I was lost for words when I saw it. Not a common occurrence. There he was, the Prime Minister of New Zealand on the BBC. How proud he looked (or smug, I can never tell), surrounded by various kiwi tchotchkes – kitsch kiwis and an adorable little bathtub waka.
The interviewer, clearly better informed than we are used to seeing in these parts and clearly intent on preserving the integrity of his show deftly proceeded to (how can I say this delicately?) tear Mr. Key a new one. It seemed our Dear Leader didn’t realize he wasn’t dealing with Petra Bagust and the show’s name was HARDtalk for a reason.
What struck me about the encounter was the sheer folly of feinting almost every difficult question with the catchall statement “Well, I don’t agree with that…”
For example the interviewer asserts that our international advertising slogan is bollocks – New Zealand is as far from pure as it is from our traditional markets.
“Well, I don’t agree with that…”. Key was confronted with data from a report by Dr Mike Joy from Massey University (based on science from our own government’s agencies NIWA and Landcare) - 90% wetlands are gone 70% of our native forests are gone. 40% of our lowland waterways are polluted 57% of bird species are threatened 89% reptiles oh, and all of our amphibians are gone. How then can we justify the 100% Pure tag? The response “…for the most part in comparison with the rest of the world we are 100% Pure” Then came the rather obvious riposte “I’m sorry Prime Minister but hundred percent is a hundred percent”. Pure gold.
I don’t want to litigate the merits, or otherwise of the tourism campaign (I always liked the double entendre of New Zealand and New Zealanders having a unique character, rather than the dodgy literal translation).
This is an election year, and potentially the one where social media will make a difference. Rather than waiting for the political parties to set the agenda there is a real opportunity for New Zealanders to actually participate in shaping our democracy. I know we’re an apathetic lot. ‘Sure, here, take a third of my income and spend it on what ever you think is right…new fleet of luxury limos…hey, why not. Why not embark a fact-finding mission while you’re at it. Paris is nice this time of year…can’t join you this time though. Having trouble putting food on the table.”
It’s easy to look at the last Obama campaign and hold it up as a paragon or template for how to win an election (read Yes We Did for an insider’s deconstruction of the tools and techniques deployed). The politicians in New Zealand who use Facebook and Twitter seem to use it as if they are broadcast media. Rarely do they actually engage with their constituents online.
Let’s turn the web into a giant town hall meeting 24 hours a day, seven days a week and set the agenda together. I’m relatively non-partisan. I don’t think any of the parties have a clue. Our opportunity is to harness the brainpower of the country, rather than leave it up to ideologically deluded polis.
My own particular hobbyhorse is developing the creative industries and reducing our dependence on primary produce. It still galls me that the current government’s solution to jumpstart the New Zealand economy was to back a plan for a cycle-way. Fiddling while Rome burned. The recent budget demonstrated that there is no imagination in parliament and even less ambition. Selling the family silver is not a long-term solution. It simply means more money will be exported overseas and the downward spiral – our race to the bottom – will continue and be even harder to pull out from.
John Key’s performance on HARDtalk broadly equates to his leadership stratagem. Just smile and wave boys, just smile and wave. If the facts don’t fit your agenda get some new facts. Cling to power for power’s sake and pull the wool.
Well, power to the people I say. Lets make something happen.