It has taken me until now in my available spare time to read Nicky Hager's "The Hollow Men" in its entirety, and set down this polemic, provoked by that book. Hager's book is surprisingly readable. I did notice a couple of non-essential details where my personal knowledge of events does not tally with Hager's.
The sheer level of detail is staggering. It is hard to believe that Hager's sources were merely "concerned National Party personnel" allegedly "concerned at the direction their party was taking". I'd advise National to find and remove the outright stooges, plants, and traitors from within their ranks, or shift their entire E-mail and electronic data systems right out of reach of "Parliamentary Services" altogether.
It is interesting that our media has been so non-committal about such a Watergate-esque level of political espionage having occurred in N.Z.
Of course, it is only the National Party. It goes without saying that if the Great Leader Helen Clark's private communications had been similarly compromised, not only would there be howls of outrage from the Fairfax editors and journalists and the other Clark sycophants who infest our media, but a "rigorous enquiry" by our fine non-partisan Police would have had the guilty author over the coals about his sources, and pulled in suspects, long since.
Not all readers will draw the conclusions from Hager's book as he does. He is aiming at the Chomsky/Pilger fan type of reader. Going by the way he dishes out the labels "right-wing", "extreme right-wing", and "free market radical", one gets the idea after a while that Hager's "Left" is the Marxists, his "centre" is the Trotskyites, and everyone to the right of that, including our current government, is "right-wing". A conundrum for you, Nicky: what to label Ayn Rand when you ran out of labels back at Roger Douglas? I really, really like the term "compassionate conservatism", but Hager the horrible's lexicon doesn't contain it.
I raise the question whether National's "rebranding" of Don Brash and "concealment" of links with the business community (that everyone assumes anyway), which Hager finds so distasteful, would be superfluous if N.Z. hadn't sunk to ugly levels of tall poppy syndrome and pathological mistrust of our brightest minds. In the worldview of Hager and the media-dominating Left (following on several decades of very successful "long march through the institutions"), it is impossible for anyone to be successful and retain a trustworthy amount of altruism. If there is a problem here, it is that the better judgement of N.Z.'s best people regarding abstruse economic topics, is buried in leftist propaganda by our institutions.
It is unthinkable to Hager and his ilk, that any of the people he condemns for their funding activities or participation on politics, might be acting out of intelligent altruism. Pure self-interest would be much better served if they merely removed themselves and their business activities to less malevolent regions. Hager reveals that Raumati Beach physiotherapist Robin McKenzie donated $10,000 to National. So what? To reasonable New Zealanders, that should represent a mark in favour of National, not against it. One man one vote is fine, but the political judgement of the average high school dropout career beneficiary is in no way "equal" to that of a fine citizen like Dr. McKenzie.
But no - to Hager, the only explanation for political involvement on the part of the wealthy, business interests, the conservative and religious "right", is that there is a massive conspiracy to subvert democracy and keep the "proletariat" oppressed and exploited. And sadly, it seems that our "mainstream media" missed the death of this ideology in 1989, when the Berlin wall came down. "Elder Statesman" columnist Michael Bassett puts it very well in his take on Hager's "Hollow book". Our "mainstream" media is found fawning over a neo-Stalinist conspiracy theorist, and it is not an edifying sight.
Hager's suggestions of increased transparency regarding funding of political parties are OK - IF accompanied by a caveat like the following. Publicisation of the names of contributors should be required by law to be accompanied by a statement from that contributor, which might include such things as their motivation for that donation, the difference they see their preferred leadership making for N.Z., their own contributions to N.Z., charitable activity, jobs provided, amount of tax contributed to the coffers of the government, and so on. This would help to ameliorate the problem whereby such people have been habitually denied any opportunity to put their own case in the face of a biased media ascribing baser motives to them and vilifying them accordingly.
Even the size of the Charitable sector is disgracefully unappreciated in this country, due to the media and other institutions committal to the "greedy rich people" revised social narrative. A recent book by Arthur C. Brooks, "Who really cares", is unlikely to make it into N.Z.'s public awareness at all. Professor Brooks of Syracuse University set out on his investigations expecting to prove the opposite of what he discovered to be the truth. Conservative Christians give, on average, FOUR TIMES AS MUCH to charity, as do Secular liberals of comparable earning ability. Conservative Christians are TWENTY-THREE TIMES MORE LIKELY to be doing charitable voluntary work. The WORKING POOR are similarly of much more charitable outlook than beneficiaries who are comparably as well off. DICK CHEYNEY gives SEVERAL TIMES AS MUCH to charity as does Al Gore!
