What’s That Terrible Smell?
The 2014 Election
- Murray Horton
Large Man: Who's that then?
There was never any doubt that National was going to win the 2014 election; the only question was by how much. Specifically; whether National would become the first party in the MMP era to win 50% of the vote (a rare enough occurrence in the previous First Past the Post days). And for a brief period it did attain that distinction until special votes meant it lost an MP, the Greens got one back and National’s final share of the vote dropped to 49%. But the fact remains that National defied all precedent for a Government which had been in power for two terms, and won re-election for a third term with an increased majority. Only part of that was due to anything National said or did (having a singularly uninspiring Labour Party as its principal opponent also helped greatly) but the main reason was having the carefully manufactured inevitability of a National victory rammed down our throats day and night for the previous three years by the Government’s spin doctors, the transnational corporate media and their resident “experts”.
For years now New Zealand elections have been fought on the US presidential model, meaning that it all comes down to the individual fronting the party’s campaign. National recognises that John Key is its greatest asset and has been since he was parachuted in to replace the hapless Don Brash as Party Leader and then went on to defeat Helen Clark (who, likewise, was Labour’s greatest asset during her three terms in power). A major part of that is the careful cultivation of Key’s image as being a good bloke, one of the boys, someone above all the routine tawdriness of politics. Hence the classic Monty Python quote above – the king musn’t be seen to have shit all over him. But something didn’t go according to script for King John in the buildup to his 2014 coronation. The mask slipped, the curtain was pulled back, and the excremental reality of Key, National and their grubby mates was laid bare for all to see.
The Proctologist Of The Body Politic
That, of course, was courtesy of “Dirty Politics”, the latest book by Nicky Hager, the proctologist of the body politic. I don’t need to rehash the book’s revelations, they have been given extensive media coverage; the book is reviewed in this issue by Jeremy Agar; and, also in this issue, Dennis Small extensively cites from it in his article “Subverting Democracy: The Dirty Politics Of Media Machinations”. Suffice to say that “Dirty Politics” reveals the true way that Key and National operate, and the methods they use to ensure that they stay in power. Nicky’s book, combined with Kim Dotcom’s September 15 Moment of Truth public meeting in the Auckland Town Hall – deliberately timed to have maximum impact on the election just five days later – made for the most interesting election campaign in years. It was certainly the most unscripted. Their combined effect led to some nervous last minute handwringing by National’s apologists fretting about the election. They needn’t have worried – any electoral impact was, in fact, adjudged to have helped National to win with an increased majority. In short: a backlash. Let’s look at the Dotcom one.
Key had long been expecting and dreading these revelations about his Government’s systematic crimes against its own people, and its wholehearted participation in the international organised crime group known as Five Eyes. As far back as his much vaunted January 2014 Hawaii game of golf with President Obama he had said that he expected revelations about NZ in 2014 from Edward Snowden’s US National Security Agency (NSA) files. Indeed, the political and media commentariat went into a frenzy when Nicky Hager announced that he was releasing a new book the month before the election – the assumption (wrong, as it turned out) was that it would be material from the Snowden files.
The New Muldoon
It was fascinating to see how history repeats; as John Key, badly rattled by the Moment of Truth revelations, resorted to that faithful tool of all Tory politicians wanting to deflect attention from their lies and crimes, namely to ignore the message and shoot the messenger. So, even in advance of the event, Key was heaping disgraceful insults onto Pullitzer Prize-winning American journalist Glenn Greenwald*, calling him “Dotcom’s little henchman”, “a conspiracy theorist”, and that favourite epithet from Key’s former life as an international money trader, “a loser”. He and his political and media allies were able to get great mileage out of the fact that all of the major figures at the Moment of Truth – Greenwald, Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and, most importantly, Kim Dotcom (who didn’t help his case by cackling throughout like some sort of oversized German villain in a James Bond movie) are foreigners. *Jeremy Agar’s review of Greenwald’s “No Place To Hide: Edward Snowden, The NSA And The Surveillance State” is in Watchdog 136, September 2014, http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/36/11.html
And we New Zealanders don’t like foreigners telling us what to do, do we. Well, only if they’re good foreigners, like the President of the US or the Director of the NSA – but that’s different, isn’t it. And I wondered: who was the last Tory PM to shoot unwelcome foreign messengers and whip up populist resentment against foreigners from the progressive side of the argument telling us what to do in relation to a national and international disgrace in which New Zealand had been very much caught with its pants down? The answer was none other than our old mate Piggy Muldoon, who used to rail against African and other Third World politicians telling us to cut our sporting ties with apartheid South Africa (with the dog whistle message that not only were they foreigners but, worst of all, black foreigners). So that nice Mr Key, smile and wave John, selfie John, is none other than the reincarnation of Piggy Muldoon, minus the dimple. The Muldoonist parallel continues with “Dirty Politics”, showing how Rightwing attack blogs like Cameron Slater’s Whale Oil now carry out the political dirty work, smears and character assassinations that in Piggy’s day were done by old dead tree media Truth. Even the relationship with the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) is the same. So, nothing changes in Torydom, it’s just that the weapons get upgraded.
