(This letter was inspired by the demise of the current affairs programme, Campbell Live and the resultant post mortems in the media).

Having lived overseas for many years, I’m hardly an expert in the machinations of NZ’s political, media and business arenas. As well, I’m probably past the age where anyone cares much about what I have to say.

However, the current discussion, or ongoing debate, over the demise of ‘Campbell Live’ deserves at least a comment. Not so much because of the man and his mission, (I’m not so familiar with John Campbell or the program that anything I say would be valid), but because of the divisions in this country the end of this iconic program seems to have highlighted.

I’m always frustrated by right wing/left wing arguments. They are stupid and futile. Fact is if either wing has the ascendancy we just fly around in circles.

To put it another way, if you have a big rock to move, you’ll never move it by getting on opposite sides and pushing in different directions. What you have to do is decide where you want to move the rock and then figure out a way to do it together – inflicting as little damage as possible on the way.

Yet, the conflicted opinions over the whys and wherefores for the end of Campbell Live seem to indicate that in New Zealand, as in many other countries around the world where there is some semblance of democracy, people increasingly form entrenched attitudes and an intransigent ‘you’re either with us or against us’ mentality seems to prevail.

Such insanity is not new.

When I was a young man, conservationists and environmentalists were often accused of being tree hugging ‘Pinkos’. Fact is, some were; but another fact is that the vast majority weren’t.

The same can be said for those who protested against the Vietnam War, nuclear arms, Apartheid and so on. Yes, there were organisers with political agendas, and the occasional bread-dead anarchist, but the vast majority of the protesters were simply concerned citizens. Just New Zealanders with a social conscience.

History shows that these concerned citizens prevailed because they were right and the things they challenged were wrong.

So here we are two generations on and somehow ‘Greenie’ has become a term of insult, John Campbell is accused of being a socialist (as though that in itself is a form of cancer) and New Zealand seems split firmly into rabid right and left camps.

What happened to make us this way? Where is your heart New Zealand? Where do we want to move this country, this rock of ours? What or where is our destination — as a nation?

I really want to know.

What do we want this country to represent to the world? Is rugby our only national source of pride? Or Middle Earth, or Lorde, or anyone with the surname Finn? Or do we actually stand for something?

Please don’t give me the ‘we are the 100% pure, clean, green country’ crap. That’s delusional. It’s an excellent objective and maybe we once were but we’re not now. Too many of our beaches and rivers are polluted because we rested on out laurels and believed our own bullshit. Have you walked beside a highway lately? Have you tiptoed through the discarded litter of a couldn’t-care-less nation? Or staggered through the silt that’s choking our estuaries? There’s no sign of pride there – only a patent lack of it.  I recently chastised a teenage boy for throwing crap out of his car and he wanted to fight me. He’d rather beat up a pensioner than pick up a coke can. Once were warriors now just cowards. This is not his fault, he wasn’t raised in isolation — he was simply a product of the world he lives in — a world where people don’t accept responsibility for their own actions. Or respect their elders.

My point here is that the demise of Campbell Live has everyone blaming everyone but himself or herself. Especially the government — it’s always the government. In this way it’s metaphoric for the country as whole.

If you don’t like where the country is going, don’t lay the blame at the door of your politicians. Unless, of course, you believe the politicians are the puppet masters and we are just marionettes dancing while they pull the strings and call the tune.

If that’s what you believe, no wonder we’ve lost our way. Politicians work for us, not the other way around. We can fire them. They can’t fire us.

Which brings me inevitably to conspiracy theories and John Key bashing, which seem to be another by-product of the death of Campbell Live.

If I’m to believe what I’m reading, our PM is heading some Evil Empire that sets out to silence critical voices and has the power and connections to do so. Really? Is that what’s happening in this country? Should I be scared?

Because, rest assured, I retain the right to be a dissenting voice now and forever. If I disagree with something I will say so. I challenge anyone to try to stop me. This is New Zealand, I am not afraid and neither should you be.

Ok, so John Key may well have succeeded on Wall Street where the profits are breathtaking and the lack of ethics and morality equally so. And, yes, he may well have professional propaganda specialists and image-makers at his beck and call. I hate to break it to you people, but in this regard he is not Robinson Crusoe. This is what politicians do. It’s all about image and sound bites. With very few exceptions great leaders have always had great speechwriters. The likes of Churchill and Lincoln are rare. And most policy is populist – designed to appeal to the majority. A self-serving populace will get self-serving leadership – or at least a government prepared to make promises that appeal to the selfish.

