Accidentally like a martyr

John Key has his share of supporters over his repeated pulling of a waitress’s hair – Mike Hosking (surprise!) and the Minister for Women, to name but two examples. As Louise Upston, the Minister for Women, stated:

“As the Prime Minister has said his actions were intended to be light-hearted. It was never his intention to make her feel uncomfortable. He said that in hindsight it wasn’t appropriate, and that is why he apologised.”

Well, to my mind it’s harassment, pure and simple, and an abuse of a position of power. And to those staunch defenders of the PM, who speak of light-hearted tomfoolery and the like, I refer them to the following TEDx talk by Laura Bates, founder of the EverydaySexismProject.

John Key’s behaviour crossed a line, and he deserved to be called out for it. After all, attitudes and behaviours don’t change unless we call people out for transgressions. And when the story first broke, I doubt there were many people who didn’t cringe to themselves and think, “That’s more than a little weird. And slightly creepy.”

However, once the disbelief and laughter dies down – and much laughter was certainly had at Key’s expense – there’s the question of over-reaction. If the response from Key’s enemies is seen as over-the-top, Key becomes the victim.

When serial litigant Graham McCready (which is precisely how he was described on 3News last night) pops his head up to file a complaint, John Key gains a little sympathy.

When Winston Peters starts asking why police haven’t already charged Key with assault, people think things might be going a little too far.

When Herald and Stuff comment threads start labelling the Prime Minister a sexual deviant, people begin to tune out.

Now I’m not trying to minimise John Key’s behaviour. As I’ve said, I consider it harassment and an abuse of power. He’s become a laughing stock, which may well prove his political undoing in time – the first big crack in the armour.

Most importantly, the issue of harassment and sexism is being openly discussed across the country. Key has got it in the neck from The National Council of Women and the Human Rights Commissioner Jackie Blue, both of whom have had well-worded, reasoned contributions to the discussion.

Nonetheless, when the commentary goes beyond the reasoned, martyrs can be accidentally created.

Shayne Currie and the mystery of the ever-changing statement

In my previous post, I quoted the statement posted online by Shayne Currie, NZ Herald editor, in response to questions as to Rachel Glucina’s ethics. It’s a statement that was initially posted, disappeared, and was then re-posted.

What I hadn’t realised is that some quite fundamental changes were made to the statement between being posted and then being re-posted. They’ve been mapped by Peter Aranyi, author of the excellent On The Paepae blog, via Twitter:

Shayne Currie statement

The most pertinent change would seem to be the removal of the words “No objections were raised” from the second-to-last paragraph. Did Mr Currie, on second thoughts, realise that such a statement was indefensible?

Then note, in paragraph three, the inclusion of the phrase, “Regardless of any confusion over the initial approach, all three agreed they wanted to make a public statement.” As I’ve previously written, the  confusion seems to have been manufactured by Glucina, as she first assured everyone involved that she was acting as a PR expert, before abruptly changing tack and donning her NZ Herald journalist hat. Currie seems to accept that Glucina, at the very least, was more than a little unclear about what her role was to be.

And note that final paragraph, in whichever iteration pleases you:

“By then [or By early evening I was assured that] no was in doubt that the article, quotes and photograph were appearing in the Herald.”

Again, Currie’s statement make it abundantly clear that the subjects of the article – the waitress and her employers – had not earlier been aware that Glucina was intending to release their quotes and photo as a Herald scoop. Presumably, after the objections were raised, they were simply told that the Herald were going to publish, regardless of the objections and ethical issues raised.

Questions, questions and more questions…

Rachel Glucina and journalistic ethics (or the lack thereof)

As everyone knows, John Key yesterday became an international laughing stock thanks to his penchant for stroking or yanking women’s ponytails. The blog that yesterday outed the issue kept the waitress’s name secret – her account of John Key’s actions at the cafe where she worked was anonymous. Turns out it didn’t take long for her name to hit the headlines, thanks to the actions of NZ Herald gossip columnist / wannabe-real-journalist Rachel Glucina. You might remember Ms Glucina from Dirty Politics

An excerpt from Nicky Hagar's book Dirty Politics.

An excerpt from Nicky Hager’s book Dirty Politics.

