Apologists for Cynicism

Bridges is known for speaking incredibly frankly in private.

Ross’s secret recording revealed important leadership qualities. The private conversation was cynical and vulgar, but Bridges was found to be focused on attacking the Government, fundraising, getting value for money from the party apparatus, connecting with Auckland’s immigrant community and party rejuvenation.

Matthew Hooton

Connecting with Auckland’s immigrant community.

SB: I mean, it’s like all these things, it’s bloody hard, you’ve only got so much space. Depends where we’re polling, you know? All that sort of thing. Two Chinese would be nice, but would it be one Chinese or one Filipino, or one – what do we do?

JLR: Two Chinese would be more valuable than two Indians, I have to say.

SB: Which is what we’ve got at the moment, right?

Talking like that it is (1) cynical, and (2) racist.

Being frank goes like this:

SB: We have some MPs who really need to step up.  They’re not performing at the moment and I need to sit down with them and spell it out.

Not like this:

SB: …we just want them to go. You know? Like Maureen Pugh is fucking useless.

That is the management style of: be nice to people in public, and undermine them in private; of complaining that there is a problem but not acting to change the situation in a constructive way.

Someone like Hooton sees all of this as how politics is done when the children leave the room.  He can’t see the racism.  For him that way of talking is about connecting with immigrant communities.  He has used the wrong word with “connecting”; what he really means is exploiting.  The truer sentence that Hooton could have written is: “exploiting immigrant communities for votes and donations”.  Which is racist, Matthew, and not frank.

It is generally true of members of the hegemony that they are racist, and sexist too.  The sexism here is the part that I find most offensive.

Checkpoint understands National Party President Peter Goodfellow facilitated a “gentlemen’s agreement” with a woman who complained about Mr Ross’ bullying behaviour. The agreement required her to not speak publicly about Mr Ross’ conduct.


The correct response to a woman complaining about sexual harassment and there being rumours of other issues and affairs is to prepare Jami-Less Ross for the consequences of his actions before it goes public, and support the victim.

But all of this is the legacy of Key.  The manner of behaving outlined in Dirty Politics has been maintained.  There are no ethical concerns only concerns about perceptions and maintaining “issues” in water-tight chambers so that when a problem is exposed in one place there can be no connection to other compartments.  The whole mechanism understands the strategy – to contain, and silence – so the different parts do not need to talk to each other or know details.  And so Simon Bridges can say: “I knew nothing about it” and that is seen as good enough.  Even though the strategy is well-known, and the follow-up question should really be: “why not?  Aren’t you the leader?”

Yes, he is, and in that context the commentary that Bridges has come out on top and has integrity and speaks frankly is doublespeak.  That Jami-Lee Ross was his ally and confidant suggest something about Bridges himself.  Is there someone, anyone, in that party who will not say “how do we change the optics” but “How do we become better? How do we become better when we fail so that even in our failings we can respond with principle?”  People in New Zealand do not have the right to expect their politicians to be moral exemplars, but they do have the right to expect them to act with integrity, and for their party organisations to concerned for truth and personal responsibility when illegal or immoral behaviour is exposed.

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I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō