What’s Really Going On With New Zealand First, Leaks

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Over the past week or two, there’s been quite a bit of buzz about New Zealand First out there in the media. That’s understandable. Not because there’s a Party Convention coming up this weekend, or because the President just resigned in seemingly somewhat curious circumstances. But due to the escalating soda-stream of leaks that’ve followed on from the latter. I’m talking membership lists, internal communiques, campaign discussions and debrief notes. If there were an NZF kitchen sink on an email server somewhere from circa early 2018, it’d probably have wended its way into the media by now. Replete with some holes in the plumbing.

It’s “understandable”, in other words, that there’s been a prolonged buzz about NZ First in the media, in the wake said resignation … because that’s *exactly* what these leaks have been designed to achieve.

Now, that’s not to legitimate any of the interest in what went on with those financial records. It’s not to say emphatically that there’s nothing to see, there, either. The fact is, only a handful of people in the country really have any idea whether there’s anything to it – and none of them are media talking heads or other forms of external politihack.

But here’s what’s being lost in the overall rush-to-brouhaha that’s presently frothing up in advance of the weekend’s NZF Convention.

What we *can* tell so far, is that the actual ‘value’ of the leaked materials in question is comparatively limited. It’s embarrassing, sure. And it’s definitely not great that some of the more ‘sensitive’ materials are now percolating their way through press offices and the commentariat.

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But a two-year-old partial membership list for various electorates around Auckland … is not the stuff that Smoking Guns and Deep Throats are made of. Nor is correspondence between a relatively small number of people within the Party (albeit certainly speaking for a number more, in each case) with one or more MPs and the Party’s Board of Directors. Not in and of itself, anyway.

Now, if there’d been actual illegality revealed in these subsequent leaks, that would be a *seriously* different story. In point of fact, it would be a *story* all up. Yet unless I’ve missed something, there’s nothing of the sort.

All there is, is material that shouldn’t be in the public domain, because it’s private (i.e.the membership materials); and the dramatic revelation that an array of people inside a political party that had a pretty bumpy ride through the last Campaign … weren’t too impressed with how said Campaign was conducted.

Stop the presses. No, really, stop the presses. Til there’s something actually worthwhile to report in there on this story.

But having briefly laid out why what’s come out is … if not a non-issue (privacy is important), then at least not *nearly* the issue it’s being gyrated into – there’s something else which interested me in the nature and characteristics of what’s been ‘leaked’ thus far.

It’s pretty much all, as far as I can tell, pretty old stuff. The most recent elements appear to be drawn from the period immediately following the 2017 Campaign. This is not to dismiss, deride, or deny any of the concerns expressed therein (nor is it to support them – I was nowhere near any of this, so I’m in no position to assay one way or tuther); but even leaving aside the radical possibility that some of these concerns may perhaps have been listened to and corresponding changes implemented, in the period following the traditional post-Election bloodletting [I said “radical possibility”, I didn’t say “shiny happy certainty”; having served on NZ First’s Board of Directors for two successive election campaigns, I’m not sure that some things really *ever* seem to change, except insofar as they get “more so”] …

… this actually tells us at least two things that are likely rather important.

The first, is that the ‘leakers’, whomever they are, are unlikely to be still within the Party – or, at least, not prominent therein. In fact, they’ve likely been either out, or on the “outer”, for at least a year now; and that’s likely been due to conscious choice on their part. They’re therefore resurfacing now – likely as frogmen on behalf of a rather larger and better organized party – because they’ve got something *specific* in mind which they want to achieve.

The second, and flowing from this, is that the leaks are *not* part of the same circumstances that gave rise to the President’s resignation. Not directly, anyway – they’re *contingent* upon it, sure. But that’s because they’re “opportunistic”. They’re capitalizing upon a moment of exposure, of something looking “wrong”, and seeing to make it look wronger, for longer. (Attack-)Politics, you see, is often like a game of Battleship. Nothing much happens for most of the time, as great silent leviathans go about their mist-shrouded business out there in the firmament, maneuvering for the better position going into the inevitable pitched battle confrontation in the medium-term future. Yet when something blows up, you take advantage of the giving away of a weakness, a position – you start throwing as much ordnance as you can in the targeted direction of the heat-signature, hope that something *else* blows up right next to it, that you then rupture a fuel-line or something, and that eventually, the fires’ll burn all the way down to the ship’s magazine and sink her amidst one helluva fireworks display. Sometimes, it’s only a relatively small spark, self-inflicted, that’s required to generate such an effect – recall the single press appearance which triggered the Conservatives’ *implosion* from the day prior to Polling Day 2014 through to mid-2015.

But let’s look at the material itself, so I can further spin to you my theory.

The impression you’d get from some rather breathless reportings upon the Party, that it’s been in a near constant state of disarray and bitterly divided internecine infighting on an escalating limb for the last two years continuously … is not something that’s substantiated by these leaks.

I mean, don’t get me wrong – it’s a political party; it’s a political party that has historically managed to be one of the most internally divided in some ways, of any in the MMP era other than The Alliance. And The Alliance was multiple political parties all standing on each others’ shoulders attempting to fill out a large overcoat and pretend to be at least as prominent a political vehicle as Jim Anderton.

