Amid the mundane evening TV clips, TV of walkabouts and scrums of journalists brandishing microphones, there were some moments in the election campaign that still linger.
In 2005 it was footage of National leader Don Brash teetering along the gangplank to board the Earthrace boat. It became one of the most memorable moments of the 2005 campaign and a metaphor for Brash’s political future. Then there was the midget racing car clip with Brash trying to clamber over the steel roll cage and finding out he wasn’t a midget.
This election it was Helen Clark’s turn to star in New Zealand’s Funniest Political Videos. I will never forget the terrified look on that Riccarton Mall shop assistant’s face as the Prime Minister advanced toward her, only to trip, and after clutching vainly at a passing workman’s jacket, crash to the floor a metre or two from the counter. Like an Olympic gymnast after a bad dismount she was back on her feet faster than you could say Jackie Chan, stalking up to the frozen assistant and pumping her hand to restore her circulation.
John Key’s no-risks campaign meant little chance of him riding on to the stage on the back of a motorbike in the tyremarks of Winston Peters or bungy jumping off the Sky Tower. His walkabouts looked like he’d just popped out of the office for lunch. He even took fright at the prospect of running into Winston Peters in Tauranga. But then so did most of Tauranga’s voters, except those who could get out of the bus.
But Winston didn’t worry Massey University sexologist Michelle Mars. He had quite the opposite effect. She told the Sunday Star Times that Winston was the only politician in New Zealand who knew how to use sex to sell himself. He had that “little bad boy look” she claimed, and provided an inspirational model for men. John Key, rated sexiest politician in June by North and South magazine, might have had money but just didn’t have Winston’s sexy gleam. I think she’s right. Key might wear the odd pinstripe suit but only Winston does double-breasted. While Winston has perfected his media scowl, Key is still nice to journalists, something that must be very unsettling for them.
But even Mr Nice Guy can’t match Winston for hair, either in quantity or style.
Key’s hair looks like it’s about to slide off the back of his head like an ill-fitting skullcap. The resentment many balding male voters harbour for Peters is probably more follicle than political. I can’t imagine Winston sitting in a big chrome and leather barber’s chair, surrounded by a shagpile of shorn hair, reeking of Bay Rum and talking about the weather and the next test. Winston’s hair looks high-maintenance and certainly more costly than the $15 I grudgingly pay for the odd No 4 shear. I suspect his annual hair-styling costs would be a major expense item on the Spencer Trust’s books, if anybody got to see them.
It would be interesting to know how much voters were influenced by hair in this election. Helen Clark’s three-yearly transformation is certainly calculated and even the woman who beat her to the Prime Minister’s job, Jenny Shipley, appeared on screen on election night as a slimmer, chestnut-haired reincarnation of her former self.
While Winston wins in the style stakes, I can’t help feeling that Peter Dunne’s difficulty in attracting more support for his party is that his extraordinary badgeresque hair totally distracts voters. Like former Japanese PM Junichiro Koizumi, whose great silver mane was dubbed the Tsunami, Dunne’s coiffure will be his most lasting legacy.
Election-night coverage by the two main channels from the moment polls closed gave earnest TV reporters the task of scouring echoing halls and rows of empty seats for indications of how the parties would fare. The Greens offered vegetarian pizzas with sundried tomatoes but in Camp Labour it was trays of sausage rolls and tomato sauce. But there were no free lunches at Peter Dunne’s headquarters and supporters had to pay for their own drinks from the bar.
Reporters camped outside Helen Clark’s Mt Albert villa had viewers on the edge of their seats as they revealed that mysterious boxes being carried inside contained curries for the PM’s night in front of TV. Peering through the bars of John’s Key’s fortress they spotted hedges so uniform that they warranted national comment.
The payoff for viewers who sit through endless predictions and scenarios from political commentators on the night are the moments when supporters can be certain their party has won — or lost. Helen Clark’s elderly mum and dad looked a bit overwhelmed but remained stoic as Helen’s harem sobbed in each other’s arms.
Finally the gates opened and the victor finally emerged from Fort Key to be escorted to victory headquarters. He arrived smiling radiantly behind a gaggle of grim-faced men in suits whose presence was ridiculous amid a sea of cheering National Party celebrants.
But a fleeting TV moment after Helen Clark’s concession speech also stays in my memory. As she strode from the stage, hubby Peter Davis unexpectedly found himself on the receiving end of a fleeting peck from his wife. Clearly unused to such public displays of intimacy with Helen, he shut his eyes and puckered his lips for seconds but it didn’t happen. She had left centre stage for good.