The Dim-Post

July 28, 2014

Risible courtier watch

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 11:02 am

I think there are a few interesting things going on in this John Armstrong piece sternly warning everyone about the disease of ‘gotcha politics’:

It sure ain’t pretty. It sure ain’t enlightening. It is most definitely insidious. It is a creeping cancer of the New Zealand body politic.

Regardless of whether it is John Key or David Cunliffe who has the numbers on election night to pick up the reins of power, so-called “gotcha politics” is almost guaranteed to be the big winner of the 2014 election campaign.

“Gotcha politics” is all about focusing voters’ attention on the gaffes and mistakes of opponents rather than trying to win the election by winning the battle of ideas.

It is personality-based politics, not issue-driven politics. It is all about wrecking your opponents’ campaign by landing major hits on their credibility.

At its worst, gotcha politics can be an old-fashioned witch-hunt dressed up in modern-day notions of accountability. None of this new, of course.
What has changed is the extent and intensity of gotcha politics.

Firstly its a nice illustration of the clueless hypocrisy of Armstrong, the Herald’s political columnist, who was happy – even gleeful – to indulge in ‘gotcha politics’ when his paper revealed that David Cunliffe had forgotten he signed a form letter twelve years ago. Armstrong instantly called on Cunliffe to resign. Now in this latest column he’s outraged that the Greens are trying to hold Murray McCully to account for his role in attempting to cover up the alleged attempted rape of a New Zealand citizen by a foreign diplomat. It’s juxtapositions like this that make Armstrong a figure of bemused mockery.

His continued fury over the Tania Billingsley case also indicates the white-hot fury that National and its admirers still feel over that episode, which dropped out of the actual news cycle about ten days ago. How dare some silly little nobody – some girl – embarrass the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister himself on national television! That’s what has Armstrong so inflamed about the ‘creeping cancer’ of ‘gotcha politics’. The actual people impacted by government incompetence have no place in his conception of political journalism, which is about Armstrong meeting very important, powerful people in their offices and writing whatever they tell him to.

Thirdly, we’ve been hearing this complaint about ‘gotcha politics’ a lot this year, hitherto mostly from left-wing commentators. Every time Labour does something stupid there’s the same collective cry on my twitter feed: ‘Why can’t the media focus on policy? Where are the real issues?’ But the basic honesty and competence of our politicians are ‘real issues’. During the 2011 election the vast majority of voters were opposed to National’s policy of asset sales, but they voted for Key and National anyway because he seemed like a far more competent head of government than Phil Goff, and the exact same narrative is playing out this election (except this time around we have no idea what National plans to do in its next term: that’d be a good story for a political reporter who wanted to focus on ‘the issues’).

Voters care about ‘gotcha politics’ ie the suitability of a political leader to run the country way more than actual policy. Mistakes, lies and gaffes are a really big deal and the media should cover them.

20 Comments »

  1. Voters care about ‘gotcha politics’ ie the suitability of a political leader to run the country way more than actual policy.

    Voters I talk to care about both.

    Comment by George — July 28, 2014 @ 11:17 am

  2. No matter that the State Sector Act and the Cabinet Manual set clear boundaries to prevent ministers interfering in operational matters – thereby begging the question of exactly what John Key was supposed to be apologising for.

    That’s probably a matter for the PM, who said he would apologise if he knew the name of the complainant.

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — July 28, 2014 @ 11:19 am

  3. Extraordinary that the Witchfinder-General suddenly comes over all coy about “witch-hunts” when the Nats are on the receiving end.

    John’s a good, keen fire-fighter for the Nats. Any troub with gotcha politics, and he’ll be out there hosing it down pretty damn quickly. I’d put a few other leading political journos in the same category (including ‘living treasure’, Jane Clifton-McCully. Always pushes National’s core message on each and every issue, while decorating it with just enough frivolous faults-on-both-sides glitter to get away with it).

    Here’s John casting unseemly ideological aspersions on your beloved Aro Valley, Danyl: (He attacks Gordon Campbell and Bryce Edwards as “two, old-style Aro Valley socialists”, in the process, of course, highlighting his own particular ideological proclivities) … http://gordoncampbell.scoop.co.nz/2012/09/17/gordon-campbell-on-journalism-and-john-armstrong/

    Comment by swordfish — July 28, 2014 @ 12:10 pm

  4. “That’s probably a matter for the PM, who said he would apologise if he knew the name of the complainant.”

    Yes, well, he has since recanted, possibly because the complainant had the temerity to publicly criticise him.

    Comment by Ross — July 28, 2014 @ 12:58 pm

  5. National really us scared that Dotcom is going to come up with something.

    Comment by Sanctuary — July 28, 2014 @ 1:14 pm

  6. Someone grep Hansard and let us know how many Question Times have been wasted during this Parliament with questions in the form “Does the Minister stand by his/her statements?”

