James Shaw speaks on NZF/BFD use of photos against journalists

After growing pressure to make some sort of statement Green co-leader James Shaw has commented carefully on NZ First handing photos to an attack blog who then threatened the journalists.

NZ Herald: NZ First Foundation saga: Greens break silence on ‘chilling’ photos of journalists

The Greens have broken their silence and expressed alarm at published photos of an ex-NZ First president with journalists who have been reporting on donations to the party.

The photos were published on website The BFD, which has been linked to Whale Oil, the blog at the centre of the 2014 book Dirty Politics.

The BFD has increasingly been used to promote NZ First and to attack the Greens, Jacinda Ardern, Simon Bridges, National and the media.

Shaw told the Herald that the details of what had happened were unclear.

“But regardless of who took the photographs and why, the fact they were passed to a blog that is designed to undermine trust in our political system is a concern.”

Shaw also took a step further in relation to questions about the NZF Foundation and whether it has properly declared donations to the NZF party.

“The allegations are concerning and due process must be followed while they are investigated,” Shaw said.

“We know New Zealanders will be looking at this issue and worrying about what it means for their democracy, which is why we are focused on making the system more transparent and fair.”

This is something, but seems a lot more measured than Green condemnation of John Key and National when Hager’s Dirty Politics in 2014 revealed the use of Whale Oil for political attacks.

Shaw has previously answered questions about the foundation by saying that the country’s electoral system needed to be strengthened.

He is now calling for an independent citizens’ assembly to “clean up” political donations, which have been clouded by questions over the NZF Foundation, as well as the SFO charges laid in relation to a $100,000 donation to the National Party.

Perhaps an alternative to fixing the laws would be a good idea, rather than politicians dominated by the large parties who receive large donations doing what suits their own interests.

Shaw’s response tends towards too mild and too late.

Jacinda Ardern has remained fairly silent on the NZF/BFD issue, and has been widely criticised for this.

National Party leader Simon Bridges said there remained many unanswered questions about the “chilling” photos.

“It beggars belief to think that somehow by chance these journalists were photographed with Lester Gray and the photos somehow found their way onto a blog.”

if the National Party had been involved in such a thing, Labour and the Greens would be shouting from the rooftops.

“The Prime Minister appears to be hiding. Her silence is damning. Has she asked who took the photos, did they pay for it, and how did they end up on the blog?”

National were involved in this sort of thing up until 2014, but then distanced themselves from Whale Oil. Cameron Slater then turned his attacks on Key, National, Bill English, Paula Bennett and Bridges. This has continued at The BFD, although Slater now seems to have a more peripheral role.

While the change of position from National is stark it does turn pressure towards Ardern.

Asked about Bridges’ comments, a spokesperson for Ardern said the Prime Minister was focused on the issues New Zealanders care about.

“New Zealand First Party matters are for them to respond to,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

That is a very lame response. Ardern will no doubt be questioned about this in her weekly media conference – and will no doubt have some sort of response prepared. It will have to be much better than her spokesperson.

Will political foxes reform electoral and transparency laws?

Two SFO investigations into party donations, and multiple failures to fulfil openness and transparency pledges, suggests that our political parties and MPs need better laws to make them comply with more honesty and openness. The problem is, the political foxes make the laws to limit themselves – and then find ways to circumvent and ignore.

How political donations are disclosed, plus the Official Information Act are two things that need revised. There is no chance of that happening before the election, but will something be done by the next Government (and hopefully with the support of the whole parliament)?

ODT editorial: Keeping their noses clean

On Monday, the SFO, already with its hands full dealing with complaints about National Party funding arrangements which have resulted in four people facing charges (but not the party itself), had the Electoral Commission file on the New Zealand First Foundation passed on to it by the police for further investigation.

While it is difficult to paint a rosy picture of a situation where two of the country’s major political parties have found themselves under investigation, there is something heartening about this.

Politicians like to quote Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, which regularly places New Zealand high in its rankings of the least corrupt countries in the world.

It is because investigations such as the ones the SFO have undertaken are permitted, because public scrutiny of political donations is expected and the highest amounts are disclosed publicly, because political parties are obliged to disclose their expenses, that New Zealand can maintain this reputation.

And because party officials with consciences are prepared to whistleblow on questionable practices?

But that does not mean that all is well.

