Gordon Campbell on National’s disdain for the Press debate

debthumChristopher Luxon evidently thinks this election is SO in the bag that he can afford to spurn the still-undecideds, the entire South Island, and the old Christchurch money that still reads the Press and shops at Ballantynes. We should all shed a tear for the National Party candidates across the Christchurch region who would have been hoping that a visit from New Zealand’s likely next Prime Minister might have delivered the late shot of adrenaline needed to put their campaigns over the line. No such luck.

Astonishingly, Luxon chose not to clear an alternative space on his diary for a final television debate with Chris Hipkins. The decision defied rational explanation. Was Luxon afraid that the sight of a wan Chris Hipkins rising from his sickbed to do his duty might have won Labour a few sympathy votes?

In fact, the situation would have been a golden opportunity for Luxon – who doesn’t score highly on the ‘caring and compassionate’ scale – to exhibit some capacity for human concern. Luxon could have treated Hipkins like a brave little battler who – if and when Hipkins got excited – could be gently chided to take his meds and be sure to have a good lie-down afterwards. Surely, the Luxbot could have been programmed to exude a semblance of solicitude.

Forget the disappointed editor of the Press. My heart really goes out to Dale Stephens, the National candidate for Christchurch Central Ilam is already a lost cause for Labour. Yet among all the other regional Labour-held seats – Christchurch East, Wigram, Banks Peninsula – history would suggest that Christchurch Central is the one local seat that National might conceivably win this year, as the red tide recedes. It has been held for National – by Nicky Wagner – in the recent past.

It could happen again. Yet, in his infinite wisdom, Luxon chose not to make the effort required to give his man Stephens a final push over the top. If you read the bio of Dale Aotea Stephens, it’s not as if the National Party caucus is teeming with people from his background. Currently, Stephens is the director of Maori Partnership (in Christchurch) for NZ Trade and Enterprise. I guess that makes him the sort of racially defined backroom specialist that David Seymour would be wanting to add to the dole queue. Here’s part of Stephens’ bio:

Dale is also chair of NZ Māori Tourism and start-up advisory group Ministry of Awesome, and a trustee of Early Start Project, a home visitation programme supporting whānau raising children. Dale also serves on the boards of two iwi investment companies for Te Rarawa. Dale has worked as a police officer….

Talking of backgrounds… You might think that Luxon owed enough to the Garden City to make the Press debate a higher priority. Born in Christchurch in 1970, Luxon was educated at Boys High and graduated from Canterbury University in 1992, at the tail end of the generation that benefited from taxpayer-subsidised education. John Key never let slip an opportunity to remind us about his rise from that state house beside the railway tracks in Christchurch. Luxon by contrast seems to have no time, or interest, for even a romanticised connection with this country’s past. The past is for losers.

Peak Peters, Blue Greens

It is that time of the campaign again, when the media starts talking about the potential for a coalition between National and the Greens. It is also when Winston Peters makes his perfectly timed run and manages to hog the headlines… Apparently, he’s been playing fast and loose on the campaign trail with the figures on climate change, and is not on top of the policy detail about gangs. What a surprise.

As usual on such occasions, Peters took the opportunity on Q&A last Sunday to stare down the barrel of the camera and rail against the alleged conspiracy against him being carried out by media know-nothings who just want to take him down. Stir and repeat, every three years. Like Trump, Peters drives up the ratings. His own well-honed sense of persecution aside, Peters is also the one major politician against whom journalists are licensed to go for blood. (Luxon’s flubs, falsehoods and blatant evasions tend to be treated more kindly. He is also more polite when he’s fibbing than Peters.)

That hypothetical alliance between the Greens and National is, if anything, even more of a beat-up. On the same Q&A programme, Greens co-leader James Shaw adroitly deflected the invitation to choose which of the three coalition options ( a) National /ACT (b) National/ACT/NZF or (c) National/Greens would be best for the environment.

Shaw acknowledged the obvious without conceding that it was possible or desirable – or even that it was within his power to do anything other than continue to work constructively with Labour. He did so without invoking the social justice wing of the Greens foundation principles, which would make any coalition deal with the current incarnation if National utterly impossible.

In any case, as Shaw also pointed out, it isn’t his call. There are intermediary steps built into the party’s democratic structures that would have to be surmounted before any such deal could even be put to the party’s members, let alone ratified by them.

Still, as Jack Tame put it, would he take the phone call post-election, if one came from Christopher Luxon? Shaw’s answer was classic Greens. It wouldn’t be polite, he patiently explained, to refuse it. Yet he also made it abundantly clear that he and Luxon wouldn’t have nothing to talk about.