Voting in Gloriavale

Voting in Gloriavale

Opinion piece: Liz Gregory.

(Disclaimer: Views are not necessarily those of the staff, trust or other leavers from Gloriavale.)

Voting. This is always a fantastic topic to bring up when a group of Gloriavale leavers comes to your house. They kind of come alive and animated and act out the scene in the lead up to the voting day and on the day inside Gloriavale.

Up until now it’s gone a bit like this… (Note this year Gloriavale is under a lot of scrutiny and things are changing, so it’s every man for himself this year)

Candidate Reps visit Gloriavale

A leader would broadcast (usually at a communal meal) that a candidate would be coming to talk to the community that week. Fervent Stedfast liked to be involved in this process and he would encourage the people to “make sure you’re all there.”

The candidate would arrive and be taken on “the tour” (We’ve experienced one of these by Hopeful himself, and I must admit it rates up there as one of the more energetic and positive tours of my life). After enjoying a meal the candidate would talk to the people and lay out their promises. One leaver said the meal was eaten with the masses, but he would have a special meal inducing apple juice and a nice steak.

2-3 candidates might come out separately and the were always very aware that this wasn’t just a pitch for ONE vote, it was a pitch to a “unified block” of voters. (Might have been around 150 voters).

All leavers have expressed that the general vibe in Gloriavale was a disinterest towards politics and Government. You have to remember their access to news was pretty minimal for much of their 50 year history (improving now for some people it appears). Phrases that leavers gave to me were, “We weren’t conditioned to really care about voting.” “There was a lot of disinterest and not a lot of discussion“. There was no real investment from the people towards voting.” Someone else stated that there was always quite a lot of anti-Government sentiment in Gloriavale and so it makes sense that voting preferences weren’t high on the list of things to talk about. One leaver said it was a limited, but semi-informed process.

The Decision is made

After everyone came and did their pitches, the leaders would say that they would “discuss” who they could recommend the people vote for.

Leavers say that typically the people were conditioned to be happy with this. There are a large block of people in Gloriavale who were dependent on the leaders to make decisions about almost every part of their lives, and so it’s no surprise this spilled over into voting. (This dependence on the leaders wasn’t necessarily an active decision to let the leaders decide for them, but pretty much all leavers attest that Gloriavale was a place of intense control where you weren’t allowed or able to make many decisions for yourself. Additionally the coercive nature of the group made you think you were doing things willingly when you weren’t necessarily. Unity trumps everything).

How did the decision get made?

A former member who was part of the leadership group, shone some light on the discussions that went on in the back room. He said there were brief and vague discussions weighing up the pros and cons. All the decisions were centered around who would look after the community best. Who will leave us alone and let us do our thing? Who would be more respectful to Gloriavale and their way of life? Who would endorse the leaders? There were often comments about women MP’s if they had short hair or wore trousers etc. At the end of the day Hopeful directed the conversation and made the decision.

It appears this decision-making matrix was no different to the way the community made decisions on a plethora of issues (as evidenced in the Employment Court cases).

How were the people told?

All leavers agreed that Fervent Stedfast was usually the executioner. He was the guy who dealt with the details and attended to the voting matters. He let the people know what decision had been reached and why at a communal meal or meeting time.

It was done in the typical directive, “We’re voting for so-and-so for the Party vote, and so-and-so for the Candidate vote. “

Actually, it got more prescriptive than that! Fervent might also hold up a voting paper and show people where on the paper the boxes were to tick. Even better, on one occasion he had a screen and showed everyone at a mealtime a picture of the voting paper and he showed people where to tick.

One person said, “We’d do what the leadership decided. We believed they knew what was best for us.” Another person said, “It was condescending, like you people aren’t clever enough to work this stuff out and so we’ll do it for you.” Another said, “In Gloriavale you don’t think your voice matters, and so you don’t really care.”

Voting Day

On voting day the Electoral Commission Mobile Team would turn up to Gloriavale and would set up booth in the traditional way. (They didn’t even let their people have a fun bus-ride out of the community to vote! And no election party afterwards either. I do love a good election party!). People would join a line to vote and a number of women said they used to ask the person in front of them “Who are we voting for again?“.