Wearing my Anti-Bases Campaign hat, I marvelled that ABC’s core issue – NZ’s involvement in the Five Eyes global electronic spying network, courtesy of the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) and the Waihopai spy base – was suddenly front and centre in the election campaign and completely dominated the media for several days. That has never happened in any previous election campaign and you have to go back to 1987 to find an election where foreign policy was the major issue (that was the election where National unsuccessfully campaigned to reverse Labour’s nuclear free policy). And this completely unique state of affairs was brought to us by a lineup of global A listers in the field of intelligence revelations. For a brief time, NZ was in the international spotlight in the continuing fallout from the Snowden revelations.
You may have forgotten those revelations already, because the subject was completely dropped as soon as the election was over and National and its media sycophants were wallowing in triumphalism. Let’s remind ourselves what they were. The major one, of course, was the mass surveillance of New Zealanders. Fear of this was behind all the fuss about the earlier revelations about the GCSB’s illegal spying on Kim Dotcom and more than 80 other New Zealanders. That, in turn, led to the massive protests against the 2013 GCSB Act, which simply legalised the crime of spying on New Zealanders (see my article “Crime Pays! Government Legalises GCSB Culture Of Impunity”, in Peace Researcher 45, June 2013, http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/pr/45/pr45-001.html).
Warren Thomson wrote in Peace Researcher 48 (November 2014, “Mass Surveillance Of New Zealanders; Greenwald Versus Key”, http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/pr/48/pr48-001.html): “Greenwald told TV3's The Nation he had been looking through NSA documents obtained by Edward Snowden which revealed the extent of New Zealand's surveillance activities as one of the Five Eyes countries, with the US, UK, Canada and Australia. These documents contradict statements by the Government that New Zealand doesn't engage in mass surveillance or target New Zealanders unless they are involved in activities such as terrorism or cyber crimes. Greenwald told TV3: ‘The Government does engage in extraordinary amounts of analysis of metadata - meaning who’s talking to whom, for how long, where they are when they speak - on a massive indiscriminate scale not just internationally but of New Zealanders as well’.
“Prime Minister John Key disputed the claims. He began by denying there was any mass surveillance. ‘There is no mass surveillance of New Zealanders by GCSB and there never has been mass surveillance of New Zealanders by GCSB,’ he told reporters. Later he admitted that programmes had been planned, and tried to divert attention by constantly referring to a programme that had been considered but then rejected. Material written by Keith Ng and reported on the Scoop Website (retrieved 16/914) states: ‘What Key has done is release a bunch of documents about a programme called CORTEX. This was a plan to provide malware detection and disruption services to companies and Internet Service Providers. Cortex has nothing to do with SPEARGUN’, a cable access project underway in 2013 (or with XKeyscore. Ed.). What got stopped by Key – and which is the basis of his reassurance to the New Zealand public – was to do with an entirely different issue. It was a complete red herring.
“Key later also confessed that the capacity for mass surveillance through XKeyscore was available, but still tried to deny the GCSB used it – although former GCSB Director Sir Bruce Ferguson had gone as far as saying personnel were trained in the system. Greenwald said New Zealand spent an extraordinary amount of resources on electronic surveillance for a country of its size. He also pointed out – based, remember, on the reading of thousands of the NSA’s own documents – that: ‘Every single thing that the NSA does...involves NZ directly’. New Zealand spied on a variety of countries, hostile and allies, on behalf of the US and UK, he said. One NSA document released by Snowden/Greenwald told New Zealand’s security services and those of other Five Eyes nations to ‘sniff it all, know it all, collect it all, process it all and exploit it all’. This includes the communications of any NZ citizen. Scoop’s Gordon Campbell commented: ‘People like Thomas Beagle of Tech Liberty were saying (in 2013), at the time the (new GCSB) legislation was going through … that the GCSB and TICSA legislation (Telecommunications [Interception Capability and Security] Act) set up a system of mass surveillance and – in TICSA – invested sweeping and unchecked powers in the GCSB over our digital traffic’ (Scoop, ibid)”.
