Brian Edwards Media

I meet Cameron Slater and get to thinking about boring politicians.


On Sunday on The Nation Bill Ralston, Rachel Smalley and I had the pleasure of interviewing Cameron Slater of ‘Whale Oil’ fame. I hadn’t expected it to be a pleasure. Slater’s politics are at the opposite end of the spectrum from my own and his and his Whale Oil followers’ perpetual use of gratuitously offensive language had merely served to persuade me of their intellectual poverty.

Meeting Slater did not change my view of the morons who have made his blog the most widely read in the country.  (Nothing attracts a following like intemperance of thought and expression.) But it did change my view of him.

Cameron is highly intelligent, has a great sense of humour and is… well, I’m reluctant to use the word ‘charming’ so I’ll tone it down a bit and say ‘extremely engaging’.

And I didn’t get where I am today by not being able to penetrate all that ‘don’t give a fuck’ bluster to recognise a capacity for being wounded that, needless to say, will never be confessed.

But what I really wanted to say is that I found Slater hugely interesting and entertaining. He is a character and we are woefully short of characters in New Zealand politics at the moment. In fact, in terms of personality,  politics in this country has never been duller.   

Where the two major parties are concerned ‘tired’ is the word that most readily springs to mind. The tone is set by their leaders. Shearer is plain dull. And, in the sense of something that was once shiny but has now lost its gloss, ‘dull’ will do fine for Key as well. I look at both of them and long for a Kirk, a Muldoon, a Lange or a Clark. I’d even settle for a Holyoake, Bolger or Shipley – leaders with personality.

And the front bench pickings are meagre as well. Tedium thy name is Steven Joyce, all too ably assisted by Gerry Brownlee, Bill English, Jonathan Coleman, Phil Heatley et al.

Labour does not fare any better – dull, dull, dull.

The notable exceptions in both major parties are women Judith Collins in National, Annette King in Labour. Both strong, both intelligent, both charismatic. Collins will almost certainly be Prime Minister of New Zealand one day; King should have led the Labour Party, but didn’t want it – a minor tragedy in my view for the party and the country.

There is in fact no shortage of forceful, charismatic women in Parliament; it’s the men who are the drones. Pondering suicide, Hamlet observes, ‘How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world!’ Which is more or less how I feel watching Joyce or Brownlee on television. Could anyone be more lacking in verve, more mind-numbingly dreary? Well, let’s not forget Peter Dunne.

And the gender pattern is continued among the Greens. Yes, Russell Norman is both intelligent and articulate, but his flat, Aussie delivery and lack of perceptible warmth pale against the energy, vitality and passion of his co-leader Metiria Turei.

So who does that leave to rouse and inspire us, to infuse us once again with zest and enthusiasm for Parliament and politics? Where is the joker in this pack of dullards? Where he’s always been of course: hiding behind his naughty boy smile, up to no good, and waiting to steal all the pies.

Three cheers for Winston! Can’t live with him, can’t live without him.

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  1. …I find it particularly alarming that over 40 per cent of New Zealanders approve of John Key’s poor memory and insulating remarks…

  2. I generally agree, party systems seem to filter out most of the people with character or character in people. Or people with character just aren’t interested in opening themselves up to extreme political exposure.

    But…what are politicians supposed to be for? Aren’t they supposed to be lawmakers and managers of government services? Parliament wasn’t originally intended as a stage of performance, where the most colourful characters are applauded and rewarded regradless of whether they can run a country or serve a constituency.

    Put another way using a couple of your examples, there’s no doubt that Winston Peters is and always has been a much more colourful character than Peter Dunne.

    There’s also no doubt that Peters attracts far more media interest. And party votes.

    But who has been the best and most effective MP?

    That’s a genuine question. What do we (the country) actually want of our MPs? And what do we need? Flashy? Controversial? Hit or miss? Bland? Reliable?

    I suspect we need a variety, but not a variety show.

  3. I’m glad you’re not the only one Brian. I’d put it down to irascibility brought about by advancing age (though perhaps it is…) but I can barely bring myself to listen to the drone of the various Parliamentary drones.

    I suppose I’m finding out how other people feel when the All Blacks or the Black Caps turn in a series of mediocre performances and their favourite sport loses its lustre.

    In Australia they’re constantly on about “the faceless men” – the otherwise dull backroom apparatchiks, focused only on their own careers, who engineered the rise of Julia Gillard – but at least Gillard and Abbott are interesting characters. NZ politicians on the other hand seem faceless men themselves, and the country is the worse for it.

