There’s a pervasive sickness that runs through New Zealand politics from top to bottom, from Prime Minister to grass roots. There’s an entrenched culture of nastiness and abusive behaviour that wouldn’t be acceptable in most parts of a decent society, but it’s practiced and aided and abetted by politicians, parties, activists, supporters, traditional media and social media.
Some in politics protest but that’s usually futile – in fact it commonly attracts even more abuse.
The public generally hate it and show their displeasure through the ballot box, with increasing numbers being turned off any participation in politics.
The major parties have long seen nasty attack politics as an essential tool in their arsenals, so there’s often more of a focus on negative, nasty and dishonest tactics than promoting their strengths. Even the normally principled Greens have been drawn into mild forms of it.
Traditional media aid and abet the worst of politics, following their wider ‘if it bleeds it leads’ approach. The media sharks swarm at any hint of political blood. They promote dishonest or speculatory accusations and praise the attackers as effective politicians.
Attempts to demean and discredit are common, aiming to provoke character and career destroying momentum.
It goes far beyond robust debate and holding to account.
Social media has long been touted as a more inclusive way of doing politics but it has taken on the worst of toxic politics, largely because of the involvement of old school party activists.
In an interview on The Nation last October leading political blogger Cameron Slater said:
Well Auckland politics is the same as where any politics is, in that it’s a dirty disgusting despicable game, and it involves dirty disgusting despicable people at all levels. And to have this high and mighty belief that New Zealand politics is clean, it isn’t.
Slater has long been involved in dirty politics and has pushed boundaries with his attacking abusive style. Prime Minister John Key demonstrated an acceptance of this when he said recently that he often talks to Slater. Ironically Slater has made an attempt recently to clean up the comments section of his Whale Oil blog.
Another leading blogger David Farrar doesn’t do personal abuse the same but he is often involved in attack politics. He also enables and allows a toxic environment at his Kiwiblog where stalking and abuse are common.
Both Slater and Farrar have close links to National but it isn’t confined to the political right. Personal attacks are common at The Standard and Dim-Post and to a lesser extent at the heavily moderated/censored The Daily Blog.
Lynn Prentice calls the shots at The Standard and often brags about how nasty he can be. This sets the standard. Another Standard author Greg Presland has close links to David Cunliffe. Presland attacks far less now than in the past but he still allows abuse to go unchecked.
In one thread at The Standard yesterday here is some of the abuse that was allowed as normal – it was done by a small number of commenters but this sort of behaviour is rarely questioned (I’ve seen similar degrees of abuse at Kiwiblog). Ironically this was on thread of a blog post complaining about the use of blogs for political smears.
You are a walking smear campaign, a gossiping whispering nasty little insect. Every single comment you make oozes dishonesty like pus from a sore.
Oh look, here’s some weasel slime pretending butter won’t melt in his mouth. What an asshole.
What a passive aggressive, boring, dishonest asshole.
You, Mr George, are really quite a horrible person.
The MSM are a product of human discourse, not the sum of it. Political revolution was possible with a printing press and analogue distribution methods, so it is possible with memes and social media.
Rock-Snot as i said yesterday is a fungal organism that attaches itself to any mode of transport from gumboots to twigs to enable it to enter an untainted waterway from there multiplying to pollute the whole expanse,
Such is Pete George…
You sound like right-wing scum,(now have a whine about abuse why don’t you)…
Your right SSLands, i agree with you that John Drinnan,(why does that name make me think of drain cleaner), should lay off the abuse, and, quite frankly i did not think you had the intellectual where-with-all to have noticed the convoluted writing style of Mr Drain Cleaner,(have you got your Mummy reading the comments and providing you an interpretation tonight),
No, wait…this just in: you’re an asshole Pete.
SSLands, read my comment below at 8.30pm, its al the answer you either deserve or are going to get other than to be told to fiuck off back to ‘wail-oink’ and share your syphillated drivel with the inmates of that particular zoo…
Several blog moderators were active through that thread, at times directly supporting abusive comments. This is just a small symptom of a much wider and deeper problem.
People who would regard themselves as intelligent and reasonable passively and actively allow this and often climb on the bash wagon.
Some see blogs and other social media as a grand opportunity to give ordinary people more of a voice in politics. By becoming infected the sickest and saddest of political behaviour they add to the problem rather than provide a solution.
The language is different to MPs in Parliament, due to anonymity and to a social disconnect.
Presumably most of this abuse would not happen face to face. The more intelligent would not think of allowing and participating in this manner in person, the others wouldn’t have the guts.
The aim is the same as MPs and parties – character assassination of perceived political enemies, although some may just use it as an excujse to be abusive. There’s nothing logical, democratic, decent or positive about it.
If this social and political sickness is allowed to continue then we will continue to have trouble attracting quality candidates and we will have diminishing voting percentages as more and more voters are turned off by the rot.
Unless it is dealt with from the top down – the top of parties and the top of blogs – the sickness will continue to vomit over our political discourse.
Confronting it simply invites more abuse. If I posted this at Kiwiblog or The Standard it is likely it would increase rather than decrease abuse levels.
I believe many MPs don’t like the standard of political and Parliamentary behaviour but they are drowned out and shat on by an entrenched minority of old school politicians who see and use dirt is their strongest weapon.
But this is a major weakness in our politics. It needs leadership to address it but our leaders are a part of the problem. David Shearer promised a better standard of politics when he became Labour leader but it became one of a number of failings for him.
If John Key really wants a laudable legacy he could lead a clean-up of caucus and party behaviour. It would do far more good for our democracy and our country than painting over the cracks of our flag.
Our democracy is flagging badly. Key has proven successful as a political manager but not yet as a leader. He could try leading by example.