Verity Johnson: I was wrong to call young politicians d*ckheads

  • 05/07/2017
Stefan Sunde leader of young nats
Stefan Sunde, leader of the Young Nats. Photo credit: Author's own

OPINION: A lot of people say they don't really like the leaders of young political parties. What young person would be getting involved in politics when they could be out getting high and laid, right?

They're slightly less welcome at your housewarming than Noise Patrol. They've got a reputation as self important puffed up little political poppets. And they all probably want to save the world to prove that they're special. Probably. 

But it's election year, so maybe it's worth getting to know them. Maybe we're right about them. Maybe we're spewing lazy stereotypes. Maybe we hate them because they're more energetic than we are. 

They're the only ones who know what motivates them. So here's what they had to say.



 My sister has Down syndrome. When I was in primary school she lost her funding so my Dad had to quit his job. He went into school every day for a whole year to be her teacher aid….That's when I said things have to change and, if not me, then who? In high school, United Future came through school and hosted a BBQ. I just got talking to the guy. It developed from there.

I'm seeking polite change! Protest movements had their place and they still have their place. But yelling and screaming at a building or walking down the street waving a flag...does it actually practically achieve anything? 

Whilst UF isn't as strong as what it has been, and what it will be this election, their principles sit best with me. It doesn't doesn't bother me people don't think it's a political force anymore. There's general disengagement with all parties, not just us.    

And as for youth disengagement, you can't blame someone for their disinterest.... It's the environment that they've been brought up with. Those factors and others haven't led them to sense of outside political engagement. It's disappointing but that's democracy. 

I don't know if we get stick for being involved in youth politics. I study Maori law and philosophy so I'm around people who think all the time. But I guess people have seen politicians traditionally as almost like they'd view the police. But other groups get it more than we do. [Like the Young Nats?] Yeah!



I got involved because of my Mum's passion for social justice and my family's dealing with the mental health system. Mum hates politics 'cos she hates conflict but always pushed the idea of caring for those with the least.

She's a solo mum, worked more than full time, she was always trying to give us everything. 

I recognise how much of that helped me get where I am. So I went to the Labour Party because it's about looking after the little guy and supporting families.

I get sick of millennial blaming. I think if we look over time at any election older people have always been more likely to vote. And you're more likely to vote when you see either your policies or yourself represented in politicians. It's chicken and egg, politicians see that young people don't vote, and so they don't make their policies relevant to young people. 

But young people do care about issues. On Thursdays We Wear Black is a campaign movement they're running for a world without sexual violence. It's an example of people trying to change social norms and ideas their own way. Some of the people have no interest in politics, but it's not that they don't care about society. The question is why is the politics are not relevant to those people. 

Some people look down on us and what we do. But I get to work alongside incredible young people who are passionate about what I'm passionate about....I'm not ashamed of that. 


My family was always political. It was alway at the dinner table and they made an effort to talk to us about it. I remember Mum pushing Plato's Republic on me at 12. Trying to get me interested. Probably isn't normal. 

But in the last election I was switched off... I bought into the media too much, I allowed assumptions to change my political beliefs, instead of going beyond media headlines and taking a critical view. Then my best friend was fascinated by NZ First..He dragged me along to a meeting and when I got there the speakers really struck a chord. 

New Zealand isn't broken. It's fine. It's a great country. It's the Government that holds us back. 

Is New Zealand First polarising? Is it? I'm in different places in different campuses in the country and they say that Winston is an old racist. But I ask them where they get that perception and they say the media. So I say, "well do you trust the media?" 

We're not afraid to be un-PC. If you repress those conversations, then those conversations still happen but in a less constructive way. For example in certain Muslim countries women don't have the same rights. If we have immigration from those countries we have to draw a line in the sand. We have to say, if you want to come to NZ you have to respect our way of doing things and our culture. 

I think people can think what they like about us. The vision we put forward for the country is positive, it's consistent, others flip flop but we put Kiwis first.. If you stand by those policies then I think at least 60 percent of Kiwis will agree in their hearts with what we say. More people agree with us that don't vote for us. 



I joined in 2014 the day after the election. The Greens didn’t do as well as people thought they would... I was angry. Before the election I had decided to do some research into all of the parties’ policy. The Greens had their policy online. You get to see all the detail and I thought that was cool - I’m a nerd and that’s what I really like! So I wanted to do something to make a difference and I joined.

Young Greens do me proud, but one downside is that everyone there is University educated, passionate and really nerdy about politics. It’s sad we only attract Young Greens that are already at University and already have access to these discussions. I’d like to reach young people who decided not to go to Uni.

I know people look down on young people in politics. It’s not a reputation that offends or upsets me. If I talk to people that aren’t politically engaged, and I’m talking in a way that isn't accessible, they can feel I’m talking down at them. It’s just an issue of education and our system not making politics accessible to people.

That’s why I really enjoy blogging about how certain pieces of legislation will actually affect everyone’s everyday lives. There is often no information out there about how policies will affect you in real life.

Yes, people say we’re boring.I’m a massive nerd for watching YouTube videos of Parliamentary TV - and it is boring! It is often such a narrow scope of conversation about issues. And what I think young people should be involved in is not explicitly parliamentary politics but other types of politics - joining their union and finding activities that engage with issues they care about.  

I’m also doing this thing where I go on dates with politicians and write about it. And what i’m learning is that you can connect with other people on a level no matter what your views are.

I had a really good time with David Seymour and I’m a hardcore socialist greenie! He’s geeky and awkward and geeky and awkward is the vibe that I give too!


“I wanted to be a pilot until year 11. I was going to fly the skies for Air NZ. Then I did level one economics as a fill in and, poof, it all changed.

My parents are National supporters, but they've never been members. I was a silent Young Nat member through the first year of uni, then two or three months pre election 2011 Paula Bennett moved in on the same road as me. I bumped into her on a run and we got chatting. I told her I supported them, she told me to come out and campaign with her. And you don’t say no to Paula.

Do I care that people shit on the Young Nats? The short answer is no. I understand and laugh at the stereotypes around us. Some of it is funny! I wear chinos! Everyone’s a stereotype, every youth wing is part of the stereotype.

If we can’t laugh at each other then there’s not much fun, and what’s the point in doing the serious stuff? But I’ve got no plans to be an MP. If you become an MP you’re there for 10 years on the backbench. And in an 80 years lifespan, 10 years is a long time to not be having a big influence. I could be in international tax law for 30-40 years. I meet incredible people every day.


Verity Johnson is a Newshub columnist.