At 7:45am every Thursday morning, Matthew phones in his thoughts on the conspiracy theory of the week to Zac and the audience of bFM’s Breakfast Show
Sometimes scandals backfire, as the Taxpayers’ Union found out last week. What should have been an exposé of wasteful expenditure by Jordan Williams and the Taxpayers’ Union turned into an exposé of the partisan nature of a right-wing lobby group. So, was there a conspiracy? Who really benefited from the news coverage? Was the Pork Board involved?
So, Mojo Mather’s, Aotearoa’s first deaf MP, flew to Masterton, the glitzy tourist capital of Wellington, to do a live interview in studio. It cost the princely sum of $550 and it seems this extravagant trip has people up in arms.
Well, it has one, maybe two people up in arms and a whole lot of people saying “What the flibbertigibbet?” Yes, Conspiracy Corner is kid-friendly with respect to language, if not with respect to politics.
Most of us (he said wildly overestimating the number of listeners who read the papers) woke up on Sunday to find that the Herald was reporting that the Taxpayer Union was incredulous that Ms. Mathers would dare spend taxpayer dollars on a community radio interview. Leader of the board and chief spokesperson Jordan Williams had this to say:
“It’s amazing that she has so little to do with her time to actually travel to a community radio that probably has as many listeners as you can count on your hand”
“The only silver lining is that the time spent travelling to go on the station in the middle of nowhere is less time spent dreaming up new ways to spend tax payers money.”
What was Ms. Mather’s crime? Being a deaf MP, she did her interview in studio because video-conferencing a one hour interview on being a deaf MP is one of the many problems Ms. Mather’s faces as one of our elected representatives. The fact that the TU was holding an MP’s work in an area she represents was one thing; the fact they were suggesting a trip to Masterton of all places was some kind of glitzy junket was another. I’ve not been to Masterton for a good reason. … The other reason is that it’s not really the kind of place you go “Oh, I can’t wait to find an excuse to go there!”
Reaction was swift, at least on Twitter (and if you’re interested in conspiracy theories, Twitter is where you have to spend a lot of your time), with voices across the New Zealand Political Spectrum uniting to cast aspersions upon the Taxpayers Union. Matthew Hooton, for example, tweeted:
— Matthew Hooton (@MatthewHootonNZ) March 1, 2014
and Tau Henare:
— West Side Tory (@tauhenare) March 2, 2014
When you have a right-wing strategist and one of National’s feistiest MPs thinking you’e done wrong, you not only have the wrong end of the stick but you probably mistaken a trail of fetid dingos kidneys for something stick-ish.
So, why is this a conspiracy theory? Well, two reasons.
1. The Taxpayers Union claims to represent New Zealand taxpayers but as unions go it is new, the current board is appointed and we don’t know the membership number. As a body which claims to represent the ordinary taxpayer in Aotearoa, it sure looks like an astroturf group; a group designed to look like a grassroots activist organisation but one which is really built for a specific purpose; criticizing the spending priorities of parties outside the government.
Astroturf groups (and I’m not necessarily saying the Taxpayers Union is one) operate in secret to hide their real intentions, and, as such, look to be comprised of conspirators (given that we don’t necessarily know who is behind them). If the TU isn’t a cartel of neo-liberal conspirators who want to criticise parties of the Left, well, they have an image problem. If they are… Well, you do the math (as long as said math was taught to you not at the taxpayers’ expense).
2. If the TU isn’t a bunch of hard right economic conspirators, then maybe they were set up? In what can only be called a stunning claim of idiot-level conspiracy theorising, some people on the Right, like the blogger Pete George, have suggested that perhaps someone with an axe to grind against the TU leaked the story of Mather’s radio interview to the Herald knowing they would contact Jordan Williams, who would then proceed to make a fool of himself in the mainstream media. Now, this plan requires the conspirators (let’s say the Greens Comms person) knowing the Herald would contact the TU and knowing that Jordan Williams would say something foolish. This means that the Herald might very well be in on the scheme, which is odd, given the Herald’s usually pro-National (and ACT) writing style and it implicitly admits that Jordan Williams is the kind of person to speak before he thinks, which is a bit damming, really, isn’t it?
There is a more prosaic story which could be told here. Let’s imagine that the TU isn’t a real union by union standards but, rather, a collection of far right activists who want to poke fun at unionism by turning the phrase “union” against the Left, and they enjoy taunting Left wing parties moreso than they do criticizing a government sympathetic to the TU. If they are conspirators, then they are what we might call “useful idiots”, in that they have a secret plan but it’s pretty much an open secret. Their actions are useful to the status quo but no one in the status quo has implicitly or explicitly endorsed them.
Add to this a director who likes to answer questions about use of taxpayer monies without asking “How much?” By Sunday afternoon Jordan Williams had written a post on his personal Facebook page basically claiming he had been trapped into saying the trip to Masterton was wasteful because no one at the Herald had told him it was a mere $550. Of course, he could have asked or, he could have said “No comment”, both of which would have been responsible answers to a question about taxpayer spending. However, Williams decided that saying something and then working out the details later was a good idea, which kind of indicates that they are attack dogs for the Right rather than the dispassionate body they make themselves out to be.
Sometimes there is a temptation to provide comment without full information, which is dangerous. If Jordan Williams and the TU really want to the voice of the ordinary taxpayer, they need to appraise taxpayer spending in context. Mojo Mathers was doing her job, reaching out to a certain part of the constituency in the only viable way. Not only that, but a whole host of taxpayers are just like Ms. Mathers, and the TU should be representing them.
Except for the representatives of the Pork Board. They can represent themselves.