Politics on the radio without pictures

The opening addresses for three of the political parties were on TV tonight. So how did they sound on the radio?

For the past few months I've been living without TV. Actually, there is a TV upstairs, attached to a DVD player that plays box-sets of shows like Treme and Luther. And teh interwebz brings me all sorts of contemporary programmes direct to my computer screen (all sourced, I hasten to note, from legitimate websites that in no way involve any form of copyright infringement). But having moved into a new home that requires a satellite dish to get any reception, we just haven't bothered hooking one up. Hence no "TV", per se.

This hasn't been that much of a problem, aside from missing a few Rugby World Cup 2011 (TM) matches I otherwise would have watched. But as we're getting closer to the real fun and games in November, I guess we'll finally get around to putting something up on the roof. After all, how can one be a reputable political commentator on as well-regarded a blogsite as Pundit unless one immerses oneself in the leaders' debates, the analysis, the adverts, the full spin and the spectacle of election season? Oh ... and Q+A, of course. New Zealand's finest weekly 12 minutes of political and social analysis.

All of which is a longish way of saying that I experienced tonight's opening campaign messages from National, Labour and the Greens not via the TV screen (as I suspect I was meant to do), but courtesy of Radio New Zealand National on my good old wireless transistor radio set. Having no visuals to go with the words meant that the tone and feel of those messages came through somewhat differently - bearing out Marshall McLuhan's "the medium is the message" thesis.

(Cue the inevitable "you know nothing of my work" reference.)

National's point was clear, once that horrible, horrible music from The Feelers stopped playing. (Seriously - hasn't the nation suffered enough from them throughout the last 6 weeks ... can we please just let the nightmare end?) That point is "John Key is National, and National is John Key". I can't recall him once mentioning anyone else in his Government in the entire 20 minutes. But I guess when you've got such a winner on your hands, why would you tarnish the glow by mentioning (say) Gerry Brownlee's role in the recovery of Christchurch?

So the basic concept of John Key just talking to people about what he's been doing (sorry - his Government has been doing) and what he will do next (sorry - his Government will do next) makes sense. So, did you know National has "a plan" for the economy - yes, an entire "plan!"? Or that NZ's very low interest rates are due to National's economic stewardship, despite what the Reserve Bank might tell you? Or that selling state assets will result in having more state assets than you did before, just like a magic penny? Well, you do now!

The only problem with the concept from a radio listener's perspective is that the "spontaneous" Q&A session with "real" New Zealanders came across as completely forced and false. I mean, "I have trouble paying my bills, and I see all these people on benefits"? Or "I'm very worried about crime"? Oh pease - I know these events are just framing devices to portray a party's leader and policies in the best possible light (and that hardly anyone except die-hard politics junkies even watch them, much less listen to them). But still, is there not some point at which their very artificiality undermines the message they are meant to present?

Furthermore, hearing John Key call for questions ("Are there any out there? There are! Well, fancy that!") and "openly" responding to them inevitably invites comparisons with this interview. Or the fact that he's spent the last 3 years ducking appearances on shows like Morning Report or Q+A (remember, the best 12 minutes of political and social commentary you'll see in NZ each week!) in favour of far softer opportunities like this or this. And let's not mention his hour on Radio Live ... speaking of which, what time is Coro St still on? So yes - by all means National should play its trump card every chance it gets. But I think I preferred it when he was driving around aimlessly, chatting to us in the back seat.

Oh - and this November 26, remember to vote John Key and National, whether or not you live in Helensville.

The start of Labour's message hurtled me straight back into my 7th form history class, like in that nightmare where you suddenly realise you have to go and sit an exam in a subject that you've done no study for all year. (Actually, that may be a nightmare particular to a certain type of over-anxious academic.) The Great Depression! World War Two! The '51 Waterside Dispute! The Black Budget! Choose a topic and write an essay explaining its root causes and contemporary relevance.

It sort of made sense once a bunch of Labour's MPs came on and started telling stories about why they had become active members of the party. They are motivated by issues of social justice, just like their illustrious forbears were! They saw first-hand the damage unconstrained market capitalism can wreck on the vulnerable, just like their illustrious forbears did! They don't want to get pissed on by the rich, just like their .. hang on, wait a minute ... what was that last one? I guess they want to keep Damien O'Conner front and center for his earthy, take-no-prisoners-and-to-hell-with-being-PC style - just not front and center enough to give him a decent list placing. But did you know he's from the West Coast? Where Labour was founded? And where that mine blew up? While National was Government?

Anyway, it was a bold move - tying Labour's present team (and team was the unit here, compared to National's one-man show) and policies to the glory days of its socialist past. And maybe it'll work. But it also risks a somewhat invidious comparison with those days gone by, when giants roamed the earth and fighting for the working man meant a bit more than considering a partial capital gains tax, hiking the age of retirement in 9 years time and not being National. A bit like urging people to buy a ticket to see The Wallflowers because of Bob Dylan's back catalogue.

Oh, one last thing. That tale Grant Robertson told about the woman collapsing in front of him on a crosswalk in NYC? It's true ... except he neglected to say it was him who pushed her over because she looked at him all funny. Benefit of diplomatic immunity and all that.

By the time the Greens came on air, I was busy preparing the family's dinner of veal with a side of GE-flavoured potatoes, so my attention was beginning to drift. But it all sounded very earnest and sincere. And competent. And sincere. And earnest. And ... boring. Actually very boring.

Which is, I guess, an effect the Greens may want to cultivate. After all, the smell of power is getting stronger in their nostrils, and with opportunity comes a terrifying, screaming fear of throwing it all away again. But you know what my ad would have been?

A shot of the Rena stuck on the Astrolabe reef. A shot of birds covered in oil. A shot of oil patches on the Tauranga beaches. And a voice-over: "If you don't vote Green, this ship and lots more like it will spill oil everywhere along our coasts and your summer will be ruined. You have been warned."

But then I'm not no big city advertising guy nor nothing. Hell, I don't even have a TV.