Mallardrama: Political Pugilism and the Talkback Radio Right
Trevor Mallard is no George Orwell, but ever since he drubbed the talkback radio right’s favourite brown Tory, Tau Henare, outside the parliamentary debating chamber, they have developed a true fear and loathing for the Labour party’s keen Kiwi bloke. This situation is amusing when seen from the left, where he is thought of as being more emblematic of the election focused beige-rouge, tirelessly ticking boxes from the Jock Phillips playbook. In spite of this, it is probably very difficult for us to imagine just how mortifying the sight of this faux-everyman grown slightly flabby beating down tame old Tau must have been to your average Tory scumbag.
But we’re happy to give it a shot.
Mallard smashing Henare represented the terrifying inversion of the right’s long-cherished favourite act of political violence in New Zealand popular history: In July 1985, Sir Bob Jones — then leader of the New Zealand party — was taking a break from his entry to the political arena for a spot of contemplative fly fishing. A news crew tracked him down by helicopter, and he responded to their invasion of his privacy by physically confronting them. In the ensuing scuffle, reporter Rod Vaughan was punched in the nose. The image of Vaughan’s ruffled suit and bloody nose naturally warms the cockles of many a spiteful Tory, and to this day you will still find many a Dave or Murray having a chuckle about it on trademe forums and talkback radio. Contra Mallard’s trouncing of Tau, this is political violence as the re-colonial fantasist likes it. In the red corner, bleeding hearts, bludgers, and leftie do gooders; in the blue corner, Sir Bob Jones, the knight of commerce in waxcloth and tweed, smiting journalists who try to hold him to account while he’s busy fishing for imported trout species, only to wind up laughing off the semblance of justice as he receives his thousand dollar fine for assaulting the pesky intruder. When Sir Bob asked the judge if he could pay two thousand and get to hit the guy again, he may not have seen himself as a 19th Century robber baron literally buying his way out of legal responsibility, but sure as fuck that’s what his actions amounted to.
For the talkback radio crowd, however, it represents the fulfilment of their two favourite fantasies. First, the idea that they will one day get those magic tax cuts that will make them rich enough to hold the law at bay with their mighty chequebooks. Second, the idea that they too might someday have the cojones to bash one of those pesky loony lefty reporters or perhaps even some scary minority youngsters in hooded sweatshirts (not to mention the possibility of subsequently receiving a civic decoration from Garth McVicar for their efforts in moving New Zealand forward as a nation). Naturally, such fantasies also involve a semi-retired director’s lifestyle, consisting of fly fishing, playing golf, and otherwise aping the pursuits of the British gentry. Continuing interest in the story of Rod Vaughan and Sir Bob can be seen in this context as a counterpoint which soothes the burn of the Mallard/Henare fight, allowing them to mentally even the score. Jones becomes a sort of living totem, whose victorious drubbing of the pesky do-gooder journalist makes the cruel offer of the false hope that their violent, childish fantasies of power and gusto would ever amount to anything more than what is useful for to the plutocracy.