The waitress has detailed her account of Ms Glucina’s overtures here, and, if true, Glucina’s actions (and, indeed, the actions of her editor, Shayne Currie) reflect appallingly on the Herald. Here’s the long and short of it:

  • The Parnell cafe, Rosie, in which this all went down, is owned by Hip Group.
  • Rachel Glucina’s twin brother, Henry, is employed by Hip Group.
  • Ms Glucina, through her brother, therefore personally knows the owners of Hip Group, Jackie Grant and Scott Brown.
  • During a speakerphone conversation with Glucina, the Hip Group owners introduce Glucina to the waitress as a PR expert. (Glucina is in fact in PR. According to her LinkedIn page, she is a director of ‘Pink PR’, specialising in ‘Media strategy, product planning, brand development, public relations’.) During the speakerphone conversation, Glucina’s last name is not mentioned. The waitress agrees to make a joint statement in order to protect her employers’ reputation. She also agrees to a photo being taken of her with her employers, to show they all still had a good relationship.
  • While everyone waits for Glucina to send through the draft statement, the waitress discovers Glucina’s last name. Alarm bells begin to ring. In fact, the waitress googles Glucina, and discovers the headline “Who is Rachel Glucina and why is John Key always phoning her up?”.
  • The waitress’s employers admit that Glucina works for the NZ Herald, but state that Glucina was not acting in her capacity as a journalist.
  • Upon contacting Glucina again, Glucina abruptly claimed that was acting in her capacity as a journalist. Despite the waitress then revoking permission to use the photo or her comments,  the story ends up in the Herald.

Given the ethical questions regarding Ms Glucina’s conduct, Shayne Currie has released a statement (then removed the statement from the Herald website, then re-released it…):

Rachel Glucina approached the Hip Group yesterday, after The Daily Blog broke the story. She knows the Hip Group owners personally. Glucina wanted to follow-up The Daily Blog post and urged the couple to front-foot the issue. She spoke to the couple and the waitress over the telephone. Regardless of any confusion over the initial approach, all three agreed they wanted to make a public statement. They also agreed to pose for a photograph and a Herald photographer was dispatched. They were told by the photographer that the photo would be appearing in the Herald. Herald editor Shayne Currie also spoke to the owners of the Hip Group yesterday afternoon following a call from a PR firm that had already been helping them. “When I spoke to the owners, they told me they had initially thought Rachel was working on a statement to go to all media, along with the photograph. “Given the situation, I wanted to absolutely ensure they knew this interview and photograph were for the Herald. To further ease any concerns, we took the very rare step of agreeing Rachel should run the quotes past the parties before publication. “By then, no one was in any doubt that the article, quotes and photograph would be appearing in the Herald.”

Note the phrase, “Regardless of any confusion over the initial approach, all three agreed they wanted to make a public statement”. And “When I spoke to the owners, they told me they had initially thought Rachel was working on a statement to go to all media, along with the photograph”. Is it just me, or does that corroborate the waitress’s story regarding Glucina’s actions? Why would the owners think a Herald “journalist” would be working on a statement that would go to all media outlets? Herald journalists write for the Herald. They don’t send their stories off as statements to Fairfax et al. “Initial confusion”? For instance, Glucina had told them she was acting as a PR expert? Glucina’s actions smell distinctly rotten, and given her previous Dirty Politics involvement, some on the left have posited that Key and his office must have contracted Glucina for a hit job on the waitress. It’s a conspiracy theory that doesn’t ring true. Key has apologised (albeit with a healthy dose of victim-blaming) and will simply want the story to disappear as soon as possible. He’s been humiliated on an international level, and will want nothing more than for the fuss to die down. Attacking the waitress guarantees that the story will have legs. This is all about Glucina trying to get a scoop, and, at this stage, she appears to have made it very clear that she’s not concerned about letting niceties like journalistic ethics get in her way.

Labour and the moral high ground

Since Andrew Little began his tightrope walk regarding whether Northland voters should or shouldn’t vote Labour, there has been much philosophising as to whether a “dirty deal” did or did not go down.

To my mind, quite clearly, no deal occurred. A deal requires some form of reciprocity. It requires agreement between parties. In Epsom, over the last few elections, a fair amount of conversation obviously went on between National and ACT; in 2011, the stage-managed “cup of tea” made it perfectly clear that a deal had been done.

