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If you’re political, your opinion doesn’t count

Written By: - Date published: 9:31 am, November 14th, 2010 - 57 comments
Categories: activism - Tags:

It’s disconcerting to see National and its blogging lackies running smear campaigns against anyone who has what they deem to be “political connections”.

The government’s current strategy to deal to individual opposition is find a link to Labour or the Greens and dismiss the outspoken person on the basis of political bias. This tactic is not only underhanded and wrong, it’s incredibly damaging to our political culture.

In modern New Zealand we have a huge problem with political engagement. There are now relatively few people willing to stand up, organise, and voice an opinion. We shouldn’t be surprised that these few interested people have some connection to political parties. Of course they will. Political parties are one of the few places these people can get together and debate political ideas and policies.

In fact I would say those who have some level of political engagement are often the best people to voice and represent a position on an issue. They’re actively engaged and know the ins and outs of the issues.

Researching and smearing some poor individual because of political connections suppresses the voices of some of the few people in this country who are willing to speak out. It’s stifling of individual opposition and reduces the pool of opinion even further. Not only that but it puts off anyone else who ever thought of engaging politically.

We on the left have been guilty of this in the past as well. But I’m especially disturbed by the research and effort that has gone into this strategy recently by National and its allies.

It’s time to turn this strategy on its head. Let’s praise people for standing up and voicing an opinion. Let’s forget about whether they are or have been a member of Labour or the Greens or any other party. All citizens of NZ are entitled an individual opinion. And they deserve to have that opinion heard and respected, and not undermined by a vicious and nasty Parliamentary-run strategy.

– Simon S.

57 comments on “If you’re political, your opinion doesn’t count ”

  1. The Baron 1

    That’s not really the issue here though Simon. The problem is that these so called free and independent thinkers are running exactly the same lines as the Labour party. They are clearly politically aligned, and therefore are being called upon it. Far better to be upfront and admit your allegiances, rather than pretending to be neutral and unbaised and have your credibility called into question.
    I seem to remember that it is the left who first freaked out about parallel campaigns like this – remember the brethren? Despite the fact that this isn’t an election, how are are these shadowy proxy players any different in theory?

    • Bob Stanforth 1.1

      Nicely put, so, to summarise:


      Right, time for breakfast 🙂

    • How are are these shadowy proxy players any different in theory?

      Well one group was spending huge amounts of money supporting one particular party and thereby undermining election spending limitations imposed on all political parties. It is not a case of restricting free speech, just very expensive speech that may undermine the democratic process.

      The other group involves individuals who have clearly formed principled positions taking a stand against, as in the latest case, the stupidity of National’s slogan based educational policies.

      There are a million ($) differences …

      • The Baron 1.2.1

        Thanks for that example Greg – and you raise some interesting points.

        See if you were to stand up and give some clearly formed principled positions on the issues relating to conveyancing and will writing in West Auckland, I would probably take you as an expert. If however that was a strongly contentious political issue, I would probably write you off as being the nice little Labour lap dog that you are.

        BTW, still no answer as to how Te Atatu is coming along. Do you live in the electorate?

    • Ari 1.3

      Because the parallel campaigns weren’t honest about who they are and tried to excercise their “speech rights” through money. These are people standing up with their real names, not hiding behind piles of money, and simply speaking out. I have no problem with people doing that on the other side of the political spectrum, either, but your example is clearly disanalogous.

    • KJT 1.4

      Rubbish. I am a trained teacher and a Greens member. Haven’t supported Labour since 1984.
      Many Teachers against National standards voted National last election. Does their opinion count?

    • bbfloyd 1.5

      well done baron… a neat demonstration of exactly what the post is about..another, simpler example can be found in the H section of your dictionary.

      • The Baron 1.5.1

        Oh ok, so I look forward to you applauding the next time Don Brash tells us what he thinks as being free and independent advice from an expert ex-Governor of the Reserve Bank.

        But of course, that will be different then won’t it.

  2. Good post.

    The right’s campaign if you want to call it that recognises that left activists are entirely different to their right wing equivalents and much more likely to be active in campaigns to change people’s opinion.

    The left will do much more of the grassroots stuff such as letter writing, public protests, door knocking, petition gathering and blogging. The right rely on the MSM that it controls and a few paid professionals to do the same amount of consciousness forming.