It’s almost certain that it’s had considerable internal divisions over the previous two years. Just as it’s had over the nearly two score years before that. In other parties, we’d call that the vague underpinnings of “internal party democracy”. But again, I digress.

The point is, I actually suspect that over the time since the conclusion of the 2017 Campaign slash conclusion of Coalition Negotiations and the present, that it’s gotten significantly *less* fractious internally than it had been prior to when I wound up In Exile in early-mid 2017. Not that I’m necessarily seeking to suggest that that last element was causative in a net reduction in internal dissension – it’s just when I stopped having an “insider” perspective, so everything since then is extrapolation from a much more limited dataset, on my part. You get what I mean.

The reason for this, is because of certain changes in the Party’s supporters and to some extent membership/activist base over that previous Post-2017 through to Post-2014 Period.

Following the 2014 Election, somebody – and I know who it was, and I understand their reasons for doing so – made the conscious choice to try and take NZF more towards the ‘center’ … or, if you like, “more right wing” from where the Party had been prior to that. There was a feeling that running a somewhat “Muldoonist” economic platform that was arguably the most left-wing of any then in Parliament, coupled with the influx of disgruntled ex-Labour and other “left wing” support, had placed NZF in a bit of a ‘cul-de-sac’. That ‘changing the government’, much less ‘taking power’ was going to be a bit of a heavily uphill slope, as it was contingent upon the *complete* collapse of Labour – rather than, the *other* possible approach, of taking votes off National, getting it down beneath 50%, and taking things from there.

You could see some of the tangible results of this conscious shift in the Party’s branding and signalling. All of a sudden, the old logo and Grey And Black (with occasional orange/beige characteristics) started going out. Instead, the Party started putting out a lot more *blue* coloured advertising, with chevrons pointing to the *right* [like, literally – go and take a look at NZF electoral and other outreach material from the period. Or don’t do that .. because unlike me you don’t have a box still full of it in an office corner somewhere], policy-sets that emphasized supporting (small) business and farmers more, and conspicuous attempts to downplay previous ‘left-wing’ perceived elements [like the power-companies renationalization scheme, to take the most obvious, glaring example]. The “put out blue coloured and pointing-right advertising” point might sound like I’m having a bit of a paranoid moment – but it’s what I was told at the time, the idea being it was ‘subtle’ if not quite ‘subliminal’ messaging, designed to help ‘open the door’ to a whole new portion of the electorate who were supposed to be getting escalatingly fed up with National, but who’d never or at least not likely consider voting Labour, or a “to the left of Labour” perceived NZ First.

This picked up considerable speed as we got closer to the 2017 Election. Ever since the 2015 implosion of the Conservative Party, NZF had been experiencing a steady trickle of ex-Cons looking for something “different but not too different” [understandable – the Cons had been running “NZF Lite … with added strange, and reduced sensibility” as a deliberate branding exercise for some years previous. And I guess people were also rather keen to trade ‘up’ from a Cult of No Personality, so to speak]. This accelerated, and was augmented by some perhaps surprising defections from National – not just in rural “hinterlands”, energized by the surprising 2015 Northland by-election win and its accompanying messaging … but also an array of *urban* and suburban National types. Which annoyed the hell out of me from time to time at various Conventions, but that is … another series of war-stories for another time. And, to be sure/fair, some of them were, indeed, actually ‘good people’ [like, I’m not kidding – too often in politics we lose sight of the fact that some of the guys in the opposite lines of trenches are actually … well … decent individuals worthy of respect and esteem, and whom you’ll actually get on better than a house and/or political party on fire once the comparatively minor ‘differences’ of what colour rosette you might happen to wear are taken out of the equation. But again, I digress]

More to the point, a number of them were allegedly *competent* people – volunteers who’d cut their teeth in the much more organized campaign culture of National, chairing electorates and/or having personal contacts that made them seriously useful for NZF’s own efforts to ’embiggen’ its way away from the ramshackle-but-charming “I am a member of no organized political party” approach that had dominated for many years previous. That meant that going into 2017’s crunch-period, NZF had an infusion of relatively new to the party personnel, many of whom having come from a particular sort of political background previously, and whose enthusiasm, competency, and other characteristics saw them rapidly promoted and entrusted with specialized tasks internally. These included, in particular, efforts at getting a ‘combined Auckland electorates’ internal campaign organization off the ground – which, I would note, is *exactly* where the leaked campaign-period membership data pertains to.

However, the success of  this relatively sudden influx created a bit of a problem. And on that could only be ‘papered over’ for so long.

You see, ever since its inception, New Zealand First has been something of a “coalition in motion”. Often a downward motion, but every so often a rapid upward thrust. It’s rather like a wave in that regard. Gets a lot of energy somehow, sweeps up toward some high-water mark, then languidly draws back, slinking down again, once that force underpinning its sudden insurgency has dissipated.

To be sure, many – indeed arguably *all* – smaller parties, and not a few larger ones are much like this. What makes New Zealand First *different*, is the otherwise mutually absolutely incompatible, indeed downright *antithetical* forces it *somehow* keeps managing to keep welded together. Somehow. For varying lengths and successes of time. I suppose you could say it’s almost a miniature Hegelian/Marxist Dialectic in Motion in that way.

