Saturday 30 August 2014

DIRT ALERT! - Are The Greens And Labour About To Become The Targets Of A Major Negative Advertising Campaign?

Deja Vu All Over Again? Are we about to see a repeat of the 2005 negative advertising campaign  launched in secret against the Greens and Labour?
WE’VE SEEN IT ALL BEFORE. In 2005 pamphlets began appearing all over New Zealand attacking Labour and the Greens. For a couple of days both the parties targeted and the news media were flummoxed. Who was behind such an obviously extensive and costly campaign? No one knew – until former members of the Exclusive Brethren Church recognised some of the names of the pamphlets’ authorising agents and put two and two together.
The exposure of the Exclusive Brethren Church’s role in printing and distributing the pamphlets, followed by the shock revelation that the National Party leader, Dr Don Brash, had been made aware that such campaign was in the offing, contributed significantly to National’s 2005 election defeat.
Could history be repeating itself?
Yesterday evening (Thursday, 28 August 2014) I received an e-mail from a sender styling himself “Charlie Taylor” advising me that “a group of concerned citizens just like you are paying for billboards like this”.
Exactly who “Charlie Taylor” is I have no idea, but the lengthy e-mail send out in his name is clearly intended to inflict maximum damage on both the Greens and, by association, Labour.
If I was a betting man, however, I would hazard a reasonable wager that Don Brash’s superb propagandist, John Ansell, was in some way involved. There is something in the cheeky tone of these designs that recalls Ansell’s immensely powerful Iwi/Kiwi billboards of 2005.
This, for example:

The other reason I have for speculating that Mr Ansell might be involved is that some of the text of the e-mail bears a striking similarity to the accusations levelled at the Greens co-leader, Russel Norman, by Mr Ansell when he was interviewed on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report recently. In the course of that interview, Mr Norman was branded a communist in language very similar to that used in this excerpt from the e-mail:
“Will you be happy to learn that your Labour party vote has helped ex-Aussie Communist Russel Norman achieve his ambition of becoming Mr Cunliffe’s finance minister?
“Will you think it a hoot when, thanks to you, ex-McGillicuddy Serious and Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis candidate Metiria Turei joins Red Russ as ‘Joint’ Deputy Prime Minister?”
Nor is this the worst thing the author/s of the e-mail have to say about the Greens. Apparently, they are responsible for the deaths of 50 million Third World children:
“Green thinking has a long and black track record of sounding heart-warmingly plausible, but wreaking death and destruction when unleashed in the real world, on real people.
“In the 60s, the hysteria over Rachel Carson’s green bible Silent Spring led to the banning of the mosquito-killing chemical DDT.
“Which led to 50 million people dying of malaria.
“Every day, more children die painful deaths because the Greens continue to deny them the treatment that would save their lives – a treatment that science has long since proven safe.”
All good inflammatory stuff! But the real sting (and true target) of the e-mail comes in its tail. The message the “Group of Concerned Kiwis” who sign-off this distribe really want you to take away with you is: “To stop the Greens, you must stop Labour.”
“You may think National and Labour are two sides of the same coin. And usually that would be fair comment.
But with the Greens now guaranteed to be 30% or more of a Labour government, the economic danger signs just got a whole lot redder.”
Better, one assumes, to stick with the blues.
Whoever Charlie Taylor turns out to be, his group of “concerned citizens” is almost certain to fall foul of the Electoral Commission.
For a start, the designs feature absolutely nothing in the way of an authorising statement. Without the true name and residential address of the person responsible for authorising these political messages, any billboards, pamphlets, stickers and/or posters that may appear between now and 20 September are almost certain to be in breach of the legislation regulating political communications during a General Election campaign.
They will also discover that any and all “concerned citizens” wishing to participate in the cut and thrust of the General Election must first register themselves with the Electoral Commission and undertake to keep their expenditure within the legislatively sanctioned limits.
The revelation of such identifying details would, naturally, facilitate the full disclosure of who is behind this proposed negative advertising campaign.
In the wake of Nicky Hager’s book Dirty Politics, I do not imagine that the National Party will relish answering questions about the provenance of yet another example of, well, dirty politics. And if, as happened in 2005, incontrovertible evidence emerges that John Key or his party were forewarned of these “Concerned Kiwis’” campaigning intentions, then National’s chances of holding onto power will take yet another hit.


Thanks to the information passed to Bowalley Road by "Idiot/Savant" of the No Right Turn blogsite it is now possible to identify at least some of the persons involved in this latest example of attack politics. What follows is my response to Idiot/Savant's timely assistance:

Well done and thank you, Idiot/Savant!

I can now reveal more about the e-mail from "Charlie Taylor".

It was sent to a person called John Third.

Following up this detail, I discovered that a John Lawrence Third is the sole director of a registered private company called Guinness Gallagher Corporate Advisory Ltd, based in Wellington.

I acquired Mr Third's telephone number, called him, but, receiving no answer, left a message for him to call me back. He hasn't.*

I did not include this information in the posting above because I didn't want to involve a potentially "innocent civilian" in a breaking political story.

Idiot/Savant's research has, however, obviated the need for me to talk to Mr Third because looking at the latest entry on the Elections New Zealand's Register of Promoters whose name do I see in the column headed "Name of the person authorised to make the application where the promoter is not an individual" but that of John L Third - the very same person to whom "Charlie Taylor's" e-mail was sent.

How did it come to me? I have no idea. Perhaps Mr Third's name was just the first of dozens on a mass e-mail distribution list among which my own - for some unfathomable reason - was included.

Whatever the explanation, we now know that the campaign is real, and that it is being run under the collective identity of "The Opinion Partnership" among whose members are Mr Third and Owen Jennings - former head of Federated Farmers, former Act Party MP (1996-2002) and currently the joint owner (with Mr Third) of the registered private company Ideal Energy Holdings Ltd.

We await further developments.

*  I have since spoken to Mr Third who confirmed to me that he and Owen Jennings are, indeed, among the persons calling themselves "The Opinion Partnership". Mr Third also informed me that his company, Guinness Gallagher Corporate Advisory Ltd, has done consultancy work for both the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.


Propaganda supremo, John Ansell, confirms his involvement in The Opinion Partnership. For more information refer to the commentary thread of this posting.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 29 August 2014.