    So this attempt to discredit leftie activists is an attack on our strength and an admission of their weakness. And it has this hypocritical underlying message that we are being “political” in wanting to improve the plight of the many whereas they are being “apolitical” in wanting to improve the plight of the already wealthy.

    They are acting like bullies the way they try and silence and marginalise dissenting voices. I agree that it is time that we stood up to them.

    • prism 2.1

      I think that it shows some unintended honesty from NACT – they are stating that they are only interested in serving their party political supporters. They aren’t in power to serve the country as a whole or waste their time listening to the ‘political ramblings’ of Labour and the Greens. who are virtually disenfranchised under this type of authoritarian, capitalist government.

  3. Lanthanide 3

    Do you have some examples of this happening that you can link to?

    • freedom 3.1

      you’re stirring aren’t you Lanthanide?
      That cannot possibly be a serious question.

      • Lanthanide 3.1.1

        No, I’m not stirring, and yes, it is a serious question.

        The example given by ianmac is “National Standards”, which is acceptable. But note that this isn’t mentioned anywhere in the posted article; the reader is just supposed to know what is being talked about.

        One of the aims of this site is to bring discussion of the left political space to a wider audience – it’s difficult to do that if your articles assume the reader knows what’s you’re talking about.

        • Zorr

          Just being doing a little Googling… but here are some examples

          This one is a little silly to say the least:

          A post on Red Alert referring to Audrey Young’s piece when Tolley tried to get the research removed from the Parliamentary Library because it was too “politically biased”:

          That is just the ones I found to do with claims of political bias in what should be a nonpartisan scientific debate. If I were to include the multiple articles showing Tolley being obtuse, misrepresenting, or just plain old lying there would be much more here.

          (total time taken for this was about 5mins – there is sure to be more out there)

        • Bunji

          There were also the attacks on people with Labour links who had been fired under the 90-day law without explanation. As though being Labour was a good reason to be fired…

          • Pascal's bookie

            And if you’re a member of the Labour party then it’s not possible to be sexually harassed by a National party minister, because you are obviously setting him up.

    • ianmac 3.2

      The whole debate Lanthanide, over National Standards is clearly framed around Left and Right. For example one of the spokesmen for the BOT was rubbished, not for his reasoning, but because he had Labour connections.

      • Joachim's 3.2.1

        Time to pick up the fact that ad homineim attacks are the only thing National has left in their emptying armoury.

  4. Joachim's 4

    I think that our current Cabinet have biased political connections and everyone of them, to a number, should be thrown out.

  5. ianmac 5

    Yesterday on Open Mike Pascal’s Bookie gave a link to a discussion between Maddow and Stewart. (Hope you don’t mind Pascal?)
    13 November 2010 at 11:41 am item 6
    Simon’s point above seems to be exactly what Stewart was concerned about in the USA. The debate is couched in a Left v Right rather than the validity of issues. Very dangerous because if we get used to condemning the ideas of the other side just because they are on the other side, then we are not very deserving of democracy.

    (50 mins)

    • Zorr 5.1

      Loved that interview. Despite the various criticisms that are leveled at Jon Stewart I still find him a very principled person with an excellent understanding of his place in society.

  6. J Mex 6

    My guess is that this post had to be a ‘guest post’ because pretty much every regular author from The Standard has at one point or another denounced the opinions of some “poor individual” because of ‘right wing’ or business connections.

    • KJT 6.1

      That is because the right wing are so often divorced from reality.
      Some of us also have “business connections”, but are concerned about the way society is heading.

    • r0b 6.2

      Interesting claim J Mex. Could you link to a couple of my examples of this please?

  7. Draco T Bastard 7

    Researching and smearing some poor individual because of political connections suppresses the voices of some of the few people in this country who are willing to speak out. It’s stifling of individual opposition and reduces the pool of opinion even further. Not only that but it puts off anyone else who ever thought of engaging politically.

    Sounds exactly like what NACT would want. Less people politically engaged means more people willing to believe their lies.

  8. Bill 8

    Y’know, if the parliamentary left actually stood for anything that was obviously distinct to what the parliamentary right stood for, then the smears wouldn’t matter. If an idea or thought was being discredited because of the political allegiance of the person disseminating the idea, but that person’s political allegiance was indicative of a distinct political ideology or programme, then the smear could easily be taken, turned around and used to promulgate the bigger ideological picture.

    But as is said time and time again, the left and the right of parliament are merely legs of the same beast. So the smear gains traction or efficacy in the same way as school yard name calling does. There is no deeper or meaningful come back that would make the name calling or smearing an expensive exercise for the perpetrator. All there is, is the to-ing and fro-ing of a vacuous popularity contest.