Confused? Think of it this way. In the 1990s, large measures of NZF’s support was composed of a) older, whiter voters, many of them ex-National, and a large number of whom weren’t too keen on the “Treaty Gravy-Train” … plus b) a strong swathe of the country’s Maori voters (many of whom were also younger, and often more left-wing amenable – Tau Henare, interestingly enough, used to be a trade union organizer), who perhaps understandably tended to have a rather *different point of view* about some of those things that were red-button-rags to the whiter boomer sorts. They were bound together by a certain enthusiasm for Winston, of course – but I think that this chronically *undersells* the actual sense of *ethos* prevalent in the Party at that time. They, none of them, were fond of the Neoliberal Revolution and its outcomes, its results, its human casualties. And many of them were also, eventually, not that wild about other things like alleged “open door” immigration [although curiously, as another odd historical aside, it wasn’t actually that much of an issue on the 1996 campaign].

Now that’s fine … and in many ways, it’s actually an eminently sensible co-operation of various groups who are *all* facing a common enemy, in the form of neoliberalism and its technocratic enablers. It’s just that every so often, something shall come along to “shake things up” – and the mentos/baking soda/nitro gets chucked in with the coke/vinegar/glycerin, and you nervously wait and see just how much hell is about to break loose internally as a result.

I’ll, again, spare you the war-stories of seeing exactly this dynamic play out *repeatedly* and in real-time (including one rather memorable Convention earlier in the 2010s wherein a remit that would have had NZ First going back to contesting the Maori Seats … looked set to pass); but keep that overarching dynamic in mind for what comes next.

Because when viewed in this way, what NZ First tried to do from 2014 to 2017 … and with escalating velocity and enthusiasm/desperation as we careened as a nation ever closer to Polling Day … was to grow the party. Not in the more usual sense of ‘organically’ branching out, and turning more people onto, and therefore into your core constituency or its closely aligned peripherals. But rather, through just simply *bolting on* other chunks of the electorate, as and how they could; with a particular focus upon getting more ex-Nats, and other such ‘conservative’/’center/-right’ demographics. If we’re being positive, because this was the most effective way NZ First could contribute to changing the government, rather than simply hewing into Labour’s vote at a similar rate to what the Greens had been doing pre-Turei-admission-fallout … if we’re being cynical, because a weaker National meant that however the chips fell on Election Night, the government would almost certainly be “changed” to an NZF-including one in a key role.

Now, that might not sound like much of a difference, between the two approaches. But welding together two otherwise ill-fitting and quite different chunks of support produces a *very* different outcome to the aforementioned slow and more ‘organic’ growth and influencing. It leaves seams, fault-lines; places where the aforementioned mentos-into-coke-bottle trick can blast apart some or even almost all of the join-work in an instant, if enough force is applied all at once. And this is *especially* the case when the venn diagram of overlapping interest between the two or more groups is … not exactly huge in its overlapping section. The difference between the early-mid 1990s ‘coalition’ of older, whiter voters and much of Maoridom, based around a shared hostility to neoliberalism was one thing – attempting to unify people who think National is abominable, and people who think National’s going a bit far in some areas but still want it in Government …is quite another. Even if *in theory* there’s *an* overlap there, around the “National’s *definitely* going too far in *these* areas” bit. Sort-of. Not really. It makes sense on the back of a napkin and on the back of a campaign trail. Ish.

Where all of this is heading, in terms of what’s been going on around NZ First through the media these past few days, is that the 2017 Campaign and Coalition season were downright *seismic* in terms of how much ‘shaking’ it entailed of the delicate yet volatile alchemical brew that was NZ First’s precious bodily fluids. As soon as “Jacindamania” started, that knocked what was probably a reasonably carefully crafted strategic pattern *right* out of kilter – precipitating a series of escalatingly disharmonious, disparate, and even downright desperate looking attempted attention-grabs designed to try and corral and maintain support from *all* sides of the political expanse pretty much simultaneously. And therefore, like the old tale of the man and his donkey, they either directly lost or indirectly alienated huge swathes of just about everybody. [I find it a bit … curious, because I vividly remember a conversation with Winston in early 2011, talking about the party’s values and approach, wherein he brought up said parable about the man with the donkey as an example of what NZ First *did not do*, precisely because of what inevitably would ensue. A lesson that, arguably, *was* in force and learned properly for the Party’s significant comeback later that year. But again, I digress.]

Of course, when you offend people in politics – you rarely offend them all equally. Some will forget about whatever it is you’ve done after a half an hour or so, and a good ,well-meaning apology. Others shall never forget nor forgive you – and will bring up the precise wording of a perhaps somewhat imagined slight from a half a century ago as if it had just happened yesterday. And yet a third category won’t just *remember* things as malice in afterthought … they’ll take fairly active steps to strike back at you. If you recall, Judith Collins & Cameron Slater had a ‘doubles rule’ [i.e. ‘give back double’ in retaliation .. not uh … operate as a pair like doubles on a tennis court.] , as an example.

This basically explains – to my mind, anyway – what’s likely gone on with this recent round of “leaks”.

Because one of the broad clades of people *most* infuriated by New Zealand First following the announcement of NZF’s coalition decision (and, to be sure, likely amidst the most infuriated by NZ First for some days if not weeks beforehand) …. would be those who were rather keen on a National-led Government. Which, by this stage, didn’t just mean people who’d voted for and otherwise supported National that year – but, thanks to the developments of the previous cycle,a not unnoticeable quotient of NZ First voters and newly minted members, who’d joined up or even directly ‘patched over’ relatively recently and *precisely* because they thought they were helping out with the foundation of a Black-And-Blue Government.

