Heather du Plessis-Allan's idea to take the prospective Labour Leaders on a 'date' was a good one, except it's already been done. The British show The Un-dateables caused outrage and accusations of exploitation with its use of people who are a bit 'special'. It was actually quite a moving series. Equally moving are the special needs of Grant Robertson, David Cunliffe and Shane Jones. They want TV time to push themselves, to build their brands. But getting into the bed with journalists can leave you with STDs. HDPA sounds like a notifiable disease but it's merely the easy way to refer to Heather du Plessis-Allan. It's probably less itchy that a dose of Espiner syndrome. Needless to say for the politicians in question the honey pot of attention is one they'll risk almost anything for.
The first date is the time you project your 'best self', which generally necessitates pretending to be someone else. On the basis of what we've seen so far it's clear that the 'someone else' everyone wants to be is that mythical beast 'the average kiwi bloke'.
To be considered thus is the most important thing in politics. Ever since Bill Clinton's figured this out and sent him out with red-neck hunters for a famous photo op, politicians have been falling over themselves being seen doing blokey things. Remember Don Brash trying to climb into a speedway-car? Even mild mannered Phil Goff paraded his Triumph motorbike as often as he could. You may also recall photo ops of Obama necking beers and shooting hoops and who hasn't seen Vladimir Putin topless atop a horse.
So this week we've seen Grant sinking piss and watching the rugger with HDPA while Cunliffe took her fishing. Ironically, Shane Jones, supposedly the most macho of the trio, could hardly operate a gas BBQ.
HDPA adds much to Seven Sharp, and neatly balances her role of parliamentary insider with light-hearted piss-taking. Grant's date night with her involved watching rugby at the pub with his MP mates, including fellow head-prefect Jacinda Ardern and poacher turned game-keeper, Chris Faafoi. This contrasted with David - no-mates - Cunliffe who took HDPA on a fishing trip in which no fish were harmed, because none were caught.
Jones for his part had stood HDPA up, presumably because he was two-timing with Guyon Espiner on 3rd Degree. Guyon met Jones at Whangarei airport and drove him and his partner, former beauty queen and now campaign manager, Dot Pumipi, to Kaitaia. (They meet during the 2011 campaign.) Guyon drove while his voice told us that "Jones is a heady brew of Maori, Welsh and Dalmatian blood" and "maybe the Dalmatian genes explain why Jones gets into the sort of trouble that makes him one of parliament's most controversial MPs." Jones, who has never met a racial or sexual stereotype he didn't like, agreed. "A lot of them were lusty individuals - they didn't always marry the Maori wahines they applied their biological gum spear to." At least I think that's what he said. "Biological gum spear" is a reference I hadn't heard before but it cleverly ties together the Dalmatian history of gum digging in the north with rooting. Go Harvard!
("The "gum-spear" was a long steel rod, tapering from one quarter of an inch thickness to a sharp point." - NZ Encyclopedia)
It seems the obsession with Jones' manipulation of his own "gum spear" - via his ministerial credit card - remains intact. Guyon: "Porn on the ministerial credit card - what does his partner think?" Cleverly the camera was wide enough so we saw Shane squirming as Dot fumbled for the words, "You care about somebody for who they are. At the end of the day, it's quite exciting and um."
Guyon was making the most of his time with the appealing prospective first lady.
"Would you step up for being the first lady of NZ?" He asked, "Absolutely." She shot back immediately. "Will that happen Shane?" Shane had gone quite sheepish but was quickly rescued by the situation unfolding on the deck. "The BBQs on fire!"
Guyon took over BBQ duties and then Shane phoned David Cunliffe, who had apparently been leaving messages asking for a call back. It seemed David was calling to tell Shane not to do the sort of 'meet the wife' piece that he had just finished shooting with Guyon. Shane shuffled to end of the deck to make the call but thanks to a telephoto lens and a radio microphone I found myself eavesdropping on the conversation. I inferred that David, Grant and Shane had previously had some korero about keeping the families out of the media circus but Shane had gone his own way. The camera kept rolling as Shane fobbed Cunliffe off. I'm not sure that Shane was aware he was still on camera, but then again, who would know? In politics as it is in journalism, having two faces is merely the starting position.
Then, with a serious look on his face, Jones seemed to concede that Cunliffe was on to something, and also hinted at a mid-life crisis. "You do get nervous about the exposure you bring to kids and partners, but probably not a good idea to be furtive. No point wheeling my beauty queen out at some point in the future when it's safe. It's better that people get to know me and my imperfections."
HDPA had been making noise on Seven Sharp earlier in the week that Shane Jones was playing hard to get. No doubt he'd agreed to let 3Rd Degree run the story before the competition but HDPA hit the drama button and even threatened the old tabloid punishment of running the story "with you or without you." Finally on Thursday night Shane agreed to join her on a date and turned up to some grim looking café with future first lady, Dot. "Is he allowed a credit card?" Asked HDPA right off the bat. "No" said Dot. It wasn't to be the last mention of the "thing with the video" but we did at least learn that Shane won't eat chicken. At the end of the date the beauty queen and the imperfect man hugged HDPA and drove off. It turned out he'd parked in front of a Videoeasy. Too easy.