Culture, strategy and an end to the phony war

It is a truth universally acknowledged that, in business and elsewhere, culture eats strategy for lunch.

Nicky Hager’s latest book Dirty Politics (which I haven’t read, but here’s Danyl’s summary) seems certain to cause a strategic shift in the electoral landscape. It should give credence to some of the left’s claims about the National party, and turn public and élite scrutiny on the character and activities of the Prime Minister and his closest aides, including his apparently-extensive irregular corps of bin men, turd-mongers and panty-sniffers. To do so is probably its primary purpose, and the timing and cleverly-built hype around the book reflects this.

But what I hope is that it also produces a cultural shift in New Zealand politics — weakening, or at least rendering more transparent, the intrigue and back-room, or back-door, dealing that characterises this sort of politics.

The book apparently alleges that the Prime Minister’s office is at the heart of a broad network of nefarious intelligence and blackmail, where they collect and hold a lien over the career or private life of everyone close to power. Nobody is their own person; everyone is owned, to some extent, by the machine. Patrick Gower wrote before the 2011 election that John Key owns the ACT party, and Hager’s book seems to substantiate this, detailing how they forced Hide’s resignation, in favour of Don Brash.

That is culture, not strategy, and it exerts considerable influence on those over whom the lien is held.

Immediately upon the book’s release, Cameron Slater noted that some journalists, and some Labour and Green MPs, would be getting nervous. Well, good. If there has emerged some sort of mutual-assured destruction pact to manage this culture, ending it could be Nicky Hager’s lasting contribution to New Zealand. Let the comfortable and the cozy live in fear for a bit. This includes Kim Dotcom, who claims to hold such intrigue against the Prime Minister, and is the target of a similar campaign, though it remains in abeyance.

This is a phony war about preserving the position of political élites on both sides of the ideological divide, to the general detriment of the sort of politics we actually need as a nation. Unlike the original MAD pact, we don’t risk the end of the world if this all blows up — we just might get our political and media systems cleaned out.

At least that’s the theory. I’m not very optimistic — cultural systems are sticky and resilient, and clearly many people have much invested in them. As we have seen with bank bailouts and phone hacking, the system can’t be destroyed from outside, and the influence wielded applies also to anyone who might be called upon to investigate.

The final point is about intelligence and security. The book alleges that the Prime Minister’s office released information from the Security Intelligence Service to these people, and that National staffers illicitly accessed Labour’s computers. The documents that form Hager’s source material also were apparently illicitly obtained from Cameron Slater’s website during an outage. That’s probably the most serious cultural indicator: sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. We are well beyond due for a serious discussion about the acceptable bounds of espionage, leakage and spying, and if Nicky Hager’s book generates this debate, he will have done Aotearoa a great service.


6 thoughts on “Culture, strategy and an end to the phony war

  1. Leaving aside for the moment the very dangerous issues raised by the possibility that the SIS willing provided the PM’s office with classified information that could then be passed on to Slater and others, I fear that Nicky’s book could normalise rather than curtail the practice of dirty politics. The Left may gossip about having dirt on the Right, but so far it does not tend to use it in public, and certainly not in the way Slater does. But there are those on the Left who are not above playing the same game if it suits their purposes, so anything short of universal condemnation may bolster the argument that all’s fair in politics and war, to include fighting dirt with dirt.The reason is simple: dirty tricks work, and no claim to the moral high ground can overcome that fact.

  2. Some time ago the NZ Herald ran an opinion piece “Have you decided you you would vote for?” I submitted my thoughts

    I have never read any of Nicky Hargar’s books however the gist of latest efforts in Dirty politics only reaffirms
    what I expressed all those months ago

  3. Pingback: Latest news: Thursday, 14 August | Dirty Politics

  4. Ah, and this is just for my mate Lew: “Politics is war by other means.” That is my reckon.

  5. Heh. Yes, Pablo, I have been thinking this a lot. But I’m glad we have the Geneva Conventions.


  6. Nice try at moral equivalence there Lew.
    “National staffers illicitly accessed Labour’s computers”
    Just like you probably consider I am illicitly writing a comment now. Slater demonstrated quite clearly that the Labour web payment information was available on a publicly available website. Labour made it available to the public through stupidity. Stupidity but no illegality. I read the posts at the time and thought he was actually quite responsible about not revealing private details caused by Labour incompetence. More of a public service to Labour with a bit of very well deserved humiliation than illicit.
    Whaleoil site was subject to a DDOS attack (which is illegal) and the emails were obviously obtained as part of that. Hager has a point of separation like the Guardian does from Snowden so you can argue his use of this in an investigative book is reasonable but there is no equivalence at all in the original acts.

    Pablo – Same thing. “SIS willing provided the PM’s office with classified information that could then be passed on to Slater and others” The information was declassified and released after OIA request and publicised as such on his blog. The fact the MSM/press gallery were scooped does not make National or Slater illicit or doing anything morally wrong. The purpose of the press gallery is for journalists to get closer to politicians and publish what is in the public interest.
    Pablo says the left wing blogosphere does not behave the same way. Obviously because they have the President of the Labour party to do that on their behalf. Do you not recall Mike Williams going to Australia to try to dig dirt on Key.

    I have not read the book but I really don’t think it is going to have much impact.

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