Friday 29 August 2014

Entering The Labyrinth

The New Ariadne: In a world of mendacious politicians, giant corporations and impenetrable public bureaucracies, the hacker offers the only credible hope of entering the modern labyrinth. Stieg Larsen's character, Lisbeth Salander, is the archetypal fictional representation of the "White Hat" hacker.
LISBETH SALANDER is the archetypal hacker: a damaged outsider; phenomenally clever; contemptuous of society’s rules; but possessed of an unflinching, if somewhat quirky, sense of right and wrong. Without Lisbeth, the journalist hero of Stieg Larsen’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Mikael Blomkvist, could never have brought the guilty to justice. In a world of mendacious millionaires, giant corporations and impenetrable public bureaucracies, the hacker provides the only credible means of moving the plot forward.
In mythic terms, Lisbeth is Ariadne, the Cretan princess whose precious linking threads allow the Greek hero, Theseus, to find his way through the impossibly complex Labyrinth and destroy the Minotaur – the monstrous, bull-headed man who dwells in its depths.
Another forerunner of the hacker is Arthur Conan Doyle’s inimitable consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes. There were, of course, no computers at 221B Baker Street, but Holmes’ phenomenal intellect and his ability to access crucial information – seemingly out of thin air – singles him out as Lisbeth’s literary Godfather.
A closer relation, perhaps, is Phillip Marlowe – the hero of Raymond Chandler’s dark detective novel, The Big Sleep. Marlowe is a marginal character who moves more-or-less effortlessly between legality and illegality and yet, in the core of his being, cleaves unerringly to the right and the good. His antagonists are often corrupt authority figures: gangster bosses, bent cops, politicians on the take and crooked businessmen. As a private investigator, operating outside the official structures of law enforcement and justice, Chandler’s hero embodies all the key attributes and instincts of the “White Hat” hacker.
Driving all of these literary characters is a determination to discover what lies behind the locked doors of this world: doors which its frustratingly incurious inhabitants are happy to leave unopened. These play-it-safers caution the naturally inquisitive against asking too many questions and tell them not to go poking their noses into places where someone might feel obliged to cut them off.
Such advice is ill-received by those who remain unconvinced that not everything is as it appears to be. That below the placid surface of the workaday world plans are unfolding about which most of us know absolutely nothing. Plans hatched by people who are as fascinating as they are terrifying: inhabitants of a parallel universe; separate from our own but accessible to those who know which keys unlock what doors.
Think of David Lynch’s cult movie masterpiece, Blue Velvet, in which the chance discovery of a severed human ear propels the hero into a nightmare world of corruption, kidnapping, drug-taking, sado-masochism and murder, the existence of which he’d known absolutely nothing only days before.
It is tempting to dismiss the sort of people who seek to penetrate the veils that mask these alternate realities as tin-foil-hat-wearers and “screaming left-wing conspiracy theorists”. And yet, it was no lesser authority than Benjamin Disraeli, Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1874 until 1880, who remarked that: “The world is governed by very different personages from what is imagined by those who are not behind the scenes.”
The sort of person who becomes a hacker is the sort of person who hears in Disraeli’s words not simply a revelation – but a challenge. Who are these different personages? How does one get behind the scenes?
In the past one only found out these things by venturing into the Labyrinth, pursuing the Hound of the Baskervilles, interrogating the gangster boss, or hiding in the nightclub singer’s closet. Today, however, top-secret information may be obtained without leaving the room. With a lap-top, an Internet connection, and the requisite knowledge, getting behind the scenes and learning the secrets of all manner of personages – familiar and unfamiliar – is astonishingly easy.
Since January, the real-life investigative journalist, Nicky Hager, has, like Mikael Blomkvist in Larsen’s thriller, been working with his very own Lisbeth Salander. The resulting book has, in the manner of David Lynch, revealed to us the existence of a political world very different from the one those of us who have never ventured behind the scenes imagined. We have been introduced to characters every bit as fascinating and terrifying as Arthur Conan Doyle’s and Raymond Chandler’s.
What remains to be seen is whether life imitates art and the guilty are brought to electoral justice. It’s one thing to discover the Labyrinth exists, quite another to slay the monster at its heart.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 29 August 2014.

Thursday 28 August 2014

The First Leaders' Debate: Cunliffe Shows His Quality.

Epic Struggle: Tonight New Zealanders were privileged to witness a truly outstanding encounter between two highly effective politicians. Leaving aside its ridiculous "poll", TVNZ is to be congratulated for screening one of the best leaders' debates in decades.

WHAT A BLOODY SHAME. For 59 minutes TVNZ had hosted one of the best leaders' debates in decades. In spite of many Labour supporters reservations, Mike Hosking chaired the encounter with consummate professionalism. He made sure the debate was free-flowing, allowing both leaders ample opportunity to demonstrate both their command of the relevant facts and their skill at turning those facts to their own and their party's advantage.

But then, in the final minute of the show, TVNZ broadcast the results of a meaningless "poll" of self-selecting respondents purporting to show that John Key had "won" the debate by a margin of 69 percent to 31 percent. Rather than simply allowing New Zealanders to argue among themselves in the best democratic tradition about which man had been the more impressive, the state broadcaster could not forebear from settling the question for them. Immensely satisfying if you were a National Party supporter, utterly infuriating if you were backing Labour.

Because there is absolutely no disputing the fact that David Cunliffe acquitted himself superbly in tonight's debate. He was disarmingly courteous and generous in his interactions with the Prime Minister, but frankly, he could afford to be. Of the two politicians he was easily the more fluent and the more persuasive. Where the Prime Minister aggressively asserted, David Cunliffe calmly and good-humouredly presented the evidence. And, when the moment came for a knockout blow, the Leader of the Opposition was not found wanting.

The "killer punch" came in the discussion about selling New Zealand farmland to foreigners. Responding to Hosking's challenge about no New Zealanders being willing to pay the $70 million Shanghai Pengxin was willing to offer for Lochinver Station, David Cunliffe simply invited the Chairman to "roll the logic forward" and in a bravura demonstration of his economic skills set forth the blunt facts about how such a market would inevitably and permanently bar New Zealanders from ever being able to afford to purchase their own land. Even John Key felt obliged to congratulate his opponent on his spectacular rhetorical performance.

For those not blinded by tribal political loyalties, this was the moment when Cunliffe "won" the debate. Economics and business have always been the Prime Minister's preferred battle-ground. But, even here, in the area of John Key's greatest expertise, David Cunliffe bettered him. For all those New Zealanders who have yet to make up their minds, that extraordinary exchange should be their "Aha!" moment. John Key is a highly accomplished politician and a fine debater, but tonight he met his match. Tonight, for the first time since he became National's leader, John Key lost.

If I were to score the debate out of 100 I would give 60 points to David Cunliffe and 40 points to John Key.

