Publican with an eye on nation's history

By Errol Kiong

Auckland's answer to Wellington's Backbencher Pub is offering punters a pint of Guinness and a slice of political history.

Irishman Thomas Forde has converted what was once the Harbour Lights bar on Anzac Ave into a pub and political museum.

Forde's Frontbench is coincidentally across the road from the site of Parliament when it first convened on May 24, 1854.

Since December, Mr Forde has been redecorating what was last a karaoke bar into a pub of old. An old piano sits in a corner of the room, while historical timelines, maps and photos of New Zealand's earliest leaders adorn walls.

But it's still very much a work in progress, and Mr Forde is trying to add election posters from the 1920s and 30s to the collection.

He's resisted installing a television in the pub, and is discouraging cellphone use, as he feels it could prove distracting. The aim, he said, was to turn the pub into a venue for politically-inclined types to gather. A speaker's corner has been designated by the fireplace.

"A lot of people would have absolutely no interest in politics, and you have to accept that. But I feel if you can even get them to retain one aspect of their history, I think it would be helpful for society."

But he's not a publican by passion. The electrician turned comedian turned political studies student turned publican also wants to become Auckland Central's next Member of Parliament.

Standing as an independent this election, he's taken a leaf out of King Dick Seddon's book.

"The pub's like a constituency office, you're open much more so than if you were just manning a simple electoral office. You're accessible to the people about 14 to 15 hours a day, and people know exactly where you are."

On a wall outside his establishment is etched the motto: "A little bit left, a little bit right, so nobody's left behind."

His campaign has not started yet, but he has declared Mondays to be a day for constituents to come in and air their political grievances. A stand-up performance takes place next Friday at the pub, and he launches his campaign on August 14.

Mr Forde came to New Zealand more than 10 years ago as an electrician. But politics was always his passion, and he returned to university to study it for seven years, attaining a Masters degree from Auckland University.

With a student loan of $20,000, he wants to lobby for a tax break for graduates with loans. He also wants free weekend parking in the CBD. He believes he has a fair chance of being elected.

" ... I'm saying maybe it's time we have an Irish voice in there as well. With MMP, the whole dynamics of politics has changed. It may not be Winston Peters as the kingmaker, it may be that I'm the main rook. You don't really know."

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