If you'll excuse the paraphrasing of Billy Bragg, it seems appropriate as the left leave the moral high ground for a bit of electoral mud-wrestling and coat-tailing. But at what cost?

Call it genius or hypocrisy, but the Mana Internet alliance, Laila Harre's decision to lead the Internet Party into this year's election and Kim Dotcom's record $3 million donation creates all sort of problems on the left of New Zealand politics. It also, to me, feels like something worth grieving no matter how the cards fall on September 20.

That combination of factors last week were, to my mind, a turning of a page.

Deals were National's problem. Coat-tailing was something for the right. One area where Key has been hit in the polls in the past was his decision to have that Epsom cup of tea at the previous election. Labour and its allies this year could have risen above that and offered to be the government of no deals, the government that could reach a majority without coat-tailing.

It would have been a curious MMP battle – the not-the-largest-parties vs the coat-tailing parties as to who would be able to convince voters their construct was least worrying.

Now Labour and the Greens or Labour and New Zealand First (or some combo) may still be able to avoid all that to find a majority. But given Labour's poor polling it's not now in a position to rule out the opportunity presented last week when Mana and the Internet Party aligned and Laila Harre re-entered the political ring as the Internet Party's leader. Suddenly, deals are an issues for both sides of the aisle and voters will be able to reflect on how both handle them before voting.

The view that Harre, Mana and the IP are genuisues stems from the fact that so long as Hone Harawira retains Te Tai Tokerau or Annette Sykes picks up Waiariki, no vote to change the government will be wasted by the IP's failure to win a seat or reach 5 percent. It's maths, and in election year we all know that's what politics becomes. If Mana and Labour can wipe out the Maori Party in the Maori electorates, that's three seats potentially not available to National. (The irony of course is that if National can get across the line with just United Future and ACT – or even with the addition of the Conservatives – then we could end up with the most right-wing government we've seen since the Shipley years).

What's more, the hard left – largely a group of former Alliance MPs and fellow travellers – now have the sort of resources they never thought would be at their disposal; that is, the resources of the mega rich. Kim Dotcom has donated $3 million – the largest single donation in New Zealand's political history – to a policy platform that already includes free (or, if you prefer, fully tax-payer funded) tertiary education and will of necessity find much more in common with Mana than other parties. Mana's policies include a tax-free zone up to $27,000, abolishing GST, building 20,000 state houses in two years and significantly increasing benefits and the minimum wage.

And this is where it starts to get difficult.

First, the deals and donation. Harre says she's unapologetic about taking MMP back for the people, but it's the antithesis of what the Greens, her former employers, have argued for. Rather than taking the high moral ground and fixing MMP, as New Zealanders want, she's willing to exploit the flaws in the current system to her party's advantage.

It's real politik and it may work, but not only does it relinquish a line of attack on her opponents on the right, it leaves her to stand accused of hypocrisy, given her previous alignments (such as with the Greens). It also risks damaging the wider left in the eyes of centrist swing voters, but that's a moot point. 

Before last week, the left-of-centre parties could point to their opponents and say that ACT and United Future were percentage point parties needing strategic voting by National supporters to prop them up. An honest-to-goodness vote and they're gone. If they thought there was no chance of winning over the Maori Party to their cause, they could also condemn it for being dependent on National's fund-raising ability.

No more. Mana and the Internet Party have taken the money and done the deal. And so long as Labour and the Greens feel compelled to keep the door open to a coalition deal with them – and in doing so refrain from expressing their honest criticism – the two larger centre-left parties have been snookered from the left. Yet, it may be a snookering that ends up winning them the game.

The serious problem of hypocrisy that Harre faces is her willingness to take Dotcom's donation all the while evading questions about his background and business dealings. Now there's plenty of room to debate Dotcom's career – was Megaupload any worse than YouTube? Who's telling the truth about his alleged abuse of contractors? What's your view on internet freedoms versus copyright laws? But he's by any definition 'big business' and he brings with him convictions, an extradition order and all sorts of allegations from US authorities.

That's before we even mention the fact of his previous large political donation – $50,000 in two cheques to the mayoral campaign of right-winger John Banks. My, how quickly his money has changed direction.

For Harre to continue her attacks this past weekend on National's "crony capitalism" such as the SkyCity deal is out and out hypocrisy. She's now no better or worse in her electoral dealings and business wheelings than John Key.

Then, there's the policy hypocrisy. Or at least, the policy accommodations. I noted that Dotcom once endorsed Banks. As Harre was reminded on The Nation, at the party launch Dotcom said New Zealand was in dire economic straits because National had borrowed heavily during the Great Recession. Such public debt was surely a bad thing, the entrepreneur said. Yet look again at those policies I mentioned above. That sort of thinking is expensive and requires significant borrowing. Through the past five years the borrowing would have been, well, much larger than that undertaken by National.