This therefore explains much about the nature of the material that’s been “leaked”, and the likely putative motivations of those persons doing the “leaking”. They would have likely been part of those aforementioned tranches of ex-Nats, ex-Cons supporters, who’d had a relatively quick progression from joining the party to occupying positions of responsibility; and who felt eminently betrayed that they’d put in all that hard work for … a Labour and worse Greens involving Government. Especially, given the way Winston’s lawsuit against various prominent Nats over the pension leak scandal appeared – to their eyes at least – to make the whole thing seem like it had been an elaborate charade to shroud an *always* pre-determined preferential outcome.

The fact that the material in question is … fragmentary in some particulars [e.g. instead of comprehensive membership lists, it’s an incomplete set for various Auckland electorates, of the sort that would have been made use of for campaign purposes in 2017], and doesn’t post-date early 2018 [i.e. the point by which most of these vindictive pro-National sorts would have departed when it became clear that the post-Election debrief interactions weren’t producing the ‘answers’ nor undertakings they were wanting], while quite specifically highlighting “disgruntled member” complaints about things to do with the coalition negotiation allegedly being undercut by anti-National agendas and actions … well … if it’s feeling blue, and anti-Labour in Government – maybe it’s because it *is* Blue, and wants to take down a key Government support partner, you know?

And that’s where things get *strategic*. Because whereas many kinds of more *ordinary* disgruntled member would just simply kick over some furniture on their way out, metaphorically [and occasionally rather literally] speaking – i.e. *as* they were going out; whomever’s behind this has done the opposite. They’ve sat upon all of this, and then waited for an opportune moment to *put* it out, so that it actually gets some traction and saliency. While there’s an argument that it could have been more strategic to wait until the run-up to the 2020 Election, for added impact … I’m not sure that, in the absence of some other event with which to hang it all off (like this aforementioned resignation), there’d be immensely much of a gain to having done so.

But when I say “strategic”, I don’t simply mean that whomever’s been keeping a few year and a half, two year old plus documents and excel spreadsheets handy “just in case”, is some sort of tactical genius operating entirely off their own bat. But rather, that they’re operating directly congruent with, if not *necessarily* in direct communication with, certain people who *really really* want the National Party back in Government. Whether that means National itself, or ‘merely’ some “Concerned Citizens” who might *also* happen to be strong and well-connected National Party supporters, we cannot say.

The point is, it has been known for some time now, that National’s surest and best pathway to victory is to remove one or both of Labour’s present coalition/C&S partners. The Greens, would be seen as the tougher nut to crack – despite their fraught result at the last Election, they’re generally seen as having a somewhat solid prospect of meeting the five percent threshold. And, perhaps more to the point, one that the National Party is not in so much of a direct position to influence; occasional musings about a “Blue-Green Party”, perhaps notwithstanding.

That leaves New Zealand First. (It also, technically, leaves attempts to deflate Labour’s own polling figures and electoral returns – but this is likely to be significantly more difficult to do at a strong enough scale to produce a surefire change in governance outcome)

National has tried various stratagems over the past few years to either convert or conflagrate (I would argue that the former axiomatically entails the latter, at least eventually and much more immediately-overtly in terms of principle .. but, then, I’m biased) the Party; and it is interesting to note that at their last year’s convention, living-legend political journalist Richard Harman was reporting a subtle shift in National’s perception of the pathway forward – from “wait for Shane Jones to lead NZF … over to National as an ally”, through to more *directly* destructive envisionings. “If you can’t get them to join you, beat ’em”, I suppose their take on the ancient proverb may go. And certainly, it wasn’t that long ago that you had National MPs talking directly about a need to have a “plan” to deal to NZF in light of this.

So is some “disgruntled former volunteer” for NZF casually emailing a few media outlets and MPs with old NZF membership records, material detailing the dissatisfaction of various groupings within the Party about various things to do with the 2017 Campaign and the subsequent Coalition Negotiations – *especially* the ultimate outcome thereto … is that actually likely to “destroy” New Zealand First?

Nah, of course not. But that’s not actually how a long-term political onslaught unfurls. People get so caught up in the ‘momentary’ and the insta-rush of excitement that they overlook the stuff that takes months, years to actually take effect.

For a good example of this kind of long-view calculated aggression ‘in motion’, perhaps take a look at the chartered course of ‘Voluntary Student Membership’ legislative ‘reform’ efforts here in New Zealand. Now, these were undertaken with a quite genius motivation in mind. Weakening Labour, and “left-wing” [or allegedly so] politics in this country, by going after its young and its recruitment arms. Unions had already taken a hammering in the early 1990s with the ECA etc, but with memories of ‘student army’ campaign efforts from the 1980s, and noticing that much of Labour’s ‘rising talent’ both then and in decades subsequent appeared to be coming almost directly from student unions, it made logical sense that in the absence of strong student unions, there’d be a much reduced flow of talent, and a reduced recruitment/electioneering reservoir from their institutional ability. So legislation was put forward to rip the spinal column out of student unions around the country. And lo and behold, even though it’s taken some years – especially because it was only with Heather Roy’s subsequent bill upon the subject which “finished the job”, legislation-wise, in the early 2010s – the plan’s worked. Student unions are less relevant than they’ve ever been, on many campuses – and therefore less able to inform/electioneer to, mobilize voters; and arguably more importantly, are much less able to provide a recruitment and training ground for Young Labour etc. to find and produce the Grant Robertsons (or, to be much less charitable, the Kate Suttons) of tomorrow.