But that wasn’t the only revelation to come out of the Moment of Truth. For example, Edward Snowden stated that the NSA operates facilities in NZ (i.e. other than Waihopai, which is operated for them by the GCSB). Snowden said that they were in Auckland and in the north of the country. Standard operating procedure for spies is to operate out of their countries’ embassies and consulates, so it’s logical to assume that the NSA is doing that from the US Consulate in Auckland, which is also handy to the two NZ landing stations for the Southern Cross telecommunications undersea cable across the Pacific to the US – Snowden said that in his work as an NSA analyst he had routinely come across New Zealanders’ communications, which had been obtained by tapping the Southern Cross cable.
It’s less clear where any NSA facility may be in Northland (Winston Peters claimed to know the location of both facilities, stating that he learnt about them when he had been both Deputy and Acting Prime Minister in the past. But he wouldn’t say where). There were revelations that NZ has sent spies into friendly countries to spy on them on behalf of the US, and that NZ embassies have been used by the GCSB. Key was also forced to admit that, while he is adamant that the GCSB has never carried out mass surveillance on New Zealanders, he couldn’t rule out that the NSA might be doing so.
Does The Pope Wear A Funny Hat?
That’s the response to the question: “Does John Key tell lies?” In fact, he couldn’t lie straight in bed. But lying is seen as a necessary qualification for being a politician, a job that has been described as lying for your country (which usually means lying for your Government/Ministry/party/mates/family/job. Choose one, all or any combination). The fact of the matter is that neither “Dirty Politics” nor the Moment of Truth got rid of Key and co. Some of the reasons are specific. For example, the propaganda war in support of the Five Eyes international organised criminal group didn’t wait until after the election was over. In the days immediately between the Moment of Truth and Election Day the domestic and international emphasis suddenly swung onto the baddies from central casting, namely the Islamic State (IS) terrorists who had been murderously rampaging through Iraq and Syria for several months. For an analysis of how Islamic State is yet another “blowback” on the West (just as Osama bin Laden was), see Dennis Small’s article “Capitalist Militarism: The New Social Darwinism And The Crisis Of Western Civilisation” in Peace Researcher.48, November 2014, http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/pr/48/pr48-009.html). Suffice to say that if IS didn’t exist it would have to be invented by Western governments, intelligence agencies and media. Not only are they behaving in a totally abhorrent genocidal fashion in their newly created “state”; but they have followed the script, brutally murdered Western captives and issued threats against Western countries which take up arms against them.
Dotcom was naive in thinking that the Moment of Truth would swing the election. Apart from anything else early voting had already started weeks beforehand and tens of thousands had already voted. Dotcom, of course, had self-interested motives in putting the Five Eyes issue front and centre in the final week of the election campaign. The Dotcom case is a textbook one of its kind, where the New Zealand State, from the highest political level down to its enforcement agencies such as the Police and the spies, fell over itself to do the bidding of the US government which is working hand in glove with huge US transnationals, namely the movie and music industries, to shut down Dotcom’s operation, lock him up and deliver him to be imprisoned by those whose interests he had threatened. The Yanks said “jump”, and the New Zealand government said “how high?” That case demonstrates the privatisation and corporatisation of American foreign policy. Wearing my CAFCA hat, I need to say that we don’t carry a flag for Kim Dotcom – he should never have been allowed into the country. The fact that he was allowed in is a further demonstration of the gutlessness of the Overseas Investment Office, which sees its role as a doorman for foreign “investors”, when what is needed in cases like this is a bouncer. CAFCA has a copy of that Office’s file on Dotcom – it makes for fascinating reading (you can read James Ayers’ analysis of it in Watchdog 130, August 2012, “Kim Dotcom And The Good Character Test: Money Versus Power”, http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/30/06.html).
But wearing my ABC hat, I express gratitude that he has tackled head on the covert State which was illegally spying on him and that, in doing so, has forced into the open the whole shonky practices of the GCSB and their counterparts in the US. Good on him for doing so. Post-election, things are not looking too good for Dotcom, with him claiming to be broke; the US music and movie transnationals are after his assets; and the prosecution, acting on behalf of the US government, sought to revoke his bail and have him remanded in prison (they were unsuccessful, but the judge tightened his bail conditions). Even his highest profile political victim, John Banks, has won a retrial in the illegal political donations’ case that revolves almost entirely around Dotcom’s word against that of Banks and his wife.
Marriage Of Convenience Or Kiss Of Death?
