The Conservative Party CEO and candidate says she'd want to get it in writing before trusting National

So I hosted an Epsom candidates' debate Thursday night; great turn out and lots of good questions from people in the audience of over 160. But there was a fascinating statement by Christine Rankin there that deserves a bit of news treatment.

At the end I asked the candidates about Dirty Politics. Apart from one loud groan from the audience, it was interesting to hear the replies. Predictably, the non-government candidates were appalled while Paul Goldsmith from National and David Seymour from ACT played it down.

I asked Goldsmith whether he'd be concerned if a member of his office staff went into the back-end of another party's website and whether he'd discipline that staff member. Goldsmith tried to laugh off the question by saying his two office staff probably wouldn't have the skills to do such a thing, but when I asked again he said if that happened he'd have to "look into it".

Which is more than his political boss John Key has agreed to do with Jason Ede. I'm still appalled that a senior advisor for any politician can go into another party's computer and "have a look around". Now while Key hasn't confirmed it, it's almost certain Ede downloaded the details he found there.

Imagine if Coke went into Pepsi's website. Or if Oxfam took the donor list from World Vision's website. Or if TradeMe took the credit card details from E-Bay's website. It would cause an outrage and heads would roll.

I suspect Key and co are kicking themselves at the rushed strategic decision they were forced to make on the night of Wednesday August 13 or the morning of Thursday August 14. Under pressure, my guess is that they the looked back at previous Hager books, they looked at Key's approval ratings and public trust, they looked at some of the details they knew they could deny and they backed themselves to spin their way out of it. And they may still achieve that goal.

However there has been a hit to #teamkey, possibly at this election and certainly at the next. Key's strategic calculations have long been well judged, but this time he's erred and badly. He certainly should have cut Ede loose then and probably Justice Minister Judith Collins as well. He could still have denied much of the book, but the sacrifices made would have shortened the media coverage and reassured voters that he was upholding the high ministerial standard he's promised.

Anyway, this was to be a post about Christine Rankin and the Conservatives. Rankin stressed in her opening statement that the Conservatives are a party of values and morals. Given that, I asked, where they concerned about National's dirty politics revealed in the book?

Rankin said it wasn't the Conservative's style and that Colin Craig was a moral man who wouldn't indulge in such tactics. But I pushed on whether her party could comfortable offer confidence and supply to a party that it struggled with morally.

She replied - and this is the headline - that the Conservatives would want something in writing reassuring them about National's standards before offering supply and confidence.

Which is hardly a vote for confidence from a potential coalition partner and could make for some interesting negotiations.

Comments (28)

by Kat on August 23, 2014
Kat

That the Conservatives would even consider coalition with a John Key led National party is the real story. Not to mention the possibility of sharing the bed with Act, so they would need to get a note there as well.

How does a piece of paper excuse involvement with an administration that is obviously rotten to the core.

 

 

by Alan Johnstone on August 23, 2014
Alan Johnstone

If you need a promise to be moral to be written down, then it's not worth the papaer it's written on.

Utterly irelevant though, the conservatives aren't getting into parliament. That ship has sailed.

by Nick Gibbs on August 23, 2014
Nick Gibbs

The leaking of a public servant's name to Whale Oil is unconscionable, but wondering around Labour's website which they left wide open? Ha! If labour are that dumb then you get what you deserve. And if Coke or Pepsi did the same then I'd offer the same response. While if a bank left their site open they'd be out of business with only themselves to blame.

by Nick Gibbs on August 23, 2014
Nick Gibbs

The leaking of a public servant's name to Whale Oil is unconscionable, but wondering around Labour's website which they left wide open? Ha! If labour are that dumb then you get what you deserve. And if Coke or Pepsi did the same then I'd offer the same response. While if a bank left their site open they'd be out of business with only themselves to blame.

by Kat on August 23, 2014
Kat

From the Herald today:

A former Whangarei Boys' High pupil who describes himself as a "hobby hacker" has exposed security flaws in the National Party's website.

Josh Brodie, formerly of Whangarei but now living in Wellington, said his discovery left Prime Minister John Key open to accusations of "throwing 'Labour left the security off' stones from within a glass house"

Dirty Politics, a book by investigative journalist Nicky Hager, said senior National Party staffer Jason Ede and blogger Cameron Slater had accessed information from a poorly secured Labour Party computer system.