It obviously isn’t.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has suggested a full independent look at political donation laws, which would be a beginning but only a beginning.

Every general election is subject to a subsequent select committee inquiry, but the assessment of the 2017 election was rendered somewhat farcical by constant delays and wholesale politicisation of the process.

Unfortunately politicisation and delays are ways that politicians avoid anything being done to curb their excesses.

Justice Minister Andrew Little, who assigns projects to what is an independent crown entity, might consider electoral law as something the commission, or another equally as high-powered independent legal committee, could profitably examine.

This election is already tainted with allegations of wrongdoing before the campaign officially begins, no matter how many Facebook transparency agreements political parties sign up to.

To better serve the voters they seek to represent, politicians need to rise above their partisan divide and work towards a suite of electoral laws for 2023.

But will the foxes do anything to guard the political henhouse? Or will they continue to flout the intent of the current laws, and what the electorate expects of them?

A start would be to get each party to commit to doing something in the next term – but that will only work if the follow up and actually do what they promise.

 

Will National’s support solid through leadership changes endure?

Support for National has remained fairly substantial and solid, despite the stepping down of the popular leader John key, and also the retirement of his replacement Bill English.

The current leader Simon Bridges has been far less popular, and party support has dropped a bit over the last couple of years that is to be expected for a party relegated to Opposition. National Party support seems to not be affected very much by leadership changes.

Here is how the polls have tracked since the last election.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion_polling_for_the_2020_New_Zealand_general_election

Bridges’ leadership doesn’t seem to have impacted much on that.

It’s still half a year until the election and anything could happen in that time, but especially with the diminishing of small party support National looks likely to get a reasonable share of the vote again this year (but may struggle to get enough to get back into government).

Josh Van Veen considers  Simon’s Dream: The enduring appeal of National in the Twenty-Twenties 

National supporters might look back wistfully on the early 2010s. But they long ago dispelled the notion that the party’s fate rested with one individual. In that regard, the National Party of 2020 is ‘Tolstoyan’… Despite losing the 2017 election, National remained the largest party by a wide margin. With 44.5 percent of the party vote to Labour’s 36.9 percent, English could boast of having led his party to an impressive result.

For a third term in government party that was a good result, not a lot down on the 47.04% that National got in 2014.

While Bridges’ personal support languishes behind that of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, National continues to poll higher than Labour. It is clear that a significant number of New Zealanders would vote for party over leader. Almost three years to the day of Key’s resignation, a 1 News/Colmar Brunton poll forecast a National victory. If an election had been held in December 2019, according to this poll, Simon Bridges would be the country’s 41st Prime Minister. The poll can’t be dismissed as an outlier. It was the second consecutive poll to indicate the same result. Not only that, but numerous other polls have suggested a tight race. At best we can say the odds are even.

I think that the outcome is certainly too hard to call at this stage.

So why is National still popular? Ask a journalist or commentator and they will most likely tell you that it is because the new government hasn’t delivered. Labour’s promise to fix the housing crisis and end child poverty turned out to be empty. Not to mention the incompetence of certain ministers, bad communication and disunity between the governing parties. They say “Oppositions don’t win elections, Governments lose them.” This explanation would be more convincing if Labour had won a numerical victory in 2017. There would be ground to lose to National. In fact, the numbers suggest that nothing much has changed since election night.

A more plausible explanation is that National’s appeal runs deep in the New Zealand psyche. To understand this, we have to forget about policy details, sensational headlines and the day-to-day vagaries of social media. In practice, there isn’t much difference between the way Labour and National behave in office. One is slightly more generous when it comes to the redistribution of wealth, the other has a reputation (deserved or not) for being meticulously scrupulous with public finances. Where ideology is concerned, Labour and National have both converged on the liberal centre. That is to say, the two major parties share a moderately liberal outlook on issues of public importance. Both have embraced globalisation, diversity, environmentalism, the redress of Treaty breaches, and poverty alleviation.

Beyond political rhetoric the actual policy paths of both National and Labour are much more similar than different. The current Government has tweaked more than lurched.

So perhaps it should be unsurprising if the party of John Key, Bill English and Simon Bridges can be identified with a vaguely utopian belief that New Zealand is still a land of plenty where rugged individuals can prosper – with just a bit of help from the government. According to this cherished belief, there isn’t much wrong with New Zealand.

