Ideas, ethics & drugs - why you need to keep asking

Ask and you will receive... Maybe. Eventually. In an election campaign getting a straight answer can be like pulling teeth

It's seldom the first time you ask the question that's telling. Sometimes it takes until the 4th or 5th ask before you see the truth peep its head out from behind the spin. There were three good examples of that on The Nation this morning.

First, Bill English was asked for one new idea to boost the economy. The first time he answered that "we actually think we're going in the right direction". The second time he said how well exporters were doing against some "head winds". The third time, Lisa said "I'm going to give you one last chance, Mr English. Have you got a new idea to boost our economy?"

English replied:

"We want to keep going in the direction we're going cos it's the right direction. We disagree with the Opposition who believe that New Zealanders have got it all wrong in the last four or five years. We think they've got it right."

Which is National's campaign strategy in a nutshell. Don't change boats. Don't rock that boat. Keep on rowing in the same direction. But really, after six years in office and with exports falling and growth having "peaked", a Finance Minister should be able to express one new idea that responds to the needs of the times. And it's backwards looking (like those rowers), not pushing forward with a new vision for a new term.

It plays into the view, expressed by many in business as well as the government's more obvious critics, that National has run out of ideas.

Second, Lisa Owen asked English if he'd be OK if one of his staff went into someone else's website and took person credit card details. English tried to bat it away as a hypothetical, but even when Owen replaced the someone with "Jason Ede", English wouldn't answer the question directly. He said there are bigger issues, that he couldn't add anything to the "extensive commentary" thus far, that this had been endlessly discussed. But what he never said, after nine attempts, was that going into someone else's computer and dowloading private information was wrong.

People are wary of this story, but at any other time in our history that would be remarkable. That the Deputy Prime Minister would not say such behaviour was unethical.

What English did say, interestingly, was that "I wouldn't ask a staff member to do it". So there's a hint there that it's improper behaviour, but not clear denunciation.As I say, remarkable.

Third, Paddy Gower asked Hone Harawira if he supported the decriminalisation of cannabis. He began his answer by saying:

"I'm really comfortable with the way in which the Internet Party has developed their policies..."

Gower asked him five times before getting "I don't, personally". You'd have thought it a very simple question given in the past Harawira has said:

"If there is one law I could pass, it would be line up the guys who are making the most money out of this legal drug stuff, put them on TV and then publicly execute them, and then introduce a law to say the next bastard that does it is going to get the same treatment"

But the problem is that as leader of Mana (which is supposedly "still working through all of those issues") he's been opposed to cannabis use and yet the Internet Party and the merged Internet-Mana party has the policy to "immediately decriminalise personal use". So he's rather awkwardly at odds with his own party. Or the parties are at odds.

They agree on the use of cannabis for medical purposes and a review of cannabis laws, to move the use of the drug from a criminal to a health issue. But where Harawira couldn't or wouldn't give a straight answer was that he wants to punish those selling drugs, while Internet-Mana want to "develop a model of regulating the legal production and distribution of cannabis for personal use to enable the taxation of cannabis and the monitoring of its supply".

Frankly, you'd hope for better, more direct answers to all those questions. But then this is two weeks from an election and people are tip-toeing around sensitive areas.  Which is why journalists ask the questions more than once.

So remember the next time you think a host is being too pedantic or rude that there's a reason; the most telling reply often comes on the third, fifth or even ninth ask.