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More Needed Than A Collection Of Good Tunes

Yesterday's launch of the election campaign's by Labour, National and NZ First leaders, looked like they all took lessons from their US colleagues. John Howard reports.

The speeches of Clark, Shipley and Peters were all imbued with emotion and an almost missionary zeal to the delegates, telling them their way was the new progressive force in New Zealand politics.

Their high ideals ranged from freedom and equality to personal glimpses of everday life - worries over children and sleepless nights over policy decisions.

Time and again I was struck by how American this all was. Folksy, direct, unreserved in their tug on the heartstrings. The trembling lip, the defiant cry, the confessional appeal, never flagged.

This was all pure Billy Graham and you either like it or you don't. They might have all begun "My fellow Americans."

The leaders already stand accused of running presidential-style campaigns and it seems that they have indeed looked to their "friend" Bill Clinton for pointers.

Some of the more traditional Kiwi's will have baulked at the method by which all this was expressed. The leaders used a combination of emotion and personal testimony which older observers seemed not to like, but once again it is the mark of these people.

When it came to substance, however, many commentators will be disappointed. All the leaders seemed to be offering a compilation album of their greatest hits, but real radicalism needs substance not just a collection of good tunes.

They are all practised speakers rather than natural orators checking off their achievements and trying to look beyond the horizon of the election. The effort was not a great success.

The leaders may have persuaded their own to embrace the mantra of modernisation and the cause of progressive rather than good old-fashioned Kiwi politics. They did less to explain to the nation how all this translates into hard-edged policies.

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