Jane Bowron: What election? Who's seen the politicians?

Guyon Espiner's revealing interview with former Prime Minister Jim Bolger will be a welcome addition to the archives, ...

Guyon Espiner's revealing interview with former Prime Minister Jim Bolger will be a welcome addition to the archives, says Jane Bowron.

OPINION: Radio New Zealand National's decision to allow their top talent time out from their regular gigs to pursue other projects has paid off big time.

Journalist Guyon Espiner was awarded time out from the gruelling three-hour, five-day a week day Morning Report gig he co-hosts with Susie Ferguson, to undertake a series on five former New Zealand prime ministers. 

Espiner's sabbatical last year from Morning Report had many listeners wondering whether his fill-in, RNZ's veteran host Kim Hill, was making a permanent comeback to the 6-9am slot. 

Produced by Tim Watkin, RNZ's The Ninth Floor series has so far broadcast Espiner's interviews with four prime ministers – Mike Moore, Geoffrey Palmer, Jim Bolger and Dame Jenny Shipley, with Helen Clark yet to come.

* The 9th Floor: Jenny Shipley
The 9th floor: Jim Bolger
The 9th Floor: Mike Moore
The 9th Floor: Geoffrey Palmer

During his interview, Bolger frankly admitted that neoliberalism had failed, and regretted the weakening of unions in New Zealand. The promised economic growth had failed to materialise and only a few at the top had benefited, he said.

Such an about-face had long-term and vehement opposers of neoliberalism both applauding Bolger for his admission of failure, and dismissing his mea culpa as self-indulgent hindsight. 

The following week during Dame Jenny Shipley's interview, the only female prime minister of the National Party launched an attack on present day middle-class welfare, calling for mid- to high-income users to pay more.

A former chairwoman and board director, Shipley appeared to align herself with the middle classes saying she felt personally sick that on her income, she couldn't opt out of a subsidised health care system.

The interviews with former leaders, or "sketches" as they have been described by RNZ, will be a welcome addition to the archives. They also serve as benchmarks to compare the leadership choice voters have to make on September 23. Hearing the histories from our yesterdays from those at the top can help us decide the leadership skill-set required for our tomorrow.

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With the French and British general elections pending, and in the wake of the American elections and President Trump's tumultuous 100 Days in office, the absence of a buzz for our general election is worrying.

Finance Minister Steven Joyce's budget with its no-secret tax cuts on the horizon may not be out till May 25, but the election is only four-and-a-half months away. I can't remember such a quiet lead-up to an election, and an urgent need for so many important issues to be thrashed out, or at least given a proper public airing.

Housing, immigration, climate change, water degradation, dairying, health – particularly the state of mental health, education, road and rail, infrastructure … take your pick. It isn't just a case of New Zealand being overshadowed by world politics, our politicians simply aren't in clear sight. 

The pseudo current affairs TV show Seven Sharp continues to follow a magazine-style, politics-are-so-uncool agenda, while newcomer The Project has a confusing line-up of four talking heads.

One of The Project's two regular hosts, the laid-back Jesse Mulligan, is at risk of overexposure, not to mention burn-out. He performs weekdays on RNZ's Jesse Mulligan 1-4pm only to resurface again three hours later on The Project.  That's a lot of Mulligan soup to digest, even if you like the comedian-turned-broadcaster. 

Mulligan co-hosts with Kanoa Lloyd and side-kick comedian Josh Thomson, and a fourth guest host, usually plucked from the MediaWorks network cast list, and in particular, the golden alumni of Seven Days.

That rolling stock from the Friday night comedy show are in clover, perpetually keeping the lucrative fourth seat warm for their old mates. What do you expect from a show produced by one of their own, producer/comedian Jon Bridges?

Yes, more politicians appear on The Project than Seven Sharp but for such a short time it's once-over-sound-bite-'litely'. The politicians also have to field a variety of questions from four hosts all trying to quickly get in and out to score a witty point at the expense of informing the viewer. 

Holding a politician to account isn't going to happen in such short-burst appearances as current affairs goes south. Politicians can rely on it. What's even more jarring is the presence of a live studio audience who clap furiously after any old beige-loid guest puts in an appearance, as if they have just witnessed a star circus act. 

But fear not, the cavalry is coming with the return of the political show Back Benches in a couple of weeks where hosts Wallace Chapman and Charlotte Ryan will dare to thrash it out with a panel of pollies.

 - The Dominion Post


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