Politicians relish opportunity to talk to students

Michael Woodhouse tries to win the hearts and minds of students.
Michael Woodhouse tries to win the hearts and minds of students.

National MP Michael Woodhouse knew what was ahead when he waded into the left-leaning sea that is the University of Otago clubs day.

"Well they're all liberal," he exaggerated, "so yes, there's a little bit of hostility."

However, the party's reception on campus was warmer than 10 years ago, he said.

"There's been a marked change in the attitude to the centre-right parties, including the National Party.

"We're much more visible on campus, and we're much more confident now in articulating our message."

Actual verbal abuse from students was "very rare", and he had many productive conversations with them, he said.

"These are malleable minds. Intelligent young men and women who have strong views. I think universities should be havens of free speech."

However, the university was more conservative than people realised, he said.

"There are 20,000 students here, including from very blue regions. Although they don't necessarily vote the way their parents do, there's no doubt there is a strong blue streak.

"That won't stop a few of the gentle ribbings from the international socialists."

Chloe Swarbrick discusses policy with students at clubs day yesterday. Photos Christine O'Connor
Chloe Swarbrick discusses policy with students at clubs day yesterday. Photos Christine O'Connor

Seventh on the list, but first in their hearts, Green Party MP Chloe Swarbrick was more at home among the student crowd.

"I think that I feel comfortable in these kinds of environments," she said.

This is partly because the 23-year-old only recently finished studying herself.

"If I took my law degree slower, then I would probably only just be finishing."

She had nonstop conversations at the university event, she said.

"I've talked to a lot of students who have said it was a gutting result regarding the medicinal cannabis Bill.

"I've been trying to articulate to them that shouldn't be a disheartening catalyst to stop caring about politics, but should be an indicator that things are incremental."

Ms Swarbrick was particularly excited the students were entering their first year of free fees.

However, it was important not just to focus on tertiary students when considering youth voting, she said.

"The thing that I find a challenge to politicians is to get outside of these sorts of spaces.

"It's been very cool here. Although, my experience as a politician is that people don't say the mean things they say to you online to your face."

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