In Northland, however, Labour’s actions were unilateral (unless some extremely surreptitious and plausibly deniable discussions occurred, that will only surface in a decade’s time in someone’s political autobiography). Labour realised they had no show of winning, figured Winston had reasonable odds of severely embarrassing National, and changed their message to give him the best possible shot. Serendipitous for Winston, but not something he had sought.

Nonetheless, given Labour’s (in)actions in Northland, can they continue to claim a moral high ground when, in 2017, National again gives David Seymour and/or Peter Dunne a free ride in their respective electorates?

Many journalists, commentators and, of course, Right-aligned bloggers, have been happily labelling Andrew Little a hypocrite. Moral high ground lost. The right to lambast National for Epsom-style deals gone forevermore.

Such analysis has, predictably, enraged many of the good folk over at The Standard (see ‘By-elections are FPP‘), while others on the Left such as Rob Salmond and Danyl Mclauchlan provide their reasoning as to why Northland and Epsom are Different. As Mr Salmond writes:

Here are three core differences:

  1. Labour was never going to win Northland, whereas National could win Epsom just by clicking its fingers. Labour’s motivation is to engineer a loss for its major opponent, while National is trying to engineer a loss for itself. Which of those do you think is more legitimate in a competitive environment?
  2. Labour’s actions in Northland were quarantined to Northland only. They only affected who is the MP for Northland. National’s deals, on the other hand, are specifically designed to work around New Zealand’s rules about proportionality. National’s deals try to engineer a 5-for-1 deal on ACT MPs (which is exactly what they got in 2008.) National’s deals rort MMP; Labour’s avoid FPP vote-splitting. Those are not the same thing.
  3. Labour’s actions were unilateral. Labour did not receive any assurance of anything from Peters before making the call to change tack. Labour looked at the facts on the ground, and changed its plan accordingly. National, by contrast, makes a big show of obtaining a quid pro quo in advance. Labour had a strategy; National made a deal.

Personally, I agree with the reasoning of Salmond, Mclauchlan and Bunji at The Standard. Yes, by-elections are FPP. Yes, there was no “deal”. Yes, Northland was never Labour’s to win. Northland and Epsom are indeed different.

The problem though is that, at a glance, they also look suspiciously similar. Which is why Gower and Garner et al are so easily able to characterise Labour’s actions as hypocrisy. And explaining is losing.

For those who care, the distinction between Northland and Epsom is patently obvious. To the casual by-stander though, Labour and National are just as bad as each other. And no amount of explanatory blogposts are likely to change that…

Victory for Winston

And Winston Peters will be the new MP for Northland…

Until that final TV3 poll – the one showing Peters above 50%, with Mark Osborne languishing about 20 points behind –  I hadn’t thought Peters would get there. Nonetheless, it’s a convincing victory: a 9,000+ National Party majority has become a 4,000 majority for Peters.

So what now?

Will NZ First get a new MP? Throughout the campaign, Peters continually refused to answer questions as to whether, if he won, he would resign as a list MP. “The question hasn’t even crossed my mind,” seemed to be his stock response. Quite how the question could continually fail to cross his mind, given the number of times he had been asked it, escapes me.

Well, this morning, in typical Winston fashion, he told Radio NZ’s Morning Report that there was never a question as to whether he would resign as a list MP:

“Of course I’ll resign, I don’t know why it was ever a material question.”

Unfortunately, we’re still no clearer as to who will replace Peters from the NZ First list. Ria Bond, who’s next on the list, still hasn’t showed up, having, for reasons unknown, apparently been sent into deep cover by her party.

But where to now for National, having suffered an embarrassing by-election spanking? Presumably, they want Northland back, come 2017. Their best bet is probably to ignore Peters as much as possible. He’s made a lot of expensive promises that he cannot possibly deliver. So National should simply do in Northland what they promised – build their roads, build their bridges, get their ultra-fast broadband up and running. Then they can compare their record against Peters’, who will be found wanting.

