Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Something is rotten in the state of New Zealand

So while I was sleeping Nicky Hager’s book was launched in Wellington today. While you were sleeping I had to write down my thoughts. I did not expect it to be a sequel to the Hollow Men but so it was. I guess the proverbial “Fool me once…” is in order. I won’t get to read this book for a long time and I expect most of the book will be traversed in detail in the next few weeks by those who do. Once thing that was very evident to me from the preface and the information that is out there is that now we know why Judith Collins was never sacked.  If "the machine" was engaging in this level of unethical behavior just to win elections can you imagine the kind of dirt they have on each other? It is well known that WO and Judith Collins are close, I hate to think what they have over John Key that makes him so powerless when it comes to her. Some of the excerpts are truly frightening to me.

"the prime minister’s office used its knowledge of secret SIS documents to tip off Slater" from website.

I was working for the Labour Leader’s Office during and leading up to the 2011 election. This is extraordinary! Surely this needs independent investigation because it is a major breach. I'm not even sure that we will ever know the extent of the abuse. It is well known that political operatives in the Beehive go out of their way to make sure their actions are not OIA-able. But I don’t see how the investigation could happen while John Key is still PM. I would not have confidence in any such investigation! This alone means that he can no longer stay. 

“They include persistent attacks on Labour Party politicians, attacks that consciously set out to distract, wear down or demoralise them rather than trying to debate issues or win a political argument…”

Well that tactic certainly worked during the 2011 election. I remember that very well because I worked through those days for Labour. 

"how our defences as a society (news media, electoral laws and so on) are inadequate to protect the public."

This right here terrifies me the most. We misplaced our faith in the idea that New Zealand is the least corrupted country. We were fooled by the beauty and the simplicity of our small nation in the thinking that nothing bad ever happens here. Time and time again we are proven wrong but our faith in our own goodness means that people who do want to take advantage can and do take that advantage. Some practical solutions: OIA needs urgent reform, political donations need to be far more transparent, our law enforcement agencies needs to reigned in, and we need to restore civil service neutrality. Everything to me right now reeks of undue influence and abuse of power. 

I’ve been referred to as a hack (because I worked for Labour). It is well established that I sit on the left of the political spectrum. Despite never been a member of any political party and despite having multiple combinations of the two ticks in the last three elections I will always be seen as Labour. An yet this book gives me no joy. No solace. I feel no glee. Hager says:

"This is a technique originally from US republican politics...."

How can anything borrowed from US Republicans be good for New Zealand? Have we as a nation not been watching the destruction of political goodwill in America precisely because of these kind of tactics? The apathy, the anger, the misinformed choices? Do we want that as a country? It is clear to me that our politicians don’t really care about good governance. They are motivated by power and wielding that power for personal gain. Finally this –

“Journalists have suspected these activities but the evidence has been hard to find.”

Well I guess it didn’t come up when John Roughan was writing that biography. It didn’t come up when they were actively spreading rumours about Labour Party donations. It didn’t come up when they had to actively denyusing Government agencies to find out how they knew how many times Winston visited Kim Dotcom. I guess none of that really required thorough investigation because if you were a journalist – would you really think a political party would go this far? In this day and age? This many years after Watergate? Spying on the opposition? Why would you risk your professional reputation wondering if such a scale of underhanded activities was occurring?

If there is anything I take away from this – it is “constant vigilance”. More to come I'm sure... 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Epsom - Not a dirty deal - a tactical opportunity for the left.

