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Yesterdaze: Tough on grease, strong on gangs

Simon Bridges has ditched the greased-up look for a Trump-type bouffant, and that's not the only Trumpian tack he's taking. James Elliott on the news of the week.

My recommended read of the week was a piece by broadcaster-turned-lawyer Linda Clark, published here at Newsroom. It was a plea for the continued civility, relatively speaking, in New Zealand’s public discourse. It comes at a time when politics around the world has become infected with division, anger and tribalism, the symptoms of a “polarising virus” that began with patient zero, Donald Trump.  

As New Zealand starts to look ahead to a general election in 2020, Linda makes a reasonable request as to how we should respond to the political positioning and posturing that lies ahead:    

“If it looks even a bit like Trump, or if it sounds even a bit like something Trump would say, press delete.”  

Enter Simon Bridges and National’s new law and order policy – tough on the worst youth offenders, tough on murderers and especially tough on gangs. 

“The Government I lead will harass and disrupt gangs every single day I am Prime Minister,” Bridges announced, flanked by his own gang of MPs. He may not have descended an escalator to say it but Bridges' pledge to harass gangs every single day he’s Prime Minister sounded more than a little Trumpian to my ear.   

'Strike Force' refers to the actions of the police unit and 'Raptor' refers to a time 70 million years ago when apparently vicious velociraptors walked the earth, and when the first ever 'tough on gangs' policy was formulated.

But following Linda’s prescription did it look like Trump? To assess the optics, I watched John Campbell interview Bridges on TVNZ’s Breakfast show. I found it quite hard to follow because they were talking over each other a lot, Simon Bridges’ accent makes me wince, and I think at one stage it was being argued that a doubling of the prison population in the last 10-15 years is simultaneously both a good and a bad thing. I was also distracted by wondering whether John’s marvellous glasses have their own Twitter account yet.

So I did what Trump himself is said to do when assessing his own TV appearances - mute the sound so you can just focus on what you see. For starters, Simon Bridges is a lot easier on the ear with the sound off, and John Campbell’s glasses are even more marvellous, but the thing that stood out most was Simon Bridges' hair. He’d gone from a product-laden, slicked-back “of course I support offshore oil drilling” look to something starting to resemble Trump’s candyfloss-caught-in-a-hurricane bouffant. So, Simon Bridges’ follicular fashioning is clearly something to keep an eye on when the election campaign begins in earnest.

To be fair to Simon Bridges, he didn’t, I assume, mean that he would personally be harassing and disrupting gangs every single day that he’s Prime Minister. That task is going to be outsourced to a police unit like 'Strike Force Raptor', which sounds like the name of a kids’ cartoon show about crime-busting palaeontologists, but isn’t. It’s actually the name of a special gang-harassing police unit in Australia. 'Strike Force' refers to the actions of the police unit and 'Raptor' refers to a time 70 million years ago when apparently vicious velociraptors walked the earth, and when the first ever 'tough on gangs' policy was formulated. Incidentally, a velociraptor is only 'apparently vicious' because despite its fearsome appearance in the Jurassic Park movies, a velociraptor was actually in size and appearance more like a pre-historic turkey, much like National’s latest law and order policy.  

He may not have descended an escalator to say it but Bridges' pledge to harass gangs every single day he’s Prime Minister sounded more than a little Trumpian to my ear.   

The thing is that for 70 million years there have only ever been two possible political policy positions on law and order - tough and soft. And if you claim to be “tough” then your opponents are, by default, soft. That’s it, just those two positions, nothing else. And it pays to stake your claim first. You’d think that at some point there must have been an opportunity to claim a position somewhere in the middle between tough and soft where, as John Campbell put to Simon Bridges, policy could be driven by data not dogma. There was once such an opportunity. That position between tough and soft was sensible, but unfortunately the possibility of using it to demarcate and accurately describe a sensible policy zone between the two extremes was ruined by the Sensible Sentencing Trust.  

'Sensible' is also the policy zone that proponents and opponents of the current location of the Auckland port are trying to claim. A third report on the feasibility of moving it to Northland is going to be considered by Cabinet next week. Obviously there are arguments for and against moving Auckland’s port but it tells you something when former Prime Ministers and political opponents Helen Clark and Sir John Key are on the same side, advocating to shift the port northward.       

But you probably won’t hear their views next week as they will likely be drowned out by Shane Jones, Prince of the Provinces, Infrastructure Minister and Strike Force Wisecracker. Shane Jones is more than capable of being more than a little Trumpian, so be prepared to hit delete on both the sound and the pictures.    

Have a peaceful weekend.

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