It is a problem that rears its ugly head every election cycle.
Personality politics is the art of playing the person instead of playing their politics. To me there is nothing to be gained from indulging in the kind of poo slinging that this style of politics encourages – it is a highly destructive, demeaning practice which goes some way towards justifying the oft-spoken view that politicians are just big kids behaving like little kids.
One has only to look at the last several New Zealand election cycles and see what happened to the key candidates. In the 2005 campaign there were the Exclusive Brethren allegations that permeated the National Party’s campaign. In between there have been posters that intoned former Prime Minister John Key to be a Nazi or a “Jewish Banker”. From the 2014 election campaign came the Dirty Politics book written by researcher Nicky Hager to the most recent attacks on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s character, in which she has been called a Communist, a pig with lipstick (Gareth Morgan), a hater of freedom.
The problem however goes beyond the simple attacks on politicians. As a result of allegations leaked to the media, it has a negative influence on the release of policy which often goes missing in action. Elections are meant to be as much about which party has the best policy platform for the next Parliamentary term as about which party is the most in tune with New Zealanders views on the world.
Thus no one should be really surprised that the number of people who say that they like a particular politician but cannot name or describe a single policy that that politician stands for is large. They like their style, but the devil is in the detail – do they support a social welfare system; will they support research/science/technology so we can offer our skilled labour better jobs.
This maybe made worse by the tabloid nature of a lot of media these days. In New Zealand and Australia we can blame it on the excesses of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire whose influence encourages media to print high exaggerated and often completely misleading articles with click bait headlines and little substance to them. The interference run by Mr Murdoch has heavily influenced politics in Australia where a direct correlation between the rise of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the destruction of the Prime Ministership of Julia Gillard can be made.
For their part the media might be taken in by a politician who is charismatic and has a joke up their sleeve, but not ask critical questions such as whether Carmel Sepuloni is going to clean out Work and Income management for their systemic lying; will any politicians consider a G.S.T. tax cut instead of raising/lowering income taxes for the umpteenth time?
So whilst it might provide nice click bait headlines and a mud fight at the election, how much good personality politics do for New Zealand is questionable at best.