Will that be the judgement of punditry in general? We shall have to wait and see. TVNZ, however, with its meaningless "poll", clearly intends to tell New Zealand that John Key was the victor. As citizens with minds of our own, and as viewers who had just witnessed a truly outstanding encounter between two highly effective politicians, we deserved better than to see the public broadcaster needlessly undermine an otherwise splendid event.

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Democracy - Leonard Cohen

Because I've just come back from Nicky Hager's extraordinary public meeting in the Mt Eden War Memorial Hall, here's Lenny's magnificent paean to the democratic ideal. If it's coming to the USA - why not here too?
Sail on, sail on, oh mighty ship of state
To the shores of need
Past the reefs of greed
Through the squalls of hate

Video courtesy of YouTube
This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite

The Pilgrim Of Light: Nicky Hager And New Zealand Politics

Admonishing Angel: Nicky Hager descends periodically to trouble our consciences and wreak merry havoc with the orderly conduct of our political affairs. But, more than any other journalist in New Zealand, he has taught us to read the actions of those who wield power over and around us in the twenty-first century.
WHAT WILL HISTORY MAKE of Nicky Hager? That slight, perpetually boyish, journalist who descends periodically, like the admonishing angel in a medieval mystery play, to trouble our consciences and wreak merry havoc with the orderly conduct of our political affairs. History will have to make something of him: his interventions have been too important to be dismissed by our political brewers as mere irrelevant froth. But what? That is the question.
Perhaps we should begin by telling the world what Nicky Hager is not. Prime Ministerial judgements notwithstanding, he is not “a screaming left-wing conspiracy-theorist”.
Hager has never, is not, and never will be some sort of avatar of the “left-wing”. He has far too refined a moral sense to be the representative of anything so fractious and morally compromised as the New Zealand Left. Indeed, most left-wingers have little patience for individuals so weighed down by self-imposed scruples. The preferred left-wing soldier is as reluctant to question the ethics of the party-line as Hager is eager to challenge them. Revolutionary bread is typically made from much more coarsely-ground flour.
Nor does Hager scream. His mode of address is invariably polite and carefully measured. Softly-spoken and slow to take offence, Hager is actually the perfect foil for the genuine screamers of the public sphere. These latter cannot abide the fact that Hager is able to inflict so much damage to their cause while speaking in tones of such sweet reasonableness. One imagines their camera lenses, microphones and keyboards flecked with spittle – so great is the rage which he inspires.
Of all the epithets hurled at Hager, by far the most common is that he is a “conspiracy theorist”. I recently heard one of Jim Mora’s panellists, a woman who I would wager has never read a single one of his books, dismiss him as “a grassy-knoll fantasist”. I was surprised she didn’t add that he was generally to be found sporting a jaunty tin-foil hat!
Methinks the lady – and all those others so quick to dismiss Hager’s work as the rantings of a demented conspiracy theorist – doth protest too much. Such people cannot easily accept that what they happily acknowledge as the truth of things may be something else entirely. That the “official” story is, as often as not, a tissue of lies. Or, that the eruptions of mendacity which periodically disturb the placid surface of public life are anything other than unfortunate accidents: cock-ups – not conspiracies. Hager’s books, so meticulously researched and footnoted, so weighed down with names and dates and places, render the cock-up theory unusable by these poor souls, forcing them to focus on facts as uncomfortable as they are irrefutable. Unsurprisingly, he is not thanked for doing so.
Even more upset, however, are the people whose hidden machinations (conspiracies if you like the word better) Hager exposes. Once again, this is hardly surprising. Whether it be the people behind the Echelon spy system; the timber company with its eyes on the native forests of the West Coast; a Labour prime minister who’d neglected to alert the country to the accidental release of genetically-engineered corn; the National Party strategists behind Dr Don Brash’s bid to complete the neoliberal revolution; the New Zealand Defence Force’s strenuous efforts to re-attach New Zealand’s pinky finger to the Anglo-Saxon fist; or, All The Prime Minister’s Men’s e-mail communications with Cameron Slater: these are people who would have preferred their words and deeds to have remained hidden from the public gaze. “Conspiracy theorist!”, in the mouths of such individuals is not a revelation, it’s a diversion.
So what has Hager done? In historical terms, he has taught us how to read the actions of those who wield power over and around us in the twenty-first century. Since the publication of his first book, Secret Power, in 1996, Hager has shown us things our leaders would rather we hadn’t seen. He’s taught us to challenge the official media releases; to question the news stories; and to understand the truth of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s (1804-1881) disturbing observation that: “The world is governed by very different personages from what is imagined by those who are not behind the scenes.”
Hager is one of that rare breed of men with whom even History is uncomfortable. He represents neither class nor creed; is the servant of neither political party nor economic interest. He comes to us out of storms of malice, steering his fragile little boat of truth across a raging sea of lies. In the words of one of the nineteenth century’s greatest historians, Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) Nicky Hager is proof that:
“In the true Literary Man there is thus ever, acknowledged or not by the world, a sacredness: he is the light of the world; the world’s Priest – guiding it, like a sacred Pillar of Fire, in its dark pilgrimage through the waste of Time.”
This essay was posted simultaneously on the Daily Blog and Bowalley Road blogsites on Wednesday, 27 August 2014.

Child Poverty Action Group - On The March

Take steps against child poverty
in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Join the
End Child Poverty Hikoi
Britomart, Auckland
11:00am, Saturday
6 September 2014
This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.

Tuesday 26 August 2014

The Ethics Of Selective Outrage

Killing In The Name Of: Given the chorus of rage currently directed at the “Zionist Entity”, why are those who profess “progressive” sympathies so silent when it comes to the outrages perpetrated by the self-proclaimed Islamic State?
WHERE ARE THE IMPASSIONED STREAMS of citizens flooding our nation’s streets to protest the actions of the Islamic State? The righteous wrath stirred up by the Israeli assault upon Gaza has been plain to see. But the barbaric punishment meted out to Christians, captive Iraqi soldiers, Shia Muslims and followers of the ancient Yazidi faith has yet to inspire anyone to apply paint to placard. Given the chorus of rage currently directed at the “Zionist Entity”, why are those who profess “progressive” sympathies so silent when it comes to the outrages perpetrated by the self-proclaimed Islamic State?
The latest of these, the beheading of a young American journalist, has generated a wave of revulsion around the world. Not least on account of the perpetrators’ cynical (but effective) use of social media to publicise their medieval celebration of cruelty and death. But where are the Hollywood movie stars emoting to camera over the ritual killing of their defenceless compatriot? Where are the protest crowds of outraged progressives demanding justice for James Foley?

