Hard News by Russell Brown


Political Idol, or whatever you want to call it

When John Key sneered yesterday that the Labour leadership contest would be "three weeks of reality TV" and "Political Idol, or whatever you want to call it," he clearly meant that in a bad way. The other way of looking at it is that event TV engages key demographics, and televised talent quests soak up the public conversation like a sponge.

We not only come to feel that we know the contestants, we start to identify with them. We don't even have to vote. Merely by watching the contest, we end up feeling some ownership in the result. And if it's like X-Factor, you know that everyone gets a deal in the end anyway.

Well, that's how the format is meant to roll. On the other hand, these spectacles raise up villains as readily as they do heroes. If ever there was an environment for a 100% positive campaign, this is it. If I said I'd like to see the runner-up give the victor a tearful hug, I'd only be half-joking. Perhaps they'll bring back the people's favourite, Jacinda, who was eliminated early in the contest, for a closing singalong.

Thus, David Cunliffe's enthusiastic campaign launch yesterday was all good (but is a meeting in a tiny New Lynn electorate office really a "Presidential-style launch"?) and the idiotic Cunliffe for Leader Twitter account is a really bad idea. I'm actually leaning towards the view that the latter is a troll account and ought not be fed by actual supporters of any candidate. (Update: Forget "leaning towards". It's a troll account. And more entertaining read that way.)

Political Idol, of course, is not limited to any one TV channel, and last night we got to see the Native Affairs version. It was interesting. Cunliffe was stiff -- he'd either used up all his campaign juice earlier in the day, or was fuming about that weird screw-up on Facebook. Robertson was relaxed bordering on avuncular, and Shane Jones was like a talented but out-of-practice rap artist -- still got the flow, but sometimes misses his line. If I could get the on-demand video to play, I'd grab a still of Uncle Grant reaching out and fraternally touching both his rivals. I'm sure there's a priceless still in that.

What I did realise last night was that Jones, who has no chance of winning the leadership, has as much to gain as anyone from the process. If, by the end of it, the public identifies him a little less with that thing and a little more as a man of talents, that's a huge win for him.

Jones' presence also eases the sense of confrontation between the two main contenders. It's one thing to say that the loser will drop in as the deputy in a dream-team, another to consider exactly what the post of deputy Labour leader will mean in a Labour-Green goverment. Which is to say: nothing. It would be a given of such a government that Russel Norman would be its deputy leader.

But anyway, I'm looking forward to the next three weeks, not least because it will generate plenty of media. And not just the cliche-fest of TV news, but fun stuff like the excellent Ned Stark for Leader Twitter account and interesting observations like Giovanni Tiso's recording of David Shearer's disappearance from the Labour website. Bring it all on.

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