What about just increasing taxes to pay for it all, you might ask. Q+A reminded Harre that her party's sponsor had told the programme he wanted to found a party that helped those who were heavily taxed. So no succour there. Then there's Dotcom's libertarian approach to the internet. Is Harre comfortable with the idea at that end of the free internet debate, that copyright laws are essentially obselete? Will she not champion the small musicians and doco-makers and the like who see their work put online without getting a cut? She and he are at odds on some very fundamental political points..

Such policy gaps stretch Harre's political integrity. The questions is whether voters will see it as stretching to breaking point. Or not.

The obvious conclusion is that these forces – Dotcom, Mana and the Internet Party – have only one thing in common and that's the desire to change the government. That in and of itself is perfectly legit. Think about the "Helengrad" nonsense during the Clark years. The methods may even be as effective as they are brutal. But the willingness to go outside the spirit of the law is new for left-wing minor parties. These were the parties which, regardless of what you thought of their policies, led by example and recalled a more honourable way of competing for office.

The Internet Party has chosen another code, one which justifies being as bad as the other lot or simply telling the ref "they started it"; these are not the sort of political morals you would teach your children. They are about the ends and bugger the means. Or, if you'd rather, profiting the man even if he loses his soul. And so while I can admire the maths, I can't help regretting the price being paid.

Comments (33)

by Rich on June 03, 2014

<i>all sorts of allegations from US authorities</i>

Which amount to indirect copyright violation, which has apart from the Dotcom case has nearly always been treated as a civil dispute between businesses. Even Napster, which was much more blatant than Mega, only got sued into bankruptcy. And Google/Youtube are in fairly perpetual litigation with various rights holders (and settled out of court <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viacom_International_Inc._v._YouTube,_Inc.">with Viacom</a> only a few years ago.

If the indirect copyright violation isn't proven, then the money laundering and racketeering charges fall away - they are simply a way of increasing the sentence for the core action.


by Daniel Laird on June 03, 2014
Daniel Laird

the government that could reach a majority without coat-tailing.

Three of six MMP elections have led to governments formed with 'coat-tail' MPs (Jim Anderton & co, 2002; United Future in 2005; ACT in 2008). The issue with Epsom and Ohariu (and Wgtn Central back in the day, and any potential deal for Colin Craig) is the intervention of a major party to ensure the survival of a minor party. 

Labour haven't said they'll step aside to let Hone Harawira win in TTT, in fact from what I've heard, they're more likely to run hard against him, even if it costs them the chance to topple National. 


As for the Internet Mana alliance - parties have formed alliances, and coalitions, and all kinds of agreements in the past, and they will continue to do so in the future. They do this for many reasons - to combine their efforts (financial, volunteer force), to avoid competing and thus splitting the vote, to attempt to overcome the unfair hurdles that have been placed in the path of minor parties (by gaining an electorate seat, or reaching the threshold) - all these things they do have the same ultimate goal, to increase their representation in parliament. 

Nothing in the law (or even the spirit of the law) says the member parties of an alliance have to have anything at all in common, as far as their policies or rhetoric go. So long as they are open about their intentions, then they're free to go out and contest the vote just like anyone else. No one is getting swindled, or scammed.

If you don't like what Mana, or the Internet Party, or Dotcom or Harré are doing, I have a simple solution for you: DON'T VOTE FOR THEM.

They're not getting propped up by other parties, they're not hiding some devious backer with a sinister ulterior motive, they're not going to be a puppet of another party, they're just playing the game, within the existing rules, like so many other parties have since MMP was introduced. I think it's time we give the voters a bit of credit here - if it really is all too dodgy to pass the smell test, then the Te Tai Tokerau votes and the party votes won't materialise, and we can all sit back and say, well that's what happen when you try to be too clever for your own good. 

But it seems like a lot of commentators have bought into the idea that this represents some kind of unprecedented development in the annals of NZ MMP, or at least for the left, whereas in reality this seems to sit well within the spectrum of what has been considered acceptable for parties all across the spectrum since MMP was introduced. 

If anything distinguishes Internet Mana from the other cases, it is the openness and transparency with which it has all happened, and I for one find it to be quite refreshing. 


by Ian MacKay on June 03, 2014
Ian MacKay

Well said Daniel. I wonder if the critic above has an agenda of his own? Perhaps Tim actually believes what he writes - perhaps not.

by Nick Gibbs on June 03, 2014
Nick Gibbs

I agree Tim. Harre joining IMP was a great day for National. Voters don't really like the Epsom kind of deals and it tanished National's image. Now John Key can happily call whoever he wants in for a cup of tea and it's just seen as part of comtemporary politics. Labour can say what they like but it'll make not a blind bit of difference.

by Katharine Moody on June 03, 2014
Katharine Moody

It makes no sense to me to say some action/behaviour is either morally right or morally wrong unless you provide the philosophical framework against which it is being judged right or wrong.