James Foley's Last Moments: A medieval celebration of cruelty and death. 
Does nobody else think it odd that the gunning down of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, can spark days of passionate protest, but the agonising decapitation of a helpless journalist elicits condemnation only from “mainstream” politicians and the equally despised “mainstream” media? Did progressives maintain a similar silence when images of a terrified Palestinian boy, caught in a deadly crossfire of Israeli bullets, appeared on the world’s television screens? No, they did not.
More and more, it seems to me, we are being presented with what some commentators are calling “good dead” and “bad dead”.
The Palestinian mother and child who die under Israeli bombs; the Dutch tourist who dies when a missile destroys Flight MH17 over Donetsk; these are the “good dead”. We may mourn their loss openly and loudly, and angrily condemn their killers. But the women and children killed by Ukrainian jets and artillery, or by the missiles fired into Israel from Gaza, these are “bad dead”: to be passed over in silence.
Now, you may say that it was ever thus: that people around the world have always been encouraged to hate who their leaders hate and mourn the dead of their valiant allies. But this has never been the position of those who described themselves as progressive. People on the Left of politics used to condemn cruel and unusual punishment wherever it occurred. Racial discrimination, religious persecution and the subjugation of women were likewise held up as unequivocally bad practices.
Not any more.
It always struck me as extraordinary that Western progressives were willing to put their bodies (and even their lives) on the line for the sake of racial equality and democratic freedom in South Africa, but that there was no equivalent international mobilisation against the vicious repression of women in the Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan. The universalism of the twentieth century had, by the early years of the twenty-first, given way to an empty ethical relativism. Today, it would seem, progressives are free to pick and choose who they deem to be right and wrong. Raging unceasingly against the Israeli “apartheid” state, while maintaining an ambiguous silence in the face of the Islamic State's atrocities.
So, for those who chant “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea!” I would counsel this little thought experiment.
Suppose in October 1973 Syria’s Soviet-equipped armoured divisions had broken through Israel’s northern defences and that Ariel Sharon’s tanks had not outmanoeuvred Egypt’s in the Sinai. What do you suppose would have been the response of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO)? Would they have demanded a cease-fire, pending the creation of a secular and democratic Palestinian state? Or, would they have driven every Jew living west of the River Jordan into the sea?
If you were to ask 100 Israelis that question, I’m pretty sure how 95 of them would respond. They would tell you that from the moment of its formation in 1964, the PLO wagered everything on Egypt and Syria (with Soviet weapons) becoming militarily strong enough to do what the Palestinians, alone, could never do: destroy the Israeli state. When it lost that bet the PLO adopted a dual-track strategy: officially recognising Israel’s right to exist while unofficially sanctioning a long and deadly asymmetric struggle against the Israeli people. Using terror not to defeat the Israeli state, but to reshape it in the terrorists’ own murderous likeness. Having transformed Israel into a monster, the Palestinians could then implore the world to come to their rescue. Of course, for this strategy to succeed, Israel had to be constantly goaded into unleashing ever more murderous attacks.
Morally, there is little to distinguish the Palestinian leadership’s conduct from that of the Islamic State's. Because no good end ever came from such evil means.
Progressives knew that … once.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 26 August 2014.

Monday 25 August 2014

John Key's Hand-Up To Julian And Sarah.


Life Used To be So Hard: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's Our House.
NATIONAL'S HOUSING POLICY, like Labour's, promises to make life easier for those young middle-class couples desperate to get their feet on the first rung of the property ladder.

The real solution to homelessness is, as the Greens and Internet-Mana propose, to flood the rental property market with state-owned and state-constructed houses. With rents capped at 25 percent of the tenant's income these thousands of new state houses would collapse the market for second or third properties that has driven up the price of housing to ridiculous and unsustainable levels.

Yes, people like me, the Baby-Boomer middle-classes, would take a hit - in many cases a big hit. But given the huge advantages our generation enjoyed at the start of our careers: free tertiary education, affordable housing, workplace protections, a buoyant job market; its only fair that we pay down some of those advantages to the generations following along behind us.

Racking my brains for an appropriate accompaniment to this posting, I finally came up with Crosby, Stills and Nash and Young's classic 1970 hit Our House.

One can only assume that John Key is expecting innumerable Julians and Sarahs to think of him when they hear the line:

Now everything is easy 'cause of you.


Video Courtesy of YouTube

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.

Friday 22 August 2014

Steering By The Real: Chris Trotter Responds To Paul Buchanan.

Uncharacteristically Idealistic: Normally a cool-headed realist (as befits an expert in international relations) Dr Paul Buchanan has taken issue with Chris Trotter's "cynical" Bowalley Road posting Dirty Politics - Is There Any Other Kind? by offering a passionately idealistic defence of democratic politics.

