Like many journalists, and avid newspaper readers for that matter, I'm a political junkie.

That doesn't mean I love politics. Far from it.

They don't call us political enthusiasts or political fans. They call us junkies.

The term evokes a tragic and painful relationship with the topic, one we can't shake even if we wanted to.


One of the reasons I took so enthusiastically to business journalism was the relative freedom from the grind of daily politics.

But election years are different and, for reasons more to do with global politics, this one looks set to be particularly bad for political junkies.

By "bad" I mean savage and stupid, vicious, crazy and cruel - or any other combination of adjectives you might care to pluck from Hunter S Thompson's gonzo style guide.

The going always gets weird in election year but now the world has redefined weird.

There's a new benchmark for political craziness and that's making me nervous about what the next five months will bring.

It's disturbingly easy to get sucked into the vortex. Politicians are active on social media and not shy of publicly biting back at critics.

Picking a fight with the media is a great tactic. It sure worked for Donald Trump.

Winston Peters took a copy of the Herald on Sunday to a speech in Wellington last week and railed against me personally because I wrote a column suggesting we should have a less emotive debate about immigration.


He's welcome to do that. Everyone complains about the media. I shout at the TV news and scoff at columns I don't like, just like the next guy.

But the beauty of business journalism is it retains a sense of detachment from the circus in Wellington, or Washington, Canberra or wherever.

As the campaign trail heats up, I suspect plenty of business people and investors are feeling the same way.

We have just suffered eight years of intense focus on central banks and monetary policy.

Can we get back to market fundamentals now? No, because we have been sucked into an ideological bunfight.

Liberal, neo-liberal, new-right, new-left, nationalist - these are labels that most business people don't spend a lot of time worrying about.

"The shift began with Brexit in the UK last year and accelerated with Donald Trump's election," US economist and S&P Index chief David Blitzer told me last month. "We've moved away from technical economics and into what we used to call political economy."

In other words, where financial analysts might rather be focused on corporate earnings and market action like mergers and takeovers, the global financial crisis saw them forced to take an obsessive interest in the machinations of the Reserve Bank, Federal Reserve and European Central Bank.

Picking a fight with the media is a great tactic.

Then just when we thought we could get back to the nitty-gritty of business - populist politics rose its ugly head.

In New Zealand we have a stable economy with low unemployment and ought to be clear of radical social upheaval for a while.

But thanks to the vagaries of MMP, populist parties don't have to be popular to exert considerable influence. They don't need to capture half the population - about 10 per cent will do.

Immigration looks likely to be a divisive issue in this campaign, as it has become in many other countries. It is certainly an important one.

But this being New Zealand, we can be sure something more original - and probably barking mad - will be along shortly to distract us.

Three years ago we had Kim Dotcom's Internet party and Dirty Politics.

In 2011 it was John Banks and John Key slagging people off over a cup of tea.

This stuff is both entertaining and excruciating - like watching Basil Fawlty or David Brent at their worst.

Obviously to become a junkie there has to have been a high at some point to get you hooked.

My generation was probably spoiled. We grew up in the enormous presence of Rob Muldoon. They were great days for political satire. As children we lapped up the caricatures of comedian David McPhail and cartoonist Peter Bromhead.

And as the equally imposing figure of David Lange strode on to the political stage, we followed the 1984 election campaign as if it was a World Cup.

The breath of fresh air that the Labour Government brought was historic but it also killed a lot of old-school ideological division.

For 30 years, successive New Zealand Governments offered more change in style and personality than they did in fundamental economics.

As Guyon Espiner interviews ex-Prime Ministers for his Radio NZ series, the similarities in their world view become apparent, regardless of party allegiance.

And even where economic differences exist, there isn't the great cultural chasm we see dividing America so viciously.

New Zealanders are a relatively placid bunch. We're affable. But we do get het up in election year.

It's good we care enough to shout and march - or increasingly Facebook and Tweet - for change we believe in. But social media has amplified the weirdness.

There's no escaping it. We have a 24/7 frenzy of political debate to look forward to in the next five months.

And as for real junkies, it doesn't matter if it's top quality stuff or low grade rubbish.

We're constantly in danger of overdosing.