The Labour leadership race has been remarkably well-behaved and it has led to a larger party that is pledged to unite behind its first democratically-elected leader… much to the chagrin of many in the press gallery. Where’s the bloodbath that they promised themselves? Where’s the deepening disunity? They’ve tried to talk it up, they’ve tried to gonzo it. It hasn’t happened.
The Dompost have had the funniest coverage. They decided from the outset that Robertson was going to win. The first articles had in as ‘favourite to win’. Then facts came in – polls, union endorsements – and they all went against Robertson. The Dompost couldn’t just acknowledge these data as revealing the pre-existing truth because that would have meant they were wrong to call Robertson the favourite. So, we had a series of stories about ‘momentum’ shifting to Cunliffe and away from the ‘initial frontrunner’ Robertson. Nothing had actually changed (the very first poll had Cunliffe well in the lead) but the Dompost couldn’t admit that, so they had to create a narrative of change.
The Dom’s Tracy Watkins was a laugh in her own right. Desperate, desperate, desperate for any sign of infighting. Two days into the campaign she declared that the contenders were in an ‘ugly twitter row’ – were they fighting with each other? No, they were each asking their own parody/unofficial campaign twitter accounts to cut it out, which they did. Then, there was her ‘gloves off metaphor’. It began with ‘signs that the gloves are coming off’ in the leadership contest. Next, we were assured that the ‘gloves are off behind the scenes (I’m not sure how the gloves can be off behind the scenes in a public contest…). Finally, she seriously intoned that the ‘gloves are well and truly off’. But it all amounted to a hill of beans, tiny wee disagreements in a positive, uniting campaign.
Lastly, there’s the media jocks – or should that be the wannabe gonzos – Gower, Garner, and Guyon. They saw from the start that Cunliffe was going to win and nothing was really going to change about that. So, they invented the story of their mate Shane Jones as the ‘darkhorse’ candidate who was going to come through and win. They knew it wouldn’t happen. Mathematically, it couldn’t happen. But it was so fun to pretend and it let them put themselves in the story again and again. They got to play Hunter S in their production of ‘fear and loathing in various town halls’, and they definitely seemed to have been smoking something a lot of the time. But, ultimately, they showed the limitations of journalism – you can have the led political reporters of the largest media network in the country interviewing each other across multiple shows and formats reinforcing their own narrative and, in the end, it hasn’t amounted to a hill of beans.
Paddy Gower, gets the prize for having the hardest time understanding how a preferential voting system works – he declared Jones the kingmaker, as if Jones can assign the second preferences of people who make him their first preference. That happens in Australia because of their unique ‘above the line’ system for senate races. This isn’t an Australian senate race.
And, as usual, if you wanted real top-quality political coverage and a chance to actually hear the candidates themselves speak, instead of the journalists, then your only choice was Radio New Zealand… but how boring is that?