Sunday, September 24, 2006

A lesson for National

The Sunday Star-Times quotes Katherine Rich as saying that accepting the help of the Exclusive Brethren cost National the last election. The full quote is in this longer piece about the Brethren and politics:

"I appreciate the Brethren thought they were being helpful to New Zealand in getting rid of Labour, but it's my personal opinion they lost us the election. The whiff of association was off-putting to a number of voters.

"My gut feeling is that their all-male line-up, in that famous Brethren press conference, made many women voters wonder just what their conservative vision for New Zealand was, and tipped the scales in favour of Labour," she said.

There's a lesson in here for National: don't crawl into bed with fundamentalist Christians who run anonymous smear campaigns. They are political poison, and the association will be punished at the ballot box.


With all due respect to Katherine, I think that's both a grossly simplistic read of a campaign too many pundits were over-confidently calling one way or the other, largely on the basis of polling that was next to worthless, and and more than a little self-serving.

In the end, I suspect what really 'tipped the balance' was that the only truly effective part of Labour's campaign was an agressive grassroots turn-out operation in South Auckland during the last week. And good on them for understanding Practical Politics 101: If your supporters aren't turning out for the one poll that really counts, everything else is a waste of time.

Sure, the EB story didn't help (and could have been much better managed by the National campaign) but I think it's far too convenient to run the line she's running.

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 9/24/2006 11:57:00 AM

Craig: Sure, the EB story didn't help (and could have been much better managed by the National campaign)

I think that's the point. Though yes, of course its a veiled swipe at Brash's leadership as well.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 9/24/2006 12:12:00 PM

I don't know if it was decisive but it was significant. I know two traditional National supporters, of the urban liberal variety, who decided against voting for National because of Brash's comment that Labour voters "weren't mainstream" NZers.

I interpret this comment as part of Rich's positioning strategy, if not then it's a very clumsy comment because it invites speculation. I don't know the current dynamic within National but I'm assuming she'd be an outside chance for Deputy? To either Key or English?

Posted by backin15 : 9/24/2006 12:29:00 PM

This quotation deserves highlighting: "National MPs comparing notes found most had been approached with offers from the Brethren to help them erect advertising hoardings and deliver pamphlets, and virtually all had accepted."

$1,200,000 plus significant amounts of unpaid labour for virtually all National MPs is not going to be given up because we desperately want to believe it is political poison. National needs plausible deniability. It needs to establish the meme that the Exclusive Brethren lost National the last election so it is plausible that future EB smear campaigns are autonomous (and this presumes one can even track the funding within sufficient time to alert voters before election day).

I wish I could believe shadow groups are political poison:
USA Shadow Groups

Posted by Anonymous : 9/24/2006 01:00:00 PM

everyone loves the EB :)
I wonder if having muslim suport would be political poison, or catholic support....

Posted by Genius : 9/24/2006 01:18:00 PM

I don't think it was the fact of the EB's support that lost National the election, but that Brash was seen by the vast majority of the public in the few days before the poll to have lied about his foreknowledge of their campaign on his behalf. EB support of National would be no different to trade union support of Labour - but the big difference here is that Labour have not been shown to lie to the public about that support.

Genius, in response to your comment: Islam and Roman Catholicism may not be ideal belief systems, but neither are creepy family-destroying mind-control cults to the extent that the EBs are.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/24/2006 01:35:00 PM

Anonymous wrote:
Genius, in response to your comment: Islam and Roman Catholicism may not be ideal belief systems, but neither are creepy family-destroying mind-control cults to the extent that the EBs are.

I was going through some papers this morning, and came across a couple of op-eds by athiests author Philip Pullman and evolutionary theorist Richard Dwarkins that would argue precisely the opposite - all organised religion, in their view, are creepy cults that have brought nothing but pain, misery and repression upon the world. I guess it all depends on your point of view.

And if I was a Labour candidate in South Auckland courting the PI and Maori communities, I certainly would have to swallow hard before dancing attendance on a few pastors who churches may be every bit as *ahem* socially illiberal as Brian The Bish and the Exclusive Brethren, but are enormously influential in the PI communities.

Wonder if I'd have the balls to tell them, and their flock, that their (legitimate and legal) volunteer work and campaign contributions would be unwelcome? Yeah right...

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 9/24/2006 04:23:00 PM


Your equivalences here are more than a tad self-serving. Give it up. The Nats got into bed for all intents and purposes with one of the most extreme and noxious religious groups in our nation's history.

