Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

13th October 1995

Copyright © 1995 Russell Brown


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GOOD DAY MEDIAPHILES ...

Well, how would y'feel? The New Zealand Labour Party is boodling along, incrementally extending its lead in the polls over the Alliance. Not exactly taking the world by storm, but heading in the right direction. Then along comes a poll which says Labour is headed somewhere around the S-bend. Messrs Colmar & Brunton say a third of the people who a month ago thought they might vote Labour don't think they will now. Scary.

Attention has focused, inevitably, on Helen Clark, whose status as "preferred Prime Minister" is just about detectable with an electron microscope. Middle New Zealand does not like her and every time she appears on camera, it likes her less. She seems frosty, mannish and if she's not a lesbian, she probably knows one or two.

Well, I can report that the rumours about Clark are true. I've interviewed her twice and on both occasions found her to be warm, relaxed, and possessed of an excellent sense of humour. With the exception of grumpy, irrelevant old men like Jack Elder, she commands the respect and affection of her caucus. She's smart, conscientious and she's been patron for the Mt Albert rugby league club for 14 years. Yet she has a monumental image problem.

The lesson of image for woman politicians is engraved no more deeply than in the person of Margaret Thatcher. After becoming Prime Minister of Britain, she not only paid to have her look made over top-knotch clothes, cast-iron hair - but her voice. She trained herself to drop from her ladylike speaking voice to a deeper, harsher, more authoritative tone. Soon, there was no other voice in which anyone imagined her speaking. Ruth Richardson bought the Thatcher package off the rack, and found everything fit bar the malevolent sex appeal.

Clark needs to do the opposite. She must ditch the shoulder pads and turn up on TV in comfortable-looking cardies. But even if she can contrive to look like the national grandmother, she won't sound that way. Her voice is deep and still rings with the blokey inflections of her rural upbringing. That inflection would be good for five per cent on its own in the polls if she was a man. But she isn't and what's the alternative? Advising the leader of a major political party to speak more like a girl? Weird.

So how do the others do it? Anderton's yer basic alpha male, establishing his will over a bizarrely diverse membership by sheer force of personality. The Alliance has ideas about gender and sexual orientation similar to those which are supposedly sinking Labour - but the public looks and sees a patriarch at the helm and is reassured.

Winston Peters is a man cut to fit an adoring mass following, which he doesn't have. So he remains the brooding figure, the fading screen idol, even though his co-star is younger, better-looking and frequently makes more sense. But he's coping with that. Ironically, he seems unable to make hay from his most substantial the winebox inquiry. The way that's going, the final judgement may be, well, what Winston said.

Graeme Lee, founder and leader of the Christian Democrats, is distinguished by a total lack of charisma and, if this week's opinion piece in the Herald is any indication, brains and originality. He does, however, look pretty good compared to Graeme Capill, the fundamentalist fruitcake who leads Christian Heritage.

Clive Matthewson of United is amply telegenic looks great in fact but his lack of substance is almost palpable. He was universally regarded as a lightweight in the Labour caucus. But being serious doesn't make you popular. Look at Ross Meurant, who's about to throw Roc in the recycle bin and join United.

Douglas? I've actually been close to him in ACT's Auckland sanctum and in conversation with party officers he was like some charismatic preacher exchanging noisy testimonies to the divine light with his lesser clergy "Oh yes, Rodney, they'll receive the spirit within them! Just *wait* till they understand!" Actually, Douglas takes an intriguing approach to leadership - he barely bothers interfacing with the public. Better things to do, I suppose. ACT gets more mileage out of Sue Bradford moaning than it does out of Douglas doing anything.

Which leaves us with James Brendan Bolger, who is all things to all men. And women. It's not so long ago that he was the least popular serving Prime Minister in our history. Now, he's the comfortable MOR Tory with new-age trimmings, thanks to the French government. Lucky Jim, indeed.

Yet Bolger's government is still struggling with some disastrous portfolios - Health in particular. It is completely out of ideas in policy areas as diverse as immigration and Treaty settlements. It performs poorly in Parliament that near-forgotten institution where Labour actually has the skills and the organisation. Hey, does anybody remember Parliament? Nope - and any party which has its head screwed on would do well to forget it for the time being.

Labour's experience in hoisting a banner for weird stuff like women, homosexuals and Maori is proving instructive to everyone else now. How else would you explain the bizarre attack by Margaret Austin, lately of the United parish, on a YWCA sex education brochure which dared to mention lesbianism and masturbation? Stupid woman.

And check out the cold sweat from Alliance head office in the wake of Mana Motuhake member Joanna Ryan being selected as Alliance candidate for Christchurch Central. Ryan last week beat NewLabour's Liz Gordon, the Alliance education spokesperson. A Mana Motuhake member is not going to take Christchurch Central.

So Mr Anderton decrees, staggeringly, that the selection will be held again, because Mana Motuhake's membership list was submitted late. He blames a Democrat, John Wright. The best gloss that can be put on this is that it's an embarassing mess. But did it get the week's worth of headlines that followed Labour's comparatively normal selection of its Auckland regional list? Did anyone seek comment from Mana Motuhake leader Sandra Lee? Does anyone know where she is?

Ah, but onwards. OJ Simpson was all set to tell us his story, no holds barred, on NBC. But his lawyers pulled the plug explaining that their client couldn't possibly go on TV while civil suits were pending. These suits were, of course, already in place when OJ and his lawyers agreed to the interview. Seems the man just couldn't be coached well enough. Oh, I'd recommend this week's Time for background on the OJ case. Did you know that shortly after charges were laid, Simpson's legal team offered to plead guilty to manslaughter charges if LA county dropped the murder rap? The prosecutors refused, figuring they had murder one in the bag. Hindsight is a terrible thing.

Well, I have work to do. After all, I want to keep my weekend free for family and fun and yes - trotting along to see Auckland beat Otago in the NPC rugby final. Perhaps I'll walk to the ground. That'd cut out the risk of being stuck in traffic next Zinzan Brooke, wouldn't it?

PS: No Hard News next week!

G'bye!

    ==  ==      Russell Brown
  [ @ / @  ]    russb@ihug.co.nz                      
     /        ________________________________________
    (_)         "The views expressed on this programme
    ____)       are bloody good ones." Fred Dagg, 197?
              _________________________________________
    |||

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