Before leaving the subject of Dotcom I need to address the issue of his bankrolling of the Internet/Mana Party. This was a marriage of convenience between the newly created Internet Party, within which Dotcom had a high profile, and the existing Mana Party, which had one MP, namely Hone Harawira. Both parties featured leading figures well known to CAFCA members – Internet Party Leader Laila Harre had been a high profile Roger Award Chief Judge last decade; both John Minto and Sue Bradford have articles in this issue of Watchdog. John and Sue took opposite views of Mana’s involvement with Dotcom – Sue left the party, John stayed (and was even the subject of an NZ Herald editorial about how it would be good for him to be in Parliament). It was an issue that divided the Left – personally I didn’t see it as being any different than the far more tortuous marriage of convenience of five very disparate parties that comprised the former Alliance, and certainly no stranger than the Maori Party getting into bed with National. Parliamentary politics is all about compromise and doing deals. It was an interesting experiment to see an unashamedly Leftwing party being able to campaign with some real money behind it. There were obvious tensions between the two constituent parties; some incidents which the hostile media were quick to seize on; and the end result was that it didn’t work, with Harawira defeated in his seat, Internet/Mana getting no MPs and Laila Harre quitting as Internet Party Leader. So it was a gamble which was lost. But I reckon it was a risk worth taking, rather than to have died wondering what might have been.
The strategy’s fatal weakness was having all its eggs in one basket, namely Harawira’s electorate seat. The likes of New Zealand First urged their followers to give their party votes to Labour, to join forces to get rid of Hone and kill off the Parliamentary chances of Internet/Mana. Labour is much less adept at the MMP game than National – it doesn’t seem capable of doing mutually beneficial deals with smaller parties. If it had done such a deal with Internet/Mana, it may have picked up something like three MPs who could be counted on as allies and who could have been crucial in any Labour-led coalition. But, no, Labour is stuck in a pre-1996 time warp where all that counts is the electorate vote, so Labour got one extra MP, namely the one who defeated Harawira. On election night Dotcom took the blame, saying that his “brand” had proved toxic to Internet/Mana. That’s true to a certain extent but far from the full story. For instance, it’s a good bet that a lot of the young people who flocked to Internet/Mana’s election road show would have been amongst the one million eligible voters who didn’t actually vote. The test now for the Internet and Mana Parties is to see if they can survive outside of Parliament and return to it (as New Zealand First did) or whether they will go the way of the Alliance (which didn’t).
“They’re All A Pack Of Bastards, So Who Cares?”
Which brings us back to the question of why didn’t “Dirty Politics”/Moment of Truth deliver a knockout blow to the Key government? Well, although Dotcom thought that his extravaganza might have had that effect; Nicky Hager had no such illusions. He publicly said, repeatedly, that he expected National to win the election. Why is that so? Key is undeniably very popular and the spin doctors/compliant media do everything possible to keep it that way. The economy is doing OK, within a strictly limited and distorted definition of OK – it’s a low wage economy with a rapidly widening rich/poor gap, inequality and child poverty are a national scandal, and the working poor, and below them the demonised beneficiaries, depend on food banks and other charity. Even the three “good news” indicators – dairying, the Auckland housing market and the Christchurch rebuild – are very much boom and bust phenomena; one being a speculative bubble; one is a short term construction gold rush resulting from the country’s worst ever natural disaster in our recorded history; and, as for the dairying boom, it’s a case of putting all one’s milk into one basket, the one labelled “China”. None of those three things provides a sound basis for an economy. There is one law that trumps any law of “the market” and that is the law of gravity, namely that what goes up must come down.
Very specifically, Key and his spin doctors proved themselves to be true Muldoonists. Piggy’s greatest weapon was the counter-attack. He used to attack his attackers, quite often before they’d actually attacked him (the first strike school of nuclear warfare). So Key, whilst simultaneously looking shifty, tried to dismiss “Dirty Politics” as a “Letfwing conspiracy”. He was able to distance himself from the muck and slime exposed in it by saying that it didn’t involve him personally. He proclaimed himself to be at arms’ length from the repulsive Cameron Slater (even his name is appropriate, a slater being something that scuttles away when you lift a rock). Having denounced Nicky Hager for publishing “stolen e-mails” (Nicky was subjected to a lengthy Police raid on his home, and seizure of computers, etc, following a complaint from Cameron Slater), Key had no qualms in using a separate stolen e-mail (not one of those published in “Dirty Politics”) to publicly humiliate and force the resignation from Cabinet of Judith Collins, a rival and constant source of political embarrassment. Above all, as in the quote from “Monty Python And The Holy Grail” that I used at the start of this article, he must be the king because he hasn’t got shit all over him or, more correctly, not seen to have shit all over him.