How does this relate to National contra New Zealand First?

Simple.

New Zealand First has, for most of its history, had an *incredibly* loyal and dedicated corps of volunteers. Seriously. During the time I spent in (from 2009-2017), I was … blown away by this phenomenon. Older New Zealanders, well into their Gold Card years, who’d *literally walk for miles* handing out fliers and directly talking to people. People who’d dig deep, and somehow conjure like three electorates’ worth of hoarding-timber out of a shed somewhere and then put up dozens of signs across all of them in a single weekend. If New Zealand First was constantly let down by its lackluster organization and top-down command-and-control approach .. it was continually saved, every single time, by the inveterate combination of some of the people up the top and in public working incredibly hard at what *they* did [and here, lest there be any doubt, I include Winston physically driving around seemingly every small town in the country, packing out halls and such, on a surprisingly regular basis] – and by those *hundreds* of super-loyal, downright *superhuman* volunteers who brought almost a religious fervor to the whole thing. Looking at them, it was possible to get a glimpse into how things “used to be” when it came to the mass-organizing of the Depression era and subsequent.

Of course, the issue with that, is that despite their frequently *literally trying to do so*, they can’t go on forever. And with many of them now *well* into their 70s, 80s, even 90s … and, increasingly, what G.K. Chesterton sentimentally termed the unfairly disenfranchised electorate of the dead … the Party is finding itself having to work out how to adapt. Partially, this has meant shifting from the activities undertakable with a mass membership base (like getting your volunteers to do outreach, whether that means letter-box drops or phone-canvassing), through to much more centralized or even outsourced approaches (for instance, centralized mass-mailouts through distribution companies, having manned call-centers at HQ). But it’s also requiring the seeking out of more members, more volunteers, more activists, more funding-streams to replace those who’ve gone before.

That helps to explain why the ex-Nats, ex-Cons etc. who’d turned up between 2014 and 2017 were so well received – because they’d appeared pretty much precisely when they began to be more overtly and obviously needed, bringing with them the competencies and techniques developed within National in the wake of *that* party undergoing a similar sort of transition some two decades or so before.

Yet it is also *exactly* why these *particular* lines of attack have been chosen for the “leaks” which we’ve witnessed over the past few days. Not because they’re going to do hugely significant harm to NZ First’s standing out there in the electorate in terms of votes … because it’s a year out from the next Election, and most people aren’t really going to care too much about what’s been put out there thus far when it comes to their casting their vote twelve months hence.

But you know whom this sort of thing *is* going to be directly relevant?

People considering becoming Party members, and thence volunteers.

I mean, think about it. Whether you’re a prospective new member, or somebody considering renewing your enlistment … how are you going to feel upon hearing that the Party isn’t keeping your personal data – including your identifying information, physical address, phone numbers, etc. – actually safe and secure. And that it’s now percolating around various press outlets’ offices. Not just ordinary membership data, but even the Party’s Leader.

Probably rather *less* inclined to hand over said data in order to actually *become* a member (or, for that matter, contactable easily *by* the Party) – especially if you’re in certain sorts of employment (which often tend to be those who’ve got better connections, skills remuneration, or other things you want in your membership base).

And if you’re a volunteer, or contemplating becoming one – it’s never a nice feeling to think that your efforts shall be disregarded once they’re no longer necessary; or that your views, your perspective, your voice goes unheard by those you’ve put a huge commitment of time, energy, and other resources towards supporting.

Now I’m *not* saying that’s what happened with NZF – following the Election and the Coalition negotiations there was, I am given to understand, a nationwide ‘debrief’ process which was … quite free and frank and vocal. And I can certainly say that often, those vaunted volunteers I mentioned earlier, at least when I was around, *did* get recognition and recognizance for their above-and-beyond levels of commitment. Hell, I poignantly remember attempting to make sure this happened for a few people, during my time as a Board member.

But the “optics” of the thing, wherein the Party is presented as basically just “using and abusing” its volunteers and then expecting them to shut up while all the actual decisions are taken in a smoke-fuelled [er .. filled] backroom somewhere that’s above and immune to criticism – well, that’s what you’re *supposed* to take away as a message from what’s been “leaked” to the media.

With the obvious and corresponding disincentivization effect for anybody looking to potentially get involved from now til the end of Campaign 2020, as a direct and intentional result.

I’m not in a position to comment on the implication that NZF was “always” going to go with Labour, and that the entire negotiations process was a charade, as revealed via Winston’s filing of his lawsuit into *another* set of “curious” “leaks” that would have benefitted National.

