I got this excellent opinion piece from former Labour PM Mike Moore via The Hive.
Opinion polls make cowards of all politicians. You can talk yourself out of anything. The Auckland Airport saga represents the worst opinion poll politics and political cowardice. Thousands of New Zealanders lost big money because overnight the Government decided this was a strategic asset.
This is control of the “commanding heights” theory, beloved by Lenin and Muldoon. Widely popular and nationalistic. No economic advantage, but a populist challenge to the National Party, a set-up, which National, in their cowardice, failed.
Leadership must be more than finding a poll and agreeing with it. Politicians don’t often lie; their fatal compromise is to say nothing. A number of politicians are privately aghast at the Electoral Finance Act.
Even those MPs who voted for it can’t work out their own local expenditure, such is the confusion. Politicians can be too good at politics, maintaining unity at any cost _ “unity” being the most important word in political management.
This kills debate and scrutiny, which always improve decision-making. Questioning in itself becomes treason! MMP compounds this tendency. It has created systemic, chronic cowardice. Unless you are high on the party list, you are “road kill”. Therefore, the incentive to tell party leaders how wonderful, indispensable and loved they are becomes endemic and unhealthy.
Electorate MPs once stood for local interests, but now they seek the safety net of a list placing. Electorate MPs could once build a firewall of local supporters, their independence rewarded by loyal locals. Those days are over.
Politics is now so well-managed that it takes all the risk and courage out of politics.
To those who live by opinion polls, who have their backbones removed by focus groups, the most profound words on political courage go to Martin Luther King jnr:
“Cowardice asks the question _ is it safe? Expediency asks the question _ is it politic? Vanity asks the question _ is it popular? But conscience asks the question _ is it right? A position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but because conscience tells him it is right.”