On Sunday on The Nation Bill Ralston, Rachel Smalley and I had the pleasure of interviewing Cameron Slater of ‘Whale Oil’ fame. I hadn’t expected it to be a pleasure. Slater’s politics are at the opposite end of the spectrum from my own and his and his Whale Oil followers’ perpetual use of gratuitously offensive language had merely served to persuade me of their intellectual poverty. Meeting Slater did not change my view of the morons who have made his blog the most widely read in the country. (Nothing attracts a following like intemperance of thought and expression.) But it did change my view of him.
Cameron is highly intelligent, has a great sense of humour and is… well, I’m reluctant to use the word ‘charming’ so I’ll tone it down a bit and say ‘extremely engaging’. And I didn’t get where I am today by not being able to penetrate all that ‘don’t give a fuck’ bluster to recognise a capacity for being wounded that, needless to say, will never be confessed. But what I really wanted to say is that I found Slater hugely interesting and entertaining. He is a character and we are woefully short of characters in New Zealand politics at the moment. In fact, in terms of personality, politics in this country has never been duller. Where the two major parties are concerned ‘tired’ is the word that most readily springs to mind. The tone is set by their leaders.
Shearer is plain dull. And, in the sense of something that was once shiny but has now lost its gloss, ‘dull’ will do fine for Key as well. I look at both of them and long for a Kirk, a Muldoon, a Lange or a Clark. I’d even settle for a Holyoake, Bolger or Shipley – leaders with personality. And the front bench pickings are meagre as well. Tedium thy name is Steven Joyce, all too ably assisted by Gerry Brownlee, Bill English, Jonathan Coleman, Phil Heatley et al. Labour does not fare any better – dull, dull, dull. The notable exceptions in both major parties are women Judith Collins in National, Annette King in Labour. Both strong, both intelligent, both charismatic. Collins will almost certainly be Prime Minister of New Zealand one day; King should have led the Labour Party, but didn’t want it – a minor tragedy in my view for the party and the country.
There is in fact no shortage of forceful, charismatic women in Parliament; it’s the men who are the drones. Pondering suicide, Hamlet observes, ‘How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world!’ Which is more or less how I feel watching Joyce or Brownlee on television. Could anyone be more lacking in verve, more mind-numbingly dreary? Well, let’s not forget Peter Dunne. And the gender pattern is continued among the Greens. Yes, Russell Norman is both intelligent and articulate, but his flat, Aussie delivery and lack of perceptible warmth pale against the energy, vitality and passion of his co-leader Metiria Turei. So who does that leave to rouse and inspire us, to infuse us once again with zest and enthusiasm for Parliament and politics? Where is the joker in this pack of dullards? Where he’s always been of course: hiding behind his naughty boy smile, up to no good, and waiting to steal all the pies.