There is a deeper reason why “Dirty Politics” et al didn’t tip the election and that is summed up in the title I’ve given this sub-section. It’s called depoliticisation, whereby people are deliberately alienated from feeling that they have any stake in the running of their own country; that democracy is a theoretical concept only. One million people didn’t vote; those who did were led to believe that “Dirty Politics” was only a “Beltway issue”. This phrase, another example of American cultural imperialism (it actually refers to the area of Washington DC within a defined set of expressways) means that it doesn’t register as a ”real issue” in the “real world”. President Richard Nixon, who set the gold standard for criminal politicians, used as his benchmark of any issue or policy: “Will it play in Peoria?”. Thirty years of dog eat dog Rogernomics’ toxin has had the effect of leaving people deeply apathetic and cynical about politics and politicians. And that’s exactly the way Key and those behind him want it. Don’t you little people take any interest in what we’re doing, all the better so that we can keep doing it to you.
Nicky Hager has said that “Dirty Politics” is his successor book to “The Hollow Men” (reviewed by Jeremy Agar in Watchdog 114, May 2007, http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/14/03.htm). In that earlier book, Key’s predecessor, Don Brash and his covert mates refer to “the punters out in punter land” (Brash was dumped and replaced by Key because the Brash “brand” was too hard to sell to the mugs). So, we’re not voters or citizens but “punters out in punter land”. Or “consumers” (not only of material goods but of the ideology of constant competition and individualism, which is pushed in things as apparently innocuous as primetime TV cooking and house renovation shows). And, my favourite, that we are “shoppers” – which gives us the illusion of doing something whilst spending money to become walking billboards for transnational corporations. The powers that be are terrified of a passionate and deeply engaged electorate. Witness the hysteria in the British ruling class and its media at the very real prospect of Scotland voting “Yes’ in the independence referendum held just two days before the NZ election. Fortunately for them, the Scots voted “the right way”, so they can carry on tugging their forelocks to the English. The death of Gough Whitlam in October 2014 brought back many memories for me (I was a political activist in Sydney when his Labor government was overthrown in a bloodless coup in 1975). Whitlam’s Tory usurper, Malcolm Fraser, was quoted as saying that now that he was in power, his goal was to get politics off the front page of the papers and restore normal service by getting sport back into prime spot. The Murdoch papers, which had played such a leading role in the coup, were only too happy to oblige. Depoliticisation, disempowerment, disenfranchisement, alienation. Those are the key words. Or, more correctly, the Key words
The Rest Were Just Bit Players
By which I mean the various Opposition parties. The conventional wisdom is that Governments lose elections rather than the Opposition winning them, usually because of the good old “time for a change” mantra (that was certainly the case in the 2008 election that replaced Clark with Key). But, in 2014, it was more a case of Labour losing it rather than National winning. Labour had some good policies and some good people. They thought they had cracked the much vaunted leadership X factor by picking David Cunliffe. He certainly talked the talk but there was a strong whiff of insincerity behind the Party’s supposed commitment to what he was propounding. It was glaringly obvious that he did not have the support of his colleagues. As in the 2011 election every Tory billboard said “John Key and National”. But the Labour billboards highlighted the electorate vote over the party vote. So the message was: “It’s every man and woman for him and herself. We’re a group of individuals, not a party. Vote for me, not for it”. And Labour came up short on various critical issues – they stayed out of the “Dirty Politics” and Moment of Truth revelations, meaning that they were sidelined, silent and irrelevant during the biggest stories of the whole election campaign. When pressed for Labour’s position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), Cunliffe inanely said: “Let’s wait and see what’s in the negotiating text”. Duh – by the time that deliberately secret text is made public, it will be far too late, the deal will be done and dusted. The Labour Right, such as former Leader Phil Goff, is strongly committed to globalisation and transnational investment agreements like the TPPA.
On my March-July 2014 CAFCA/ABC national speaking tour* I proposed several key principles that any NZ government needs to adopt for this country to be a truly equal, fair, inclusive and independent sovereign nation. I was asked: “Wouldn’t there be consequences if NZ did what you propose?” Yes, there would be, and having lived in Aussie during the 1975 Whitlam overthrow, I am fully aware of the risks. But there are also consequences of having a Labour Party that has never renounced, let alone reversed, the Rogernomics betrayal that it imposed on New Zealanders 30 years ago. That was as much of a bloodless coup as the one that overthrew Whitlam. All of us live with those consequences every day. And there are consequences for a Labour Party that has adopted gutlessness as its central principle, a party that stands for nothing other than doing whatever it thinks it will take to get back into office, to win power for power’s sake. Nothing worked for it in 2014 and, once Cunliffe had led the Party to its worst election result since 1922, the wheels spectacularly fell off. Andrew Little has made a promising start as the new Leader but it remains to be seen how the Party shapes up over the long haul (ironically, Little has started shouting about the “Dirty Politics” revelations now that the election is all over; but has said nothing about the Moment of Truth revelations. Labour won’t touch Five Eyes – the nuclear free policy of 30 years ago is as far as it is prepared to go when it comes to defying the US). *My speech, “Who’s Running the Show? And In Whose Interests?”, can be read in Watchdog 136, September 2014, http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/36/01.html.
