Buying into dangerous narratives about “Dirty Politics”

Hager at the launch of Dirty Politics

I’ve been to a couple of political conferences recently. One was the NZ Political Studies Association conference in Auckland, where there was a panel of professional political operatives from National, Labour and the Greens (including Metiria Turei). The representatives of National were tellingly silent about the implications of Dirty Politics. But what most interested me was how Labour and the Greens were both talking about Dirty Politics as a difficult issue of political management. Mostly they were focussed on how the publication of the book and it’s fallout had been an unpredictable event in the campaign which hadn’t done them any favours.

The other conference I went to was Victoria’s post-election conference at Parliament. The first section involved various politicians (John Key, Steven Joyce, Andrew Little, Russel Norman, Peter Dunne, Winston Peters etc) dissecting how the election campaign had gone. Key called it an “ugly campaign”, and Joyce said people responded well to Key’s handling of the Dirty Politics controversy. Of course, they both were of the opinion that the book was a load of crap and that most New Zealanders agreed with them. Andrew Little was saying not dissimilar things, and talked about the book as a threat — not a benefit — to Labour. Norman was most stringent in his views that there were issues in Dirty Politics that matter, but also acknowledged the book’s release had done the party some harm (Peters said pretty similar stuff).

What I’m trying to get at with this talk about the conferences is that this narrative of “Dirty Politics was a distraction which most people didn’t care about and which detracted from distraction of policy issues” has been repeated by many politicians and political pundits. It was one of the National Party’s lines it pushed to try and shut down the controversy – i.e. “please stop asking us these tricky questions — New Zealanders don’t give a toss about this stuff anyway!”. But it’s not just a National Party line — the left has also jumped on board. And by also using this narrative or frame, the left has allowed the political battle to be fought on dangerous territory. Continue reading “Buying into dangerous narratives about “Dirty Politics””