Hang ’em high

Labour Supercity candidate Daljit Singh, standing for election to the Otara-Papatoetoe Local Board, has been revealed as one of those charged with voting fraud-related offences. As Idiot/Savant says, it’s awful that this information didn’t come out earlier so that he could be punished electorally as well as judicially, but this is part of the price we pay for a robust justice system.

However, the fact that Singh has avoided his due scrutiny thus far (and, farcically, may yet be duly elected to the board) makes strict attention to his case all the more important, and places a heavier burden on those who are associated with him –and in particular on the Labour party whom he represents — to respond swiftly and decisively to divorce themselves from Singh and his alleged misdeeds. This must take cognisance of the fact that he has not yet been convicted of anything and it may be conditional and hypothetical, but if Labour have learned anything at all from the Taito Phillip Field scandal, it’s that a lesser test than ‘convicted in a criminal court’ must apply with regard to such matters.

In the interim Singh’s erstwhile allies must assess the evidence and base their response on judgements as to its veracity, but the moment his guilt is admitted or proven, they must be the first to call for his (figurative) hanging; because they stood to benefit from his fraud, they must condemn it all the more loudly. Singh and Labour’s enemies can be relied upon to do so; his allies must also. Andrew Little has initially done so, and this is heartening. IrishBill at The Standard, as an allied third party, has done likewise.

It is also perfectly legitimate to draw links between Singh and others’ alleged wrongdoing and Labour’s own fundamental standards and character, since candidates by definition represent the party. While one rotten apple does not (as many will certainly argue) imply a party of inveterate crooks, this latest incident on top of the Field affair, Labour’s steadfast support for Winston Peters through the Owen Glenn donation scandal, and continuing perverse behaviour by Chris Carter (I could list more examples) do certainly speak to crucial failures of judgement when it comes to the party’s selection and endorsement of both candidates and allies. If the rumoured pecadilloes of Richard Worth, the overt bigotry and criminal background of David Garrett, and the blundering damfoolishness of Melissa Lee (there are more examples here also) can be said to illustrate the character of the ACT and National parties (and I believe they can) then the same must surely hold true for Labour. Whatever speaks to character speaks to the heart and soul of a political movement, and by this standard Singh’s implication in voter fraud, if proven, will be a lifelong stain on the party which admitted and endorsed him.

And if anyone so much as breathes words like courageous corruption in apologia for Singh and whoever else, hoist them by the same rope. Democracy’s ends are only as good as the weakest part of its means.


11 thoughts on “Hang ’em high

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Kiwipolitico » Blog Archive » Hang ‘em high -- Topsy.com

  2. Not bad for an initial response:
    “There is no tolerance in our Party for conduct that undermines the integrity of the electoral process” said Mr Little.

    If it is established that Mr Singh has acted in this way then he can expect swift disciplinary action, including having his Party membership removed from him.”

  3. Seems to me, given Mr Little’s statement, that you’ve jumped too quickly and created a straw man to beat up. Your elision of a party’s “standards and character” and “candidates and allies” is wrong – a party is not revealed uniquely in its candidates as any party is a pluralist endeavour, institutionally and people-wise. I might belong to Labour, like Phil Twyford but find Mr Carter to be impossible, for example. I might like my branch and its activities but be jaded by the posturing of my party’s MPs. Let’s let justice take its course (and if wrongdoing is found, let it be firm).

  4. Robert, did you not read the bit where I praised Little’s early and firm response (linked in The Standard piece by IrishBill?) I’m not suggesting that Labour will not cut the miscreants loose — I’m suggesting that they have been slow to do so in the past and it is crucial that they are not slow this time. I’m pleased to see that they’re not.

    As to the bit about the party’s standards & character not being revealed in its candidates and allies — no. A party must be judged by the company it keeps and by who represents it. This is elementary political branding; the purpose of political party branding and endorsements is to indicate to those loyal to the brand (and the values it symbolises) whom they should support. Of course this doesn’t mean you must agree wholeheartedly with each and every one of them, but you must realise that they all swing by the same rope.

    You’d have a point if you were referring to members, since any fool can pay a fee and become a member (and many do). But a candidate is selected by the party, and to the extent that they’re a fool, they make fools of those who selected them. To suggest that a party shouldn’t be judged by the failings of its worst representatives results in the inevitable conclusion that it shouldn’t be judged on the achievements of its best. And that’s patently idiotic.


  5. With great respect, the idea of a political party as a unitary “brand” – one for all and all swinging by the same rope – is wrong. Parties are, in my experience, locations of contestation. The electoral “brand” is as often as not contingent on a particular balance of forces at a given time. The Ed and David show is a recent case in question.

