More Conspiracy Theories of the Old Left

A reminder for all and sundry that I’m doing some fundraising to attend a conference in Miami next year. Details here.

My friend Gio has a fascinating blogpost on Dotcom and his apparent role in letting down the Left in Aotearoa, which I urge you to read. I was going to comment on the post but the comment ended up going so off topic that I decided to bin it and get to the nub of what I wanted to say here without looking like I was derailing his post there.

It occurs to me that everyone in Aotearoa is forming conspiracy theories about why the Left has failed to gain any traction in the polls over the last term, and we’re willing to blame just about anyone.

1. It’s the Māori Party’s fault.

One of the most popular theories about why the Left isn’t winning is that the Māori Party keeps going into confidence and supply agreements with the National Party. Some of this particular theory must be based upon the notion that, really, those Māori seats belong to the Left (specifically Labour) and thus the Māori Party is betraying it’s constituency by working with a party of the Right.

How is this a conspiracy theory? Talk of the Māori Party by people outside the Māori Party often casts the existence of said Party in conspiratorial terms. Some claim the party was started by Tariana Turia solely as a vessel to get revenge on Labour for the Foreshore and Seabed Act, and thus she was never going to go into coalition with that party. As such, with Tariana still as co-leader, the Māori Party, it is alleged, will talk about supporting either major party, but will always go with non-Labour.

Others claim that the Māori Party exists to further the interests of the either the rich iwi like Ngai Tāhu or iwi which have traditionally support the Crown, and thus the party speaks for a rich subset of Māori whilst pretending to speak for all Māori. Thus, the Māori Party are seen as a vessel for parties of the Right to control the representation of Māori in Parliament.

Plausibility: Not very plausible.

For one, this election Labour got the seats it thinks it deserves by fiat back and yet the Left still failed to cobble together a winning coalition. For another, it’s incredibly simplistic to think of Māori as innately Left-leaning (in the same respect that it’s naive to think that the working classes are automatically on the side of the unions and Labour).

Also, whilst the Māori Party have voted for some of National’s more disastrous leglisation (as have Labour, I should add), they have effectively campaigned for and achieved their own policy initiatives which have been beneficial for Māori.1

2. It’s Dotcom’s fault.

The story of Kim Dotcom and his persecution by the New Zealand state has been told at this blog and others time and time again. As a result of that persecution, Dotcom decided to get involved in politics (either to change the system, or to get some old-fashioned revenge, or both). However, the Internet Party failed to set the world on fire and the alliance with the MANA Party was diastrous, to the point that people are blaming Dotcom for both ruining the Left’s chances and costing Hone Harawira his seat.

How is this a conspiracy theory? Some (not many) think that Dotcom is a plant for the Right. That would make his role in politics that of a mole trying to undermine the Left, which, if you believe he is an agent provocateur, seems to have worked. Others question his real motivations for campaigning for the Left, arguing that as he’s right-leaning he can talk the talk of internet freedoms and social justice but, really, he is just pissed off that the monied parties of Aotearoa (ACT and National) failed to look after him. As such, he is campaigning under a false flag.

Others, of course, hate him because he is German. This is not quite a conspiracy theory, although the claim he is a secret Nazi sympathiser (with his own first edition of Mein Kampf) is a conspiracy theory.

Overall, people on the Left are confused about Dotcom, most because of his association with the very Left Hone Harawira. The question of why he and Harawira formed a coalition is an interesting question which has never really been answered satisfactorily.

Plausibility: There is a more plausible alternative which is less conspiratorial.

Dotcom is, as far as I can tell, a libertarian and thus right-leaning, whilst Harawira is quite left-wing. Given that in the run up to the announcement of the coalition between the Internet Party and the Mana Party evidence was forthcoming that Mana Party members were opposed to it, I can see the motivation for some of the various conspiracy theories about the said coalition. (especially since Harawira downplayed those reports with reference to a “silent majority” argument – shades of Peter Dunne and his party’s “massive” support base)) However, the more prosaic explanation, born of wanting to exploit the coat tail provision in our electoral system, as well as provide Mana with a necessary cash injection, seems more plausible.

If there is any merit to this conspiracy theory it’s about the way the coalition was communicated both to the party faithful and the public in general. At the time it seemed a little seedy and whilst the story was “This is good for MANA!” it seemed that it was a decision which looked good (but in the end wasn’t) for “Internet MANA” and costed some of MANA it’s support.

Also, if Dotcom is really an agent for the Right, working to bring down the Left… Well, that’s a theory, I’ll grant you that.

3. It’s Labour’s fault/It’s David Cunliffe’s fault/It’s the ABCs (Anything but Cunliffe) fault

Why did the Left not cobble together a coalition government (aside from not having the numbers)? Well, it’s Labour’s fault. Well, David Cunliffe’s fault. Or, if not David Cunliffe, the fault of people like David Shearer and Trevor Mallard, who undermined their leader in order to cast him out so the conservative Left (slightly right-leaning) part of the Party can achieve victory next time around. Oh, and Cunliffe destablished Shearer, so all is fair in love and war.