To National supporters, few things are more repugnant than denying the archetypal New Zealander the fruits of his or her labour. But even more insulting is the imposition that those who ‘got ahead’ by hard work and enterprise should feel guilty about others left behind. To suggest that homelessness is a societal problem is to implicate everyone who has in some way profited from the housing market. To say that child poverty exists because we don’t pay enough tax is to accuse people of being selfish.

Yet there are no reasonable grounds for assuming that a National voter cares any less about impoverished children than a Labour voter. According to the 2017 New Zealand Election Study, 86% of National voters agreed with the proposition that “the government should provide decent living standards for children”. A majority (67%) also believed that the government had a responsibility to provide decent housing to those who could not afford it.

Perhaps that is why it has become fashionable in right-wing circles to dismiss talk of kindness as mere ‘virtue signalling’. Ardern might have spoken with more empathy than English but they both professed a moral conviction that it was their duty to help the poor. Most voters agreed. The crucial difference is that English did it without offending the sensibilities of New Zealanders who believe that wealth is acquired only through hard work and sacrifice.

The enduring appeal of National can’t be explained by Labour’s failure to deliver or brilliance on the part of Simon Bridges. Rather, it is due to the million or so voters who find some emotional coherence in what the party represents on an individual level. It would be a mistake to dismiss these voters as reactionary bigots or selfish boomers. While such people undoubtedly exist, few lack a moral compass and concern for others. Just about everyone is offended by the sight of human suffering.

But the simple truth is that most New Zealanders are comfortable and few understand material hardship. They have difficulty accepting that strangers doing it tough can’t just go to Work and Income for help. Homelessness and child poverty, while troubling, only exist in the news media. For them, New Zealand is still a land of plenty. Any statement to the contrary is a personal attack.

I think there may well be many who see not much wrong with Aotearoa as it is – for those prepared to work.

When leftists say “tax the rich to feed the kids” and demand justice for beneficiaries, it is as if they are speaking a different language to everyone else. Ardern’s decision to permanently rule out a capital gains tax confirmed that National, not Labour, is closer to the mythic New Zealand ideal. Whatever his shortcomings as a leader, Bridges’ sense of history is clear. He knows that National can win in spite of any one individual.

Labour must now make a difficult choice: whether to rely on NZ First and the Greens or go head to head with National in a contest for the political centre. This choice will define New Zealand politics for the next decade. To get it wrong would be Simon’s dream.

Labour is moving more towards being reliant on the Greens at least – the Labour-Green ticket. And they will also need to grapple with how much to associate themselves with NZ First as an  essential part of their continued coalition chances.

National may not manage to lift their support to get into power later this year, but they are still seen as a large single party with solid support.

 

Three more National MPs announce retirements

Three more National MPs have announced they won’t seek re-election this year. Two were expected, but one was a reversal of a previous commitment.

It is normal for a bit of turnover of MPs from a party that has switched to opposition, but this brings the National MP exodus to about 13 this term.

RNZ: National Party to lose three more MPs before elections

Sarah Dowie, Nicky Wagner and David Carter announced in quick succession they will not be running in the September election.

The three politicians are the latest in a string of National MPs stepping down at this election.

Amy AdamsNathan GuyMaggie Barry and Alastair Scott all announced last year they would not be running.

Bill English and Steven Joyce have already retired since the 2017 election. Not sure who else.

Carter and Wagner retiring are no surprise.

Dowie is a surprise, as she has already been selected by National to stand again for the Invercargill electorate she holds. She cites family reasons:

Dowie is currently the MP for Invercargill, but she said she had opted not to seek re-election for family reasons.

“I went to Parliament when Christabel was four and Hunter was two.

“What has become clear is that my children are at a pivotal age and I wish to be 100 percent present to share in their successes,” she said.

She was involved in adverse publicity last year involving Jami-Lee Ross, partly brought upon herself, but I think it is understandable that she has reassessed her life priorities and has chosen children over politics.

Poll – replacement NZ First leader (plus more donations drip feeding)

At this stage there is no indication that Winston Peters will step down as Deputy Prime Minister pending the SFO investigation into how the NZ First Foundation has been dealing with donations. Peters has both distanced himself saying he has nothing to do with the foundation, but has also said he knows the foundation has bone nothing wrong and has been doing all the media releases and interviews in relation to the issue.