    Boil the jug and grab the bickies. Don’t bother to flick the remote, there’s only one programme and it’s showing on all channels. Cheap B grade TV mentality has crawled out of the box and infested our polity. Whoop.

    • freedom 8.1

      which is why many of us do not have any political party affiliations
      but still believe that the ideals of a principle, ie people over profit, is what matters

      the Left-Right paradigm of Politics boils down to an inability to face the core issue and instead dress it up with meaningless labels so all manners of confabulation can protract discussion thus avoiding any relevant action resulting in inordinate periods of unproductive naval-gazing and social programming that lead nowhere and consume anything that may have been useful.

      • Bill 8.1.1

        Yup. Basically. Not so sure about the protracted discussion though.

        The political discourse…(need a new term to describe the farce we are subjected to), has degenerated to evaluating the worthiness of issues on whether you’re a mate of John’s or a mate of Phil’s. Bearing in mind that people back winners and that Labour are perceived as being 5/8ths of f*ck all distance removed from National, once the affiliation…worthiness… is established, the issue (that was never subjected to scrutiny in the first place) disappears.

  9. trademark 9

    The battle for the apolitical, common sense, number 8 wire, she’ll be right centre continues…

  10. Jenny 10

    I have noticed that for a long time now, in fact from it’s inception that ACT Party is very quick to way into their critics as being “political”.

    Or when someone puts up an opinion counter to theirs, they are immediatly accused of “playing politics”.

    What I have oft determined is that what these right wing politicians label “politics” or “being political” is actually what other people would call democratic or calling for democracy.

    • Jenny 10.1

      Democracy is something that the right wing can’t stomach. This is why Roger Douglas invoked the policy of TINA, the philosophy that “Their Is No Alternative” (That is – to the neo-liberal policies that he and his followers espouse).

      If anyone dares suggest an alternative to their right wing neo-liberal nastiness they are condemned by ACT for playing politics.

      That this sort of dirty pool has spread to the National Party is disappointing but probably inevitable as ACT extremists seem to be the ones calling the shots in this administration.

      National should remember that it was Mussolini who on taking power famously declared the end of politics.

      This right wing mantra of being above politics was carried to it’s extreme by Hitler. Even the boy scout movement was considered “too political” for him, and was abolished.

      • Joachim's 10.1.1

        The greatest fear of the Right is that ordinary people become more politically aware and politically savvy. And coincidentally it is only when that happens that I think that politicians on the Left will get the courage they need to lead the country in the ways that we are looking for.

  11. Certainly I’ve heard (not necessarily from Standard authors) opposition to critics of the last government based on the affiliations of the people making the criticism.

    For example, there was the campaign about the lost generation of people leaving the country, whose voice was attacked because he’d gotten support from the Business Round Table.

    Similarly, John Boscawen was attacked during his campaign against the Electoral Finance Bill, not just for his message, but because he was an ACT member and associate member of the Business Round Table. It was suggested that these memberships devalued his message.

    • Anne 11.1

      @ Graeme Edgeler
      He was attacked because a large portion of his ‘message’ was in fact spin and misinformation. At best, his campaign was based on an exaggeration of the truth and at worst, it was a total misrepresentation of the truth. That’s not to say there weren’t gremlins in the Electoral Finance Bill, but most could have been rectified without the politically motivated vilification – much of which came from Boscawen. The huge irony of his campaign was the many thousands of dollars he poured into it which was the precise reason the Bill came into being in the first place. To prevent politicians like him from tilting the playing field in their favour by ‘buying’ electoral success.

      • As someone who was fighting for amendments to our political financing system, I can tell you that this isn’t true.

        And thank you for proving my point.

        • tea

          Yes the Electoral Finance bill was the height of rational discussion I recall.

          When does the statute of limitations on the ‘it’s ok they did it’ run out?

          There is a bankruptcy of ideas at the moment anyway. There’s no discussion about where NZ is headed or why we are headed that way. That is supposed to be the election process I guess but it is hard to recognise select committee-less instant democracy.

          Did the EFB pass under urgency? There is a dismissal of all criticism ‘hand-wringing academics’ and ‘latte-sipping’ whatever Cosgrove said for example.

          Criticism of this kind is about shutting down the debate-will be interesting to see the response to Roger Kerr, Wheldon etc printed in the Sunday Star-Times.

