A couple of cases of insults or threats directed at MPs have been highlighted in the media recently. Obviously personal insults are out of line, and threats are abhorrent.
Such nastiness has surrounded politics forever, and the political right perfected the art during the Clark government. A cynic might think that the media choosing to focus on a couple of cases lately is an attempt to distract from the Nats’ multiple woes – just another aspect of a well oiled comms strategy.
But let’s for the sake of argument assume that political anger is actually increasing. If so, why? Andrew Little was interviewed on this yesterday:
‘Tough economic conditions’ a factor in threats to MPs
Mr Little said today that a change in the tone of online communications, combined with tough economic conditions, were factors in the recent behaviour by members of the public towards Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett and other MPs.
He stressed that he was not condoning threats against MPs, but that he had observed a “palpable” difference in anger from New Zealanders compared to a year ago. …
It would make sense if increasing economic and social stress was contributing to the problem. It would fit with the pattern of increases in mental health emergencies, in domestic violence, in child abuse, and suicide and attempted suicide in NZ. The worsening trends in this cluster of indicators – life under National’s “Brighter Future” – is probably the main explanation for increasing anger and aggression (does not excuse, does explain).
So I think Andrew Little is right on his main point, but unfortunately:
Labour leader Andrew Little says “well-paid PR operatives” are part of the “vicious” online commentary which he said could be contributing to threats against Government ministers.
I don’t think it was at all helpful to chuck “online commentary” in to the mix. It enabled the nauseating spectacle of Matthew “Chop chop for Nicky” Hooton getting on his high horse about what a nice guy he was – for the last 12 months at least. (I threw up a little.)
And I don’t think the tone of online commentary has deteriorated recently either. Rock bottom was set a decade ago by vicious attack blogs like Kiwiblog and Whaleoil. These were used as a deliberate part of National’s communications strategy, as set out in Dirty Politics (and summarised here).
What has changed, what has deteriorated, is the obvious tenor of political leadership. National’s use of dirty politics has been revealed. Key “leads” by lying, by attacking journalists and scientists, by pulling ponytails, by never apologising (except to his pet blogger). In Parliament Key is the most aggressive and bullying PM since Muldoon (throat slitting, get some guts, accusations of supporting rapists and so on). If there really is an increase in anger and aggression in political culture, then (and this should get the victims of KDSDS going!) look to the old saying. “A fish rots from the head down”.