    I take your reference to fools as jocular, rather than pejorative.When (and if) they select candidates, they do so from the tranche available on the day. They rarely invest therein unbounded hope and expectation. for they know that all parties to the process are human and fallible.

  6. Robert, there’s no such thing as political branding? Every successful political movement since the 50s (and a few from before) would disagree.

    Parties in their electoral role (as opposed to their organisational & advocacy roles, etc.) aren’t about the membership — they’re about the electorate. Fundamentally a party’s brand is about what a person thinks and (more importantly) feels in their guts when the party is mentioned, or when they see the logo, or read the slogan or whatever. It’s the aggregate of all the stuff associated with that party; its people, their actions, the policies it advocates or does not advocate, and much more. You (personally) might have all the context in the world, and as good an understanding of human frailty as the most pious clergyman, but if you think none of that stuff matters to a person who doesn’t know anything more about Labour than ‘wasn’t one of them done for rigging the votes up in Auckland?’ when they walk into a polling booth, then I suggest you think again.


  7. I am much enjoying the debate between Robert and Lew. Thank you.

    While I completely appreciate what Robert has said, I think that the nuance he brings to the discussion is lost on the average, non-political voter. The hard fact is that “normal” voters (i.e. those that are not highly politicised or informed on political matters) tend to conflate the nature of candidates with those of parties, often inferring general characteristics of the latter from the behaviour of the former. On top of that, political opponents will do exactly that (conflate candidate traits with party traits) if they sense that doing so will give them a political advantage. This is seen everywhere is politics: Deliberately confuse the bad person with the party s/he represents.

    So the issue for Labour is to put immediate distance between itself and Mr. Singh while his case runs its course, and should he be convicted, terminal distance on him. Unfortunately, as Lew pointed out, Labour has an immediate past of doing exactly the opposite when it comes to wrongdoing by its members, something has played very nicely into the Nats hands during the past election campaign.

    Which is to say, from a strictly utilitarian, self-preservation perspective, Labour needs to give the perception of moving decisively against Mr. Singh even if he has not been convicted–regardless of the legal niceties, that is the political imperative at play here.

    The trouble for Labour is that if it does so it runs the risk of alienating the Sikh community (some of whom may see no fault in Mr. Sikhs action because of their instrumental view of democratic politics), which if I am correct has been traditionally a stalwart Labour voting bloc. That is the political tightrope upon which Labour’s reaction to the vote fraud accusations is balanced.

  8. Pablo, yes. The tightrope, as you put it, may not be as narrow for Labour, however. According to some news reports, Daljit Singh is apparently not universally loved within the NZ Sikh community, having formed his own new Supreme Sikh Society in opposition to the existing Sikh Society of NZ which is more than a century old. I have no specific insight into this, however, so take that with as much salt as you need.


  9. Lew, if that is the case then even more reason to put distance on the guy because it does two things at once: it disassociates his acts from the Party; and it shores up Sikh Society support while reaffirming its preeminence vis a vis the upstart organisation. I say it is time to start tying the noose….

  10. The distinction between the party as advocacy, organisation and membership, on the one hand, and electoral force, on the other, appears to me to be false. Perhaps it only makes sense if you believe that the world is divided between political illuminati and the masses (the hoi-polloi, if you prefer). My experience of life, such as it is, tells me that people have an extraordinary grasp of issues and challenges in a polity, but they do not necessarily see or order them in the terms presented by political parties as unitary brands. That is,I credit “normal” voters with a capacity to discern, but in ways that some of us don’t understand or like. The point about politics is, for me, creating alignment btween those myriad constructions of relaity and a party, which necessarily requires parties to be pluralist agencies. I rather think that Political Science, in its evermore quantitative mode and its ever less materialist form, fails to grasp that array of political thinking and engagementb that exists.

    None of this makes any difference to he substantive point. If Labour Party people have behaved wrongly, then they shouold be dealt with firmly and promptly, within the requirements of natural jsutice.

  11. Robert, I don’t think it requires that; I think it only requires that there be a group of people who live and breathe politics, who are few in number but relatively influential, and another much larger group who have only faint ideas and impressions of the actual policies and positions being advocated by specific political actors, even if (as you rightly say) they have strong and often well-informed perspectives on the underlying issues themselves.

    There’s nothing much of political science in the positions I espouse. It’s much more a case of social, cognitive and behavioural psychology applied to politics, admitted only somewhat grudgingly to the wider field of politics. For the better part of a century people have been using these reasonably ordinary tools — the same as are used in many other fields, backed by both experimental and real-world evidence, to predict and form political behaviour. This is its chief defence: in general, it works. Because it works they — I suppose I should say ‘we’ — will continue to apply it despite those who’d prefer that politics be left as an sacred, organic enigma.


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