Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

29th October 1999 - Presentation, Reality and Winston Peters

Copyright © 1999 Russell Brown

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it's not long now. Only four weeks till our date with democracy. And, my, can't you tell?

The government cuts a deal with IBM to get Incis out of the courts and off the agenda.

Helen Clark bites the bullet and finally implies the bleeding obvious - that Labour voters in the Coromandel electorate would be best advised to give their candidate vote to the Greens' Jeanette Fitzsimmons, thus converting the Greens' support into three or four friendly MPs.

Tuariki Delamere ropes several small Maori parties into a single grouping, using the rather appealing prospect of Tame Iti becoming an MP to obscure the appalling prospect of Delamere himself getting another term in Parliament.

And Richard Prebble declares that not only will Act refuse to serve in a coalition that includes New Zealand First, it won't even be part of a coalition that relies on New Zealand First's support on an issue-by-issue basis.

Like everything Act says or does at the moment, the idea is based on market research.

In this case, the research indicates that nine out of 10 New Zealanders find Winston Peters intensely annoying - and Act contends that if National were to reject any possibility of a deal with New Zealand First it would be seen as the party that wouldn't tolerate Peters' grandstanding and would reap the reward from a grateful electorate.

Intriguingly, an opinion column in the left-leaning Wellington paper the City Voice has suggested that Labour take the same stance. Unsurprisingly, neither major party leader has taken the advice.

The situation is, essentially, more acute for Act than anybody else. Labour, National and the Alliance could probably all find a means of managing Peters and his party - or at least trying to - but not Act.

Apart from anything else, Winston Peters seems to have a weird effect on Prebble. Prebble just loses his composure in proximity to Winston - possibly because his nouveau populism runs him closer to Peters than he'd care to admit.

On Monday night on Holmes, Prebble made the preposterous claim that Act could join a coalition with National if asked, "but our preference is to be sitting on the cross-benches, keeping them honest". Hands up who actually believes that?

Prebble only said it, of course, because he had Winston Peters sitting next to him, grandstanding furiously. Prebble, like a socially inept fourth-former under a bad influence from the class clown, seemed to be fighting back a smirk so often he risked looking like he wasn't taking it seriously.

This odd business just got odder during the first leaders' debate on TV3 this week. By the time they got to the wrap-up, Prebble - again standing next to Peters - actually had to read from notes a vision statement that rarely went past two-syllable words. He was then completely thrown by Peters peering over his shoulder and enquiring who wrote it.

Can I suggest that these two are interviewed together as often as possible? It might get quite entertaining - albeit in a sad, what-is-happening-to-our-democracy? way.

Peters, many thought, was the star of the debate - content-free as usual, but relaxed and charming. As he assailed the failed economic policies of the two main parties, he managed to completely gloss over the fact that he, Winston Peters, was actually the Treasurer for much of the past three years.

Jim Anderton was also notably relaxed and articulate, but, this was not a night for the ladies. It's troubling that we should still have to be talking about Helen Clark's hairdo, but, frankly, it was a bit severe. As were her facial expressions - eyes wide, teeth bared in a not-always-appropriate smile. She really needs to relax and find the form she had in the debates three years ago.

Shipley is shaping up to be simply bizarre. She's patently so scared of being stuck for a thought - which, basically, has been half her problem as Prime Minister - that she has committed to memory huge chunks of campaign-speak. So much of her mental footage had been recorded earlier that you wondered whether there were actually any synapses firing there at all.

Both Shipley and Prebble delivered their vision statements down the barrel of the camera, rather than to the chair of the debate, John Campbell, which seemed rude and inappropriate to me. Is this an interesting new telestrategy from the centre-right?

Nothing would surprise me given the kind of political marketing we're seeing from that quarter already. It now appears that National's "No Crap" site - which we have been told is the work of some keen young National supporters who approached the party leaders with some wild and crazy ideas for a Website - is in fact complete crap.

The reality is that "No Crap" was wholly hatched and dispatched by the middle-aged men in the National Party Campaign team. They just hired consultants to tell them how to get down with the kids.

Remember my comments here a few weeks ago about a constituency of the youth vote that basically wanted to be sold a political product like it was a new energy drink? Well, this is it. The difference, of course, is that they have to list the ingredients on the outside of the energy drink.

But enough. It's time for the sports news. If that's what the America's Cup is. What kind of shambles has the Cup - sorry, the Louis Vuitton Challenger Series - been?

The various contenders accidentally crashed into each other at the start and then on encountering what would best be described as a brisk day on the Waitemata, half of them came to bits and had to go home for repairs. Most of the others sailed around the course solo. Very carefully. Thrilling, isn't it? The Cup Village's missing public toilets seem likely to be the hot issue for some time yet.

The Rugby World Cup, on the other hand, is down to the pointy end. I am terribly nervous about all this. If, before a ball was kicked, you'd asked me what the worst possible thing that could happen would be, I'd have said "Andrew Mehrtens getting injured". And guess what? Andrew Mehrtens is injured. His knee might come right in time for him to line up against the foxy French on Monday, but it might not.

Carlos Spencer having gone home after a pointless training injury, that leaves us with Downtown Tony Brown in the hotseat - and, if he cops it, Bruce Reihana, a winger, to replace him.

As if that weren't nerve-wracking enough, I'm conflicted. On the one hand I am part of a great collective longing for the All Blacks to win the World Cup final. I want that so bad. On the other, everyone seems to agree that an All Black victory in the final will somehow boost Jenny Shipley's chances of re-election. I don't want that at all.

Such are our times. Be strong, stay up late and don't drink too much


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

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