Friday, February 27, 2015

So what if Harre and Hooton ski together?

(First published in the Nelson Mail and Manawatu Standard, February 25.)
Laila Harre and Matthew Hooton, enjoying a skiing holiday together?

I know it sounds implausible. A politician of the hard Left getting on the piste, so to speak, with a high-profile political commentator from the far Right? Surely not.

Certainly the person who told me about it recently was astonished – and so I was, at least initially.
So I did some cursory research (never easier than in the Google era) and sure enough, I came across an assertion by former Labour Party activist Josie Pagani that Hooton and Harre – whom Pagani acidly described as “the great revolutionary hero” – were planning a skiing holiday in Canada with their respective families.

As far as I can ascertain, Pagani’s claim was never confirmed – but then, neither was it denied. Hooton, when questioned, played coy. He said the two families would be at the Whistler resort at the same time, but stopped short of saying they would be holidaying together. He must have known the story would cause outrage on the Left, and no doubt relished the prospect.
The reaction of my informant, who is strongly left-wing, was probably typical. She was appalled that Harre, a former Alliance MP and leader of the ill-fated Internet Mana Party, should fraternise with someone viewed by the Left as being on the dark side.

I don’t recall the words “betrayal” and “hypocrisy” being used, but they certainly hung in the air. How could someone profess to be a champion of the poor and downtrodden while skiing with a representative of the ruling class?
It wouldn’t have helped that skiing is a pursuit associated with money and privilege. Holidays at Whistler don’t come cheap. Perhaps it would have been more excusable had they gone fishing together for kahawai off the end of a wharf, or played darts at the local RSA.

But knowing there was money in Harre’s family (her grandfather was credited with inventing the jandal), I wasn’t entirely surprised to hear Harre was a keen skier.
She has always given the impression of enjoying the finer things in life. Her husband owns a medical research company and the couple jointly own a vineyard (organic, of course) on Waiheke Island.
She wears expensive clothes and I recall a friend, many years ago, showing me the handsome holiday home at Tolaga Bay that she and her husband, according to locals in the know (and there are no secrets in Tolaga Bay), spent a large sum restoring.

Does that necessarily make her a hypocrite? While I dislike Harre’s politics intensely and always get a quiet thrill when sanctimonious leftists are exposed as closet capitalists, there’s no law that says they must drive 1980 Cortinas and wear track pants. In fact there’s a long tradition of left-leaning political reformers coming from privileged backgrounds.
And while I initially shared my informant’s shock at the suggestion that Harre and Hooton were chums, on reflection I came around to a different point of view.

I thought about my own situation. I have a number of long-standing friends who don’t like my political views, but we don’t let that get in the way. We focus on the likeable qualities we see in each other and generally succeed in setting politics to one side.
Life would be very dull if we fraternised only with people who think like us. It would be like being trapped for life in a Rotary Club meeting.

Let’s assume for a moment that Harre and Hooton really did go skiing together. Who are we to say they shouldn’t enjoy each other’s company?
Skiing with Hooton doesn’t mean having to agree with his politics. In fact the two might learn something from each other. Isn’t that preferable to shouting at each other over an ideological chasm?

The notion that we shouldn’t associate with people who think differently alarms me. Democracy is about the free exchange of ideas, but we retreat into tribal enclaves, erect barricades and refuse to have anything to do with the enemy.
We block our ears and hum loudly when anyone dares express a contrary thought. It’s as if we’re scared of being exposed to ideas that might turn out to be less heinous than we imagined. Groupthink takes over.

This happens on both the Right and the Left and has become noticeably worse since the advent of the Internet. Political blogs and websites provide fortresses where like-minded people can band together, drawing comfort and reassurance from their conformity and angrily repelling all invaders.
Anyone who challenges the consensus becomes the enemy. This can have strange consequences, as I discovered recently when I wrote a column asking whether John Key really believed in anything.

My column was picked up by conservative blogs, triggering an avalanche of venomous comment attacking me as a hand-wringing leftie.
You’ve got to laugh. No one could read a selection of my columns from the past 30 years and conclude that I’m a leftie. But I’d committed the unpardonable sin of writing a column that wasn’t slavishly pro-government.

In today’s world, it seems, you must be either 100 percent Left or 100 Right. People with fixed, rigid ideas feel threatened when anyone deviates from the norm. Infidels must be punished.
I’m not sure what you call this, but it certainly isn’t democracy as I understand it.



Brendan McNeill said...

Being exposed to the ideas, challenges and life experiences of others who are distinctly unlike us is wholly necessary for those (like me) who feel the need to opine publicly on life and the universe.

I'm delighted that there appears to be some genuine dialogue across the ideological divide.

Jigsaw said...

Oh I completely agree but I certainly did do a chuckle when the champion of the underdog, the fierce proponent of the left,the defender of the unemployed, announced that after the election she was off skiing in the States or was it the Swiss alps.
I have a friend who proudly tells all and sundry that he was thrown out of the Aussie Labor party for being too far left and whose daughter went to a flash private school. Does make you wonder don't you think?
Perhaps echoes of Eric Blair who said that he loved the working class but oh they did smell. Must read 'The Road to Wigan Pier' again.

Tinman said...

What I don't understand is why I'm not allowed to think 100% right. Why I have to consider all those other, obviously wrong, views.

What has "democracy" got to do with it?

Vaughan said...

I think one of the the most important reforms needed in western society is learning how to discuss problems.

It is important to neither blame or praise the person putting forward an idea.

That way, the focus can be on the idea, not the person.