Where does National leader John Key live? Parnell? Remuera? Timbuktu? What about this dodgy business company he was associated with?

These have been the pressing questions that have been occupying the minds of Labour MPs this week.

Even in terms of parliamentary politics, it's been pathetic stuff. Key hasn't done anything wrong but the Labour Government's reasoning appears to be that if they throw enough mud, some is bound to stick.

Or maybe it'll end up sticking to them.

As commentator Chris Trotter has pointed out, this mud-flinging is a desperate attempt by Labour to kneecap Key's rising popularity. And, as Trotter also said, it looks like the behaviour of a Government that has run out of steam - a government running on empty.

But Trotter has only got it half right. It's not a case of a shiny-looking invigorated National Party speeding past a Labour Government running out of puff.

Labour may have no new ideas - but neither has National.

It's not just the Labour Government that is running on empty, its the entire political system.

The silly stuff about John Key is just more silly stuff to add to the ever-growing silly stuff pile. Remember National making a meal out of Helen Clark's lightening fast trip from Timaru to Christchurch? Then there was the sideshow of 'Helen and the Paintings'. Did she paint them? Or did she just sign them? I can't even remember the details of this 'issue' - but then again, I don't have any interest in the adventures of Paris Hilton either.

What we are witnessing is the dumbing down of political debate - to the point that we now have politics without meaningful substance.

Not so long ago, in global historical terms anyway, politics was about a debate between different political philosophies. The socialist left advanced the idea of revolutionary change and they clashed with the upholders of the capitalist status quo.

But what of today? Listening to Parliament is like listening in on a rowdy company boardroom meeting. In this case the company is New Zealand Inc. Rarely, do you hear any MP putting forward an alternative vision of society that is rooted in anything other than the free market ethos. It's all about 'good management' and 'fiscal responsibility and 'value for money' .

The so-called 'radical' Maori Party is ok with capitalism - its just peeved that not more brown-skinned people are running it. Meanwhile the Green Party, running free in the meadow of naivety, appears to want to create a kinder and gentler capitalism.

Labour long ago abandoned its traditional social democratic outlook for managerialism and technocracy -what ministers like Steve Maharey refer to as the 'Third Way'.

Meanwhile, John Key has eschewed some of National's more extreme right wing ideas (earning him the wrath of right wing commentators like Paul Henry) and moved the party into the centre, alongside Labour.

There is now no real difference between these two parties. Each party is locked into the free market orthodoxy and are now reduced to largely empty posturing on such issues as John Key's place of residence and Helen Clark's artistic abilities.

As public life has become emptied of its content, private and personal preoccupations have become projected into the personal sphere. Household arrangements. Personal business dealings. Strip clubs. Fast Cars. Paintings. It's all grist to the triviality mill that is New Zealand mainstream politics.

And the corporate media have been complicit in this dumbing down of public life.

When's the last time did you hear a journalist or commentator talking about big political ideas? When the last time did you read something by a local journalist or commentator suggesting that there might actually be alternatives to the free market?

No, its largely been an endless series of stories about the antics of our 'representatives', with the occasional break for a breathless analysis of yet another opinion poll.

Nor does it help that 'left wing commentators' like Chris Trotter, either intentionally or unintentionally, still imply there is a meaningful difference between Labour and National.

The only difference between Labour and National is that they're spelt differently.


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