WHEN ACADEMICS take to blogging the rest of us best be careful. And when they offer comment on the subject of dirty politics we should all pay attention. I will always remember my history lecturer, Dr Michael Cullen’s, confident dismissal of the challenge of representing the working-class Dunedin electorate of St Kilda after the 1981 General Election. Having secured selection, he told his admiring followers in Labour Youth that Parliament would be a welcome respite from the most vicious and dirty political environment of them all – the university common room.
Dr Paul Buchanan has more reason than most to endorse Dr Cullen’s comments, which is why I was surprised to see him describe what I regarded as an admirably realistic assessment of democratic politics as evidence that I had either lost my ideological bearings or had “consciously decided to join the Dark Side”.
In Why Throw In The Towel? – A Brief Response To Trotter’s Cynicism I am thus dismissed by Dr Buchanan as either bewildered or a blackguard, and my offending essay Dirty Politics – Is There Any Other Kind? is deemed “a cynical defence of dirty politics as being the norm”.
Unfortunately, Dr Buchanan’s critique does not engage with my essay’s essentially historical-realist argument. He does, however, rehearse (in suitably dense academic prose) my inverted Clausewitzian characterisation of politics as “the continuation of war by other means”. Democratic politics, in particular, argues Dr Buchanan, must be “self-limiting” lest the “political game descends into a zero-sum self-interested maximisation of collective opportunities.”
The above sentence is not, however, how I would formulate the alternative to the self-limiting behaviour so crucial to democracy’s success. The historical record suggests that, in the real world, the “self-interested maximisation of collective opportunities” is the democratic norm, and that, historically, the descent from that norm is characterised by the decision of key political actors to abandon self-limitation in favour of popular or state violence. “Foul means or fouler” was how I put it: revolution or repression.
Bluntly speaking, Dr Buchanan’s uncharacteristically idealistic aspirations for democracy (in his discussions of international relations he has always struck me as a pretty staunch realist) cannot survive the taste-test of history. And it is this ahistorical idealism which largely explains his disinclination to engage with any of the many historical examples included in my essay – not even the all-American examples advanced by his compatriot Professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson.
Whether it be the dirty political deal that abandoned Southern Blacks to their fate in 1876; or Joseph P. Kennedy’s dirty deal with the Chicago mob to secure the crucial electoral votes of Illinois for his son in the desperately close presidential election of 1960; or the low-down and dirty theft of the 2000 presidential election by the Bush clique and their Supreme Court allies; the historical proofs for the universality of dirty politics are legion.
Nor can Dr Buchanan escape this reality by shovelling all the blame for dirty politics onto the “elites”. The shenanigans I have observed in union elections do not bear repeating, and even in the idealistic Green Party the ruthlessly ambitious have been known to reach for the contents of the self-composting toilet.
Democracy has always danced upon the back of the monstrous interests composing the capitalist state. It does so, with the lightest of feet, because it knows that while the monsters beneath prefer to govern by consent, they are perfectly willing to resort to force. To preserve at least the illusion of consent, the political writers of the 1920s, were quick to reassure the powerful that, properly managed by astute politicians, a responsible media and the new (dark) arts of advertising and public relations, the millions of newly enfranchised voters would pose no serious threat to the status quo. For the likes of Edward Bernays and Walter Lippman, democracy without deception and distraction was a non-starter.
These are not pleasant truths, but those who locate themselves on the Left would be most unwise to ignore or dismiss them. Navigating by the starry eyes of the idealistic all-too-often lands left-wingers on the rocks. I prefer to steer by the real.
But there is dirty politics that works, and dirty politics that doesn’t. The manufacturing of popular consent increases in effectiveness in inverse proportion to the voters’ proximity to the factories where it is made. What Nicky Hager has exposed in his book is the failure of the National Party leadership to recognise in Cameron Slater and his comrades a political cadre too protean, too volatile, and much too much in love with the smell of napalm in the morning to be allowed anywhere near the Prime Minister’s Office. What Nicky describes is Watergate writ small: a scandal precipitated by a general failure, at the highest levels, to understand that the essence of successful democratic politics is illusion; and the only thing you must never do is allow the mask to slip.
This essay was simultaneously posted on the Bowalley Road and The Daily Blog blogsites on Friday, 22 August 2014.

Abandoning Science - And The Planet

Weeping For The Planet: The famous "Crying Indian" advertisement, produced by Keeping America Beautiful, struck a deep chord with Americans when it first screened on "Earth Day" - 22 April  1971. It was a time when both the Left and the Right respected ecological science and were ready to take action to protect the environment. How times have changed. In 2014, right-wing politicians are unwilling to tolerate "any measures which are socialism masquerading as environmentalism".
MANY NEW ZEALANDERS are puzzled by the sudden descent of right-wing political parties into anti-environmentalism. Forty years ago, in the first flush of global ecological awareness, political parties of every ideological stripe were ready to put aside their differences for the sake of the environment. There was a strong bi-partisan agreement that, regardless of whether they were Left or Right, every human-being had a personal vested interest in improving the health of the planet.
It was a Republican President, Richard Nixon, who signed into law the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, which, for the first time, required federal agencies to file environmental impact statements for federally funded programmes.
Nixon who oversaw, in 1970, the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and signed into law the Clean Air Extension Act, imposing strict controls on airborne pollutants known to be hazardous to human health.
Nixon who, in 1972 offered whales, dolphins, sea otters, polar bears and seals the protection of the US Government by signing the Marine Mammals Protection Act.
Nixon who, likewise, presided over the passage of the 1973 Endangered Species Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act 1974.
Though a deeply conservative (and deeply flawed) politician, Nixon was a shrewd enough politician to grasp the electoral heft of the burgeoning environmental movement.
By the 1980s, however, political parties of the Right around the world were rapidly distancing themselves from the “environmentally friendly” legislative reforms of the 1970s. Ronald Reagan was no Richard Nixon.
The Right’s growing antipathy to environmentalism was fuelled by the world-wide ideological resurgence of laissez-faire capitalism. The so-called “New Right” was hostile to just about every kind of regulatory regime, but it was environmental regulation that earned its special ire. This was because the much admired dynamism of “the free market” was hugely dependent on the capitalists’ ability to “externalise” (i.e. not have to account for or pay for) the environmental and social consequences of their behaviour.
If capitalists were required to fully account for and pay for their detrimental impact upon the natural and human environments, then their profitability would be seriously (and in many cases irreversibly) reduced.
In the 1970s, political leaders like Nixon still felt obliged to respond to the voters’ pleas to save the planet. By the 1980s, however, the priorities of the Right had changed. The mission of conservative parties everywhere was now to convince voters that capitalism’s ultimate contradiction: the extraction of infinite profits from a finite planet; wasn’t really a contradiction at all, and that industrial capitalism’s most fearsome externality, anthropogenic global warming, was nothing more than “green propaganda”.
This was not an easy sell. Historically speaking, the rise of capitalism and the rise of science had coincided, spurring one another on to new discoveries, new applications. Persuading people to reject the science of global warming could only be achieved at the cost of abandoning the rationalist project itself.
But it was rationalism and science which had, ever since the eighteenth century, imbued capitalism with its progressive economic, social and political force. To reduce scientific knowledge to the status of exculpatory evidence bought and paid for; and scientists to little more than the servants of big business; would strip capitalism of its intellectual potency. It would mean abandoning what Professor Niall Fergusson calls its “killer apps” – the critical advantages that had enabled capitalism to see off all its ideological rivals.
These potentially fatal dangers notwithstanding, by the second decade of the twenty-first century it was possible for right-wing political leaders to win public office in spite of (or even because of) their refusal to accept the findings of environmental science.
Across the Tasman, for example, the Cabinet of the Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has proclaimed, with a straight face, that it is not prepared to tolerate “any measures which are socialism masquerading as environmentalism”.

Who Speaks For The Trees? Ancient Huon Pine, Mt Read, Tasmania. These trees are among the oldest on the planet (3,000-10,000 years old).
Included among these allegedly “socialist” measures, is the World Heritage Status of both the Tasmanian wilderness and the Great Barrier Reef. In any stand-off between ecological science and Australia’s extractive industrialists it’s not difficult to predict who will win the Abbott Government’s support.
We shouldn’t feel too smug and superior, however, when it comes to our Australian cousins. Not when the difference between their right-wing politicians and ours is, as always, more a matter of subtlety than substance.
Environmental destruction masquerading as economic growth.
This essay was originally published by The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 22 August 2014.

Thursday 21 August 2014

Simply Not Credible: Dr Tucker's "Clarifications" Are Only Making Things Worse For John Key.