Oh, and they need to find a decent candidate, and find one early. Northland is a large electorate, geographically. In 2017, Peters will have the advantage of incumbency, and his name is already known no matter where in Northland you go. That’s a lot of ground for any candidate to make up…

And Winston Peters proves me wrong…

So there I was, confidently predicting that Winston Peters wouldn’t risk the humiliation of losing in the Northland by-election…

At the end of the day, perhaps the most important point is that Winston Peters really doesn’t like losing. He won’t put himself forward as an outside chance. His ego simply won’t allow the likely humiliation of losing to an as-yet-unknown National candidate.

Which is why this blog is called Occasionally Erudite, rather than Always Erudite… For of course Mr Peters announced last week his candidacy for the Northland by-election.

So what’s Peters doing then?

I presume, firstly, that Peters really thinks he can win it.

Presumably, Labour knows they can’t win. But they know they’ll look like hypocrites if they pull their candidate, given their previous denunciations of National’s stand-a-candidate-but-don’t-actively-campaign-against-ACT/Dunne deals. Peters will therefore be expecting a “go-slow” campaign from Labour; a nudge and a wink to say “we don’t mind if you vote for Winston”.

A nudge and a wink still won’t be nearly enough though. Mike Sabin received 18,269 votes in the last general election, or 52.74% – that’s a majority of 9,300 over Labour’s Willow-Jean Prime. In the party vote, National received a healthy 49%, with Labour well back on 16.6%, only just ahead of NZ First on 12.8% and the Greens on 10.8%.

It’s a huge ask for Peters to over-turn such a majority, especially since he can’t count on the entire anti-National vote flowing his way; Willow-Jean Prime will certainly continue to attract a share of the vote, regardless of any Labour “go-slow” campaign.

The major factor that Peters will be counting on will be turnout. Turnout always decreases in by-elections. If the left can mobilise a significant proportion of its 2014 support, while Mike Sabin’s former voters stay home in an apathetic funk, then, just maybe, it’s conceivable that Peters could scrape over the line. And Peters’ political star power will undoubtedly drag a few voters over his way.

Given that a win for Winston will mean National is reliant on two, rather than one, support parties, there’s certainly an incentive for left-leaning voters to support Mr Peters. Conversely, it also provides an incentive for right-leaning voters to flock to the National candidate’s banner.

Regardless of whether Peters does or doesn’t win, he can be reasonably assured that the National majority in Northland will no longer be as healthy as it was after last year’s election. That’s Peters’ backup “victory” – plucky underdog slashes governing party’s majority…

NZ folds to Israel

Back in September of last year, a diplomatic stoush broke out between New Zealand and Israel. Our nominated ambassador to Israel, Jonathan Curr, was rejected by Israel, as he was also our representative in Palestine.

Despite New Zelaand’s ambassador having performed both roles since 2008 (as well as being our representative in Turkey), Israel declared:

“It is a protocol principle which has been in practice for many years and is applicable to all the ambassadors who are accredited to Israel.”

Given that it quite patently wasn’t a protocol principle that had been applied to New Zealand, I wrote at the time:

Frankly, there’s an obvious solution here. Leave Mr Curr in place as our ambassador to Palestine and Turkey, and appoint no replacement to Israel. If the Israeli relationship with NZ is as good as Israel says it is, our Government will undoubtedly receive a call from Israel saying that Mr Curr has been approved. Protocols can be relaxed… After all, Israel may well feel a little awkward that NZ has better diplomatic relations with Palestine than with Israel…

And if Israel doesn’t make the call, well, we can always transmit any diplomatic messages to Israel via their ambassador to NZ.

Unfortunately, New Zealand has now folded to Israel. Jonathan Curr remains ambassador to Israel, while former National Party leader and deputy Prime Minister Jim McClay will be our representative in Palestine.

Except that he won’t actually be based in Palestine, or indeed anywhere near Palestine. He’ll be based in Wellington.

The NZ Herald states in an editorial today:

Israel’s motive was clear enough. It had been irked by this country’s increasingly critical statements about its activities, such as appropriation of privately owned Palestinian land for Israeli settlements and the shelling of Gaza. The level of condemnation harked back to that of Helen Clark’s Government during a period when relations sank to an especially low point.

The editorial goes on to note that Israel should hardly have been surprised by New Zealand’s level of criticism. We were pursuing a seat on the UN Security Council, and with one of our rivals for the seat being Turkey, we needed to court the Islamic nations.

