Monday, April 14, 2008

Why I can't support Labour

Because for all the good they've done, they keep pulling shit like this:

In a private session on the election strategy, run by president Mike Williams, delegates were advised to distribute pamphlets on KiwiSaver produced by the Inland Revenue Department and on Working for Families produced by Work and Income.

They were also advised to tell voters when handing out the pamphlets that National voted against both measures.

This might not be unlawful (but see below), but it is just plain wrong. Government advertising is supposed to inform people about government policy and how to access government services. It is not supposed to be used to support the government-of-the-day's bid for re-election. By doing this Labour isn't just displaying its cynicism, its moral bankruptcy, and its inability to distinguish between the party and the state (a disease more commonly known in one-party states like China; maybe it's infectious?); they are also undermining the entire concept of government publicity, and in doing so, directly harming the interests of every New Zealander who may need to access government services.

They may also be violating the Electoral Finance Act, which classifies as an election advertisement any words of graphics "that can reasonably be regarded" as encouraging support or opposition for a political party. In the context suggested above, any reasonable person would regard the government material as encouraging voters to not vote for National, and hence as election advertising. And this opens a very large can of worms. Government departments are barred from publishing election advertisements. But what happens if their material qualifies due to the actions of others under which they have no control? Who gets prosecuted for the material's failure to bear a promoter statement? Whose spending cap does it count towards? Can the people responsible be prosecuted for incurring unauthorised election expenses? What about conspiring to circumvent spending limits?

I'm sure someone will have an opinion from a high-priced lawyer arguing that everything is OK, and if you interpret this word like this and this other word like that, you can ram that cast-iron rhinoceros through that tiny loophole. But underlying it is the same basic contempt for the law we see in the US political system, the same desire to win at any cost no matter what it does to our democracy. And just by proposing it, they're encouraging this attitude, and further undermining the very necessary controls we have on party election spending.

Labour's plans to attack the opposition over Kiwisaver and Working For Families are good politics. But they should do it without the assistance of government advertising material. Otherwise, they're not just abusing their position - they're also undermining our democracy. And that is not something anyone on the left should vote for.