At the National Party's Northern Region Conference on May 1 this year, frontbencher Andrew Bayly was running a session on infrastructure when he decided to say the name of the Minister of Local Government, Nanaia Mahuta.
"Nanna, manna, nan, um, nanny, manny, man, oh dear, whatever," said the party's shadow treasurer, grinning sheepishly. "There's no media here, is there?"
I was standing at the back of the room, in plain sight, writing it down as he said it.
It was the same conference in which Bayly's boss, Judith Collins, introduced the world to He Puapua, a discussion paper on ways New Zealand might reset its relationship between the state and tangata whenua.
On the one hand, there was Collins, shocked about the paper and wanting to have a serious conversation about race relations. On the other, there was Bayly, happy to indulge himself in a bit of – what do we call it? I'd say everyday racism.
It was also the conference in which Bayly, who always presents as an affable fellow, explained why South Auckland needs the Papakura-to-Drury route known as Mill Rd to be upgraded to a highway.
"The main reason for Mill Rd," said Bayly, "is that State Highway 1 is the only motorway there. If someone blows up the bridge at Takanini, then what?"
Resilience planning, you see. The value of an alternative route. But not because of the usual things: earthquakes, floods, major crashes. Turns out the real risk is bombs.
I should say I admire Bayly: he's an Ironman who has single-handedly pulled sledges to both the South Pole and the North Pole, for heaven's sake. He could eat me for breakfast.
And yet, perhaps because he used to be a Territorial Army officer, he does seem to think differently from the rest of us. Andrew Bayly is ranked number three in the caucus.
Spare a thought for Judith Collins. Her leadership turns one year old tomorrow and she must sometimes wonder what she's done to deserve the party that got thrust on her.
But the answer's easy enough: she wanted it.
What's not so easy is to work out what she wants to do with it. Take the new "Demand the Debate" campaign, which feels like every retrograde thing we know about the National Party today, all wrapped up in one terribly tangled knot.
To start, demanding a debate is weaker than taking a position. Also, what debate are we not having? The issues Collins has identified, along with He Puapua, are the feebate scheme for electric vehicles, changes to infrastructure projects, the proposed new harbour bridge for cycling and walking, the new law to establish Māori wards and 2018's ban on new exploration for oil and gas.
All of them are being furiously debated, in Parliament and all over the country. As are other big issues of the day, including our Covid response and vaccine rollout, unemployment and wage rate issues, health and education failings and that gnarly bundle of crime, gangs and corrections.
"Every week, I'm contacted by thousands of Kiwis who are worried they just don't have a say in the future of their country anymore," says Collins.
But what about when they vote? Or when they post on Facebook, write to the paper or ring their favourite radio host? Debate is free and often furious in this country.
And if Collins thinks people aren't getting a say in their future, how does she square that with her support for a longer parliamentary term?
There's something else: "Demand the Debate" reveals how far National has drifted from some really big debates we actually are having now.
Take He Puapua. The reality is, all over the country people are engaging anew with the relationship between Māori and the rest of society. And in that engagement, they're trying to work out what "partnership" means.
There are corporates with vigorous programmes to address the issue, and many smaller companies too. Government ministries and council agencies are doing it. Same for health bodies, schools and other learning institutions. Also for some sports codes and all sorts of cultural organisations. And media companies.
Te reo Māori classes are full to bursting. Civic leaders and other public speakers learn to mihi and say their pepeha and it's widely expected they will know how to do it well.
Few would say we've got everything sorted. There's a very long way to go. But the challenge is being accepted. The mahi is underway.
He Puapua proposes that all of this work shouldn't be tokenism. We can't just do the korero and leave the power structures the same.
That's a challenging proposition and we certainly need to be debating what that means. But aren't we?
It's very hard to see how scaremongering about it is much help, to anyone.
Of the six issues Collins picked to highlight in her "Demand the Debate" announcement, two relate directly to Māori and four are measures to address the climate crisis.
It seems National is now focusing its appeal on the disaffection and resentment that debates on these issues have caused. How is that a winning strategy?
The thing about opposing effective measures to confront a crisis is that you make the crisis worse. People see that. And when you say yes to confronting the crisis but no to every practical way to do it, you also make matters worse.
Also, when you know the crisis is real and your views are trusted by those who deny it, you have a special responsibility to help lead those people.
National, however, displays no greater ambition than to duke it out with Act and NZ First for a share of the disaffected. It's politics as a juvenile sport and the electorate knows it. We've moved on.
New Zealanders – Kiwis, as Collins likes to say – voted decisively in 2020: Labour won the party vote in every single electorate, except Epsom.
Yes, it was a personal vote for Ardern and a vote of thanks for her handling of the pandemic. Beyond that, though, most people voted for a Government of change.
At the regional conference in May, a woman got up and announced, "I'm sick of this. I'm sick of National being seen as the party 'for roads'. We can't keep building roads. We can't keep ignoring the fact that we have big transport challenges to face and we're pretending that's not true."
Many people applauded. Andrew Bayly grinned and said she was proof that "we like diversity in the National Party".
There were climate-change deniers in that room, and people who just want to be free to drive without fretting about the consequences. But others had moved past all that.
Why hasn't Judith Collins? Why hasn't her party? Does National want to become a credible centre-right party in the third decade of the 21st century?
It'll need a big emissions reduction plan, linked to an urban development plan for housing and transport that doesn't throw environmental goals to the wolves. And something sensible to say about race.
And about poverty and economic progress. Where's the pathway to a value-added, export-oriented, higher-wage and more productive economy that benefits everyone? And whatever happened to the social investment approach to welfare created by Bill English?
Now Collins' leadership is one year old, her party needs to grow up. Give us some proper ideas, proper plans, some indication of nuanced thinking. Who knows, if they put up some plans, we could even debate them.
• Simon Wilson's weekly column has shifted from Fridays to Tuesdays.