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Paul Casserly: Yesterday's men

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Paul Holmes. Photo / APN
Paul Holmes. Photo / APN

Two of yesterday's men came eye to eye Sunday morning on Q&A: Paul Holmes and John Tamihere.

Holmes was back for the first time since his major heart surgery, and despite fluffing a few words, he was in fine form. I'm probably reading too much into it but it seems that the things that haven't killed him seem to be making him stronger. (I'm also detecting a more relaxed vibe from Sainsbury on Close Up. He's currently on TVNZ's version of death row as his show heads to the glue factory later in the year, but you'd never know it.)

Holmes was on hand to give John Tamihere a chance to blow his own trumpet to mark his attempt to once again storm the walls of Parliament. Thanks to that interview with Ian Wishart, JT has spent the last seven years in exile, from the Labour party at least.

Holmes: "Has John Tamihere had a brain-fade? Does he really want to return to parliament for a party that he called smarmy and tossers?" It was a good question, but the elder statesman of current affairs demurred when it came to JT's infamous use of the term 'front-bums' to refer to the female members of the Labour party.

Holmes only went as far as saying "he used a very funny expression at the time as well".

As is traditional, JT tried his best to be coy about his return to the Labour party, saying: "It's early in the electoral cycle to be absolutely definitive." Which is a politician's way of saying "shit-yes, can't wait, if they'll have me that is".

Asked if he'd chase a Maori seat he said, "I'm over it. The politics in the Maori seats are incredibly gruelling and it's a time for building bridges." So he's clearly going after the Pakeha vote in a general seat, unless he can smarm his way onto the list.

It was hardly a grilling, but Holmes was back in fine form, teasing out just what JT was planning even though he wouldn't directly state it, as is traditional in this foreplay stage of the political return from the dogbox. It seems that Tamihere is after Paula Bennett's seat in Waitakare, which Labour lost at the last election.

But is this too big a challenge for yesterday's man?

"How do you cease to be yesterday's man, I mean, is there a second chance?" asked Holmes, not realising the sound of his paw stepping onto his own gin-trap. JT grinned, cheekily, "Well you've had a few." Which was followed by much laughter and Holmes conceding the blackness of his own kettle with a chuckled "righto, fair-enough".

If there's one thing that JT is a good at it's laughter, and he puts this to good use on his own talk show Think Tank (TV3, Sunday, 9.30am). The latest episode did a good job of discussing the Maori Land Wars, with a panel obviously aimed at redressing the usual balance that sees Pakeha views swamping Maori. The lone Pakeha, author Peter Maxwell, almost looked ashamed on behalf of his people and even admitted, "I didn't really know much about the land wars till I was in my 40's."

We didn't exactly learn the whole story before the end of the show but it was illuminating viewing all the same. JT may not be the sharpest director of interview traffic in the land, but his ability to inject humour - a necessary element in any show that features pointy-heads like Ranganui Walker - is a huge plus.

The closest things got to be being heated was in regard to Maori losing much of their land back in the day. Maxwell bravely, or stupidly, (depending on your politics) suggested that at the time "a vast amount of the land was unoccupied.." To my Pakeha ears this makes some sense and is certainly worth chewing over, but to academic, Tania Rangiheuea it seemed like heresy, and she was close to tears as she responded. The emotion on display revealed much about the gulf between the cultures, but the pair finally came to a consensus of sorts when Maxwell suggested that Maori could have had no idea that Pakeha would measure land down to the millimetre. "It was a massive cultural clash."

The best line of the show came from the reliably intelligent Ella Henry, of Ask your Auntie fame. Picking up on the idea that one of the best parts of the treaty settlement process is that local Maori history is being recorded for posterity, she said: "The historical account is the real tohunga of the settlement, and not the scraps that we all fight over like hungry dogs, if truth be told."

I wonder if that rather unvarnished interpretation of history is beginning to make some of the older, more embittered academics seem a little like yesterday's men. The show certainly makes you think, though sadly, on evidence gleaned from one viewing it seems unlikely that JT will be letting anything too controversial slip out of his mouth, let alone his bum. Front or back.

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