    Comment by SHG — July 28, 2014 @ 3:41 pm

  7. On the other hand you could observe that it is to the Herald’s credit that they have more than one voice and that their political reporter does not have to toe the company line. News outlets that enforce one voice are not much fun to read or work for.

    Comment by Tinakori — July 28, 2014 @ 3:53 pm

  8. There have been so many trivial Gotchas that we’re now bored – they just reinforce our perceptions of politicians. The minor parties and their policies, are strange. Given recent polls, casual voters may simply be avoiding wasting their votes on strange, self-destructing, loser parties hoping to participate in any Uncle Tom Cobley and all coalition government. A reasonable expectation is that any political party should have an undivided house, keep on message, and produce a leader capable of leading the country. Only one party seems to have remembered that NZ voters are sentient ( most of the time ).

    Comment by Bruce Hamilton — July 28, 2014 @ 4:19 pm

  9. The National Government has one more week to address slavery at sea in Aotearoa New Zealand. If the New Zealand Parliament fails to address it this week, then an organised international boycott of the New Zealand fisheries industry will be initiated in over a dozen countries.

    People have been beaten and murdered year on year in this country for a buck. It stops now.

    All senior executives of and shareholders in Sanford Fisheries should also understand that they will be held personally responsible should the relevant legislation not pass before the election.

    International Labour Protection

    Comment by Peter Badfellow — July 28, 2014 @ 7:35 pm

  10. The man is exemplifying a shamelessly ignorant hack. Time to call it a day, John.

    Comment by Sacha — July 28, 2014 @ 8:15 pm

  11. A reasonable expectation is that any political party should have an undivided house, keep on message, and produce a leader capable of leading the country. Only one party seems to have remembered that NZ voters are sentient ( most of the time ).

    You mean the Greens, right?

    Comment by Flashing Light — July 28, 2014 @ 8:54 pm

  12. zing

    Comment by Sacha — July 28, 2014 @ 9:50 pm

  13. “You mean the Greens, right?”

    Who else?

    Comment by kalvarnsen — July 29, 2014 @ 2:37 am

  14. “a leader capable of leading the country…”

    Getting votes is pretty important too…that disqualifies the Greens.

    Comment by Ross — July 29, 2014 @ 6:47 am

  15. 11-13

    I must have missed the excitment. Was it a coup, fratricide, assassination, or the yobbish, right-leaning, media revealing Russel / Metiria as a crossdressing individual?. Last time I looked, the Greens still continued to try and have a bet each way by offering gender-based “co-leaders”. Who votes for co-leaders?. I suggested “produce a leader”, not offer options.

    Comment by Bruce Hamilton — July 29, 2014 @ 7:10 am

  16. suggested “produce a leader”, not offer options.

    Gosh, there’s no pleasing some people. A party demonstrates that it’s got numerous individuals capable of governing, and what happens? They complain that it’s too confusing and that they just want to be told who is in charge.

    Comment by Flashing Light — July 29, 2014 @ 7:32 am

  17. Is the suitability of Russell and Metiria as potential leaders of NZ widely accepted outside the circle of Green party supporters?

    In my experience this “are they capable of leading the country” test is just another avenue for partisan attacks. Labour supporters do not view Key as capable of leading the country, nor National supporters Cunliffe.

    Comment by kalvarnsen — July 29, 2014 @ 7:42 am

  18. JK & DC battling it out to see who can run the one party state the best. Does anyone know why David Parker and Bill English dont job share?

    Come back Don Brash all is forgiven. Those were the good ole days.

    Comment by Simon — July 29, 2014 @ 8:19 am

  19. ” Gosh, there’s no pleasing some people. A party demonstrates that it’s got numerous individuals capable
    of governing, and what happens? They complain that it’s too confusing and that they just want to be told
    who is in charge. ”

    I know, us voters are such a bunch of petulant, demanding children. Election day is our birthday.

    Yours is one view. Another is that the party can not (or will not ) make up it’s own mind who should be leader – perhaps because members fear losing voters if an individual is picked. In other words the party may have factions ( gender-based or otherwise ), just like some other political parties.

    I’ve no idea whether having gender-based “co-leaders” demonstrates that the individuals will be capable of governing well, to me it’s still a failure to choose a leader. Some voters might like to know who would be PM – should they vote Greens into power. If the Greens propose job-sharing, that also might be nice to know beforehand.

    Comment by Bruce Hamilton — July 29, 2014 @ 8:22 am

  20. Yours is one view. Another is that the party can not (or will not ) make up it’s own mind who should be leader – perhaps because members fear losing voters if an individual is picked. In other words the party may have factions ( gender-based or otherwise ), just like some other political parties.

    It’s a party that takes equality seriously. All its major positions have male and female leaders, and always have. It seems to produce a lot of really good people.

    Importantly, there’s institutional stability. One of your leaders or co-presidents or others retires for some reason, and you still have a person who has experience and knowledge in the job, while the other brings on freshness.

    Comment by George — July 29, 2014 @ 10:15 am


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