinda, we merely noted her presence amongst mere mortals and left her to enjoy some well-earned time off with her daughter. The three blokes turned their ‘casual’ attention to other walkers. Of course, if she’s ever demoted to Finance Minister, she might want to watch out for me.