Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Steve Baron: Judge Ye Not

Headlines are already calling for the blood of Labour’s new leader, David Shearer; “Left divided over low-profile leader”; “Labour's ‘unfortunate experiment’"; “An implausible prime minister”. Shearer has been judged by his 10 second sound-bites and he has been found wanting in many peoples’ eyes. But what do we really know about Shearer—or any leader for that matter, from a few brief comments on TV or in a newspaper?

I realise that there is no way for each and every one of us to really get to know a political leader personally—that’s just not practical. Unfortunately we have to make snap decisions without really knowing what these leaders believe in or what their vision is for New Zealand. Yet, perhaps, New Zealanders are too shallow and or too quick to judge these leaders?

 The names Geoffrey Palmer, Mike Moore, Bill English, Don Brash and Phil Goff come quickly to mind as short term leaders. Their parties were very quick to throw them out because of low opinion polls. It would seem that what we really look for in a leader is simply to be entertained by a quick witted David Lange or Winston Peters.

The ebullient David Lange certainly entertained us. He was a master of the repartee and succinct one-liners who captured our imaginations as he performed in the Oxford debate over nuclear weapons. Lange was the consummate politician and in his element in front of a TV camera. Although a quick review of the literature on Lange reveals a person who lived for, and thrived in the theatre of politics, rather than one who had political conviction or vision. He was evidently not a man for the finer details of public policy and soon lost interest in such inconsequential matters.

If Michael Laws is to be believed in his book, The Demon Profession, Winston Peters is also the mercurial orator with little interest in the finer detail of public policy and someone who also thrives on political theatre.

I reserve my judgement of Shearer for now, having in recent times had an epiphany. Having made the great pilgrimage that all unabashed politico zealots finally make, to the temple of all consuming power—parliament’s debating chamber, I was taken aback by one impressive speaker who was lambasting another parliamentary speaker on the deficiencies of that Member’s policy. This person was eloquent, confident, thoroughly informed, had total conviction in his beliefs, at ease with himself and comfortable in his surroundings. This was not the impression I originally had of this person whom I had only ever seen briefly on TV. What I had previously seen was a smarmy, uncomfortable and incongruent Phil Goff; former leader of the Labour Party. My perceptions of this man have now changed and perhaps they may change in regard to David Shearer, if he is given more time.

 Political leadership is an interesting subject. Academics around the world make a living from studying, teaching and commenting on it. They seek to understand what makes a good or bad leader and revel in the phenomena of political leadership. To what avail I’m not sure, but each to their own—whatever turns you on!

However, in the final analysis, perhaps we are foolish to put so much faith in political leaders and to give them so much power over our lives. Let’s face it; we all know that leaders and their political parties don’t know half of what they think they know. Most first year University economics students would have known Sir Robert Muldoon’s economic policy was doomed to fail—but not the great leader himself.

New Zealanders do appear to be losing faith in politics and political leadership. Over one million of us never even bothered to vote at the last election. Perhaps it is time to examine other ways of making important public policy decisions that affect each of our lives? The Swiss certainly have a unique way of doing that!

Steve Baron is a political columnist, published author, former businessman, independent political candidate, Mayoral candidate and Founder of Better Democracy NZ. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science & Economics.


Richard said...

Steve, you had me, that is until the adjective "great" qualifying "leader" in respect of Muldoon. There are many things that NZ suffers from today that can be traced back to that arrogant bully (but arguably a more consumate politician than Lange - Labour didn't get that until Helen) and in hindsight had I had "connections" should have sought ability to provision my wife who regulalrly said something along the lines of "If I had a gun I'd go to Wellington and shoot the so and so. Cheers

Rodney said...

I happened by chance on a most interesting book that I am still reading and absorbing now. Written by an A N Field in 1939. Title is ' The Truth about New Zealand '
This was first printed in the Examiner May 1939 , revised and printed in book form July 1939.
THIS IS RIGHT UP TO THE MINUTE even now and all is still going on to the detriment of of the country and us the people.
Wall Street and others have not got a monopoly apparently, we do it here as well!