(And don't kid me that Gore's devotion to the cause of environmental alarmism is "charitable" work - Gore is getting very, very, rich, very, very, fast, on the back of what may ultimately be regarded as the biggest confidence scam in history).
If being "right wing" means providing for yourself and your family, maybe providing jobs for other Kiwis, paying taxes and generally making a wide variety of valuable contributions to N.Z. society, AND raise your kids to be the same, do we want more of it or less of it? Should we be knocking it or encouraging it?
If being "right wing" involves requiring the Government to meet its obligations to provide operations to patients and save their lives, honouring the social contract underpinned by taxation, even if this means paying a private hospital to do it, should we be knocking it or encouraging it? Why is it "compassionate Socialism" to let in excess of 1000 people per year die and many thousands more mortgage themselves away to pay for their own treatment? And why would it be "compassionate Socialism" if the Chris Trotters and Nicky Hagers had their way and Private hospitals were banned, condemning these extra few thousand people to death annually as well? It's not even as if the government's payments to the Private system would be higher than the amounts sunk into the public system allegedly to get the same results. The reverse is true. This is a problem duplicated all over the world in government-run "health" systems.
Yet the majority of New Zealanders continue to be sucked in by what is essentially a massive scam that no private scheme would be permitted to get away with. The myth somehow prevails, against all rationality, that the 3 years of attempted reform in the 1990's are responsible for the health system's ills, as if decades of Socialist principles weren't responsible for the mess long since, and as if the Clark Government hasn't had a substantial amount of time since to make Socialist healthcare work if it was ever going to. (Likewise the myth about untrammeled Capitalism wrecking the Russian economy post-1989, glossing over decades of Communism and its inevitable results, seen even more starkly in dystopias like North Korea and Cuba that are still "staying the course").
It is a tragedy of intelligent discourse in much of the West that the Hagers and the Eric Hobsbawms and the Noam Chomsky's AREN'T regarded as having on their hands, the blood of the victims of Socialism from Stalin thru Mao and Pol Pot and Kim-Il Jong, to that of the Westerners who die on public health system waiting lists.
Hager also trots out the inevitable myth about the possibility of funding being "taken off" public schools and given to Private schools, ignoring that the government actually saves much more money on every pupil removed from the public system than the amount they grant for the same pupil by way of private system subsidy. The real issue for the Left is their desire for control over the minds of ALL the school age youth via the public education system that they've so successfully subverted, plus the maintainance of unreformed featherbedding-ridden structures on the part of the teachers unions.
Is George Orwell's "Animal Farm" still being read by our school-age youth? Surely it's starting to look uncomfortably like deja vu as Marxist notions of "income redistribution" and "social justice" advance the "tear-down-the-rich" agenda of the Hagers, the mainstream media, and their preferred Politicians.
Hager grossly over-estimates the power of wealth to "buy" election results. In 2002, as Hager notes, National's election campaign was underfunded, as their traditional big business supporters had moved their support to ACT. The result of ACT spending more on its election campaign than National, was that ACT ended up with around ONE-THIRD the number of Parliamentary seats that National gained, low as that was. The truth is that as long as the media has branded a Political party as a stooge of big-business exploitation-theory hobgoblins, that party is doomed at the polls, no matter how good its ideas might be in reality, and regardless of its spending capacity.
Hager and his ilk see Left-wing control through the media, education, bureaucracy, and other institutions, as the naturally correct state of affairs, and resent any counter to this even if only marginally effective - to the point that legislating against the principles of the freedom of speech are seen to be a necessity. The "vast right-wing conspiracy" that is Hager's bogeyman, is a sad joke, having been steadily losing hands down for decades to the far more real and effective Left-wing "long march through the institutions" that now sees its agenda being advanced by legions of full-time advocates and its influence over New Zealand voters inescapably pervasive.
Hayek and other political theorists point out that "right-wingers" usually devote most of their time to earning, business, trade, family life, church, charity, and community; while left-wingers tend to devote a lot more time to their politics, ideally seeking to be able to do this full-time, whether as teachers, journalists, bureaucrats, or just as beneficiaries with ample idle time.
Besides these factors, Joseph Schumpeter and others have pointed out that Left-wing policies tend to entrench their acolytes as the natural party of government due to expanding numbers of beneficiaries, bureaucrats and others who have a vested interest in the continuance of the policies that provide them with their source of income. This is an observable phenomenon throughout the Western world, so that a demographic crisis of unsustainability of Government spending looms in virtually every case.