Extreme homophobes, anti-science and racist, this bunch of unaccountable bunch of deeply unpleasant authoritarians are pure poison that must be isolated from the political process. Their record speaks for itself.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/24/2006 10:16:00 PM

If National want to have EB support in future - and perhaps many MP's and their supporters do - then they should make clear what values they share with the EB. Nats should be pushed strongly to make this clear in 2008

Posted by Anonymous : 9/24/2006 10:49:00 PM


Oh, get over yourself - I have an ex-lover whose father beat him so severely when he came out that he still can't make a fist with his right hand and still tenses up whenever anyone gets in his airspace without warning.

I'm sure the stinking bastard and his bitch wife still go to their nice 'mainstream' Anglican church every Sunday, along with the family and community that completely shunned him in a manner the Exclusive Brethren would be quite familiar with. I don't know or care who he votes for, but I understand they still live in Mangere - so it's pretty long odds that he's a Tory.

I've learned the hard way not to judge whole religious groups through the prism of my own prejudices, and the worse among them - and being a Catholic, I also hope that extends to the worse of a religion's leaders.

I don't know how many times I have to say this but I doubt the the Exlusive Brethren regard me as anything less than a very strange and unhealthy individual, and I'm quite happy to return the courtesy. I'd also be vrey pleased if, in future, they 'help' the National Party by taking out full-page adverts endorsing the parties of the left. (If that doesn't make 'em unelectable nothing will.)

But I don't apologise for saying even people I despise enjoy the same political and civil rights as everyone else, no more and no less. They are also accountable before the law (like properly authorising campaign material), and subject to public scruinty and criticism if they choose to enter the public square and get involved in politics.

If that's so objectionable, perhaps we need to be taking a hard look at ourselves before deciding anyone else "must be isolated from the political process".

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 9/24/2006 10:52:00 PM

Craig: But I don't apologise for saying even people I despise enjoy the same political and civil rights as everyone else, no more and no less.

Of course they do - and I don't think anyone is suggesting otherwise. Instead, what they're suggesting is that National (and any other party) may want to think twice about accepting help from this group in the future, given that their tactics are both beyond the pale and counterproductive.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 9/25/2006 12:01:00 AM


That's fair enough, just as I'd like some sections of the Labour Party (and United Future for that matter) to publicly distance themselves from *ahem* religious groups and clerics who are just socailly illiberal and authoritarian as the EB.

And you've been perfectly clear that anyone whose idea of political participation is, well, stalking and smearing people are beyond the pale - regardless of their motives, affiliations or who the targets are. I totally agree with that too.

But where I draw the line, and others don't apparently, is that being 'weird' or even holding downright ugly beliefs isn't a good enough reason in my mind to totally "isolate" people from the political process. After all, to an athiest (and I think I've summarised the views of Philip Pullman and Richard Dawkins accurately) all organised religion is a collection of weird, malignant mind-control cults no rational person sould allow to guide their actions.

Fair comment?

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 9/25/2006 06:32:00 AM

Craig - there is a helluva difference between being socially illiberal and authoritarian, and being of the fringe of being a cult.
Despite no doubt containing some idiots amongst both congregation and clergy, the mainstream Christian and Islamic churches simply do not attempt to exercise rigid control over members every thought and action, and members are free to join or leave as they wish. As congregations they also contain and maintain significant diversity of opinion and vigorous debate of ideas.
That is simply not true to the EBs, who have moved far closer to cult-like lockstep than most in the mainstream find comfortable.
Mainstream churches have a history (despite whatever rhetorical idiocy Philip Pullman and Richard Dwarkins can pull out of their arses) not much better or worse than the societies they existed in.
A more logical argument would be that the greater the involvement of churches in politics and power, the greater the corruption, excess and damage. So now we have the mainstream churches with comparitively little involvement and power (in NZ) compared with historical precedent, and the EB heading in precisely the opposite direction..
And I'm sorry, but the story of your ex-lover adds precisely nothing to the conversation. Apparently, your lover's father both attended a church and behaved criminally. How his church is somehow implicated in his actions at home is beyond me.
The point is the EB were not acting as autonomous individuals, but as a cohesive entity.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/25/2006 07:47:00 AM


You can find badly behaved individuals as part of any and all organisations. Your Anglican bastard is nothing unusual. But he is not a leader of the Anglicans and I think we could safely say that his behaviour would be condoned neither publically nor privately by that Church. Any organisation can be painted with this same brush of human fallibility.

