Saturday 15 February 2020

Winston Peters’ Conduct Is Neither Smart, Nor Wise.

Sprung! Former NZ First president, Lester Gray, chats with RNZ's Guyon Espiner in the carpark of a Tauranga shopping centre. (Photo supplied anonymously to NZ First and The BFD.)

IT’S CLEAR THAT an important aspect of Jacinda Ardern’s political success is her willingness to seek – and take – advice. This is a much more important quality than people might think. The number of political leaders who neither seek, nor take, advice is distressingly high. Admittedly, a large part of successful leadership is learning to trust one’s own judgement. But, as Socrates so wisely pointed out more than 2,000 years ago: “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” Asking for advice isn’t a sign of weakness – it’s a source of strength.

Sadly, at Jacinda’s right hand sits a man who does not know that he does not know. Winston Peters has climbed very high by trusting his own judgement. As many political observers have noted over the years, he likes to keep his cards very close to his chest. Rather than advisers, Peters relies upon cronies: old mates whom he trusts. Indeed, the only people Peters truly trusts are his oldest and dearest mates. Unfortunately, one does not appear to endear oneself to, or remain a mate of, the NZ First leader by telling him things he doesn’t want to hear. Which is, of course, the explanation for Peters repeated falls from grace.

Take this latest brouhaha concerning Lester Gray being photographed alongside journalist Guyon Espiner in the carpark of a Tauranga shopping centre. If, as Peters insists, the photograph was taken by a NZ First supporter who recognised both the party’s former president and the former television journalist, and was pretty confident the NZ First Party leadership would be interested to learn who was talking to who; then why didn’t he simply release the image to the media immediately? Why arrange for the photograph and its accompanying commentary to be posted on The BFD – a website deemed ideologically radioactive and off-limits by a substantial chunk of the journalistic profession? And why, having agreed to release the information under a fancifully false name, did Peters then admit to MagicTalk Radio’s Peter Williams: “We took those photographs.”?

Had Peters simply released the photograph, which any halfway competent media adviser would have recommended he do in the strongest possible terms, then he would have been well-placed to ask Espiner and his RNZ bosses some very direct questions.

Were they aware that they were in possession of confidential financial and personal information obtained in contravention of the Privacy Act?

Is the way in which this illegally obtained information is being drip-fed to the public inspired by journalistic, or political, considerations?

If the story is being driven forward for political purposes, then on whose behalf?

Questions such as these could have materially influenced the direction and impact of Espiner’s story.

Very similar questions were asked of Nicky Hager by the National Party, when a similar cache of private information, also obtained illegally, became the basis for his 2014 exposé, Dirty Politics. To be fair to Hager, however, he did not drip-feed his material strategically, to carefully selected journalists and media outlets, over many weeks and months, in order to achieve a predetermined political outcome. Instead, he released his story – entire and whole – in book form, and let the public make up its own mind.

Observing Espiner’s body-language on RNZ’s Checkpoint programme, as he was interviewed about Peters’ photograph by his friend and colleague, Lisa Owen, his extreme discomfort and embarrassment was painfully clear. Also obvious, was just how furious the biters were at being bit. Apparently, there is nothing at all wrong with using illegally obtained information, clearly capable of materially influencing the outcome of a general election, when such behaviour is being undertaken in the public interest. But, let the object of the news media’s “investigative journalism” just once display the temerity to show the public exactly how its journalistic sausages are made, and see how explosively  the noble Fourth Estate erupts in outrage!

It is most unlikely that the New Zealand news media appreciates just how bitterly the members of NZ First resented the way politicians and journalists conspired to drive Winston Peters and his party out of Parliament in 2008. That bitterness was well merited. Only rarely has such unabashed collaboration been displayed so brazenly. That none of the formal charges against Peters were ever upheld counted for nothing. He had been convicted by “the powerful Privileges Committee” of Parliament – and that was enough. One might equally observe that Donald Trump was acquitted by the unbiased and disinterested United States Senate!

Expressed another way, elements of the New Zealand news media, no more than a handful of journalists, publishers and broadcasters, used its power to effectively disempower the 95,356 New Zealanders – 4.07 percent of registered voters – who supported NZ First in the 2008 General Election. It is most unlikely that John Key’s decision to rule out any coalition with NZ First would have secured that party’s departure from Parliament without the unceasing and vicious journalistic assaults inflicted on Peters – and the Labour-led government – by their no-holds-barred enemies in the House of Representatives and the Parliamentary Press Gallery.

Should we really be surprised that the tens-of-thousands of NZ First supporters who remember the events of 2008 might be especially sensitive to what looks like another assault by the “Media Party” in 2020? Is it any wonder that, when a person sympathetic to NZ First looked out the window of a café in Tauranga and saw Lester Gray chatting away amicably to Guyon Espiner, he or she pressed “Record” and captured the scene for posterity?

The great shame, at least from the perspective of NZ First’s electoral base, is that their party’s leader proved to be so ham-fisted in his use of the photographic evidence he was sent. Peters’ obsession with keeping things secret; his over-hasty recourse to denial and/or evasion; has served him and his supporters very ill – not only in this matter, but also in relation to the whole fraught business of political fundraising. To have lost one election by mishandling a donation might be forgiven as an accident. Risking the loss of a second, for the same offence, goes well beyond carelessness.

