Fam­i­lies, K Rd and dad jokes

Her­ald jour­nal­ists show a dif­fer­ent side of our politi­cians in the se­ries Lead­ers Un­plugged. Today, Michael Neil­son sits down with New Con­ser­va­tive leader Leighton Baker.

The New Zealand Herald - - News -

This in­ter­view was not meant to be po­lit­i­cal — and it wasn’t, mostly. But then I was in­ter­view­ing Leighton Baker, leader of the New Con­ser­va­tive Party, who’s stand­ing in the ru­ral Waimakarir­i elec­torate (the coun­try’s se­cond-most white) and we were me­tres from the mul­ti­cul­tural/ rain­bow melt­ing pot of Karanga­hape Rd, af­fec­tion­ately known as K Rd. So af­ter he told me he stopped drink­ing at 17, I asked if he had any vices.

“Just the vice on the work bench,” the builder/politi­cian re­sponded.

Turns out he is quite fond of the “dad joke”, some­thing he of­ten turned to through our in­ter­view, par­tic­u­larly around the more “tough” ques­tions.

Time pres­sure meant we had to squeeze in a one-hour in­ter­view at the Cordis Ho­tel, where his party was launch­ing its cam­paign the next day.

In an ideal sce­nario I might have met him on the life­style block he and wife Sue call home near Ran­giora, North Can­ter­bury, where they raised their four now-adult chil­dren.

We might have caught up for a round of golf, spent time with his five grand­chil­dren — fam­ily, it be­comes clear, is very im­por­tant to him.

Sev­eral years ago he might have taken me for a spin in his rally car, but a near-fa­tal ac­ci­dent while co­driv­ing with his brother-in-law put an end to that hobby.

Sue ac­com­pa­nied him too, which gave the in­ter­view an in­ter­est­ing dy­namic. She also recorded it.

But while there was an aware­ness of po­lit­i­cal in­ex­pe­ri­ence through the in­ter­view — his party has never been in Par­lia­ment, gar­ner­ing just 0.2 per cent at the last elec­tion — Baker seemed very re­laxed through­out.

And as ex­treme as some of the poli­cies might seem — like plac­ing solo moth­ers un­der the “care” of pro­fes­sional cou­ples — there was noth­ing that sug­gested that in his de­meanour, which if any­thing was dis­ap­point­ingly nor­mal.

He was born in Lower Hutt, but spent his for­ma­tive years in Auck­land, at­tend­ing St Kentigern Col­lege.

It was a happy time with sup­port­ive par­ents — his fa­ther an ac­coun­tant, his mother look­ing af­ter the chil­dren and house­hold — and three older sib­lings.

“[My par­ents] stopped af­ter they reached per­fec­tion,” he said, an­other one of those jokes.

He’s been a life­long Chris­tian, and met Sue while on church cy­clone re­lief work in Fiji in the late 1980s.

His par­ents di­vorced when he was 15, which had quite an im­pact on him, and in­flu­enced the im­por­tance he places on the nu­clear fam­ily.

“There can be some re­jec­tion there, that sense of se­cu­rity dam­aged, even if the par­ents do the best they can.”

It con­trib­uted to his drop­ping out in his fi­nal year of high school, spend­ing a few years on a farm in the Far North, be­fore he was back to the big smoke to be­come a builder. Con­struc­tion gave him a strong work ethic, which he said drove him to en­ter pol­i­tics af­ter see­ing govern­ment af­ter govern­ment ig­nore the re­sults of cit­i­zenini­ti­ated ref­er­enda.

Time was wind­ing down so I asked him about K Rd, the heart of Aotearoa’s rain­bow com­mu­nity and ar­guably its main red light district: How does that make you feel, to be mere me­tres away?

He dived into a story about trav­el­ling through In­dia, on one of his mis­sions, and wit­ness­ing mass broth­els re­port­edly hous­ing child sex slaves.

“How can we as a car­ing and lov­ing so­ci­ety con­done that?”

I asked him about the LG­BTQI com­mu­nity, re­spect for which is in­creas­ingly a point of pride for the coun­try — and he di­verted to how we shouldn’t “sex­u­alise chil­dren”.

“It is about choice. If that is how peo­ple feel, as adults, that is okay.

“What we don’t want to see is the over-sex­u­al­i­sa­tion of chil­dren in schools.”

Given his back­ground, I asked him if he felt he’d lived a life di­verse enough to be able to make strong judg­ments about others and their own life choices.

He said he’d worked with trou­bled youth in North Can­ter­bury, his deputy leader had done the same in South Auck­land, and other party mem­bers had worked in var­i­ous so­cial work­ing roles.

“We’ve seen the re­al­i­ties of what works in life, and what doesn’t.”


Ge­off Sim­mons of The Op­por­tu­ni­ties Party

Photo / Alex Bur­ton

Leighton Baker says his party has seen what works in life, and what doesn’t.

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