Whether or not Labour changes its leader, the MPs gathered in Wellington today need to stop blaming everyone else and take a long, hard look at themselves

Labour MPs travelling to Wellington today for their first post-election caucus will have their heads crammed full of theories, accusations and advice from all and sundry. But here's the message for them to keep front and centre whichever direction they choose as a party: You've got to earn it.

As the party has wrestled with itself in the past three years, the attitude of some MPs has seemed to be that politics works in cycles and, whatever they do, Labour's "turn" will come again soon, in the same way the sun rises and sets.

What's true is that governments tend to lose elections, rather than oppositions winning them. But to interpret that to mean Labour can faff around until Key & Co sink themselves or the public gets bored with them is foolish in the extreme.

Not only does it ignore the modern realities of MMP, the rise of the Greens (and New Zealand First), the shrinking of its own base, and the popularity of John Key, it misses the glaring point that despite a barrage of questions about National's integrity and decency in government, voters preferred to trust it with power. Even more power than before. Labour just didn't look like a government-in-waiting; it didn't look ready.

And to merely blame that lack of trust on the shadow Kim Dotcom and Hone Harawira cast over the left is to miss the point again.

You've got to earn voters' trust. You've got to look disciplined, competent and as if you have the interests of the nation at heart. That's what swing voters want to see, as much as "centrist" policies.

I don't think you can say that the policy mix is perfect, as policies send messages of their own and need to be part of a single strateegy. But it wasn't policy that lost the election.

I don't think you can say the organisation as perfect, as turnout was still lower than the left would like and it seems money has always been a problem for Labour since Mike Williams's presidency ended. But it wasn't organisation that lost the election.

Some are blaming the media. Were they the problem? Sure some deserve criticism, but that's nothing new for either side. What those blaming the media fail to understand is the power of the narrative and how voters see the big picture of politics. For example, you might reaosnably argue that Bill English's 'no new ideas' moment on The Nation was as telling as Cunliffe's CGT pause at The Press debate. But from the public's view, one fitted the narrative of a man who had form when it came to not knowing the detail of his own policy, while the other was a lapse amidst six years of perceived wider competence.

So those gathering MPs shouldn't waste time blaming others, they should simply look hard at themselves.

Put simply, it was Labour's people that lost the election. The leader, the past leaders, the MPs. All of them. Voters looked at them and – let me stress this again – even with all the doubt created by Dirty Politics (not to mention asset sales and more), still trusted them less than National.

Let's not pretend this election was lost in the campaign – it was lost through Shearer's communication problems, Cunliffe's lack of a plan when he took the leadership and inexplicable disappearance last summer, and the factions refusing to support the guy in charge.

Because of the choices made inside that Labour caucus, the party wasted three years.

That first term after 2008 was the time to fight over the soul of the Labour Party, to inject some new ideas and new talent. Phil Goff was the perfect caretaker and allowed some challenging ideas through, such as raising the super age and a capital gains tax. But the fighting continued even after Goff. Shearer failed to perform, Cunliffe failed to accept defeat, factions failed to put the wider party first; there's plenty of blame to go around.

Those in the centre of the party saw Shearer as their salvation, but the reality didn't match the idea.

Those on the left of the party agitated for Cunliffe hoping he could win on a more blatantly left-wing platform. But if that as ever going to be possible, it would only have been in 2011 when a "bugger the markets" approach may have had some traction. That moment has passed.

So Labour now needs to make a choice: either become a niche left-wing party of no more than 25 percent support or reach back into the muddy centre, take the fight to National (and New Zealand First) and aim again for the mid to late 30s. And that choice needs to be made swiftly so that the narrative can be changed and voters has enough time to learn to trust Labour again.

The problem is that Labour has no more room for mistakes. As Goff has wisely said, it needs to "measure twice and cut once". Whoever is leader at the start of 2015 needs to be the leader in 2017, or it'll be hopeless.

I don't know who that leader should be. Can Cunliffe change people's first impression of him and therefore change the narrative? Or is a fresh face needed? If so, the same problem remains as before – there's no obvious leader who ticks all the boxes

But what those MPs need to remember as they choose which path to take is that they have to earn a chance at victory in 2014; if they merely wait for their turn, it may never come.

 

Comments (65)

by Lee Churchman on September 23, 2014
Lee Churchman

Some are blaming the media. Were they the problem? Sure some deserve criticism, but that's nothing new for either side.

Well, that would be ignoring stuff like this.

http://thedailyblog.co.nz/2014/09/19/the-donghua-liu-affair-the-players-...

Of course it's David Cunliffe's fault that TV3 and the Herald were colluding with bloggers and members of the government to entrap him. I don't know if I've ever seen that happen before. Note that only ten minutes after the supposed "release" of the letter, John Armstrong had a column up calling for Cunliffe to resign.

by Ross on September 23, 2014
Ross

I agree Lee. The media have been complicit in gotcha politics and it's clear that they will continue to use such a strategy again.

Tim, you might like to explain where the "muddy centre" is and what that means for Labour. Does it mean that unpopular policies need to be discarded? Surely not, because asset sales aren't popular.

by tussock on September 23, 2014
tussock

Helen Clark pulled off a 12 point shift in the Labour-National gap from '96 to '99, after a "terrible" result of just 28%. Wasn't that basically about quieting the internal dissent, getting the nerd to learn some facial expressions, holding steady, and waiting for Judith Collins to roll John Key and take a hairpin right turn?

I mean, Shipley roll Bolger, obviously, after a great turnout for National inspired the loons. Silly me. That man they kept dragging to the left with popular social policy until his party exploded in rage and kicked themselves out of office for nine years (until they learnt to moderate their behaviour again).

by Lee Churchman on September 23, 2014
Lee Churchman

So Labour now needs to make a choice: either become a niche left-wing party of no more than 25 percent support or reach back into the muddy centre, take the fight to National (and New Zealand First) and aim again for the mid to late 30s.

They can try to do that, but it will just cost them as much support as they gain, since people will either defect to the Greens or stop voting altogether. Or they could try the moderately left policies they had this time once again, but that would result in most of the media dogpiling them once more.