Mr Key defended their actions, saying it was not hacking because the site's security had been "left off". He compared it to the All Blacks taking a peek at the Wallabies' starting line-up if they had left it unsecured on a private website. However, Mr Brodie said his investigation of political party websites had found private information on National's members-only site was also unsecured.......................

by Tim Watkin on August 24, 2014
Tim Watkin

Nick you seem to be focused on the politics of us and them and what you can get away with in a competition. I want better of my leaders. I don't want people just to get what they deserve if they (or their ISP) make a mistake. Remember a National Party that used to talk about "a decent society"?

Because put aside the politcs and whose website it was and what you think of that party (which was the point of my examples) and think of the people whose personal details were on that site. Do you say "Ha!" to them? Do they deserve to have someone else getting their hands on their credit card details? What if that was you?

Those people did a transaction in good faith and deserve privacy. If it had been ACC it would have been in the news and the CEO would be accepting it was unacceptable and things would change... if it was a company they'd be on Fair Go and we'd be outraged at the outfit that went in and helped themselves.

Am I wrong?

by Nick Gibbs on August 24, 2014
Nick Gibbs

Hi Tim. Yes you are wrong. Dirty politics works.

No the Labour donors didn't deserve to have their privacy breeched. Labour should have ensured that the data was secured. If a bank had been as careless, that bank would be insolvent the following day. Labour had the same responsibilities. All Nicky's Hager's book has shown is that dirty politics works. Whale looks through Labour's website, Hager hacks Whale's emails. The lesson is "get your act together" on security. We may lament the nastiness but but dirty politics works

 As a journalist if you had access to National's secrets, would you phone John Key and confess or have a look round to see if there was anything there that needed revealing "in the public interest"? 

Nicky Hager has also been careful to say he breeched secrecy not privacy. No non-political emails were released. Ede and Whaeloil had a look through a political website but did they actually name any Labour donors? ie breech privacy rather than secrecy?  I think not. They were just trolling through looking for information in the public interest. Like Nicky Hager's friend.

 

by Megan Pledger on August 24, 2014
Megan Pledger

If you blame Labour for not having their data secure then you have to blame National for not having their data secure on their own website (it happened twice according to The Herald) and blame Whale Oil/National for not having Whale Oil's data properly secured.   

The cost to Labour has been some embarrassment but National got just embarrased over that by looking unscrupilous and for Key to lose credibility - even if you think he wasn't lying, his understanding of the technical details was pretty poor. 

The cost to National for Whale Oil's data being insecure may be the election.

 

by Tim Watkin on August 24, 2014
Tim Watkin

Nick, ah well if it works, then let's just do it. That's a logic that justifies anything from hands at the bottom of the ruck all the way through to genocide. It's worldview without judgment or morality. No thanks.

Second, journalists publish in the public interest (no matter how many times they fall short of that the principle remains). Ede was working in the interests of the National Party. I don't think even he would have the gall to claim that his trolling was in the name of public interest.

 

by Nick Gibbs on August 24, 2014
Nick Gibbs

Let me frame my arguement. I don't think everything revealed by Nicky Hager is just business as usual. The leaking of Simon Pleasants name by Judith Collins should see her sacked. But if you leave your website wide open, well, complete incompetence has to have a consequence. And that's a price that Labour has to pay. If they had locked down their website and it was hacked then that's a different kettle of fish. You may feel I'm inconsistent here but so be it. As for National. Well, dealing with Slater has it's own consequences and that may mean a lost election. But none of the parties will be drawing a lesson about the need for cleaner politics from this. They'll all see how successful someone's been at smearing an opponent while hiding their own agenda and interests behind an anonymous curtain. It's dirty, it's worked and politics won't be the cleaner for it.

by Tim Watkin on August 24, 2014
Tim Watkin

Nick, I don't agree with the way you frame your argument regarding Labour. Just because someone makes a mistake doesn't mean an opponent has to exploit it in, let's be frank, a cheating way. As I said, just because you can doesn't mean you should. We teach our children that every day.

But putting that aside, you still seem to be missing my main point. That is, it's not just Labour paying the price. Even if we agreed Labour failed in its responsibility and deserve to be punished, what about the donors?

