Dirty Politics: The politics, not the dirt is the problem
The politics, not the dirt is the problem
By Ben Peterson
August 16, 2014
Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics just blew up the election. The material comes largely from Cameron Slater’s leaked emails, but it covers much more than his personal activity. It outlines the activities of central National Party figures, up to and including Prime Minister John Key himself.
But the real importance of the book is not revealing the dirty tactics that John Key and company will resort to. More importantly, it outlines the anti-democratic and big money interests that drive the National Party. It is not that just these are sleazy politicians. These people (John Key, Judith ‘Crusher’ Collins and more) use attack politics to hide their real agendas.
Dirty Politics is significant because it outlines the political project that the National Party believes in, but only talks about behind closed doors. John Key and the National Party have cultivated an image of themselves as the responsible moderates. The reality is that he leads a highly ideological government that is committed to furthering business interests. Part of this crusade is actively supporting the Whale Oil blog and its politics.
The politics of
Dirty Politics shows that members of members of Key’s staff have actively assisted Slater and Whale Oil. Key himself has admitted to being in regular personal contact with Slater. Key may claim a degree of separation from Whale Oil, but this is disingenuous. John Key is many things but he is not stupid. Key and his staff know full well what Whale Oil stands for, but have maintained links with the blog.
Hager’s book outlines the political project of Whale Oil. The Whale Oilers actively and consciously seek to undermine democracy. Slater and his mates led the campaign against MMP (proportional representation) to try and limit space in electoral politics for progressive voices. The leaked emails show the group has actively sought to create an atmosphere that discourages people from voting. If candidates that aren’t to their liking do win an election, the Whale Oil crew will attempt to blackmail or publicly shame them into resignation.
Slater and Whale Oil seek to undermine democracy so they can magnify the voices of the big businesses that bankroll their activities. Companies that pay for Slater to ‘consult’ for them get the use of his blog and also his contacts in government. Not content with undermining the democratic process and giving voice to corporations, Whale Oil is also an enthusiastic participant in attempts to ‘smash’ unions. Unions are an important institution for working people to express their interests. Working people don’t have thousands of dollars each month to sponsor their own attack blogger.
marriage of John and Cam
Whale Oil and John Key’s office work together hand in glove. Whale Oil runs campaigns that National supports, but can’t be seen to do for fear of a backlash. This degree of separation has meant that John Key has been able to viciously attack his enemies and facilitate corporate interests, while maintaining a cleaner image.
John Key presents himself as a reasonable moderate, who is popular with regular people and share their interests. This is a deliberate untruth.
This National government wants to increase the power of corporate interests and undermine the position of everyone else. However, they recognise that the policies they want to implement (like further asset sales or cutbacks to health and education) are deeply unpopular. They are constrained by the potential democratic power of the public.
Thus, to implement their policies, this potential democratic power must be marginalised and silenced. Participation in elections must be undermined. MMP, which creates space for alternatives to be articulated, should be attacked where possible. Any political opponents, whether it be Len Brown, Kim Dotcom or the unions, must be destroyed. All real or potential alternatives to the neoliberal agenda must be neutralised.
The reality of this agenda is important to recognise because it also shows us how these politics can be beaten.
How to beat them
These right-wing policies are deeply unpopular – John Key knows that. That’s why he is desperate to be seen as a nice guy who likes the rugby and avoids debate. National fears a backlash if their true agenda is understood. Dirty Politics exposes that agenda.
Hager finishes the book by calling for more resources and greater ethics for journalism. This would be an important improvement for public debate, but journalism is not what scares John Key or the right-wing bloggers.
They’re terrified of democracy.
Dirty Politics shows how National have actively tried to eliminate any potential alternatives to their political project. The election on September 20 will be an important opportunity to demonstrate how they have failed to do so. In particular, they are terrified of the MANA Movement and the Internet Party and the alternative they represent.
These attacks on democracy will not end with Key out of office. Democracy can only function for ordinary people when ordinary people are actively involved. New political movements, independent media and resurgent unions are necessary to provide a counter voice to the corporate interests and their seat warmers, online and in government.