I've briefly considered the Internet Mana relationship and what's been said about it by the two party leaders in legitimising their decision-making against three ethical approaches (virtue ethics, consequentialism and deontology). 

Some approaches appear more apparent than others and you seem to be judging the approach Laila has taken as an ends/means (consequentialist) approach, and I think you are saying that that approach is morally wrong? Interestingly, it is the ethical framework I find the majority of my students use when making moral decisions. That said however, I doubt it was the framework either Laila (or Hone) used in making their decisions.

As for crony capitalism - I think it is the secret donations - those that lack transparency that worry most NZers. Point is, unless you know who has donated, you don't know how to spot the crony when political favours appear to have been done. No problem here with Dotcom and this political relationship - all very transparent.    

by Tim Watkin on June 03, 2014
Tim Watkin

Katharine, you may be going well above my head, but the most basic philosophical framework in politics is your own past standards. Now Harre, as far as I'm aware, has never opposed coat-tailing per se. But she worked for the Greens, who are the strongest opponents and has mocked the politicians on the right who have relied on it for survival. She has been part of a wider left-wing movement that has been consistently opposed to coat-tailing. As for the donation, she has been a critic of money's influence on politics; I think you're wrong in fact to suggest it's limited to transparency.

Those on the left have long opposed the influence of money on politics, even open or well-reported campaigners such as Alan Gibbs here through to the Kochs in the US. As for Harre, she was critical in her acceptance speech and over the weekend of the SkyCity deal, a deal which is well understood and has been reported in depth. Plenty has been revealed there, yet she still finds it odious. I find that criticism far less convincing than I did.

The other obvious framework is public opinion. Work around the MMP referendum showed that New Zealanders oppose coat-tailing on the basis of some sense of fairness. Polls have also shown qualms about the SkyCity deal, for example.

And finally there's the framework of fact. She and Mana are taking millions from a businessman who just a few years ago backed Banks, an ideological opposite to them.

For all that, I never said it was morally wrong. I was pointing out the disparities and yes suggesting a level of of hypocrisy, but left open the point that it could be effective. The firmest view expressed was that is was a bit sad to see ideals give way to hard, cold cash.

by Tim Watkin on June 03, 2014
Tim Watkin

Daniel, you seem to mistake my sadness for outrage and misunderstand what this site does. I'm not telling people how to vote or telling you how I will vote and I'm not campaigning in any way; I'm a journalist offering analysis and asking questions.

I'm not convinced you can call Jim Anderton's Progressives coat-tailers. He always won Sydenham/Wigram in his own right as an MP. He didn't require a deal.

I've got no problem with the alliance and never criticised that and agree that the voters will decide (in fact I said as much in the post). One of the points I made is exactly that it may cost those involved more than they think, as you say. Or it may not, as I wrote. But it's a hell of a gamble.

Where I think your analysis falls short is to say 'meh, no big deal'. This sort of deal has never been done on the left before. Give me one example. The size of the donation in and of itself is unprecedented. As for transparent, well you ignore all the points I made about the gap between Dotcom's politics as far as we know them and Harre's and Mana's. If you don't have questions about how you marry those views, then I think you're willfully blinding yourself or lack curiosity.

As for no-one getting swindled, I for one think it's far to soon to tell that. We'll see.

by Ian MacKay on June 04, 2014
Ian MacKay

Tim. The rules for MMP are there for all to see. We may dislike the morality of the coat-tail rule but it is not illegal so a pragmatic decision to act within the rules should be OK. No amount of fiddling around finding right/wrong is productive. (Unless National is looking for more ammo?)

The people might have qualms about National/Act and the Sky City deal but in this world of politics, pragmitism trumps qualms every day. Clearly the qualms have had no effect on the  voter intentions, so let's accept the rules and live with them until sometime in the future the rules are changed.

Of course you might spend time and your undoubted research skills to document all the immoralities of the Government actions. I wonder if you would bother to assemble such research and publish it - soon?

by Daniel Laird on June 04, 2014
Daniel Laird

That's my point, Tim - do you think Hone Harawira is not going to win Te Tai Tokerau in his own right? From what I've seen (admittedly, the first reactions, not any formal party position) Labour are going to campaign hard for Kelvin Davis in TTT - and as has been pointed out Elsewhere, it's not exactly Labour's seat to give away.

I think I saw somewhere that Laila Harré had suggested Labour go easy to ensure Harawira wins the seat, but I can't seem to google it up now. If she said that, then she certainly has shown her willingness to cut these 'dirty deals'. But that's not what you've talked about

Before last week, the left-of-centre parties could point to their opponents and say that ACT and United Future were percentage point parties needing strategic voting by National supporters to prop them up. An honest-to-goodness vote and they're gone. If they thought there was no chance of winning over the Maori Party to their cause, they could also condemn it for being dependent on National's fund-raising ability.