The hard truth is that if you're a centre left voter in NZ, you might as well stay home on election day.

by Chris Eichbaum on September 23, 2014
Chris Eichbaum

The irony is that if the fault does rest with the Caucus - and on that matter I am agnostic - this simply adds weight to the arguments of those who want to assert greater Party (ie non-Parliamentary Party) control over them. And we've been there before; and it was in 1987 when the message from the Party leadership was that the only way to put the brakes on the policy excesses of the leadership of the time (ie before David Lange's epiphany) was to contest selections (remember the ugly scenes in West Auckland as Michael Bassett confused commodore and commissar in directing his invective at then President Ruth Dyson). For the greater part of the late 1980s the Labour Party was the unofficial opposition to its own Parliamentary wing. Tim's analysis is sound, but the Party as a whole needs to manage the risks associated with a disconnect between Caucus and its leader, and between the organisational and Parliamentary wings. It is time for a first principles review, and to put the leadership question to one side for the time being (assuming that Caucus can muster the maturity and discipline to do that ...). There's a chap in Christchurch by the name of Anderton who has a pretty good understanding of both wings of the Labour Party, and of how to win elections. Perhaps someone should give him a call.

by Peggy Klimenko on September 23, 2014
Peggy Klimenko

"What those blaming the media fail to understand is the power of the narrative and how voters see the big picture of politics."

Hang on a minute: this strikes me as a shade disingenuous. I know that the media rolls its collective eyes when it's blamed for an electoral outcome such as this; but the unavoidable fact is that the media constructs the narrative. Where do you think the public gets its view of both players and process from, if not from the media? It's true that young people don't watch TV or read newspapers: but they don't vote, either. No doubt they make up a large chunk of the "missing million".

We've been out of New Zealand recently; we left just after "Dirty Politics" was published, and I took a copy with me to read on the plane. I was profoundly shocked by what it revealed, and by the evidence trail reaching right into the PM's office. The take-home message of that book for me was of a concerted campaign to shift NZ politics to the right of the centre ground. And complcit in that campaign - wittingly or not - has been the mainstream media. Moreover, this campaign goes back to the Brash era, long enough for it to have now created the default narrative. It's embedded into news reporting in general, but TV in particular, I think. And TV is where the voting public largely gets its news, and from which it forms its opinions. In my view, the opposition parties didn't stand a snowball's chance in hell of making a dent in the prevailing narrative, no matter how well-organised they were.

It seems as if at least some (though not all) of Labour's travails stem from a sort of feedback loop between the media and the party. It's hard to tell if the public perception of Cunliffe, for instance, has been influenced by media views based on leaks from other Labour MPs, or whether those leaks have come as a result of what the media has reported about Cunliffe. Some people think that he walked into a right-wing media campaign to undermine him, and that he hadn't a hope of fending off those attacks. We could be forgiven for suspecting that this is what's happened.

Whatever the truth may be, what Hager found suggests that the chain of responsibility for those dirty tactics goes right up to the PM. From what I've seen, he hasn't answered some pretty hard questions. And now we have National - a party and leader, the ethics and integrity of which are at the very least open to question - with enough seats to govern alone. This is the worst of all possible outcomes.

by Lee Churchman on September 23, 2014
Lee Churchman

Excellent post, Peggy. I agree 110%.

by barry on September 23, 2014
barry

So a OIA request about Pyke Roiver is released today.  Not last week.  I wonder why?  But when it suits them they decassify and release stuff in minutes.  And the media lap it up.  the Bill Liu story was not Cunliffe's letter but hwat did the National MPs letters in the file that weren't released say and why not.  Don;t say that the media a large part of Labour's problem.

But yes the caucus were also a large part.  they gave the media and National ammunition.  So now they need to unite behind a leader and work together for 3 years.  Who can that leader be?  Maybe the only choice is Kelvin Davis.  All the rest will have too much baggage.

by Ian MacKay on September 23, 2014
Ian MacKay

I heartily agree with Lee and barry and Peggy. Even tonight the MSM is weighing in, in describing the Labour turmoil in the worst possible terms. No matter what the participants say it is twisted into a convenient chaotic tragedy.

And Tim you are complicit in creating the negative portrayal. I would be impressed if you followed up on the evidence of mass surveillance and even asked searching questions about Jason Eade instead of just accepting the PM's smoothe unlikely version. If it had been a David Cunliffe avoidance you would have hammered him to hell. Be interesting to see if any followup of the missing OIA re Pike River is even given a light dusting. Do not embarrass the PM will you Tim.

by Anne on September 23, 2014
Anne

Brillaint summation Peggy Klimenko.

The only words I would change:

 And now we have National - a party and leader, the lack of ethics and integrity of which are no longer open to question...

 

by Katharine Moody on September 23, 2014
Katharine Moody

So a OIA request about Pyke Roiver is released today.

Form my understanding of the Campbell Live news item - their many requests from the big players (Solid Energy, MBIE, DOL etc.) had been stymied much in the same manner as Dame Beverley is going to investigate as a result of the ex-Customs legal whistleblower;

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11327328

Basically, the big players have been operating in accordance with Ministerial directives - release nothing under OIA that might embarrass the Government - regardless of what the law says you should release.

So what Campbell Live did was approach a different player (Work Safe NZ);

http://www.business.govt.nz/worksafe/about/who-we-are

Being a Crown Entity, they are a bit more independent from the executive than the others - and this might be why they answered the request properly, as opposed to as their Minister might have liked them to.

The timing is to me more a result of Dirty Politics (innappropriate Ministerial oversight and direction) and Campbell Live just hit the jackpot in finding a way around it.

But that's just guessing as a result of watching the program just once and attemtping to read between the lines.

by Katharine Moody on September 23, 2014
Katharine Moody

@Ian, yes, where is Jason Ede?  Surely Cheryl Gwyn will be taking his testimony under oath very soon.

by Tim Watkin on September 23, 2014
Tim Watkin

Lee, there are questions around the Liu story I don't have the answers to, but there's a risk you're drawing too long a bow. Journalists work with parties of all hues to get documents and rumours and research that leads to stories. The use of OIAs for political purposes seems to be something new and perhaps the media need to learn to be more careful about that (perhaps even much more careful) – but news organisations always rush to be first, they always work with opponents to catch out some MPs...

