Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A week is a long time in politics...

... not that the current events in NZ are of the kind I would blog continuously - there really is little new in what as been going on. It is just that I have been away for a week, on holiday, taking a break.. down in the 'Naki helping my daughter and s-i-l move in to their new house.

This really starts with comment that I made immediately after the last General Election and this in particular...

The “collapse” of the Christian parties was pointed out during the evening. The fact was not lost on Brash Donnie who, in his closing speech last night referred to the National Party as the party of Catholics, Presbyterian, Methodist, Anglican, and - after a prompt from the audience - Closed Brethren... That is a scary prospect for the next election whether it be three years or three months down the road.

What do I think?

A National government will not be a surprise, especially if the Green vote goes under 4.9%. If that does happen, then I would expect a fresh election within 12 months. I don’t believe that Brash Donnie has the political nous that will be needed to keep a fragile government together.

The Nat's didn't bridge the gap. Brash Donnie didn't get that close.

I touched on the thought again here, with the idea that there is a need to in some way "control" the involvement of "non-political partisan electioneering" (Don't worry, I made that one up for myself) and the potential for abuse of the systems and controls on the funding of elections.

There are essentially two opposing arguments with sotto twitterings from the piccolos backstage.

The accusations of “illegality” centering on the Exclusive Bretheren in support of the National Party are likely paralleled by other like minded organizations. Everyone knows who they are; the amounts contributed are comparatively small; the electoral support given is considerable.

Primary instance – much less visible these past two elections it must be said – is the Business Round Table. This think-tank was very active in supporting the Nats, not in monetary terms but in media visibility and open statements. As I said, there are other like-minded organizations.

Now that was written as part of the discussion of the election overspending by everyone except the Nats.

Since then, Nicky Hager (investigative reporter and history writer "supreme") has surfaced with his latest book on the political machinations in this country. Left wing - extreme even - he might be, but those of us who still remember "Corngate" will know that he is not at all partisan in his criticism of political misdeeds and mistruths.

And there is quite a story in how this latest book was born as well. Before publication was even announced, Brash Donnie was in Court with an application for an injunction against "John and Jane Doe". The objective of the injunction was to prevent publication, in any form, of a large number of emails "stolen from his computer". That injunction was given by the Court, and there was considerable debate - media and talk-back radio - about who "John and Jane Doe" might be... The accusations of political hanky-panky were not helped by Winnie the Pooh's lot saying that they had destroyed all copies of the emails that they had held. That led to further wails from the Nat's about "destruction of evidence" etc etc... There was (still is) very little doubt that the other parties all have their own copies as well.

Then Hager turns up, with his new book about to be published. Within two days, three or four days only after it was granted, Brash Donnie is back trying to find some way of removing the Injunction so that Hager's book can be published.

Say WHAT!!!?

Brash Donnie was trying to find some way of getting the Injunction removed so that Hager's book could be published.

I have not read the book as yet. The 5000 initial print will probably go down as one of this countries fastest best sellers. There have been extracts and reviews in all of the media.

At this point there are two important things to come out of Hager's book. No, not whether Brash runs free and easy with the truth; that is a given for any politician. It should suprise no one. Not just the involvement of the Exclusive Brethren either. See my earlier posts on that count.

The first is the representation of the political party as organisation and as individuals. Go back to my personal life in local government. There were (should still be - I hope) two principles that governed both inward and outward communication. All outward communication speaks for the Council, its officers and the elected representatives; every person signing a letter had to be certain of the content, its correctness and presentation. Similarly (and this is the point ignored or forgotten by Brash Donnie and his Party) all inward correspondance is not to an individual, it can rightly be considered as being to the organisation.

So for Brash Donnie to "explain" that he did not "see" (or read) all of the emails in Hager's book is really rather ingenuous. There is no denial that the emails were from Nat records. That is the critical point in my mind. The organisation received them - therefore the organisation "knew".

The second, and far more important expose in my opinion, is the clear picture it paints of the machinations that are a part of the operation of politics in this country. As I said in the earlier piece...

I have worked in the fringes of this kind of movement about 30 years back Spent my time planning “strategies”, “campaign progressions”, and all of the other paraphernalia associated with floating a political idea. About the only thing I lear[n]t was that none of the leading lights were interested in fact or logic. Only the outcome mattered. That outcome had nothing to do with the community, or the cause being promoted. They were only the vehicle for keeping the leader in the public light, as active and proactive, and in power.

The party name or position is immaterial. It is how politics operates. It is the greatest legal con-job in town. It works because so few really "know" that.

Remember this -

... I would expect a fresh election within 12 months... I don’t believe that Brash Donnie has the political nous that will be needed to keep a fragile government together.

And then all hell let loose...