No more. Mana and the Internet Party have taken the money and done the deal. And so long as Labour and the Greens feel compelled to keep the door open to a coalition deal with them – and in doing so refrain from expressing their honest criticism – the two larger centre-left parties have been snookered from the left. Yet, it may be a snookering that ends up winning them the game.

Internet Mana isn't being propped up by another parties votes or fundraising ability. They're two parties propping each other up, but they sink or swim together (escape clause, schmescape clause, if this blows up both parties wil pay the price). As for Labour and the Greens refraining from criticism - we'll have to wait and see, I think IM's polling will be a big factor in that. But again, is it some kind of great political con to use a different tone when talking about potential coalition partners than when talking about ideological opponents? Labour should probably avoid pulling their punches on IM policy, lest the appearance of 'dirty dealing' arise, but that doesn't mean they need to go tooth and nail, and rip IM apart.

You say you have no problem with the Internet Mana alliance, but everything they do seems to be tarred with the 'coat-tailing' brush. In fact, in your piece (unless I've been using the term incorrectly) you seem to be conflating coat-tailing (gaining list MPs for a sub-5% party that holds an electorate) with the deals National have cut to take advantage of the coat-tailing loophole.

You don't seem to have a problem with Jim Anderton coat-tailing Matt Robson in with him in 2002, but I can't see how this is different. I haven't seen any credible evidence that Hone Harawira will be helped over the line by other left-wing parties. IM seem to be guilty of everything, just because they are explicitly trying to use the electorate lifeboat to maximise their representation.

It may be a much abused path into Parliament, but that's because for a new minor party, so long as a 5% (or even 4%) threshold remains, it's damn near the only path to (meaningful representation in) Parliament. 

by Daniel Laird on June 04, 2014
Daniel Laird

As for Dotcom and IM, when I said transparent, I meant everyone knows the Internet Party is owned by a big crazy German multi-millionaire, and an appropriately skeptical eye will be cast over their policy. They are inextricably linked, the IP won't be able to put him at arms length and say 'he's just a donor' if further revelations about his past or his misdeeds comes out.

I don't think the agreement between Mana and the IP is no big deal, but it's just another point on the spectrum (off the chart on the 'donation size' spectrum, maybe not so different on other criteria), whereas many seem to be treating like it is some wholly new development in NZ politics. And I'm not lacking in curiosity about what form the IP policy will take, but I intend to wait and see what they announce in order to satisfy that curiosity. I wouldn't look too much to Dotcom previous statements for policy direction, I've never got the impression that he's particularly politically astute. I think between the need to accomodate their partner party, and the guiding hand of Laila Harre, Dotcom will go where he's told politically, in order to keep his face and brand in the public eye. 

by william blake on June 04, 2014
william blake

I agree Tim cutting deals to gain political advantage is unethical. To take one example of John Banks gaining his seat in Epsom by National stepping out of his way, resulting in his gaining several ministerial portfolios and implementing such dodgy policy as charter schools; all with a little over 1% of the vote. This is not democracy.

by Ian MacKay on June 04, 2014
Ian MacKay

Is it an unpleasant/unethical? Yes William. Are they breaking the rules? No. So until the rules are changed we have to live with them.

David Cunliffe has just announced that Labour will drop the coat-tail rule within 100 days of taking office. Hooray. And I hope that they lower the threshold down to 2% or certainly lower than 5%. That way the Judith Collins refusal to tidy it all up will be history.

by Tim Watkin on June 04, 2014
Tim Watkin

Ian, you're quite right it's within the rules. It's just a rule I think should change and most NZers agree. As I wrote, it may be effective but for me just a little disappointing and takes the pressure off Banks, Dunne and Craig.

Interesting that today Labour has tried to unsnooker itself by calling on National to back its private members bill to abolish coat-tailing... and promising to abolish it in its first 100 days. BTW, they need to say they'd drop the threshold at the same time, or it is too hard for smaller parties.

Daniel, yes there was the suggestion that Labour should stand aside in TTT. It's good they are not, but I don't take the party's fighting words at face value. As noted, Cunliffe and DAvis can say all the right things and still quietly send a signal to Labour voters to electorate vote Harawira by putting Davis high on its list.

And you're right - blame my infection but I was being very loose re coat-tailing. I was meaning deals relying on arrangements with other parties, which is linked but not the same.

by Katharine Moody on June 04, 2014
Katharine Moody

Hi Tim, I would very much disagree with your statement that "the most basic philosophical framework in politics is your own past standards". Consider Einstein's oft quoted, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them". John Key falls into this philosophical 'trap' in sticking to his initial position regarding no consideration of any change to universal super at age 65 years - and perhaps part of that values/ethical judgement he makes in sticking with that political position has something to do with the "past standards" rule which you seem to be promoting.