  4. Why would anyone in their right mind want to enter politics in this country. This site is a prime example of what to expect if you do.

    People who have probably never met you, let alone really got to know you, are able to instantly sum you up just by looking at you or listening to a soundbite.

    Behind the scenes you have to endure hours of boring Select Committee meetings that ‘tedious’ barely defines. Local body council meetings are thrilling by comparison.

    You generally have to vote on party lines that tends to stifle any free thinking on your part. The insecurity of tenure makes it difficult for most to have a fall back career if you are tipped out every three years, unless you count ‘shockjock’ radio announcing.

    Our talented people tend to go into business, or the professions, where their options are so much wider and more fulfilling, usually better paid, and with less abuse or risk.

    Your example of Winston Peters answers your question. Peters is the perfect opposition MP. Smart, witty, quick thinking and absolutely useless in government. We all know what’s wrong with things, it’s finding someone who can put things right that is in short supply.

    I favour the US system, whereby the leader is able to select his cabinet across party lines, and more importantly outside the political sphere, where the real talent lies.

    BE: Have a look at this, Rick. An earlier post on the politician’s life.

  5. I couldn’t agree with you more Brian. There is a lack of character, zest and passion in the majority of today’s Politicians on so many levels. Apart from a couple of exceptions, where is the warmth and humanity I ask you? Truly, Parliament is on the whole chocka block full with dullards. Is this merely bad luck? A sign of the times/ our political processes? It’s obvious that this is as mindnumbingly boring for our media commentators as it is for the general public. Collective groans can be heard all over the country during the iconic six o’clock news… Maybe you should consider running for Parliament, Brian! Pretty certain you’d spice things up and bring more much-needed intelligence into the mix. While you ponder a career change, I’ll just close by saying I miss the kind of debating chamber oratorical wit and brilliance that had us all talking over the dinner table back in the day…

    BE: In 1972 I did stand for the Labour Party in Miramar. The election was a landslide for Labour and Norman Kirk and I should have won the seat. But my chances were scuppered a few days before the election by Truth which revealed that I had been married before and was living happily in a de facto relationship with my partner and three children. It was a difficult time for all of us, but I’m grateful to Truth for saving me from Parliament and Parliament from me. I’d have been a useless MP.

  6. Politicians are trying to be all things to everyone which makes innovation virtually extinct.

  7. “it’s finding someone who can put things right that is in short supply.”

    This appears to me to be a worldwide problem. My guess is that the institutions that guide and enable political careers evolved to select for managerial politicians because we have had managerial politics for such a long time. Now that we need actual leaders, there are none.

    The same seems to be true of other sectors of society. Chris Hayes has a really good book identifying meritocracy as the problem. It’s called “Twilight of the Elites”. I’ve yet to see a better explanation.

    Like I always say: the root of any seemingly intractable problem is invariably the thing people least want to give up.

  8. I’ve summarised the current state of play for you Rex and Brian :) – referring back to one of your recent blog posts, Brian where I agree with you about Collins’ Leadership prospects.

    The underlying sentiment of your post, Brian, seems to be that some bloggers are the persuasive and politically influential characters that politicians once were.
    I agree. The current batch of politicians are mostly Instant Pudding.

    BE: Thanks Monique. Interesting post.

  9. ..Hone certainly stands out from the rest. He speaks with a passion and a refreshing honesty which is pretty rare in politicians.

    BE: Agreed

  10. John Clarke would have possibly been ‘thee’ most entertaining NZ PM of all time.

    But if it wasn’t for all the ‘Slaters’ about, you wouldn’t need gumboots.

  11. 11

    Negligent Holdings Ltd

    “Shearer is plain dull”.
    “Labour does not fare any better – dull, dull, dull.”

    Shearer is the culinary equivalent of lettuce-and-parsnip soup, without any seasoning.
    The Labour vehicle can’t be started with a dodgy battery, especially, when the headlights are on full beam before the ignition key is turned on a cold winter’s morning.

    His continuing leadership is draining away what little dynamism is left in the Labour Party.
    Personality-wise, he’s as faceted as a blank sheet of white A4 paper. “Blank” being the operative word.

  12. I put it down to the way we now have a professional political class with a career structure going from school to Parliament.

    Being dull keeps you on the up escalator. Being interesting is just too threatening to party grandees.

    Where are the engine drivers, red squad coppers and farm hands? I’d like to see more people who got their hands dirty and lived real lives before telling the rest of us how to live ours.