In short, compared to leaders in other nations – Australia for instance – from where I sit, John Key’s not so bad, albeit that some of his ministers seem more like court jesters than potent advisors. Furthermore, New Zealand is doing okay – there’s not too many of us climbing aboard leaky boats to escape persecution or find a better life in another country.

Ok, I admit, I may be seeing an image not a reality, maybe there is a dark agenda and I’ve yet to discover it. (I’ve read what Nicky Hager says, especially about his farcical court case with the Aussie image-makers, and I’m vigilant as a result). If so, trust me, I will eventually see through the smoke and mirrors. In that case I’ll go see Mr Key – he’s my local MP. I’ll tell him to lift his game and why. Or — if I identify a competent and credible alternative — I will use my vote and my persuasive ways to have him replaced. Not in any Machiavellian way, just democratically as is my right and duty as a citizen — and yours.

That said, what’s the alternative? Is it Labour, The Greens or any of the other choices?  Would any one party be best for this country?

Face it folks, party politics will always suck. But that’s the system we have. Albeit that it’s a little more complicated in NZ. Essentially, we have two sides pitched against each other, trading insults in schoolyard rhetoric, seemingly more concerned with putting each other down than lifting us up.

I’m not convinced that ‘The Cronyism of Capitalism’ is driving the Nationals here in NZ, but there’s no doubt the shadowy ethics of big business is an international epidemic, a disease that we need our legislators to be vigilant about. We must be wary of cronyism. Not least in the financial arena.

However, evil, (and evil is not too harsh a word when it comes to such things), only succeeds when good people do nothing. So it’s up to us to vote for good people. We need to make sure our legislators are people who won’t stand for cronyism or corruption at any level for any reason.

And we must be vigilant, too. Keep the buggers honest. Don’t let those we elect be tainted by the loss of principles that political survival inevitably seems to produce. If they show signs of that, boot them out and replace them. You have the power — use it.

Oh, and if you can’t find a candidate you like, think about standing yourself. In other words, don’t just sit there and moan, do something! But be warned, politics is very hard work and people are rarely happy with what you do.

Finally, the Campbell incident dragged Mediaworks and the influence of the production companies into the spotlight. Frankly, I have no bone to pick with such companies; they’re in business to make money by supplying a need, that’s life. But it does lead us inevitably into the bread and butter of such companies, that is the world of radio shock jocks, those bombastic, staggeringly right winged pseudo-intellectuals, (although often not very bright), who pollute the air waves with half truths and turn suspicion and rumour into fact with the same skill and similar morals as past masters of the art like Adolf Hitler. Were he alive today Adolf would get a gig on most shock jock stations. Furthermore he’d find an audience.

Because, and here’s the nub of it my friends: In the end you get what you ask for.

Politicians and media companies are nothing more than populists. They poll everything. They find out what people want and will pander to the lowest common denominator to provide it. They will go as low as necessary.

If the people responsible thought John Campbell had to go, or even could go, it was only because they knew the vast majority of the people would be okay with that. And that, I believe, is the final sad comment on the whole affair.

In a world obsessed with celebrity, instant wealth and a sense of entitlement, an impatient world where it’s all me, me, me; where keeping up with the unreality of the Kardashians is far more interesting than facing the realities of child poverty and social injustice; where for the cost of one week’s expenditure on the world’s armed forces we could eradicate poverty and disease on the entire planet, it’s going to take a paradigm shift in values before anything can really change.

There was a time I would have believed that New Zealand, the country that introduced social welfare and the vote for women — that stood up against nuclear arms and was willing to risk losing America as an ally by doing so — would be a country that could lead the way and initiate such change.

That we would have the courage and will to become a country not concerned with what is right or left, but what is right and fair; a country with vision, humanity and heart; a country that put people ahead of profit and pride ahead of prejudice. That was the country I remember, the country I loved.

I’m not sure where that country went. It has probably gone the same way for the same reason Campbell Live has gone — gone because not enough people wanted it to stay.

I sincerely hope I’m wrong.


MAY 2015