How we make moral decisions is much more enlightening than that, and one of the basic problems I see in western society today is that we have no basic educational understanding of the philosophy of ethics (moral philosophy). To my mind it should be a mandatory subject taught in primary school and repeated at secondary level. My point being - we are all faced with making moral decisions on a daily basis - therefore it seems ridiculous that we don't have any formal instruction in it.

It is generally accepted that there are three major approaches in normative ethics;



Conscious of it or not, we all tend to favour one of these approaches in the way we each make moral decisions. I do a little 'test' with my students: pick the one statement below that is most like you:

1. I never lie as lying is always wrong.

2. I would lie if it was the best thing to do in the circumstances.

3. I find it very difficult to tell a lie.

Your pick reflects one of the three philosophical approaches. It's not an empirically tested 'test' but it gets the message across - there is no single/sole standard by which we can judge another person's decision framework as morally right or wrong. Yet the media seem to focus/imply that there are such "standards", and they often try to paint individuals (politicians in particular) as hypocrites based on their own personal, self-derived standards without any basic understanding of moral philosophy (i.e., theoretical knowledge on the subject). 

by Daniel Laird on June 04, 2014
Daniel Laird

So Labour are damned if they do and damned if they don't. If they give Davis a good list position, they're coat-tailing, and dirty-dealing, and if they give him a low position, they're risking losing a valuable and talented MP.

That may be the reality Labour is facing, that may be the perception the public will hold from now until September, and it can be worthwhile to discuss that perception, what effect it may have on Labour, and the outcome of the election. But your piece seems to buy into the idea that the existence of this conflict of interest is prima facie evidence that Labour is exploiting that conflict of interest - unless they go out of their way to make sure there is no way they could benefit, even if it means shooting themselves in the foot by demoting Kelvin Davis (he just barely missed out on a list seat last time, despite the worst result for Labour in modern history). 

Again, maybe this is how the voters will see it. But I think part of the reason why they will see it like that is because the media and commentators are giving people the impression that there actually is a deal between Labour and IM - which kind of preempts the whole discussion. I'm not saying that Pundit is driving these perceptions, but I come here hoping for a more critical analysis of assumptions and perceptions, and the reality that lies behind these assumptions and perceptions - in addition to speculation about what it all means come September. 

(And I'd like to take a moment here to thank you, Tim, and all the other Pundit contributors. This is an incredibly valuable resource, both for the quality of the writing, and the robustness of the discussions. Cheers, Dan)

by william blake on June 04, 2014
william blake

Of course if IPMana did swing a deal and get extra seats in parliament and then enacted policy that fed, clothed and educated the poor it would be a moral victory, Ian.

by Eliza on June 04, 2014

@Katherine, Tim is clearly adopting a Kantian position and critiquing Laila for her failure to act in accordance with the maxim that she (presumably) would wish to have as a universal rule, as inferred by her prior standards and political statements. Good enough for you as a framework?

by Katharine Moody on June 04, 2014
Katharine Moody

Hi Eliza, yes it looks to me too that Tim is taking a Kantian position and transferring this approach to his critique of Laila's ethics in decision-making. Do you think the analysis might have been much different had he taken an Aristotelian approach, for example? 

That said though, I wouldn't call it a particularly robust analysis (in other words some of the evidence to support the analysis is a bit loose). For example, this statement, "Then there's Dotcom's libertarian approach to the internet. Is Harre comfortable with the idea at that end of the free internet debate, that copyright laws are essentially obselete [sic]?"

The IP has written/released its policies 'Cheap Universal Internet' and 'Privacy and Internet Freedom' but is yet to release its policy on 'Copyright Reform' ... so whether that policy 'essentially [makes] copyright laws obsolete' - we have to wait and see.

https://internet.org.nz/ (scroll down for released policies).

But that's just an aside. The main point I'm trying to make is, we read alot of opinion pieces particularly from political commentators using words like eithics, morals, integrity, hypocrisy etc. but I'm not sure we demand an appropriate level of understand the basic fundamentals of ethics/moral philosophy. Seems to me we'd all benefit from that understanding.    

by Peter Clareburt on June 04, 2014
Peter Clareburt

I Know various parties have made use of different processes under MMP - e.g. both Labour and National taking advantage of coat-tailing under Progressives, Act, United Furture etc. But this Mana deal is a significant difference. 

(1) it is using a Maori electorate which is a special concession in the eletroral system anyway (this is a consideration albeit minor)

(2) most significantly it is making use of and in fact is initiated by, a Foreign National. (this is a major deal)

It is one thing for us to play games amongst ourselves, but to me this experiment is a step too far. It is obvious that this individual for right or wrong as a specific beef with the current government, but for a Foreign National to set about and fund a process to impact the result in an election is something so significant to our way of life that to me he should be deported now for that simple act.