The Greens had their most disappointing result in a decade, having to rely on special votes just to retain the number of MPs they had (in previous recent elections they had increased their numbers each time, and special votes had always given them another one). CAFCA and ABC have had long standing close and productive working relationships with the Greens at grassroots level, on issues like the campaign to close the Waihopai spy base and the Keep Our Assets Canterbury network. The Greens have reached a stage in their history where the campaigners are being replaced by the politicians and there is a philosophical struggle between what the Tory media and Rightwing commentators describe as the “realists” versus the “fundamentalists” (the German Green Party is presented as the model for this same struggle, with the “realos” having defeated the “fundis” many years ago, and the Greens having become a crucial part of the German political Establishment). By that they mean that the Greens should stick to their environmental knitting and become a blue green party with whom the Tories and their mates can do business, and forget all this “class warfare” stuff about social justice and things like Five Eyes. I have a very good working relationship, not to mention personal friendships, with people in the Greens, including MPs, but I think the Party has become rather too mumsy for my liking.
There’s nothing much to say about the other parties. Good old New Zealand First keeps on keeping on in its role as the alternative National Party – “old National” in the same way that the former Alliance was “old Labour”. The Maori Party continues its death spiral towards electoral oblivion, still paying the price for aligning itself with National in 2008 despite the great majority of voters in the Maori seats supporting Labour (which was reflected in Labour’s only bright spot in 2014, namely winning five of those seven Maori seats). It’s not even worth mentioning Act or United Future – their sole MPs are only in Parliament because of “grace and favour” deals with National. United Future even suffered the indignity of being deregistered as a party because its membership fell below the legally required number (they managed to scrape up enough people to get registered again). Ironically, the only party to campaign strongly on specifically CAFCA concerns was the least likely one, a party that didn’t make it into Parliament – namely the Conservatives. Party Leader Colin Craig took umbrage when Key said that National wouldn’t do a coalition deal with the Conservatives because Craig was too “flaky”. So, in August, Craig gave Key the fingers by raising the perennial hot button issue of rural land sales to foreigners and revealed that Lochinver Station, near Taupo, was being sold to Chinese buyers, making it the hottest of hot button issues. This was a big story and led to both me and Bill Rosenberg being approached by major media outlets for comment and information on behalf of CAFCA. In one radio interview I said: “I never thought I’d say this, but CAFCA thanks and congratulates the Conservative Party for making this public”. That just reinforced our point that CAFCA’s issue – foreign control – is, and always has been, one that resonates right across the New Zealand political and social spectrum.
More Asset Sales
So what should we expect from the next three years of National? The very first law that they rammed through Parliament after the election was the one depriving workers of tea breaks (among many other, more substantive, attacks on workers’ pay and conditions). This just continues the long and dishonourable Tory tradition of bashing workers and unions. And – guess what – more asset sales. But didn’t they say that was the lot after they’d partly flogged off Mighty River Power, Meridian and Genesis Energy? Yes they did, but now they’re going to release the State from the “burden” of owning and operating social housing. State houses are going to be hocked off to various private providers, all in the name of “efficiency”.
Even mainstream media commentators have picked up that this is another asset sale, potentially the biggest of the lot because the State is the country’s biggest landlord. Those same commentators have reported, in small print; that – guess what – those electricity generation State-Owned Enterprises did not end up in the hands of “mum and dad” investors but the usual suspects. “A fund run by Mellon Bank of New York appears to have made a profit in excess of $100m in one year, purely from a major bet on Meridian. Although the Government never pretended it could control the gains for investors, it is hardly the story of preference for Kiwi mums and dads we were promised” (Press, 1/11/14, “Going Once, Twice: Power To the People”, Hamish Rutherford, http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/opinion/10687704/Going-once-twice-power-to-the-people). So housing becomes just another one of the never ending list of things, stretching back to the 80s, that the “Government has no business being in”.
