John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Don't look for the 'real issues' in campaign's dying days

National Party leader John Key and Act Party member John Banks at their now infamous cup of tea meeting in Newmarket. Photo / Dean Purcell
National Party leader John Key and Act Party member John Banks at their now infamous cup of tea meeting in Newmarket. Photo / Dean Purcell

Much to National's relief, the High Court's ruling - or rather the lack of one - on the legal status of the so-called "tea-party tape" pushes a resolution well beyond election day.

Unless someone is willing to break the law in the next couple of days and reveal all of the tape's contents, John Key and John Banks are spared further embarrassment.

The court's reluctance to rule on whether their conversation in an Auckland cafe was private or public was hardly a surprise.

But the decision will please those who feel the issue is utterly trivial and want what's left of the election campaign to debate the "real issues" or, as Key puts it, "the things that matter to New Zealanders".

What's been forgotten in the teapot-tape saga is that election campaigns are notorious for focusing on the trivial at the expense of the "real issues".

In 2002, an inordinate amount of attention was devoted by National to Helen Clark's signing of a picture she had not painted, while renewed attempts were made to sheet home to her the responsibility for her speeding motorcade.

In 2005, the last days of the campaign were dominated by revelations surrounding Don Brash and the Exclusive Brethren.

Even without such distractions, the concluding days of a campaign are even less likely to produce coherent debate on the "real issues".

It's a period for scaremongering, especially the now-three yearly ritual of frightening voters as to who will go into coalition with whom.

It's a time when the parties throw everything including the kitchen sink at one another to secure the votes of the estimated 20 per cent of people who have not firmed up their intentions or who may change their mind.

Take yesterday as an example. Labour was continuing to pressure National over its partial privatisation plans. The Greens were trying to persuade voters they would have more leverage over National than Labour to stop asset sales.

The Prime Minister was trying to get privatisation off the day's agenda by saying the Government could pass a law for a 10 per cent limit on how many shares could be sold to individual entities.

Phil Goff was seeking assurances Kiwibank would not be put up for sale. Key was launching a post-election plan for a re-elected National Government. Don Brash was calling for a referendum on the retirement age.

Winston Peters was warning of secret deals being negotiated by the Crown and iwi for customary title to portions of the foreshore and seabed.

These are all "real issues". But by this stage the campaign has become a Babel-like cacophony as leaders talk past one another to shore up support, and whistle-stop their way through as much territory as possible before the curtain falls tomorrow evening.


They said it:
"There's lots of people I meet - from hairdressers to lumberjacks." - Prime Minister John Key catalogues the eclectic mix of occupations he comes across on the campaign trail. Hairdressers, fine. But lumberjacks?

What's happening today:
All aboard National's campaign bus as John Key whistle-stops his way from Wellington to Auckland via New Plymouth and Taupo over the next two days.

- NZ Herald

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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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