And there is no indication that Winston Peters is ready to step down as leader of NZ First or to retire from politics. He doesn’t exactly look like an energizer bunny but politically he just keeps on going (with the occasional top up of voter energy after things have gone flat).

But regardless, Newshub decided to do some polling on a replacement NZ First leader – Who Kiwis think should be NZ First leader if Winston Peters stands down

In the latest Newshub-Reid Research poll, voters were asked for their thoughts on who should take over if Peters ever stands down as New Zealand First leader.

Thee results are quite mixed.

  • Ron Mark: 17.9%
  • Shane Jones: 14.5%
  • Tracey Martin: 13.8%
  • Fletcher Tabuteau: 3.6%

The three most popular are the three most prominent NZ First MPs. All are ministers. Jones is by far the most visible (he does a lot of attention seeking), but interesting to see Mark top the poll, as he has been a much more quiet worker.

Results from NZ First voters must be suspect as the sample must be quit small, with only 3.6% preferring the party in the poll.

  • Ron Mark: 34.4%
  • Shane Jones: 18.5%
  • Fletcher Tabuteau: 13.6%
  • Tracey Martin: 2.9%

So Jones doesn’t seem very popular even amongst the few NZ First voters polled. This doesn’t mean much, but it’s a bit interesting.

Peters has always been leader of NZ First, the Peters is sometimes referred to as Winston First.

Tracey Martin was chosen as deputy leader of NZ First on 14 February 2013.

Ron Mark challenged her and was selected to replace her on 3 July 2015.

Fletcher Tabuteau replaced Mark as leader on 27 February 2018.

Meanwhile Simon Bridges hasn’t ruled out working with Winston Peters forever:

It would be ridiculous making a commitment on this for future elections, so this means less than the replacement leader polling.


Meanwhile the donations story continues to drip feed, despite Peters saying he was slaying a complaint with the police over the ‘theft’ of information from the Foundation  he has nothing to do with.

RNZ: NZ First Foundation received tens of thousands of dollars from donors in horse racing industry

The New Zealand First Foundation has been receiving tens of thousands of dollars from donors in the horse racing industry in payments which fall just below the $15,000.01 at which party donations are usually made public.

As racing minister, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has delivered significant benefits to the industry, including millions of dollars of government money spent on tax breaks and scrapping betting levies.

Records viewed by RNZ show one of the big donors was the Lindsay family. Brendan Lindsay sold the plastic storage container business Sistema for $660 million in late 2016 and a year later bought Sir Patrick Hogan’s Cambridge Stud.

Three lots of $15,000 were deposited into the bank account of the New Zealand First Foundation on 11 October, 2018, according to records viewed by RNZ.

One of the donations was in Brendan Lindsay’s own name and one was in the name of his wife, Jo Lindsay. There was a third deposit made that same day listed as Lindsay Invest Donation.

The year before – in the 2017 election year – Brendan Lindsay also donated $15,000. On the same day there is another deposit for $15,000 listed as Lindsay Trust Donation. Both were banked by the New Zealand First Foundation on 5 May, 2017.

Brendan Lindsay told RNZ, via email, that neither he nor his wife were aware of the Foundation.

Spreading payments between related people and entities all just below the disclosure threshold looks designed to avoid the law. Time will tell whether it is actually illegal or not, but can have an appearance of being deliberately deceitful.


 

Political posturing and petulance at Waitangi

In the past it was common at Waitangi for protesters to target politicians with posturing and petulance, but yesterday it was political leaders doing the dick waving.

Simon Bridges walked onto the lower marae with an expression that appeared to attempt an air of gravitas, but was closer to ass. he seemed to think that a four lane highway was a priority for Northland Maori.

Winston Peters manouvered James Shaw and smirked, then pulled rank on Shane Jones to take over his speaking slot, characteristically laughing at his own humour, but claiming he was incensed at Bridges (and the media) politicising the day, as he further politicised the day.

And Shane Jones took politics further, saying he intended to ‘take down National in Northland’.

One News:

Newshub:  New Zealand First’s Shane Jones reveals plan to take down National in Northland

Relations between Simon Bridges and Winston Peters have gone from frosty to arctic at Waitangi, and this might make things worse: Shane Jones has exclusively revealed to Newshub there’s a plan afoot to take down National in Northland, with him at the centre of it.