How is this a conspiracy theory? Well, if it is true that Labour is heavily factionalised and those factions hate each other, then the various stories of faction A fighting faction B for control of the Party will, in part, be stories about conspiratorial machinations.

Now, it s true that Labour is heavily factionalised and the lack of consensus in its caucus probably explains it’s near historic polling in the recent election. Arguably, people do not vote for a Party which is in array and constantly undermines itself.

Plausibility: Cuts both ways.

We don’t need to assert the existence of a conspiracy to lose this election to explain away those machinations. It’s quite possible Mallard and Shearer both wanted to win the election and desired to engage in the character assassination of Cunliffe. It’s also possible that the ABCs wanted Cunliffe gone and needed him to move on after a defeat, given that he was foist on them by the party faithful. Basically, when it comes to Labour they currently seem so inept at presenting a credible face of the Opposition in Aotearoa that it’s both plausible they cocked-up or that they conspired to lose the election.

4. It’s the Green Party’s fault

They said they could work with National under the right conditions. They slammed Internet MANA. They focus too much on social justice issues and not enough on the environment. Russell Norman is a man in a grey suit. Don’t they just hate science?

How is this a conspiracy theory? The Green Party has gone from a fringe party to something of an electoral force, in that in the last term it was the Green co-leaders who presented the most credible face of the Opposition in Parliament. Part of the change in their culture has been outreach to “middle New Zealand” (the Centre) whilst at the same time presenting some fairly left-wing policy platforms which make Labour look very centrist indeed. Frankly, the Green Party is just a little confusing, message-wise, at the moment and I can see why some people consider them a party with fringe views on the Left and others consider them to be cosying up to National. A confused message where reasonable people can disagree about the true intentions of a party can lead to claims of conspiracy by that party to present themselves as something they are not.

Also, for a party with strong environment credentials, the confusing message on fluoride and vaccination (where the co-leaders said things which were not entirely consistent with the policy platform of the party) certainly didn’t help.

Plausibility: Not very.

The Green Party obviously wants to grow their vote and given how inept Labour seem, I don’t blame them. Part of growing the vote means getting people to vote for you, which does mean broadening your base appeal. That’s business/politics as usual and does not seem very conspiratorial: the policies are still decided by the membership and are available online. Unless someone wants to claim the Green Party has secret right-wing policies they aren’t talking about, the claim they are trying to get closer to National seems to be based upon other factors, like Labour being scared the Greens are cannibalising their vote or people being worried that the Greens no longer talk like the fringe party they used to be.

Comrade Gio, in the post noted at the beginning of this entry, calls Russell Norman’s recent discussion of what went wrong with Internet MANA this last election “deeply unpleasant”. I heard the same discussion and thought it less unpleasant and more pragmatic: Norman and Turei are the second generation leaders of the Green Party and they’ve worked hard to present the Greens as a sensible coalition partner to Labour. Yes, they’re now engaging in the kind of rhetoric Labour used (and still does) against the Greens, but whereas Labour’s rhetoric painted the Greens as loony when they really weren’t, Norman’s rhetoric, focussed on the Internet Party predominantly (he’s quite complimentary towards Harawira and MANA) somewhat hits the mark because elements of the Internet Party looked suspicious. Norman also had a certain decency (and I say this with caveats) in that he most of his criticisms against the Internet Party occurred after the election, whilst Labour has always happily framed the Greens as weird and wacky throughout the electoral cycle.

Which is not to say I agree with Norman (whose last name I mistype as “Normal”), but I think there are some key differences between Labour’s rhetoric and that of the Greens.2

P.S. Can you tell that I am a Green supporter? Be aware of my own bias.

5. It’s National’s fault (aka Dirty Politics)

Why did the Left lose? Because National engaged in dirty politicking, as evidenced by Nicky Hager’s book and the Rawshark leaks.

How is this a conspiracy theory? Black ops run by attack bloggers associated with the National Party? Plausible deniability by the Prime Minister of what was happening? How is this not a conspiracy?

Plausibility: Moderately high.

I won’t rehash my thoughts about Dirty Politics, since this post is already far too long. What I will say is that whilst I think there is merit to the claim elements of National conspired to make life hard for the Left, it’s also possible that this wasn’t so much a witting conspiracy by elements of the National Party but rather the way they think politics should be done. We saw this with the Len Brown smear campaign, when Luigi Wewege expressed his horror that anyone found the smear campaign he ran with Cameron Slater distasteful, and Cameron Slater’s response to Dirty Politics, which was to shrug and say “So what?” The lack of shame about it from Slater, and really not trying to hide it when it came out means that I think he’d quite happily act this way in public all the time, thus robbing the claim of conspiracy the necessity that it be done in secret.

Notes

  1. Of course, some will say they haven’t been all the beneficial and maybe the Party buys too much into neoliberalism, but that’s a rather more complex analysis than I have time for right here, and sometimes I think that criticism smacks of Pākehā not being well versed in tikanga or kaupapa Māori.
  2. This was kind of what I was going to say on Gio’s original post, but then the other stuff started to get written.

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.