Lisa: “Dad, for the last time, please don’t lower yourself to the level of the mob”.
Homer: “Lisa, maybe if I’m part of that mob, I can help steer it in wise directions. Now where’s my giant foam cowboy hat and airhorn?”
-The Simpsons, ‘Whacking Day’
There’s an irony lost on New Zealanders relishing in the slaughter of a beached whale. For over a week, many of us have been consumed both by shock at the degree of unethical practices of Judith Collins, Cameron Slater, and potentially John Key and belated joy of comeuppance and revenge – clutching our metaphorical harpoons.
This is the venting of anger and frustration of six years of powerlessness on the left. Two terms of political opposition, an ineffective and often incompetent Labour Party, and a highly organised, generally popular government in alliance with well-followed, effective, sympathetic bloggers. With Labour opponents falling again and again to untraceable leaks, for many it became akin being at the mercy of a cruel set of schoolyard bullies who also happen to be the prefects. Though many in the political realm had suspected a darker ethical depths of Slater and connection to the Beehive there was little concrete proof, so many felt powerless to stop this and resorted to squabbling amongst themselves instead.
After the release of Dirty Politics, a renewed confidence has developed solely from the felling of the indestructible image of Slater and Key. Slater has been unable to defend his actions and attempts to pin the blame on Kim Dotcom have fallen entirely flat. More importantly, we relish in the fall of Key. Guyon Espiner’s brutal interview with Key on Radio NZ on Monday will be remembered as his worst yet: the evolution from charming and disarming to a clearly rattled robot repeating contradictory talking points regardless of the question. The newly empowered, baying mob demanding everything from the rolling of prized heads to the settling of petty scores such as the revocation of Slater’s Cannon Media Award – demanded by the runner-up.
The downside of this monumental turn of events is that this has nothing to do with a resurgence of left wing ideals or an effective grassroots political movement but entirely reliant on the revelations of Dirty Politics. That the root cause of dirty politics is the culture embedded within the parliamentary system should be cause for concern and unification on the left to do better. Duncan Garner confirmed from Press Gallery experiences the use of dark tactics by left wing parties including leaking personal or political information to the media by Helen Clark, Pete Hodgson, and former Alliance President and current Labour Chief of Staff Matt McCarten. One of Clark’s Minister of Immigration Lianne Dalziel resigned after leaking information about an asylum seeker deportation case. In fairness, left parties haven’t visibly plumbed to the depths of the revelations of Dirty Politics, but that hardly excuses past actions. Clark’s government existed prior to the realised power of the blogosphere, nor can collusion between the left blogosphere and left party organisations be ruled out in the past, present, or future. The only real difference of principle is that Labour politicians tended to leak straight to journalists, whereas National outsources traditional functions to private contractors – rather fitting for the government who started charter schools.
While Dirty Politics has been an incredibly important milestone in revealing the sinister nature of NZ politics, it can’t only be addressed in retribution, which will beget more retribution and rob the public of political debate. Without real debate on the legitimate issue of ethics in politics – which so far politicians on neither side appear to address at depth – real political power will continue to be concentrated in a self-interested political class of politicians and professional staffers on all sides, professional pundits, and politically obsessive social media types engaging in the theatre that is politics as sport – every event and policy reduced to winners and losers or, in this, case the hunters and the hunted.