OPINION: They used to say politics is showbiz for ugly people. But since Rodney Hide pulled on tights and danced with the stars, a new breed of politician has evolved. To get noticed, an MP must now be a hybrid of celebrity and politician.
Take star gardener turned backbench Nat Maggie Barry. MPs regularly hurl insults at each other across the debating chamber. The clever ones occasionally make it into newspaper diaries. Rarely do they generate entire stories. But as soon as the flame-haired former TV star slighted a photogenic female opponent: bam! The dozing press gallery were awake and blattering outrage into their smartphones.
In an age of Twitter, Facebook and reality TV shows, everyone is a celebrity. Showbiz drives the news cycle these days, and the smart MPs are hijacking New Zealand's small star pool.
Cabinet ministers love a TV camera. Wave a dictaphone or a radio mike under a passing minister's nose and they might talk as they walk. Place a TV camera in their path and they'll stop dead, turn on the full beam smile and give the lens their full attention. John Banks has even adopted a bizarre, slow walk especially for the cameras.
Prime Minister John Key is Parliament's biggest media whore: the unashamed king of the small screen. He abandoned question time on Thursday to host "Prime Minister's Hour" on Radio Live, talking oysters and rugby with John Howard and Al Brown. It was DJ Key's two-fingered gesture to critics who crucified him last year for prattling on about Moonbeam the cat, just as New Zealand was dealt a ratings downgrade.
Helen Clark was known for her more cerebral interviews with print journalists. Why would Key bother? Radio Live only has a few thousand listeners but Key's office regards them as opinion-formers. Those talkback types are the loud- mouths who sound off at the pub or the club. People listen to their opinions.
Key manipulates TV bulletins with the timing of announcements - like last week's Christchurch blueprint - and by drip-feeding friendly stories.
David Shearer's lack of the X-factor is his cloak of invisibility. He flounders and fluffs his way through an argument, when all a busy TV reporter needs is a pithy sentence. "Shearer doesn't make good TV. And Russel Norman does," one exasperated telly personality told me. His advisers have now enlisted a media trainer. Yes, it's infuriating for those who decry the dumbing down of politics. An hour of Question Time is filled with theatre. But the public prefers the drama that comes with an episode of Shortland Street.
Wicked Whisper: Which MP, not best-known for his charm, is suspected of having two women on the go?
- © Fairfax NZ News
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