I mean, for what it’s worth, while I personally could not see how NZF could possibly with a straight face have spent the previous six years railing against National and the extremes of its particular piquant brand of neoliberalism, only to then suddenly join up with its animositic adversaries in a bid to keep the whole thing ticking over for another three years before imploding … and noted that there’d been *significant* alignment of Labour with NZF on various policy priorities and other points over that exact same period …

… I do also know that other people, with other voices and values, including some who were rather *closer* to the negotiating table in late 2017, felt that a Black-And-Blue coalition prospect wasn’t just *viable*, but potentially even *vital*. And very much an ‘active possibility’ almost potentially right down to the wire. Now whether they’re telling the truth about that last point – again, who can say.

But as “sensible” as NZF backing Labour arguably is and has been [er, in principle – some of the particulars have been … non-sensible, to coin a portmanteau; but, then, that’s the nature of coalition politics in an MMP environment, to borrow a thought-terminating cliche], I definitely don’t think it was an “inevitability”. And not least because Labour had to get into a position [along with the Greens] to actually make a Labour-NZF(-Greens) government numerically viable in the first place, anyway.

Yet *that* particular part of the series of “leaked” allegations, just goes toward the overarching concept of presenting NZF as an elite (dis-)organization; wherein, it’s not even a case of a “One Man, One Vote” Democracy, as I jokingly suggested some years ago [Winston being The Man, and therefore having The Vote – I stress, this is not actually how it works inside NZF, based on my own recollections and other information. But that is … not what’s important here] – but rather, of everything being a conspiracy and/or a vendetta, to which your only possible use is as a pawn, *at best*. More than likely, instead, as *the board* [i.e. Chess Board .. not the uh .. other one I keep mentioning].

So with all of that out there, in motion, and likely to be continually picked up and talked up by various talking heads of a smaller number of arms and/or fingers up backsides in puppeteering panoply for the next twelve months or so … it’s not at all hard to see both Cui Bono [‘Who Benefits’] and *how* they Bono, either while it’s on-running, or as an eventual result.

I don’t doubt that there’s some “disgruntled members” out there – former, or even perhaps still-current. I *do* doubt whether some of the names that’ve been percolating through the media of late actually had much of anything to do with these “leaks”. Because I’d known the persons in question – most of them, anyway – for some years. It’d be seriously out of character to pull something like this, and particularly with other ordinary members ‘caught in the crossfire’ via the membership filter list dissemination. One in particular, who as far as I know is still with the Party, while they’ve been referred to as taking vocal issue with various things, in these broadcast documents, is quite a loyalist – and would have been making *internal* critiques for an *internal* audience that were never supposed to harm the organization *externally*. But I digress somewhat.

Although that does lead me to a perhaps necessary ‘disclaimer’ of sorts.

I’ve mentioned this already above, and anyone who’s followed me for awhile will be *well* aware of it anyway, but I was once upon a time, a New Zealand First Party member, and served upon its Board of Directors for about four and a half years. Amidst .. an array of other areas of involvement. I have not been a member since early 2017 (which was not my decision – long series of fun stories); and while I’ve maintained some degree of social engagement with various people still involved with the Party, that’s basically been the extent of it since the Election.

I suppose what I’m trying to say, is that while I probably have various forms of biases to my perspective, here (not least because when some of those names turned up in dispatches, they weren’t just *names*, they were faces, voices, and all that goes with that, as well) … I did *not* write the above because somebody inside NZF reached out and asked for it to happen. And I say that, because overall, I’ve taken quite a different approach to the situation than .. many other people; and wound up producing, without quite meaning to, something that may be read as either “sympathetic” to the party, or at the very least, castigatory-condemnatory towards others, elsewhere.

Again, I didn’t do that because somebody hit me up and asked me to. I did it – if that’s how it comes across (optics, after all, are apparently everything these days), because that’s how I see this situation.

New Zealand First has some issues, particularly internally. And I can understand why some people got *seriously* fed up with … certain things, and likely certain *people* as much as anything else.

But that’s not what’s on show here. Not really, anyway.

Instead, what is – to my mind, again – is how far and even how underhanded some people are willing to go, to endeavour to render this an historic *one term* Government.

And that, whatever you might happen to think about NZ First or Winston, is something that *does* deserve to have a light shone upon it.

Great form of disinfectant, apparently.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Curwen – it’s connected with national attempts to thwart Winston Peters upcoming ‘high court defamation case against National MPs’.

    I believe that Mark Mitchell (as a past deep state overseas intelligence agent) is involved here.

    Dirty politics as usual from National.
    https://www.msn.com/en-nz/news/national/peters-leak-stand-by-for-a-surprise/ar-AAIw5tQ?ocid=spartandhp