To obtain the Security Council seat, we successfully marketed ourselves as being able to provide “a fresh, independent perspective”. To my mind, we’ve somewhat undermined ourselves in that regard by simply giving in to Israel’s unprincipled demands.

As quote the conclusion of the Herald’s editorial:

[Israel] offered no real justification for its demand. It has merely waved a stick and won. The loser is this country’s international standing.

Dinner at Donghua’s

Remember when David Cunliffe and Labour were under all sorts of fire for their links to Donghua Liu? There were questions about $100,000 worth of apparent donations from Liu to the Labour Party (an issue which seemed to collapse under the weight of some dubious NZ Herald reporting and Mr Liu’s somewhat impaired ability to recollect specifics); and Mr Cunliffe was being stitched up regarding his failure to recall a letter written on behalf of Liu eleven years previous.

Here was what Bill English had to say last year, as he put the boot into Labour:

“In the next few days the Labour Party has to come clean about every contact with Mr Donghua Liu and every donation from him… The reason the Labour Party has to explain all those contacts and donations is that no one trusts what David Cunliffe says about the donations and the contacts with Mr Donghua Liu.”

Well, all of the time that National was needling Labour about alleged undisclosed donations from Liu, there was a $25,000 undisclosed donation to National.

It’s been revealed that National’s Botany MP, Jami-Lee Ross, received a $25,000 donation from Mr Liu in August 2013. It’s only just being disclosed by Mr Ross, after having been returned to Liu in November 2014.

It’s the cynical nature of the whole affair that gets me; cynical in so many ways.

Firstly, the donation was made less than a month after both John Key and Jami-Lee Ross were present at Mr Liu’s house for a private dinner. Yet, when Key was questioned in May 2014 (approximately eight months after the dinner) about his links to Liu, a National spokesperson said:

“As Prime Minister and the leader of the National Party, Mr Key attends a number of functions up and down the country which are attended by a large number of people. While we don’t have a record of who attends these events, Mr Key recalls seeing Mr Liu at various functions, including a dinner as part of a National Party fundraiser.”

Key could recall “a dinner”, but presumably chose to conceal the fact that the dinner was at Mr Liu’s own home.

Secondly, there’s the way in which the donation was kept hidden. Throughout all of the mock outrage from National about what Liu had donated to Labour and when, the party knew that $25,000 was sitting in a National Party bank account. It’s inconceivable that Jami-Lee Ross wouldn’t tap his party leader on the shoulder and say, “Heads up – remember that dinner with Donghua Liu? Well, he gave me $25,000 that month.”

Ross, Key and whoever else was in the loop would have known that at some point the donation would have to be declared. So Ross waits for a month or two after the general election, sends it back via Liu’s lawyer, and pretends that it was surplus to requirements and therefore returned. The donation gets officially declared in Ross’s post-election return, but by then Cunliffe is a distant memory, National is well and truly re-elected, and there’s now another two and a half years to the next election – plenty of time for the public to forget about Dongua Liu.

But National’s cynicism aside, there are some questions regarding the status of the donation. If it was a donation to the National Party, it should have been disclosed in National’s Party Donations Return that was filed on 30 April 2014. It wasn’t.

Mr Liu has described the donation as being through the “Botany Cabinet Club”. If that’s code for Jami-Lee Ross’s personal campaign, the party wouldn’t need to declare it. Instead, it’s up to Mr Ross to do so in his post-election return (as he’s done).

However, Mr Ross has stated that he didn’t end up needing the $25,000 because a $24,000 donation from the National Party covered his expenses. So why would Ross be seeking donations for his electorate campaign, if the party was going to be covering him? Or, to look at it the other way, why would the party cover Ross’s campaign expenses when he’s already got $25,000 sitting waiting in the bank account?

As with anything involving Donghua Liu and politicians, more questions seem to lurk…

Second-guessing the Northland by-election

There’s an interesting debate over at The Standard regarding what Labour and the Greens should do in the Northland by-election, should Winston Peters announce that he’s standing.

