Green Party Lesson No. 1: Anticipating The Direction Of Political Sniper Fire

By   /   November 30, 2017  /   14 Comments

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IN POLITICS, as in war, the aggressor’s first strike is almost always directed against the defender’s weakest point. That being the case, the National Opposition has clearly identified the Ardern Government’s lacklustre political management skills as its primary target. Their secondary target, equally clearly, is the Greens

IN POLITICS, as in war, the aggressor’s first strike is almost always directed against the defender’s weakest point. That being the case, the National Opposition has clearly identified the Ardern Government’s lacklustre political management skills as its primary target. Their secondary target, equally clearly, is the Greens. This should be the cause of considerable angst on the Government’s part. The Labour-NZ First Coalition’s political management skills will improve with practice. Improving the Greens political skills is a much taller order!

The Greens face a number of serious problems at the moment, not the least of which is the extremely heavy workloads being borne by the most experienced members of their tiny caucus. James Shaw, Julie-Anne Genter and Eugenie Sage, as Ministers Outside of Cabinet, have their hands full just bringing themselves up-to-speed with their portfolios. Of the remaining five Green MPs: one is an Under-Secretary; one the Party Whip; another is manoeuvring to become the next Female Co-Leader; and the remaining two are complete newbies.

Unsurprisingly, it was one of the latter, Golriz Ghahraman, who this week found herself in the cross-hairs of David Farrar and Phil Quin, two of New Zealand’s most deadly political snipers.

Both men’s attention had been drawn to what can only be described as the unnecessary grandiloquence of Ghahraman’s CV. Describing her fairly modest role in the massive bureaucracy of the International Criminal Court in terms that made her sound like Geoffrey Robertson and Amal Alamuddin Clooney all rolled into one, really was asking for, if not trouble, then most certainly some pretty close enemy scrutiny.

That Ghahraman was not well-placed to withstand such scrutiny, raises two obvious and important questions. Why did she draw attention to her participation in ICT trials without fully disclosing her potentially controversial roles in those trials? And, why didn’t the Green Party carry out the same sort of due diligence exercise on Ghahraman’s CV as Quin and Farrar? At the very least, these simple precautions would have allowed Ghahraman and her Green Party colleagues to anticipate precisely the sort of attacks that eventuated.

The obvious lesson which the National Party will have drawn from this incident is that the Green Party – or at least those responsible for its communications strategies – are in the grip of a conception of politics that places far too much emphasis on marketing and spin. Only the most inexperienced (and cynical) public relations flack could consider it “okay” to leave out of a politician’s most immediately accessible biography (the one on her own party’s website!) something as potentially explosive as the fact the she had served on the defence team of people accused of genocide and other, equally horrifying, crimes against humanity.

The incident will also have alerted National to the fact that the Greens have learned absolutely nothing from the parliamentary bullying meted-out to their colleague, the former Green MP, Keith Locke.

It was the Labour Party’s Opposition Research which dug out of the pages of Socialist Action, the Trotskyite newspaper which Locke edited for many years, a nugget of pure political gold. The Socialist Action League had been an enthusiastic early supporter of the Khmer Rouge – the revolutionary party led by Pol Pot which, in 1975, toppled the right-wing military government of Cambodia. As the editor of Socialist Action, Locke had written articles in support of the Pol Pot regime.

In vain did Locke attempt to explain to his parliamentary accusers that neither he nor the Socialist Action League were even slightly aware of the “politicide” unfolding on the killing fields of Pol Pot’s Cambodia when the offending articles were written. Unfortunately, John Pilger’s shocking revelations that the Khmer Rouge had murdered millions of Cambodians, rendered Locke’s after-the-fact explanations utterly ineffective. He had written in support of Pol Pot – and for many MPs that was enough to place him beyond the pale of political respectability.

The point of this cautionary tale, is that a political party – especially one which, like the Greens, attracts radicals and activists of all kinds – not only needs to keep its institutional memory alive, it needs to keep it kicking-in. The most important lesson to be drawn from Locke’s experience, is that political parties need to conduct exhaustive research into the backgrounds of all its candidates, so that areas of weakness and vulnerability can be identified early and, if possible, neutralised by preventive revelation.

It is supremely ironic that Ghahraman, Locke’s successor in the role of Green Spokesperson for Global Affairs, formed part of the ICC prosecution team bringing the mass murderers of the Khmer Rouge to justice. Ironic, too, that she, like Locke, has seen her credibility in the Global Affairs role severely damaged by a failure to anticipate how the Greens’ enemies, however unfairly, might turn the actions of her past, no matter how well intentioned, against her.

