The Apologist, by Mitch Harris

Night Talk 23/04/2018
Credit: Reuters.

During a good-natured chat last week, a National Party supporter accused me of being a "Jacinda apologist".

I thought about it and decided the description was not accurate enough. I think I can be more fairly described as a "Jacinda defender".

And I thought a bit longer about how this came to be. I was never particularly interested in Jacinda Ardern and I am not politically tribal. I dislike the dull, conventional wisdom of National and equally dislike the smug, liberal, identity politics sometimes displayed by Labour.

At the same time, some of the common-sense orthodoxy of NZ First is appealing and the Greens remind us of the things we would prefer not to have to pay for like cleaning up our waterways. What has happened to our rivers and estuaries is a disgrace, and the number one reason the country could not sustain the National Government any longer.

The reason I have become a Jacinda defender is because, in my view, the general political discourse has been critical out of all proportion. A sense of fairness has compelled me to defend her and the Coalition.

I had become cynical toward National a few years ago. But it all really started on the night of the election when virtually the entire commentariat assumed and demanded another National Government.

It seemed to me that Winston Peters had been signalling for a long time that he detested the direction of National. And since that night an extraordinary level of exaggeration and vitriol has been directed at the Coalition. Some of the stuff written about Peters was almost drunken in its carelessness.

The alleged Labour youth camp assault, exaggerated claims of coalition difficulties and the Clare Curran saga have been played to the hilt by the beltway. Meanwhile, the Coalition has actually been functioning rather well and the Prime Minister is a rock star on the world stage.

Ardern was bang on with her precisely-measured response to the western bombing of Syria. It took days before it was acknowledged that Simon Bridges had contradicted his own Foreign Affairs spokesperson and was totally out of step with the country in wanting to rark up our response.

I have a couple of theories why our well of political discussion has become poisoned. The takeover of advertising revenue by Facebook and Google and the fragmentation of traditional media means there is more temptation to use political operatives and partisan commentators to fill space.

The other culprit is the crossfire interview format with left-wing and right-wing so-called experts. Originally the premise was that audiences could take into account the acknowledged bias of the pundits. It made the discussion more transparent than interviewing an expert who may have a hidden agenda.

But it has just become boring, with two propagandists trying to slug it out. I think the audiences are even less enlightened by this approach, which encourages false equivalence.

Getting political scientists from the universities may not be perfect, but at least there is some real political insight rather than just a point-scoring verbal battle.

The best example of how bad things have become is Heather du Plessis Allen's latest column in the Sunday Herald. She persists in her absurd theory that Jacinda Ardern is just like Donald Trump because Labour wanted to reduce the number of immigrants and that like the US election, it was close and (mildly) controversial.

Ardern and Trump could not be less alike in outlook, background, temperament, politics or physicality - you name it.

It is supposed to make her look insightful but it is an observation that is just plain silly. Is there no adult at the Herald to edit this stuff?

She went on to complain again about the "stolen" election, and tried to spin the latest poll numbers as being good for National. What the latest poll indicated was that National is now 10 percent behind the coalition. That is a 4 percent gain on election night.

I won't remain a "defender" forever, because there are bound to be things from the Coalition Government that eventually annoy me.

I will just try to be guided by what is actually happening.

Mitch Harris is the host of RadioLIVE's Night Talk, 8pm - midnight Monday to Thursday nights, and streaming live to the rova app on Android and iPhone.