Bullshit: The idea that the Director of the SIS, Dr Warren Tucker, would proceed with the release of highly sensitive political information to a right-wing blogger without his boss's, the Prime Minister John Key's, express approval is simply not credible.

THAT DR WARREN TUCKER, Director of the Security Intelligence Service in 2011, agreed to the release of politically sensitive material – thereby intervening in an on-going contretemps between the leaders of the National and Labour parties – without receiving the express permission of his boss, the Prime Minister, John Key, is simply not credible.
The release this morning of a letter written to Newstalk-ZB Chief Political Reporter, Felix Marwick, by Dr Tucker, states unequivocally, that:
“I notified the Prime Minister (in accordance with my usual practice to keep the Minister informed on a ‘no surprises’ basis) that I was going to release redacted documents in response to the request from Mr Slater. I advised the Prime Minister that I had received legal advice that there were no grounds for withholding the information given the public disclosures already made about the existence and some of the content of the briefing. I informed the Prime Minister that I had informed Mr Goff of my decision to release the information.” (My emphases.)
Shortly after 10 o’clock this morning, Radio New Zealand-National informed its listeners that the former Director, Dr Tucker, had issued a statement “clarifying” the information contained in his letter to Mr Marwick.
The crucial two sentences of Dr Tucker’s latest statement assert that:
“My practice under the ‘no surprises’ convention relating to Official Information Act requests was to brief the Prime Minister through his office. The reference to the PM in this context means the PM’s office.”
To which, I believe, the rest of the country is entitled to call – “Bullshit.”
The person under scrutiny here is a former Director of the SIS. In this role he would have been well aware (if he was doing his job!) of Cameron Slater’s identity; of the political complexion of his Whaleoil bog; and of the close relationship existing between not only Mr Slater and the PM’s Office but also with the senior Cabinet Minister, Judith Collins.
That he was about to expedite the release of sensitive political information to Mr Slater – a decision without precedent in the experience of the mainstream news media – was, of itself, extremely unusual and highly controversial. Especially so, considering the Director’s decision not to release the information to any other media outlets – in spite of a least one formal OIA request to do so. In other words, the Director of the SIS was planning to provide Mr Slater’s Whaleoil blog with a “scoop”.
All this, and we are being asked to accept that the Director was willing to rely on the people working in the Prime Minister’s office to just pass along the information, you know, when they had time!
I have spoken to two people who have worked in ministerial and prime-ministerial offices and both of them have told me that this is a preposterous suggestion. Ministerial and Departmental Chief Executives (not to mention SIS Directors!) do not mistake or conflate the Prime Minister’s Office with the Prime Minister him or herself. They do not put their jobs and reputations on the line – as Dr Tucker undoubtedly did when he organised the exclusive release of sensitive political information to a notorious right-wing blogger – without hearing the voice of their boss, or receiving a signed instruction, giving them the go-ahead.
Unless the intention of the Director was to provide his boss with “plausible deniability” by deliberately not seeking express (i.e. spoken or written) prime ministerial approval. And if that is the case then it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Dr Tucker was behaving in an entirely inappropriate and highly politicised fashion.
He must have known that what he was proposing to do was extremely unusual and open to serious question, and yet he is telling us now that he handled Mr Slater’s OIA request in a way that, should his own actions be subjected to official scrutiny at some point in the future, the Prime Minister would be protected from any and all ethical, political and legal repercussions.
But that would have entailed Dr Tucker abandoning his role as a neutral public servant and becoming the Prime Minister’s political accomplice.
And that, if true, would be an utter disgrace. Even worse, it would be subversive of New Zealand’s democratic system of government.
This essay was posted simultaneously on the Bowalley Road and The Daily Blog blogsites on Thursday 21 August 2014.

Tuesday 19 August 2014

Dirty Politics - Is There Any Other Kind?

No Escape: If war is "the continuation of politics by other means", then the reverse may also be true: that politics is the continuation of war by other means. In practical terms, the accepted (if unacknowledged) principle of democratic politics has always been that so long as politicians and their followers eschew actual physical violence, then all other tactics are permitted.

IT IS NEARLY TWENTY YEARS since I first read Dirty Politics. Impossible? Given that Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics: How attack politics is poisoning New Zealand’s political environment was only published a few days ago, how could I possibly have read it in the 1990s?
The answer, obviously, is that Mr Hager’s is not the only book bearing this arresting title. The American scholar, Kathleen Hall Jamieson’s, Dirty Politics: Deception, Distraction and Democracy, was first published by the Oxford University Press in 1992. As the subtitle of Professor Jamieson’s book suggests, her research covers much the same ground as Mr Hager’s Dirty Politics; the obvious difference being that her examples are drawn from American politics.
About the subject matter of her study Professor Jamieson writes: “Those who claim that politics is cleaner now than it was in the nineteenth century are usually marshalling evidence that compares toucans to tangerines, unsigned print ads to televised claims. But if one compares print to print one finds as much that is disreputable in today’s campaigns as in the past.”
Professor Jamieson’s claims for the historical continuity of attack politics are further reinforced by quoting American Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin.
To his friend, Robert Morris, Franklin observed that the public “is often niggardly, even with its thanks, while you are sure of being censured by malevolent Criticks and Bug-writers, who  will abuse you while you are serving them and wound your Character in nameless Pamphlets”. Franklin presses home his complaint in language which undoubtedly strikes a chord with today’s political leaders; accusing his critics of “resembling those little dirty stinking insects, that attack us only in the dark, disturb our Repose, molesting and wounding us while our Sweat and Blood are contributing to their substance.”
Nor does one have to look too hard to discover evidence of attack politics in New Zealand’s political history. Of the 1951 Snap Election, University of Otago Professor of History, Tom Brooking, writes: “The campaign was probably the dirtiest in New Zealand’s political history. National declared the election was a contest between the ‘The People versus the Wreckers’. Hackneyed old stories that [Labour Leader, Walter] Nash had once been a bankrupt were dredged up and his earlier visit to Russia was cited as proof of his communist leanings.”
Much worse, however, were the series of highly embarrassing and potentially criminal incidents which dealt death-blows to the political careers of Labour Party politicians Colin Moyle and Gerald O’Brien.
Nor is the dark anti-hero of Mr Hager’s Dirty Politics, Cameron Slater, without precedent when it comes to the New Zealand Right’s long history of doing damage to its political enemies. As Listener journalist (and now Bill English’s press secretary) Joanne Black wrote in her review of Redmer Yska’s study of the newspaper Truth (of which, ironically, Mr Slater was the last editor): “For nearly 40 years [James] Dunn, as Truth’s in-house censor, read almost every word of every edition before it was printed. But his influence was not only on what not to publish for fear of defamation suits. He also played a backroom editor-in-chief role and was himself the source of many stories, including those that satisfied his virulent anti-Communist beliefs, which were shared by editor Russell Gault.”
The great Prussian military theoretician, Carl von Clausewitz, famously described war as “the continuation of politics by other means.” I would argue strongly that the reverse of that famous formulation is equally true. That politics is the continuation of war by other means.
Democratic politics, in particular, requires both the political leadership of the state – and its citizens – to resolve the fundamental economic and social issues dividing their communities through institutions and processes that are of their essence both formal and peaceful. Legislatures and elections are thus charged with settling those issues which would, in previous centuries, have been resolved (to quote another Prussian) by “blood and iron”.
In practical terms, therefore, the accepted (if unacknowledged) principle of professional politics has always been that so long as politicians and their followers eschew actual physical violence, then all other tactics are permitted. Politics is not an occupation for the faint-hearted, nor is it one whose practitioners can remain both effective and unstained. Bluntly, “dirty politics” is the only kind there is.

