Gordon Campbell sorts out the winenrs and losers in the NZ First donations saga:
At half time in the Winston Peters latest scandal – which seems to involve several money trails complex enough to merit inclusion in the Winebox – likely winners are beginning to emerge. And the main beneficiary is undoubtedly….the much reviled Electoral Finance Act. If New Zealand First’s shenanigans don’t make a convincing case for cleaning up the system by which political donations were formerly made in New Zealand, then nothing will. Unfortunately, most of the nanny state mileage has already been wrung out of the EFA – but at least the Act may now be spared further pounding during the election campaign.
Most opponents of the EFA accepted there were problems with the old system which needed to be addressed. But replacing an Act with flaws with a flawed Act created more problems than it solved.
Will the whole affair end up hurting Peters? It depends in which capacity. Peters has two levels of concern : seeing NZF get over 5 % nationwide, and winning back his seat in Tauranga. I think this affair will hurt him in Tauranga by making him look even more like the old, tainted goods that he was already portrayed as by Simon Bridges, the young National candidate and former Crown prosecutor standing against him. It is less clear the affair will hurt his party’s chances of getting over the 5 % MMP threshold in the election.
How so ? Peters will spin the criticism over the donations in exactly the same way that he spins the criticisms he gets over racism. Normally, around this point in the election cycle, Peters plays his triennial race card, and will attack ‘Asian’ migration – lumping together in the process Asians of all nationalities, brown people and Arabs into the same suspect category.
The donations affair has the same media dynamic. Conveniently for Peters, the media handling of his race gambit habitually assumes that Winston’s supporters are a bunch of rednecks, waiting only for the master manipulator to throw the switch. In fact, it is the response to this criticism that lifts New Zealand First’s boat, not the racism per se. What unites NZF supporters is their tribal dislike of Peters’ opponents, who are legion, and who include the big corporates and media commentariat. The trigger that fires up NZF’s poll ratings is the sense of persecution that these voters hold in common, rather than a shared belief system.
In previous decades, they used to call this the Citizens for Rowling syndrome. It entails an elite holding forth, unaware of how much it is disliked by the people that it aims to influence and enlighten. Rob Muldoon, Peters avowed mentor, would play those kind of critiques like a violin.
Peters is equally adept at fiddling though he’s striking more than a few wrong notes with this piece.
As the race tightens, the prospect is that a National-led government may become beholden to Peters once again, jeopardising any revolutionary centre-right agenda. John Key can probably take care of his enemies – but what is he telling the boardrooms about how he proposes to handle his budding friend from Tauranga, post election? This week, Key is telling the public is that he will wait for the election result. Thereby, National will be able to blame the public for landing him with the necessity of making an arrangement with Peters. In fact, both major parties can claim a reluctance to deal with Peters in future, but invoke democracy as the rationale for doing so. Neat.
So at half time and in a Graham Henry sense, who are the winners and losers?
Winners. for the reasons stated : New Zealand First, the Electoral Finance Act, and Winston Peters as party leader. Rodney Hide, who gets to play the indignant touch judge, in a situation where neither Helen Clark nor John Key can afford to complain directly to the ref. National, who were just starting to get stick for not releasing any substantive policy, when this affair obligingly swept everything else off the political agenda.
Losers: Winston Peters, as Tauranga candidate, for the reasons stated. Also : the New Zealand Herald, and the Dominion-Post. Both newspapers railed against the EFA, and – with a straight face – have now railed against the kind of arrangements practiced by NZF ( and in all likelihood, by other political parties who were laundering anonymous donations via trusts) that made the EFA, or legislation akin to it, essential. And oh, the public.
And oh, the truth which gets buried deeper by the day.