We can have clean politics and get our democracy back.


Something is rotten in our politics and it stinks. Dirty politics has sadly become one of the defining features of this election campaign. In the light of recent revelations about the extent of nasty and disingenuous political strategies, it would be the worst outcome for the public to disengage. This isn’t a blog post about Dirty Politics’ revelations, the influence of money on politics, angry chants or the sad anti-Semitic themes on defaced billboards: it’s a blog post about what we can do about it.

Alexis de Tocqueville is often misquoted as saying the people get the government they deserve – but that is not true. No one deserves the smears, the hate, the anti-democratic behaviour we have seen lately. Slater has said “Politics is a nasty despicable game and its played by nasty despicable people” but in my five years in Parliament and engaging meaningfully with MPs from all sides, I believe the vast, vast majority of MPs are good people who simply want to make a difference. I know that there will be be MPs from both sides of the house that are hanging their heads in disbelief that the hard, honest and genuine work they do everyday has been dragged into such disrepute. I believe the public and our politicians want to be see a higher standard.

In my travels around the country campaigning for the youth vote for the Greens I hear a consistent message from young Kiwis – they don’t identify with the old-fashioned win-whatever-the-costs tribalism and are turned off by the petty personal attacks and pointless point scoring. Tune into any parliamentary Question Time or read Hagar’s book and you can see why we are steering down the barrel of another historic low electoral turnout. It’s time politicians showed leadership and took responsibility. The public is demanding it.

Politics can be competitive, it can be messy but I utterly reject Slater’s assertion that “Politics is a nasty despicable game and its played by nasty despicable people.” I also dispute the notion politics is always dirty, always has been and always will be. Politics is a battle of ideas, values and ultimately in a democracy, the collective power of the group to determine a course of action. It doesn’t have to be negative: it can be empowering, uplifting and positive. That’s why this election the Green ‘s campaign slogan isn’t ‘National Sucks’, it’s Love NZ.

What can we do about it? Firstly Kiwis should demand a higher standard and use their vote to enforce it. Politicians should realise there are no dirty-trick-shortcuts to electoral success and debate their policies with passion and vigour and not in personal smears. We do need an independent investigation into Hagar’s allegations and the Greens have called for a number of agencies from the Police to the Privacy Commissioner to undertake inquiries.

I know the Greens often come across as holier than though but our solutions, pushed for an awfully long time in areas like fundraising reform, greater political transparency, better public broadcasting, disclosure of lobbyists and a Parliamentary Code of Conduct sure do sound reasonable in these dirty politics times we find ourselves in. Disempowering dirty politics isn’t a force of nature we can’t control or a basic principle of politics; it’s a choice, a trap we’ve fallen into as a parliament, a media and a public but one we can get out of. Nicky Hagar has done the country a great service. It is said sunlight is the best disinfectant and by opening a public debate on dirty politics we can discuss it, set new boundaries and clean up our democracy.

Voters this September should remember they have the power and should demand clean politics.


  1. Thank you for the reminder and the concise comment, Gareth. It is good to be reminded there is more to see than the scummy side of the harbour.

  2. The following extract from the Carbonari Movement’s 1815 Manifesto seems to have considerable truth:
    “When it is the will of the great high God to punish nations, He consigns them to a government of idiots”.

    • Who is this God of which you speak? And by what right does this God have to circumvent our democracy?…

      Oh wait, we don’t live in a democracy. Our Head of State is still an heir to a genetic dynasty we call Monarchy which gets it’s “authority” or right to dominion from this fictional character you speak of which makes our country a Theocracy.

      Or is it an Idiocracy because we choose to keep it a Theocracy by failing to properly exercise our brains and our democracy? Yeah, that’s it I guess..

  3. wooo! go the Greens! you guys are gonna carve up this election, you have good policy, personable and reasonable leaders, have not played dirty like pretty much every other party, have the largest support of any ‘minor’ party… etc. etc. personally I think you outperform Labour by a long shot and should replace them as the major governing party. a Green led government would be fantastic for NZ.

  4. “As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate, action: you liberate a city by destroying it. Words are to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests.” Gore Vidal

    We’ve seen the level of decadent language that Slater and his cronies have taken politics down to in this country. Time to vote with clear heads for a better future.

  5. I absolutely agree Gareth,
    It’s time we focussed on what we need – to have a government that focusses on running the country fairly and not get involved with vindictive politics. Some of the readers out there might recall Bill English himself saying before 2008 that he’ll do anything to be in power. He was recorded saying it at a function one-on-one to someone and National claimed the recording was illegal, so it’s never been played in the media since I understand. Nothing has changed wight he Nats and I’m not at all surprised they stoop to such depths. I’m just glad that the Green Party does not engage with such nasty strategies. It is a party for positive and effective change and has my party vote.

  6. As a ‘joe blow’ the only party I’ve seen indulging in real dirty, name calling – and what we now know is vile – politics is John Key’s National party and I feel really sorry for long time National voters because they are becoming dirted by their associations.

    • I should say there is also some pretty vile stuff coming out anti National and John Key, but this isn’t coming from ‘the Left’ (or PROVE IT!) but real anger about things that this government (and associates) and John Key himself are doing.

  7. Unfortunately, low voter turnout and a populace uninterested in politics suits a political faction that knows that it gains from this and sees a strategy to perpetuate that as legitimate.

    A clean up will need to include people of the left being more staunch and participating regardless.

  8. Of course I agree, but temper it with an unhealthy dose of skepticism. And of course I would like to avoid the economic and social disaster carefully veiled by the current mob’s slick rhetoric and image-led PR spin. There are few less politically motivated than I and yet engaging remains a nauseating exercise that has me showering more than once a day. I would take the emigration choice were I not frustrated by the lack of progress in inter-stellar travel. A clean up would certainly bring me back down to earth … but I’ll believe it when I see it.

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