The Dim-Post

Paying one’s debts (or The Ongoing Art of Political Stupidity)

No one likes being caught saying one thing and doing another. So it’s been more than a little embarrassing for Andrew Little to have been talking up the need for Labour to reach out to small business and contractors, only to be busted for not having paid a contractor’s $950 invoice for four months.

Many Labour supporters will argue that it’s a minor issue, blown out of proportion by Patrick Gower’s gleeful penchant for sensationalist reporting. Nonetheless, the problem for Andrew Little is that it’s a very simple issue that all small business owners and contractors can relate to: you do the work, you send out the invoice, and you wait, and wait, and wait. And while you wait, and pay your own bills, you think how nice it would be to have that money sitting in your bank account. Because there’s a rates invoice due in a few days, or a GST payment coming up fast, or the oven at home has just committed hara-kiri.

Of course, it’s unlikely that the invoice sat on Andrew Little’s desk for four months, with Little making a personal decision to obstinately not pay it. Instead, it will have been with any number of underlings, who are paid to sort such things out.

They’ve certainly dropped the ball on this one, and not merely in their handling of the (non)payment of the invoice.

For a start, the contractor, freelance journalist David Cohen, writes for the National Business Review, a publication not often known as a bastion of left wing journalism. Cohen’s latest NBR piece states that he was contracted to “take a few hours to talk with Mr Little and then independently distill his views as they might sound to an outsider”. Quite why anyone in Camp Little thought that the ideal independent outsider to hire was a right wing journalist is rather beyond me.

As The Dim-Post‘s Danyl Mclauchlan writes in the comments to his latest post:

Here’s how a similar conversation would go in the National Party:

Aide: We’ve arranged for Danyl Mclauchlan to interview you then distill it into key messages.
MP: Who’s he?
Aide: He’s a left-wing blogger, his wife was a senior staffer for the Greens . . .
MP: Let’s not use him. That’s just stupid.

Nonetheless, the political preferences of Mr Cohen presumably wouldn’t have been an issue had the invoice simply been paid. But it wasn’t, and according to Mr Cohen on Morning Report this morning, that’s despite him having contact with various Little staff members, including Chief of Staff Matt McCarten.

Did no one, especially Mr McCarten, think, “We owe an NBR journalist $950. We should probably pay that before he turns feral…”?

And so Mr Cohen writes a story about his shoddy treatment, exposing Mr Little’s hypocrisy and making Little and his staff look like a pack of extremely odd individuals.

And so Andrew Little is embarrassed in Parliament by Stephen Joyce, who gleefully lampoons Little’s “no payment contract”.

And so Patrick Gower makes Mr Little look like a fool on 3News, as Gower asks again and again when and why the bill was suddenly paid, and Little tries not to answer.

It’s an issue that should never have got to that stage, and it beggars belief that Little and/or his staff allowed it to end up on the six o’clock news. Reverting to type, Labour once again fluffs its basic political management.

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So, predictions…

I’ve been keeping track of the polls with my Poll of Polls (final update here), but of course polls technically aren’t prediction devices. They ask the question, “If an election were held today/tomorrow”, and are therefore only so useful when it comes to predicting what people will do in a few days time.

Likewise, Poll of Polls’ are generally fairly slow at adjusting to sudden events. They help cancel out statistical noise, but sometimes when a party shoots up in the polls it’s not statistical noise; the party actually is significantly more popular than it was the previous day, week or month.

The rise of NZ First and the Conservatives is a case in point. The final pre-election polls from each of the five main polling companies shows a spread of 6.6% to 8.4% for NZ First (an average of 7.6%), while my Poll of Polls has them on just 6.3%, outside the spread altogether.

Likewise, the final polls for the Conservatives show a spread of between 3.3% and 4.9%, while my Poll of Polls has them on 3.3%, at the very bottom of the spread.

Then there’s the perennial issue of whether the polls are inherently biased. Are they missing important swathes of the voting population, resulting in fundamentally skewed results? My Poll of Polls adjusts each poll based on how far above or below the industry average that polling company is. It doesn’t adjust for whether the polls are inherently out in relation to election results., largely those results can change quite markedly from election to election.