        • Anne

          Graeme Edgeler
          I read Boscawen’s newspaper advertisements very carefully. Some of his claims concerning the political outcomes of the Electoral Finance Act were bollocks and I suspect you know it. I have proved no point of yours. What “amendments to our political financing system” you may have been advocating for at the time have nothing to do with the point I was making.

          Yes, the bill was hastily put together (due to lack of time) and it was less than perfect. But it was a first attempt to address a problem of inequitable political financing, and the questionable ethics being used by the National and Act Parties at the time. If the truth is known they’re probably still doing it too.

          “John Boscawen was attacked during his campaign against the Electoral Finance Bill, not just for his message, but because he was an ACT member and associate member of the Business Round Table.”

          A bit of bs there mate. It was Boscawen doing 90% of the attacking, and it went on relentlessy for all of 2008. Did you expect Labour to sit on their hands and not defend themselves against his claims?

          • ianmac

            Ironic that MPs are calling for openness for judges re their interests and their Trusts. Hypocritical given that MPs have so much in hidden Trusts.

          • Graeme Edgeler

            Yes, the bill was hastily put together (due to lack of time) and it was less than perfect.

            Time was not lacking to put the bill together. The election for the 48th Parliament was in September 2005. The EFB was introduced in July 2007, almost two years later. Given that regulation of political finance was in Labour’s manifesto in 2005 and 2002, one would have hoped they’d be able to do something without being rushed.

            A bit of bs there mate. It was Boscawen doing 90% of the attacking, and it went on relentlessy for all of 2008. Did you expect Labour to sit on their hands and not defend themselves against his claims?

            Boscawen played the ball the entire time. He stayed completely away from the Free Speech coalition and their dictator billboards precisely because he didn’t want to attack the people responsible. He wanted to attack a government policy. And he held a government responsible for that policy. He never argued that people should be ignored because of their political affiliations (as people within the Government argued he should be because of his)

            When does the statute of limitations on the ‘it’s ok they did it’ run out?

            I’m not saying attacking the person is okay. I’m saying it’s not okay. I’m saying it’s not okay when National does it, and it’s not okay when Labour does it, but that its hypocritical and dishonest to claim National does it and Labour didn’t.

            The Labour Government, and supporters of it argued against John Boscawen and said his arguments were worthless because of his political affiliations. He did not do likewise.

            Some of his claims concerning the political outcomes of the Electoral Finance Act were bollocks and I suspect you know it.

            Boscawen’s advertisements were mostly against the Electoral Finance Bill. It would have banned political parties from issuing press releases in election year. It would have required people handing out political leaflets at rallies to make statutory declarations before doing so, etc. etc. I recall there being a few problem with his first newspaper ad against the EFB, but he listened to Steven Price and myself, and had them corrected is his second. Although I was on the other side, his campaign was a prototypical real issues-based campaign, focussing on real arguments and policy: not vapid statements and one-liners.

            But it was a first attempt to address a problem of inequitable political financing, and the questionable ethics being used by the National and Act Parties at the time.

            This was the major problem with it. The Labour Party had knowingly overspent at the 2005 election, by hundreds of thousands of dollars, but the government didn’t recognise it was the problem. It’s disappointing that supporters of it still don’t. Something needed to be done, but it needed to be done in respect of actions undertaken on all sides.

            • mickysavage

              For me the friustrating part of the debate concerning the EFA was the failure of many to actually address the specifics. I agree that this was not helped by timing, it would have been better for a shorter less ambitious bill to be introduced for consultation although compared to this Parliament’s attempts at consultation the effort by the last Labour Government looks to be exemplary.

              Firstly as to the need either you cap election spending or you do not. NZ has had caps for many many years and I do not know of one Western Democracy that does not have caps. Without caps the wealthy will win most of the time. If people prefer this then I guess they oppose caps.

              If you accept there should be caps then a third party identification certification and limitation regime is vital.

              2005 showed a third party (Exclusive Bretherens) being willing to spend a huge amount of money ($1m) supporting one party (National).

              Secondly if you want transparency then you need to know who are making donations. The obligation for accumulators to say where their money was coming from was addressed to this point.

              To me the EFA was a fair attempt to address these two issues. Unfortunately the debate became really clouded. For me I thought that it was because many (not all) preferred to prevent it rather than actually address the details.

              • NZ has had caps for many many years and I do not know of one Western Democracy that does not have caps.