The distinction with the EB's is that they hold to these noxious extremist doctrines as a matter of official belief, and their meddling in our political process is being driven by direct funding from within global Church resources. There is a real distinction.

Would for instance you defend the Catholic Church if it decided to throw it's considerable resource into major public campaign's on behalf of Labour? I accept that that is an unlikely thing, but there is a reason why we have a convention keeping religions formally separated from politics, as it leads to dangerous and intractable polarisations that are damaging to both the political process and the church's themselves.

If almost any other religion attempted this stunt in NZ it would immediately lead to strident internal dissent and very quickly the leadership of that Church would be held to some form of internal accountability. The fact that the EB's have been able to mount such a persistent campaign, in numerous countries is just further evidence of the petty tyrranny this sect is.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/25/2006 07:53:00 AM

Philip Wilkie:

First, I'd like to thank you for your thoughtful and temperately expressed response. Even though we obviously disgaree on a lot, I thank you for the respect and civility you've shown me and hope you feel it's reciprocated.

I absolutely agree with you in this respect: It would be a basic failure of decency, and common sense, if I judged the whole Anglican communion on the basis of the truly vile treatment of a good and kind friend by some within that community of faith. I've honestly had to struggle to do that, but you're right - it's the just thing to do, and in my faith Christ constantly admonishes us to love those who hate us, put our own hearts in order before judging other, and leave the final settling of accounts to Him. :)

But I'd just note that the New Zealand Anglican Church did elect to its most senior leadership position (after many years as a leader among the Maori wing of the church) Whakahuihui Vercoe - a man whose first MSM interview after his apointment contained his vision of a "world without gays" and his refusal to resile from his (IMO) extreme anti-immigration sentiments, and views on the ordination of women and open homosexuals that place him (arguably) outside the mainstream of opinion in his own church.

Now, if that's the kind of leadership the Anglican Church wants, that's their own affair. But I wonder if Helen Clark - who I very much doubt agrees with any of the above sentiments - and her caucus now decline to meet with Archbishop Vercoe, or makes a point of shunning Anglicans because of the extreme views of its titular head? Views, need I add, that make most Anglicans of my acquaintance - gay and straight - cringe.

And you have asked a perfectly fair question here:
Would for instance you defend the Catholic Church if it decided to throw it's considerable resource into major public campaign's on behalf of Labour?

Well, that's a rather loaded question. I would strenuously object to my church issuing party political endorsements on behalf of any party - including the one I'm a financial member and life-long supporter of. As I've said on another thread, my view is that dragging the ballot box into the pulpit hasn't worked out well for the Catholic Church historically. The separation between Chruch and State protects the interests of people of faith every bit as much as the secular realm of politics. Having said that, I don't believe it precludes religious groups from commenting on political matters they regard as having a moral dimension, or lobbying politicians in a legitimate and lawful manner. After all, Labour was very happy to cite statements from churchmen during the 90's that could be read as highly critical of aspects of National's welfare and economic policies; or earlier, opposing the Springbok tour, nuclear proliferation etc. Not quite so much when the Catholic bishops oppose aspects of Labour's policies, such as the Civil Union Bill, but that's just the nature of the beast. I'm sure there were some who quite loudly applauded John Paul II's condemnation of the Iraq War and the death penalty as a moral wrong, while carefully keeping himself above the electoral politics of other nations - and this from a man whose doctrinal views on abortion, sexual morality and contraception were hardly calculated to make him a left-wing poster boy.

I'd like to see a more nuanced and careful discussion of where the line is between a politics informed by faith being a positive good, and where it becomes (to coin a phrase) cancerous and corrosive to both politics and faith. I think we can all agree that hiring private detectives to stalk politicians, their families and associates is clearly on the wronf side of that line. Then it starts getting complicated, and wide open to good faith arguments from all sides of the question.

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 9/25/2006 09:08:00 AM's gone much too far for Brash to be saved. Please also note that it is also Rod Oram of SST's Business pages, and the Independent Financial Review also expressing disquiet at all this.

Simply roll over and accept that there is widespread public disquiet at violation of church-state separation, and this is one of those unfortunate self-inflicted
incidents that occur every three elections when National loses it, and aligns itself with the raving right, leading to either an election loss, or a post-election relationship with Winston in '96.

