Title: Tony Milne - Waving the red flag Credit: Chris Banks Features Wednesday 21st September 2005 - 12:00pm1127260800 Article: 922 Rights
Tony Milne Labour's youngest candidate this election was an openly gay man standing in the rural electorate of arch-homophobe Nat MP Brian Connell. Tony Milne recounts his tales of battle. It was a baptism of fire for Labour candidate Tony Milne at the 2002 election, and this time he jumped headlong into the flames for a second time in the conservative electorate of Rakaia. At 24 years of age he was again the party's youngest candidate this year, and to top it all off he was an openly gay man standing against the rabidly anti-gay sitting National MP, Brian Connell. Despite Connell's penchant for obsessing over mythical homosexual recruitment drives in the past, things did not get personal for Milne, and his sexuality was not used against him during the campaign. “It wasn't actually raised at all, that I remember,” he says. “It wasn't raised in the media, in meetings, or by my opponents.” In contrast to some other electorates, there was – with the exception of the ubiquitous Brethren leaflet drop – a total absence of dirty campaigning. However, both National and ACT candidates went for a healthy dose of dog-whistle politics. “Some of my opponents talked about the ‘nanny state Labour government', and ‘political correctness',” Milne recalls. “They said they were committed to ‘family values', and not the evil Civil Union Bill and prostitution. But that was about it.” It should come as no surprise that candidates were more interested in talking about “evil” civil rights legislation for gays than the public. It's clear that it was a calculated part of the right's platform in this election, hidden behind stealth phrases like ‘social engineering' and the shop-worn tiredness of ‘political correctness'. However, Milne says, the provincial swing back to National was really more about other things. In smaller towns, issues like individual tax cuts, red tape and compliance costs came up. Sometimes, ‘political correctness' would be hurled out at public meetings like a portable boogeyman, but people were light on specifics. “Largely it was just labels being thrown at us,” says Milne. “For those people, I tried to deconstruct it and say, what is the specific concern? Usually it was around civil unions and prostitution, or general perceptions that the government was working in the interest of minorities.” Having said that, Milne says these specific issues only came up two or three times in the entire campaign. And as for ‘moral issues'? Well, there's evidence that perhaps provincial folk have a better grasp on the definition of that than the religious right. “In Ashburton, which is the main town of the electorate, we actually got very very good feedback,” he recalls. “People were distrustful of Don Brash, they liked that Helen Clark hadn't gone to war in Iraq, that she was committed to being nuclear-free – that kind of leadership on important moral issues like the war in Iraq was an important factor for people. They liked that the country has been running well over the last 3 – 6 years. They liked our working for families tax credits.” Milne kept busy during the campaign, building on his experience between elections working in Tim Barnett's office in Wellington. “I was a very new candidate last time. I was selected when I was 20, and I stood when I was 21. So I was kinda feeling my way about how to run a campaign,” he says. “This time, I'd been working for Tim for a year and half, I knew Labour's policies in much more depth, I had the arguments, I knew the policy and Labour's vision, and we ran a much more visible and energetic campaign – we did 50 street corner meetings; and five candidate meetings, whereas last time we didn't have any at all.” Despite having delivered Labour its best result in Rakaia since 1984, scoring over 10,000 party votes for the first time ever, Milne will be moving on from the electorate next time. He'll be moving to Christchurch with his partner of five years in the next few months, and they're planning a civil union for March 2007. He won't be getting out of politics though, and hopes – party willing – that he'll be standing again for Labour in 2008. Chris Banks - 21st September 2005    
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