There are a few bias-adjusted predictions out there. Over at the Dim-Post, Danyl McLauchlan Poll of Polls applies a significant downward adjustment to National, and a significant upward adjustment to NZ First (there are other adjustments, but those are the big ones). I think his adjustments are too large, but there you go… I guess we’ll soon know just right or otherwise he is…

Danyl has given his predictions for five parties, heavily couched with 2% bands:

  • National 42 – 44%
  • Labour 22 – 24%
  • Greens 13 – 15%
  • NZ First 7 – 9%
  • Conservatives 5 – 7% (although he further couches his prediction by noting that the recent controversy over the resignation of Colin Craig’s press secretary might drop the Conservatives below 5%).

And Gavin White has published his bias-adjusted predictions for the parties he has “good data” for:

  • National – 45%
  • Labour – 26%
  • Greens – 11%
  • NZ First – 9%
  • Maori – 1.3%
  • ACT – 0.8%
  • United Future – 0.6%

My gut feeling prediction?

  • National 46%
  • Labour 26%
  • Greens 12%
  • NZ First 8%
  • Conservatives 4%
  • Maori – 1%
  • United Future – 0.2%
  • ACT – 0.5%
  • Internet Mana – 1.9%

Now let’s see how wrong I am come Saturday night!

The Blomfield v Slater judgment – what does it mean for your average blogger?

So with the finding of the High Court that Cameron Slater is a journalist (see my previous posts here, here and here), and that his Whaleoil blog is a news medium, there’s been some presumption from some on the internet that political bloggers as a class have now been raised to the level of journalists. Lprent at the Standard, for example, says:

I was rather expecting that Justice Asher would make me and other authors here honorary journalists under section 68 of the Evidence Act 2006, and that is what he did.

I’m not entirely certain that lprent is right. There are a few fishhooks spread throughout Asher J’s judgment that seem to indicate that the Courts would consider Cameron Slater to be a bit of a special case among bloggers.

For a start, there’s the definition of a news medium s 68(5) of the Evidence Act: “a medium for the dissemination to the public or a section of the public of news and observations on news”. The key word there – “and” – means that for a political blog to be considered a news medium, that blog must not only disseminate observations on news (which is the general blogging modus operandi), but to also disseminate news. Justice Asher notes at para 54:

Given that the medium must be “for the dissemination to the public of news …” a blog that publishes a single news item would not qualify. The blog must have a purpose of disseminating news. Some regular commitment to the publishing of news must exist before a blog is a news medium.

So what is news? Well, that’s where things get fuzzy. Following reference to the New Zealand Oxford English Dictionary, Asher J states that “[t]he reporting of news involves this element of providing new information to the public about recent events of interest to the public”.

It’s a definition that doesn’t necessarily advance matters. If a radio news bulletin, for example, simply involves the repetition of news broken by others, is the bulletin in fact disseminating news? You’d assume so. So if a blog essentially does the same thing – repeating news stories broken by mainstream news organisations, but providing coverage through the blogger’s voice – is this really any different to a radio news bulletin? Where does the distinction between disseminating news and disseminating comment on news begin and end?

Justice Asher’s judgment, in finding that Whaleoil was a news medium, dwells on Cameron Slater’s investigations and stories that he broke (see paras 58 to 59, and 63 to 64). There’s an implication that a blog must be breaking stories to the public in order to be considered a news medium. Simply reacting to stories already broken, and repeating those stories (with or without additional editorial comment) doesn’t seem to be enough.

At para 62 of the judgment, Asher J states, “In my assessment, Mr Slater’s reports contain genuine new information of interest over a wide range of topics”, while at para 65 it is stated:

It is this element of regularly providing new or recent information of public interest which is in my view determinative. He was not doing this as often as would occur in a newspaper or a television or radio station, but that could not be expected of a single blogger. Such a person would not have the resources to operate on that scale. I do not see it as a pre-requisite that the quantity of stories must be equivalent to that of a substantial corporate news organisation. His motives for reporting are not crucial either. Because Whale Oil at the relevant time with reasonable frequency provided such information, as well as commentary and the opportunity for debate, it was a news medium.

 So are the authors at the Standard, Pundit, The Daily Blog or Public Address journalists? Is Danyl McLauchlan at the Dim-Post a journalist? Or David Farrar at Kiwiblog? Or Pete George at Your NZ? Or yours truly? From the High Court’s judgment, who knows. Most blogs, such as Occasionally Erudite, simply involve commentary on topical news items – the individual blogger’s view on the story or stories of the day – which seems unlikely to reach the threshold of being a news medium or journalism.

