The real humans of Parliament

11:21 am on 29 August 2017

Opinion - We mostly learn about our political leaders through sound bites and awkwardly-timed photos. It pays to remember there's more to it than that, Deborah Mahuta-Coyle writes.

leader composite, Jacinda Ardern, Winston Peters, Bill English, James Shaw

Clockwise from top left: Jacinda Ardern, Winston Peters, James Shaw and Bill English Photo: RNZ

Trissie Fitzharris was my great-aunt. She was a life member of the local women's division of Federated Farmers, and when she turned 100 they had a bit of a do for her in Winton.

She got two letters: one from the Queen and one from Bill English, who was the local MP. His card was sweet, personal and handwritten.

That day, for me, Bill English went from being 'one of those National Party politicians' to a kind man who took the time to make my aunt's birthday celebrations extra special.

We think we know everything there is to know about our politicians based on party affiliations or what we see in the media.

Google their names and you can read up on their entire lives - where they live, who their favourite Kiwi musician is and whether or not they smoked pot when they were young.

But sometimes around the traps you get to hear the real stories that show that behind the party colours, the bluster and the bravado are these real people, who do good things even when the cameras aren't rolling.

So as the election campaign kicks off and the insults start flying around, here are a few not-well-known stories and facts about some of our political leaders that might change the way you think about them.

  • When a friend of Jacinda Ardern's moved from Dunedin to Wellington, broke and with not a single piece of furniture in his new flat, Jacinda turned up at his door unannounced with a bowl, side plate, dinner plate, knife, fork, spoon and a mug.
  • David Seymour strongly advocates for Ana-Carolina, a four-year-old girl in Starship Hospital. What people might not know is that Mr Seymour goes to her birthday parties.
  • When Winston Peters was in his 20s he was visiting Dargaville High School when a woman dressed in a short-sleeved summer dress fell victim to a cold wind. The young Winston Peters gave her his jacket to wear. That woman is now 89, and her grandson recently wrote to Mr Peters to thank him on her behalf.
  • At regional kapa haka competitions or at large hui you'll find the Minister of Maori Development, Te Ururoa Flavell, at the end of a broom sweeping the floors, clearing plates from tables or in the kitchen helping the cooks.
  • James Shaw met his wife on a blind date. Her maiden name is James. She is of one of three sisters who all married men called James. Family reunions are apparently really confusing.

These stories may not change the way you vote. I don't mean them too. But they are a reminder of the real people behind the job.

Read more about New Zealand's political leaders in a series of profiles this week by RNZ reporters, starting with National leader Bill English.

Deborah Mahuta-Coyle works for the public relations firm BRG. She has previously worked as a press secretary for former Prime Minister Helen Clark and more recently as communications manager for petroleum industry group PEPANZ.

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