Recommended reading -

The World behind political spin

Tomorrow the National caucus meets to choose a new leader, and the
front-runner is finance spokesman John Key. The caucus will also know there are
troubling parallels between Key and the hapless Brash. Both have little
political experience. In both cases there is a suspicion of a gap between the
image and reality. Key may be much further right than he seems.

The wealthy businesspeople who backed Brash have already signalled that
Key will have to earn their confidence and their financial support. The party
needs the money of the radical right - but they won't grant it willy-nilly. Key
will be caught, as Brash was, between the need to deliver pragmatic, centrist
policies to the voters - and the demands from the right for purity.
Brash has
gone, freeing the party of his clumsiness, his old-guy gaffes, and his
unpredictability. But the same political problems that Brash and National faced
are still there.

Political jargon - useful one this ...

"Inoculation": The PR work that parties do to get embarrassing political issues off the agenda. National had to inoculate itself on nuclear ship visits and Labour's promised fourweek holiday.

"Political hygiene": Camouflaging a political attack on a vulnerable group by expressing concern for their welfare. Brash strategist Peter Keenan said it was "essential that every time we talk tough on (Maori) issues, we also run hard with a compassionate line - otherwise we fail the political hygiene test."

"Lines": The "spontaneous" replies - like actors' lines - designed by spin doctors for politicians. Media manager Richard Long prepared lines for Brash to use when the Exclusive Brethren scandal broke - and he faithfully followed them, right down to Long's instructions "to get mildly irritated".

"Mainstream": A camouflage word to disguise a rightwing policy. It was suggested to National by American neocon Richard Allen, who had used it in the campaign for Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan. "Were we really 'right wing' back in 1980, as the press charged?" he [Richard Allen] wrote in an email to Brash. "You bet we were, but (we) responded only by the flat statement that 'Governor Reagan sits squarely in the mainstream."'

"Framing": Defined by National's controversial Australian strategist, Mark Textor, as "setting a notion not about the issues people think about but giving them a WAY to think about the issues". An example was National putting all discussion of welfare and tax cuts into the frame of "incentives", the book says.

"Bridging": Leading the discussion from the manufactured idea in the frame back to issues that helped National.

I will close this with a quote from Marilyn Waring's Foreword to Hager's book. Waring is an ex-National MP, dumped (as I remember) by Rob Muldoon for threatening to vote against his extremely fragile (and politically corrupt) government. She has, as she says, seen this process from the inside. She also knows that it is not unique to the National Party, but endemic in modern politics...

Of course, many of the events and communications recorded in The Hollow Men were legitimate, written by people going about their lawful business. We mightn't like their ideologies, but they would profess as genuine a love and concern for this country as I do. We just see it in a completely different way. But I don't have their business interests. (There's not too much conspiracy in some of the letters quoted from old politicians. I once wrote to John Banks agreeing with something he had said, but I certainly wouldn't want anything to be inferred about my political ideology from that!) There will undoubtedly be a lot of commentary of that nature, but Nicky has undertaken an excellent systems analysis. You cannot take isolated and separate instances away from the whole, and still make sense of the analysis. The constant build-up of' data and texture means the book must be examined as a whole. I hope the reviewers will see that.

I must admit to a sense of anticipated despair about the treatment The Hollow Men might receive. Most of the people I know (and a number of them sit in parliamentary seats) are disgusted with the sandpit the House has become - and it was certainly this bad when I was an MP. We are desperate for a government and an opposition with policies that have content. We are desperate for intelligent debate about the wrinkles around the shades of grey that are the real choices. There's tremendous impatience from many of us with the present simplistic black/white approach. We feel ashamed that a country with such a basically decent and principled population can be so manipulated. There's a real chance that both politicians and the media, and especially the talkback hosts, will see this book as more grist to the sensationalist mill. The focus may be on looking for and condemning the leakers, as opposed to scrutinising an appallingly mendacious political campaign. This is not the outcome Nicky intends. I am sure, as he notes, that there are unpleasant little stories in the emails of other political parties. They may be best to slay well away from the task that now lies in front of National. There have always been people of integrity, intelligence and liberal disposition in the National Party, and they have often been spurned for the cheap sensation of the poll-driven leader. But the country may now like the look of such a refreshingly different group of people: I always prefer the honesty of politicians who agonise in the grey areas. In March 1984 wrote a piece for the New Zealand Listener on 'Leaving Parliament'. Early in the essay I quoted from Adrienne Rich's writing in Women and. Honour: Some Notes on Lying: 'We assume that politicians are without honour. We read their statements trying to crack the code. The scandal of their politics. Not that men in high places lie, only that they do so with such indifference, so endlessly, still expecting to be believed. We are accustomed to the contempt inherent in the political life.'

It is my hope that the ultimate effect of The Hollow Men will be the return of honour and honesty to our democracy. I thank Nicky Hager for his courage and extraordinary hard work.

Marilyn, I wholeheartedly and totally agree.

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