Some leavers said you felt like a real rebel and a renegade if you voted something different, and some did it for the thrill of feeling like they had a little bit of agency. Others expressed they were way to fearful to do anything off the “narrow path”. More than one person said that there were times that they were asked by Fervent who they voted for, and because you didn’t want to be caught in a position of lying you would tow the party line.

After the vote, that was it for another three years. Politics didn’t really matter or impact the community… until more recently…

Which Party do they vote for?

Typically the Party Vote went to parties who were morally conservative (eg in the past National party was quite popular). But National lost their support last election. I have to take the blame for that one sorry! We had asked that a question be put to the leaders in the debates about whether they would support an Inquiry into Gloriavale. Judith Collins said “Yes” and Jacinda Adern said “No”.

So the next week we make posters and stood outside the Town Hall calling for an Inquiry. I must admit it was an absolutely fantastic demonstration and leavers still remember it with fondness!

TV News covered the story and we handed out pamphlets. Young and old leavers stood on chairs with a microphone and told their stories to crowds of more than 100 outside. Someone, a male leaver (no names necessary!) dressed up in a women’s Gloriavale dress, to capture attention. That was brave (especially since Gloriavale has a strict view on women not dressing up in men’s clothing – and vice-versa!)

Back to the story. Judith Collins “Yes” comment was enough to change the path of Gloriavale’s history. They veered off the straight and narrow way and National missed out on their votes. Sorry Judith! (I don’t think the 100+ votes swung the election). We did have a chuckle and wondered whether they would vote Labour – which would have been an issue due to their terrible track-record on life-promoting issues. But it appeared they went for a small conservative party instead.

What about the Candidate vote?

What’s really interesting is Gloriavale have changed who they votes for in regards to the local candidate depending on how it benefited them. They chose the candidate they believed would let them live in peace and quiet. They couldn’t vote National last year and so Damien O’Connor scooped the votes! We know this because leavers tell us, but we also know it because the Electoral Commission makes available the votes received at each voting booth! We can see that the mobile team received 177 votes (a large number of these would have been from Gloriavale, but not all). Of those 72% voted for Damien O’Connor and then 15% for Maureen Pugh (National) and a small splattering of other candidates got votes. When we look at the average from the West Cost population we can see some interesting numbers. Maureen Pugh was sitting at 33% of the vote region-wide and Damien at 48%. It clearly doesn’t pay to wear trousers and have short hair! (We also compared them to the 2017 election, where Maureen Pugh was in front in the Mobile votes, and can see the swing of voters towards Damien O’Connor in the mobile booth.)

Truth or Not Truth?

I’ve heard this story from 3 different leavers over the year and so maybe there is some truth it in. We’ll never know. But it’s quite interesting. Some say that Hopeful voted differently from the rest of the community. Then if he banged into Damien O’Connor he could say, “I voted for you,” but if he saw Maureen Pugh he could say, “We voted for you,”. In that way no lies were being told, but he kept all the MP’s happy.

(Perhaps this is an old wive’s tale and Hopeful isn’t here to defined himself. But people obviously heard Hopeful say it, and I’ll leave it up to you whether it sounds feasible. It would be an example of Gloriavale Speak, which is a chronic issue inside the Gloriavale community. It’s the use of language to obscure.)

Voting for Leavers now

One young female leaver said she went to work last week and asked who people were voting for. There was some interesting discussion. One said she wasn’t going to vote this year, and this brave leaver said, “Well I’m going to vote. I feel like women weren’t allowed to vote for such a long time, and they fought for us to be able to, and if we don’t vote were are letting them down.

So this young lady exercised her democratic right to vote, and has already cast an early vote. She felt a sense of accomplishment that this time around she did it all by herself.

Here’s to the untainted democratic process. Hold it tightly. It’s worth protecting. The other options head towards tyranny and anyone who’s lived at Gloriavale can tell you that’s not fun.

Many thanks to the numerous contributors.