Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Dirty Politics - what are the real issues?

Author Nicky Hager with copies of his book, Dirty Politics, at the launch in Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Author Nicky Hager with copies of his book, Dirty Politics, at the launch in Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Much of the discussion and coverage of Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics book and scandal has been sensationalist, colourful and focused on the various larger-than-life personalities involved. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the extremely colourful cartoons relating to the scandal - which I've aggregated in a blog post: Cartoons and images of Dirty Politics. And of course, much of the debate has become about partisan point scoring from all sides. There's nothing necessarily wrong with such debate. But in focusing on the people, the shock and the fleeting ins-and-outs of the issue, we might be in danger of missing some of the bigger picture issues to arise out of Hager's book and the scandal. So, what are they?

Nicky Hager is currently speaking in various public meeting around the country at the moment. In Dunedin tonight I will also be interviewing him in a University Book Shop public meeting. Amongst the questions I'll be putting to him, will be a number crowdsourced from Twitter - see: Question for Nicky Hager about #DirtyPolitics.

In the meantime, there's plenty of other important items to read about the bigger picture. In terms what the scandal means for democracy, and for the public's diminishing trust in politicians and political parties and other parts of the Establishment - see Bronwyn Hayward's Towards a Better New Zealand Democracy.

Another educator has some thoughtful points to make about the state of democracy in his blog post, Truth please.

There's plenty of discussion of what Hager's book reveals about the state and position of the media in 2014. Metro's Simon Wilson discusses how bullying behaviour is subverting democracy and strong investigative journalism in his blog post, Doubling Down.

For a very personal view of these issues, see David Fisher's column, My history with Cameron Slater. And to think about such problems in a wider global context, read Antony Loewenstein's Guardian piece, Dirty politics: New Zealand's own House of Cards is collapsing.

And for a further interesting 6-minute discussion of the media-politics issues, see TV3's Journos 'soul-searching' after latest Dirty Politics leaks.

Many commentators are looking at how changing technologies are part of the Dirty Politics scandal. Chris Barton asks some questions about the health of the media and public debate and point to some further important articles and opinions - see: Technology makes corruption possible.

And today, Karl du Fresne points the finger at what's happening on Twitter and elsewhere online - see: Social media spurs prejudice.

When looking at the bigger issues, many are focused on 'how to clean up politics?' One blogger says that this will be difficult, because 'real political power will continue to be concentrated in a self-interested political class of politicians and professional staffers on all sides, professional pundits, and politically obsessive social media types engaging in the theatre that is politics as sport' - see: Fine Tooth Column's Nuke the whales.

Today Gordon McLauchlan also argues that the problem is bigger than just bloggers and particular politicians: 'Do I see people of integrity, far-sightedness and who are, yes, politically shrewd, available to take this country on to imaginative, independent policies through intelligent, flexible, long-term planning? Yeah? Nah' - see: Why are our politicians sleepwalking?. Similarly, Duncan Garner raises some good points, in his column, Politics is a sleazy business - regardless of who is in power.

To clean things up, Lew Stoddart has argued we need a major culture shift in politics, not just within the National Party, but in all the parties, and the media - see: Culture, strategy and an end to the phony war.

For a more challenging and lengthy discussion of these big issues, see the Political Scientist's A Tale of Two Tracks. Part I - A two track world, and Part II - Something new under the sun.

Finally, despite the need for a wider and more serious debate about the implications of Dirty Politics, there is still room for quality satire on the topic. To see some of the best so far, read Toby Manhire's Amid the dirt, here's a glossary, and Steve Braunias' The secret diary of John Key.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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