Jones, the self-proclaimed champion of the regions and boy from the north, has put in a bid with his party to run in Northland, the seat his boss Winston Peters – leader of New Zealand First – seized from National in 2015 but lost to them again in 2017.

The rift between New Zealand First and National escalated to all-out war at Waitangi on Tuesday when politicians were welcomed onto the upper marae.

Peters didn’t pretend to hide his disdain, laughing and ridiculing National leader Simon Bridges right through his speech. Even Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern got caught in the act, sharing a giggle with veteran Maori activist Titewhai Harawira.

And when Bridges’ speech wrapped, Peters refused to stand.

This confirms that Bridges had no choice but to rule doing any sort of post election deal with NZ First, but Peters seems to think that isn’t a solid commitment.

RNZ: Winston Peters convinced National Party would be open to coalition

Winston Peters says he knows for a fact the National Party will still be open to coalition talks with New Zealand First after the election, despite the party’s leader Simon Bridges ruling it out.

Bridges says he can’t trust Peters and his caucus is united behind his decision to rule out working with New Zealand First.

Any credibility Bridges may have by the election would be annihilated if he changed his mind after the election.

The BFD (Whale Oil renamed to avoid legal and financial issues) is still pimping for Peters and NZ First. They seem to think that Bridges could be rolled and he and Paula Bennett (and everyone else who Lusk and Slater don’t like) dumped after the election and a new leadership would join force with Peters. That’s as likely as Slater shedding his political toxicity.

And Jacinda Ardern has indicated that Labour won’t help Jones and NZ First in Northland.

RNZ: No NZ First -Labour electoral pact in Northland – Ardern

Ardern said Labour would not be stepping aside for New Zealand First in Northland.

“I didn’t do deals last election, I have no plans to do deals this election,” she said.

When asked if Prime will be campaigning at full capacity Ardern said “you can bet on that”.

So National has ruled out NZ First, and Ardern has ruled out helping NZ First. I think that Labour has to play hardball in their own interests, cosying up to Peters and Jones would damage their chances of retaining power.

Talking of power, Ardern would have much more of it as Prime Minister if she didn’t have Peters dictating to her as virtual co-leader (who thinks he deserves to be the boss).

And with Bridges trying to look serious and instead looking silly as he jousts with Peters and Jones, The antics at Waitangi may be a signal that the day of the dick waver is over.

Ardern usually does well at big events, and after yesterday without doing anything but be there her re-election chances look quite a lot better.

Ardern’s positive politics pledge

I’m all for more positive politics (and less negative, dishonest and divisive politics), so Jacinda Ardern’s pledge for “a positive, factual and robust campaign” sounds very good. But, unfortunately, Ardern has a history of not matching rhetoric with actions.

From labour.org.nz:

Running a positive, factual and robust election campaign

This week Labour MPs descended on Martinborough for the annual Labour Caucus retreat. It was here that Labour Leader Jacinda Ardern set our intention for the year ahead – to run a positive, factual and robust campaign.

Speaking to caucus, Jacinda Ardern said: “New Zealanders deserve a positive election. I don’t want New Zealand to fall into the trap of the negative fake news style campaigns that have taken place overseas in recent years.”

In light of this, Jacinda Ardern took the opportunity to announce that the Labour Party is signing up to Facebook’s new advertising transparency rules.

“It means voters can see who is behind paid advertising online, how much they are spending and who they are targeting. The measures help avoid anonymous fake news style ads,” said Ardern.  “These rules are compulsory in the US, UK, Canada and the EU amongst others, but not here. We think it’s the right thing to do to voluntarily adopt them anyway and set a clean tone for the election.”

Ardern also confirmed Labour will have its major election policy costings independently verified so voters can be sure of what they are voting for.

So, sounds good – in theory.

But I hope that this time, Ardern (and Labour MPs and the party) deliver.

At this same time last year Ardern promised a ‘year of delivery’ – “”For us domestically it doesn’t really matter what the international community does or says, it only matters what we deliver”.

“2019 I think for us as a team is going to be characterised by the word ‘delivery’. 2018 was obviously a huge year for us: bedding in as a new Government, setting up the infrastructure for a significant change in direction for New Zealand, reinvesting in those core services – health and education and housing in our budget.”

“That work has now been set in place. 2019 is now the year that a lot of delivery will be required of us and is actually already underway.”