“Dirty deal!” exclaims Patrick Gower or as he is known in the political circles “Paddy”. Paddy doesn’t like the Epsom deal or the Ohariu deal. He calls them dirty and assumes we all hold them to the same contempt as he does. We don’t. “Coat-tailing” or an attempt to work the electoral system to leverage otherwise wasted votes is not dirty. In fact it is quite legal. As legal as the Cabinet Club. What is dirty is not the deal nor the club, it is the lack of transparency associated with both. In an ideal world the corporate money in politics would be restricted and we would all vote on policy (and there would be unicorns delivering ice cream every Monday).  That is not how the real world works. I don’t have a problem with electoral deals because I think votes get wasted even more without them because of the threshold. But, even if the threshold were lowered,  there would be some votes that would be wasted, although not nearly as much as they were under FPP. The only time it makes sense to waste the electoral vote are under these circumstances:
  1. There is a clear winner and that clear winner (National or Labour candidate) will most definitely win so you vote for someone you like.
  2. There is a clear winner and you really really despise them so you make a statement and vote for anyone but them.
Other than those circumstances, I don’t see why anyone would waste their vote by voting for someone who clearly is not going to win. Electorate votes do not determine the number of MPs in Parliament so unless one has a huge vested interest in their local MP representation, why would anyone care about the electorate MP? In my experience those who do, still do not understand MMP properly. (That's a whole different post)

So let’s take a look at what’s happening in Epsom. If you are on the ‘broad New Zealand right’, you might vote for David Seymour because John Key said so. You might be a National supporter and if National needs David Seymour, you give them David Seymour.  Or you think National is too left wing and you like ACT policies, so you will vote for him and hope other likeminded people elsewhere in the country will give their Party vote to ACT so maybe another ACT MP will get in to wield some real legislative influence. Although, even lone John Banks has managed to change the landscape of our education policy so maybe even one is enough. Maybe next term David Seymour focuses on the flat tax? Or maybe Maori seats gets abolished. If you are on the right and you vote for David Seymour, you have absolutely no reason to feel dirty. You are helping the party you like implement the policies you want to see. Paddy does not get to vote-shame you. 

But what happens if you are on the ‘broad New Zealand left’. Who do you vote for? Unless one of the above two applies to you, tactically it makes sense for you to vote for National candidate Paul Goldsmith. Your party vote goes to the party you want to see in government or at least a "left government".  You don’t like National’s policies but ACT policies are even worse and you know that National presents itself as the sane alternative by positioning ACT as “extreme”. In the end ACT is out, National would be in anyway and everyone is happy. 

So what’s the problem? Here’s the problem with the current situation: 
  1. John Key never actually says “Vote for David Seymour”. In fact apparently he will be voting for Paul Goldsmith.  One the other hand Paul Goldsmith is in the awkward position to tell people to vote for David Seymour for no explicit reason. What? Why?
  2. Labour and Greens never say “give your electoral vote to Paul Goldsmith if you want to keep ACT out”. What? Why?
We are not stupid. We are the ones that vote. We should get to vote for whoever we bloody well please for whatever bloody reason. Political parties aren’t pulling the wool over our eyes unless they are doing the two things that I just mentioned. That is the problem. Lay out reasons. Make a case. We’ll do the voting thank you. And Paddy – seriously if this is the biggest political grind you have, you’re doing the profession of journalism a huge disservice. Your focus should be on transparency and access to information. Denial of that right is what’s contrary to democratic principle. Electorate deals actually help some votes be better counted (or counted at all).

Epsom is a hot mess but there is one truth - if ACT comes back into Parliament because of Epsom, the blame lies squarely on Labour and Greens voters in that electorate.

On 2011 numbers, if the Labour and Greens voters had given their electorate votes to the National candidate (and a lot of people did) instead of their own candidates than we wouldn't have to deal with ACT right now.  
As pointed out by this extremely succinct and perfect tweet - the left needs to see it as a vote against National and ACT rather than a vote for Goldsmith. Unless those two points I mentioned in the very beginning applies to you, there is absolutely zero reason you should be voting for the Labour or Greens candidate.

There is no reason for ACT to be in the 51st Parliament and if they are, John Key is the last person who should be blamed. In fact what John Key is doing is giving the left one last opportunity to kill off ACT. That is the *hint hint* *nudge nudge* message the left should be getting should there be another cup of tea.