Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

4th October 1996

Copyright © 1996 Russell Brown

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and how are we all bearing up then? Weirded out, mentally numbed, confused? Think how it must be for them - for the general election candidates and those around them. Truly, they are in a strange space.

One of the most apparent manifestations of the election thing is the exagerrated sense of place associated with the candidate billboards, which spread by the week, as if the more hoardings the contenders erect, the more they will appear to belong to the locality.

You think it's only your neighbourhood sprouting signs, but they're all over the country. This rather obvious fact takes on new meaning when, as I did last week, drive from Auckland to Wellington. Suddenly you're actually travelling through the home turf of all those MPs, which hitherto had just been an abstract notion.

Sometimes the political turangawaewae of an MP can seem oddly apt. You are, for example, reminded by hoardings that this is Bill Birch country all the way along that nasty little stretch of road between Hamilton and Auckland where so many people die in car crashes. As you go north, the Bill boards are on the right and the little white crosses are on the left. Mostly.

I was on holiday, actually. I know it sounds like a rather odd time for a political columnist, even an amateur one, to be taking a break, but I'm glad I did. It was fun, for example, being down in Wellington, where the Wellington Central race - which is four-way for a while - combined with a frankly incredible consecutive eight fine days, brought a real sense of occasion.

Don't take that as any endorsement of the man causing all the trouble down there - Richard Prebble. Prebble has been laying it on thick about how sophisticated and intelligent Welly Central voters are; hence he's a cert. This is a line Act often uses, and it strikes me as ironic that much of their campaigning is based on the belief that we're complete idiots.

They've employed the tackiest tactics of direct marketing - unsolicited mailouts of that bloody book, with a request for payment attached, unsolicited faxes and the chance to go into a draw for a wonderful weekend away if you'll just join the party. That last one ran rather close to breaching the laws on treating, and of course they have wilfully bent the rules on political advertising by spending tens of thousands allegedly advertising their books. I mean face it, how do you normally feel about the kind of organisations which try and sell you funny little paperbacks about thinking?

But worst of all, Act jacked up a shabby little front organisation called VOTE to give people "educational" advice on tactical voting that was utterly skewed to suit Act's purposes. Another ridiculous effort in the same vein arrived my letterbox this week under the name 'The List Facts - provided by Act Auckland Central as a public service for all voters." Bugger me, if these guys are so keen on public service, who do they want to privatise the ones we've got now?

Inside are the names and occupations of the Top 10 list candidates, along with their occupations, and childish attempts have been made hint that everyone else is either sleazy, dangerous or stupid. Worst of all are the people described as "professional politicians". And this, from a party led by Prebble? And what prey tell do Act-ers plan on being if they make Parliament? Amateur politicians, perhaps?

Ah, but if Prebble just irks me, then for some people he is the very devil on the hoof. Y'know, the people who have seen Someone Else's Country 17 times and want to bring back six o'clock closing. Seriously, like most people I saw Alister Barry's film for the first time when Max TV screened it and I was, frankly, a bit disappointed.

Even though it is a documentary, it is not journalistic - in fact I found it offending my sense of journalism. I certainly wouldn't have shown it on mainstream TV at this time, but I'm glad Max did. Trouble is, nothing which meets with the film's central premise - that the nation was taken by sleath and without mandate by the Treasury new right in the guise of successive Labour and National governments - is challenged.

Thus, both Jim Anderton and Michael Laws are allowed to earnestly relate that they knew it was all going horribly wrong straight away. I mean, Michael Laws on the moral high ground? It allows one bitter teacher to dismiss Tomorrow's Schools as "a victory for the new right". It makes no attempt to sift through what was worthwhile or to ask whether the social legislation of the 1980s shared any context with the economic revolution.

Remember, in 1984, the Waitangi Tribunal had no power in law at all, homosexual love was a crime and there was no bill of rights. Muldoon had split the country over South Africa and nuclear ships, and engaged in frightening brinksmanship with the Maori seeking land and mana.

The economy was relatively bouyant, but that was partly because a wage and price freeze had just come off. Yes, the government could control what everybody in the economy earned and spent. If you wanted to import anything big you had to try and buy one of a limited supply of import licenses issued by the government. They were a license to print money, so they weren't cheap.Weird, huh?

No one wanted our dollar and our supply of other people's money had all but run out. You couldn't shop on Saturdays or get a drink after 10 on a weeknight and downtown Wellington was a kind of Stalinist nightmare.

On the other hand, soup kitchens had yet to become a boom sector and poverty was almost unknown. Lots of people thought they had the security of jobs for life, and money when they retired. Even so, by 1984, many New Zealanders knew the old answer was very wrong. This, as much as the machinations of Treasury, is why quite a few unpleasant things happened in quite a short time.

Someone Else's Country, in the end, is not a dialogue. It is an internal monologue of the Alliance, on which New Zealand First eavesdrops. But this is the last time they'll be able to define themselves by this historical narrative - or the Alliance risks fumbling the future. Winston Peters will always conjure with history, but in exciting times like these, the Alliance should just get on with being a pinky-greeny-Left-of-Labour party for the future.