Mr Hager argues that: “Exposing dirty politics is an essential step in allowing reasonable people to understand and to choose other approaches. There is no need to follow those who are least principled down into the pit.”
But the choice is not – with all due respect to Mr Hager’s ardent idealism – between decency and the pit. The choice is between accepting “dirty” politics, with all its “Criticks and Bug-writers”, and rejecting altogether the formal and peaceful processes of democracy.
The options are not fair means or foul: they are foul means or fouler.
This essay was originally published by The Press of Tuesday, 19 August 2014.

Monday 18 August 2014

Love Lifts Us Up: Thoughts From The Green Party's Campaign Launch.

Super Luminaries: Greens co-leader chats with Man Booker prize-winner Eleanor Catton who delivered a moving endorsement of "Love New Zealand - Party Vote Green" at the party's campaign launch on Sunday 17 August 2014. Photo by Peter Meecham.
NO ONE WAS QUITE SURE how he did it. Somehow Bob Harvey had persuaded the owners of the rights to Joe Cocker’s Up Where We Belong to authorize its use as the New Zealand Labour Party’s 1984 campaign anthem. The theme song from An Officer and a Gentleman had, of course, been enormously popular, so arranging for the David Lange-led Labour Party to make its pitch to the New Zealand electorate over its soaring melody and aspirational lyrics was a coup of no mean proportions.
But it was much more than that. Joe Cocker’s song perfectly matched the mood of the times. For nine long years, through Carless Days, Think Big, Olympic Boycotts, Springbok Tours and the Wage and Price Freeze the New Zealand people had borne both the curses and the blessings of Sir Robert Muldoon’s leadership with stoical endurance. But, by the winter of 1984, the patience of two-thirds of the population had been exhausted.
David Lange knew it and with oratory every bit as uplifting as Joe Cocker’s song he offered the voters the vision of a better New Zealand where consensus would replace confrontation and the cramped orthodoxies of a world that was fast disappearing would give way to new ideas, new opportunities and new freedoms. In the famous leaders’ debate, when, in the closing moments, Lange reached out to Sir Robert and assured him that any contribution he wished to make to this new New Zealand would not be scorned, it brought tears to the old tusker’s eyes and prompted his astonishing rejoinder: “I love you too, Mr Lange.”
Love lifts us up where we belong – and then some!

I’m wondering if we might not be heading into another election where Love lifts a new government into power. Rather appropriately, I suppose, the thought occurred to me at the campaign launch of the Greens.
Ever since the Green Party entered Parliament in 1999 it’s MPs have attempted to prove that politics does not need to be “dirty”. That it is possible to debate issues rationally – without rancour. And now, a month out from polling day, and with the National Party disintegrating before our eyes like a vampire in the sun, the Greens are asking us all to “Love New Zealand”.
This is not a mere feel-good exhortation, either, but an invitation to the 3 percent of New Zealanders who earn more than $140,000 to put their money where the hungry mouths of 200,000 children are. The Greens proposed new top tax-rate of 40 percent is to be devoted exclusively to the elimination of child poverty in New Zealand. A case of not only sharing the love, but the wealth as well.
It was a courageous speech that the Greens’ co-leader Metiria Turei gave. Indeed, it filled in the gaps that were so noticeable in David Cunliffe’s speech to the Labour Party faithful last weekend. Any words concerning the fate of the children of beneficiaries and what might be done for them were conspicuous by their absence at Labour’s campaign launch, so it was reassuring to hear them voiced loud and clear to the 300-400 people crammed into the auditorium at Auckland’s AUT campus.
Reassuring, also, to hear the words of endorsement penned by New Zealand’s award-winning young novelist, Eleanor Catton. Her speech was as moving and as evocative as any I have heard in 30 years of attending such occasions.
The sneak preview provided by the organisers of the Green Party’s opening political broadcast made it clear just how seriously the party is committed to remaining upbeat and positive. Russel Norman and Turei have both been used to good effect, delivering their party’s messages with energy and conviction.
The most telling moment in this broadcast – at least for me – came when Turei and her daughter, Piupiu, are walking along the beach at Piha and the proud mother talks about making sure that this simple pleasure remains for her children – and grandchildren – to enjoy. The look Piupiu shoots her mother will be familiar to all the parents of teenage daughters. The “Aw, Mum!” moment is so natural and so real that it steals your heart away completely.
If the revelations mounting up against the National Party continue into the election campaign proper, then the voters will very quickly become sick of the stench of “dirty politics”. Like people forced to spend too long in an abattoir, they will emerge into the daylight desperate to fill their lungs with clean, fresh air. And quite serendipitously,  that’s exactly what the Greens’ “Love New Zealand” campaign (along with Labour’s “Vote Positive”) aims to provide: relief from the odours of what Nicky Hager calls “the pit”.
A nation grown weary of sleaze and tired of being manipulated may yet decide to award a decisive election victory to an Opposition coalition determined to prove how much better New Zealand could be with “cleaner, fairer and smarter” policies.
In the immortal words of The Beatles: “All you need is love.”

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 18 August 2014.

Jesus I Was Evil


AS THE NATIONAL PARTY slowly sinks into a mire of its own making, it occurred to me that Darcy Clay's magnificent 1997 anthem might be the most fitting song for the Nats to go out on.
Video courtesy of YouTube
This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.

Sunday 17 August 2014

Going Up!

THERE WILL BE MASSIVE SIGHS OF RELIEF all around New Zealand tonight as Labour Party supporters receive the latest TV3-Reid Research poll results. Worries that the disastrous Fairfax-Ipsos poll results would be confirmed by other polling agencies have proved groundless. In the poll released tonight by TV3 Labour's numbers have improved by more than 2 percentage points to 29.0 percent, placing the largest of the progressive parties just short of the crucial 30 percent mark.

