This week I learnt how small New Zealand is when I went to a party with New Zealand’s Prime Minister, John Key and several members of his cabinet. An occurrence which meant I’d achieved a better level of access in three weeks in New Zealand than in over 10 years as a campaigner in the UK. I’d been invited to the launch of a friend’s new public affairs consultancy – Hannifin de Joux. Kiri (our friend) was a political advisor to Helen Clark’s Labour government, whilst her business partner, Jo de Joux managed four election campaigns for the governing centre-right National Party. Despite the consultancy representing both sides of the political spectrum, the bias amongst dignitaries at its launch was definitely to the right.
When I told my mum what I’d been up to, she asked what was I doing hob-nobbing with a bunch of Tories. This was a fair question. Probably because I still feel like a tourist here. I wouldn’t have gone to a similar event in the UK, not in a social capacity anyway but these were someone else’s Tories, so it was OK. I don’t have any axes to grind with the New Zealand government (yet!). And what better way for a politics-phile like me to get acquainted with my new surroundings than hear what members of the government were saying over a glass of sauv blanc (!)
This slightly surreal experience (am: story-time at the library, pm: Blockhouse Bay playground followed by drinks with the Prime Minister) was so very New Zealand. This is a country where it’s joked about there being not six degrees of separation but one or two and where people seem to have more time on their hands than back home. (I can find no better example of this than the other day being on a bus where the driver waited so that a passenger could go across the road to a mini-mart to get change and wasn’t even grumpy about it.) Suddenly finding I’m connected to someone who, through her antenatal class forged a friendship, which turned into a business partnership with someone working for the other side, for whom five government ministers and the PM found time in their schedules to attend a drinks party 400 miles away from parliament and the seat of government – somehow I don’t think that would have happened in the UK. Not that I’d underestimate the collective kudos of Kiri and her partner in bringing the big-guns to their launch but there was still something quintessentially Kiwi about the event and the fact that I was there.