Frankly, I find it hard to take the whole Winnie-gate affair seriously.

On one level I guess it can be argued that it demonstrates that our ‘mass’ parliamentary parties have such a narrow membership base that they have to rely on wealthy benefactors like Owen Glenn to fill their coffers.

And there’s always the irony in the fact that Labour – the party that persists in describing itself as ‘the party of workers’ gets as much money, if not more, from big business than National. But it’s a well worn irony now and no longer particularly amusing - if it ever was.

But even so, I lost interest in Winnie-gate some days ago – although it was amusing to imagine Labour Party president Mike ‘I’m on Five Government Boards’ Williams angling for work in the South of France.

It's been a little like a cheap soap opera. Who said what to whom? Mysterious phone calls. E-mails. Dinner functions. ‘Self-serving’ Prime Minister’s. Rodney Hide. Trust accounts. Lawyers. Stormy times in Parliament.

This is all good copy for the journalists who think this is what politics is all about. TV3's Duncan Garner has had a field running around looking for ‘scoops’. (I wonder if he has ever read Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop?) Meanwhile TV1’s Guyon Espiner has been pronouncing gravely on every twist and turn.

John Campbell, who can always be counted on to be melodramatic, yesterday described the Winston saga as ‘momentous’. He also, I think, described it as ‘history-making’. Yeah, right.

And, yes, I did see Linda Clark emerge on TV3’s Sunrise to throw in her grab bag of opinions. I don’t remember anything she said mind you – but I’m sure she thought it was important.

If I sound cynical well, yes, I probably am. But mostly I’m frustrated, but not surprised, that politics has descended to this level where spectacle has replaced substance.

Somewhere in the past I’m told that politics used to be the battle of competing ideas. People would debate and argue about different political philosophies and different visions of society.

Journalists, although I find this hard to believe, actually wrote about ideas. They quoted political theory. They discussed political history.

Intellectualism was not a dirty word. You could talk about Marx’s Capital Vol 1( or Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged if you were that way inclined) and not be shown the door.

These days it’s Linda Clark telling Carly Flynn and James Coleman (those two well known political heavyweights) what Winston's next move will be. (Later on Sunrise Carly shockingly reveals to her co-host that she has, on two occasions, based her hairstyle on that of Victoria Beckham).

Politics has become a light entertainment show. The politicians are the ‘celebrities’ who parade under the spotlight of the various media pundits and spin doctors.

Politics has been emptied of any meaningful substance.

Frank Furedi, Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent, says that western politics hasn’t just got ‘moderate’ and ‘centrist’- it’s gone into early retirement.

Writes Furedi in his book Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone: 'As public life has become emptied of its content, private and personal preoccupations have become projected into the personal sphere. Consequently, passions that were once stirred by ideological differences are far more likely to be engaged by individual behaviour, private troubles and personality conflicts'.

We are living in an age of banality. What do you think, Carly?


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