Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett: Nothing as good as a baddy in an election duel

The Conservative Party leader Colin Craig. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The Conservative Party leader Colin Craig. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Like any decent Western there are goodies and baddies running through the set of this election campaign. However, it is far from clear which are which. Some people's goodies are others' baddies.

So far, foreign land buyers are the biggest baddies to be pushed through the saloon's swinging doors. Conservative leader Colin Craig got to taste the joy of beating NZ First leader Winston Peters at his own game, and on his own turf.

Craig chose a provincial Grey Power meeting to reveal Lochinver Station had been bought by those unwitting villains of old, Shanghai Pengxin.

He's still got a few tricks to learn from the Old Master. The presentation of his big hit lacked the drama and sinister thundering rhetoric that accompanies Peters' similar revelations. But it was at least true, unlike Peters' claims Huka Lodge had been snapped up by Chinese buyers earlier this year.

As soon as it hit the headlines Peters' territorial raging began. He could not concede that the upstart had successfully snaffled his own fruitful campaign line. So he managed to gatecrash Craig's party, effectively taking the story off Craig by pretending it had been his own all along, warning about bottom lines with a dollop of jingoistic thunder for good measure.

He then tried to counter by adding his own find to the mix. His party had done an investigation (ringing a land agent) to pretend to be interested in Wheturau Station. He was told it had been bought by a vendor known as Overseas Interests. Cue the soundtrack from Jaws.

Prime Minister John Key put up a half-hearted defence, pointing out foreign investment could actually benefit New Zealand. But even he knew that the heightened fervour of an election campaign put him on dangerous ground when it came to precious land.

On the goodies side of the ledger, several parties are again doing things the American way by collecting celebrity endorsements. It has been a key feature of the Internet-Mana campaign. First up was their high-profile founder, Kim Dotcom. Then King Kapisi and Wairangi Koopu were put on the payroll. An attempt to add Cliff Curtis backfired but this week The GC's Alby Waititi hopped on board.

Their rivals the Maori Party have also been busy, although their celebrities are somewhat more highbrow. They have an endorsement from Northland doctor Lance O'Sullivan, the New Zealander of the Year. He is known as Lance O'Dreamy among some in the Maori Party ranks because of his good looks. That will sting Mana's Hone Harawira - O'Sullivan's practice is in his hometown of Kaitaia.

Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell is understood to have also secured the endorsement of Tuhoe leader Tamati Kruger, a bookend to the long years of support Tame Iti has provided to Flavell and the Maori Party.

The Greens have long had actresses such as Robyn Malcolm and Lucy Lawless on their side. They now have a hat-trick courtesy of Anna Paquin, sister of co-leader Russel Norman's partner.

National relies primarily on John Key rubbing shoulders with the likes of United States President Barack Obama and the British royals. Labour did the Nats the favour of advertising another endorsement by kicking up a stink about TVNZ's Mike Hosking moderating a debate, claiming he would be biased because he liked Key too much.

But the best goody versus baddy fight is in Te Tai Tokerau where Labour's Kelvin Davis and Harawira have donned their stetsons for what could be a drawn-out pistols-at-any-old-time-of-the-day duel. Not so long ago, a prominent Maori commentator told me he doubted Davis could take the seat because he had "the charisma of a rock" and Northland Maori liked politicians chockful of character and edge. Davis' failing was the unhealthy attribute of being constructive.

He may well be reassessing after Davis mounted the most biting critique of the campaign so far on Facebook, questioning the motives of his rival Harawira's funder Dotcom and claiming Maori were being hoodwinked. Who knew he had that bit of mongrel in him?

He raised the same questions others had been asking. But his king-hit resulted in him being accused of breaking the good behaviour bond Labour has chosen to burden itself with in its apparent pursuit to out-sunny the Prime Minister. He was reminded they were all Mr Happy now. Mr Angry had been expelled, even in cases of great provocation.

Labour candidates had also been warned at the party's conference that their primary job was to get the party vote and their electorate battle was a secondary fight. Davis had fallen for that one before and clearly has no intention of doing so again. He is, after all, up against Harawira. Having to be Mr Happy hardly makes it a fair fight. He knew Harawira's Achilles heel was the deal with Dotcom, and he was merciless.

Davis is not prone to going "rogue". He quietened down, knowing his point had been made and the people he wanted to hear it had heard it. Of course, Harawira is renowned for being sunshine and light, for turning the other cheek, for cuddling rather than criticising his rivals. Ahem. His response was to accuse Davis of turning it into a "dirty and underhand campaign". He was hurt. He wanted Davis to say sorry.

Davis' response to that was also in his Facebook page.

He said he made no apologies if there was "another Maori politician in the north feeling pretty sensitive about all the criticism he's copping". Translation: a big fat "diddums".

- NZ Herald

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Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor and joined the Press Gallery in 2007. She began with the Herald in 2003 as the Northland reporter before moving to Auckland where her rounds included education and media. A graduate of AUT's post-graduate diploma in journalism, Claire began her journalism career in 2002 at the Northern Advocate in Whangarei. Claire has conjoint Bachelor of Law/ Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Canterbury.

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