Furthermore, it is becoming evident that "liberal" causes are becoming increasingly "fashionable" among many of the wealthier categories of people, so that left-wing political parties are not necessarily even at a disadvantage here. Look at the sums spent on advancing essentally left-wing causes by people like George Soros, Bill Gates, Ted Turner, the Rockefeller foundation, and so on. The N.Z. Labour Party had better be careful not to demonise the concept of the "American bag-man" too much, as it might come around to bite them. (It probably already should have, if our mainstream media was a bit less partisan).
In the Hager wordview, it goes without saying that America and Americans are some kind of "Great Satan" (while presumably, "command economies" that have killed off millions are to be revered) so that to be seen "talking to Washington" is now akin to the charges beloved of Rob Muldoon in the 1970's that his political opponents were "talking to Moscow". The underlying universal principles at stake seem to have been forgotten or buried in fuzzy political discourse meanwhile. Apparently Don Brash met at some stage with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who is inevitably and breathlessly labelled by Hager as a "foreign policy hawk". This is a bit rough on Armitage given his opposition to President Bush's foreign policy course and the invasion of Iraq in particular. But not to spoil a good lefty polemic in full flow.
In discussing the Exclusive Brethren, Hager makes the ugly observation that "the church should have been convicted". How do you convict a church? Hager shows his true colours here. American detainment camps for terrorists are repulsive, as are more new prisons for the steadily-increasing numbers of murderers, rapists and assorted thugs being turned out by our dysfunctional post-Christian liberal-socialist-experiment society. But a few gulags for a minority group of religious dissidents probably presents a staunch Stalinist like Hager with no problem.
This is apart from the fact that Hager's book is noticeably light on detail concerning "links" between the National Party and the Exclusive Brethren. He can tell us in minute detail about who Don Brash saw at what restaurant or lunch or function, and for how long, when it's "big business" people who're involved. An e-mail or two here, a brief meeting or two and a chance encounter there, are flimsy pegs on which to attempt to hang a case that "Brash lied" and that there was some kind of deep, total collusion between the Nats and "the Exclusive Brethren". Hager seems to deliberately ignore the point that the comparative absence of evidence concerning Brethren "links with National", given that the breach of National's privacy seems to have been so total, would tend much more to disprove the point he is trying to make, than prove it.
Hager, along with vitually all media commentators, does the Brethren another injustice by describing them as a "very wealthy" group in the same context as National's big business donors. Even the wealthiest Exclusive Brethren members like the "Secret Seven", who evidently spent their own money as induviduals, (NOT "the church's" money, Mr. Hager), are evidently proprietors of modest small businesses, nothing more. They deserve more credit for the depth of their convictions, for proportionally sacrificing a much greater dent in their own personal net worth than the mere "pocket-money" outlays of the very wealthy with whom Hager is lumping them.
The repeated claims by everyone on the Left from Prime Minister Helen Clark to Nicky Hager, that the "Exclusive Brethren Church" has "funded" the National Party, are looking increasingly like the old Goebbells tactic, that if a lie is repeated often enough, it will eventually be swallowed by the ignorant majority. The role of at least the greater majority of the nation's journalists and certain editors, in this contrivance, is a shameful indication of the state of our democratic freedoms. One sorely wishes for the existence in New Zealand, of any sort of equivalent to such media as, in the U.S., "Fox News", the "National Review", the "Weekly Standard", "Human Events", and so on. If you regard the absence of such mediain New Zealand as a healthy sign, I'm sorry, you're not a supporter of real democratic freedom at all, you're just a sneaky little totalitarian.
Michael Bassett is absolutely right to call for Hager to be "outed". I suggest that there is a lot more rotten in the State of New Zealand that is overdue for "outing", too, and unfortunately, only one real investigative journalist to work on it. And that journalist, Ian Wishart, has received death threats and is subjected to goodness knows what other pressures, to deflect his scrutiny. Remember Police Commissioner Peter Doone? If you don't read "Investigate", you've got no idea just how ugly a political maneuver the removal of this upstanding New Zealander from his position, might well have been. That was a long time ago, and a lot more stuff has happened since that shows New Zealand sliding into its own version of "Chavismo" - a government that can throw the rule of law to the winds again and again, in the knowledge that it is completely safe because it has achieved hegemony over the loyalty of the masses. The axing of Dr. Michael Bassett's column by the Dominion ("Pravda") Post is just the latest minor, but inevitable, incident in a long, ugly process of far from disconnected incidents.
I suggest that Hager's book is the exact opposite of what New Zealand most sorely needs right now. It attempts to scrutinise malfeasance at the opposite end of the political spectrum to where all the real malfeasance is most likely being all too successfully perpetrated.