This is simply not acceptable and much as I might have personal favourites and dislikes amongst New Zealand political parties and poltical indviduals, they are ours and it is for us to sort out what we want.

This is a massivley dangerous precident to set. Ok some might say good riddence to someones pet hate of John Key, but this accepts the principal that a foreign interest should meddle in our politics into the future. Let us face it in world terms he is not mega rich. If this is successfull there will be plenty of other foreigners with infinatly larger resources that could take a beef with New Zealand and or our interests and influence the election of a government.

I am so surprised that anyone in New Zealand should be so willing to countanance this. It is not the same as a fee trade agreement e.g. cosiderations on the validity of the TPP, it is not the same as an elected government having dealings with other governments, organisations and people e.g. considerations around NSA etc, this is a foreigner meddling in our election process, the basic right we have to self determination and a group of previously ideaistic New Zealaders supporting his doing so.

The means do not justify the end. To quote Churchil "this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning, of selling our electoral process to interests out side of New Zealand for a short term expedient result. This is the worst thing we have alowed into our politics and it pales into insigficance any prior curruption of our freedoms that have come before. 

by Eliza on June 04, 2014

Katherine - an Aristotelian analysis could easily lead to the same conclusion (you could use this deal with your students as a case study for Aquinas's prudence/cunning discussion, for instance.)

Anyway, I'm all for more public discussion of philosophy, but political commentary doesn't have to name-drop ethical frameworks. Tim makes solid points.

by Katharine Moody on June 04, 2014
Katharine Moody

Eliza - as you're familiar with the subject, would you say this statement of Tim's, "They are about the ends and bugger the means" is a solid point? The way I interpret that is that Tim saying that teleological approaches to moral decision-making are somehow a wrong framework? But I take your point - Tim's post isn't really about morals/ethics.  

by Richard Aston on June 05, 2014
Richard Aston

Tim I agree that the Mana/IP coat tailing deal does look an opportunist working of the system. I wouldn't go so far as to say its gaming the system, as others have said it is within the law.

The govt should have listened to the feedback and removed the coat tail clauses but they would have had to change the threshold as well, somewhere between 2-3 %.A threshold change would have got Mana and the IP into parliament. Which is why the govt resisted changes to MMP. So clearly the govt was gaming the system by not making the changes the referendum indicated. 

My struggle is around how much respect we give the system itself. Does our system of government really act to represent the best interests of the people? Have you looked at Parliament TV recently? What a nasty little hell hole of big egos and petty bickering interspersed with long periods of meaningless speech’s to an almost empty house.

You are right our politicians should be individually held up to standards above the actual standard of parliament but given the system seems to support those politicians willing to do and say just about anything to get their way are we just being naïve .

I dunno, I don’t have any answers but personally I’d like to see Hone and Laila Harre get into parliament with a few likeminded MPs and have some of influence to change the system for the better. If they have to work a damaged system to do that, so be it.

As for the big German and his money at least it’s transparent. We don’t really know who is funding the other parties and by how much, that system has been well gamed for years.


by stuart munro on June 09, 2014
stuart munro

Well frankly I think Tim's and Labour's line is self-defeating. So we have several kinds of coat-tailing keeping the odious Key government in a position to steal our assets with a technical but spurious legitimacy. This coat-tailing is a kind of gerrymander, like the disenfranchisement of prisoners and ex-pats, which is designed to make it more difficult to remove a government for which, as the Banks not-quite-a-conviction-if-you-don't-want-it-to-be shows, a fair and straight-forward election is no part of their game plan.

There is nothing dodgy about Laila Harre. There is practically nothing dodgy about Kim Dotcom - the fines he was given in Germany for nuisance level hacking (as a teenager) were about $1000 - a couple of traffic tickets worth. There is no trick and nothing sordid, no secret Oravida guests or split cheques or cups of tea so secret a reporter was threatened into silence for uncovering the truth, or foreign sourced Exclusive Brethren funds.

But these are the folk the MSM come after. Tim, you're being Key's puppy.


by Tim Watkin on June 10, 2014
Tim Watkin

Eliza, thank you. Katharine, I'm sure you're sincere in your argument (andconcern about my failings as a student of philosophy!), but it does seem a bit name-droppish and show-offy to come on a political commentary site to debate Kant v Aristotle.

I'm a journalist and a generalist, not an academic and see no need to match your level of expertise, one you clearly lecture and specialise in. We all makes maths decision every day, and scientific calculations every day, yet I'm guessing you don't have the same level of expertise in those areas and wouldn't expect that from your political commentators either. 

