Jonathan Milne is a former reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Jonathan Milne: Integrity, not issues, is the guiding force in this election campaign

Tariana Turia. Photo / Dean Purcell
Tariana Turia. Photo / Dean Purcell

Voting is easy. Let me show you how.

Where a leader stands on issues is important - but it's not the most important thing. What matters most is how tall and straight they stand.

This is because policies can never be more than a wish-list.

Democracy requires compromise and negotiation, in order to build a consensus across a majority of New Zealanders. Events like the global debt crisis and the Christchurch earthquakes conspire to defeat the best-laid plans. And sometimes - just sometimes - politicians simply break their word.

So take the fliers printed with one-line platitudes, slogans and pledges, and rip them up. They're not important.

What is important is personal integrity - integrity is all.

For three elections in a row, the Herald on Sunday has intensively focused its campaign coverage on party leaders. We have focused on the people ahead of the policy. And we make no apology for this.

By sitting down for dinner with the leaders and their families each election, we learn a little about these people that no press conference or party conference can ever reveal.

There are a fair few Maori Party policies that I don't agree with. But I have seen Tariana and George Turia with their grandchildren - and I know I would trust them with my child.

Green Party co-leaders Metiria Turia and Russel Norman faced some tough questions this week when it emerged that one of their party members had arranged the wide-reaching vandalism of National Party billboards. At first, I was inclined to scepticism when they professed ignorance.

But I have sat down to dinner with both of them and their respective partners. I have argued black and blue with them. I believe they are straight-up, genuine people. I don't believe they have ever misled me - and so I choose to trust them again on this occasion.

I don't know Phil Goff so well, but I caught up with an old journalist friend of mine this week. She recalled meeting him in Phuket, Thailand, amid the heat and stench of the aftermath of the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004. His authentic, human concern is something she will always remember.

And then there's John Key. After the events of the past week, in which he has painted freelance cameraman Bradley Ambrose and the Herald on Sunday as tabloid criminals, accusing us of a deliberate subterfuge that we never committed, I might be tempted to anger.

But I still recall him as a newbie, backbench MP, sitting on his own in a back corner of Parliament's Copperfields Cafe, about seven years back. While other MPs gossiped in the lunch break, he took off his suit jacket, loosened his tie and rolled up his white sleeves. He threw himself into the work of unravelling New Zealand's income tax system, taking it apart entirely and finding a new way to stitch it back together that would make every New Zealander a little bit better off.

I don't know if it would have worked: National lost the next election and he didn't have a chance to implement his tax reforms, so we'll never know. But I'm damn sure that his intent was genuine, to make New Zealand a better place.

These people all go into politics to make New Zealand a better place. They carry a heavy load: our trust and expectation.

Our load is easier to carry. Decide who you trust. Vote for them.

- Herald on Sunday

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Jonathan Milne is a former reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Jonathan Milne is a former reporter and deputy editor of the Herald on Sunday. He specialised in politics and education. He won awards for his newspaper and magazine journalism in New Zealand and the UK.

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