"Remember the worst kid in your class at school? That was me."

National's Northcote byelection candidate Dan Bidois likes to share his back story. Left school at 15, butcher's apprentice and then some bridging courses for university. Got a degree, got a Fulbright Scholarship and enrolled at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, became an international economist, came home to be a politician. He told me all this with a mile-wide grin. He's a charmer.

"I was a delinquent," he said, grinning. Yes, he was suspended "a couple of times", but no, he wasn't expelled. And yes, he has been arrested.

"Oh, some trouble with shoplifting, that sort of thing."


We met for coffee at the Hinemoa Street Organic Cafe in Birkenhead, his choice, where I had coffee but he had a green frothy smoothie that came in a jar with a fat plastic straw. Bidois is 35, just two years younger than the PM and the same age as his main opponent, Labour's Shanan Halbert.

Politics has changed, in case you hadn't noticed, and Northcote is going to be part of it.

Did he finish the apprenticeship?

"I'm a qualified butcher," he said, grinning. Although, he added, "I haven't picked up a knife in quite a while."

Time enough for that in politics, one imagines.

Becoming a butcher, he said, taught him the value of hard work. Also, two weeks after he started he discovered he had cancer. There was chemotherapy, the works. It was horrible.

"It taught me the value of life."

He admires Chris Liddell, the former General Motors and IBM executive who now works for Donald Trump. Also Andrew Grant, former Rhodes scholar and now with McKinsey and Company. New Zealand businessmen who've climbed high in the world.


"I would be happy to go back into business. Maybe I'm crazy, I've got a really good job, I'll be taking a marginal pay cut if I become an MP. But I know I could run a company one day."

Bidois is strategy manager at Foodstuffs, which owns Pak'N Save, New World and Four Square. "Half the population shops at a Foodstuffs store. Imagine what you can do with that." What, indeed?

He wrote a thesis at Auckland on early childhood education. At Harvard he studied the problems facing Māori and Pasifika school students. Do these things still interest him? Yes, he said.

I said Northcote school principals have told me they have one standout issue: teachers can't afford to live in Auckland.

"Teachers should be valued much more in society," he said.

Should they be paid more?

"I don't want to comment on pay," he said.

But you want to be a politician, I said.

He said maybe there should be an Auckland allowance for teachers. I said what about nurses and police officers? Where would you stop?

He spread his hands and grinned. He said, "What I do support is pay for performance".

Better teachers should be paid more?

"I've seen good teachers and bad teachers in my time and they definitely should not be paid the same."

Before coming home Bidois worked for a think tank in Malaysia called Blue Ocean Strategy.

The Blue Ocean theory says enterprises prosper when they make the competition irrelevant, which they do by redefining their place in the world or inventing completely new products. Think Starbucks and Cirque du Soleil.

Blue oceans are the opposite of red oceans, which are full of sharks. The red is blood.

I asked Bidois if he thought the theory would apply to the National Party, or to New Zealand.

National Party leader Simon Bridges (right) with Dan Bidois, the party's candidate for Northcote. Photo / Doug Sherring.
National Party leader Simon Bridges (right) with Dan Bidois, the party's candidate for Northcote. Photo / Doug Sherring.

Sure, he said. "It's about finding more creative solutions to public problems." He didn't have any examples. "It's a framework, not a solution. You still need to come up with the ideas."

Bidois talks often about how "commuters are stuck on Onewa Rd" and it's true that at peak times general traffic headed for the motorway backs way up.

But there's a T3 lane with a steady stream of buses, many of them double deckers, and cars with three or more people in them. At least 70 per cent of peak-time commuters on Onewa Rd do not get stuck in traffic. What else did Bidois think should happen?

"Auckland Transport have ignored the feedback from residents."

Previously he's advocated for the T3 to become a T2. Is that what he meant?

"Well, yes, perhaps, but I realise that isn't going to solve our issues."

You do?

"We need a comprehensive plan."

Isn't that what the Government has announced?

"We need more specifics. And we need more parking. Buses are good but how are people meant to get to the bus?"

Is that a problem on Onewa Rd?

"I think it is. And there should be clearways."

But Onewa Rd has clearways already. Do you mean all day?

"Yes. That would help. And the ferries. Beach Haven only runs two or three times a day. They need to be much more frequent."

He's right about that. Still, weren't these very local issues for an MP?

"As they teach you at the Harvard Kennedy School, all politics is local."

How did he expect to get more for Northcote when Coleman, a cabinet minister, had not managed to?

"I'll fight for Northcote. I'll bang on the door of [transport minister] Phil Twyford."

I asked him about SkyPath, the proposed walking and cycling addition to the harbour bridge.

"I think there are better things to do with taxpayers' money than SkyPath."

You don't support it?

"Broadly speaking I do support it."

So what do you mean, "there are better things to do with the money"?

"I support it in broad terms, but it has to link to SeaPath."

But hasn't that been agreed? SeaPath will continue the SkyPath route all the way to Takapuna, so it won't end in Northcote.

"Well, yes."

I asked what else he was worried about?

"There are privacy issues."

What privacy issues?

"Well, like parking problems."

How are parking problems a privacy issue?

"Well, okay. But the people of Northcote are unanimously against it."

Unanimously? I told him surveys have suggested many locals are in favour.

"Okay, look. What I'm saying is that the value of SkyPath is not as great as more roading projects, and public transport and more Park and Rides."

So you don't support it?

"No I do. It's a good initiative."

I asked him, do you have a bottom line? Is there a principle or policy you know now you won't betray in politics?

"I tell the truth."

Won't politics demand that you're economical with the truth?

"They don't teach you that at Harvard. It's wrong to muddle the truth. I believe that."

Can I hold you to it?

The grin was still there. "It's not a big thing if you've done it all your life."

The Northcote byelection is June 9. Next week: Labour's candidate Shanan Halbert.