When love is given, love is returned

At the moment I am teaching my Year 9 students about government.  I was not really sure what to say to them yesterday about politics because the dissonance between my lessons and political reality was so jarring.  Before I went into my class on Monday I had been listening to John Key being interviewed by Guyon Espiner on Morning Report.  What am I supposed to say about government when the Prime Minister of New Zealand says the kinds of things he is saying now?

John Key:

So, if a left-wing blogger went around and found out that there was a situation where the security had been taken off [the National Party website] and went around and told – I don’t know – someone who works in David Cunliffe’s office would they potentially go and have a look? The answer is yes and that would be totally fine.

Totally fine.  Actually that’s not totally fine.  It’s unethical.  If we found that a student in our school had gone into another student’s account because they forgot to log off, and looked through their private emails and then used that information to harm and humiliate them we would take it very seriously indeed.

What about the behaviour of your Minister Judith Collins.  Is it acceptable for her to have divulged the name of a public servant because he may have leaked details…?  ….and you think that’s ok?

And people can see –

Is it ok?

And people can see –

Yes or no?  Is it ok?

And people can see that this is –

Is it ok?

And people can see –

Is it ok that Judith Collins did that?  Yes or no?

And people can see that this is a smear campaign, by Nicky Hager and –

John Key wouldn’t say that the Justice Minister’s actions were wrong.  Her actions are clearly wrong and, again, if we found a student had passed on private information about another student that led to threats and bullying we would take action.  As anyone would.  Anyone interested in common decency and not winning some kind of abstract political game in their head.

On Radio Live Key went over some of the same material with Marcus Lush.  “Could you find out?” Marcus asked the Prime Minister: could Key could find out Jason Ede’s involvement with the Labour party database.

Oh, yeah, we could do, but the point is why would I bother?  In so much as (a) the story is three years old…

But wouldn’t you find out because it’s wrong?

No… one of the assertions made is he broke into it, the answer to that is that’s not true.

In both interviews and on Breakfast he repeated the same talking points, and used the exact same analogy with the All Blacks.  I think most people would think less of the All Blacks if it was revealed after a close match that they had had access to the Wallaby plans ahead of time.  Some people would defend it, but to me it’s not far off athletes taking performance enhancing drugs. Regardless, as Marcus Lush pointed out, the All Blacks are not leading the country.

In the afternoon, in Petone, Key was telling journalists that he wasn’t going to say anything or do anything about the allegations against Jason Ede because he didn’t trust the source.  He informed the journalists that Judith was not a shrinking violet and they could interview her any time they liked.  As far as I am aware she has declined to be interviewed on Radio New Zealand, Radio Live, TVNZ and TV3.

Of course by then @whaledump opened up on Twitter and after a bit of teasing released some documents that seemed to verify parts of Hager’s book.  Key seemed a lot tenser in the afternoon.

While it is important that these documents are released, I am not impressed with how it is being done.  The ideas of open source, and transparency and the public good are not part of a game.  The exact tactics that Slater himself uses are being used here: the teasing and hinting, the drip feeding of information for a death by 1000 cuts, the boastful taunts.  The allegations in Hager’s book are very serious, and could change the shape of the government of our country, and at the moment someone is releasing the evidence in a way that suggests a person enacting a personal vendetta, and not someone overly interested in the good of our democracy.

Last night my seven year old daughter – seeing my agitation – asked me why John Key was bad.  I usually hedge me bets on questions like this, but not this time – this time it was actually easy to explain.  John Key was bad because he wouldn’t answer important questions, I told her, because he let people on his team do horrible things and wouldn’t say sorry or tell them off, and because he was saying stealing was ok.

As it happens I believe John when he says that there have been a lot of dirty tactics on all sides in the past (by “all sides” he really means Labour).  I have no doubt that Helen Clark was a gossip, and I remember Pete Hodgson’s embarrassing attacks on John Key.  Hodgson’s attempts to find the dirt on Key in the end read as desperate.  One thing we could say about this form of attack politics was that it was a politician attacking another politician in the open.  John Key and his party, with so much power and influence, could have gone in another direction and played a cleaner game.  There was a choice, and they went the wrong way.

The problem with John’s argument that everyone is at it and that makes it ok is that everyone isn’t at it.  Futhermore, as an educator I admire once said, as an institution in society you can choose to be a mirror of society’s ills or a lighthouse of how society should be.  There is another way to go in politics.  You can be positive, you can play the ball, and you can be idealistic and pragmatic without being cynical.  At the moment this whole dirty politics narrative is being driven by people who either deal in sleaze or people who will defend it, but there is another narrative out there.

The Green Party offer another story.  They always have.  Sometimes they have been mocked for their idealism, but I’m with idealism.  They have taken the attack to National in the house and have had to put up with Key’s one word answers, and sneering descriptions of Planet Key, and his rubbishing of science in the name of business.  How different all that looks now.  I’d rather be working towards the vision of New Zealand that the Green Party are articulating.

I said at the start of this post that I wasn’t sure how to go ahead with teaching my Year 9 students about government, but it is a new day today and I think I know how.  I want to teach my students about integrity and idealism and the contest of ideas.  That they should be able to argue with me, and that I will respect their views, and that we can sometimes agree and sometimes agree to disagree.  If you find a wallet on the ground you hand it in to lost property, or if you see the game plan of your opposition rugby team left behind in the dressing room you should tell them about it, and if you want people to vote for you then you should convince them with good ideas that you believe in.  That’s what I’m teaching.

Aroha mai, Aroha atu.

When love is given, love is returned.

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