But at the Standard, lprent has reported live from the NZ First conference, or attended the Blomfield v Slater High Court hearing and provided a report on what occurred. At Public Address, Russell Brown provides additional background to stories he covers on his Media Take show or provides details of interviews with Patrick Gower, while Graeme Edgeler has exhaustively researched and posted on issues such as the secrecy of the Coroner’s Court.

Are these examples of journalism? One would assume so. Do they occur regularly enough for those particular blogs to be considered news mediums, according to Asher J? Hard to say. The test seems to be on a case by case basis, with regular provision of new information to the public being relative to the individual blogger.

Nonetheless, it seems that most bloggers wouldn’t be considered to be journalists, following Asher J’s reasoning. Repeating stories on a blog and providing comment won’t get you over the threshold. And even if you break stories, it has to happen on a regular basis (whatever “regular” may mean).

Cameron Slater seems to be a special case.

 

 

Can the Conservatives make 5%?

Back when John Key confirmed there would be no East Coast Bays deal for Colin Craig, I happily wrote off the Conservative Party. With no hope of winning an electorate seat, they had no choice but to make 5% of the vote, which was one hell of a long shot.

However, if I cast my eye around the internet, I’ve apparently been far too early to write them off. In the NZ Herald this morning, there’s John Roughan talking up the Conservatives in his opinion piece “Craig’s day in the sun may dawn“. The latest Herald Digipoll says National voters would prefer a coalition with the Conservatives, rather than NZ First. And over at the Dim-Post, Danyl McLauchlan publishes his bias-adjusted tracking poll and predicts “The Conservatives will probably cross the 5% threshold.”

Personally, I stand by my prediction that the Conservatives won’t make it. One poll has had them over 4%; the three polls released yesterday had them on 2.4%, 2.9% and 3.8% respectively. This site’s Poll of Polls has them on just 2.7%; increasing week by week, but not nearly with enough momentum to get even close to 5%.

Most of the recent polls have shown a combined NZ First / Conservatives vote of between 9.5% and 10%. The only time this year the two minor (small-c) conservative parties have got above 10% is in the second-to-last Reid Research poll, in which the Conservatives reached their 4.2% high point, and the combine NZ First / Conservatives vote was 10.9%. With NZ First reaching 6% or higher in four of the last six polls, that doesn’t leave enough of the natural small-c conservative constituency to get Colin Craig and his party over the line.

Colin Craig is losing the battle with Winston Peters. And although Craig may have benefited by a percentage point or two from the Dirty Politics fallout, that boat now appears to have floated, with the hacker, Rawshark, pulling the pin following yesterday’s interim injunction against media publishing any newly leaked material.

To my mind, the only way that the Conservatives will make it in to Parliament is if John Key gives National Party supporters an explicit statement that it’s okay if they vote Conservative. The reason John Key is unlikely to do that is that there’s still a risk that the Conservatives still only get close to 5%, without reaching that vital threshold, and a greater chunk of the centre-right vote is wasted.

Key will be hoping that with the minor party leader’s debates now over, the spotlight will shift back to the battle between Key and Cunliffe. Colin Craig will be left fighting for oxygen, and the Conservative Party’s rise will stagnate or even reverse.

It’s either that, or a vain hope from National that the Conservatives somehow surge on their account, cleanly making the 5% threshold, and allowing National to put together a coalition that doesn’t involve NZ First. I wouldn’t bet on it though…

Too many errors – why ‘Dirty Politics’ won’t convince swing voters

Rodney Hide has very publicly rubbished Nicky Hager’s claims that Hide was blackmailed into resigning as ACT Party leader. Here’s an extract from his Herald on Sunday column this morning:

It seems a character called Jordan Williams told another character, Simon Lusk, that I had sent inappropriate texts. Lusk and blogger Cameron Slater then apparently message each other about threatening me with the release of the texts unless I resign.

And then I resign.

Oh, and Don Brash in replacing me was – according to Hager – Lusk’s client. Ta da!

What hasn’t been reported is Hager writing: “The documents do not contain the texts and we do not know they exist. There is also no evidence that a direct threat was made to Hide.”

So he quietly admits his “explosive claim” could be a fizzer. Even with the admission our so-called investigative journalist never bothered confirming his story. Hager never rang to ask: “Hey, I have just come across the damnedest stuff and just have to ask, were you ever blackmailed?”

