Politicians play in a tough game

Another week, further reminders of what a brutal and unforgiving business the political game can be.

Much rather the round-ball contest, where trying hard, giving it your all, is a conspicuous and laudable strategy.

If any of our heroic All Whites were to stand for public office in the next month or so, they'd probably romp in.

They punched above their weight, they put the country on a gigantic world stage, they added to the value of New Zealand Inc, they did not disgrace us.

They were rugged and matter-of-fact in their physical endeavours.

No play-acting theatrics, no diving or sprawling, no paroxysms of agony at a mere tickle here, caress there.

No making like the proverbial poofters of old.

No expense account extras, no extravagant, unnecessary visits to the massage table, very little apparently needless travel to away games.

They did it on a shoestring.

Number 8 wire with bells on.

They were modest and unassuming in their off-field demeanours, too.

They were disappointed for us that they could not have done better, when they had already far exceeded even the most irrational of fans' expectations.

They were brokers of all we collectively hold good and true.

One might be tempted to label them fair dinkum, if that didn't come with transtasman overtones, but if truth be told we share a common cultural-historical heritage with our neighbours across the ditch; as in language, so, to a certain extent, in politics.

Which is why it is instructive to muse on the dramatic downfall of former Aussie prime minister Kevin Rudd.

A mere six months ago, he was still riding unnaturally high in the polls for a sitting PM.

How fickle are the tides of political fate, how cruel the winds of change and how painful to watch Mr Rudd's resignation speech as he struggled against rising waves of indignation, self-pity and sheer bewilderment - as if to accuse his party: "How could you? After all I've done ... How could you?!?"

Easy, really, because probably the main difference between the two countries' political systems is their degrees of factionalism, and this is particularly the case with the Australian Labor Party.

When you are riding high in the polls this doesn't really matter a jot: popularity rules.

But when you suddenly plummet you need all the friends you can get, and Kevin Rudd really didn't have any.

Much has already been said about his high-handedness, his arrogance, his overwhelming need to be in control, his exclusion of many of the senior players in his own party from a taste of real power - for example, in the forging of policy - and his gathering of a tight kitchen cabinet around him.

All of which counted against him when he needed support.

He didn't get it, and in a trice was gone.

Could it happen here? With John Key?

Probably not, at least not as suddenly or as dramatically as over there.

Mr Key is a pragmatist.

He relates well to the man and woman on the street.

He's also a toe-in-the-water politician, having learnt at the feet of the previous Labour administration not to get too far ahead of the electorate in policy matters. (Hence a little bit of visible back-pedalling of late - think Tuhoe, and privatisation of state assets.)

Besides, there's no one person waiting in the wings to take over should opinion polls take a plunge for the worse.

Bill English? He may be the brains and experience behind the policy and economic strategy work of the Government, the pillar at its centre - and whether you agree with his directions or not, arguably the nearest National has in intellect and heft to Michael Cullen - but he's not a natural baby-kisser.

National discovered that back in the early noughties and tossed him out for Don Brash, who, after a couple of effective, populist policy pushes, turned out not to be great at kissing babies either.

The import for Phil Goff?

Not much.

The comparisons are simply not valid.

He was never that high in the polls to start with, his heirs remain below the parapet and he probably has an election to lose before the knives come out.

That doesn't prevent the Sunday papers from sticking their knives in anyway: small matter of a family member charged, but with no conviction recorded on possession of drugs in Australia.

Sins of the sons and daughters visited upon their parents?

Who'd be a politician?

Simon Cunliffe is assistant editor at the Otago Daily Times.


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