Plausible Deniability & Terrorism Hysteria
But Key is most adamant that the Government is very much in the business of spying and war. Indeed these were his top priorities after re-election. Funnily enough, he hadn’t campaigned on them and can’t claim a mandate for them. As soon as the election was over, he was indecently keen to break with all precedent and get shot of the portfolios of Minister in Charge of the SIS and GCSB, which had always been held by the Prime Minister, regardless of whether National or Labour was in power. He bestowed them onto Chris Finlayson, whilst giving himself the newly created portfolio of Minister for National Security and Intelligence. Why did he dump responsibility for the two spy agencies onto one of his “little henchmen”? Simple – they had been causing him grief during the Government’s 2011-14 term and grief is bad for the image of smile and wave John, selfie John. What Key and his spin doctors desperately needed was plausible deniability, that favourite phrase of political criminals and spymasters going back to the 1970s’ USA of Richard Nixon and the Watergate Scandal. “Nothing to do with me, you’ll have to ask the Minister in Charge of the SIS and GCSB”. He needs to be at arms length from the day to day business of the spies, to be insulated from the dirty deeds and grubby details.
And, within a very short period of time, an impressive dose of hysteria was whipped up about Islamic State (IS) – these Muslim terrorist bastards are going to come here and chop off our heads! We will have to fight them there before they kill us all here! Where have I heard that before? I know, in the 1960s and 70s, when the Communists/Red China/the Viet Cong/the Yellow Peril was going to sweep down through Vietnam, murder us all in our beds, and do unspeakable things to our sheep, unless we stopped them there before they got here. In that same pre-election week as Kim Dotcom’s Moment of Truth event there were major Police raids in Australian cities looking for “IS-linked domestic terrorists” and the Abbot government, with the support of the Labor Opposition, stampeded through new draconian laws giving unprecedented oppressive powers to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO). Right on cue editorials began to appear in the likes of the Press saying that: “Like it or not, the most effective contribution that New Zealand might make to the fight against Islamic State is through our involvement in global surveillance through the Five Eyes intelligence network” (27/9/14, “What Can New Zealand Offer In Fight Against IS?”). The New Zealand Herald went further with an editorial headed: “NZ Must Be Ready To Join Fight Against IS” (1/10/14).
Hey Ho, It’s Off To War We Go
So now the war drums were being beaten. There was a war coming up and New Zealand risked being left out of it! Key started dropping broad hints that he intended committing NZ to this hastily cooked up (cocked up, more likely) war against IS in both Iraq and Syria. To her great credit, Helen Clark had kept NZ out of the illegal 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq, although her Labour government had later sent supposedly “non-combat” military engineers to Basra, in the south of the country. Their deployment achieved nothing, they did get involved in the war, and they had to be withdrawn as the war turned against the illegal occupation forces. And to his credit, John Key did not get NZ involved in Iraq during his first (2008-11) term (his predecessor as National’s Leader, Don Brash, had been very keen to get NZ involved if he had won the 2005 election. Not to mention that the nuclear free policy would have been “gone by lunchtime”).Obama pulled American combat forces out of Iraq at the end of 2011 when a Status of Forces Agreement (which gives US troops immunity from local laws) could not be imposed on the puppet Iraqi government which was ungratefully biting the hand that fed it.
But the emergence of IS has meant that the US and its various satellites, including NZ, are now scrambling to get back into a new Iraq war, one which encompasses Syria as well (notice how there has been no further mention about overthrowing the vicious Bashar Assad regime in Syria. Suddenly his enemies – or, at least, the “non-moderate” ones – are also the West’s enemies. Funny old business is propaganda). This is what the American military calls “mission creep”. Key must be feeling, as he contemplates a retirement of smiling and waving at himself in the mirror, that his “legacy” will be lacking a war. He inherited the equally futile Afghanistan one from Helen Clark, but he wants one of his own. Better late than never, John.
Part and parcel of Key softening up NZ public opinion to get us involved in a war is his sudden drive to toughen up already repressive anti-terrorism laws, all under the guise of restricting the ability of “Kiwi jihadis” from going off to join IS to fight in Iraq and Syria, and then come back to chop off our heads. Conveniently, he said that the number of any such alleged fighters had to be kept secret (trust me, I’m a politician!). Still following the script, he made public, for the first time, the threat level (of terrorist attacks in NZ); saying that it had been recently raised from “very low” to “low”. Wow, that’s pretty scary.