    Peters leak: Stand by for a surprise
    Tim Murphy
    1 day ago
    © Provided by Newsroom NZ Ltd
    Winston Peters is once again on the hunt for a leaker of personal information about him and his party. And next month a case fraught with political risks that he started before the 2017 election hits the High Court.
    Here we go again. The New Zealand First leader Winston Peters complaining about his privacy being injured by someone who is not happy with the way the party-of-the-seven-percent is run.
    That someone, or a group of somebodies from within the NZ First party, has leaked documents to news organisations over the past week showing various states of in-fighting and criticism of Peters’ political vehicle. No single leak has been devastating. Some have been pretty pedestrian political gripes from members who have not prevailed in internal contests or debates.
    But the cumulative drip-feed, and in particular the leak of the number, names and contact details of NZ First’s Auckland membership, has prompted Peters to call on the police and Privacy Commissioner to investigate the “malicious” acts.
    On past form, the next stop for Peters is possibly to sue. Suing your own party or party members is a new one, but unconventionality has never held Peters, aged 74, back.
    Interestingly, his previous ‘privacy’ lawsuit over the leaking during the 2017 election campaign of his seven-year overpayment of National Superannuation, led to some of the current leaked complaints.
    That’s because Peters’ lawyers quietly filed High Court action against National Party ministers, public servants and two news organisations (including Newsroom) the day before the country voted.
    With that legal action live against National, he then proceeded, post-election, to appear publicly to negotiate in good faith with both National and Labour, before coming down on the side of Labour. As it happens, this did not put him in a good light with some NZ First members who truly thought the party would consider both options – and the current wave of leaks includes commentary from members angered by Peters’ suing National and simultaneously acting as if he might join that party in a government.
    As he sends these latest leaks off to the police and Privacy Commissioner, Peters and his legal team will be preparing for the November 4 (eve of Guy Fawkes Day) showdown with National ministers Paula Bennett and Anne Tolley, the Ministry of Social Development chief executive and the State Services Commissioner. The case is set down for a three-week hearing.
    The first political risk for Peters and possibly his coalition partner, Labour, is that the taxpayer will be paying for the legal costs of the targeted former National ministers and bureaucrats under a cabinet decision recommended by Attorney-General David Parker. The ministers are represented by Bruce Gray, QC, and National Party legal adviser Peter Kiely, and Crown Law has engaged Victoria Casey, QC, for the government agencies.
    The case has moved from an initial drift-net demand for information (to establish a breach of the tort of privacy) to now being centred on the issue of the ‘No Surprises’ policy practised by successive governments this century, including the Labour-led government of which Peters was a minister between 2005 and 2008. He stood down from that ministry amid a scandal over a payment to his party.
    Essentially, Peters is challenging the officials’ use of that policy in notifying the the State Services Commissioner, its minister, Bennett, and Tolley as social development minister that his superannuation had been overpaid and he had had to put around $18,000 back into the public purse. The matter had come to light after Peters’ partner, Jan Trotman, applied for her own national superannuation upon turning 65.
    ‘No surprises’ is used to ensure the public sector notifies responsible ministers of possible political risk or embarrassment. In Peters’ case, officials were aware of the sensitivity of the matter and sought legal guidance before proceeding to brief the two ministers about what had occurred.
    Peters alleges they could not have been unaware that one of the National Party ministers could leak such politically embarrassing information in an election year and they ought not to have shared his private information beyond the Ministry of Social Development. “The disclosure of [Peters’] private MSD information … was unlawful and it was foreseeable that such disclosure would cause the plaintiff damage.”
    State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes said in August 2017: “The ‘no surprises convention’ is set out in the Cabinet Manual and requires departments to inform ministers promptly of matters of significance within their portfolio responsibilities, particularly where matters may be controversial or may become the subject of public debate.
    “The chief executive of MSD discussed this issue with me. [He] and I sought advice from the Solicitor-General on the appropriate way to ensure decisions were made independently and the requirement to ensure ministers were not surprised was met.”
    Hughes said no briefings were given to ministers until all decisions on Peters’ case had been made and “when these briefings were given they contained very limited details”.
    Peters’ arguments about the rights and wrongs of ‘no surprises’ raise the tantalising opportunity for courtroom questions of the current Deputy Prime Minister about his past and present use of the policy with officials in the ministries and agencies for which he has responsibility.
    And there could be questions about the current Government’s practices: What it desires to know, and when, from its officials.
    Further, Peters’ own public outing of himself as having received the overpayments could be examined to determine who, if anyone, breached privacy.
    The public could yet learn more through this court hearing as to how Peters, a former Treasurer and student of national superannuation policy, could have missed the overpayment for so long.
    The election saw New Zealand First exceed the MMP party vote threshold of 5 percent and win representation in Parliament, but Peters lost the third of the three parliamentary electorates that he has held, when he was beaten in Northland. His original statement of claim in the upcoming case alleged the sharing of his super details with ministers had risked “reducing the public vote received by the plaintiff as an electorate candidate standing for the Northland electorate in the general election”.
    * The Peters’ camp leaked to Newstalk ZB political editor Barry Soper news of the original filing of court action over the super leak and in August this year leaked a claim that during lawyer to lawyer discussions the issue of settling the case had been raised by National’s side. Any agreement from Peters’ side was said to hinge on Bennett being removed from her role as Deputy Leader. That did not happen. No settlement was advanced or agreed and the case remains set to be heard in just under a month.

  2. Curwen, for me these were the best bits of your marvellous dissection of how this murky, if not potentially dirty situation has evolved.

    ‘They, none of them, were fond of the Neoliberal Revolution and its outcomes, its results, its human casualties. And many of them were also, eventually, not that wild about other things like alleged “open door” immigration [although curiously, as another odd historical aside, it wasn’t actually that much of an issue on the 1996 campaign].’