To which I would reply: “No, definitely not. I would never give in to blackmail. I would go straight to the police. It’s a crime. I have no doubt the police and the courts would take a dim view of any attempt to blackmail a political leader and Government minister. It never happened.”

But then if Hager had fact-checked, “one of the most explosive claims in the book” would evaporate. Far better to publish, run the story, make everyone scramble.

That’s the thing – the blackmail allegation seems a case of Hager playing join the dots with too few dots. A few political operatives emailing each other and saying, “We should blackmail Hide!” doesn’t mean that Hide was actually blackmailed.

The blackmail allegation was one of the big allegations that featured prominently in the media’s initial coverage of Dirty Politics, along with the allegation that Judith Collins had arranged for a prisoner to be moved at Cameron Slater’s behest. The media are now backtracking on the Collins allegation, with Nicky Hager clarifying yesterday that he’s in fact alleging that a prison officer arranged for the prisoner transfer, not Collins. It’s a misreading of the book by journalists, rather than a mistake by Hager, but it substantially reduces the culpability of Team Key.

The more allegations that are either proven to be false, or can be credibly argued to be an exaggeration, the less likely it is that the public (who haven’t read the book and are relying on media coverage for their information) will believe the credible allegations.

Just look at last night’s One News Colmar Brunton’s snap poll. Question two of the poll asks:

[Nicky Hager’s] book suggests smear campaigns and leaks were organised at the highest levels of the National Party, including the Prime Minister’s office. Do you believe these suggestions?

The results? Just 28% of respondents said yes, they believe these suggestions. 43% said no, while 29% didn’t know.

And question three?

Have these allegations positively or negatively influenced your view of the National Party, or have they not made much difference?

5% didn’t know, while 82% said “Not made much difference”. Just 9% said they’d been negatively influenced. (And I don’t even want to know what’s going on in the minds of the 4% who said their view of the National Party had been positively influenced by the allegations…)

Now one could argue that if those 9% of voters who have been negatively influenced were leaning National and were now leaning left, that that’s a huge impact. A 9% shift in the polls would likely hand the election to Labour and the Greens. However, we don’t where those 9% of voters sat, in terms of allegiance. It’s entirely possible that a good chunk of them are left-wingers who didn’t like National, and now like National even less. Or that some are National voters who may like National less, but not enough to vote for a different party.

It’s a pity that Colmar Brunton didn’t dig deeper with their questions, but I guess we’ll see impact of Dirty Politics with the upcoming polling cycle. But I’ll be surprised if the impact is substantial.

UPDATE:

For those interested in a complete summation of the Rodney Hide blackmail dots that can be connected, Danyl Mclauchlan at The Dim-Post has a useful timeline.

Also worth noting is Andrew Geddis’s comment on Danyl’s post:

The question isn’t so much “did Hide actually step down because he was frightened into it by threats of stuff being released?” It’s, “did these people conspire to bring about this result?” Because you can plot to do something and be criminally liable for doing so without actually bringing the plan to full fruition.

Dirty Politics – sunlight is the best disinfectant

Well, there’s only one political story today – Nicky Hager’s new book, Dirty Politics: How attack politics is poisoning New Zealand’s political environment. And it’ll likely be the only political story for a wee while yet, as journalists digest the full range of allegations and try and pin John Key down on what he knew about what his office was up to.

I haven’t yet read Dirty Politics (although it’s definitely on my reading list, once I obtain a copy). I only know what’s been reported and debated online. (For a useful synopsis, check out Danyl Mclauchlan’s post at The Dim-Post.

There are a few allegations that seem to have captured the attention of the commentariat:

  • That Cameron Slater and Jason Ede accessed the Labour Party’s computers in 2011, in the lead-up to the election.
  • That the Prime Minister’s office, through Jason Ede, used classified SIS documents to damage a political enemy, Phil Goff, by de-classifying them and telling Cameron Slater to OIA them.
  • That Cameron Slater and political strategist Simon Lusk blackmailed Rodney Hide into resigning as leader of the ACT party.
  • That Judith Collins, when she was Minister of Corrections, arranged to have a prisoner transferred at Cameron Slater’s request.
  • That Cameron Slater is paid around $6,500 per month from a tobacco lobbyist, Carrick Graham, to publish pro-tobacco, pro-alcohol attack posts. Those posts are written by Mr Graham, and are published under Slater’s by-line without attribution.

