Andrew Little signaled to Labour voters in Northland that they should vote for Winston Peters (and they did). So the press gallery and wider punditocracy are all aflutter about Labour’s hypocrisy. ‘They condemned National’s deal with ACT in Epsom,’ the argument goes, ‘But now they’ve done the same thing in Northland! Labour has lost the moral high ground!’
They haven’t done ‘the same thing’, of course. I don’t like Winston Peters or New Zealand First, but it is an actual party that people vote for, and Northland voters were more likely to vote for Peters than any Labour candidate. ACT, on the other hand, is a fake party that no one votes for, lead by nobodies who would never win anything. Epsom voters didn’t vote for David Seymour, they voted for a loophole in the electoral law that benefits National.
Gallery journalists understand this on an intellectual level. They’re smart. But National’s media strategists are smarter. They exploit the anxiety political journalists have of being seen to be partisan. ‘How can you attack our deal but stay silent on theirs? Whaddarya? Biased?’ Journalists and commentators know that if they condemn both deals – or both sides of any other issue even if there is no moral equivalence – then they can’t be accused of media bias. They’re doing their jobs!
This doctrine of false equivalence is National’s most reliable spin-tactic. They trot it out every-time they’re in trouble. Dirty politics? What about that time seven years ago when Mike Williams did something dirty? Tim Groser’s WTO spying scandal? Chris Finlayson instantly implies that ‘Helen Clark did it too’. ‘Labour is just as bad’ is almost always the first excuse out of Key’s mouth, because he knows it is the argument the press gallery will be most sympathetic to.