Lyndon Hood - meta-opinionista, Lower Hutt

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Actually Quite New Hood: Select Committee Supports Raising Drinking Age to 41

A-Week-Is-A-Long-Time-In-Politics New Hood: Auditors-General Decisions-Making Improving-Proposal

Speaking of which...

In Soviet Russia, Misappropriated Spending Validates YOU!!

There are a number of what you might call personal factors that influence my opinion of this Parliamentary Services spending row. Or, more properly, debacle. Bearing in mind there's only so much space on the Internet, I'll only share a few. I'll also not say much on this week if only because I'm starting from a long way behind.

The first of the things is that the interpretation that Labour and their cronies (such as ACT) maintain they were operating under - the one the Parliamentary Services has effectively applied since 1999 - tallies exactly with what I thought the rules were.

When I arrived on the fringes of the Parliamentary environment I absorbed matching descriptions of what the Parliamentary crest on a document meant from everybody from workmates to the weblog-that-was of Aaron Bhatnagar.

Of course, they actual way money has been handed out does seem a perverse interpretation of the rules as written.

Here's what I imagine is not just the reason it came out that way, but why it was inevitable.

You have a fund which is partly for parties to educate the public on their policies, but can't be used for electioneering. Your problem as an administrator is to not just decide on one case but to draw a clear line that can be used consistently. Hence the practice which developed, forbidding explicit requests for votes, money or membership. No other approach leaps to mind.

That is the issue people are getting at when they point out that an MP rarely does anything without wanting to get votes.

Anyhow these subtleties may have been lost, as I gather it came as a complete shock to the general public that political activity is publically funded at all, and in terms of the public perception the way that not funding politics would cause they system to grind to a halt is neither here nor there.

The rules as interpreted by the Solicitor- applied by the Audtor-General would, if the same principle was generally appled, mess with practise in many other aspects of PS spending as well as advertising.

And yes, second thing, I am well-disposed to the idea of public support of politics. Although the idea of it constituting most of someone's election campaign in the current system does rub me the wrong way. And I think it should be done in a more deliberate, open and equitable way. Any new system would be devised mostly by dominant parties, though, so I'm not holding out high hopes.

Another thing is that I actually do not wish to see current political parties bankrupted by repayment and the and the field in future left to the parties of the rich and the establishment. Which might be a good reason why National has been so vocally indigant (it has also bee pointed out that neoliberals have more to gain from tarnishing the political process than big-government types).

And, thing five, if the headlining accusers were not National I might be better disposed. Not just (perhaps not even mostly) becuase I prefer the idea of a lefty sort of Government (thing five a). Because of the hypocrisy. Not only had the done it before, with Bill English's own pledge card, they've done it since. The lemonade card was clearly purposed to influence the next election - or at least to influence public opinion as opposed to any of the stated purposes of the fund.

I don't feel required to believe the claim they didn't spend their leaders budget on actual advertising because the had deeper understanding about the rules.

I think they didn't use their leader's fund in the election because the had the money, the had money being spent for them, and they were freakin campaigning on not spending taxpayer money. I have memories of Don Brash saying national wasn't going to use taxpayer money in their campaign. Not because they had too, but because they were virtuous and special and non-wasteful.

Gerry, of course, say different. He also says the GST thing was an accident, cause by accidentally not actually having a contract with their media buyer. Could somehow be true. But I would submit that National has lied at least as blatantly about this as Labour might have. Gerry knew nothing about the Brethren when we find they had talk in caucus about accepting their help. Gerry, in fact, said that Brian Nicole's job was to see the right number of chairs were put out at public meetings and Don had a nice cup of tea.

Anyway, sometimes these things and others incline me to wonder if it's a sign of global warming that you can have such a huge storm in a teacup.

The rest of the time things are a bit different. I am of course glossing over a lot of stuff, some of which looks bad even if you accept all of the above, but my point is that even if you think they're wrong, they - The Government, the Parliamentary majority, Labour, Greens, ACT, NZ First, United Future - they have a case.

This is not something you try to break Parliament over, or have a revolution about or get a bunch of libertarians to kick off a poorly-drafted petition asking the unelected head of state to override the will of Parliament over. Sure, you can argue about it for a couple of years. Then, we have these things, we call them elections...

Speaking of which (and I appreciate this segue does not precisely support my last point)... As far a Labour overspending goes, well, while the issues are effectively, if not legally, connected, that's not what I'm here to talk about. They should have been charged, because this is elections and these things need to be sorted.

And, sorry but I can't stop myself from going on, they should have charged everyone else the police had a case against, too.

The first thing that predisposes me against the claim Labour stole the election is that National had a bunch of money (I'll accept it may not have been the full 1.2mil in the end) spent on their behalf. And National was involved with the people from the Brethren, in a kind of quasi-sinister conspiracy to stay within the law* that, at least in terms of authorisations on the material, failed. And every denial National issued prior to the election has since been pretty much shown to be wrong.

So, anyway, setting aside any actual arguments, I have enough predispositions to be hopelessly biased. But bear in mind that round here most vocal prosecuters of this case are just as predisposed on these points, in the opposite direction.

*Incidentally, this, with the American experience, shows that there's always a way round the spending rules. While it's distressing to see a New Zealand party raiding that particular box of tricks, this is a practical reason why banning certain levels of political activity will only get you so far. Save yourself the trouble and the rights violations and aim for transparency instead. Yeah, that's right, I'm talking to you.