Friday, June 20, 2014

Distraction politics

This past week was enough to make politics disgusting to anyone—including me. I’ve seen my fair share of nonsense and irrelevance in politics, and this week was nothing different. And, I hated it.

I’ve been voting for 37 years, volunteering in campaigns for a bit longer, and interested for as long as I can remember, but this week made me HATE politics. Despite the media and pundit hysteria, there was NOTHING in the attacks on Labour Leader David Cunliffe that was worthy of our attention—unless you’re John Key and the National Party, who need to have Labour torn down, of course.

There have been many conspiracy theories about this situation, and most of them I think are pretty stupid (and paranoid, even), though that doesn’t mean they're utterly baseless. Regardless, I’ve done my best to fight for what’s right, including as a two-day Twitter Warrior fighting against the bullshit.

The gist of the story—and there are many versions—is that a few days ago, Labour Leader David Cunliffe was asked, “Do you recall ever meeting [Donghua] Liu?” He answered, “I don't recall ever meeting him, no.” Then he was asked, “Did you have anything to do with the granting of his permanent residency?” and he answered, “No, I did not.” This is also important. He was then asked, “Did you advocate on his behalf at all?” and he answered, “No.”

The next day, the New Zealand Herald published a letter signed by David Cunliffe in which he asked if Immigration could provide an estimated time in which Mr. Liu could expect a decision on his residency application—a letter written ELEVEN YEARS AGO.

I don’t know anyone—me especially—who could recall letters written more than a decade ago. However, it’s likely that Cunliffe didn’t even write the letter, but followed on from the work of his staff. It’s what electorate MPs do. Even so, there is NOTHING in the letter that’s even remotely untoward or unusual.

So, what’s the point of reporting a bland, non-issue? Well, it fits National Party talking points about how Cunliffe is “tricky” and “untrustworthy”. As if. This is nothing more than National Party propaganda.

Nowhere in the letter does Cunliffe ask for special treatment or indicate ANY support for the application. Instead, it merely asks for a timeline, while acknowledging how busy they were. To suggest that this was a veiled “hurry up” to Immigration insults and demeans the hardworking people in that department who every day work according to the law and departmental policy: They don’t take orders from MPs, no matter what the fantasies of pundits pretend.

One of the main allegations in this saga is that the New Zealand Herald was tipped off by the Prime Minister or his minions. Here’s what we know for sure, based on Tweets I exchanged with the Herald’s reporter, Jared Savage: Back in early May, the Herald filed and Official Information Act request for information about Mr. Liu’s citizenship application. This was denied on privacy grounds on June 16. The Herald reporter immediately filed another request for all correspondence regarding Mr. Liu’s application before 2005, and this resulted in the letters they published. All of this is fact.

What we don’t know: Did anyone tell Savage where (or when) to look? I specifically asked him directly: “were you given some sort of tip about when to look for correspondence pre-2005?” He didn’t answer that. However, there are two key points here: First, if he was tipped off, he’s not bloody likely to tell me (source confidentiality), and second, he could have misread the question, even though that seems highly unlikely for a reporter with his obvious skills.

We know that John Key, the current prime minister, knew about the letter for “weeks”. This gets murkier: Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse at first declared that he never told Key’s office about the letter, then he suddenly changed his story and claimed he told Key on May 9—the day after the Herald filed their OIA request. Can anyone else see why this “coincidence” seems a wee bit, well, convenient?

I don’t think that the Herald was merely publishing what John Key told them to—I think that idea’s just plain silly. However, the preponderance of evidence is that Key’s office could have told the Herald where to look, and they did. Jared Savage’s avoiding the question of a tip isn’t proof. But neither is it in any way refutation of the presumption that he was tipped off by John Key or his cronies.

However, even though I suspect National was behind this with the full cooperation of the Herald, that doesn’t absolve Labour or Cunliffe. Mr. Liu has been a story for weeks, and any of Cunliffe’s aides who were too bloody useless to search out ANYTHING to do with Mr. Liu ought to be sacked at once. I don’t give a shit how long they’ve been with Cunliffe, their act of omission betrayed him and Labour and they must go—they have no place in anything to do with Labour because they failed the most important test. Good bye and good riddance.

Second, the Labour Party head office has been useless. Do they even have communications people? From the evidence I’ve seen, I’d guess they don’t, because there was NO counter narrative from the party, no debunking, no NOTHING. Party activists were provided absolutely no guidance from head office. If there’s a WORSE way to handle PR in a situation like this, I haven't yet seen it.

The story so far has all been about National Party talking points, and they’ve entirely framed the story and led it. An unstable and divided left suits National’s purpose because it will suppress the centre-left vote, something that lefty pundits have been all too eager to help—one must logically assume that they secretly want National to win.

This particular story is as stupid as it is over. The various “rumours” that John Key and his lackeys keep muttering about are nothing more than National Party smears. Let them provide proof for what they claim—they’ve never, ever been able to do that so far! Everything they’ve said has been based on nothing more than National Party lies and smears. New Zealand deserves better.

So, while John Key and the National Party lie and smear, Labour will make sure that every New Zealander has the opportunity for a secure, well-paid job, that every Kiwi has a warm dry home and has home-ownership in reach, and that our kids are given all of the opportunities they need to thrive and prosper.

At the end of the day, Labour is fighting for the REAL New Zealand.

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