Saturday, November 15, 2008

How they rated

(First published in the Curmudgeon column, Dominion Post, November 11)

How the Curmudgeon rated the party leaders’ election campaign performances:

Helen Clark (4/10). It was sad to see Miss Clark, a leader respected for her intellect, energy and political skills, resorting to dissembling and fearmongering as she sensed power slipping away. She was less than honest about what she knew of the links between Owen Glenn and Winston Peters, and about Labour president Mike Williams’ desperate dirt-digging excursion to Melbourne. In the last weeks of the campaign she made increasingly frequent visits to the credibility ATM and by Saturday the balance in her account was zero. Towards the end, Miss Clark came across as sour and negative, which served only to accentuate her rival’s relentlessly sunny, upbeat disposition.

John Key (7/10). An unproven performer at the start, he gained in credibility and confidence as the campaign progressed. The first TV debate against Clark was a turning point, demonstrating that he was neither over-awed nor outgunned by his formidable opponent. It’s either a tribute to Mr Key’s salesmanship, or an indication of the country’s terminal fatigue with Labour’s nanny-statism, that he won office despite being backed by a front-bench team consisting largely of retreads, and without anyone having more than a vague idea of what he stands for.

Jeanette Fitzsimons and Russel Norman (7/10). Say what you like about the Greens’ watermelon ideology (green on the outside, red on the inside), but their call for greater transparency in government – such as making Parliament subject to the Official Information Act, releasing Cabinet minutes and ending the political game-playing over the naming of the election date – was one that should resonate with citizens of all political persuasions. Just a shame they blotted their copybook earlier by supporting the iniquitous Electoral Finance Act.

Rodney Hide (5/10). Achieved his goal, and then some, but partly at the expense of ACT’s reputation as a party with a serious message. The post-Dancing with the Stars Hide shows a worrying fondness for political stuntmanship and seemed intent on re-inventing himself as a celebrity politician.

Winston Peters (1/10). Got one point for turning up. Nothing this master prevaricator said could be taken at face value. To what extent Helen Clark was damaged by association with Mr Peters was arguably the great unanswerable question of the campaign. Politics has been cleansed by his dumping, but it’s a shame one or two likeable New Zealand First MPs got taken down with him.

Peter Dunne (5/10). Mr Clean ended up with a suspicious smudge on his Persil-white reputation when he was implicated – he insists unfairly – in allegations of donations for favours. Scored a bonus point for the best statement of the campaign: “I have never met the Vela brothers, nor have my party or I ever received any donation from them, other than this one.”

Jim Anderton (5/10). Never deviated from his well-rehearsed script as the cranky granddad of the old Left, putting impertinent young pups in their place and telling war stories about the days when he single-handedly saved New Zealand from the predators of the New Right.

Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples (7/10). Conducted themselves with dignity and restraint. Whatever your views on their politics, the Maori Party co-leaders deserve credit for giving Maori a sense that they at last have an effective voice in Parliament.

* * *

IT’S ONE of the ironies of politics that the best speeches are often made in defeat.

John McCain never commanded greater respect than when he conceded to Barack Obama. Helen Clark regained her poise on election night, delivering a concession speech that was free of retribution. Even Mr Peters was in a mellow mood, paying tribute to his rival in Tauranga and avoiding any mention of his tormentors in the media.

It’s as if all the hormones that drive politicians on the campaign trail – the ones that make them touchy and aggressive – miraculously get switched off on election night to be replaced by endorphins, those feel-good chemicals that supposedly flood the body after activities like sex. But let’s not take that metaphor any further.

* * *

FINALLY, a few questions to ponder post-election:

How come Sir Roger Douglas continues to be demonised by virtually everyone outside his own party, including John Key, when even Sir Roger’s hypocritical detractors in Labour left most of his 1980s reforms intact, knowing that without them New Zealand would be an economic basket case?

Was it a mark of the news media’s exasperation with stage-managed campaigns that they pounced with such glee when Miss Clark tripped in a shopping mall? Were voters really expected to believe this was some sort of profound political metaphor, as some over-excited commentators suggested, or was it simply a measure of the media’s hunger for another “Don Brash walks the plank” moment?

Given that Helen Clark, Winston Peters and Peter Dunne have all been burnt for flirting with wealthy businessmen (and Britain’s shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer recently suffered a similar fate after allegedly soliciting a donation from a dodgy Russian billionaire), is it too much to expect that our politicians might learn to keep their distance from such people in future?

1 comment:

Steve Withers said...

There is much about national to be very afraid of and you do Helen Clark an injustice in dismissing the concerns raised.

National is on record as saying one thing in public while its MPs and candidates say another in private. That is something voters should know. If it arouses fear, then that's what it does.

It wasn't isolated. A friend of mine says John Carter did the same at a National party meeting a few weeks ago. They will proceed quietly in the first term and the do as they please in the second.

What will be different about the second term? They will have - they hope - dumped MMP by 2011 and no longer require a majority of voter support to do as they please from 2014 onward. Between 2011 and 2014, they won't have to worry about public opinion as they will have stripped hundreds of thousands of Kiwis of their votes.

Democracy will have been neutralised.

That is something to be very afraid of.....and Helen Clark wasn't wrong.