The 2017 general election has already degenerated into the empty politics of spectacle and personality. And embracing it all is conservative commentator Chris Trotter, who has returned to supporting the very party that only a few months ago he declared was lacking in ideals....

Jacinda Ardern: Long on rhetoric, short on detail.
IN YET ANOTHER contest between two centrist political leaders, both loyal to the interests of 'the market', it is no surprise that the New Zealand general election of 2017 has devolved into one of empty spectacle and equally empty personality politics. This is the campaign that the corporate media keeps on insisting has become 'interesting' - merely because Jacinda Ardern is now leader of the Labour Party.

Although he could have obviously made his point more elegantly and certainly less controversially, Gareth Morgan's obvious frustration with a media generally besotted with Jacinda Ardern is one sane and rational people can sympathise with. Any coherent discussion of policy, any examination of what Ardern's Labour really stands for has been replaced by an uncritical adulation for someone who used to work for Tony Blair's Labour government in the U.K., admires the 'Third way' corporate politics of former Labour leader Helen Clark and has had a largely undistinguished parliamentary career. Jacinda Ardern's main claim to fame is that she's not Andrew Little.

Are the general public any wiser about what Ardern represents in terms of policy?Why is her brand of neoliberal politics superior to that of Andrew Little's? Ardern gets away with making ideologically-loaded campaign speeches that are long on rhetoric and short on detail and the response of some female members of both the media and parliament is to post to Twitter and Facebook photos of themselves putting on lipstick. That's the level this election campaign has already descended to.

The campaign narrative is not about policy and issues but emotion and spectacle. Even then its not the class-based narrative of a Bernie Sanders-like revolution  or Jeremy Corbyn's  'for the many, not the few', campaign, but a cosy and nebulous feel-good narrative that speaks to everyone and no-one. Jacinda apparently, in a caring and sharing moment, wants to hold my hand as we skip through the meadow of 'relentless positivity', under a sun that always shines. 

And no one has embraced the feel-good narrative more than the conservative Chris Trotter. As I predicted some months ago, he has returned to the safe harbour of Labour and the comfortable politics he, like the alcoholic who declares they'll 'just have one more drink', can't wean himself off. His is an impressionistic politics that extends no further than observing that there were a lot of people at Ardern's campaign opening address.

His column on Jacinda Ardern's election campaign opening makes for nauseating reading. You might be mistaken that fan boy Trotter had gone through the wrong door and ended up at a Britney Spears concert, such is the level of adulation on display. The pop reference is appropriate because only just yesterday I saw Trotter on Face TV describing Ardern as a "rock star". Hit me baby, one more time..oh yeah!

Trotter isn't writing about a political leader that my colleague and comrade John Moore has accurately described as the " new ‘smiling assassin’, taking on the outward charisma and inner ruthless streaks of former prime ministers John Key and Labour’s Helen Clark." Rather, Jacinda Ardern is the Harry Potter of New Zealand politics. Trotter gushes:

"That Jacinda Ardern has the “Magic” is not now in dispute...The mantle of success has already been draped over Jacinda’s shoulders. Victory advances towards her with arms outstretched. Her followers are convinced they know how this year’s election is going to end. She has filled them to the brim with hope. That’s the Magic – that’s the trick."

Any kind of hard-edged analysis is beyond Trotter. He'd rather write this mush:

"That mysterious and indefinable “gift of grace” – kharisma in Ancient Greek – had taken up residence in Jacinda Ardern, and she has changed."

Chris Trotter: Thought he was at a Britney Spears concert.
While Trotter waxes lyrical about Ardern's ability to do card tricks and pull rabbits from hats, he has nothing to say about the content of her speech.

Like how she insisted she wants to fight poverty - although she has rejected the Green Party's progressive policy of increasing all main welfare benefits by twenty percent.

And while Trotter approvingly endorses her claim that climate change is a defining issue for her, he has nothing to say about little things like Labour continuing to be in favour of offshore oil exploration.

And Trotter ignores Ardern's brief - but ominous- reference  to "hard decisions having to be made". I'd say that was a signal that, thanks to the corporate-approved 'Fiscal responsibility Agreement' Labour has signed with the Green's, austerity policies will continue under a Labour-led government.

And while Jacinda talked of 'love" and 'hope", there wasn't much of either in evidence when she cynically threw Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei under the bus, helping to end her time in parliament and clamping down on what could of been an uncomfortable debate for Labour about the reality of poverty in this country - since it is the product of neoliberal policies and ideology that Jacinda Ardern and Labour continue to support.

It seems that the desire to win this election and avoid a fourth straight defeat is so overwhelming that Labour supporters like Chris Trotter actually don't care what Labour stands for anymore. It is also a failure, as John Moore has commented,  to recognise the Labour Party for what it really is - a party dedicated to promoting and protecting the interests of the political establishment.


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