  13. Perhaps its time to add how not to appear boring to your list of media training exercises?Im in agreement with Bill Bennett with regard to our political makeup(with the exception of The Red Squad Coppers)

  14. I am not sure that I particularly want ‘characters’ or those with charisma or personality in positions of power. I would settle for leaders who are honest, competent and boring.

    Leaders with ‘character’ do not have a good track record. At the extreme end we have Hitler, Stalin, etc. Muldoon was a character but would we really want him back again?

    Lange may have been entertaining but looking back I am not sure he was a particularly good prime minister. NZ is still suffering from many of the decsions made during his time in office.

    I certainly would not say Clark had ‘character'; dull as ditchwater would be the best description but against that she was an effective leader and prime minister regardless of whether one disagreed with her politics.

    No, when it comes to those in power i will stick with boring, thank you very much. It is great to have Winnie in opposition but his brief forays into the baubles of office do not inspire a desire for a repeat performance. And God have mercy on the souls of NZ if Collins ever gets the top job; hard as nails.

    BE: Well, style and substance are certainly not incompatible and Helen Clark was anything but dull. And you (and others) do yourself no favours by resorting to preposterous comparisons with monsters like Hitler and Stalin.

  15. I’ve come to the conclusion that very little separates a National-led government to a Labour-led one. They are both irredeemably hopeless. The Kate Wilkinson — faux — resignation was the final straw.

    This country will continue to slide further down the OECD ladder, so long as our two main political parties are comprised of teachers and lecturers and academics, social workers and trade unionists. Instructive-type personalities; much more inclined to “speak and be heard” than to actually “listen”.

    Much of what Brian Edwards says is true: there is a heavy strain of “dullness” that permeates the political parties; however, he is plumbing for “style over substance”. As if his being amused and entertained, is more important than having talented politicians (dull or not) who can articulate their vision and put it into practice for this country’s long-term benefit and economic prosperity.

    It has to be a sign of Edwards’ frustration — or desperation — over the lack of personalities, that he is suitably impressed by the ‘style’ incarnated by two artful and polarising Maori chameleon MPs.

    John Key and the Nats may be coming apart at the seams, but this is of little consequence when Labour is already deconstructed and scattered.

    No need to wonder, “Why?”, many of our best-and-brightest continue to leave for overseas.

    BE: Style and substance are not incompatible. There’s no necessary choice between the two. But I do like your comment, “Instructive-type personalities; much more inclined to “speak and be heard” than to actually “listen”. That could be very wise.

  16. Brian, your summation of Russell Norman as being “both intelligent and articulate”, but having a flat, Aussie delivery and lack of perceptible warmth seems to be at odds with your opinion expressed on The Nation recently that Norman, like Shearer, is as he is and not able to be changed by training. What say you?

    BE: I don’t see any contradiction there, Keith. You can’t train people to be charismatic. This doesn’t mean that Norman will not be highly successful in politics. He already is. My personal view is that the leadership combination of Norman and Turei is just about perfect.

  17. I was not making any comparison with Hitler or Stalin. I was just pointing out that charisma, character or whatever, when taken to extreme produce extreme results.

    I would not for one minute compare Muldoon with either of them but he was still a lousy leader and did untold damage to this country.

  18. Agree Brian…..actually you might say it is women AND Maori who bring life into politics these days…not just Winston, but Tau is a character, as is Hone, Shane Jones is always good for a quote (and a shrug) is the pakeha males who ar eletting the sid edown (speaking as one…). The Native Affairs political discussion the other night was great stuff….which proves my point!

  19. “But my chances were scuppered a few days before the election by Truth…”

    The very same publication of which Mr Slater has just been appointed editor, with the promise to return it to its former glory. God help us!

    BE: Yes, Truth certainly had its dark side. I sued them twice for defamation and have no reason to like them. But it’s also the case that in the 60s and 70s Truth was an effective investigative journal which exposed many wrongdoers. It was also the court of last resort for consumers, the Fair Go of its day.

  20. As one of the “morons” with “intellectual poverty” who read and comment on Whale Oil (along with reading plenty of other blogs such as your own), I find it ironic that meeting Cameron dramatically changed your view of him, yet you continue to make gross assumptions about his readers.

    BE: I think it would be clear from what I wrote on the post that I was referring to the ‘intellectual poverty’ of people who sprinkle their comments on Whale Oil (and elsewhere of course) with four-letter words and other vulgarities. I’ve always regarded that as indicating a poverty of intellect and expression. So I stand by that comment.

