Paddy Gower makes stuff up again.
John Campbell was a thorn in the side of right wing politics, many of his stories revolved around ordinary New Zealanders and their struggles. His continuous interviews with poorly treated home owners and school communities after the Christchurch earthquakes exposed huge gaps and issues with the recovery processes. His stories have since been validated by both the Ombudsman and Treasury. Campbell was duly removed and his slot was replaced by lighter shows. While he is still inflicting damage to the National Government with his stories on our failing health system (from his new Radio New Zealand home), he does not have the same reach (most RNZ listeners probably vote Labour/Green).
With Campbell gone three opinionated men, with clear right wing bias, now dominate the political narratives coming out of Media Works' NewsHub and TV 1 during peak viewing times. While more measured commentary and interviews exist through the weekend early morning shows (The Nation and Q+A), it is Duncan Garner, Paddy Gower and Mike Hosking who capture the attention of the majority of viewers and potential voters. There has been no attempt to ensure greater balance (or even gender equity) in how our political commentary is presented, the views of privileged white males dominate.
Earlier this year it looked as though the National Party was going to cruise through to a fourth term. Although John Key had resigned and Bill English was not nearly as personable as his replacement, there was still the highly spun impression for many of sound economic management and some attempts to address the "challenges" (that I would regard as huge crises). Andrew Little wasn't lighting any fires for voters and even a combination of Labour and the Greens continually fell short of National in successive polls.
It was the Green Party that lit a spark of hope with some bold announcements at the Party's AGM. James Shaw presented a strong climate policy and Metiria went all out to announce bold policies to address the shocking inequities and poverty in this country. Within her speech she created an intentional controversy by admitting benefit fraud 25 years before as a solo mum (by not being honest about the number of people who shared her house). This personal admission started a necessary debate around how beneficiaries are treated and how many are forced to make difficult choices to look after their children. The Greens' boldness saw them shoot up to 15% in the following poll and a possible Labour/Green coalition had grown teeth.
Commentators from the left were overjoyed at this result and effusive praise resulted:
Chris Trotter claimed that Labour had been "burned out of the sky by Metiria Turei and the Greens." He later fantasised about a growing mass movement to "avenge Metiria."
Gordon Campbell stated the following: "Turei's actions in recent weeks have arguably been entirely consistent with Green Principles. She chose to put her reputation at risk in order to draw attention to how poverty is being weaponised, and used against those on benefits. That aim was admirable. If anyone felt worried about the Greens blanding out and converging on the political centre, Turei has just given them pretty good reason for voting for them this year."
Merepeka Raukawa-Tait was one of the many many women who spoke out in support of Metiria: "We see beneficiaries as a faceless job lot. All to be treated the same, no exceptions made. Even for those who want to invest in themselves for the sake of their family's future. We have rules to keep them in their place and so they remain "a cost" to the taxpayer. I would prefer government departments concentrate their efforts on going after the highly educated big business fraudsters. The ones who continue to rip off taxpayers to the tune of millions of dollars a year."
Brian Gould was able to describe what inequity looks like when discussing fraud: "Charles Dickens himself could not have invented a more inventive and bizarre story line. It is truly a tale of two citizens (Turei and English), and of how differently fate - and we - have treated them. Why the difference?"
Most importantly Metiria gained much support from the very people she was desperately trying to advocate for.
Lawyers were approached about the degree of Metiria's offending twenty five years earlier and it was generally viewed at the minor end. Of course there were also some comparisons of the behaviour of actual sitting MPs and Ministers who arguably did far worse in terms of illegal behaviour or ripping off the taxpayer. Bill English's legally manipulated, but morally corrupt, accommodation allowance would have involved many times the amount Metiria received ($900 a week to support his family to live in their Wellington mansion).
The rise of the Greens was a frightening prospect for the right, especially as it could very well make the Greens a significant presence in a future government. The attacks on Metiria bordered on hysterical.