John Key will be the next National leader, possibly as soon as tomorrow afternoon or evening. Adjust to that.

Craig Y

Posted by Anonymous : 9/25/2006 11:04:00 AM

Craig, do you think that Labour has the right to defend itself against the claims and actions of a group that spemt $1.2million in a covert attempt to unseat it? Do you think they have a right to question the use of private detectives to burrow into the private lives of ministers? I note the two ministers mentioned have also be the subject of National and Wishart attacks. National have certainly been benefitting from these activities.

Do you think Don Brash is not just a little too accepting of support from "anyone" and a little too forgetful about meetings. His memory loss seems to be the excuse for many tricky situations.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/25/2006 11:44:00 AM

Craig Y.:

I doubt you have any more access to the National caucus than I do, so pardon me if I rate your credibility on any leadership quesion as zero. Adjust to that. Pretty much the same applies to Rod Oram, who I find a most interesting business commentator but a curate's egg on the political front. As for the IFR... well, the great investigative business journalist Warren Berryman would be spinning in his grave at what the Fairfax dingoes are doing to to his baby. If conventional wisdom among the commentariat was that reliable, then Helen Clark would be remembered today (if at all) as the clever but chilly leader of the Opposition who got rolled after losing the '96 election.


To be quite honest, "defence" is one thing, trying to spin out a frankly shonky conspiracy theory out of whole cloth is something else again. And when it reaches the levels shown by Labour Minister Ruth Dyson, as reported on the front page of the DomPost today, it's not only a distraction from genuine concerns but reeks of political opportunism, and more than a little feral determination to fuck up the enemy.

Personally, I'd like to know how religious exemptions ever got into the Employment Relations Act in the first place and believe they should be abolished. But, somehow, I find it a little hard to believe that the interests of workers are really paramount...

Let's not pretend there's

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 9/25/2006 12:33:00 PM

Craig: Just to be clear, I don't think the Brethren should be politically isolated (or "put out", to use their own language) because they're weird and backward extremists; I think they should be isolated because of their shameful and disgraceful tactics.

As to the wider issue, freedom of association means that parties are perfectly entitled to say "fuck off, we don't want to talk to you" to anyone they please. And parties do this all the time, out of concern for their reputation (as with the Greens, who have reportedly refused big business donations in the past) or simply because they think they have nothing useful to talk about. Whether a party does or doesn't is up to it - but it may be judged on its decisions at the ballot box (as National seems to have been somewhat, and as it will next time if it continues to accept assistance from the Brethren).

(As for Labour, yes, I'd prefer it didn't accept help from bigots. I'd prefer even more if they didn't select them as candidates or elect them to office).

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 9/25/2006 03:30:00 PM


You're perfectly clear, but I hope others would try and understand where I'm coming from. And it's not a place where I'm an apologist for a religious sect I find repulsive, or tactics you've rightly condemned as totally beyond the pale from anyone.

Folks around here are entitled to dislike my politics and religion, and argue that I'm full of shit come to that - you're as likely as not to be right. ;) But I do hope everyone accepts I put forward an argument in good faith, and not prosecuting some hidden agenda.

My thanks, I/S, for providing a place where the broader subject of politics, religion and where the boundaries between the two should lie can be discussed at a pretty rational, and mututally respectful level. I respect that, no matter how much we disagree (which isn't really very much at heart).

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 9/25/2006 05:15:00 PM

Craig: I think its likewise clear where you're coming from. And I think we should all remember that in our zeal to vent our disgust at the Brethren, we should avoiding eroding the fundamental rights we take for granted.

I think you're right in thinking that involvement in politics can debase religion - but as someone who is resolutely non-religious, I tend to approach things from the other direction and worry more about churches trying to impose their religion on others. The internal effects of political involvement on a particular religious group are for that group to sort out for themselves (and I'm wondering how long it will be before the Brethren decide to have such a sorting out with their Elect Vessel).

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 9/25/2006 05:34:00 PM


Let me note that I also believe that Labour should pay the money back, and stop giving the Nats such an easy target.

However, let me also note that I don't see anything neccessarily wrong with Labour's proposed industrial relations reforms and
campaign finance transparency reforms, unlike Dr Brash, who seems to think that some of us won't spot the convergent policy positions that National and the Exclusive Brethren still share.

It all comes down to church-state separation, a basic democratic institution, which prevents religious persecution and the implementation of sectarian public policy.

Craig Y.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/26/2006 10:09:00 AM