Thursday 19 June 2014

Both sides are wrong. Always.

The recent Cunliffe scandal over a letter chasing up an immigration application on behalf of Donghua Liu is yet another in recent times where politics has played the person rather than the policy. I always have a preference for discussing policy first, but I understand that the public has to have confidence and trust in their political leaders for the system to work. People should be called out when they try to subvert the normal course of justice, are underperforming, or are straight-up dishonest - so that they can either improve or someone else more competent can fill their shoes. To me, that is an important part of the discussion - bashing someone's character for the sake of it achieves nothing unless real change will result. That does not always appear to be the goal in the political realm; the Opposition assaults the Government day after day without ever setting themselves up to be a credible alternative. But back to the scandal at hand...

There are many parallels between Cunliffe and Williamson (and also many differences), but it appears that partisan politics is more than willing to ignore those similarities in the pursuit of character assassinating personality politics. It is really frustrating to watch individuals on both sides be, for want of a better description, hypocrites with situational morals that can be abandoned or adopted when necessary. The same individuals that praised the media during the Williamson scandal are now calling the same media a mouthpiece for the right. The same individuals that said "Williamson was not advocating for Liu, and was just enquiring about the status" are now calling Cunliffe's letter "advocating for immigration to approve his application." The same individuals who bay on about trust and brain fades undergo selective amnesia when it suits them. You just can't have it both ways (and still have my respect). You can't be sad and upset when your opponents are calling for your heads, and then gleefully turn around and gloat when the tables are turned. You can't count on the public having goldfish-like memory, because it turns out that goldfish can remember things for months.

My point is this: both sides are wrong. They both did (and will continue to do) bad things. Neither has the moral high ground and neither deserves to grandstand. Let the media do their investigation, reveal the misconduct, and feel bad for your opponents when they're in that situation because you know how it feels too. Let the issue sit in the news cycle for a few days, and don't keep stoking the flames with back-and-forth banter. Move on so that we can get back to the real issues that need to be discussed and debated. I would hate to calculate the amount of time and money wasted debating people rather than policy because politicians see an opportunity to... play politics. The overhead cost of politics in this country (and many others) is simply too high, and the electorate doesn't get very good efficiency out of the parliamentary system.

But back from an idealistic utopia and back to the reality that we live in for a bit of punditry. If Labour wants to be able to fight National on moral grounds, then they really need a rejuvenation. A big reason that they can't latch onto "Teflon John" is because everything they say pretty much slips off National and sticks back on Labour. National has so much ammunition to use against Labour as is apparent at every Question Time when they have the opportunity to refer to "the last Labour government" because most of the frontbenchers were in that last Government. A letter from eleven years ago (I was just starting intermediate school eleven years ago) can resurface and wreak havoc because it's still the same person in that position. The Greens can often thrash National on their record because they have the benefit of, well, not having very much history of being in power. They have had fewer opportunities to screw things up and do things badly. The Internet Party might also be able to bring in some new faces that don't carry the baggage of previous parliamentary terms. But Labour's strategy of calling National out on trust and transparency can only be a losing battle as long as the party continues to carry their own history of misconduct and failure.

In other news, it has been just over a year since Ben Uffindell published an editorial announcing that he was creating The Civilian Party. The justification? Remember when United Future was deregistered because it didn't have enough members? "We’re doing it to help [Peter Dunne]. We want to give him some encouragement, and let him know that getting 500 members to form a political party isn’t actually that hard when you really put your mind to it. If we can show him that we can do it, then surely he can too." Awkward that a year later, even with plenty of free publicity, The Civilian Party is still not registered.

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