Murky Politics

If I was a supporter of the National Party, particularly if I was a fan of its current leader John Key, I’d be a) living a very different lifestyle and b) very confused. In the best possible world, John Key is a credulous fool who thinks justified beliefs are just opinions with fancy names. In the worst case scenario, John Key is a liar who has only succeeded in his political career because the public have happily accepted his assurances nothing is rotten in the suburb of Helensville. The events of the last week have surely woken people up to these two possibilities.

I am, of course, referring to the IGIS report into the activities of the PM’s office and the role Jason Ede, Phil de Joux and Cameron Slater played in disseminating information received from the former head of the SIS, Warren Tucker. The cast in this particular thriller (which is shades of “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest”) is depressingly white and male, and the conspiracy they engaged in was startling in both its audacity and also its numbskullishness. All in all, Rebecca Kitteridge, Warren Tucker’s replacement, has concluded agreed with the findings of Inspector General, Cheryl Gwyn (thanks to Andrew Geddis for pointing this out) that mistakes were made and that things happened which really shouldn’t: Warren Tucker was not politically neutral in his dealings, as he was obliged to be, and John Key surely knew more about the activities of his office than he claimed during the election and #dirtypolitics saga.

Not that John Key agrees.1 Whilst he agreed to the terms of the inquiry and who would lead it, in the end, it’s just an opinion, isn’t it? Gwyn might claim that the behaviour and collusion of these PM staffers and Cameron Slater was unseemly, and that Slater is a fantasist, but, you know, that’s just her view.

When it comes to who would you trust more, Judith Collins (who once failed the Voigt- Kampf test) or Cameron Slater, I’m sure a coin flip is an able a judge as any human being. On the one hand you have Slater, a man who Collins calls a fantasist. On the other you have Collins, someone Slater calls a good friend. For John Key, the decision has been easy: he trusts Slater and his accounting of what happened, despite that fact a former Minister of the Crown, Collins, has said that Slater tends to be the kind of person who tries to lay claim to bigger, more important roles in proceedings.

When I reviewed “Dirty Politics” I said one problem with Nicky Hager’s style of investigative journalism is that he assumes everyone is sincere in their private correspondence, particularly if they happen to be on the other side of the political spectrum to Hager.2 Yet so much of what he reported Slater as claiming looked like someone big-noting himself, laying claim to a salience in proceedings that he may not deserve.

Disentangling fact from fiction in the Slater canon is difficult. For instance, Slater has been claiming for a number of weeks that he has evidence Labour tried to kill him. Now, Slater is normally happy to present evidence of the Left engaging in dirty politics, so the fact he hasn’t provided even the tiniest piece of evidence that his life was in danger is cause enough to be suspicious.3 However, the fear he is a fantasist plays like a double-edged sword. Is Slater merely lying, in the hope it will get him some more precious media moments or does he sincerely but mistakenly believe his life is under threat? Is Slater a fantasist-qua-liar or is he deluded? If it’s the latter, there is the danger that some of our humour at his expense is laughing at someone who needs help.

It would be easiest to accept, then, that Slater is a liar. But that makes John Key support of Slater’s version of events terrible: if Slater is a liar, then why associate with him? Why reply to his texts? Why not just completely disassociate yourself from him, like Bill English has?

The other option — that Slater is delusional — is no better. By humouring Slater, the PM is enabling him. That would indicate that Key thinks of Slater as some useful tool/fool, whose delusions play well in the media.

What then of a third option? Is John Key clueless about how the inquiry he supported worked? Just he really think that the IGIS report is an “opinion” like my view of today’s weather (“All over the place!”)?

There are opinions and there are opinions. The former kind are subjective judgements, like “I really like that painting of four dogs playing poker!” and “Mushrooms are disgusting!” The latter are informed judgements like “It is my opinion, based upon the evidence, that he regularly creeps onto women.” The IGIS report, no matter what flaws it has, is of the latter kind.4 Dismissing its contents, like the PM, as merely an opinion (the opinion of his IGIS, no less) is either a sign the PM does not understand that such reports are designed to produce outcomes which are more than mere subjective opinions, or the PM is disingenuous. Reports like that of the IGIS use a methodology and a kind of evidence that raises the matter from “I believe…” to “The justification for this belief is…” The PM should know this, both with respect to the claim he’s not stupid and because even if he was, the requirements of his office should mean he keeps such distinctions at the forefront of his thinking.

Still, no matter the case, for those on a certain part of the Left this is evidence of corruption, of possible actual conspiracy to subvert the open and democratic nature of our governance. For those on the right, I like to think this makes people think twice about just how honest and sensible John Key is.

Notes

  1. There is a possible world in which there is a weekly interview with the PM called “In which John Key disagrees”. It is hilarious; he gets to literally wear different hats as he dissembles through the week that was.
  2. Imagine if he had written a book on the Urewera Raids and treated some of the intercepted evidence as sincere: there would be an entire chapter devoted to the idea the accused seriously considered catapulting a bus on to the head of George W. Bush, a threat the Police at least pretended to take seriously
  3. Slater has now distanced himself from this claim. He now says that he didn’t really say that at all; those of us with reading comprehension skills are simply non-cognisant of Slater’s lack of knowledge of how sentence fragments fit together.
  4. Curiously enough, the Gwyn Chisholm (once again, thanks to Andrew Geddis for pointing this out) report into Judith Collins reads more like the former.

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.

4 comments:

  1. “All in all, Rebecca Kitteridge, Warren Tucker’s replacement, has concluded that mistakes were made and that things happened which really shouldn’t…”

    The report was by the Inspector General, Cheryl Gwyn – Rebecca Kitteridge simply accepted the conclusions (and recommendations) of that report.

    1. Whoops. I’ll update the post after dinner. As I tweeted but didn’t say in the post, I wrote the entry on the plane. Should have fact-checked it on landing. Inexcusable, really.

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