                1. New Zealand has not had spending cap “for many many years”. Although electorate campaign spending was capped prior to MMP, political party spending was not.

                2. The following western countries are among those that do not have spending limits for national elections: The United States of America. Australia. Norway. I am sure there are others, but haven’t the time to make a list 🙂

  12. Fisiani 12

    If you’re political, your opinion doesn’t count
    Not in Mana it don’t.
    The by-election has 7 candidates
    3 Left 1 centre 2 Right and one single issue
    Kris Faafoi -the lightweight token PI annointed by Phil Goff (the clear favourite by a country mile)
    Matt McCarten -the feisty union official campaigning for traditional Left values
    Jan Logie -the giggling flaky watermelon (outside green but red inside)
    Hekia Parata – the Maori from Ruatoria who refuses to accept being brown or poor dooms you to failure. Hopefully she will be given a 365 day work trial as MP for Mana
    Colin du Plessis- the bumbling foot in mouth ACT refugee from SA
    Sean Fitzpatrick- the fundamentalist but actually likeable Martial arts teacher
    and the Cannabis guy.
    All openly believe in their cause and nail their colours to the mast.
    You are defending the deceivers who masqerade as independant commentators when they are in fact committed Lefist agitators. You are only annoyed that they are found out so often.

    • Marty G 12.1

      the school board people aren’t “masqerad[ing] as independant[sic] commentators”. They are members of the boards, speaking on the boards’ authorities. That they also happen to be politically active is neither here nor there, they never claimed to be non-political and there is no bar on a politically active person being on a Board of Trustees.

    • Joachim's 12.2

      Everyone in NZ should become a little more politically aware, and that means that more people will be – or should be – politically active. They will are popping up everywhere.

      And since the Right hate turnout and political awareness amongst ordinary workers, this will be a particularly sharp needle.

  13. Zanzibar 13

    I disagree that the Left own MSM and we are more into protest. Protest and media attantion dovetail. Case in point – so it’s OK when our side might say use a friendly Editor to savage the National party by managing a lobbying campaign that we’ve organised via massive collusion with affiliates like churches eg 0.05 saves lives, and not declare the allegiance to the political strategy? Ally Sue Bradford is running media training for community groups interested in 0.05 advocacy – a key tactic in our electioneering.
    Does the allegiance just come off so obvious in game, set and match as to who is behind the astro-turfing, as to make declarations to the Public of ones affiliations unnecessary? When Editors are saying bad Ministers, bad Party and Good MPs, good Party yonder at every possible juncture. Or do the connections just not matter, because Editors cannot possibly be biased or leveraged?
    It is considerd so important in a democracy to know who owns the horses mouth in America (lest the Public interest be undermined) that astro turfing with sock puppets and so forth is an offence against the spin drs professional organisations conduct code. Sock puppet editors including bloggers if media trained would have to cop to whether they had convivial meetings with PR agents for their fave political party, or else face disciplinary action. Declare NOW is the rule.

  14. BLiP 14

    Are you now or have you ever been a member of . . .

    . . . how long before that’s the first question on any public service job application?

  15. Carol 15

    Matthew Hooton on Nine-to-Noon this morning dismissed Jane Kelsey’s views on free trade by saying she is a “mad conspiracist”. Kathryn Ryan said, “You can’t say that.” Hooton said, that she is and that she’s a extremist far left winger… ie, that means her latest book is irrelevant according to Hooton.

  16. Anne 16

    @ Graeme Edgeler 12:43am
    You make some salient points with which I agree, but I cannot agree with your seeming assumption that Boscawen’s motivation was genuine. I guess my view of his role in the EFA debate is coloured by a previous experience. For a short time I was in a unique position where I could observe him (together with some of his political friends) first hand. To say I was less than impressed is an understatement.

    “The Labour Government and supporters of it argued against John Boscawen and said his arguments were worthless because of his political affiliations.”

    I’m not saying some in Labour didn’t make that observation but, in my view, it pales into insignificance compared with some of the claims made by National and it’s supporters against members of the Labour govt.

    This year I have seen and heard Boscawen in parliament manipulating temperature soundings and related figures in an attempt to discredit NIWA in a not unsimilar way to his discrediting of the EFA. As someone who in the past contributed to those soundings, I have even more reason to question his motivations and honesty.

  17. Anne 17

    Oh dear. Forgot to hit reply. Sorry.

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