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A closer look at those secretly taped conversations

In an age where we have moved past prejudices, I think I could probably get away with an assertion that we should never judge people on their predecessors.  Indeed, the last National Government had its broken promises: Jim Bolger’s “no ifs, no buts, no maybes, we’re not going to cut your superannuation”; Lockwood Smith’s promise to resign if he didn’t abolish tertiary education fees.  This was all before my time and before my memory, and as I’ve said, I don’t judge: in the absence of solid evidence of a “secret agenda”, as the Labour Party alleges, John Key has my benefit of the doubt.

In light of the recent leaked secretly-taped conversations, then, it is important not to jump to the conclusion of a secret agenda, but to consider the context in which the comments may have been made.  Firstly, they were all made by individuals, which means it’s not a foregone conclusion that they represent party policy.  After all, everyone has their own opinions, and in a team, compromises have to be made.  Secondly, they were made to someone posing as a Young Nat, someone who may follow in the politicians’ footsteps.  Everyone, when talking to someone interested in entering their own field, talks freely, enthusiastically and honestly.

Take, for example, what Lockwood Smith said: (ref)

Once we have gained the confidence of the people, we’ve got more chance of doing more things.  We may be able to do some things we believe we need to do, perhaps go through a discussion document process … you wouldn’t be able to do them straight off … I’m hoping that we’ll do some useful things that way that may not be policy right now.

The first sentence, at face value at least, is stating the obvious.  The rest of it is clearly Dr Smith’s opinion alone—nowhere did he say National was going to do something, merely that they “may be able to” and he was “hoping” they would.  National, like Labour, has a wide range of political views, and we know, of course, that Dr Smith is further towards the right.

In a similar vein, Nick Smith’s comments on election strategy should come as no real shock.  Of course they’re “quite deliberately in neutralise phase at the moment” (ref), I didn’t need a secretly taped conversation to tell me that!  And the mere fact that he hasn’t seen controversial election campaign consultants Crosby Textor doesn’t mean no-one has, it just means he hasn’t.

Slightly more concerning is Bill English saying they will “eventually” sell Kiwibank “but not now.  It’s working.  Our supporters get a bit angsty but it’s working”. (ref)  In the context—a question posed by a Young Nat—the “eventually” could be anything: a word to appease the free-market tendencies of this Young Nat, perhaps, or just Mr English’s personal long-term hope.  His later admission that National hadn’t even discussed Kiwibank provides some comfort it may not have been representative of his party.

Nonetheless, the leaked comments do nothing to dispel a long suspicion that with Mr Key, what we see may not be what we get.  The Labour Party is keen to push this impression, and are well-fuelled by these recordings.  All I am saying is that to come to an objective conclusion, it pays to put ourselves in the shoes of the loose-lipped National MPs.  It pays to remember that just because people are from the same party, doesn’t mean they all know and believe in the same things.  And it pays to keep in mind that everyone successful in their fields takes joy in talking to people who might follow—it sort of goes with liking what you do.

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