Steve Braunias’ Campaign Diary: Day 14
DAY FOURTEEN: IN WHICH THE CAMPAIGN DIARY ENDS IN A NIGHTMARE RIDE ON THE PRIME MINISTER’S BUS FROM WELLINGTON TO AUCKLAND – AND EVERY WORD IS TRUE
Illustration by Joshua Drummond.
Election – what year is it? And how to explain waking up somewhere in the North Island – those lovely white clouds of geothermal smoke suggest Wairakei near Taupo – on the back seat of the Prime Minister’s #TeamKey bus next to an empty crate of wine? Whose wine? What wine? Must have been a dream! But no. A groan emerges from underneath the back seat. Closer inspection reveals the seriously drug and alcohol damaged form of ace parliamentary hack Jumbo Trudgeon.
“Grasp that,” concluded Steve Braunias’ Campaign Diary: Day 14, “and you have the very root of the matter.”
Trudgeon! Veteran, seasoned. Mildly annoying irritant of the left, occasionally aggravating pest of the right. He had collected too many scalps to mention but the true number was likely three in 19 years. But now he, too, had been brought low. “The disease,” he croaked, “was life.” He wasn’t making any sense. He had to be scraped off the floor of the bus and gently rested on the back seat of the bus with a cold compress to his temples. It was explained to him that the wines were too various. It was neither the quality nor the quantity that was at fault – it was the mixture. “Grasp that,” concluded Steve Braunias’ Campaign Diary: Day 14, “and you have the very root of the matter.”
“This probably didn’t help, either,” said Trudgeon, holding a glass pipe still containing traces of methamphetamine, “But oh well, hair of the dog and all that.”
The NO SMOKING signs went as unread as the political columns in the New Zealand Herald. Trudgeon took deep drags on the demonised A-class substance and within seconds his head had cleared. He claimed he had never felt more alive, and said that if he just closed his eyes for a minute he would find a way to sublimate the deep-seated rage that began to rise to the surface.
He fell into a deep reverie. The wheels on the bus went round and round. Logging trucks carrying the timber of the nation roared the other way. Great pine forests darkened the window. The Prime Minister sat in the front of the bus, dubbed Ground Force One by the media who had been allocated seats on the epic journey that began at Petone on Thursday morning and would end sometime in Auckland tonight.
Steve Braunias’ Campaign Diary: Day 14 owed his seat to a minor tragedy. A formal application to the Prime Minister’s office had proved unsuccessful. Kelly Bloxham, the chief press secretary, had replied: “Thanks for your request but media spaces are limited on the bus and they’ve all been allocated so we will have to decline your request.”
She did not at first respond to the reply: “What if someone dies?”
But the question acted like a curse. Within 24 hours, the press gallery lost one of its most faithful servants, Tubby Morton. Ancient, venerated, he had devoted his life to carrying the messages of the governments of the day. His flair for rewriting a press release had no parallel. The poor fellow breathed his last on Wednesday. He went the way he would have wanted: he dropped dead at a stand-up for the Prime Minister. His last words were, “Do you…”
Do you what? Feel like what we do? In any case, here was Steve Braunias’ Campaign Diary: Day 14 in a dead man’s seat on the Prime Minister’s final leg of the campaign, having champagne for breakfast – plus a glass of Peached Ale, never fails.
Trudgeon stirred. He said, “Let us go back and try to piece together the events of the last 24 hours.”
Petone! The Mission Bay of the south, with its air of seaside gaiety and its famous well of artesian water arguably providing as much joy as Mission Bay’s gay fountain. Ladies and gentlemen of the press were herded into the back seats with a cattle prod. Gone were the days when former Prime Minister Helen Clark routinely referred to the press gallery as “chooks”; in the Key regime, they were cows, there to be milked.
The skies were blue and no one had a care in the world or a deadline for at least another hour, maybe longer. Election 2014 was coming to an end. Election 2014! How bizarre. The revelations of Hager. The end of Collins. The arrival of Greenwald. The never-ending whining of Greenwald. And, even before the bus had made its first stop in Paraparaumu, news of the abrupt and mysterious resignation of Colin Craig’s long-serving press secretary, Rachel MacGregor. WTF!
There was MacGregor, on Wednesday, as observed at close quarters by Steve Braunias’ Campaign Diary: Day 12. She was in good spirits, standing close to Craig and sharing the good news of a TV3 poll, sitting next to him in his Honda Edex as he drove from his carpark at the 18-hole Albany Minigolf to Takapuna Normal Intermediate School, where he bored a class of students called Aristotle, Joon, Momitha, Weigi, Mimi, Aoife, and Rachel: “You’ve got to have an egg to have a chicken… My grandmother said there are no free lunches.”