After Ghahraman’s ambush, Jacinda Ardern will be acutely aware that improving her government’s political management skills is not simply a matter of keeping her own Labour Party safe from political snipers, but that the job also entails teaching the Greens how to anticipate – and then dodge – their common enemy’s bullets.

 

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14 Comments

  1. esoteric pineapples says:

    The moral of the story is to not to try and placate one’s enemies by softening one’s stance for the quicksand of appeasing the hypocritical mainstream. Don’t play by their rule as you will lose every time. Stand up and be strong, and represent the people who voted for you, not a bunch of people with no good intentions.

  2. David Stone says:

    Reading Keith’s previous with documented examples, while the misleading statement was posted on the Green website, Golriz herself it would seem was being perfectly clear about her role wherever she went and the subject came up.
    The only criticism that can fairly be levelled at her personally , and not at the party administration instead, is if she had the opportunity to view the profile statement before it was posted and didn’t ask that it be corrected. … Can you clarify this?
    Otherwise the Party is at fault entirely, and Golriz has done nothing to attract criticism for.
    As for the guardian article how much control did she have of that?
    Those offended by the legal defence of criminals, especially in the light of the egregious miscariages of justice that have occurred in New Zealand as discussed in recent posts , democracy cannot cater for.
    D J S

  3. let me be frank says:

    Curious that this beat up should be worked so hard though…smokescreen for what one has to ask?….it certainly dosnt merit the attention afforded it.

    As Mike Williams is wont to say…”watch this space”

  4. Historian Pete says:

    A sane and sensible analysis of where we are at. Golriz Ghahraman is unfortunately at present a loose cannon.Hopefully she will learn.Meanwhile she needs to be put on a tight leash , and every anticipated action of hers needs to be examined by someone with a political brain! Apart from the loose CV there is also the matter of the email, and questionable actions in infringing on others freedom of speech which is not a good look for a proclaimed human rights lawyer!!

  5. Aaron says:

    The Green Party’s biggest problem is that they’re nice people and this kind of nasty truth-distorting campaign is kind of beyond their imagination.

    Golhriz said she thinks she skim-read her bio (as written by the party), saw the dates and places were correct and left it at that. I’m sure from now on every single thing she puts out will be carefully scrutinised having learned the reality of political life.

    But let’s call a spade a spade, Farrar and Quinn are truly horrible people. To make your living doing this sort of thing requires a high level of disconnection from your own humanity and that of everyone around you. To call them “…deadly political snipers” is to compliment them for behaviour that would be despised were they in any other profession. It’s more accurate to say they are two of our countries dirtiest political snipers and the world would be a better place without them.

    • Historian Pete says:

      Yes,deadly political sniper is far too kind.Over the last decade there has arisen in the West in particular a reptilian presstitute, a hired gun, who for money will write articles that will distort,manipulate, fabricate, lie, plant false evidence, and who would turn the life of Mother Tereasa into a cesspit of hot sex and debuchery in the steamy slums of Calcutta !!

  6. e-clectic says:

    Want to see how this is playing out?

    This:

    The Greens know they have a serious problem with this particular MP (and not just on this issue) and many of them want to be rid of her – which is why all the leaking is going on.

    from Matthew Hooton’s Facebook page.

  7. Steve King says:

    Two things are very clear to me, after a few weeks of the new government.
    1. There is no depth to which the National party and its allies will not stoop to in their quest for revenge.
    2. The government is on a very steep learning curve, and must learn quickly.

  8. CLEANGREEN says:

    Yes an excellent review of the evidence there martyn, you are a legand.

    This case of “foriegn government entanglement” is so startling as was the National while in Government also alllow nto induct a foriegn ‘potentially racical spy/chinese government man into their ranks withiout nothing (they claim) that he was formerly a chinese government agent training chinese spies to learn the english language ( and what else we must ask).

    But what was most strartling here was that neither Farrar nor quin where heard from then were they?

    And what happend to national after that debarkle? Nothing, as that was swept aside as we hope this does now.

    Possibly the very increased load of 6200 questions may have some effect to stick this issue in the bin now as national did with their scandals.

  9. Keith Locke says:

    It’s a bit, unintentionally, misleading for Chris to say I wrote articles in support of the “Pol Pot regime”. When I wrote the article (April 1975) I was attacked over the Khmer Rouge had only about a week before come to power. Nobody had heard the name Pol Pot. Here is how I explained it in Parliament on 22 June 2005.

    People in glass houses should not throw (Pol) Pots

    Keith Locke MP

    Not long after the Greens came into Parliament in 1999, National, New Zealand First and ACT MPs tried to discredit the Greens’ strong human rights policy by portraying me as a supporter of the Cambodian dictator Pol Pot and his genocidal crimes.

    I assured the House that those accusations were wrong, but, recently, with an election looming, both Winston Peters and Richard Prebble have been repeating those defamatory statements. I wish now to address the issue in more detail.

