How the Chris Hipkins thing shows that politics isn’t fun anymore

It was a funny mistake — can’t we just take it on that basis?

Liam Hehir
Nov 8, 2017 · 3 min read

There were three general reactions to Labour’s mix-up yesterday:

- That it was funny and Labour deserve to be teased about it;
- That it shows that Labour is unfit to govern; and
- That it shows how evil, nasty and immature National is.

What happened was funny

There’s no denying this. It seems pretty clear that Simon Bridges seems to have pantsed Chris Hipkins. When a mate called me up to fill me in, I laughed. I laughed hard. Then I laughed even harder when Hipkins denied having been pantsed at all.

But in truth, there’s some sympathy in the laugh. Who hasn’t made an embarrassing mistake in their life and been hassled for it? And if it’s a fair cop, you laugh along. What else can you do? It happens to everyone.

To be honest, I have no idea how I would get through the day without being able to laugh at the inexplicably dumb things I do from time to time.

Does the mistake mean Labour is unfit to govern?

About 40% of people commenting on the Internet take the analysis a bit further than that. Yesterday’s foolishness, they say, shows demonstrates that Labour is totally unfit to lead the government. After all, how Labour organise a government if it can’t organise its own members and those of its support partners?

Do National’s tactics illustrate their malevolence?

Another 40% of Internet comments (and I’m guessing probably 85% of tweets) claimed the incident was proof-positive of just how diabolical, immature and graceless the National Party is. Here is Labour trying to fix the country in accordance with a clear and unambiguous mandate from the electorate and all National can do is play silly games in its attempt to thwart the will of the people.

What if the situation was reversed?

Here are the comments on a Stuff article on the whole affair. Try reading them while imaging what the same commenters would say if Simon Bridges had made a similar bungle and Chris Hipkins had parlayed it into some Labour-friendly deal. I suppose there’s no way to tell for sure, but my guess is that most of the commenters would take the exact opposite stance.

Those slating National would be praising Labour for being canny enough to get such a good deal. Those saying Labour is a shambles would be downplaying the mistake and claiming they were the victims of an underhanded ploy.

And that’s depressing.

The Americanisation of our politics is dispiriting

We all know that partisan animosity has become very strong in America of late. Here’s a recent survey on the subject. An excerpt:

For the first time in surveys dating to 1992, majorities in both parties express not just unfavourable but very unfavourable views of the other party. And today, sizable shares of both Democrats and Republicans say the other party stirs feelings of not just frustration, but fear and anger.

In the US, liberals don’t just hate conservatism. Increasingly, they hate conservatives. Conservatives don’t confine themselves to thinking liberalism is an evil. They consider liberals to be evil.

There’s an important difference between those two modes of partisanship.

I don’t know if it’s just a flow-on from America’s cultural hegemony, but I perceive the same thing to be happening in New Zealand. There are good and bad people in all parties. Sometimes, people with whom you agree will do something dumb. Sometimes, they will conduct themselves in a manner of which you do not approve.

If your chief criteria for judging propriety and competence boils down to partisan affiliation and advantage, then you really are contributing to a problem that is going to drain all the goodwill out of this country’s politics.

Liam Hehir

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