    Now that’s fine … and in many ways, it’s actually an eminently sensible co-operation of various groups who are *all* facing a common enemy, in the form of neoliberalism and its technocratic enablers.
    […]
    But rather, that they’re operating directly congruent with, if not *necessarily* in direct communication with, certain people who *really really* want the National Party back in Government. Whether that means National itself, or ‘merely’ some “Concerned Citizens” who might *also* happen to be strong and well-connected National Party supporters, we cannot say.’
    […]
    ‘If we’re being positive, because this was the most effective way NZ First could contribute to changing the government, rather than simply hewing into Labour’s vote at a similar rate to what the Greens had been doing pre-Turei-admission-fallout … if we’re being cynical, because a weaker National meant that however the chips fell on Election Night, the government would almost certainly be “changed” to an NZF-including one in a key role.’
    […]
    ‘…a not unnoticeable quotient of NZ First voters and newly minted members, who’d joined up or even directly ‘patched over’ relatively recently and *precisely* because they thought they were helping out with the foundation of a Black-And-Blue Government.’
    […]
    ‘And that, whatever you might happen to think about NZ First or Winston, is something that *does* deserve to have a light shone upon it.’

    Thank you!

    • NZF will probably disappear after the next Election, Winston is on his way out and NZF will lose his branding appeal. Shane Jones does not have the charisma of Winston, also the NZF voter base is fragmented. MSM have been trying to destroy NZF ever since it came into inception. Only time will tell ?

  3. Good attempt at writing TDB’s first novel Curwen!–my attempt at humour…regular readers would realise that you have lived this stuff inside NZ First for a number of years.

    The conclusion that arises is that the Dirty Nats are trying to kneecap NZ First. Partially by circumstance as you describe, and partly by design, with an extra serve of “malignant intent” since the pre election hit on Winston and his decision to go with Labour Green.

    Labour would have been in a stronger position if “Stevie’s Hole” had not come into play, spurious, but knocked a couple of percent off the Labour vote.

    p.s. if NZ First survives all this and crosses the threshold next year, the Nats will come crawling back!

  4. Curwen, that was far to long a treatise for my mind.
    But it seems to me that the ‘leak’ was opportunist to add fuel to the resignation of a stressed out president and to thus promote an alternative party which is hardly known.p (yet?).
    And yes, there are privacy concerns. WP is correct to complain,

  5. “Essentially, Peters is challenging the officials’ use of that policy in notifying the the State Services Commissioner, its minister, Bennett, and Tolley as social development minister that his superannuation had been overpaid and he had had to put around $18,000 back into the public purse.” He is right to do so.

    This was MSD covering its own butt in the matter of it’s error becoming known, or of Peters complaining of it.

    Should Peter Hughes have been aware of excitable Paula Bennett’s propensity to turn wine into loo water ?Yes, but protecting himself and the MSD came first, and I daresay it was a risk he just had to run.

    It is unrealistic to suggest Peters should have known that the amount was wrong. That sum was spread over x number of years, and busy rich people do not necessarily forensically constantly check their balances, particularly with on-line banking, and with money coming in from different sources. It is poor people and Scrooges who have to constantly be checking their bank accounts, and be acquainted with every dollar’s movement. For rich people, NZ Super, is pin money.

    Further, I suggest that all people were more inclined to scan their bank accounts’ movements when we received monthly paper bank statements, opened them, and read them.

    It is absurd to suggest that Winston Peters, would deliberately connive to steal money, or knowingly accept WINZ over-payments, that’s plain daft.

    It would be theft, and a criminal offence, and as a phoenix of NZ politics Peters is one of the least likely people to knowingly steal tax payers’ money, and put himself in such an invidious position.

    That Tolley, or Bennett, or Steven Joyce, or any other Nat, might think that he would, suggests that they are a bit daft. If that’s they were thinking, then it may be because swindling the tax payer isn’t as big a deal to them as it would be for Winston Peters, or me.

    This was dirty politics at its most pathetic and petty, and if Peters decided to make the Nats sweat about the the power in his hands to make them the govt, then jolly good show, it’s what they deserved.

    NZ First need to accept that Peters did NZ’ers a big service here, by showing how hopelessly out of touch Bennett and Tolley were with how WINZ operates. Were they in regular touch with their constituents, both these politicians should have known that the Peter’s experience was one that happens to other people too,
    and I am gob-smacked that they didn’t. It was their job to know these things. It’s what we pay them for.

    Peters was lucky being able to repay WINZ, but not everyone is, and some incur debts through no fault of their own, and a nightmare dimension enters into their lives.

    Peters provides a graphic example of how this can happen – with the added bonus of we once again being able to see the slimey National Party behaving disgracefully, and how nothing has changed since “Dirty Politics” hit the book shops.

  6. The problem for me is that NZ First, like Labour, never really bother campaigning in my Electorate. Ok its true blue country, and one of the bigger geographic areas, but they missed a sterling opportunity in the last election as National not to long before had told farmers that they were on their own durimg the worst effects of a droght, and the collapse of international dairy prices. Those lue supporters were hurtimg, and the local National fluff piece also barely bothered to campaign as it was resaonably expected that her election would be a sure thing.
    Had NZ First bothered to campaign here in Taranaki-King Country they could quite likely converted many blue voters, and acheived a couple more MPs on percentage points. And thus been in a much stronger position to negotiate election deals, and legislative policies. And all those true blue farmers would have achieved better representation in Parliament, albeit slightly more to the left of their voting habits. But oddly more in line with their conservatism as National is by far New Zealands most progressively out there political party.

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