The Greens, on 13 percent, will also be thrilled. Launching their campaign this afternoon on the AUT campus in Auckland with an announcement of a $1 billion dollar programme to eliminate child poverty, the country's third largest party proclaimed an election night target of 15 percent of the Party Vote. With only two percentage points to go at a distance of 34 days from the election, their campaign manager's expressed hopes of exceeding that target may not be misplaced.

The party with most reason to worry tonight is, of course, National. On 47.5 percent, it will be alarmed to be dropping support so far out from election day. Most of the public polls (including TVNZ's Colmar Brunton) over-estimate National's support by 4 to 6 percentage points, so National's strategists will wondering just how much further they are likely to drop before the only poll that matters rolls around.

Deepening the furrows on National's brow will be the fact that the TV3-Reid Research poll was conducted before the release of Nicky Hager's book, Dirty Politics, and that in the One News-Colmar Brunton poll the Internet-Mana Party has doubled its support to 4 percent.

With Labour proclaiming it's invitation to "Vote Positive" and the Greens' asking the electorate to "Love New Zealand" by giving them its Party Vote, National may discover that, rhetorically speaking, "Working for New Zealand" is not enough - especially if the voters mentally alter John Key's strapline to read "Working with Whale Oil".

The full details of the latest TV3-Reid Research Poll are here.

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.

Saturday 16 August 2014

A Day In The Life - The Beatles

"I read the news today - oh boy."
The extraordinary A Day In The Life by the incomparable John Lennon.
Video courtesy of YouTube

Closing Our Eyes In The Sausage Factory: Some Thoughts On Nicky Hager's Book, "Dirty Politics"

Not A Pretty Sight: Everyone likes a good sausage, but if we knew exactly what went into the making of that sausage would it still taste so good? Democratic politics, too, is not always improved by too close an examination. It would, however, be a tragedy if Nicky Hager's book, Dirty Politics, caused people to abandon the political process altogether as irredeemably corrupt and to call down a plague upon the houses of both Left and Right.
IT WAS THE GERMAN CHANCELLOR, Otto von Bismarck, who warned his countrymen that “laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.” The same could be said for democratic politics generally. That democracy, like a good sausage, is a wonderful thing, but you really do not want to know what goes into it.
With this in mind, it is tempting to take Nicky Hager to task for grabbing us all by the scruff of our necks and dragging us into the sausage factory. This is especially so when we consider the observations of right-wing political fixer, Simon Lusk, who Hager quotes in the first chapter of in his book Dirty Politics: How Attack Politics is Poisoning New Zealand’s Political Environment.
In an e-mail to Hager about negative campaigning Lusk writes: “The are a few basic propositions with negative campaigning that are worth knowing about. It lowers turnout, favours right more than left as the right continue to turn out, and drives away the independents. Voting then becomes more partisan.”
If Lusk is correct then the publication of Dirty Politics could have the perverse outcome of suppressing the vote of those disgusted and demoralised by Hager’s revelations while ensuring the maximum turnout possible by voters sympathetic to John Key and the National Party.
It is certainly possible to infer from the response-lines agreed upon by Key and his allies that this is precisely the outcome they are seeking. It is presumably the reason for their constant reiteration of the idea that Hager’s revelations are nothing new, or even very remarkable, given that it has always been thus in the deeply compromised world of politics and politicians. This idea of the ubiquity of political evil is reinforced by TeamKey’s insistence that Hager’s behaviour is morally indistinguishable from that of the dark anti-hero of Dirty Politics, the blogger Cameron Slater. The sub-text here is simple: No one in politics has clean hands – even Hager. After all, his book could not have been written had the very same sort of hacking and privacy breaches which he so roundly condemns when practiced by the Right not supplied him with an information treasure-trove that was simply too compelling not to use.
Key, himself, has no choice except to point-blank refuse to engage with Hager’s allegations in any way. Were he to do so, Hager would be able to claim victory. This is because, in the most brutal terms: an allegation responded to is an allegation taken seriously; and an allegation taken seriously is an allegation which could, quite possibly, be true.
The moment Key allows the Chief Prosecutor, Nicky Hager, to have the Prime Minister called as a witness before the Court of Public Opinion, then, regardless of the nature of the evidence provided, the impression of there being a case to answer will be indelibly stamped on the voter’s mind. And that is “Game Over” for Key and the National Party.
No matter how shrill and false he may sound in the ears of Hager’s supporters, the Prime Minister will continue to refuse to acknowledge the possibility that Hager might be onto something. From now until Election Day, the author of Dirty Politics can only be “a screaming left-wing conspiracy theorist” who is “making it up”.
And there is method to this seeming madness. Key understands that his followers have been rattled by the appearance of yet another pre-election book by Nicky Hager. Their hero must, therefore, stand strong in the face of his persecutor.
The Prime Minister will make the same claims over and over again: Dirty Politics is without foundation; part of a vast left-wing conspiracy to bring him and his government crashing down; just one more vicious assault to set alongside obscenity-shouting students, anti-Semitic boguns, and a feral underclass of John Key effigy-burners. The slightest concession to even the most trivial of his persecutor’s accusations will be interpreted by his followers as weakness – tantamount to a full confession of guilt.
This is why the prime Minister is standing rock-solid behind his former staffer, Jason Ede. Why he will take no action whatsoever against his Minister of Justice, Judith Collins. Why he accepts the denials of Cameron Slater without demur. And why he will not deign to read even so much as a single word of Dirty Politics – not while he is so clearly the victim of dirty politics.
The Prime Minister can adopt this strategy because he knows that TeamKey is sufficiently powerful to block any serious attempt by the mainstream news media to take up the cudgels on behalf of Hager’s allegations. The public broadcasters will not dare to do it and the commercial networks and newspapers will not want to do it.
This failure will only intensify the feelings of disgust among those who feel there is something very rotten at the heart of New Zealand’s political system. In a grotesquely ironic abdication of the very civil responsibilities Hager’s book is intended to strengthen and mobilise, thousands of New Zealanders may yet abandon the political field altogether, calling down a plague on the houses of both the Right and the Left as they depart.
If that happens then the cynical political analyses of Otto von Bismarck and Simon Lusk will be vindicated. Hager will have demonstrated that although he is able to lead voters into the interior of the sausage factory, he cannot make them open their eyes.
What is it that John Lennon sings in his marvellous A Day In The Life?
A crowd of people turned away
But I just had to look
Having read the book.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 15 August 2014.