Those ordinary New Zealanders had their private information taken by someone they didn't give it to. Forget about Labour and National for a second and think about what they deserve. They weren't incompetent, they shouldn't have to suffer any consequences.

by Anne on August 24, 2014
Anne

@ Nick Gibbs

Further to Tim Watkin's reply to you. Can I direct you to Kat's Herald story on this post. It seems someone found their way through a back door to National's website not long ago but, unlike Slater and his little helper from the PM's Office, the person contacted them and told them about it. Nor did he download anything. 

Lucky for them eh?  Because they left their website wide open, and well, showed complete incompetence.  But I guess that's okay. 

 

by Andrew Geddis on August 25, 2014
Andrew Geddis

@Nick,

As for National. Well, dealing with Slater has it's own consequences and that may mean a lost election. But none of the parties will be drawing a lesson about the need for cleaner politics from this.

I'm a bit confused by this. Your starting point is that "dirty politics works", and that's the lesson all the parties will be taking from this episode. Yet, you're also saying that the dirty politics that National (allegedly) has been playing may end up costing them the election. That's an odd sort of "working". Further, exactly what benefit did National gain from Slater going into Labour's website and taking the data? It never was used ... and surely just as much embarrassment could have been created by alerting someone from the MSM that this security breach exists. After all, pointing out that your opponent is a bit hopeless isn't "dirty politics"!

They'll all see how successful someone's been at smearing an opponent while hiding their own agenda and interests behind an anonymous curtain. It's dirty, it's worked and politics won't be the cleaner for it.

Do you mean through Slater? Or do you mean Whaledump? Because I'm prepared to bet that with hindsight, National wouldn't have gone near Slater had they known his behaviour would become public. And as for Whaledump ... well, you can only "smear" someone if there's something to smear them with. Parties have the choice as to whether or not to provide that.

by Nick Gibbs on August 25, 2014
Nick Gibbs

If National left their website open then they deserve the same a Labour. Which is a loss of trust and credibility. For which you have to front up to. 

Andrew

Yet, you're also saying that the dirty politics that National (allegedly) has been playing may end up costing them the election. That's an odd sort of "working". 

Sure dirty politics has worked. It hasn't worked for National simply because they've been outplayed. But it's worked for Whaledump (as long as they remain anonymous, if Whaledump turns out to be KDC then the situation will be completely reversed.)

 

by Andrew Geddis on August 25, 2014
Andrew Geddis

Sure dirty politics has worked. It hasn't worked for National simply because they've been outplayed.

Now I'm starting to get a bit confused about what you are meaning by "dirty politics". If you mean that the whole hacking of Slater's computer/writing of the book/release of the source material via "Whaledump" is a partisan move to take down National on a par with the tactics that are discussed in Hager's book, then there's a fair bit of assumption built into that account. Sure, if Dotcom is behind it all, then we've been played like violins (albeit using stuff that is true - there's a significant difference between revealing that Judith Collins served up a public servant to death threats and actually doing this in the first place!). But aside from insinuation, why should we think that this is the case? 

Point being, if we label everything that happens "dirty politics", then of course "it works", because it encompasses everything. But is it right to equate Hager's book and the release of source material with what Slater, et al were up to? 

by Richard Aston on August 25, 2014
Richard Aston

Labour's web site wasn't "wide open" but it did have a back door left slightly ajar. 

If someone walked through my slightly ajar back door and stole my stuff I would of course kick myself but more than that I would still consider that person a thief. 

At the very least we can expect our political leader not to be theives or freinds of theives.  

Nick sounds like you are completely sucked into the National Party spin, so much so I would guess you are part of it but I will give you the benefit of the doubt. 

Your last sentence "if Whaledump turns out to be KDC " is a giveaway. That line is directly out of the Nats spin department with not a shred of real evidence to support it.

Its so important in this election, more than any other, for us all to strive to filter the spin from the real news . Its not easy , there is a lot of it about, but buggered if I am going be a passive vehicle for a political marketing department. 

 

by Nick Gibbs on August 25, 2014
Nick Gibbs

If you mean that the whole hacking of Slater's computer/writing of the book/release of the source material via "Whaledump" is a partisan move to take down National on a par with the tactics that are discussed in Hager's book, then there's a fair bit of assumption built into that account.

