A bad-tempered e-mail forwarded to me reveals that Green Party co-leader Russel Norman has written to political scientists Nigel Roberts and Stephen Levine to try to stop them publishing the research of an academic opponent of the Electoral Finance Act. Levine and Roberts are currently editing their traditional post-election book due out soon, and the book contains a chapter written by University of Otago political scientist Bryce Edwards who is evaluating the impact that the EFA had on last years’ election campaign. Norman has emailed them to essentially say that they shouldn’t be publishing it and that Edwards shouldn’t be researching in this area.
The email from Norman, which was sent to Edwards, and which he kindly forwarded to me, is rather extraordinary, and gives an interesting insight into how thin skinned the Greens (or Norman anyway) is of dissenting views. Despite having a PhD himself, Norman is clearly he’s no fan of academic freedom. Edwards has been widely published and reported on in the area of political finance, yet according to Norman, Edwards, “lacks academic credibility in this area”. Could it be that Norman still can’t handle having the EFA criticized? It seems that Norman and the Greens have dug themselves into a hole on the EFA, and while everyone other former fan of the now-repealed legislation has given up trying to defend the indefensible, the Greens are tying themselves up in knots over it all. They are in a political bunker on the EFA and the idea of an opponent of the EFA researching the effect of the legislation is just too much for them.
Worse than that – in Russel Norman’s view – Edwards has said some critical things about the Greens on his blog! Oh dear. Norman says in his email to Edwards, which Norman also creepily sent to the book editors, ‘you have demonstrated a long history of bias against the Green Party, and you have consistently made untrue statements about the Green Party’. Geez, is Norman turning into Winston Peters?! Norman says: ‘Your previous writing leads me to the view that you are simply unable to give a dispassionate academic account of the EFA’s impact on political parties due both to your virulent opposition to the EFA and to your one-sided and inaccurate commentary on the EFA and the Green Party’. Norman or his staff seemingly went through two and a half years of writings by Edwards to compile their dossier on him.
In fact Norman’s email tirade reads like something Rob Muldoon might have said when he was at his worst. The National Party gets requests from lefty academics all the time, but I doubt that the party then sends out hostile replies that question the academic’s integrity because they might be politically biased! I thought that everyone now accepts that academics have their own biases and that for them to pretend otherwise is just a sham.
Put it like this. Jane Kelsey has well known views on free trade. Think how much outrage there would be if the leader of the National Party fired off an e-mail to senior academics saying Kelsey should not be allowed to publish academic reseaerch on free trade, because she doesn’t support it, and she is biased against parties that do support it? There would be an avalanche of outrage – the Association of University Staff would leap in to defend academic freedom etc. Luckily most National MPs have better things to do than try and get academics prevented from publishing academic research.
And funnily enough, Russel Norman’s nasty little email was actually in response to Edwards kindly inviting Norman to have an input into his research. Considering the Green Party had problems obeying the EFA, I would have thought they would have wanted to detail these problems so a replacement law can avoid the mistakes of the EFA.