“We do not claim perfection but we do claim a considerable advance on where we have came from.”

The Government has delivered on some things, as any government does. But at least as notable are the things that haven’t been delivered. The big election promise and post election commitment, Kiwibuild, has largely been a failure and has been dumped. The light rail commitment seems to have been so lightweight it has floated away.

Ardern campaigned last election on ‘openness and transparency”. In her government’s first year Ardern was embarrassed by her minister of Openness and Transparency, Clare Curran, being secretive and misleading. Ardern dumped her.

This government seems no better than the last in it’s abuse of the Official Information Act that is supposed to ensure openness and transparency.

Ardern seems impotent when it comes to the negativeness and determination not to be open by NZ First ministers Winston Peters and Shane Jones, but she should have an influence on her own Labour ministers and MPs.

Will there be no more Labour MP references to ‘9 years of neglect’ and misleading claims of National Government reduced spending?

Will Labour MPs more openly share facts with the public, especially when asked?

Will this year see a turnaround of the toxic politics of the past? Will we get a positive campaign, by Labour at least?(National’s negative attack politics is another disappointing story).

I hope so. Ardern has time to plan her campaign this year, and time to make it clear to her MPs, candidates and party promoters that she wants a positive, factual campaign. She has no control over some in social media like on Twitter and The Standard, but her and her party’s campaigning really is positive and factual perhaps that will filter down and influence the actions of Labour leaning activists.

Perhaps she can lead by example, and lift the quality and tone of this year’s election. If she and Labour can deliver on that it is likely to improve their vote and their chances (and Greens), especially if it contrasts with NZ First and National attack campaigning.

USA: the “flood the zone with shit” media strategy

Vox): “Flood the zone with shit”: How misinformation overwhelmed our democracy

No matter how President Trump’s impeachment trial plays out in the Senate, one thing is certain: Despite the incontrovertible facts at the center of the story, the process will change very few minds.

Regardless of how clear a case Democrats make, it seems likely thata majority of voters will remain confused and unsure about the details of Trump’s transgressions. No single version of the truth will be accepted.

This is a serious problem for our democratic culture. No amount of evidence, on virtually any topic, is likely to move public opinion one way or the other. We can attribute some of this to rank partisanship — some people simply refuse to acknowledge inconvenient facts about their own side.

But there’s another, equally vexing problem. We live in a media ecosystem that overwhelms people with information. Some of that information is accurate, some of it is bogus, and much of it is intentionally misleading. The result is a polity that has increasingly given up on finding out the truth. As Sabrina Tavernise and Aidan Gardiner put it in a New York Times piece, “people are numb and disoriented, struggling to discern what is real in a sea of slant, fake, and fact.” This is partly why an earth-shattering historical event like a president’s impeachment has done very little to move public opinion.

The core challenge we’re facing today is information saturation and a hackable media system. If you follow politics at all, you know how exhausting the environment is. The sheer volume of content, the dizzying number of narratives and counternarratives, and the pace of the news cycle are too much for anyone to process.

One response to this situation is to walk away and tune everything out. After all, it takes real effort to comb through the bullshit, and most people have busy lives and limited bandwidth. Another reaction is to retreat into tribal allegiances.There’s Team Liberal and Team Conservative, and pretty much everyone knows which side they’re on. So you stick to the places that feed you the information you most want to hear.

The issue for many people isn’t exactly a denial of truth as such. It’s more a growing weariness over the process of finding the truth at all. And that weariness leads more and more people to abandon the idea that the truth is knowable.

I call this “manufactured” because it’s the consequence of a deliberate strategy. It was distilled almost perfectly by Steve Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News and chief strategist for Donald Trump. “The Democrats don’t matter,” Bannon reportedly said in 2018. “The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”

What we’re facing is a new form of propaganda that wasn’t really possible until the digital age. And it works not by creating a consensus around any particular narrative but by muddying the waters so that consensus isn’t achievable.

Copying a Putin example, the  Muddier in Chief:

Trump can dictate an entire news cycle with a few unhinged tweets or an absurd press conference. The media cycle is easily commandeered by misinformation, innuendo, and outrageous content. These are problems because of the norms that govern journalism and because the political economy of media makes it very hard to ignore or dispel bullshit stories.This is at the root of our nihilism problem, and a solution is nowhere in sight.