    Thirty years ago, in 1975, the brutal corrupt regimes in Saigon and Phnom Penh, backed by the American government, were overthrown by insurgent forces.

    Most New Zealanders who marched against the Indochina war, which included many MPs currently in this House, myself and Helen Clark for example — welcomed the collapse of those regimes because it heralded the end of a very bloody war.

    The hope of antiwar New Zealanders (including myself) was that the new governments in Saigon and Phnom Penh would be better than the regimes they replaced. We thought it would be hard for them to be worse.

    No distinction was made between the new Vietnamese and Cambodian governments, and many thought the Khmer Rouge were an adjunct of the Vietnamese communist forces.

    Some time later the world found out that there was a difference and that the Khmer Rouge were acting in a genocidal way and we started to hear the name Pol Pot.

    I was a young socialist activist at the time Pol Pot’s horrors were exposed to the world. I, along with other socialists, like British journalist John Pilger, did what we could to stop the Western nations giving him any support.

    However, we found many governments were determined to back Pol Pot. These included the New Zealand National government, whose MPs included the very Winston Peters who has been so quick to call me a Pol Pot supporter.

    That National Government was determined not to back the Vietnamese-supported Heng Samrin government that had taken over Phnom Penh in January 1979.

    There was a Cold War on and the National government, including Mr Peters, treated the genocidal Pol Pot government as preferable to a Phnom Penh government aligned to Vietnam.

    It is interesting that in the House on 11 December 1979 a then Labour MP Richard Prebble urged National’s Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, David Thomson to “no longer recognise the Pol Pot regime”.

    But the National government, no doubt supported by the younger National MP Winston Peters, kept on voting for Pol Pot to represent the Cambodian people, at the UN and elsewhere.

    Unfortunately, when Labour came to power in 1984 Mr Prebble and his colleagues changed their tune and voted for Pol Pot themselves in the UN. This continued right through the 80s.

    When I became New Labour’s foreign affairs spokesperson I debated Labour Foreign Minister Russell Marshall on National Radio on this very topic, pleading with him not to support Pol Pot. He insisted his government would continue to do so. I have found no record that Richard Prebble ever disagreed with the Cabinet he was in.

    I will table some documents on this history, for the enlightenment of the House.

    The basic problem we faced then, as today, is New Zealand governments going soft on repressive regimes.

    Sometimes it is because they see some short term diplomatic or trade benefit — as when National and Labour governments supported Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor, or in more recent times when they played down human rights violations in ASEAN countries — like Malaysia and Singapore.

    Everyone knows that the Green Party has a consistent record of promoting international human rights, most recently during President Musharraf’ visit, and during Chinese leader Wu Bangguo’s visit.

    The Greens also promote human rights clauses in trade treaties. Sadly we failed to achieve an effective clause in the recent one negotiated with Thailand.

    We also know that there is still, among some in this House, a subordination to the American administration. We don’t hear National Act or NZ First criticising the violation of human rights by the Bush administration in Iraq, Afghanistan or Guantanamo Bay.

    A National government would subordinate our foreign policy to America’s in the same way that the Holyoake National government did in taking New Zealand into the Indochina War, and the Muldoon National government (including Winston Peters) did in backing the ruthless Pol Pot.

  10. All true, Keith. And I acknowledge as much in the body of the article – “In vain did Locke attempt … etc”.

    But all that is beside the point – which is that political parties must anticipate how opponents might use their candidates’ past deeds and words against them in the future.

    The trick is to “get ahead of the story” by putting both the information, and the explanations demanded by the information, in front of the public in your own way – before somebody else does.

    In your case that could have been a line or two about the importance of not judging historical events too early, inserted into your maiden speech. In Golriz’s case, by publicly acknowledging that the scales of justice have two sides, and explaining how, in the course of her career as a human-rights lawyer, she has been required to add her weight to both.

    Surely, your own, and Golriz’s, painful experiences confirm the wisdom of such timely political inoculation?

    • Sam Sam says:

      Yeah so get to the public first and don’t get overwhelmed by trying to find the golden rule.

    • David Stone says:

      Chris
      Though you may at times play the devil’s advocate placing an argument, when it comes to New Zealand political history no -on is likely to doubt you.
      So though you did indeed refer to the futility of Keith’s protests, the inaccuracy of the criticism directed against him could not be guessed at from your article.
      In terms of getting the truth out there he clearly did not fail. And this is more of a lesson of how the most admirable truth can be buried ,and presented as misdeed , rather than as a failure to reveal the truth.
      I think you should have added another sentence to Keith’s history in this instance. If we can’t totally rely on your historical narrative we’re all fucked.
      Cheers David J S