Personal values matter this election

The term ‘personality politics’ has been thrown around this election more than in others.

I can see why people don’t want politics to be all about personality. Our age is dominated by a celebrity culture that’s often superficial.

People rightly don’t want superficial selfishness to seep into our politics. We want politics to be a contest of ideas – an informed forum for debating how our country can be better.

But I think some of what we label as ‘personality politics’ is legitimate, even essential.

That’s because part of what we call ‘personality politics’ is also about a politician’s personal values and ethos. And values – commitments that reflect our view of what a good life is – matter in politics.

Don’t just take my word for it.

Here’s British writer George Monbiot, in his just released book, Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis: “Values are the bedrock of effective politics.

“They represent the importance we place on fundamental ways of being, offering a guide to what we consider to be good and worthwhile.”

We see the values of politicians in the policies they talk about. But we also see their values in how they carry and conduct themselves personally, and how they interact with others.

Here’s where ‘personality’ can be relevant.

At a concrete level, having politicians with good personal values matters because they’re meant to represent us. They should make us proud, not just in how they represent New Zealand overseas, but also in how they are as people around the country.

People were confident that Helen Clark, when she was Prime Minister, took seriously New Zealand’s commitments overseas.

Many liked John Key’s relaxed but affable way of interacting with people domestically. It is not too idealistic to hope that politicians should reflect the best of who we are as a country.

Relatedly, politicians don’t just represent us – they affect us. They’re role models.

President Donald Trump’s bullish, aggressive style is legitimising bullish aggressiveness in the American population. We have many sides of who we are as people, and politicians draw out certain qualities in us.

Canadian writer Naomi Klein has said we must recognise “our inner Trump” that’s being tapped into by the current US presidency.

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  • Max Harris, author of The New Zealand Project, is a PhD student at All Souls College in Oxford, England.

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