Peggy, I do roll my eyes at some of that. Of course journalists write a narrative and judgment is involved in that, but they don't pull it out of their ears. It begins with the politicians. Journalists didn't make Cunliffe ease off after winning, or get his facts wrong, or just writing from the moment he arrived about trust issues and party divisions. They come from Cunliffe's behaviour and the leaks from his own colleagues who complained about not trusting him and so on.

Of course there's a right-wing campaign to undermine him; there was a left-wing campaign to undermine Key when he started, just as there was a right-wing campaign to undermine Clark when she started and so on. Look at what Muldoon did to Rowling.

I'm not excusing the behaviour exposed by Nicky, but you're being very selective in your memory. New leaders always get a bit of grace from the media and a chance to tell their new story and clearly you missed the week after week of "hard questions" asked of Key about Dirty Politics. Oh, and talking about "mainstream media" as if it is a single thing makes no sense – it's a brutally competitive world with all kinds of agendas and viewpoints. I'd suggest that the failings of the media are more to do with competition in a instant news world than any right-wing/media collusion. Sometimes the rush to be first forbids the time to stop and think. Modern media platforms steal the time to think, but on the other hand the media race is nothing new.

by Tim Watkin on September 23, 2014
Tim Watkin

Gee Ian, have you just decided to ignore what doesn't fit with your world view? Did you notice the pressure on Key and Collins? Have you watched the stand-ups day after day for several weeks after Dirty Politics was released - about Ede, Collins, Pleasants? Have you not read the endless column inches?

I get that you're frustrated more wasn't pinned on a government that you don't like, but Cunliffe has never had a month or coverage on the same story over and over again, as Key faced. Let's just keep some grip on reality, eh?

by Peggy Klimenko on September 23, 2014
Peggy Klimenko

@ Anne: "And now we have National - a party and leader, the lack of ethics and integrity of which are no longer open to question..."

Yes, I guess that you're right; I was probably being more generous than the situation warrants.

@ barry and Katharine Moody: I'm also very suspicious about the OIA release on Pike River being today, rather than last week. And before "Dirty Politics", I'd probably just have seen it as the process taking time to work through. But from now on, I'll be looking at all such conveniently timed releases and the like with a sceptical eye; absent evidence to the contrary, I'll be assuming that it's dirty politics business as usual.

Last week, I heard both Tim Watkin and David Slack speaking in a forthright manner about the dirty politics issue. And mighty heartened I was to hear it, having been astonished to discover on my return to NZ that the polls had barely moved. They're both correct: the issues of integrity and trust go right to the heart of the political process, and are of prime importance. A government involved in the vileness revealed by Hager cannot claim to be trustworthy.

But since we're stuck with National for another three years, we ought to be putting them - and all other political parties - on notice that we won't tolerate behaviour of that sort in our politicians. And I think that I'm justified in expecting journalists to take the lead in this.

by Peggy Klimenko on September 24, 2014
Peggy Klimenko

@ Tim Watkin: " clearly you missed the week after week of "hard questions" asked of Key about Dirty Politics."

Yes, I did miss all that. I said earlier that we left NZ shortly after the book was published; we were away for three weeks. The day we left, I heard Guyon Espiner give the PM a good grilling. Not that he got anything but spin in response, as far as I can recall. By the time we returned, such hard questioning as there had been was clearly in the past. This was the puzzle for me: the issues raised by "Dirty Politics" cut right to the heart of government, and are so serious that it was difficult to believe that questioning about them could be over so soon. Given that NZ doesn't feature in European news bulletins at all unless there's been a catastrophic earthquake - and given what the polls were like on our return! - I think I can be forgiven for wondering if there'd been any concerted attempt to call out the PM, beyond Espiner's interview.

Yes, I'm aware of the difficulties under which journalists here labour; many of you have talked and written about it. Nevertheless, what I've described is how the news reporting and journalism comes across to me and many others. Moreover, Hager shows us an unedifying picture of some journalists apparently in thrall to the right-wing attack bloggers.

"New leaders always get a bit of grace from the media and a chance to tell their new story..."

Indeed they do. But it did seem to me that Cunliffe's honeymoon might have been about the shortest on record - and the PM's appears to have been about the longest. A member of this household has proffered the view that at the rate things are going, his honeymoon is set fair to last longer than Clark's entire time in office.

I'm not suggesting that Cunliffe hasn't made mistakes; the way it looks to me, though, is that he was cut no slack at all by the media, or by some of his colleagues.  The PM, on the other hand, has had endless amounts of slack cut for him, despite mistakes and slip-ups, right from the earliest days of his tenure.

"talking about "mainstream media" as if it is a single thing makes no sense – it's a brutally competitive world with all kinds of agendas and viewpoints."

Correct; "mainstream media" is a bit coarse-grained, but if I were to differentiate, I'd still be here this time tomorrow. In addition, it's a useful catch-all for primetime TV news programmes, the sole source of many people's information about politics.

"I'd suggest that the failings of the media are more to do with competition in a instant news world than any right-wing/media collusion."

I don't doubt that for the most part, this is dead right. However, Hager did shine a light on a state of affairs that looks suspiciously like collusion between the right and at least some of the media.

It may well be the case that Bismarck's observation about laws "like sausages: it is better not to see them being made" also applies to the political process and the reporting of it. But I think most of us who watch politics would prefer it to be cleaner than Hager's book shows it to be.

by Katharine Moody on September 24, 2014
Katharine Moody

Have you watched the stand-ups day after day for several weeks after Dirty Politics was released - about Ede, Collins, Pleasants? Have you not read the endless column inches?


I've not seen Ede chased or interviewed at all. He just disappeared into thin air, or no one went looking. Today everyone ran the PMs press release to say he had resigned - and still, no one's looking, or even questioning, as far as I can see. And no one is brutalising Cam Slater either - you know, chatching him outside his house and asking whether he's still got the PM on speed dial .. or how his advertising dollars are holding up .. or whether he's yet ready to admit that 80% of the hits to his website have been found to be bots. And what about Lusk and Odgers - where are they, why aren't media hounding them for comment?  You know, ask Cathy what she meant by chop, chop - and how many Russian oligarchs she launders money for.

