Hone the Hitching MP

I like the idea of Hone Harawira the hitching MP. His idea of cutting travel costs round Tai Tokerau by hitch-hiking is one I hope lots of MP’s will be taking up. He’s been doing it for years he says and finds it a great leveller to be left in the dust when someone whizzes past in their flash car – something you’re unlikely to get sitting in the back of a chauffeur driven limo. There may be a few MP’s who might find it difficult to hitch round the country though and some that are particularly hard to picture standing at the side of the road. How long would it take Jenny Shipley to get a ride? Who would pick up Lockwood? And what would Paula Bennet offer the driver in the ‘70’s rule book of hitching? Gas, Grass or.. you get the picture.

Apparently Hone thinks John Key would have no trouble hitching his way round Tai Tokerau but wouldn’t have advised Don Brash to do the same. What advice could anyone give Melissa Lee on the motorway exit from South Auckland? But Hone’s right. There are very few times we get to meet MPs in a relaxed personal way without all the politicking. We may catch a glimpse of them powering through a vegetable market as John Key did here in Whangarei just before the election and then he’s gone and we’re left standing in the wake of his security guys. It’s difficult to get a sense of a politician as a person before we have to vote for them to represent our viewpoint in the public sphere. A few Prime Ministers ago (before they got guys who used to own Telecom and can buy and sell famous football teams to lead them), Thailand had a tradition whereby the Prime Minister would get up at 5am with the monks and sweep the streets for an hour before starting his prime ministerial duties. For Buddhists, sweeping has a deeper spiritual significance of metaphorically sweeping away the material ‘dust’ that clouds better spiritual judgement – a physical expression of a deeper metaphysical way of being in the world. And it was a great leveller – a reminder that we are all, despite any apparent transitory difference in status – just very small street sweepers in the great cosmic wheel.

Perhaps initiating a New Zealand tradition of hitching MP’s would offer the same insights. People, locked together in a small metal pod racing along a highway are free to talk and shift views in a way that would never happen in the ordinary world. About 20 years ago now I was hitching home from the Cape with an Australian friend and we got picked up on a dusty gravel road having lost all hope that there was anyone even alive in that part of the world. We or rather our driver started talking about the Treaty – something I knew nothing about. With all the confidence of the young and ignorant I entered into a rant about forgetting the past and moving on with the future. He jokingly said that he would train an underground army and take the land back anyway. I wished him luck finding camouflage gear in his size and hoped they came in stretchy bits over the puku area. He found this cheeky but funny and took us out to dinner. Which was great because we were hungry and had no money. Embarrased, we said we’d just share something, so he ordered a whole chicken with all the trimmings, put it on one plate and gave us two side plates. While he amicably talked on everything from the Treaty to catching tuna- both of which he seemed to know a lot about, I made a mental note to read up on both when I got home. Having already driven in a less than salubrious car for more than 6 hours he proceeded to drive a further hour out of his way so that he could drop us off at my parents’ house as he felt it inappropriate to leave two 20 year olds on the motorway at 3 in the morning. He got out of the car and kissed us both goodbye. “I’m sure I know you from somewhere” I said. “You can just call me Matiu” he said. “Matiu who?” I insisted. “Matiu Rata” he said.

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