Poll danc­ing and elec­tion ex­haus­tion

Nelson Mail - - COMMENT&OPINION - RUS­SELL HARD­ING

A mug’s view The po­lit­i­cal polls go up – the po­lit­i­cal polls go down - they do the hokey-tokey and they shake this town around. Explosive? Dam­ag­ing? Shock­ing? How many more days of this to en­dure? Even I’m over it.

I don’t know about your in­box, or Face­book page, or Twit­ter feed, or news­pa­per or tele­vi­sion view­ing; mines noth­ing but wall to wall po­lit­i­cal post­ings and pos­tu­la­tions. Deep breath: here’s another.

Will Bill English ever get away with things the way John Key could? Will Jacinda Ardern con­tinue to do things in ways An­drew Lit­tle couldn’t? Will Win­ston Peters ever give a straight an­swer?

One thing is cer­tain – per­son­al­ity pol­i­tics is here to stay.

At this rate the 2020 elec­tion will be con­tested be­tween team Bren­don McCul­lum and team Tana Umaga.

Per­haps Steve Hansen and Lorde will go head to head next time. How about Rus­sell Coutts ver­sus Va­lerie Adams for New Zealand’s next top politi­cian? Poli­cies ex­ist, it’s just they bore us to tears.

Poli­cies are com­plex and we don’t do com­plex any­more. What does your gut tell you? What’s your in­stant reckon on some­thing or some­one? Do they look like your kind of per­son? What are your fears and can that per­son calm or in­flame those feel­ings?

I must ad­mit on re-read­ing my last col­umn I felt un­com­fort­able about the way I talked about our lo­cal MP.

The day the col­umn came out Nick Smith was hav­ing rat poi­son smeared on his jacket. The video of the in­ci­dent didn’t show any rub­bing into his face as first claimed, but that doesn’t con­done any­thing. It went too far.

Who wants to write crit­i­cal col­umns of politi­cians when they have to en­dure that? Who’ll have the guts to put their hand up to be a politi­cian when this is the sort of thing that hap­pens?

We might want politi­cians to lift their game, but smear­ing them with rat poi­son surely isn’t go­ing to achieve it. How much do col­umns crit­i­cal of politi­cians in news­pa­pers play a part in all this?

Hard on the heals of the rat poi­son af­fair, a giant ef­figy of the Min­is­ter with his pants down around his an­kles was toured around the South Is­land and then parked out­side his Satur­day Mar­ket car­a­van. It doesn’t get much more per­sonal than that.

But peo­ple are fu­ri­ous. They don’t know what to do with their anger. How do you get your point across when you don’t feel you are be­ing lis­tened to?

There was a time when we lis­tened to what the ex­perts said.

The ex­perts were sci­en­tists. They were aca­demics. They were econ­o­mists. Some­times it was politi­cians.

Gen­er­ally we lis­tened to them when things got com­plex. Not all the time, sure. But with every pass­ing day this seems to be less and less the case, and it’s true from all sides of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum. Bug­ger the ex­perts.

‘‘He’s one aca­demic, and like lawyers, I can pro­vide you with another one that will give you a coun­ter­view’’ said John Key in 2011 when ques­tioned by BBC World about Dr Mike Joy and fresh wa­ter qual­ity in New Zealand.

If Key took the ‘dis­cred­it­ing’ science route, Smith chose the ‘blind­ing them with science’ ap­proach to our lakes and rivers.

He sim­ply changed how we mea­sure things. The science be­hind the de­bate was un­der­mined and then mud­died. So if you can’t ar­gue the de­bate, if peo­ple refuse to en­gage, or they sim­ply change the rules, what’s left? Per­sonal at­tacks is what.

Last week Fi­nance Min­is­ter Stephen Joyce was once again cry­ing-wolf re­gard­ing Labour’s fi­nan­cial cred­i­bil­ity, this time draw­ing full me­dia at­ten­tion to a non-ex­is­tent $11.7 bil­lion bud­get hole. How do I know it was nonex­is­tent? Be­cause of all the ex­perts who said it was non-ex­is­tent.

Joyce could not come up with a sin­gle econ­o­mist to back him up, but that didn’t mean he was back­ing down.

Head­line af­ter head­line, up and down the coun­try, Labours fis­cal com­pe­tence was be­ing ques­tioned.

So what’s left? What can you do when some­one has been shown to be wrong but they con­tinue to spread a false­hood? Per­sonal at­tacks is all that’s left.

‘‘Friends, ki­wis, coun­try­men … lend me your fears, and I’ll sing you a song, I’ll try not to sing out of John Key,’’ or some­thing, war­bled the fi­nance min­is­ter.

Joyce had the lux­ury of spend­ing years go­ing through univer­sity and fail­ing or not both­er­ing to sit mul­ti­ple eco­nomics pa­pers, but still, he gets to tell oth­ers how smart he is and how stupid they are. That’s what it de­scends to.

So now I’m writ­ing col­umns be­moan­ing per­son­al­ity pol­i­tics and mak­ing per­sonal at­tacks at the same time.

Damn things are mixed up. But what’s the point of try­ing to come up with a log­i­cal ar­gu­ment?

Along with at­tack­ing Nick Smith in last fort­night’s col­umn for push­ing the South­ern Link de­spite the NZTA re­port into it still not be­ing pub­lished (it is now), I had a go at Whale Oil’s Cameron Slater. I quoted his own words and said it was ironic he was be­moan­ing ‘dirty pol­i­tics’.

He replied on his web­site and said I had it all wrong. He pub­lished a giant photo of Rus­sell Hard­ing and in­vited ridicule from his read­ers. Pity he got the wrong Rus­sell Hard­ing.

‘‘I started off call­ing Rus­sell Hard­ing a jour­nal­ist. He is, in fact, a lec­turer at Vic­to­ria Univer­sity in the Gov­ern­ment, Law and Busi­ness fac­ulty…’’ I wish. But this is what pol­i­tics has be­come. It is per­son­al­ity driven. We care more about who the pre­sen­ters are at de­bates than the politi­cians who are in them. And what the politi­cians say isn’t nearly as im­por­tant as how they are say­ing it.

We re­ward this sort of stuff. Enough al­ready. I’m giv­ing my two ticks to Lorde.

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