I for one want to get to know these pond scum better. The more we understand about them - how they respond under media pressure - whether they enjoyed the party while it lasted .. that's the investigative reporting I'd like to see, Tim.

They have played far more important roles in our society than the three Filipinos that used to work for the Dotcoms - and somebody got on a plane to the Phillipines to inteview them.

by Katharine Moody on September 24, 2014
Katharine Moody

@Peggy

I think I can be forgiven for wondering if there'd been any concerted attempt to call out the PM, beyond Espiner's interview.


No there wasn't. After that one, JK canned all one-on-one studio interviews.

by Lee Churchman on September 24, 2014
Lee Churchman

Lee, there are questions around the Liu story I don't have the answers to, but there's a risk you're drawing too long a bow. Journalists work with parties of all hues to get documents and rumours and research that leads to stories. The use of OIAs for political purposes seems to be something new and perhaps the media need to learn to be more careful about that (perhaps even much more careful) – but news organisations always rush to be first, they always work with opponents to catch out some MPs...

Haway man! If you read Macskasy's article and the others of his linked to through it, it's just not credible to suggest that this was anything other than an orchestrated hit. Macskasy does an excellent job of showing the timeline of the release. The timeline shows that people knew the contents before it was officially released (and before David Cunliffe was told of the impending release) and that detailed articles were published within minutes of the official release including an opinion column by John Armstrong exhorting Cunliffe to resign. How did Armstrong have the time to examine the evidence and write and check the column in just eleven minutes? Cameron Slater beat him by four minutes? How would any prudent journalist publish a call for the resignation of the leader of the opposition in such a short time? And that's not counting the effort made to set Cunliffe up by Tova O'Brien the previous day with a view to what was coming, and all the tweets before the release showing that journalists and right wing bloggers knew about it.

The information had to have been leaked to them before the official release and the circle of people who knew about it points to a National Party leak. Now I would be prepared to cut the journalists a break if the letter had been evidence of actual wrongdoing on Cunliffe's part or a real association with Mr Liu which he would have reason to lie about. Yet it was obvious to anyone who wasn't a complete moron that the letter was entirely innocuous and that to expect anyone to remember such a minor detail from such a long time ago was completely unreasonable. Who could possibly live up to such a standard? Yet it was blown up by the media into a major issue and a call was issued in a major media outlet for Cunliffe to resign. 

Now given those facts, I would like someone to explain to me how any journalist involved in that story could not have known both that they were being used by National for purely political purposes and that the facts of the letter did not justify the resulting media reaction. 

Of course there is no such credible explanation. They obviously knew it was a political hit and participated in it because it would garner public attention. However, in doing so they compromised their journalistic indpendence, which happens to be a core principle of journalistic ethics (I should, know, I've lectured on it). Journalists are supposed to have a duty to inform the public, not to participate in partisan political operations for selfish reasons. Furthermore, checking my notes, it seems that journalists here were not accountable for their actions. They're still in a job, for one. If I behaved like that in my job, I would get fired. 

This event on its own would be objectionable enough, but it happened to be one of the final media beat ups in a year of almost continuous and trivial beat ups aimed at Cunliffe (starting with the endless repetition of a verbal miscue he made in his first question time as leader – a la Howard Dean's "scream"). It was reasonably obvious to me what was going on early in the sequence, since I'd had full access to the US media when Karl Rove did the same to John Kerry, and now Hager has revealed that this is exactly what was happening. 

Media bias is bad enough, but probably unavoidable to some extent. Media collusion with political parties is not journalism. It's entirely avoidable because the person asked to do it can respond with a principled "no".

by Lee Churchman on September 24, 2014
Lee Churchman

I've not seen Ede chased or interviewed at all. He just disappeared into thin air, or no one went looking. Today everyone ran the PMs press release to say he had resigned - and still, no one's looking, or even questioning, as far as I can see.

This makes my blood boil. Do they think we're a pack of rubes who won't notice this glaring absence?

by Andrew Geddis on September 24, 2014
Andrew Geddis

@Everyone,

Some things to remember:

(1) Not everyone thinks like you (we?) do.

(2) Don't be too dismissive of what other people think, or assume that they are foolish or misguided or tricked into believing what they do.

(3) Blaming "the media" or "the MSM" is what everyone who loses does. I'll bet if we had access to some obscure blogsite where the supporters of The Conservatives convene, we'd be reading screeds of complaints about how Colin Craig was shafted by the media's relentless focus on his "crazy" remarks. Or, if National had dropped to 45% and so had to rely on Peters for support, Kiwiblog would be clogged with heated denunciations of the media's buying Hager/Dotcom's smear stories and running them for days at a time.

Some other things to consider.

(1) The media did not give NZ one of the best performing economies in the OECD (sure - an unequal and still stuttering one, but people can read the newspapers and see that compared to everywhere else, we're in pretty good shape).

(2) The media did not forge a relatively competent Government that is unified in its purpose and cohesive in its messages, nor did it create the deep divisions within the major governing party that we're seeing played out at the moment (let alone the mixed-messages that the various members of an opposition coalition sent about their plans to work together).

(3) The media did not cause most everyone who meets John Key to react happily and want a photo with him. Sure, he's also the hard-nosed, ethically-challenged guy who consorted with a certain blogger whom we don't name - but people really, really like him. If you don't acknowledge this and accept it, then you will never beat him.

So, yeah. The media sucks and all. But if you think that is the reason why National is government again, or even a major reason that is so, then I think you are mistaken.

by Katharine Moody on September 24, 2014
Katharine Moody

At the beginning of the election and before Dirty Politics was released I received a call from a pollster for the National Party. Asked what my number 1 issue of concern in this election was, I stated Rule of Law. I stated that because of these sorts of concerns I have for our democracy;

https://www.lawsociety.org.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/68541/United-N...

The person said in clarification, "do you mean law and order"? I said no, I mean the abuse of executive power. There was some kind of further question in clarification (can't recall it exactly) but it was clear to me the person did not understand the term 'the executive' within our tripartite system of governance - and the Rule of Law was not one of the "tick boxes" on the form he was filling out. I suggested he just write down Rule of Law and that would do.