The instinct of the mainstream press has always been to conquer lies by exposing them. But it’s just not that simple anymore (if it ever was). There are too many claims to debunk and too many conflicting narratives. And the decision to cover something is a decision to amplify it and, in some cases, normalize it.

Bullshit rules, and there are no obvious solutions.

We probably need a paradigm shift in how the press covers politics. Nearly all of the incentives driving media militate against this kind of rethinking, however. And so we’re likely stuck with this problem for a very long time.

It is not as bad here in New Zealand, but it’s bad enough.

We can join the shit fights, or tune out as many people mostly do (but still get impressions from the mire).

It happens here on small scales in social media, Kiwiblog being a prime example but also here (from cross the political spectrum).

Not usually a “flood the zone with shit”, but diversions from unwelcome news are common in politics here, with Winston Peters a practiced hand, and his apprentice was at it yesterday – Shane Jones diverts to copious meat eating as further questions raised about company links.

A difficult question that I often ponder is whether to challenge the shit (with a risk of amplifying it), or ignoring it and letting the shit flooders to muddy the zone unabated. There’s no obvious or easy answers.

In some ways Jacinda Ardern introduced a fresh breath of political air, but even that has been muddied somewhat with her and her Government too often failing to come close to one of their promises of more openness and transparency. Trying to sweep shit under the carpet is a related problem.

We could all do better – but is there a will, or does trying to win and trying to make losers out of opponents and people with different opinions rule?

Shane Jones diverts to copious meat eating as further questions raised about company links

This story seems to keep coming up, with more suggestions that Shane Jones must have known more than he has admitted about a NZ First linked company’s application for Provincial Growth Fund money.

I wonder if this is and attempt at diversion: NZ First MP and Minister Shane Jones takes aim at ‘eco-bible-bashing’ climate-change activists

Outspoken NZ First MP and Minister Shane Jones has launched a scathing attack on climate-change activists who want Kiwis to eat less meat, blasting their form of “eco bible bashing”.

He has compared them to “medieval torture chamber workers” and has vowed to rally against this sort of “absolutism” as Election 2020 draws closer.

His comments come after the Government, of which he is a Minister, announced school children would be taught about climate change in class.

Suggesting people eat less meat (which for most is good for your health) is nothing like ‘absolutism’, whatever that’s supposed to mean.

“I won’t be desisting from eating copious qualities of kaimoana [seafood] or meat – that’s how I grew up”…

…is a surprising stance (if he’s actually serious) from someone who looks to have an obesity problem.

A heart attack from clogged up arteries would be a sort of absolutism if fatal.

Back to more questions about his absolutism denials unravelling some more: NZ First-linked company in government loan bid says it met with Shane Jones

A forestry company with close links to New Zealand First says it gave a presentation to Shane Jones about a project it was seeking a $15 million government loan for – months before Jones says he first heard of it.

When NZ Future Forest Products (NZFFP) applied for Provincial Growth Fund money on 8 April, 2019, the company was asked whether the project had been “previously discussed” with the government.

The application form shows NZFFP ticked the ‘yes’ box and said it had made a “presentation to the Minister” about its forestry and wood processing plans “including descriptions of the applicant”.

Jones, a New Zealand First MP who is forestry minister and the minister responsible for the $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund, has consistently claimed he first heard about the NZFFP bid on 14 October last year.

NZFFP’s directors include Brian Henry, lawyer to New Zealand First Party leader Winston Peters, judicial officer of the party and one of two trustees of the New Zealand First Foundation, and NZ First leader Winston Peters’ partner Jan Trotman, who joined the company in August 2019.

Jones refused to be interviewed over the latest revelation but in a statement said the presentation never happened. “There was no presentation as described by the applicants,” he said.

The statement said Jones “did not have any Ministerial meetings to discuss the application”.

After being asked if he had any meetings at all with any NZFFP representatives in 2019, he responded in a statement “no”. He went on to say he was “not involved in PGF-related conversations with the Henrys under the guise of NZFFP”.

But in an interview with RNZ, David Henry, who is Brian Henry’s son and the NZFFP director who signed the application form, said the presentation was a 15-minute meeting he and Jones had in Wellington.

“We had a discussion with Shane. I think it was about a 15-minute chat. Whether you want to call it a briefing or a presentation – it was a short discussion generally about the New Zealand wood supply chain and what we personally believed.”