I do make that assumption, with the caveat that Nicky Hager is generally even handed in his treatment of left and right. But someone offered him all that material but has decided to remain silent themselves.  I believe in the courts you are now encouraged to draw assumptions from silence. 


by Nick Gibbs on August 25, 2014
Nick Gibbs

Richard

Nick sounds like you are completely sucked into the National Party spin, so much so I would guess you are part of it but I will give you the benefit of the doubt. 

I'm certainly sympathetic to National (not a member though) but like to think my readership of pundit is evidence of a decerning mind.

by Tim Watkin on August 25, 2014
Tim Watkin

Obviously reading Pundit shows true class!

by Andrew Geddis on August 26, 2014
Andrew Geddis

But someone offered him all that material but has decided to remain silent themselves.  I believe in the courts you are now encouraged to draw assumptions from silence.

Not yet ... it's simply being proposed that this rule change. However, we're not in court, so people can draw whatever conclusions they choose. I'm not convinced you're right, however.

by Jane Beezle on August 26, 2014
Jane Beezle

Tim - 

"the Conservatives would want something in writing reassuring them about National's standards before offering supply and confidence".

Wouldn't a confidence and supply agreement fulfil this?  Pretty standard stuff.

by Andrew Geddis on August 26, 2014
Andrew Geddis

Wouldn't a confidence and supply agreement fulfil this?  Pretty standard stuff.

I think you'll struggle to find a confidence and supply agreement in NZ that has a clause along the lines of "The Governing Party undertakes not to act in a morally questionable or ethically dubious fashion when conducting its politics"!

 
by Richard Aston on August 26, 2014
Richard Aston

Anne Salmond wraps it up well ..
"We have the right to live in a democracy where our leaders do not lie to us, or abuse their powers, or strip away our freedoms. They need to represent what's best, not what's worst about New Zealand. We are entitled to feel proud and confident about the way we're governed, not embarrassed and ashamed." 

 Which is at the other end of " oh well politics has always been dirty , fair enough" 

 

 

by Kat on August 26, 2014
Kat

Dame Anne Salmond:

"If the Prime Minister’s office has indeed worked with the SIS to attack the Leader of the Opposition, or colluded with a muck-raking blogger to vilify people who disagree with the ruling party, this is reprehensible, and a constitutional disgrace. It is the kind of governance that makes Kiwis feel terrible about their own country."

John Key just carries on as if "Dirty Politics" is all behind him, his latest defensive quip in the face of any questioning is "I think New Zealanders will look at it and make their own assessments."

He is talking over the media and directly to the electorate. Well, on September 20th there will be an 'assessment' and John Key and the National party are not going to like the result.

 

 

by Jane Beezle on August 26, 2014
Jane Beezle

Andrew -

You're being argumentative in the face of a reasonably pragmatic constitutional point I have made in response to Tim's article.

Both current confidence and supply agreements with the National government contain a preamble that include relatively general points about the shared "vision" of the parties.  The confidence and supply agreement is itself a pretty new constitutional document, and it has evolved since Winston Peters astutely brought it into existence to meet his own pre-election commitments to the voting public:

http://www.beehive.govt.nz/Documents/Files/NZFirst.pdf

Presumably it could evolve again to take account of Christine Rankin's comment, if it is given any credence in the post election wash up.

The pragmatic point here is that I can't see the Conservative and National parties refusing to work together simply because they can't find some woolly words about the joint "standards" of the parties.  As a lawyer, presumably you could help them find something.

But yes, you're right, your "suggested clause" doesn't look much of a starter.

 

by Andrew Geddis on August 30, 2014
Andrew Geddis

@Jane,

So - looks like Tim's post was pretty much on the money, and we're looking at something a little different to the sorts of preambles you point to in past Agreements for Confidence and Supply.

by stuart munro on August 31, 2014
stuart munro

Well I for one am glad to see the Conservatives wanting to talk about National's morality - it is a bit like the influence of friends and family being more normative than the protestations of political enemies.

If the Conservatives become a mature political force then they could be a positive influence on New Zealand politics - if they live up to the principles that they probably mean to profess.

It would not surprise me if moral and fiscal conservatism commanded a greater proportion of supporters on the right than extreme neo-liberalism and an enthusiastic program of covert ops.

by Jane Beezle on September 01, 2014
Jane Beezle

Andrew,

I'm very pleased to hear this.

Let's just hope that my cynicism about politicians and their promises is poorly founded.

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