 He asked what my second biggest area of concern was. I said environment. He understood that (it was obviously one of the "tick boxes").

Then Dirty Politics came out - so you can imagine my increased despair.

Under our unicameral, unitary system of Parliamentary democracy combined with the absense of a single constitutional document and so few entrenched provisions in our laws; and in light of the growing evidence of the abuse of executive power, even to the stage of the executive ignoring the advice of Crown Law in any number of pieces of statute passed with a bare majoirty, often under urgency so as to avoid the Select Committee process ..

Surely you of all people, Andrew, understand the absolutely VITAL role the fourth estate must therefore play as a civil society check on executive power? As

As Burke said on the opening of a press gallery in the 1787 British Parliament:

'.. there are Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters' Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all’

Yes, far more important than them all. This is why we must demand better standards and we must expose collusion, sensationalism and indecency in our fourth estate at every turn.

 

 

by Lee Churchman on September 24, 2014
Lee Churchman

(2) Don't be too dismissive of what other people think, or assume that they are foolish or misguided or tricked into believing what they do.

Or assume the opposite. The question here is whether the media did their job or whether some of them colluded with the government to smear the opposition. Whether or not this ended up causing people to not vote for the opposition is a separate claim, and one that we will probably never be in a position to know the truth of. It's also irrelevant, since the procedural fairness of an election campaign is a separate moral issue from its result.

(3) Blaming "the media" or "the MSM" is what everyone who loses does.

Which doesn't entail that they are never right to do so. But that is not the issue here. The issue is whether all members of the media adhered to the basic ethical standards of journalism (in particular the principles of independence and accountability). If they did, then the question of whether the media were responsible for the election result is closed, but if they didn't, then it's an open question (and it should never be an open question).

I'll bet if we had access to some obscure blogsite where the supporters of The Conservatives convene, we'd be reading screeds of complaints about how Colin Craig was shafted by the media's relentless focus on his "crazy" remarks. 

I think they would be correct up to a point. Even though I dislike his policies, I thought Craig was treated poorly.

God knows who would have won the election if politics had been covered fairly by the media in the last couple of years. The problem that I and others have is that we will never know that, and that is the problem.

And another thing. Does anyone think it is weird that people who have been disgraced by dirty politics continue to be invited as panel guests, yet Martyn Bradbury is banned from RNZ for being outspoken despite being clean?

by Tim Watkin on September 24, 2014
Tim Watkin

This post was about Labour, not about media so I'd really like to thread to get back to basics... but yes Cunliffe has got a hard time, and Shearer as well. But again journalists can only work with the material they get. Believe me, journalists are aware of the Key honeymoon. I have produced 20+ interviews with him over the years and always seek to test him and hold him to account, as do many others. But you know what, he's very good at communicating and answers pretty well. Consider the fact that he is disciplined and seldom makes mistakes. I'd say that's the difference, rather than some media conspiracy (a few openly right-wing interviewers aside).

You all seem to know more about the Liu story than me (apart from a very poor HoS front page which I agree over-stepped), but I don't think that the Liu story cost Cunliffe much support if any and certainly not the election.

I've seen the shots of Ede's house at least a dozen times. He had a poster on his window saying journalists should treat it as a trespass warning and anyone stepping on his property would be trespassed. Very clever. (ACtually Andrew, would that work as a trespass warning?). And y'know, you can only harangue a man so much if he won't talk. Believe me, he's been asked and asked.

And while yes Key limited his number of one-on-ones (by serious journalists anyway), he's actually more media available than most (maybe all) previous PMs. Most journos in most countries are jealous of the access we get. He did a stand-up every day of the campaign before a pack of journos. Raw footage of those were often online, though you may have only seen the grabs in the news. But they're there on news websites and you can see the barrage of questions he got day after day. (Katharine, check those out before making very serious and ill-informed accusations of collusion).

But, you also have to consider, journos would equally be damned if all we asked about was Dirty Politics? As it stood news media has been slammed for not giving enough coverage of health, education and the ecoonomy, which arguably would have helped the left more. Yet journos kept asking about Dirty Politics for days when it was clear the public appetitite was limited and it was probably costing commerical companies their audience.

So, damned if you do, damned if you don't. And Peggy yes, you must have simply been out of the country for what was wall-to-wall coverage day after day. If Key is good at answering, if endless attempts at gaining hard evidence beyond Hager's jigsaw pieces failed, those involved wouldn't talk and if the public switch off, there's only so much reportage can do.

by Katharine Moody on September 24, 2014
Katharine Moody

I've seen the shots of Ede's house at least a dozen times. He had a poster on his window saying journalists should treat it as a trespass warning and anyone stepping on his property would be trespassed.

Have you got a link? In all honesty, I haven't seen a single story on this.

(Katharine, check those out before making very serious and ill-informed accusations of collusion).

Ill-informed?  Scroll down for the number of articles cited in The Herald.

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2014/09/new-zealand-crooks-buddies-whaleo...

I think I'm quite safe given the PM was concerned enough to call for an inquiry.

by Lee Churchman on September 24, 2014
Lee Churchman

You all seem to know more about the Liu story than me (apart from a very poor HoS front page which I agree over-stepped), but I don't think that the Liu story cost Cunliffe much support if any and certainly not the election.

Then read the linked article and the many articles it links to (all by Frank Macskasy). He does a pretty decent job of showing what went on. Remember, this was only one of the remarkably regular and frequent hit pieces aimed at Cunliffe over the previous year, so it's reasonable to ask if the others had a similar origin.

Tim, could you answer the following question.

Do you think that if it is proven that editors and journalists colluded – for whatever reason – with the National government and right wing bloggers in a political hit on the Labour leader, that it is fitting for those journalists to lose their jobs?