Yes, everyone knows that politics is a dirty business. Political parties dig for dirt on their opponents (remember Mike Williams’ flight to Australia to find non-existent dirt on John Key?). Nonetheless, if the allegations are correct, there’s some seriously disturbing stuff taking place on the ninth floor of the Beehive. It’s taking negative campaigning to a new level. It’s a systemic abuse of power.

How much of Hager’s claims are based on incontrovertible documentary evidence, and how much on tenuously joined dots remains to be seen. Matthew Hooton has come out this morning and labelled as flat-out wrong and a lie an allegation that he arranged for a liquor company to sponsor David Farrar and Slater.

It’s worth noting that Slater has responded to some of the allegations against him, in his post “The three biggest lies of Hager’s book“. Firstly, he disputes that Labour’s computer system was hacked (which I’ll discuss in a separate post), and secondly:

The second big lie is that PM and/or the PM’s office told me about Phil Goff’s briefing from the SIS. They did not.  

I wrote my own OIA and boy did I get pressure to pull my OIA. Pressure came from very senior people to actually withdraw my OIA, very serious pressure…mostly by phone. I was told it wouldn’t do the Nats any favours.

I resisted that and basically told them to piss off, I was entitled to ask an OIA and I did, proving that Phil Goff lied about his briefing.

I’ll be interested to read Hager’s evidence to the contrary.

Certainly, I’m amused that thus far there’s no denial from Slater that he takes money from a tobacco lobbyist to run PR attack lines. As Mr Slater is fond of saying, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant”. Indeed…

But will the current furore result in any change in the polls? It’s hard to say. If John Key can distance himself from everything, there may not be much of an impact. Broadcasters such as Sean Plunket and Mike Hosking are busily running the line that there’s nothing to see here that no one didn’t already know. 

“Nicky Hager taking the moral high ground is nauseating.”

That’s a text message I received this morning from a swing voter. They’re not going to read Dirty Politics, and they undoubtedly assume that whatever National is alleged to have done, Labour will also have done. They just don’t care, and that’s a depressing thought…

Leaking like a sieve

Further to the leaked Labour Party emails relating to Kelvin Davis’ Te Tai Tokerau battle with Hone Harawira, you’ve got to wonder just who’s done the leaking, and why?

It’s either someone from Kelvin Davis’ campaign team or it’s someone from Labour HQ, and the motivations that each camp might have had are rather different.

If it’s Camp Davis, you’d have to presume that they were expecting to lose if they simply adopted a steady-as-she-goes campaign strategy based on party billboards, public meetings and press releases. You’d also have to presume that Labour’s current polling is scaring the hell out of them. As I pointed out in my previous post, Kelvin Davis is in the danger zone, based on Labour’s current average polling. And things get worse for him if NZ First make it over 5% and take two Labour list seats.

Camp Davis knows that the only ways Harawira is losing Te Tai Tokerau is if a) the Maori Party instructs it’s supporters to vote for Davis, or b) enough Harawira supporters begin to really dislike the Internet Mana deal. Given that the Maori Party continues to pretend that it can win all seven Maori seats, that leaves just Option B. And Option B requires a negative campaign – an unrelenting assault on Dotcom and Harawira.

Unfortunately for Camp Davis, it’s rather obvious that a negative campaign against Dotcom is, as Tim Barnett pointed out to Davis’ team, somewhat at odds with Labour’s “Vote Positive” slogan. Therefore, if Camp Davis leaked the emails, they’re hoping to stoke the anti-Dotcom/Harawira message through the media, keeping the spotlight on Mr Davis as the Defender of Democracy.

There have been all sorts of accusations regarding Labour candidates turning their backs on a coordinated party vote campaign, in favour of focusing purely on winning their own seats. If the leak has come from Camp Davis, then this is a doozy of an example, flying in the face of Labour’s central campaign message.

If the leak came from Labour’s HQ, then who knows what the motivation might have been. Was it someone who disagrees with the decision to rein Davis in? Was it someone who simply relished the chance to put another spanner in David Cunliffe’s spokes? Whatever the reason, it’s yet another example for the public that Labour remains a divided party, working at cross-purposes to itself.

And just check out this comment from Matthew Hooton at The Dim-Post:

A series of emails, including this one, was leaked to me last week from within the Labour Party. I wrote about it on Friday in the NBR but I think Labour HQ then issued this one to the Herald, which had a story in Saturday’s paper. Others have HQ advocating fund-raising through third parties.

Whoever leaked those emails really, really wanted them blazed all over the media…