Duncan Garner held nothing back: "...she got what all self-serving and ultimately selfish politicians deserve - a feral and feverish examination by the media." And tweeting: "Metiria Turei must resign as co-leader to stop the rot. This has backfired, no contrition, total debacle..."
Mike Hosking dredged over the details of Metiria's family circumstances, the very thing that she was trying to highlight as immoral and overly intrusive for beneficiaries, before concluding: "But what we can't escape is the law is the law, and what she's done is against it. And more than once, and there is still no contrition. Part of the judicial process, which by the way I very much hope she becomes part of as they look to claw back the money she's stolen from us, part of that process is contrition and apology."
Paddy Gower was the most extreme in his comments: "Metiria Turei's biggest ripoff is that she is trying to exploit the New Zealand public for political gain. Yes, she has also systematically ripped of the taxpayer by committing benefit fraud. But make no mistake: the main motivation of her admission was to try and get votes."
"In my opinion, she is ripping off the New Zealand public by dropping, drip-feeding and dragging out this saga. It is political fraud."
It is ironic that Gower accuses Metiria of "political fraud" and chasing votes as if her admission and the policy was some sort of crime. What Gower really finds difficult to bear is the possibility of the Greens getting into power and actually attempting to address inequality and give more support to the poor. For some bizarre reason Garner calls Metiria's behaviour "self-serving and selfish". I would really love him to explain his reasoning here as she hardly lives in a mansion like Bill English or any of his property owning colleagues and her intention is to give more to others.
It is noticeable that none of this emotive language was used to question Bill English's involvement with Todd Barclay's illegal behaviour and resulting payout. Here is a Prime Minister, who sucked many times more than Metiria had done from the taxpayer to support his lavish living conditions, refusing to be open about his level of involvement in a coverup of illegal behaviour. Gower just asks soft questions and diligently records the spin.
Metiria finally resigned as a co-leader because of the level of intrusion by the media into her family circumstances and the impact it was having on close family members. Gower exclaimed on TV, as if it was fact, that she had acted because of the poor polling result alone. While he did apologise for grilling James Shaw relentlessly on the issue he hasn't backed down from this view.
The Jacinda effect has definitely changed the ball game and National and the right wing media have been thrown into disarray. Playing dirty against past Labour leaders (using the Crosby Textor approach) has been effective over many elections but doing the same to a popular young woman and media darling is problematic (Gareth Morgan learned the hard way). A much easier strategy would be to take out the Greens and reduce the strength of Labour's strongest ally.
When Peter Dunne stepped down from contesting his seat in Ohariu it removed the rationale for the Greens not standing a candidate. This was a seat previously gifted to Dunne by National so that he could provide an overhang and another vote for them in Parliament. The Green Party did not stand a candidate in a tactical move to support Labour in their joint goal of changing the government. Obviously when Dunne stood down the electorate became just like any other and Tane Woodley was reinstated. Labour and the Greens agreed not to do deals for strategic electorates but each party had the freedom to make decisions that would support unseating National, it should have been no surprise to Labour that the Greens would revisit their decision in Ohariu.
These facts had no influence on Gower and, rather than question Dunne's timing (which seems quite churlish when National had supported him so long and his decision would negatively impact on their campaign), he attacked the Greens instead.
On TV3 news Gower explained to viewers that the Greens had violated their MOU with Labour and reneged on an agreement in Ohariu. To give the lie greater support an image of the supposed MOU document came up on the screen, it is unlikely that TV3 even has a copy so it was clearly a fabrication. This is biased reporting of the very worst kind and gave Bill English the ability to claim that the opposition were in disarray. No matter how much Jacinda and James convincingly denied the claims that the MOU was in trouble, the story continued to be presented.
The truth is that although the Green Party has taken some hits it is still running a strong campaign on issues where it has real credibility and has some very capable candidates standing in almost all electorates. A strong Green result would add real heft to a Labour/Green government and would ensure that the important issues facing this country are properly addressed.