Like you, I would love it if politicians felt able to be moved by evidence. That seldom happens for all kinds of reasons, but three prominent ones are because a) politics is driven by ideology rather than philosophy and b) they are whipped and funded by a party and c) because so many politicians have changed positions for their personal gain that the public are reasonably sceptical of such switches.

What you call "a trap" others might call consistency or honouring a promise. You might remember the fourth Labour government getting a second term on the basis that the pain was over and now it's time for the gain, only for asset sales to spread and Douglas to propose a flat tax. They (and you) might argue that was showing a refreshing flexibility, responding to changing economic realities and avoiding the traps of past promises. The real politik is that the electorate saw it as a betrayal of trust and punished Labour for three terms after (and arguably are still tainted by that sense of betrayal). Or perhaps you'd prefer the example of the super sur-tax. The point is, you can argue Kant will the cows come home, but politics is a foreign country from philosophy; they do things differently there. And for a reason.

And to rebut your criticism of my analysis – why the "sic" after the quote on internet freedom? I was clearly talking about Dotcom's view of internet freedoms, not the IP's so the party's policy is irrelevant to my point. I've interviewed Dotcom, looked at his business models and know Harre. From that imprefect knowledge, my analysis is that they are at very different philosophical (in the broader sense) places. It's pretty straight-forward evidence of the fact they are not fellow-travellers, no?

And I could ask you if you are making a solid point by singling out a lone sentence at the end of a long post... but to argue the substance,"They are about the ends and bugger the means" is a summary sentence after hundreds of words of argument. 'The ends' is clearly a change of government. Usually 'the means' involves policy, political and philosophical (the broad sense again) consistencies that are missing in this deal. Examples are given throughout the post. So what exactly do you find less than solid in all those examples?

@Stuart... I'm not trying to win anything for anyone, so can hardly be self-defeating! I think like Harre you're so keen to see the end of Key's government you're turning a blind eye to the means.

by Tim Watkin on June 10, 2014
Tim Watkin

Daniel, I don't think "the media" (and I'm always wary of that generalisation) is giving people the perception of a IM-Labour deal. But it's true that the whole point of IM is to change the government, that would mean a Labour govt to, ipso facto, Labour stands to benefit... Unless you agree with Paul's analysis today and reckon it actually hurts Labour.

As as much as you disagree with my analysis (and you may well be right), I thought the examples given do go behind the perception the IP and Mana are trying to create. And let me assure you – and it's not a judgment either way – but Davis' placement on the list is a way Labour can send a signal one way or the other. It's not a reflection on him or whether they're damned or not, it's just a tactic they have as an option and one that Labour people are openly talking about. Whether it's fair or not, it's a choice Labour faces.

@Peter, the man is a resident with a long-term commitment to New Zealand, so I'm not sure whether his being a "Foreign National" matters that much or is even much of a precedent. Mickey Savage was Australian, and many of our first PMs were British... Foreign Nationals who meddled much more in our politics than Dotcom.

by stuart munro on June 11, 2014
stuart munro

No Tim - you're trying to sell us a double standard. You won't openly roundly condemn this government - but let IMP try to use some of the same tactics and you're bristling with 'moral outrage'. The rules were set by the scum in government - festering masses of putresence like Judith Collins. Kindof hard to wrestle them into submission but expect to remain spotless.

by Katharine Moody on June 11, 2014
Katharine Moody

Tim, I had a quick look at AUTs journalism degree. These two core papers stand out:

285008Applied Media Ethics (15.00)

Analyses the nature of ethical issues. Examines ethical frameworks and codes by which personal judgments can be evaluated and by which diverse approaches to moral reasoning may be critically assessed, particularly with respect to a range of professional media contexts.

147830Journalism Law and Ethics (15.00)

Examines journalism law and ethics within a critical discourse using legal, ethical and philosophical concepts. Introduces students to a political economy approach to the institutions and traditions of journalism in New Zealand.


So, I'm assuming your profession has been given the foundational knowledge and understandings. Politics is a "foreign country from philosophy"? Perhaps. But only because we have discarded those understandings as largely irrelvant.

So many things I would like to respond to in your thoughts above but I think your point is that political blogs generally aren't about an analysis of evidence-based policies, or a contest of ideas based on fundamental understanding of moral and political philosophy. We're just here to defend our side of the ring in a debate about ideologies - and I think you're perhaps still stuck in a frmaework that distinguishes left from right.   




by Tim Watkin on June 11, 2014
Tim Watkin

Katharine, I think you can practice journalism and understand professional ethics without specialising in philosophy (or without having read Critique of pure reason!), yes. But no, I wouldn't assume that those papers teach what you would consider moral philosophy. My guess is that you'd despair at the lack of philosophical thought amongst journalists; I know I do at times. There are many reasons for that -- lack of time and resources, ratings and profit pressures, the fact that journalism doesn't tend to attract many people who view the world through that lens... and more.

