Tribalism trumps principles

November 9, 2016

Had I been true to my principles I wouldn’t have voted for the National Party in 1984.

The big government, protectionist, high tax and spend policies Robert Muldoon and his government were pursuing did not align with my views on what was best for New Zealand.

I could have voted for Bob Jones’ New Zealand party, but I didn’t.

Why not?

I was a member of National, though not an active one, but still tribalism, my loyalty to the party, trumped my principles.

This must be what is happening in the USA.

So much of what Donald Trump stands for must be anathema to Republicans who want small government, a lightly regulated economy and free trade.

At least some Democrats must be more than a little concerned about Hillary Clinton.

But, even though polls show both candidates have more people who don’t want them than do, tribal loyalty will trump voters’ principles. They will vote/have voted for their party’s candidate and one of other of these unpopular people will become president.

Commentators who know far more about the USA, its politics and people than I do, are forecasting trouble whoever wins.

But political tragics forget that most people aren’t as wrapped up in the minutiae of politics and politicians as they are.

They overlook the fact that, imperfect as democracy in general and the way it’s operating in the USA at the moment in particular, is,  the vast majority of people where it’s been working, for better or worse, for hundreds of years, will accept the result.

And they don’t realise that, barring a major calamity, people carry on doing what they do as much in spite of governments and their actions as because of them.


Winners & losers in donations saga

July 28, 2008

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.


Peters digging own hole with Muldoon strategy

July 23, 2008

The ODT points out that Winston Peters is following Rob Muldoon’s strategy with critics.

… get in first with the verbal punches. If this does not work, try shouting down your opponents. Failing this, deny everything. Finally, ignore your accusers.

Winston Peters, who imbibed his political skills at Sir Robert’s knee, is trying a combination of all four strategies in the worst crisis facing his New Zealand First party in its 15 years.

So far, we have had a succession of embarrassing – but unacknowledged – retreats.

The refusal to repay the $158,000 owed to parliamentrary services, which has not been cancelled by donations of that amount to charity; the repeated denials over the $100,000 donation from Owen Glenn to pay his legal expenses; and now allegations of multiple donations to New Zealand First from the Vela family who are associated with fishing and racing.

Perhaps a majority of voters could not care less, but in the highly charged atmosphere of an election year, and at a time when many people are personally struggling, the familiar accusations of political hypocrisy and thoughts of a “plague on all their houses” will tend to stick.

Unfortunately for Mr Peters, he is left looking more hypocritical by the hour for this is, after all, the man who left the National Party to set up his own on the basis of “cleaning up” politics, ever ready to mount his white charger in the defence of hard-pressed “rorted” taxpayers, and to accuse every other political party of being funded by “secret donations”, of having “slush funds”, and therefore of being the captives of “big business”.

He has spent so much of his career talking about the need for honesty, integrety and transparency but has failed to uphold the high standards he expects of everyone else.

The chief accusation of the latest reports involving multiple donations for amounts just under $10,000 from 1999 to 2003 are serious because donations of more than $10,000 or multiple donations of smaller amounts from the same company or person in one year have to be declared under our electoral law.

They may well have been so declared – NZ First says all money received is accounted for and audited – but not declaring donations is a serious matter, as the Prime Minister pointed out.

Complaints to the appropriate authorities, such as the Auditor-general, registrar of pecuniary interests, or Inland Revenue, would be investigated if such allegations could be substantiated.

The Glenn donation, said to have been used for paying Mr Peters’ legal costs, might also fall into the category of needing to be declared in the ministers’ register of pecuniary interests.

Mr Peters holds the offices as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Racing and Associate Minister for Senior Citizens outside the Cabinet, in a support arrangement with the Clark Government.

Although that might appear to allow the Government room to distance itself from any fall-out, should the allegations have substance and damage further Mr Peters’ substantially diminished credibility, the Prime Minister must act.

She has publicly made a cautious caveat: “Until I think it’s seriously affecting the job he is doing, and I’ve stressed he’s done that job with integrity, I don’t have a concern.”

Didn’t she same something similar about David Benson-Pope?

In the meantime, the Speaker has received a complaint from Act New Zealand leader Rodney Hide that Mr Peters should have declared the Glenn donation, and complaints have already been laid by members of the public with the Electoral Commission and Inland Revenue over the donation, but these may be outside the time limit on complaints.

The National Party’s attitude is enigmatic and scarcely honourable: on the one hand it is busy condemning the Clark Government for supporting him as a minister and coalition supporter; on the other it is not ruling out dealing with NZ First should it be in a position to form a government.

That sadly is the political reality of MMP.

In private, Labour will be concerned about the way this affair could eventually damage it.

Miss Clark risks the prospect of being accused of double standards in the way she treats ministers tainted by scandals: unless Mr Peters can provide a more convincing explanation than he has so far for the Glenn and other donations, his case will inevitably be compared with the memory-losses of David Benson-Pope.

It is drawing a long bow, but the risk cannot wholly be excluded of Mr Peters being invited to relinquish his ministerial portfolios – especially Foreign Affairs – and retaliating by withdrawing his party’s support for the Government.

At that point an early election would be an inevitability, and should Mr Peters then be looking for another moral panic to attract the attention of voters in the election campaign he would need look no further than his own.

In the meantime, he is in a hole entirely of his own making.

And he’s still digging.


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