The result was the hastily cobbled together Countering Terrorist Fighters Bill, with provisions including increased surveillance powers for the SIS, travel restrictions and new criminal offences. Key wanted to stampede Labour into cross-party support (as happened in Australia) in order to get the changes rushed into law before Christmas under Urgency. But Labour and the Greens weren’t prepared to give him a blank cheque for such significant law changes. The so-called “oversight” Intelligence and Security Committee (a committee of Government, not Parliament) had not been constituted post-election, so all the Government was offering was an obscenely truncated hearing before Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee – which gave precisely 24 hours notice for public submissions and rushed through hearing them in two days. This unseemly haste worried all sorts of heavyweight groups, such as the Law Society and the Human Rights Commission. The mainstream media editorialised against the Bill and the haste in rushing it through (e.g. Listener, 6/12/14, “Freedom Versus Security”, http://www.listener.co.nz/commentary/editorial/freedom-vs-power/). A modified version was passed, with Labour support.
At the time of writing, the details of John Key’s Iraq war are still being worked out. He has suggested that NZ troops go as part of a combined Anzac contingent for the first time in 100 years (2015 being the centenary of Gallipoli), thus feeding into the ceaseless flow of militarist propaganda arising from the 2014-18 rolling centenary of World War One. It’s an unfortunate precedent – what tends not to be spoken out loud was that Gallipoli was a failed invasion of a Middle Eastern nation by Australasian troops in the service of a white Western empire (Britain then, the US now). More significantly, Gallipoli was a bloody great defeat; the Turks repulsed the invaders – us.
Key has also said that NZ military personnel will be in Iraq to train their military. Good luck with that – that same military has had years of training and billions of dollars from the US military. And the net result was that when IS launched its 2014 blitzkrieg, the corrupt and unmotivated Iraqi military ran away. It was recently revealed that the Iraq Army included 50,000 “ghost soldiers” i.e. corrupt officers pocketed the pay of 50,000 troops that didn’t exist. Shades of what happened in another US puppet military in an earlier era, namely the former South Vietnam. That didn’t end so well for the US either. Key is always bragging about being good mates with the All Blacks (and they like bragging that they vote for him) – perhaps he should send a few of them over to train the Iraqis how to run fast.
This is a story that is still unfolding but we already know that it is a shoddy sequel to the original bad movie, “The War On Terror” starring George Bush, Tony Blair, John Howard and a cast of thousands of villains. We know the script of this ultimate disaster movie, featuring oil, lots of explosions, the theft of whole countries, murder by remote control, torture, kidnappings, police state laws, an endless supply of cartoonish villains who started off on “our side”, and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. And at the end of every movie in the endless ”War On Terror” series we know that there will have to be a sequel involving more of all of the above. That’s the tar pit that Key is hellbent on leading us into. Watch this space. But one good thing should come out of it all – Tory governments are always dead keen to cut costs. Well, John Key can save the cost of his new flag referendum distraction. Just adopt the Stars and Stripes, John. Instead of a silver fern, put a dollar sign on it.
So, What Is That Terrible Smell?
Take your pick – triumphalism, corruption, arrogance, contempt, self-delusion, born to rule hubris. It’s a heady brew and there’s plenty more where that came from. Is it all gloom and doom, then? Nope, I take the optimistic view. Key and his cronies will stew in their own juice. By winning the election, they have to own the consequences of the crimes and misdemeanours revealed by “Dirty Politics”. Those consequences will continue to bite them for years to come. Their apologists say that nobody cares, that those things are all side issues, “not the real issues that people care about”. That’s what was said in the US about Watergate in the 70s.
What happened here is not Watergate but it’s getting there, and it certainly shows the same mentality of “destroy your opponents, real or imagined”, the same contempt for the people that the Government was elected to serve, and who pay their wages. The parallel with Watergate offers a very instructive lesson – Key has just won re-election with an increased majority. End of story, say the apologists. Not so fast. Watergate broke in 1972 – Nixon won that year’s election by a landslide, winning all except one of the 50 states. But the Watergate story was only just beginning and it ended not long after, in 1974, with the impeached criminal Nixon becoming the only President to resign in office, to avoid trial. Learn the lessons of history, John.
Lessons Of History
And we, the Left, need to learn the lessons of history as well. It’s not all about John Key. I’m old enough to remember the huge amount of energy expended in getting rid of Piggy, who revelled in his role as a pantomime villain. And his replacement was – Roger Douglas, a man who had had a personality bypass, and who did far more damage to New Zealand than Muldoon ever did, damage that is still occurring today. Changing the face, or even the party in power, is nowhere near enough. What is needed is systemic change.
See my analysis of the 2011 election, “Welcome To Johnkeyistan! Don’t Worry, She’ll Be Right (In Every Sense Of The Word”) in Watchdog 128, December 2011, http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/28/01.htm; and of the 2008 election, “Heeeere’s Johnny!!” in Watchdog 119, February 2009, http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/19/02.htm.