Then again, I that would often by the wrong measure. Journalism at its heart has always been a trade rather than a profession (the need for tertiary training is very new to the profession) and many of the heroes and heroines of the industry would know how to spell Kant, but very little more. And for me, that's OK. No-one has a complete skill set and there are other more important values in the trade.

Yes, the political world still operates in a right/left framework (whether you like it or not). That framework can be very sophisticated if you understand it and yes it still colours my view of politics. It you don't see the importance of that distinction, they I better understand why you don't accept my point about the Harre-Dotcom pairing (small govt v big govt).

As for the (sarcastic?) dig that underpins your final par, I'd invite you to read back over the thousands of posts on Pundit to see the analysis of evidence-based policies (and the more commonly found non-evidence based policies)... and indeed the evidence-based analysis of all policy that predominates on the site. You may not like the evidence or the conclusions, but I'd certainly defend myself and the other pundits against that slight with the evidence of our work. As for no contest of ideas... what's the debate we've had in this thread? Chop suey?

by Tim Watkin on June 11, 2014
Tim Watkin

Stuart, no I won't be that personal or cruel and no I wouldn't roundly condemn what is, on many grounds, a relatively moderate government. I have been repeatedly critical on dozens of points, but it has good points as well.

I think you'll find I've been critical of this government's use of similar tactics (although I disagree it's "the same". I-M is a new hybrid and a new kind of deal unlike anything before, something you should be willing to recognise. And I've certainly been critical of its decision to ignore the advice of the MMP review. It was cynical and dishonest and it may yet come back to bite them... If not tomorrow, then some day and for the rest of its life. But I can still be disappointed when opponents sink to that level; aren't the most noble battles of history when right triumphs over shabby, self-serving behaviour by those in power? 

by Richard Aston on June 12, 2014
Richard Aston

"..political blogs generally aren't about an analysis of evidence-based policies, or a contest of ideas based on fundamental understanding of moral and political philosophy. We're just here to defend our side of the ring in a debate about ideologies - and I think you're perhaps still stuck in a frmaework that distinguishes left from right."

Katherine I am not sure if your comments are arrogant or just plain naive.
No these blogs are not exclusively about an "analysis of evidence-based policies" why should they be? It's way more nuanced than that. Governing countries is not about evidence based policies although they can form a subset of government policy. There is power, money, egos, personalities, blind ambition, acts of unexpected grace, elegant thinking, backrooms deals, persuasive oratory, spin doctoring and a whole lot more. You know, the full human story in all its ragged glory.


And yes sometimes the conversations here can appear to be polarised fighting over fixed positions. Academic Philosophy is no stranger to these

In my experience here; I am testing out my own thinking , hearing other perspectives,  challenges other's and being challenged myself. Often in the process I am widening my world view while stretching out my own philosophical framework.

I can hear your frustration - in these discussions - at the lack of a philosophical framework - as you define it,  in Tims post and perhaps politics in general. You say "we have discarded those understandings as largely irrelvant",  ever wondered why?

by Richard Aston on June 12, 2014
Richard Aston

@ Stuart "The rules were set by the scum in government - festering masses of putresence like Judith Collins"

Wow, love it , don't agree but love your passionate outrage.

More insults please ... I collect them as a hobby.



by stuart munro on June 12, 2014
stuart munro

I don't find them humorous. Nor are they moderate.

A moderate government does not conspire to alienate the assets they are paid to and sworn to protect.

A moderate government does not subordinate its counterintelligence services to foreign corporate copyright adventurism.

A moderate government does not pump the currency up to record levels for the benefit of speculators.

The old media playbooks for evenhandedness are merely a weakness against a party running full-time media stooges to set up the outcome they want by constructing fake outlying opinion sources like the Taxpayer's Union. This is the kind of strategy that has succeeded in giving oxygen to climate change denial when the science is unequivocally against it, and NZ MSM have become no better than a nodding dog to whatever codswallop they are presented.

The Gnats are not even a real party, they're an amorphous group of corporates and wealthy individuals determined to replace our real democracy with a procedural one, with a revolving door to ACT, the vestigal propaganda organ designed to come up with bizarre policies that allow the Gnats to claim to be 'centrist'.

The PM and his accomplices are presently backpedalling towards the centre in an attempt to become electable - but they are not a democratic government and they principally represent corrupt foreign interests.

They are traitors, and have earned the natural fate of traitors.


by DeepRed on June 16, 2014

The InterMana stitch-up is bare-faced opportunism, but at least the players involved are up-front about it, and I suspect it's an equal and opposite reaction to the Epsom and Ohariu teapot meetings. And some of Labour's front bench are openly contemptuous of the deal, quite possibly because they fear InterMana will cannibalise their vote.


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