I like Winston. Really! I know he’s a blatantly opportunistic populist. He’s too cunning and slippery to ever give a straight answer. He highlights emotive issues - and he’s incapable of change. Maybe it’s me that’s changed. There was a time when I dismissed and disliked him for his more insufferable characteristics. Age may have softened my critical faculties, or I have come to see he is no more opportunistic or populist than most other politicians. Just more brazen.
Not that I can entirely dismiss the thought that I’m softening up. Where Winston is concerned I sometimes feel like his granny. Aye, he’s mischievous is our Winnie but he’s got such a lovely smile and he makes me laugh, so he does. And he doesn’t let those clever clogs interviewers get away with anything either. There are no flies on our Winnie.
Despite themselves, one or two media folk seem to have similar feelings about Winston. But most hate him. How else to explain the continued hounding over the donations affair on the day his mother died? Many media interviewers have sound reasons for hating Winston - he wipes the floor with them if not always in the public interest. But it is so refreshing to see and hear aggressive interviewers (interrogators) who believe they have a divine mission to be rude to people, left gasping like goldfish.
Amazingly, most interviewees, and not only politicians and public officials, cravenly accept the exalted status of the anointed ones. But not Winston. He takes them on. Makes me want to cheer.
That’s why I found it interesting when National Radio’s Sean Plunket recently adopted a more civilised manner with Winston. Not only was this change of style more pleasing to listen to than his usual bullying, it also elicited more information.
Another reason I like Winston is because he’s not afraid to mention the war. Basil Fawlty’s war was with the Germans. Winston’s is with a constipated media/academic/political convention that says political debate about immigration, for instance, is out of bounds. Public discussion of immigration policy will label you red-neck in the minds of those who set the agenda. Winston ignores the agenda.
Okay, maybe it is because he is an opportunist and a populist but nevertheless the mealy-mouthed convention he challenges inhibits free speech. Perhaps Winston knows what is obvious to most ordinary people. That if you ask a Kiwi of any social status certain questions, the answers are likely to be remarkably similar and predictable.
Question: “What would you say to another million English immigrants?”
“Well, nothing against the Poms, but a million’s a bit much.”
“What do you mean, a bit much?”
“Well, a million’s a lot of people to take in without changing things too much.”
“All sorts of things. It just wouldn’t feel right.”
“Okay, so how many English immigrants do you think we could handle without changing things too much?”
You get the picture. It is not Winston’s fault that some people squirm like embarrassed adolescents rather than join the debate, while others get wild-eyed with questionable passion. That happens in debates about art galleries and museums. So don’t be mean to Winston. On the other hand, would he be more insufferable if we were kind to him?