Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The entertainer

There's something desperately sad about watching Winston Peters trying to milk a scandal about Peter Dunne. It's a familiar routine for Peters, one he could do in his sleep: expose something irregular or embarrassing on the basis of a leak, spin it out over several weeks, harrumph self-righteously, strut the public stage, keep us all agog wondering what he'll come up with next. And, in its heyday, what a routine it was! The Maori Affairs loans scandal, the winebox affair—these were legitimate issues of public concern, exposed by Peters, even if he made rather too much a meal of them. But the days are long gone when he seized on something really meaningful, and it's a sign of how impregnable the National government has been to his usual tricks that all the old shark can do now is sink his increasingly blunt teeth into a fellow minor party. Shark bites minnow: this is news? The more Peters attacks Dunne, the more he shows how weakened he has become. And as it also grows clearer with every day that he has no more of substance to throw at his victim (admitting he hasn't got all the dirt he needs would have been unthinkable once), so we witness the sad spectacle of a veteran showbiz star no longer able to wow the crowds in the same dazzling way. The old soft-shoe shuffle, so slick before, looks worn and creaky now. One is reminded irresistibly of John Osborne's play/film The Entertainer, in which a faded music-hall performer past his prime keeps wheeling out the same tired old jokes and routines, to increasingly thin applause. Peters has so lost the plot this time, in fact, that he's in serious danger of rousing public sympathy for Dunne. Who now looks as though he will pull through to the next election before leaving Parliament with, perhaps, his reputation not quite so battered as it seems now.

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