On that election

When we look back at the 2014 election (which we will, for a long time) people are going to ask “Why?” So startling was the election result to some that people are already signing petitions which claim the election was rigged, seemingly only because the result isn’t the one that they wanted. They’ll ask why Labour failed to present a credible alternative to government, and why they didn’t accept the Green’s olive branch of a formal coalition prior to the election? They’ll ask how it was that Cameron Slater came out of the election with his media career not in tatters, why Matthew Hooton attacked the party he said he was still going to vote for, how it is that Judith Collins got back in and why Trevor Mallard wasn’t ditched. They’ll ask whether it was National’s stunning victory which lead to so-so commission reports into spying allegations and ministerial conduct, and they’ll ask whether Kim Dotcom was a dunderhead or a liar when it came to a suspicious leaked email which looked too good to be true. They’ll ask if Hone Harawira was the victim of his own hubris or the target of an coordinated attack. People will ask “Why David Seymour?” especially since even David Seymour can’t answer that question.

It seems that everywhere we look at the 2014 election, there are questions which would be easily answered if we just supposed the existence of a conspiracy (or, in some cases, a lack of one).

For example, people are claiming that Labour actively demonised a pre-election deal with the Greens because Labour continues to think that they are owed all those Green votes. These people will point towards certain MPs not being on message about how the Greens and Labour can work together as evidence that Labour seeks to destroy its own (and now only) potential coalition partner.

Now, this is a conspiracy theory I can get behind, given that I am a Green voter and detractor of the modern Labour Party. I often find Labour’s treatment of the Greens incomprehensible, and so I’m tempted by the claim that Labour has it in for them, despite the assurances of Labour Party faithful that it’s not the case. There is a startling distance between what Labour says about the Greens and how they act towards them, which is evidence enough for me to think that Labour is being very disingenuous about the possibility of working with them. Still, hypocrisy does not necessarily entail conspiracy: Labour could just be confused, like they seem to be in other areas of political behaviour.

Some have also argued that Cameron Slater survived the fallout of Dirty Politics because, in the end, the mainstream media have always tolerated the personality and behaviour of people like Slater, and merely acted otherwise because they knew the public disapproved. These people will point to the litany of journalists who said “Well, we all knew something like this was going on” as evidence of a conspiracy of silence.

Which seems plausible and, under some analyses, not at all conspiratorial. The frustrating (well, one of) thing about Dirty Politics weren’t so much Hager’s revelations but those of the journalists who said “Well, we kind of knew this stuff was happening, but he was so good as a source!” Now, I’m split as to whether that qualifies as a conspiracy of silence or just bad tradecraft. Possibly both, really.

As to how it was that Judith Collins got back in, and why Trevor Mallard wasn’t rightly ditched by the voting public, well, we don’t need a conspiracy to explain that. People can be stupid and given that currently all voters are people, that means by extension some voters are stupid too. Collin’s majority is still secure, even if it was slashed, which goes to show that for a certain section of the community she either did no wrong, or not enough wrong to warrant getting thrown out of Parliament. Mallard almost lost to a former Big Tabacco lobbyist and I, for one, am confused. Mallard is toxic for Labour and the Left in general, but is a former Big Tobacco lobbyist really preferable?

Probably the bigger question is whether forces conspired against Hone Harawira, costing him Te Tai Tokerau? Harawira is himself fond of conspiracy theories about the forces out to get him, having a bit of a history of blaming others for issues probably of his own making. In this particular case, it’s a bit hard to tell whether people really conspired against him: John Key’s endorsement of his opponent, Kelvin Davis, probably didn’t do the Labour candidate much good and might have galvanised some of Harawira’s supporters. Still, it is true that elements did come in behind Davis. However, Harawira’s downfall seems much more explicable with reference to his forming a coalition with a minor Bond villain, Kim Dotcom. It seems that the voters of Te Tai Tokerau, as well as some of Harawira’s supporters, were very confused by the socialist being matey with the libertarian, and voted for the stability (I say somewhat in jest) of Labour. If there’s a conspiracy to be uncovered, it would seem to be one which purports to explains Harawira’s choice of political partners, rather than the activities of his enemies.

As for the future… Well, what does National’s stunning victory, in which they got a parliamentary majority, mean for the various enquiries into National’s corrupt behaviour whilst in government? Will they simply be box ticking exercises or will they lead to a change in culture in the National Party? Those who think National are inherently bad will say the enquiry results will be a whitewash, presumably no matter the outcome. To be fair, no amount of condemnation for what has happened under National’s watch would be too much. So, I think I can confidently say that we can expect conspiracy theories about the results of the enquiries because the very reason for the enquiries invites thinking about them in a conspiratorial mode.

Then there is the question of electoral fraud: was the election rigged? Well, if you signed this petition you presumably think that’s likely. Now, if it turned out that the election results were rigged, that would be a big story, but the evidence presented thus far is not convincing: the petition creator thinks it is odd that people voted Left for candidates in some electorates but still gave their party vote to the Right. You don’t need to posit a conspiracy to explain that, though, because that’s how MMP works: the candidate vote is separate from the party vote. You can like Nikki Kaye and still vote Green, or think you’d like David Seymour without having to vote in such a way that you also have to have a Jamie Whyte.

Indeed, if you were to rig an election you wouldn’t make it so obvious, would you? You’d (well, I would) try to ensure that the party and candidate votes were broadly aligned. A well run conspiracy will try to hide the evidence of its existence, and a notable difference between the candidate and the party votes in an electorate indicates a lack of concerted planning by the conspirators. After all, if you can alter one of the votes, why not change both? You still have to go to the effort of creating a fraudulent voting paper to satisfy the requirements of the recount, after all.

Perhaps what this petition shows is that the public’s distrust of authority is growing: I don’t believe we’ve seen such a petition before and whilst the petition is based on the petitioners not understanding the nature of MMP, it kind of follows (once that lack of understanding is taken into account) that since the result looks weird, it might be an entirely fraudulent result. The Dirty Politics and Moment of Truth scandals certainly showed that nefarious, vote suppressing behaviour goes on in Aotearoa (New Zealand), so it’s not a stretch to imagine that electoral fraud is also being contemplated. It is, however, a stretch to suggest it merely on the evidence of the results not being what you think they should be.

For example, in the middle of the election it was alleged that National were signing Pasifica people up to the National Party and then telling them they were now obliged to vote National during the election. This, if true, would be clear evidence of electoral fraud, and the evidence was said to be letters sent to the new members, outlining what they had to do next. No such letters ever surfaced, which kind of shows there was nothing to the story in the first place. Still, at least if people thought the story was plausible it was on the basis that there was a kind of promissory note evidence existed, rather than the supposition that “These people are up to no good!”

Because even of they are, you’ll need slightly more proof.

You have three more years.


About Matthew Dentith

Author of "The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories" (Palgrave Macmillan), Matthew Dentith wrote his PhD on epistemic issues surrounding belief in conspiracy theories. He is a frequent media commentator on the weird and the wonderful, both locally and internationally. On occasion he can be caught dreaming about wax lions but, mostly, it is rumoured he works for elements of the New World Order.

2 comments:

  1. The logic of voting for a tobacco lobbyist rather than Trevor Mallard is that each makes their own party look bad, so if you like Labour you vote for the tobacco lobbyist. Having said that, most of the Hutt South voters I know voted for Greens candidate Holly Walker, even though they knew she’s leaving parliament.

Comments are closed.