    However, you’re probably correct that my dismissal of Whale Oil’s readers as ‘morons’ was offensive and over the top. That’s not my normal style. I must have caught a bug somewhere.

  21. “I’ve come to the conclusion that very little separates a National-led government to a Labour-led one.”

    The End of History inevitably produces the Last Man.

  22. Harvindar, I am one of the 40% of New Zealanders who approve of Mr Key’s insulating remarks. With the cost of electricity anything that helps keep me warm is appreciated.

  23. “Whale Oils readers”

    “Caught a bug”….!?

    Come on Brian, a spade is a spade. Surely!?

  24. The thing that disturbs me about Cameron Slater isn’t his personality but that he chooses to remain ignorant when it comes to man-made climate change, even though surely he must be intelligent enough to understand what a huge number of scientists have been saying on the subject. I just can’t take such people seriously, other than as a bit of a worry.

  25. As the wife of a wharfie, during the POA dispute I naively followed a link on Bryce Edwards column to Cameron Slater’s blog and was really shocked and disturbed at the vitriol and hatred he incites on his blog. I literally felt sick after reading the ugly personal attacks on people I know and who’d done nothing to warrant that treatment. He comes across as a complex personality, to me he’s a bully who claims to hate bullying, a christian who seems to hate people who have a differing opinion to him, a man who considers his opinion and “the truth” to be the same thing. If he’s an example of an “engaging” person, give me “dull” any day.

  26. NZ Politics…….

    The demands for openness and transparency

    I have been around the block-30 years in business, spent $5.5m on fiduciary litigation and dealt with the most powerful people in the government system so what did I learn.

    I have found the Attorney General refuses accountability and fairness.

    I have also found the Prime Minister refuses accountability and fairness.

    In fact I have found the Law Society, Law Commission, Ministry of Justice all all refuse accountability and fairness.

    Yet it always been it’s a simple question regarding the rules and their responsibilities. And so if they don’t answer we clearly don’t have the democracy we are being told our politicians provide us with.

    What we are Sold

    Last week Former New Zealand Prime Minister and now UN number 3 Helen Clark gave a speech at Victoria University on global governance.

    The topic was “Improving Global Governance: Making global institutions fit-for-purpose in the 21st century.”

    It was Helen Clark’s conclusion that got me thinking:

    “Finally, accountability and fairness;”

    It’s a line I so often hear from politicians. They sell it as being the benchmark, the bastion of what they stand and fight for- “democracy.”

    What do we get?

    Yet those of us who have been to find the accountability find it’s just not there. It’s true and that’s why people all over the globe are unhappy with politicians and governments.

    I have spent the weekend reading Cheshire & Fifoot’s Law of Contract 8th Edition trying to determine the contract politicians make with the public when they sell that line of “I stand for Accountability and Fairness”- when they don’t. They just sell that line in order to gain votes to get the employment they are seeking- to govern us.

    Australia law guru Paul Finn underlined, “the most fundamental fiduciary relationship in our society is manifestly that which exists between the community (the people) and the state, its agencies and [[officials].”

    Voters trust politicians to manage the communities on their behalf- and so the relationship is actually a fiduciary one.

    Who owns government?

    Government is a trust structure and politicians are entrusted the power to manage that structure on behalf of the people who have conferred that power for the purpose of good management. Yet year after year we so often witness complete incompetence being dished out by our political leaders and nothing is ever done to rectify the problem.

    Test Case?

    I would be interested to see a test case put to the courts with a claim a politician has both breached their fiduciary duty and breached their contractual undertakings they gave regarding accountability and fairness.

    Democracy or Fiction ?

    I charge that the politicians and support groups who call themselves honest people are nothing of the kind.

    They are public relations manipulators. They secretly lobby each other for power and privilege, enjoy the benefits of public office then retire leaving us the tax payers the bill and the mess to deal with.

    They are crushing democracy, they are being driven by big business and other hidden powers and the 99.99% have had enough.

    The link for Helen Clark’s paper is here;

  27. I hear that Hitler was terribly entertaining fellow and great speaker apparently, very gestural hands – just happened to go on to murder millions of ethnic minorities in Europe. Seems age & the PR industry is blunting your intellect Mr Edwards.

    BE: A preposterous analogy. I can think of a dozen great humanitarians who were entertaining fellows and great speakers. There’s no connection between one thing and the other. Seems ageism, prejudice and arrogance have blunted whatever intellect you may once have had.