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PENN RAINE: In the eye of the beholder

Since Saturday, the usual suspects have, among their cries of surprise at Labour’s slap-down, been suggesting that their slide into ignominy could have been avoided if only they had not incinerated so many of their contentious policies. This amusing anti-logic has us scratching our heads. Are these journos suggesting that if the secretive Three Waters proposals had been enshrined in law along with the widely criticised social insurance policy and the RNZ/TVNZ merger then the public thumbs-down would have miraculously turned to cheers? Do they hold the view that the proposed hate speech laws would have become cherished in familiarity by those for whom they were designed to muzzle?

Seriously? These are the same media voices who were shining up Chippie’s image for being down with the ordinary voters, for understanding their pain – the honest chipper chappie, chucking out all the nasty policies that only weeks before he had cheered on. Nothing to see here, just an ordinary bloke down at the dairy with nothing to hide.

Political commentators in Australia this week are suggesting that the two main reasons for Albanese’s humiliation by the results of the Voice referendum are the Prime Minister’s arrogance and the media’s deafness.


You could claim, and many have, that Chris Hipkins was handed a poisoned chalice even though his PR luvies branded him in such a way that a fawning media loyally denied that his original popularity bump was the dead cat bounce. Early on his team organised press release pics of him scarfing pies and sossie rolls in an attempt to make us want him for our friend because of his down-home relatability. Just yesterday the MSM pack have descended once more into the abyss of cheapo journalism in a chatty puff piece about his new relationship, even as they gently ask whether there is perhaps, just possibly, a question mark over his Party leadership. It’s not a stupid idea for the legacy media to rely on the cheesy photo to persuade support from a superficially engaged voting public. After all it worked a treat for Chippie’s predecessor.

Ah, Ardern, that international dog and pony show!

The 2019 Mosque terrorist attacks demonstrated the tragic irony that the then Prime Minister had been handed an opportunity to turn bleak darkness into pure PR gold. The victims were a blameless minority at prayer. The perpetrator a lone wolf with a vile and frank ideology. And not even one of our own citizens. An Australian! It would have been a truly incompetent democratic leader who could not respond in a way that attracted a 100% approval rating. That image of Ardern in a hijab has penetrated every crevice of the connected world and hovered above her like a saintly hologram. Until last year.

A picture may be worth thousands of words, but its effect can be trumped by the uneasy feeling that a citizenry has when it suspects that it is being taken advantage of. When Australia denied the Voice last weekend they were reacting to its lack of transparency, the feeling that there was trickery afoot. When New Zealand dismissed Labour last weekend, we were at last showing the same visceral response to Labour’s cloudy agenda, as well as its visible past crimes.

I’m bothered that as a nation our attention spans have been eroded by the soundbite and by cheap click-bait. This morning a friend hailed me when I was out walking with, ‘Now we’ve got to put up with that melon-head for the next three years.’

We have hard times ahead to heal our country when much will be asked of us, I suspect, and we will need to do a lot more than make up our minds about our nation’s direction based on a single image and a knee-jerk reaction.

Aren’t we better than that?

Penn Raine is an educator and writer. She lives in Auckland and south-west France.

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