So who is the star of the 2014 election campaign so far?

by Kimbo

Some may suggest, based on National’s poll number this week, it is John Key. Certainly the Prime Minister is doing a great job, and this week he was a winner. In my opinion he acted decisively and fairly over the alleged Judith Collins/Mark Hotchin connection, and nailed David Cunliffe during the Christchurch debate with what could be the defining moment of the campaign. But last week Key was rattled, just like the All Blacks were in Sydney.

How about Winston Peters? Love him or loathe him, like a slow-burning firework he smolders away for years, and then lights up the the campaign trail nailing his talking points like a real pro. Of course he knows it is nonsense that “New Zealand politics has never been this dirty”. He has contributed to his share over the years, but you have to admire his chutzpah. But if, as seems a real possibility, New Zealand First don’t finish in the kingmaker’s role, it will have been business-as-usual.

For the rest of the minor parties, they are having their moments. Te Ururoa Flavell’s quiet dignity is impressive on screen. The Greens, even though you may hate ’em always stay on message and no doubt have resonance with their natural constituency. There are lessons there for Labour, whose campaign and support may well go into melt-down in the last two weeks. Colin Craig has not been exposed as the Chauncey Gardiner of New Zealand politic as many expected. That is a triumph as he, probably more than any other party leader, has a target on his forehead for the media to aim at.

But let’s face it – this has been about the most unusual and chaotic campaign in a generation. It is no longer the politicians who are taking central stage. Instead it is Kim Dot Com, Nicky Hager, Whale Dump, and yes, Cameron Slater who are dominating the headlines. And enabling and feeding it all has been the media, who have turned inward and made themselves the story. Rodney Hide’s mournful query, “Can we have our election back?” sums up in an apt lament how the side-show has become centre stage.  

So maybe it is the media who are the winners. Hager is selling lots of books, and the All Blacks are pushed off the front pages as Corin Dann, John Campbell and Paddy Gower package the campaign like a sports contest to boost their profile. And Whale Oil has taken the inadvertent opportunity to boost its profile magnificently. So you would be tempted to pin a badge on “the media”, in all its variegated forms as the victor – if it weren’t for one other nominee…

Despite the circus acts, distractions and noise, the breathless commentators predicting electoral Armageddon or calling it the most dramatic game of chance since Christopher Walken tried his luck in “The Deer Hunter”

…I’d like to nominate another star of the campaign thus far: the collective New Zealand voting public.

Democracy is a very fragile thing. Democracy takes root and grows amongst people with cultural, intellectual and political sophistication. Democracy requires trust in the good faith of even your most implacable political opponents. You allow them the chance to state their case to the electorate and maybe even win, in the sure knowledge that at the end of the next voting cycle you will both get the same chance to do the same thing again. Democracy can only flourish where enough people have the collective nous to differentiate capable politicians from snake oil merchants, scare-mongers and outrage-sellers. Get the decision continually wrong, or misunderstand the intent, means and nature of the rhetorical framing process (you taking notes, Nicky Hager?!), and nations can and do tear themselves apart.

We may be treated like idiots and fools by the politicians, media and activists. And sure, amongst our diverse nation you can find some who will vote for the eccentric, obscure or plot-driven. But here’s the thing: Despite weeks of a relentless self-interested campaign to over-hype and destabilise, the collective voting public, judging by the poll results this week, are making up their own mind. Commentators might have predicted just a week ago that John Key and National’s creditability was shot, and their campaign was in “tatters”. Yet Kiwis have enough collective wisdom to ignore it all and concentrate on the one thing we seek most from our political leaders…competence.

For that reason, I nominate the collective New Zealand voting public as the stars of the 2014 election campaign.

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