One student’s exercise book contained their thoughts on policy, and were not unlike the thinking of the Conservative Party: “Every one who kills, or steals alot will be in jail for the rest of their lifes.”
It was probably spelled better than a Conservative Party press release now that MacGregor had quit. What prompted it? What was going on? Scandal? Election 2014! How bizarre. Ground Force One, cruisin’ down the freeway in the hot, hot sun; TV news and camera, there’s choppers in the sky; reporters ask where and why.
One bathroom, but There Was An Understanding that the facilities were for the private and exclusive use of the Prime Minister’s bowels.
Where? Paraparaumu, where Key met a woman aged 110. Why? “God it’s bleak,” said one of the crazy gang from the press. Not even midday and her spirits were flagging. There wasn’t anything worth reporting, unless you counted the two women who approached Key and said they were unhappy about what’s going on in state housing, and the failure to provide apprenticeship schemes for their unemployed kids. “Pretty much the first people to have a whinge to him on the campaign trail,” reported the reporter. “Everyone else is like, ‘This is the greatest day of my life because I got a selfie with John Key!’”
Ground Force One pulled out of Paraparaumu, proceeded towards Palmerston North. It was very quiet on the bus. No music, no laughter. One bathroom, but There Was An Understanding that the facilities were for the private and exclusive use of the Prime Minister’s bowels.
It began to rain. O sodden Manawatu! The damp flat arable lands, the melancholy of the plains. And misery for Key in Palmerston North, where he was greeted by protestors who did most angrily rant. One chap read aloud from a protest manifesto. It was very boring. “I feel my spirit dying,” said our glam press gallery hack gal.
“The only qualities essential for real success in journalism are ratlike cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability”
Next stop, a stand-up with Key in the rather desolate carpark at the Manawatu Gorge. He said the whingers he ran into this morning may have been put up by a union, and that their unemployed kids are fake. Key wore a pale blue shirt, no tie, a dark blue blazer, beige chinos, and a strange pair of loafers helpfully described by the glam press hack gal as “like grandma bowls platforms for the elite male”.
Next stop, Dannevirke, where half the town turned out to meet Key in Shires Fruit & Veges, which has been committed to providing high-quality fresh produce and customer service to Dannevirke and districts for over 89 years, specialists in bottling and preserving. He drank a cup of juice. One of the dudes in his press team was told he looked like Tom Cruise in Risky Business; weirdly, he was not flattered.
All aboard. The wheels on the bus went round and round, but the mood had… lifted. An edict had been delivered by #TeamKey that alcoholic beverages would not be permissible onboard. Prohibition always inspires chaos. Everyone knows that the US National Prohibition Act, passed by Congress on October 28, 1919, led to acts of desperation and recklessness, and thus it was that Trudgeon decided to make himself useful at every stop made by Ground Force One.
Trudgeon had great personal charm. Nicholas Tomalin’s famous bon mot – “The only qualities essential for real success in journalism are ratlike cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability” – was all bon with Trudgeon, who had little or no literary ability, mouselike cunning, but a plausible manner which verged on sincerity. Thus it was that in Palmerston North he was able to divert the driver and Key’s team with his rich store of anecdotes while conspiring with others – Steve Braunias’ Campaign Diary: Day 14 was the chief mule in the operation – to smuggle onboard heaps of piss, bro.
But Trudgeon did not stop there. In Petone, in Paraparaumu, in Palmerston North, in Dannevirke, even, ingeniously, in the rather desolate carpark at the Manawatu Gorge, his keen snoot unerringly led him to identify likely stoners who could speedily help him out with his requests for shit that would fuck him up.
The batch of hash cookies were definitely the real deal, and also quite delicious.
It duly fucked him up. He collected over an ounce of good weed, more than a few lines of perfectly reasonable speed, ditto P; one woman sold him her prescription of Valium, which came in handy; the jury was out whether he had bought genuine Ecstasy or just been palmed off with something as fake as the Dotcom email; the cactus juice was more than likely just a green smoothie with spinach in it, and certainly tasted as bad; but the batch of hash cookies were definitely the real deal, and also quite delicious.
Trudgeon! Trudgeon, smashed; Trudgeon, out the fucking gate. (Plus the variety of wines, not to mention the quantity, which in truth was just as much the fault as the mixture.) Did others partake? Does what get consumed on the bus… those white lines vacuumed on the bus… remain entombed on the bus? Suffice to say the mood lifted.
