Candidates: brevity is the new black

It is a healthy democracy in which audiences pack candidate meetings to hear what the latest batch of aspiring city leaders have to say. But David Loughrey discovered this week those who turn up want more than just platitudes.

David Loughrey
David Loughrey.

Political campaigning, that art of being the most popular person to the largest amount of people, moved this week from the bubble of social media to the more difficult world where actual people ask questions to your face.

The election period started last month, as election periods will, with the quiet thud of wooden stakes into the damp earth of Dunedin roadsides, those stakes topped by aspirational slogans like "getting the basics right", or "building a brighter future together" or "getting things done".

Those are all worthy ideas.

At the same time the world of social media began to gently hum with messages from those keen to be elected.

There were patsy interviews where candidates talked about their love of family, there were posts that contained the word "passionate", and "honesty and integrity’’ even  made their way into the political debate.

There were spats. 

One candidate  entered a lengthy, and at times snarky debate on Facebook about climate change and other difficult matters.

But people, with their questions, their views, and their insistence on answers rather than generalities finally came to the fore on Wednesday.

Cr Andrew Whiley found himself in front of an audience of people keen on sustainability and the environment at a forum organised by Sustainable Dunedin, Forest and Bird and Wise Response.

He was forced to explain his advocacy of gas exploration off the coast of Otago, after earlier suggesting a sustainability manager and an energy manager at the council would be a good idea, as well as a roundtable of people who wanted to do something about biodiversity.

During questions on his views Cr Whiley told the meeting it was not possible to "turn the tap off on oil", and gas was a good transition fuel.

"We’ve got to start the process," he told them.

It wasn’t a bad argument, but it did not go down that well.

"We don’t want it," he was told loudly by audience members.

Maori Hill residents, who packed the Maori Hill Community Centre on Thursday, should also get a prize for their very

pointed questions of candidates, though perhaps the 55 minutes of prepared speeches from the 11 candidates before question time had made them keen for a politician to actually say something about what they might do once they were in power.

We would urge people to come prepared with piercing questions that get to the very heart of city matters at the next mayoral and council forums.That is your challenge.

There are more meetings next week. 

The Mosgiel Rotary Club  hosts a forum for council candidates at the Coronation Hall on Thursday at 7pm, and the annual Opoho Presbyterian Church forum is on Sunday, September 18 and Monday, September 19.

With both of those open to all council candidates — there are 43 all up — it will be interesting to see how organisers give everybody a voice before dawn the next day.

It was, perhaps, something those who decided wards should go, and all candidates stand in one city ward, did not consider.

Opoho is splitting candidates alphabetically over two nights, but all are headed into new and difficult territory when it comes to getting their message heard.We would like to suggest they get straight to the point.

Brevity is the new black in the Dunedin elections, or if it’s not, it should be.

The rise of campaign managers is also in evidence this year.

It was revealed in this very newspaper in June that the Green Party was funding a paid campaign manager for mayoral candidate Cr Aaron Hawkins.

Cr Hawkins at the time confirmed he was seeking a full-time equivalent campaign co-ordinator.

But we were a little surprised that Mayor Dave Cull’s campaign manager turned up to the ODT mayoral interview with Mr Cull.

She even came into the newspaper’s diminutive interview room with the mayor and a confused reporter as Mr Cull gave his answers to questions.

She once even gave the mayor advice.

It may have been a first.


See, your stakes represent stakeholders. Thumping on tubs is a tradition. The old ones did 'whustle stops' on the Midland and Tasman Railway. The Communist candidate just had a truck with straw on the deck.

Election campaigning is a time of wonder. No one commits, they talk in vague generalities. You may as well vote for the new arrival, who is untrammelled by establishment baggage.