The monumental conservatism of Jim Anderton is arguably an obstacle there, but I must admit I've warmed to Anderton a bit just lately. He campaigns well; and it's as if Winston has taken over the mantle of making bitter, unhappy speeches to like people. Pam Corkery's sheer fortitude in going on the road is to be admired too.

The one I haven't much time for is Sandra Lee, who I'm hoping to be shot of as my local MP. She'll go forward on the list, of course, but I'd like someone a bit more effective than she's been as my electorate MP, ta very much.

The Alliance, in its insistence that it won't "sell out" its policies after an election - only beforehand - has set itself up to stay outside any Labour-led coalition, offering support but not joining in. But that's okay. Labour would prefer it that way too - to be able to govern without having to actually having to negotiate on Alliance economic policy.

That would all depend on what Winston Peters might choose to do, of course - and that is by no means clear. Winston Peters has behaved despicably in this campaign. When in Howick, bash Asians - in Wanganui, target the one-time Moutoa Gardens occupiers.

"Hymns of hate," all those people sang, he said - and in so doing stabbed his own deputy leader in the back. Tau Henare, whose national reputation was founded partially on his mana and rapport with the occupiers, had to shut up and eat shit. Will Henare, and those like Tuku Morgan and Tu Wyllie who followed him in, find out, as others have, find that it's a dangerous party to be in if you don't fit into Michael Laws' plans?

Peters, meanwhile, has been on the road; smoking, drinking and frequently making no sense at all. In a bizarre appearance on Meet the Press, he was backed into a promise to dishonour the Forest Corp sale as the non-negotiable price of any coalition deal. A week later, in yet another Ian Fraser programme, he was asked what his bottom-line non-negotiable policies were - and didn't even *mention* Forest Corp. Anyone else would surely have been crucified.

This man should not be Prime Minister. If we need any lesson in the folly of electing a demagogue, we need only look at Israeli, where the idiotic Benjamin Netanyahu is throwing away his country's chances for peace and its economic prospects at the same time.

Winston's core supporters operate on emotion, of course. Some with a shred of logic have gone elsewhere, but few apparently to Labour. Labour's resurgence of support has been coming from the undecided vote - that great, grey mass that the polls haven't told us about. Labour people are as happy as they've been in the past three years. This election had the potential to go very badly for them, but Labour will now almost certainly come second in the party vote, and has a 50-50 chance of Helen Clark leading a coalition.

How about that Helen Clark, eh? Clark's surging performance is as much perception as reality - she's always been smart and confident, and now she has taken some lessons in how to appear that way on camera. The return of Mike Moore to the fold also helped foster the impression that she is the leader of a unified party. Moore finally accepted the cabinet post which has always been on offer - but only after Peters had publicly mused about putting him in a New Zealand First cabinet.

Moore fanciers were relieved to find he was just as much of a raving headcase as ever, when two days later he went straight to the press - and over the head of Labour's justice spokesman, Phil Goff - with a bizarre plan that gang members should automatically gets double the sentence for any offence as anyone else would. Wow! WARNING! WARNING! DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!

Ah, but Helen Clark's rise in the mood of the moment really took off after her performance in the leaders' debate - which has entered into legend. People who never saw it know only that she did well.

And they know about The Worm and they know that Jim Bolger could barely open his mouth without sending that audience approval meter through the floor. The Worm came at the end of a tiring, grumpy week for Bolger and he apparently did not know of its existence until halfway through the proggramme, when Clark and Anderton told him.

Afterwards, he went ballistic, assuming a mood which he has displayed ever since. Bolger is revolting when he's insecure or under pressure - and he's right back to his worst demeanour. Michael Walls, the man who was his media advisor back before Richard Griffin came in and made him popular, is in place in the campaign team and his ugly influence is showing.

Typically, the negative campaigning will do as much to hurt Bolger as anything else. His stupid predictions of an economic holocaust, of businesspeople waking up, "weeping Sunday, bloody Sunday" if he's not Prime Minister, have simply made him look like he's trying to sabotage the economy. The day after that speech, Standard & Poors said our credit rating would change even if the government did, and the stock market rose.

National, it must be said, has campaigned appallingly, even given what is plainly a very large budget to play with. The government which was so complacent and shiftless has lacked fitness for the campaign trail. Bolger, who looked so comfortable in his job, looks uneasy now that the political pitch has lifted. I still think he'll make a good governor general, where no one will challenge his credentials, but as PM his use-by date is approaching.

And so, on the same day, is a Ranfurly Shield match between Auckland and North Harbour - providing Auckland can tear the shield away from those crazy people in in the Waikato tonight.

And then, of course, the Sex Pistols have reformed and are playing in Auckland this weekend. Mike Moore has flown up to replace Sid Vicious for a special version of 'My Way' - well, hey, Miss Yvonne looks more like Nancy Spungen every day, doesn't she? Sandra Lee will be playing Sid's Mum - a loose, dope-smoking hippy - and, most frighteningly of all, Michael Laws has agreed to step in as Malcolm McLaren. Christ ... I think I need a lie down. Till next week, when we meet on the edge of destiny


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

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