Te Reo Putake, in his post entitled ‘Stand by Your Man‘, argues that if Peters stands, Labour and the Greens should withdraw. The basic thrust of the argument is that it would show opposition solidarity (a government in waiting!). Plus, there’s the chance that Peters might be able to take the seat in a one-on-one battle, forcing National to rely on two minor votes to pass legislation, rather than just one.

In a counter-post, Micky Savage argues that doing so would make Labour appear weak, would remove the party’s ability to campaign on issues important to it, and may give NZ First momentum that Labour may regret. Further, Peters just can’t be trusted to actually side with Labour in 2017:

Memories of 1996 when Peters campaigned through the country promising a change of Government but then sided with National are still strong.  And he is the worst sort of politician who can campaign against the cynicism of politics as usual but then engage in the most cynical of politics.

Interestingly, the Greens have now made the decision not to stand a candidate. In a press release, they state:

“It is our strategic assessment that we should not run in the by-election and instead focus on our nationwide climate change and inequality campaigns,” said Green Party Co-convenor John Ranta.

“The world’s attention will be focused on fixing climate change this year and we will be at the forefront of that issue here in New Zealand.

“We have a real opportunity to address both climate change and inequality and we want our party focused on those issues.”

The justification given for not standing is laughable. Standing a candidate provides an easy platform for the party to campaign on climate change and inequality.

So why then aren’t the Greens standing a candidate?

Is it money? Election campaigns are never cheap, and the party might well have decided it simply doesn’t have the resources to spend this soon after a general election.

Or are the Greens trying to lure Peters into the ring, considering him to be the best chance the opposition has of decreasing the Government’s parliamentary majority?

David Farrar at Kiwiblog evidently believes it’s the latter, describing it as “The beginning of the dirty deal in Northland”. I’m unconvinced though. There’s no love lost between the Greens and NZ First, given Peters’ history of trying to shut the Greens out of government. And there’s still no indication as to whether Peters will or won’t stand.

I simply cannot see the Greens pulling out of the race out of the goodness of their hearts, in an attempt to aid a yet-to-be-announced run from Peters. Especially given that Labour have already announced their candidate, and are therefore unlikely to withdraw and upset their local support base.

To my mind, the Greens simply don’t see much opportunity to gain political capital in the upcoming by-election. It’ll be just over half a year since the last general election, and there’s no new policy that can be campaigned on. There’s probably very little spare cash lying around, and they know their candidate can’t win. (Their 2014 candidate, list MP David Clendon, lives in New Lynn, so isn’t even Northland-based.)

If the by-election were being held mid-term, it might have been a different story. Right now though, the timing’s just wrong for a cash-strapped minor party, with no high-profile local candidate.

Contractors aren’t workers?

Andrew Little, rather than simply apologising to NBR reporter David Cohen for the lengthy non-payment of his $950 invoice and moving on, seems dedicated to providing Patrick Gower with more ammunition.

On 3News last night, Mr Little attempted to amend Gower’s terminology:

“Your commentary talked about a worker. He [David Cohen] was a contractor.”

Unfortunately, Cohen had exchanged numerous emails with Little’s chief of staff, Matt McCarten, during his attempt to get paid, and at one point Mr McCarten had written:

“I’ll make it a priority. Every worker must be paid for work they are asked to do.”

When confronted with this by Gower, Little accepted that if it was okay for McCarten to refer to Cohen as a worker, it was also okay for Gower to do so.

Presumably, Little was concerned that use of the word “worker” might imply to the public that Cohen had been a Labour staffer who hadn’t been paid, as opposed to a one-off contractor. Nonetheless, it was a baffling piece of semantics, given that the first definition of “worker” in my dictionary is:

A person who works; one who works well or in a specified way.

As a former union boss, Mr Little will be well-versed in the distinctions between different types of workers – employees v contractors, for instance – but to try and paint a freelance contractor as someone who is not a worker seemed like a hiding to nothing. For a leader who, late last year, was bellowing “Cut the crap!” at John Key, this ill-considered linguistic smokescreen looked decidedly mealymouthed.

It was a line that Mr Little surely hadn’t thought through before he said it. If he had thought it through, he would have realised that it jarred rather uncomfortably against the idea that the Labour Party is supposedly there for all workers, not just the ones who belong to unions and have employment contracts.

Once again this week, Andrew Little has unnecessarily shot himself in the foot.