For my sins I watched the Paul Henry analysis of the TV3 leaders debate.
It was unsurprising to see the pundits question Cunliffe’s authenticity and whether he really means what he says again. It’s a meme repeated often enough that it is now ‘a thing’ with the public. But I doubt anyone truly believes he doesn’t care about child poverty and our housing crisis – if he didn’t he could be making a lot more for a lot less stress as a Business Consultant as he used to – or be doing profitably in the National Party.
So why is it inauthentic to sound like he does? My guess is that it’s because Cunliffe is – like most of our pundits – a wealthier than average, middle-class white male. But he doesn’t act like them, he speaks Maori and he talks in an ‘evangelical’ way – so they assume that that is put on.
But Cunliffe doesn’t come from comfortable roots. He comes from a family that was struggling to make ends meet, with a sick father. A Reverend father that was full of proselytising zeal for God and Socialism. One doesn’t need to look too far to see where Cunliffe would have got his manner from.
And it was interesting to see that the pundits hated him going on with his sermon on child poverty – but their panel of 100 undecided voters (who they surprisingly didn’t poll afterwards) saw that as by far the most positive moment of the night.
So his ‘evangelism’ connects – not with the hardened cynical pundits or those on the right – but no doubt with a lot more than 25% of voters. It can be an asset, no matter what the pundits may think.
I thought Josie Pagani did well within her constraints. Weirdly, post-Dirty Politics, they didn’t mention her affiliations – but then I guess she was there to ‘balance’ Paul Henry (inasmuch as a guest can balance a host!), and they didn’t want to mention his former National candidacy to balance mentioning hers.
Near the end Josie tried to analyse Key like they’d been analysing Cunliffe, but Paul Henry rapidly shut that down. At the level of micro-analysis of the ‘fight’ that our pundits do, it always ends up being critical, so keeping from examining every breath for fault saves Key’s skin. There was not the poring over each statement, and in doing so I think they missed analysing the biggest gaffe of the night.
Key claimed that only 11% of children in poverty were in working households rather than Cunliffe’s 40% – and continued to insist even when John Campbell pulled out the document showing the government’s own advice from the Ministry of Social Development said it was 2 in 5 children. Now Cunliffe probably should have hit with a blow of:
You get to have your own opinions John, but you don’t get to have your own facts
– because without that, it wasn’t worth mentioning by Henry, Edwards or Garner.
Because that is how our analysis goes these days. Josie tried a couple of times (and you could see she was working out how much she could get away with), but other than her 2 interventions we don’t get any analysis of the actual policy statements mentioned – in any of the punditry, Paul Henry Show or elsewhere. Hell, we don’t even get any analysis of whether they’re telling the truth. No, it’s entirely a Prize Fight, and it’s who landed the best rhetorical blow (and according to John Armstrong, it’s not even the balance of the fight, it’s only the best blow…).
So after being told how Dirty Politics distracted from policy, when we had the leaders talking policy, we had the pundits saying how that will have all gone over the heads of the viewers. And being patronisingly surprised that their ‘ordinary people’ they’d rounded up were actually interested in that. Before getting back to their Prize Fight commentary.
Of course now we’re back onto polls and Horse Races rather than the Prize Fight, but when will our pundits give us the actual analysis we need, rather than just game commentary? I optimistically presume it’s because they aren’t given the resources to study to that depth (in which case the editors need to give that to them), and hope it’s not because they’re scared of being declared partisan because of their results (reality having a left-wing bias and all).
Because without that policy analysis our democracy is more poorly informed, and the worse for it.