Elections are often a bit of a jolly for those involved and a bit of a bore for everyone else. Lots of politicians and their frenzied supporters trying to get the rest of the country excited about tax policies and housing. But at the end of the day, most people decide their voting on one of two methods:
- “I’ve always voted for the Nuts Party. That Lemon Party is full of crazies that want to take away my money.”
- “The leader of the Grime party has got his eyes too wonky. Couldn’t possibly vote for him!”
That has all changed this year in New Zealand with new controversy coming out every day and derailing the election campaign. I’m a bit tired of highly managed PR campaigns and seeing the carefully managed political PR go off course has been great fun.
It all started with the release of the book Dirty Politics on August 17. Nicky Hager has published high-profile political books in the past but nothing as damaging as this one. The book is allegedly based on emails from a right-wing blogger and alleges that allegedly the government was involved in leaking information to the Whale Oil blogger in order to advance their agenda.
The leaked emails have resulted in the government claiming that it is a “left-wing smear campaign” based on “stolen emails”. This amuses me as the use of “smear-campaign” implied that it is all smear with no substance, yet if they are actually “stolen emails” then there is definitely some substance there.
Emails and other documents have been leaked via the Twitter account @whaledump (which has been suspended this morning, and replaced with @whaledump2). These emails are the source data for the book so don’t really provide independent verification of the alleged events. Interesting reading nonetheless.
The most serious outcome from the leaks is the resignation of the Justice Minister Judith Collins. An email materialised in the Prime Minister’s Office alleging that Collins was involved in attempts to discredit the head of the Serious Fraud Office, Adam Feeley, in relation to an investigation into financial crime. Following on from attacks by the WhaleOil blogger, the case was dropped and Feeley resigned although it’s difficult to directly relate the resignation with the attacks.
The release of the book is in addition to the side-show around Kim Dotcom and the new Internet Mana party that he has been helping to fund. I like what he is doing there and it could be very interesting for its effect on New Zealand politics.
It’s amazing to think that the book was released three weeks ago and there is now just over two weeks until the election. I’ve probably been more interested in this election than I have been for years. I’ve been paying more information to policy and watching televised debates. And had a great time following the Dirty Politics updates and something new and earth-shattering is being exposed every day.
I have been disappointed with the head-in-the-sand attitude shown by many to the allegations. The main retort from the government is that “everyone is doing it”. This appears to be proclaimed without any evidence and I’m pretty sure that what the government means by “doing it” is “talking to bloggers”. This is pure misdirection. Everyone is not having Official Information Act requests expedited. Everyone is not having information leaked to them with the express purpose of smearing opponents. Everyone is not accessing other parties’ computer systems and threatening to release information about donations. Everyone else is not “doing it”.
The response from the ruling National Party has not really been satisfactory. They have misrepresented the contents of the book, they have denied that they are involved, they have denied that anything is true and yet they have branded the person who hacked the emails to be “the criminal”.
One benefit of the MMP electoral system in New Zealand is that there are more minor parties to vote for than under the FPP system we had before 1996. This has helped on the left with the rise of the Green Party, there are two credible left wing parties. On the right this hasn’t really happened, with the ACT party losing credibility as they are tough on crime but many of their MPs have attracted criminal charges. The remaining right-wing parties—NZ First, United Future and the Conservatives—are currently all vanity vehicles for their leaders. There are no credible right-wing alternatives to National.
We probably take politics for granted with it usually consisting of a bunch of self-important people talking to each other. But we can also get involved. We can vote on election day, we can join a political party, we can get in touch with our MP.
We can also be disillusioned with politics but as opposed to the other actions that I have mentioned, that will achieve very little. Get out there and vote and help the political system along.