Everyone is saying that Cunliffe should be accountable for his performance. Why aren't certain journos being asked to be accountable for theirs?

by Peggy Klimenko on September 24, 2014
Peggy Klimenko

@ Andrew Geddis

With regard to your points (the second lot), I note the following:-

1. The economy most certainly ain't in great shape. In "19 reasons why we can't afford another National Government", Gordon Campbell makes the following observation:

" ....the Key government has had a lot going its way. It inherited low levels of Crown debt. Economic growth and demand from China and Australia was robust, during and after the GFC. Commodity prices and the terms of trade have been at historic highs for almost all of the past six years, and the Christchurch rebuild continues to inject huge amounts of insurance money into our economy. Other countries got through the GFC thanks to a government stimulus package. Our stimulus package started with Christchurch, in ruins.......the issue isn’t that the Key government has steered New Zealand safely through the economic hard times – instead, its more true to say that it has made heavy weather out of some reasonably favourable conditions. One thing we do know. The blink –and-you-missed-it recovery is now on the downward slope, and economic reality looks like getting uglier from here. We know that because Treasury has been openly predicting economic growth to steadily fall, dropping to 2% by 2018 which is well below the current growth figures. If we re-elect National, it will be in the knowledge that – literally – this has been as good as it will get for the foreseeable. Has it been that good for you?"

This isn't the picture we've been presented with by the media - some honourable exceptions aside, of course. But the honourable exceptions in general haven't got the airtime given to the likes of Steven Joyce, who paint a glowing picture at odds with that of Gordon Campbell. And of course, the prospect of a tanking economy goes a good way to explain the otherwise bafflingly early date for the election.

We've just been in Central Europe; if you want to see a bustling economy in a first-world country, go there. Take what the gloom merchants say about that part of the world with a goodish pinch of salt.

2. We're a groupish species: conflict is part of the human condition. There'll be conflict in the National caucus, that you can bet on. For the most part, we just haven't heard about it (although it  doesn't follow that it wasn't being leaked). There's been much greater reporting of, in particular, Labour's conflict. And that reporting has appeared to treat differently the opposition parties in general, Labour in particular. That's how it's looked to me and others: that feedback loop thing again.

3. Whether people like the PM is irrelevant. In my view, the revelations of dirty politics trump his popularity. I was horrified by what I read, and by the evidence trail leading all the way to his office. And I expected that other New Zealanders would feel the same way; so it was a big shock to come back to NZ from a short trip away, and discover that the polls had barely moved, and that the moving finger had moved on, so to speak. That can only be on account of how the issue was framed by the media: it's evident that the PM got on the front foot with spin (propaganda if you prefer) and the media failed to call him out on it, as has been referred to above.

I'm a longtime watcher of the political circus; I've never been affiliated to any party and I'm an equal opportunities sceptic. I agree with David Slack: vileness of the sort uncovered by Hager doesn't go on in the opposition, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't going on in the National party either, before about the Brash era.

With regard to the level of blame apportioned to the media for the outcome of the election, on balance I'll go with Lee Churchman and Katharine Moody. The media is the fourth estate: I'd like to see them live up to that. And it's vitally important that they do so now that we have one party able to govern alone.

by Andrew Geddis on September 24, 2014
Andrew Geddis

(ACtually Andrew, would that work as a trespass warning?).

Yes.

@Peggy,

It doesn't really matter where the economy is going to be in 2 or 3 years time - people don't think in those sorts of timeframes. It doesn't matter why it is doing so well now - people just give credit to the guys in charge at the time. And the fact is, people think things are good and they are happy with how the country is going.

The latest NZ Roy Morgan Government Confidence Rating has risen to 138pts (up 2pts) with 62% (up 1%) saying New Zealand is ‘heading in the right direction’ compared to 24% (down 1%) that say New Zealand is ‘heading in the wrong direction’. The NZ Government Confidence Rating (138) remains substantially higher than in Australia – Australian Government Confidence last week was at 95pts.

Add to that an outwardly unified and disciplined governing party (of course there will be internal divisions and factions, but if you don't show them to the public, then they won't hurt you) and a leader that people like and trust, and there's why National can govern alone. Blaming "the media" is to completely miss the point.

by Steve F on September 25, 2014
Steve F

@. Katherine 24 September....

I was beginning to think I was living in a wilderness of mediocrity when I have occasionally expoused my views over the unbridled power ( as so eloquently labelled by Sir Geoffrey Palmer) of our island paradise. As I mentioned in a comment buried somewhere in Pundits archives we share this position inthe developed world with one other nation.....Israel,  and we all have an opinion on their constitutional fortress, but having unearthed this snippet on Wikipedia maybe they play second fiddled to. New Zealand' s wild west of law making.....

"......In addition to the absence of a formal constitution, and with no Basic Law thus far being adopted which formally grants a power of judicial review to the judiciary, the Supreme Court of Israel has in recent years asserted its authority, when sitting as the High Court of Justice, to invalidate provisions of Knesset laws it has found to be inconsistent with a Basic Law.[3] The Knesset is presided over by a Speaker and a Deputy Speaker......"

Can't remember the last time our SC did something like that.

Is there any chance Parliament can enact a law that compells all MP's to pass at least Laws 101 with a B+  ???



by Steve F on September 25, 2014
Steve F

@ Peggy

1. The economy most certainly ain't in great shape. In "19 reasons why we can't afford another National Government", Gordon Campbell makes the following observation:

 Well, we certainly can't afford another Labour government full of marxist greens so if he thinks we can't afford a national govt then maybe we should have a stint at being "government-less". Seriously though I wouldn't be loosing any sleep over the economy. I don't expect you to digest all 21 pages before midnight but the summary will give it to you in a nutshell... http://www.anz.co.nz/resources/3/4/34d79b9a-614e-4681-be40-6117d7f53d06/ANZ-EO-20140919.pdf?MOD=AJPERES
by mikesh on September 25, 2014
mikesh

@Andrew Geddis

"and there's why National can govern alone."

At 48% support National shouldn't really be finding itself in a position to govern alone. for that they should have more than 50%.

by Peggy Klimenko on September 25, 2014
Peggy Klimenko

@ Steve F: That link puts me in mind of Monty Python's Black Knight. What about the following:

http://www.interest.co.nz/rural-news/72129/fonterra-cuts-milk-payout-for...

Read the comment thread as well. Our economy is a one- or at best two-trick pony. Not looking too flash for the future, cheerful optimism notwithstanding.

