David Seymour and the TV political fictions of Thick of It, Veep and House of Cards. Image: Archi Banal
David Seymour and the TV political fictions of Thick of It, Veep and House of Cards. Image: Archi Banal

PoliticsSeptember 24, 2023

Why David Seymour despises TV shows about politics

David Seymour and the TV political fictions of Thick of It, Veep and House of Cards. Image: Archi Banal
David Seymour and the TV political fictions of Thick of It, Veep and House of Cards. Image: Archi Banal

And what kind of coalition would he like to form with National: one with clear borders, or a merger approach?

If David Seymour were sent to a desert island and could take just one TV show based on politics, what would it be? House of Cards perhaps? The Thick of It? Yes, Minister? “I’d read a book,” the Act leader told The Spinoff Megapod this week. Such television was a scourge in the real world of politics, he said. 

“I think they’ve done so much damage. You’ve got a whole class of people who have come into politics thinking it’s about the game.”

In what appeared to be an allusion to Jami-Lee Ross, he described “one particular politician who came a cropper”. That individual “had the House of Cards theme song as their ringtone, and was absolutely fixated. That’s an extreme example, but it’s not the only example of the effect those shows have,” he said.

“Politics is not a game, but when the politics itself becomes a game then you’ve got a problem.”

Seymour was unimpressed, too, with a different animal of political television, the first leader debate on TVNZ. What did he think of it? “Not much.”

He said: “It was an opportunity for two people who between then have two thirds of the vote, nearly, to actually set out: these are some challenges New Zealand faces, and here are some ways we can overcome them.”

Instead, a vast part of the debate “appeared to be about why the other one’s plans won’t work, rather than what could work. I think New Zealand is at a point where we really need some policy change, some policy innovation, and it didn’t really come out of that. Neither of them was much different from the other, or the status quo.”

If current polling bears out on election day, Seymour will find himself in a position of negotiating a coalition – preferably, from his point of view, without a reliance on Winston Peters’ blessing. 

If it were to be a National-Act coalition, how would he prefer it be assembled structurally: Act assigned chunks of policy territory that they in effect “own”, with National holding the remainder, or for Act influence to be sewn through the government?

“To be honest I’ve thought about it a lot, and they both have their attractions and I don’t really have a clear answer to that,” said Seymour. “You can either say, look, we’re all on the same team, we basically merge and deal with each issue as a merged team. Or you can say [for example] you guys are responsible for infrastructure, education and police, and everything else is ours.”

He said: “I suspect it’s going to be more of the merged team approach, to be honest. I think it makes more sense to be checking each other’s homework, as James Shaw says about these sorts of things. I suspect we’re in the merged area, but I could be wrong about that.”

A range of politicians who appeared on the Megapod across 12 hours on Wednesday were asked to name their favourite politically themed television – the show they’d choose if marooned. 

Labour leader Chris Hipkins went for West Wing. Act deputy leader Brooke van Velden said she made a point of avoiding political shows and instead went for tween dramas and the likes of Is It Cake?.

National MP Erica Stanford was of similar mind. “To be honest I tend not to watch them,” she said. “I find them really stressful. With this job I like to come home and watch just mind numbingly easy reality TV rubbish.” But she did, she admitted, once enjoy the US version of House of Cards. 

National’s Auckland Central candidate Mahesh Muralidhar selected West Wing – “I’ve probably watched it eight times.” Labour candidate Oscar Sims chose Yes, Minister. The incumbent MP and Green candidate Chlöe Swarbrick chose The Thick of It. So did Act candidate Felix Poole. As did Labour finance spokesperson Grant Robertson.

Green co-leader James Shaw said he had loved and was once inspired by West Wing but returned to it recently and found it unwatchable. His choice instead: Yes, Minister. Top leader Raf Manji went for Borgen.

Labour MP Michael Wood similarly said that “as a good lefty” he’d enjoyed West Wing over the years, but his favourite show of late with a political element was Slow Horses: “There’s a deliciously venal, ambitious, horrible Tory secretary of state.”

Megapod guests were also asked to assess their own mojo level for the mojo meter. Seymour’s pick: “I’d put myself at about eight. Pretty good, but you can always get better.”

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