Take from that what you like.

I think that Jones has become as political slippery as Winston Peters.

 

Will we have an election year ‘culture war’?

Politics in Aotearoa is quite different to Australia, the United Kingdom and the USA, so it is difficult to know how much we will move towards the fractious and divisive politics of those countries in this election year.

Bryce Edwards suggests New Zealand voters must prepare for an ugly culture war this election

Trump, Morrison and Johnson have found fertile political ground in the backlash to being woke. Simon Bridges is likely to ape them

Bridges is already trying a bit of this approach, but he’s not very popular so it’s difficult to judge whether he is shifting support – National has generally maintained good levels of support regardless of their leader’s lack of appeal.

Some say the New Zealand insistence on fairness goes back to our colonial history. Many escapees of industrial Britain embraced a life in a less class-ridden country. Of course the idea that New Zealand is an equal and “classless society” was always a myth, but this egalitarian ethos endures.

It creates a particular problem for politicians of the right. As a former prime minister, John Key, told US diplomats in a private briefing, New Zealand’s “socialist streak” means it can be difficult to push rightwing policies. Key later elaborated: “New Zealand is a very caring country. I think New Zealanders do have a heart.”

In 2017 this helped the election of Jacinda Ardern’s government, made up of parties that channelled concerns about the lack of fairness under the then National-led government. The new government promised to be “transformative”, rolling out a fairness agenda in programs from KiwiBuild to child poverty reduction targets.

This all presents the National party with a dilemma. There are few votes in criticising the government’s fairness agenda – in fact the opposition is reduced to complaining that the government has not delivered on its left-leaning program.

As the election nears, National will try to paint itself as better economic managers and Grant Robertson as an irresponsible and incompetent finance minister, but this is unlikely to cut it with many voters.

I agree. Robertson has largely been successful at avoiding scaring the economic horses.

So where can it differentiate? National increasingly relies on stoking “culture wars” and law and order. It is these fertile new hunting grounds that give Simon Bridges his best chance of painting Ardern and her colleagues as out of touch with mainstream New Zealand.

I doubt that Bridges will get very far there – one of Ardern’s strengths has been her ability to show empathy for how ‘mainstream New Zealand’ feels, especially during high profile times of deaths and emotions.

Culture wars are concerned with debates relating to ethnicity, gender, sexuality, human rights, discrimination, free speech and civil liberties. Elements of the political left – especially in the Labour and Green parties – are increasingly associated with campaigns in these areas, and often their stances are not shared by many mainstream voters.

But I think they are just niche elements of the left.

Ardern knows very well to keep her government as clear as possible of contentious social issues. Instead, if Labour and its coalition partners can keep public debate around traditional egalitarian concerns about inequality, housing, health and education, the New Zealand notion of fairness will probably also ensure her government will get another chance.

But Ardern probably needs the Greens and possibly NZ First to retain power. Winston Peters tends to appeal to a quite small ‘unfairness’ demographic which is quite different to the type of ‘fairness’ voters Greens will be trying too appeal to.

National’s best bet might be to provoke an ugly culture war. Expect to see Bridges attempt to start debates on these issues and paint Labour and the Greens as “woke” elitists, or just soft on law and order. This might be desperate and opportunistic – National MPs genuinely don’t care that much about many of these issues. But National knows that they are the sort of emotive and divisive concerns that might change votes.

This would be high risk. While it may appeal to some they are likely to already lean towards National. The more moderate voters that are seen as essential to winning elections are less likely to be attracted to divisive politics. They are more likely to be repelled by it.

There’s a cultural backlash ready to be fostered – as Donald Trump, Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson have found to their benefit. Such debates, whether over identity politics, hate speech, minority rights or gender can be explosively divisive. That could end up being the ugly story of the 2020 general election.

The US is a two party democracy that is very polarised – Donald Trump exploited this to win the presidency.

But we have multiple parties and I think far less division. There are noisy minorities on the extremes, but National and Labour are generally seen as more similar than different by most, in part due to the moderating influence of MMP.

National (and NZ First and the Greens) will no doubt try to push ‘culture war’ type issues to an extent, and media will give them more publicity than they deserve, but I am doubtful that many voters will buy into the divide and conquer style of politics that has worked elsewhere in the world.