Gordon Campbell – on the money

A big thanks to Jafapete for pointing me at Gordon’s recent post on Scoop about the ‘secret tapes’ affair that’s made the news this week.

Gordon points out that the media’s focus has been on the alleged ‘culprit’ – the lone Labour activist (if indeed it was such), rather than the substance of the candid comments made by Bill English and the other Tory knobs.

Gordon Campbell, Scoop political editor on the ethics and hypocrisy

As Gordon points out there is a public interest issue here: What is the Nationals’ real agenda if they should win the election later this year?

Bill English, Lockwood Smith and Nick Smith made candid comments about what they’d really get up to (or like to do) in an unguarded moment. No amount of bluster about the sanctity of the party conference can disguise the fact that it was a public event and that the Nats were more than happy to have hand-picked representatives of the official and unofficial media rat pack there to put on the record the spin.

Personally, I hope that there’s more of this stuff going to happen during the ‘real’ as opposed to the ‘phony’ election campaign. The truth is out there, but it’s not forthcoming from the public face of the Nationals.

I think Gordon Campbell is on the money with this observation:

What the public have found out – and what the Bill English, Lockwood Smith and Nick Smith tapes have in common – is that National truly believes that its real intentions are politically toxic, and therefore, it is prepared to wait patiently and eventually use the machinery of government to make those intentions more palatable to the public.

Anyone who’s familiar with Nicky Hager’s The Hollow Men, will recognise this statement. It confirms what Nicky’s been saying privately and publicly for some time, the Nationals have not changed their spots. it is worth remembering that the subtitle of Nicky’s book is A study in the politics of deception.

But it is also interesting to see how some parts of the media are also hosing down the very idea of a Hollow Men story. For example, Ben Thomas at NBR:

Labour is relying heavily on what can be dubbed the “Hollow Men” narrative about National. This is a rather nebulous concept that something about the way National conducts politics – from its polling, to its policy formulation, to its campaigning to it’s actions if in government – is somehow uniquely deceitful and dangerous to New Zealand.

It also revolves around the idea that secretive forces are at work on what is essentially a conspiracy.

But the loudest proponents of this pseudo-theory behave in a way that increasingly makes it unclear who the victims of conspiracy are meant to be.

Well Ben, isn’t it fairly obvious? The New Zealand voting public are the victims here. If they’re told one thing in election promises etc and vote accordingly and then the elected party goes on to do things that contradict the stated policy.

And no, this is no the same thing as doing something in government that you said nothing about. No government ever has only done things that were explicit in policy pronouncements. Contingencies occur, new situations arise, that’s fine. It’s not fine to say one thing and then do the opposite; which is what the secret tapes revealed.

It’s worth reading all of Gordon’s fairly long post, he ends by suggesting that the Nat politicians may actually be ethically in the wrong (rather than the focus on the taper and TV3 for broadcasting the material). He argues that there’s a sin of omission if you neglect to tell someone something that’s ultimately in their interests and that by not telling you deny them an opportunity to make an informed choice.

I find that argument satisfying:

Is it a sin of omission to tell voters only what you want them to know, and thus empower yourself to do something afterwards that those same voters may well not have condoned, if only you’d fully informed them beforehand ? I think so. If National insist on getting on a high horse about ethical behaviour, then what English and the two Smiths were advocating on those tapes seems clearly to amount to non-lying deception, and is thus a sin of omission. Of course, it is now up to English as to whether he feels obliged to tell that sin in the confessional box – where he should be safe enough from being taped.

3 Responses to Gordon Campbell – on the money

  1. jafapete says:

    Agreed! And good on you for calling out Ben T.

    It’s staggering that the point needs to be made. After all, if the “punters” vote on the basis of a deliberately misleading picture of what they’re voting for, where does that leave the democratic process?

  2. insider says:

    Hang on, Campbell is almost as obsessed with the evilness of the Nats as the Standard. He is less and less reliable as a reasonable commentator on political events. So he is bound to see conspiracy and nuance in comments that may not be there. All I saw were some mundane comments. More newsworthy was the Nats’ response. But if you are constantly on the look out for smoking guns…

    Think about what this kind of behaviour is encouraging – a complete blanding down of political discourse. Politicians are going to be so s*&t scared of saying anything anywhere that is even slightly ‘off message’ that all you will do is drive discussion and decision making into back rooms. Is this really then a good outcome overall?

    Media watch had a good quote over the weekend from an editorial which asked whether the long term loss was worth the short term news fix. But then in these days of multiple channels, scoop would have run it if tv3 didn’t so perhaps it is an irrelevant choice now.

  3. Ben Thomas says:

    Martin/Peter – I didn’t discover this post until now. Apologies for my lateness.
    But the point I made in the wider piece was this: National don’t seem to be campaigning on a “deliberately misleading picture”. To use the SOE example – to me, saying you won’t sell assets in the first three years of your government is a clear, open and obvious statement that it is on the table as of year four. You don’t need amazing powers of exegisis to draw that meaning from the policy – just basic English.
    I refer you to Campbell’s quote that National is “prepared to wait patiently and eventually use the machinery of government to make those intentions more palatable to the public.” Sure. Welcome to the bully pulpit, if you want to frame it negatively, or “political leadership” if you want to put a positive spin on it. Labour has done exactly that with regard to the smoking ban, to civil unions, to WFF (Negative, positive and fairly neutral developments, respectively, just to show my biases on substance don’t affect my take on process). It has unsuccessfully tried to do so in order to carry through state funding of political parties.
    That is something different from the “hidden agenda” narrative Labour – and the secret taper – promoted.

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