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Jamie Mackay: Jacinda Ardern’s Fieldays popularity a problem for National

OPINION:

They say the barometer of Fieldays success is tractor sales. Fieldays success is also a barometer for politicians. This year was no exception as the Beehive drones swarmed Mystery Creek. No less than 26 Labour politicians turned up!

But before we talk about the fortunes of Jacinda, Judith, James and David as they frolicked among the farmers, I want to relate a tale from 2012. Or was it 2013? I’ve been going to Fieldays for so long now, it’s easy to confuse one year with the next.

So we were making our way to the Tron when we got the dreaded, but never unexpected, announcement from the pilot. Hamilton airport was smothered in a blanket of fog so we were diverting our flight to Auckland.

As the pilot’s announcement went down like a lead balloon, the audible sighs in the passenger cabin were somewhat overshadowed by my impulsive and impromptu expletive. It was a “fart in an elevator” moment I wish I could have taken back.

Nek minute, the man who had sat quietly in the seat in front of me from when we’d boarded in Wellington said, “I know that voice”, as he turned around to greet me. He didn’t need to introduce himself because I’d seen him almost daily on the telly and spoken to him regularly on my radio show. It was David Shearer, the Labour leader.

Relieved that he didn’t berate me for my potty mouth, I said it was nice to finally meet him in person and then we set about discussing our respective transport options from Auckland to Mystery Creek.

In a somewhat sanctimonious gesture straight from the Green Party playbook, David declared he was going to selflessly take a bus. We were having none of that and invited him to take the last remaining seat in our newly-acquired rental vehicle.

He obliged, and what followed for us was two hours in the company of a well-travelled, well-storied, charming and charismatic man. Unfortunately for David Shearer the charm and charisma never transposed itself to the electronic media, when he stuttered down the barrel of a television camera.

When we eventually made it to the opening day of Fieldays at 1.30pm, rather than our scheduled 10am, the five in our travelling party wandered in together. I expected plenty of eyes on us with Shearer in tow but the only comment and interaction came from Labour MP Damien O’Connor, who greeted Shearer with a jovial, “What are you doing walking in here with that Tory bastard?” The current Minister of Agriculture is never short of a word when it comes to a bit of banter!

While Shearer was largely anonymous at Mystery Creek, the then-Prime Minister John Key, at the height of his popularity following his handling of the GFC and Christchurch earthquakes, was accorded rock star status. Maybe it was his “rock star economy” but everywhere he went he was surrounded by the Party faithful, hordes of giggling schoolkids wanting a selfie and the plain curious who wanted to press the flesh with the PM.

Which gets me back to my starting point – Fieldays 2021. During my tenure in rural radio, I’ve been at Mystery Creek while Jim Bolger, Jenny Shipley, Helen Clark, Key, Bill English and Jacinda Ardern have been PM. Only Key and Ardern are rock stars.

In Key’s case, it was no surprise. He loved farmers and farmers loved him. So much so that I can remember some years at Fieldays where Labour basically flew the white flag and would send just O’Connor and a couple of token low-level attendees. The Nats owned Mystery Creek. It was their Tūrangawaewae.

Which makes Ardern’s Fieldays popularity all the more perplexing. Farmers don’t love Labour. And there’s plenty of reasons for farmers to not feel the love from Jacinda’s lot. Not the least, the latest slap in the face in the form of tone-deaf Ute Tax.

Then there’s the prospect of overly-penal reforms around zero-carbon, freshwater, winter grazing and livestock numbers. Farming, which is doing all the heavy lifting in the economy, is fast becoming the sacrificial lamb on the altar of climate change.

And therein lies the problem for Judith Collins and the Nats. With all the political fodder they have to feast on, they should be having a field day. Fieldays proved otherwise. The only thing they’re feasting on is themselves. It’s called cannibalisation.

As for Shearer, he went back to doing what he was best at – selfless humanitarian work with the United Nations. I still maintain, given the opportunity and the ability to deliver in front of a camera, he could have made a fine PM.

So, in that respect, I guess politics is a lot like farming. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.

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