@ mikesh: "At 48% support National shouldn't really be finding itself in a position to govern alone. for that they should have more than 50%.: " Indeed. And it likely wouldn't be an issue if the reforms to the electoral system, as recommended by the  Electoral Commission, had been implemented.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electoral_reform_in_New_Zealand#2012_review

by John Hurley on September 25, 2014
John Hurley

According to Reid Research 62% of people want greater restrictions on immigration (58% G 68% L 85%NZF)

How does that square with the comentators above?

Labour was equivocal on immigration (reflecting the views of it's activists).

What of the evidence: read the Savings Working Group Report and Treasury Paper 14-10.

What of media reporting?

Radio NZ maximum bias.

by Lee Churchman on September 25, 2014
Lee Churchman

Blaming "the media" is to completely miss the point.

Sez the media...

by Lee Churchman on September 25, 2014
Lee Churchman

Keith Ng has a great post on this at PAS

http://publicaddress.net/onpoint/sunlight-resistance/

While I personally think that he's refrained from talking about the obvious collusion between some journalists and National, I think he's probably correct about the following:

The scariest possibility is that National have finally achieved full-spectrum dominance over the media. That the combination of sophisticated polling and focus-grouping (Hi David!), Key's personal brand, and media management system (including the use of back channels like Slater and... others) now allows them to subvert the media's every move. They know that the cost of completely ignoring your questions is neglible. They know that they can negate a bookful of allegations just by calling Hager partisan. They know you'll give up on Ede if they just hide him for long enough. They know they can throw a bunch of CORTEX-CYBERHACKING-ANTIVIRUS-BUTTS-MALWARE-METADATA obfuscations into the air, and simply choke a story with irrelevant facts.

This is likely true. I think people severely underestimate the degree to which polling has corrupted politics.

by Lee Churchman on September 25, 2014
Lee Churchman

Saw Andrew post this on PAS

Which raises a nasty possibility, Whisper it just quietly in your inner voice at the dead of night: maybe it's people like us and what we see as being "correct" who are ... wrong? Or, at least, in a small minority that is unable to affect national politics ... which amounts to the same thing?

It's called the fallacy of majority belief. What you won't say is that the nasty possibility is really that electoral democracy may not be fit for purpose. 

by John Hurley on September 25, 2014
John Hurley

You mean this Keith Ng?

This strengthens the point that the liberal elite are out of touch:

Savings Working Group
January 2011

The big adverse gap in productivity between New Zealand and other countries opened up from the 1970s to the early 1990s. The policy choice that increased immigration – given the number of employers increasingly unable to pay First-World wages to the existing population and all the capital requirements that increasing populations involve – looks likely to have worked almost directly against the adjustment New Zealand needed to make and it might have been better off with a lower rate of net immigration. This adjustment would have involved a lower real interest rate (and cost of capital) and a lower real exchange rate, meaning a more favourable environment for raising the low level of productive capital per worker and labour productivity. The low level of capital per worker is a striking symptom of New Zealand’s economic challenge.

http://www.treasury.govt.nz/publications/reviews-consultation/savingsworkinggroup/pdfs/swg-report-jan11.pdf

 

by Anne on September 25, 2014
Anne

" It's called the fallacy of majority belief. What you won't say is that the nasty possibility is really that electoral democracy may not be fit for purpose."

It's not so much that electoral democracy is not fit for purpose but rather that a large portion of the voting electorate are no longer fit for purpose.

Contrary to Andrew Geddes' view, I believe we have a manipulative, partisan main stream news media who - together with a dishonest and unethical government - have played a significant role in ensuring that electorate are improperly informed, confused and subject to targeted negative messaging of the opposition parties. There are too many examples of it in recent times alone which, in my view, back up the claim but instead of listing them... I will join the now common refrain:

READ DIRTY POLITICS!

by Anne on September 25, 2014
Anne

My apologies. It should be Andrew Geddis.

by Jane Beezle on September 25, 2014
Jane Beezle

Wow.  Tim, you slam dunked with your number of comments.  It's on fire in here.

As for the commenters - get a grip on reality.  What Tim said.

The National party has the most popular Prime Minister of all time, a sharp, dry Finance Minister, and the best campaign strategist known to humankind.  Those are, unfortunately, the facts.  

I read the book.  I saw the column inches.  I voted Green.   And the truth is:  the National party wiped the floor.  They didn't just move to the centre.  They own it.  It's Tony Blair down under.

It wasn't the journalists.  Even Nicky Hager and a German multimillionaire couldn't beat them.  Go have a stiff gin and come back in a few years.

by Anne on September 25, 2014
Anne

I don't think Nicky Hagar was actually trying to "beat them". He didn't write the book for quick political gain. He wrote the book to start the conversation, with a longer term view to bringing back some ethics and integrity (we lost it 6 years ago) into our political system. I suggest you go and have a long, long gin and come back in a couple of years and we will see what progress has been made.

by Nick Gibbs on September 25, 2014
Nick Gibbs

The simple fact is the country voted for John Key. Not because of the media, but because the left and left wing thinking is totally unconvincing. 2017 will be the same with all the socialists lining up with the same old mantra, that has been so thoroughly rejected, just waiting to get spanked again.

by Katharine Moody on September 25, 2014
Katharine Moody

I know this blog is not supposed to be about journalism - but here's a plea anyway;

Please ask them if academics and journalists should have to hide our identities when asking for government information so that it’s not leaked to people like Slater and Farrar?

These seem to be reasonable questions, the answers to which have grave ramifications. I implore the Forth Estate to ask them.

http://www.jarrodgilbert.com/blog/just-because-youre-paranoid-doesnt-mea...

by Tim Watkin on September 25, 2014
Tim Watkin

Peggy (and others), Gordon makes a very good argument, but you could put together an equally compelling few pars based around record high business confidence, growth compared to the rest of the developed world, job growth and more. He's arguing his point of view, not presenting unbiased facts, yet at the same time you're angry with journalists who are biased and taking sides. I think Gordon is a brilliant journalist, but he clearly takes sides.

So you and Lee and everyone lining up to tell the media what they're doing wrong have to have some logical consistency here. Is it that you want an objective and dispasionate media or just one that agrees with you? I can only repeat that journalists asked questions of Key on Dirty Politics for several weeks solid. Just because you don't like the answers you got or the lack of proof, doesn't mean the media is bad. Or do you want the media to convict politicians on circumstantial evidence?

