Another Paul Howes post

My last post responding to Paul Howes led me to this piece by him in the Daily Telegraph, denouncing anonymous Internet commenters for their unfair attacks on politicians, with specific reference to Joe Tripodi. I don’t want to spend too much time on Tripodi, but my non-anonymous view is that he is a prime representative of the type of cronyism that has ruined the NSW government, and also of the culture of impunity which has led so many members of that government to sail close to (or over) the edge on matters of personal and financial propriety. Moreover, his political views aren’t noticeably different from those of, say, Peter Costello. Howes’ observation that

Tripodi is a nice and fiercely intelligent man, in real life. He loves his family and he loves public policy. He’s been described by another paper as ‘the smartest man’ in NSW politics

doesn’t (for the relevant values of “nice”) contradict this assessment in any way. Tripodi’s resignation is welcome and would have been more so a year ago, when it might at least have saved Labor from a landslide.

Coming to the notion that anonymous comments on blogs and Twitter are making life impossible for politicians, I have a couple of thoughts

First, what’s mostly happening is that things that would have once been said at the pub, and heard only by those present are now out in cyberspace, easily detectable by Google. Some of that stuff is nastier than most people are used to hearing, or seeing in print, about themselves. That’s part of life for bloggers as well as politicians. On the other hand, politicians have long used, and on occasion abused, the privilege of saying what they like about anyone in Parliament.

Second, as regards anonymity, I’d be more impressed by these complaints if journalists and politicians hadn’t long since developed their own self-serving culture of anonymity. I don’t know anything specific about Joe Tripodi’s media contacts, but he’d be an unusual politician if he’d never gone on background to bag out his political opponents or (very likely) his Labor colleagues. This kind of cowardly dirt-dishing, which forms the basis of much political journalism is the opposite of the principled, and personally risky, whistleblowing that journalists like to invoke when they defend their own use of anonymous sources.

See also: Andrew Elder on Howes and a similar whine from Leigh Sales.

11 thoughts on “Another Paul Howes post

  1. Howes seems to be another News Ltd pundit to be paraded occasionally as the sensible face of Labor, like Noel Pearson and Gary Johns. The purpose is to show how extreme and out of step all those lefties are. He seems to me to be a mainstream conservative who would be quite at home in Tony Abbott’s front bench.

    Like his earlier piece, this one is full of internal inconsistencies and non sequiturs. The funniest bit was his concern that ‘anyone will much want to put their hand up for the job [of MP] in the future’ because people say mean things about them. I suggest that in lieu of the course in opposing Stalinist thugs that he proposes for new Labor apparatchiks, he substitute a course in internal relations within the Australian labour movement since 1900. The labels ‘ “trash”, “an absolute disgrace”, and “utterly incompetent”’ that he professes to find so offensive pale into insignificance compared to what unionists routinely called each other not so many years ago (and probably continue to do). Recalling Norm Gallagher’s epithets for officials of Australia’s Weakest Union can still bring a smile to my face, and of course what AWU officials said about their counterparts in the BWIU and BLF doesn’t bear repeating in a public forum.

  2. Agree completely. There is a distinctively totalitarian undertone to calls for the removal of anonymous internet commenting. In the ellipsis after their speech one can almost hear them say “Comrade, if you aren’t saying anything incorrect you should be happy to identify yourself.” Disgusting. We need more social libertarianism in politics.

  3. How would political pundits for the Murdoch press (and indeed the Fairfax press) survive for even five minutes if they couldn’t rely on their beloved anonymous tip-offs? Almost every politics-related article these days abounds in sniping from unnamed figures: “A senior Queensland ALP figure …”; “A Liberal senator who did not want to be named …”, etc.

    Pace Professor Quiggin, I’m not convinced that the ALP will be clobbered at the next NSW election. It was widely predicted that the NSW ALP would be clobbered last time, in 2007, when the unlovely Iemma was at the helm; but once again the Libs snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

  4. Pr Q said:

    Coming to the notion that anonymous comments on blogs and Twitter are making life impossible for politicians, I have a couple of thoughts

    Some of that stuff is nastier than most people are used to hearing, or seeing in print, about themselves. That’s part of life for bloggers as well as politicians.

    I dont mind anonymous commenting when the commenter is making a factual point, engaging in fair comment or debating civilly. Anonymous comment allows people whose professional careers might be endangered by frank comment to speak freely in public.