Presented with a similar evidential gift, Jacinda would have been wise enough to ask for professional advice. What’s more, she would’ve been smart enough to take it.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 14 February 2020.


petes new write said...

Actually I'm bored by the amateur theatrics.

Kat said...

Despite opinions on what Winston doesn't know its apparent he and NZ First are being set up again to fall similar to 2008. Gosh, now who would be behind that, and have they taken advice that it may backfire this time around.

One thing that the PM does know is which end of the barge pole to stay on.

Odysseus said...

This appears to be an attempt to intimidate journalists pursuing a matter of high public interest. It's unacceptable in a democracy. Ardern must distance herself by standing Peters down or share in the opprobrium.

Anonymous said...

People may therefore be excused for thinking her abject failure to deal to the Sroubek fiasco and now failing to fire Peters are in someway intertwined in some way( what does Peters hold over her ? ).
When her mentor cried "foul" over RNZ Concert being disestablished...Ardern was all action ! However, over this constitutionally important issue she is mute ! Why fail to trust him in the evening, but the very next morning be effusive in her "trust " ??Pourquoi?

Anonymous said...

I would've thought that after the last controversy over donations, Winston would've informed his lawyers, and those within the party, that any foundation would need to comply with the law. Winston should be able to produce email after email with exactly that information.

aj said...

"This appears to be an attempt to intimidate journalists pursuing a matter of high public interest. It's unacceptable in a democracy. Ardern must distance herself by standing Peters down or share in the opprobrium"

This has to be satire, right? or does the author hold the labour party to a different standard than Kohn Key met with the teapot tapes?

Trev1 said...

I find recent developments in this matter very concerning, not least Ardern's refusal to recognize, which she has just repeated on RNZ this morning, that all Ministers in HER government are answerable to HER for their conduct and not just to their party or its leader. That is a fundamental of our system of Cabinet responsibility and good governance. Otherwise we would have anarchy.

greywarbler said...

What a lot of twaddle some of you put up. The idea of bringing down the government because of some misdemeanour - you miss your target of righteousness because it can never be achieved in politics and possibly, even in life. And you are too mean to work for better governance of our society. You just want to play games with our politics; politics being complicated and often sneaky meaning the calls for divisive action are at present premature, but to be saved for when the last rites must be called. And we are far from that.

Patricia said...

I think we have to be very careful on how we vote this election. It should be tactical. We should look at the advantages of having an MMP government. We do not want to go back to the old 3 year dictatorship. In my view it would be wonderful to have a government where there was a rotating PMship and where no party had the balance of power. Just imagine what sort of government we could have if the electorate looked at policies and not dog whistles and click bait. Where an electorate understood how our money system worked. Just imagine!

John Hurley said...

The BFD – a website deemed ideologically radioactive and off-limits by a substantial chunk of the journalistic profession
Listened to the Detail. Activist Julie Zhu who suffered racism and loves Maori culture etc. A gated institutional narrative from RNZ. "There will be 1 million Asians here by ..." But 41% think that is a good thing. The victims are not the Asians but the NZ public whose "views (were) not conducive to the population becoming diversified" plus Maori never wanted a whole lot of foreign cultures.

Later Kathryn Ryan interviews Gluckman . He says that in Western liberal societies mental health problems are increasing and societal cohesion is falling apart. The GIN is that globalisation is good (you can't stop it) so how can we deal with it. Anything but admit that humans aren't designed for multicultural societies. We know who are we and who are they and what is ours. Us in our country - and those buggers over there is deeply comforting. The idea of the saintly (We are better than that) class falls over if you cannot voluntarily convince a population that they are better off.

Paulus said...

As a very mature reader I see with Wynston Peters all the signs which I see around me of Dementia among a few people I know.
Effectively not really be cogniscent of what you said earlier in the day, sadly not remembering.
long term memory excellent, short term ...........poof.
Time to hand up the boots Peters - too late to be thought intelligent though.
You are damaged goods.

Anonymous said...

Chris, a leader she is not. Helen sacked Winston for very similar shenanigans back in 2008, and she did not hesitate. Jacinda looks weak in comparison, and I feel she is often told what to do. Is Helen there in the background?? I have often thought so....if this was National in bed with Winston, Labour and the MSM would be screaming for his and their head, on a plate. Oh, they hypocrisy! No wonder National lead all polls, still! Looking very one term at this point!

Mully Dooon

Kat said...

So more " Anonymous said..." shyte, now from the likes of Mully Dooon. Trouble is this is an entrenched perception, Helen did not sack Winston Peters in 2008. However, the same shyte is trying to get the same result this election, which is to oust Winston and NZ First.

John Hurley said...

"Labour's powerful partner NZ First after decades of strident rhetoric has had a bout of amnesia and inaction since becoming part of the government and has destroyed any credibility it might have had, even as it intimates it might revisit the topic" North & South Magazine March 2020.

Anonymous said...

As a current semi-political journalist who was not a political journalist at all in 2008, your point about the long memories of the more conspiracy-minded nz1st support base is well made. Entertainingly, and tangentially, BFD is attempting to gain subscriptions by putting this Bowalley Rd piece behind their 'paywall'. You might want to have a word?

David George said...

Unknown, Chris's BFD Insight article on this subject is quite different - read it, he submits essays to them himself and, I understand get's paid by BFD for writing them.
I'm a little surprised Chris didn't correct you himself