Absolute Power, Hollow Men and authors

I found a post on Kiwiblog on a review of Ian Wishart’s Absolute Power (on Helen Clark). This is from 2008 but has some relevance now in relation to Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics.

Farrar posted Review of Absolute Power.

Ian Llewellyn of NZPA has done a review of the Helen Clark biography “Absolute Power” by Ian Wishart. It’s a fair and balanced review in my opinion.

From the review:

The book, released last week, is a collection of articles which attempt to prove Wishart’s thesis that the current Government is corrupt and Prime Minister Helen Clark entered Parliament under false pretences to push a hidden agenda.

The book is similar in many ways to Nicky Hager’s book The Hollow Men, and they share many of the same strengths as well as flaws.

They also both reveal as much as about the author’s world view as they do about their subjects.

Both gathered exhaustive (and in places exhausting) material and did meticulous research, but the impression is the evidence has been gathered and presented to reach a pre-determined position.

In Hager’s case it was that National was controlled and driven by dark forces ranging from big business, the religious right and foreign interests.

Wishart aims at the other end of the political spectrum and sees Miss Clark as someone who would do anything to get into power and do anything to hold on to it, all in order to push a hidden feminist, socialist agenda on an unsuspecting New Zealand.

It is unclear whether political blindness or naivety colours both authors’ views as they often see quite ordinary political processes as something far more sinister.

In Hager’s case, the lobbying of big business and internal caucus power struggles were proof of conspiracy. …

The fact that people join or lobby political parties to push a view that they believe is a better way for the world seems to be lost upon both authors.

Much of the book is spent on Wishart’s arguments over whether it is ethical to get into the personal lives of politicians.

He concludes that it is necessary to expose hypocrisy.

Some of the material is an interesting take on political events, such as the downfall of former police commissioner Peter Doone and similar events.

It also documents the habit of many politicians to say one thing in opposition and another in government.

Wishart believes his book portrays a pattern of behaviour that makes Labour and Miss Clark unfit to hold office.

For his followers and those who dislike the current administration, the book will be a gospel.

Miss Clark’s supporters will dismiss it as the ravings of an obsessed individual.

The vast majority of the population will simply not care either way as they accept things are not black and white; instead there are many shades of grey.

Most people accept that others are prone to make mistakes and get things wrong, as much as they get things right.

In the end Absolute Power is not Absolute Gospel, but neither is it entirely Absolute Nonsense.

Farrar’s responses:

 Ian Wishart didn’t just form a view as he started to put his book together that Helen Clark was no good – he has been of that view for some time.

I can’t agree too strongly here. Hager would have you believe that every business donor and supporter is motivated by self interest and greed, rather than a genuine belief in their views and policies being best for NZ. Likewise Wishart does fall down when he reads too much into fairly predictable stuff such as the PMs Office not being very helpful too him.

This is not to say that Wishart’s compilation of all the scandals under Clark is not valuable. People have become so used to them, they hardly register now, and the one thing they all have in common is that in almost every case Clark or her coterie lied and covered up – from paintergate to corngate to speedgate (yes I know all those gates sound lame but they make for easy reference) to doongate.

NZPA should be congratulated for doing a review of the book, rather than just ignore it. I suspect those on the left will not like the comparisons to Hager’s book (which is treated like the Koran by some Labour Ministers as they refer to it daily), but likewise some on the right will not like the dismissal of much of the book as reading too much into everyday politics.

Books that attack parties in power will always be controversial.