I don’t often write about politicians specifically, and if I write about politics its usually about general issues rather than particular parties. However I’ll make an exception in this case to tell you a little story.
Nikki Kaye is my local MP. She stands for Auckland Central, and due to a bizarre bit of gerrymandering this constituency includes Waiheke. Most people would tell you that she has done ok at representing the city, supporting public transport and cycling and a variety of other mom and apple pie causes. Compared with, say, John Banks, or members of the Brewer clan she is personable, young and not particularly extreme. At least on the surface.
However she suffers from a fatal flaw. She is vulnerable to the corruption that seeking office brings about. She is vulnerable to being the puppet of the old powers that be, that select the party list, that decide who gets a cabinet job, that pick the ‘chosen ones’, that give the media training.
Basically she wants the job too much.
From time to time I like to ask our MPs and candidates questions about issues that concern me. I usually get prompt replies referring to parliamentary information, party policies or personal opinions. For example Nikki, Jacinda and Denise all current candidates contributed articles to the OneWaiheke website last year.
A few weeks ago, way back at the start of the campaign Nikki put out a tweet to the effect that Labour’s spending plans will cost the country some x billion of dollars extra. I responded with an admonition: “please don’t post statements like that without a link to some evidence”. Pretty promptly I get a reply back with a link to a website the Nats had just put up describing their interpretation of Labour’s spending plans. Nicely done I thought, prepare a brand new well spun website with a single message – Labour will spend more- a few figures and then use the social media to push viewers to it.
So I sent back a simple request: “Thanks now can I see Nationals spending plans under the same analysis.”
At the end of October I send: “still waiting… you sent breakdown of labour spending – but not Nats.”
This time I get: “Hi Andrew, send me your email again and I will email you something, cheers nikki”
Strange, I thought. Wouldn’t it be easier to just send me a link? Anyway, I sent through my email address – not withstanding the fact that we have exchanged emails before, and its exactly the same name as my twitter account and this blog site. But she is obviously busy with campaigning, etc.
So a week ago I send a reminder: “So does this finance plan exist?”
and get back:”yes, have had lots of messages -will respond by monday.”
Great I think – I’m looking forward to seeing it.
Come Monday – nothing. And nothing since. I have to say I’m feeling a little let down.
About the same time all the candidates came to Waiheke for a public meeting. I was hoping to catch Nikki there and maybe find out a little more about the Nats spending plans – seeing as she had been so helpful with telling me Labour’s. Or maybe Jacinda could tell me about the Nats instead. Sadly a previous engagement meant I missed the meeting. Which I hear was a good one.
Anyway I decided I could send the candidates my question by email. Here it is:Dear Candidates
Unfortunately I was unable to attend the candidates meeting on the
island this weekend. This is the question I wanted to ask. perhaps you
would be kind enough to answer it for me anyway. The GATT and NAFTA trade deals were disastrous for workers in the
countries involved, with job losses, environmental degradation, human
exploitation and debt growth. The only beneficiaries have been a few
multinational companies. The TPPA restricts our ability to set laws that govern the behaviour
of corporations, It allows their business interests to be set over
our public interest. Their profits over our health and environment. What is your party’s policy on such trade deals? What is your personal opinion?
If elected will you commit making free trade negotiations transparent?
Will you count the costs and benefits for all citizens not just businesses?
And will you commit to a referendum on any treaty that affects our
sovereignty and democracy?
I was delighted to get back responses from both Jacinda and Denise, both of whom were able to give their own personal thoughts as well as referring back to Party Policy documents online. I may cover those issues in more detail another time.
But from Nikki – No reply.
It seems that I’m in the ‘No Reply Zone’.
I’m in good company it appears. Radio NZ sent a generous set of questions to the various parties and published the answers on their website http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/election-2011/policies/
While Labour give good, genuine answers to most questions and the Greens give even longer (extra credit) answers, from National we get ‘Declined to answer this question.’ Not just the ‘Has not yet answered this question.’ from ACT and Maori parties. but ‘Declined to answer this question.’
You know, this makes me mad. Its cheating, its dishonest, and ultimately it corrupts the people involved.
You see, this isn’t about standing up for your ideas and beliefs and having them debated and challenged by others. This isn’t about trying to develop any sort of coherent vision for the future, or leadership, or any concept of public service.
It is simply about getting elected. And the safest way to get elected is to say nothing, upset no one, smile and wave.
If you don’t answer – there can be no debate.
This is the politics of the Ad Man, the media-handler, and it is shallow, shallow, shallow.
Watching Nikki on Backbenchers the other night it was so easy to see the media training coming out. Here is how to answer any question.
1) Ignore the question and never answer the question
2) Say ‘Two Points’ and then make any two points from your list however irrelevant.
3) Demand politeness and playing by the rules from everyone else – but never do so yourself
4) Never hesitate to bully or interrupt someone else.
She has learned the sound bites, she has had the dress and makeup makeover. She knows never to express a personal opinion that might in any way conflict with the party line.
There is a serious point here. My elected MP is my representative in parliament. They have to represent the views of the whole constituency – not just those who voted for them. In order to do so they have to have integrity, honest and a preparedness to put ‘doing the right thing’ above ‘doing as they are told’.
Nikki calls herself blue-green. She purports to be concerned about climate change, the environment, and energy decline. But she is tied to a party leader that ‘has tea’ with a climate change denier (and racist for that matter). When push comes to shove I don’t believe that she really would do the right thing. She is too beholden to the party machine for her job and she wants it too much.
All my own opinion of course, perhaps you think I’m being a little unfair, miffed because I didn’t get an answer.
Well, thats possible – but you know who NK reminds me of?
Tony Blair, and that turned out… not so great.