Norsewood! Waipukurau! Waipawa! State Highway 2, and the cheerful sight of the Waipawa River, flowing from the Ruahine ranges to join the Tukituki River. Ground Force One edged ever closer to Napier, the last stop on the line for Key, who would Meet The People and then fly home to Auckland.
It was somewhere on the journey through southern Hawkes Bay that Key decided to get out of his seat at the front of the bus and make his way to the back of the bus and Meet The Press.
“Christ,” said Trudgeon, quickly stashing his stash under the seat and in the overhead luggage compartment thing. But he wasn’t quick enough.
Key had arrived. He gave Trudgeon a searching look. A smile played on his lips. His green eyes flickered.
He said to Trudgeon: “That some wine you got there, bro?”
Trudgeon said: “Yes, Prime Minister.”
Key sat down next to Trudgeon. He stared at the lush green fields of Hawke’s Bay. He said, “Election 2014! Enough to drive a man to ask another man if he could have a drink.”
Trudgeon sheepishly fetched a paper cup, and poured.
“Cheers,” said Key.
“Cheers, Prime Minister,” said Trudgeon.
They drank in silence for a while and then Key said, “That NO SMOKING sign? I don’t believe in it.”
Trudgeon said, “What?”
Key said, “Oh just light up the pipe. It’s Election 2014! Crazy shit happens all the time! C’mon. Let’s get wasted.”
Key said, “Oh just light up the pipe. It’s Election 2014! Crazy shit happens all the time! C’mon. Let’s get wasted.”
And so it was that Trudgeon and his new best drug fiend went at it like motherfuckers for the next 45 minutes. Little that was said made sense but much was said, and there were gales of laughter as both men ran through some of the great moments of Election 2014. They talked of Jamie Whyte, more and more hopeless with each zany press release. They talked of Kim Dotcom, how his stupid faked email blew up in his face and gave National that final push it needed to form a new government. They talked of Glenn Greenwald, and made up limericks which began, “There was a little henchman…” They talked of Judith Collins, sacked four weeks ago and confined to quarters, the mad woman in the attic. They talked of Nicky Hager, but the Prime Minister didn’t laugh, and his face grew dark.
The PM’s manservant, the one who now looked like Tom Cruise circa 1983, approached the back of the bus and informed the Prime Minister that Ground Force One was about to arrive in Napier.
A smile reappeared on Key’s face. He said, “Tell you what. Why don’t you take off your pants and sing that Bob Seger song like Tom Cruise in that famous scene from Risky Business?”
Orders were orders. The back of the bus erupted into cheers and whoops as the lookalike did Seger.
I reminisce about the days of old
With that old time rock ‘n’ roll.
When he finished, Key turned to Trudgeon and said quietly, “That’s what we should do when we’re old, mate. Reminisce about these past few weeks.”
“Here’s to Election 2014,” said Trudgeon.
He raised his paper cup.
“Election 2014,” said the Prime Minister.
He drained his drink and made his goodbyes, and went to the bathroom.
“GC,” said Trudgeon. There was a tear in his eye. He took a deep breath, and charged back into his supplies.
“So that’s what happened,” he said.
“Yes, more or less,” said Steve Braunias’ Campaign Diary: Day 14.
The bus neared Rotorua. The Prime Minister looked fresh, the same as ever, in the front seat.
But just then the door of the bathroom opened, and out came… the Prime Minister.
“There’s two of you!” gasped Trudgeon.
“Good of you to provide an exposition to this narrative as it nears its deux ex machina,” said the clone, or robot, or if there’s a better, more credible name, please provide it.
“Which one of you is real,” said Trudgeon, “and which one of you isn’t? Because what we kind of have here is a tale of two Keys.
“There’s a bad Key, the nasty, appalling one suspected of colluding with Jason Ede and Whale Oil to run a campaign of dirty politics. And there’s a good Key, the genuine, honest one who wouldn’t pull shit like that and is working for New Zealand.”
“It’s surely a bit more complex than that, but the point is taken,” said Key’s Other.
“Well,” said Trudgeon, “which one of you might stay on as Prime Minister if you get the votes tomorrow night?”
He felt the need to get wasted all over again, and searched under the seat for a cone of weed. When he looked up, no one was there. The door to the bathroom was closed. The Prime Minister stood up from his seat at the front of the bus, turned, and gave Trudgeon a salute.
Trudgeon returned the salute, took a huge hit on the cone, and said as a ringing farewell intended to echo down the corridors of history of New Zealand politics until the very end of time: “Election 2014!”