Example: Four computers accessed the Labour website. Three we know the owners of, one was a roaming profile, Ede bragged about his roaming profile, Key said he may have had a look around for curiosity's sake but that's "fair enough". Key said he wouldn't look into it any further, he hadn't ordered such activity but lots of parties attack each other all the time. (He also said at one stage that "it's nothing to do with National" even though Goodfellow was on the record confirming that one of the other three computers was a National Party IT person who was also just having a look around.

All of that is known because of Nicky's work and then continual pressing by media for days afterwards. It was reported. Bill English showed discomfort with it. It's public knowledge. There were radio interviews, blogs and news stories about whether that equated to breaking into a house or walking in through an open door. There was doubt due to our law whether even downloading the credit card details in that website would be theft or illegal at all because it's duplicating rather than taking and anyway, our cyber laws don't seem to be too fussed about people going into other sites.

All of this I know from journalists. Yet people still voted National in record numbers.

I get that you don't like that there was no smoking gun to prove that Ede stole and lied, but it's not there. I get that you're frustrated people aren't as angry as you are about that. I think it's appalling. But I have explained that in detail to several less-informed people who have shrugged. One said, 'I'd have done that too' and another said 'they all do it'.

You may not like it, but how on earth is that the media's fault? Rather, isn't it notable that you know as much as you do and can link to as many stories as you can, because the media has reported so much on this?

Jane B's right. The column inches are there for any who wish to see because of the media. Key spun it well. Many New Zealander weren't offended. None of that amounts to collusion, but rather is just your incredulity that people could see this as you have and not share your point of view. But there it is.

by Tim Watkin on September 25, 2014
Tim Watkin

And yes, as Nick said, there wasn't a strong enough alternative for people to indulge any outrage they did feel. The sad truth is that for many who have doubts about this government, its stability and steady-as-she-goes approach is better than the alternative.I met one Nat voter last night who couldn't bring herself to support them for all these reasons, but didn't vote because the other side were no better in her mind.

So maybe some anger is due towards the centre-left politicians who couldn't get their act together to defeat a government facing that level of criticism?

by Tim Watkin on September 25, 2014
Tim Watkin

Lee, first Andrew isn't the media. I'm always struck by people who damn the media for being so poor at their job but can't get simple facts right themselves. I call glasshouses!

Second, yes, I'd have all sorts of problem with journalists who "collude" with politicians. Of course if it's openly declared for all to see there is room on the journalistic spectrum for the partiscan (typically as columnists or opinion broadcasters), but by and large I prefer my journalists detached. Would I sack them? It depends. If there's a lack of transparency or something nefarious or an abuse of public trust then yes. But then I don't think trading info and using MPs as sources is collusion.

by Tim Watkin on September 25, 2014
Tim Watkin

Whether people like the PM is irrelevant. In my view, the revelations of dirty politics trump his popularity. I was horrified by what I read, and by the evidence trail leading all the way to his office. And I expected that other New Zealanders would feel the same way; so it was a big shock to come back to NZ from a short trip away, and discover that the polls had barely moved, and that the moving finger had moved on, so to speak. That can only be on account of how the issue was framed by the media:

 

Peggy, I just completely disagree. In your view it trumps... you were horrified... therefore if anyone comes to a different conclusion from you it must be that the media framed the issue poorly?! Come on... Perhaps people just have different values from you. I know people who have read it all and simply aren't horrified. People are allowed to disagree with you without being victims of some evil conspiracy!

And you know one of the reasons why they don't care? Because they like the PM. They work on instinct. So his popularity is utterly relevant.

by Tim Watkin on September 25, 2014
Tim Watkin

Katharine... Campbell Live's Dan Parker just "hit the jackpot"? Here's another take: A working reporter got stalled by a government and stuck at his job and found another way of reporting the story. Is it impossible to acknowledge some good journalism when you see it? I know it doesn't fit the narrative of collusion, but it's around every day.

Yes the timing is suspicious, but given your high standards I'm sure you wouldn't speculate without solid, multiple-sourced evidence, right? Maybe it was chance. Impossible to prove either way without convincing someone in those departments to blow a whistle.

As for Ede's house, I tend to watch 3News out of loyalty so I presume I've seen the shots there. Feel free to have a hunt. You might stumble upon some other decent journalism.

by Katharine Moody on September 26, 2014
Katharine Moody

You misunderstood me, Tim. I was defending Campbell Live against the suggestion that they might have held the story back until after the election (i.e., collusion or bias). My impression was quite the opposite - I did see it as perseverance by the journalist. I thought they were likely to have been fobbed off by the big departments (who have likely had the edict: release nothing damaging to the government) and so they tried another route - Work Safe  NZ - who might not have had the same instruction regards OIA handling from a Minister, and even if they did, as a Crown entity they would be more likely to ignore it due to their greater separation from the executive.

So, I did not see the timing as suspicious - that was my point. And I did think it was good journalism.

by Lee Churchman on September 26, 2014
Lee Churchman

So you and Lee and everyone lining up to tell the media what they're doing wrong have to have some logical consistency here. Is it that you want an objective and dispasionate media or just one that agrees with you?

My opinions and the truth aren't of necessity mutually exclusive – hence you are in error, since the statements are logically consistent. I don't want the media to report my opinions qua my opinions, but the truth insofar as they can best establish it and it may so happen that some of my opinions are right. If one side tends to be right more than another, then the media should reflect that. After all, reality has a well-known liberal bias, right?

Being objective doesn't entail being dispassionate, since one can be passionate for the truth, and journalists should be (it's one of the accepted principles of journalistic ethics). This entails that they ought at least to stick up for the principles of their own profession and call out those trying to corrupt it.

If you're going to get all mealy mouthed about there being no truth, then you're in the wrong profession (and those sort of questions about truth should be left to philosophers, the only people equipped to do something useful with them – the mundane conception of truth is fine for everyone else). 

As for collusion, read Mr Macskasy's articles and tell me if you think that is acceptable behaviour. 

PS. I know Geddis isn't media. That comment was aimed at media in general, not him.

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