In general, I don't think Meet the Candidates forums are particularly useful. It's fun to say to James Shaw (Wgtn Central Green Candidate) "I won't vote for the Greens because Russell Norman said that Louise Nicholas had consensual sex with Clint Rickards", but not an hour and a half of my life fun. Anyone who cares enough to go to a Meet the Candidate forum probably already knows where the parties stand. However, there is one thing you can learn at a meet the candidates meeting that it is very hard to learn anywhere else - and that's candidates' position on 'conscience' issues.
So when Victoria University had a meet the candidates forum, this seemed like an excellent opportunity to figure out where Wellington Central candidates (many of whom end up deciding things for the rest of us) stand on abortion.
I thought a bit about how to phrase it. Give them an inch wiggle room and they'll not answer your question at all - one person asked about child poverty and whether they would commit to raising benefit rates - and Grant Robertson waxed very lyrical about the evils of child poverty and didn't mention benefits at all. So I made it very focused on law change.
Grant Robertson emphasised that he was pro-choice and that he thought the law should be changed.
James Shaw just said ditto.
Then the New Zealand First candidate and the United Future candidate agreed as well. The United Future candidate said that UF was pro-choice - which may surprise Peter Dunne, although at this point who knows.
Then came Paul Foster-Bell, the National party candidate. He began with a long spiel about how every abortion is a failure, and then said that he supported a woman's right to choose.
It was neat that he got shit for this response on twitter. Although I was more interested in the second part of his response than the first. Obviously ideas like that are ridiculous and should be challenged. But when it comes to MPs, I'm much more focused. They can believe that abortion angers the Wombles, but pleases the Fraggles if they like. I care how they're going to vote.
Although I was interested in why he thought we cared that he thought abortion was a failure. I had asked for his position on the law, not I understand why the Nats run liberal candidates in Wellington Central - but of all the places to
The debate as a whole was one of the most male dominated events I've been to for a while. All the candidates were men, and James Shaw introduced two other local Green candidates who were also men. The chair was a man, and I'm pretty sure that only one woman asked a question. This did not reflect the audience. No-one appeared to notice.
It feels almost cruel, in events like this, to pick on the candidates from the smaller parties. For some reasons candidates from smaller parties which are trying to portray themselves as middle of the road are always much, much, weirder than anyone else.
So I'm not going to say anything about the United Future candidate, although he was hilarious - because he was just some guy who said yes when asked. Is that any reason that he should be mocked on feminist blogs for going along to a student focused election forum and talking about hunting and fishing?
But I am going to say that Ben the NZFirst candidate who said that there never used to be child poverty in New Zealand and blamed current poverty on poor parenting is as ignorant as his politics are terrible.
Apart from that I hate them all (although Grant Robertson almost got me appreciating him when he argued with Ben's ideas about child poverty - which just made me hate him more).
Here at The Hand Mirror we've got a plan to encourage people to use election meetings to agitate about abortion and make potential MPs say what they think - more next week.