Debates for PM and would-be not minor players

February 24, 2014

The Green Party wants to be in the main leaders’ debates on television:

. . . The Greens have made a formal request to TV One and TV3 for a co-leader to join the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition, rather than take part in the minor parties debate – which has been the typical election format.

The Greens say their 12 percent polling position puts them in a different league to the other smaller parties which are polling around 5 percent or less.

They might be the biggest of the wee parties but neither of their co-leaders is going to be Prime Minister nor lead the opposition.

The National and Labour leaders aren’t invited to debate just because of their parties’ size or popularity but because the winner will lead the country and the other will lead the opposition.

The debates are designed to allow us to see and hear from the PM and the one trying to replace him and mercifully neither of the Green co-leaders will hold either of those positions.


Two Wronged Not Right

June 28, 2008

Several bloggers are blaming the Prime Minister because a disabled man was forced to walk 200 metres along a wet street.

Her car was blocking disabled car parks outside the Christchurch Town Hall and police wouldn’t allow his wife to park there. But Helen Clark was in the Town Hall at the time and knew nothing of the incident until contacted by media.

She can’t be blamed for where her driver parks and the over officious actions of the police.

The headline : PM forces disabled man to walk is not a fair representation of the facts. Just as the headline What war? Key’s abridged history and story about John Key’s comments on New Zealand’s relatively peaceful past were not a fair version of what he said either.

Balanced reporting doesn’t mean getting stuck into the Labour leader unfairly today because National’s leader was misrepresented yesterday.


Style vs Substance

June 25, 2008

If it wasn’t for the gender of the Prime Minister  this could be about New Zealand:

To a visitor from outer space, it would be hard to distinguish the job description of prime minister today from that of a talk show or game show host. The PM is a regular fixture on radio and television, where no topic is too small for him to discuss. He offers cash prizes to listeners and he sweats on the weekly ratings.

Sounds very familiar.

The lines between celebrity and politics blurred some time ago. Our leaders are more needy because their handlers have convinced them that if they miss a single news bulletin the public will soon forget them. But voters can just as easily project wisdom on to politicians who are silent as those who blather sweet platitudes about Australian values and the noble struggle of the working family.

This too could be about politics on this side of the Tasman.

Although it is tempting to see Rudd as merely the sum of his past lives as a Queensland bureaucrat and diplomat to China, his approach to federal office is, in a way, no different from Howard’s.

“The moment you start campaigning for the next election is today,” Howard told his partyroom at the first meeting after the Coalition’s 2004 election win.  I’m a great believer in perpetual campaigning.”

And this explains one of the problems with the many unexplaiend consequences of the Electoral Finance Act: it’s impossible to separate the role of an MP from campaigning because under the Act’s very broad definition so much of what an MP does could also be deemed to be campaigning.

This happens to be a worldwide trend. Tony Blair noted last June, just after leaving office, that a large part of his time as a British prime minister was spent “coping with the media, its sheer scale, weight and constant hyperactivity”. Blair measured the compression of the news cycle by the number of topics he ran a day: “When I fought the 1997 election we took an issue a day. In 2005, we had to have one for the morning, another for the afternoon and by the evening that agenda had already moved on.”

Thankfully, the Australian market is still small enough to keep Rudd to three issues a week rather than three a day.

It was not always thus. Remember when sit-down press conferences took precedence over the door stop and parliament was the place to announce big policies? The last government to practise politics the old-fashioned way was the Hawke-Keating regime between 1983 and 1996. To be fair, Howard’s administration began as Paul Keating’s ended, with a sense that the public was intelligent enough to handle a detailed policy debate over months and years, not hours and days.

The GST was Australia’s last old-school reform. Howard needed four years, from 1997 to 2001, to discuss, draft, amend and bed down the new tax system.

When was the last time the electorate was treated intelligently with prolonged discussion, drafting, amending and bedding down of policy here?

Under Rudd, Labor operates on the delusion that the electorate can absorb two or three earth-shattering announcements a week. Darting from topic to topic, like a shock jock or newspaper columnist, is why Howard lost the plot in his final year in office.

Has Rudd forgotten Howard’s increasingly hysterical public conversation of 2007: the Murray-Darling takeover, tax cuts, the Northern Territory intervention, a federal rescue of one hospital in a marginal seat in Tasmania and more tax cuts?

What really binds Nelson and Rudd is their mistaken belief in the 24/7 media cycle as an end in itself. The reason Blair and Bill Clinton have such dismal legacies in the deeper ponds of British and US politics is that they wasted too much time thinking of the next line instead of honing policy.

This is not a curse of either the Left or the Right. US Republican President George W. Bush followed the Democrat Clinton by devoting more time to crafting the headline for invading Iraq – weapons of mass destruction – than worrying about securing the peace afterwards.

The media has reduced politicians into thinking by the minute.

Or is it that politicians only think by the minute and so that’s all that’s left to report?

Think about the issues on which Rudd hopes to build a new reform consensus, from climate change to the Federation to the tax, welfare and retirement incomes systems. Rudd can’t win any of these debates by press release alone. He has to patiently explain himself again and again, one big idea at a time.

Patiently, explaining one big idea at a time? Could any of our politicians try that here – and if they did, would we do them the courtesy of listening to them and really thinking about what they were saying? Because if didn’t we would indeed get the politicians we deserve.


20 years of Tremain cartoons

June 3, 2008

Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the publication of Garrick Tremain’s first cartoon in the ODT. In an article (not yet on line) Tremain explains how the fax machine helped launch his cartooning career.

 

He’d long held a desire to try his hand at political cartooning but had no desire to work in a city. A chance conversation in a pub about a fax machine showed it might be possible to cartoon from his Central Otago home.

 

“I sought a meeting with the managing director and editor. Both were dismissive of my claim I could work from so far afield. “You’d have to work within the building so we can give you the ideas.” I disagreed and suggested that I would simply fax them my cartoon which they could then put into their paper or into their rubbish bins, depending on their opinion of the work. At the end of each month I would send them a bill for the number (if any) that they had published. “A Bill? A Bill?” they chimed, “You want money as well?!” I think they saw me as a rabid mercenary deluding myself I could work in isolation …

 

His first cartoon showed a car salesman saying to prospective buyers “I don’t want to press you bit it could be the last one at this price” while holding a newspaper behind his back which stated car prices would drop.

 

This was 1988 when a reduction in import duties meant prices were, for the first time in living memory showing signs of dropping. But Dunedin’s two biggest motor companies didn’t see the joke and pulled their advertising.

 

Response from politicians has always been interesting. Max Bradford used to phone me late at night to plead for kinder treatment and try to convince me that the shambles of the power reforms as all Pete Hodgson’s fault. John Banks wrote to tell he thought I need to know that politicians are actually very nice people and most intelligent as well… A minion rang to say that Prime Minister Clark was deeply offended by my portrayal of her husband and herself. I was able to convey my deep disgust at the theft of my money for her political propaganda.

 

Tremain sees cartooning as a negative art form in that it is critical but seldom offers remedies. He feels cartoon reflect rather than direct.

 

Those who claim a particular cartoon is damaging endow it with a power it does not have. I think the political cartoon’s greatest gift is assuring the lonely and the powerless that they are not alone in their outrage and despair.

 

I have always found it amusing to have my cartoons described as “Maori bashing”. I have never lampooned people for their race. I continually lampoon people for being ridiculous and grant no exemption on grounds of race, which is what so offends the politically correct.


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