TV One’s Q&A not only continues to provide discursive and intelligent coverage of New Zealand politics but is making much of the political news itself. Check out the metropolitan press any Monday and you’ll find two or three stories credited to the previous morning’s programme. Journalistically Q&A is putting the papers to shame. Yesterday’s programme featured Paul Holmes interviewing Wanganui MP Chester Burrows and Wanganui mayor Michael Laws on the legislation brokered by Burrows to ban the wearing of gang patches in the city’s CBD and public areas. Both are articulate and persuasive advocates of the new law, but the really interesting thing about the debate was that it revealed an entirely different Michael Laws to the frequently irrational, often hysterical and occasionally crazed columnist in the Sunday Star Times. This Michael Laws was both temperate and rational in his opinions and much the better for it. What this may demonstrate is a point I make in an earlier blog that balanced opinion is the last thing newspaper editors want from their columnists. Getting up the noses of the hoi polloi sufficiently to provoke them into penning irate letters to the editor is the order of the day.
Holmes also interviewed National’s Melissa Lee and Labour’s David Shearer, generally expected to lead the field in what is considered to be a two-horse race for Mt Albert. The difference between the two could scarcely have been more stark. Lee is abrasive, strident, shrill, super confident and, of course, very beautiful. Shearer, quieter and less overtly political, comes across as a nice bloke – warm, pleasant, engaging. Both are highly articulate and fiercely intelligent. Lee made much of Shearer being the new boy on the block; Shearer wanted to stick to the local issues. If candidate likeability is an issue in by-elections, I thought Shearer came out well ahead. And Lee’s inability or unwillingness to commit on the tunnel versus motorway issue may well cost her. But there are complex issues at play in Mt Albert, one of which may be the racial composition of the electorate. And panellist and former National Party President, Michelle Boag, made one fascinating observation. In a by-election, as distinct from a general election, voters know which party is going to be in power. They may well prefer to have an MP who is a member of the Government rather than a member of the Opposition. And if it doesn’t work out, they can always toss them out at the next election.