    What is despicable and contemptible is anonymous commenter hiding behind their anonymity to slander or abuse an truthfully identified commenter. I have frequently been the victim of this kind of attack and, I’ll be frank, it makes my blood boil.

    My basic debating principles prevent me from responding in kind. And in any case what would be the point since the slanderer is anonymous.

    Sometimes blog owners will make arbitrary and harsh judgements on my comments, delete them and then deny my right of reply. I suppose its their bat and ball and they can play with it as they wish.

    Life is indeed unfair.

  5. “Nice … He loves his family …”

    This reminds me a bit of Doug and Dinsdale Piranha – “Lovely boys, very nice to their mum”

    I’ve been a bit concerned about Howes since I saw him bully (the slightly ineffectual) Christine Milne on Q&A some time ago. Something about “how are we supposed to make steel without burning coal … that’s the way it’s been done for hundreds of years … I have to protect my workers’ jobs…”. I’d like to hear what he tells “his” workers when they are working the foundries knee deep in sea water.

    The only thing worse than a climate change denier is one who is so mired in their own parochialism, that they are paralysed from even the most reasonable action.

  6. i suppose the reality of others impinging into the arena/area of public comment they thought was all their own is a bit disconcerting.

    the biter bit?

    it’s quite hard to manipulate public opinion when the public not only will but can argue back.

    hence the rise of the “public relations”industry

    i see in todays Fin some Murray River area interests are interviewing various PR companies to muddy the waters,sorry, get their story out.

    i wonder who is paying .
    these services don’t come cheap.

  7. Howse is just like Tripodi and thats what makes my blood boil…that this little cretin still has a job and Tripodi is retiring. One rat gone but there is another one to take its place in State Labor. How about Tony Kelly – he must have gone to the same school – he has been tapdancing with the Kazal family and his efforts have now been sent to ICAC.

    Paul Howse is nothing but a junior recruit in a corrupt party. He cant think any differently. Its about mates, families and private sector connections and they make me furious. The Labor party was once the home vote for the real aussie battler.

    Not any more. They are the nose with their entire platforms, policies and insider trading from politics.

    Howse can climb on that sinking ship and just sink. If they dont like bloggers saying what they really think which is what ordinary people have been saying on the streets since 1980 its just a sign they long ago werent willing to listen to the people who vote for trhem or the grassroots of their own party

    – Labor needs both an ethnic and a non ethnic cleansing.

  8. What really puzzles me is, if Howes is so offended by insults which have varying degrees of crudeness, then why in the world is he involved with the NSW ALP? The organisation that gave us, after all, such triumphs of civilised dialogue as the 1980 bashing of Peter Baldwin?

    Yet, I still think – or rather I still fear – that the present NSW apology for a government will win the next election. I maintain that this outcome will be ensured by a solid phalanx of dumb bunnies (not to mention masochistic bunnies) at the polling booths, who believe the usual spin about the ALP continuing to be the party for “the real Aussie battler” (to use Alice’s phrase).

  9. This Paul Howes fellow has begun to worry me. Much that his youth is an asset to Labor, his hot-headedness is not. That 20 year old Lib MP (whasisname again?) displays greater political maturity than Howes.

    As for his attacks on anonymous internet commenters, well, he doesn’t have to read them, does he? Besides, nobody has as secure and cushy a job as Howes does, and few could call on a host of comrades to defend them if they abandoned internet anonymity.

    For example, in the Daily Telegraph piece, he bemoans the lack of “law enforcement heroes.” Suppose we had a dozen Wyatt Earps in NSW alone, just how many of those would have the courage to comment, using their real name, on a raft of controversial issues from Climate Change to War on Terror without attracting the wrath of one or both sides? Should these Wyatt Earps refrain from making any political statement or expressing an opinion all together? Clearly, the only option for them would be to express their controversial opinion anonymously.

    Incidentally, when will politicians stop undermining each other by spreading rumours to journalists ‘anonymously’ or ‘off the record’? Has Howes good mate, Joe Tripodi, ever been abnove such dastardly acts?

  10. Clearly, given the oppressive libel laws, Australian commentators make the sensible decision not to out themselves to men and women who have large and powerful organisations who will back them up with a QC and the payment of damages – for the rest of us? Tough luck.
    Anonymous commenting gives some defence against a legal, financial and government system weighted toward the rich, powerful or connected.
    Identify ourselves? There is a difference between being a coward and not being a sucker.

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