Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Songs of Yesteryear - Or, What I Was Listening To 40 Years Ago

Sonnet to the Fall: Penned by the group, Dulcimer's, founder, Peter Hodge, the song also features the English actor, Richard Todd, reading Hodge's poetry. Dulcimer's first album, And I Turned As I Had Turned As A Boy was released on the Nepentha label in 1970.

THIS LITTLE GEM from the almost completely forgotten English folk group, Dulcimer, captures something of the sweet innocence of the early-1970s - that wonderful bygone era of full-employment and free tertiary education. In all of New Zealand's major cities (and some of its smaller ones) there were folk clubs where traditional and contemporary compositions were played by musicians of often astonishing skill and originality. Meanwhile, the audience of mostly long-haired youngsters of both sexes drank cheap red wine out of casks, flirted, laughed and, most importantly, sang away the chill winter nights.

Mais où sont les neiges d'antan? Asked the French Renaissance poet, Francois Villon.

Where are the snows of yesteryear?

Video courtesy of YouTube

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Labour Needs To Stop Saying What People DON"T want to hear.

A Freight Train Called Key: On election night 1975 Bill Rowling said Muldoon's landslide victory felt like being run over by a bus. Oh what David Cunliffe would have given for that bus on 20 September 2014!

THE ANGUISH of Labour supporters on election night was expressed mostly in Anglo-Saxon. Polite English just doesn’t have the emotional range for disaster on such a lavish scale.
Unquestionably, as political disasters go, this one was a biggie.
Bill Rowling told the nation on election night 1975 (when Rob Muldoon sent Labour plummeting to the abysmal depths of 39.6 percent) that he “felt like he’d been run over by a bus”. Oh, what David Cunliffe would have given for that bus! On the night of 20 September 2014, Labour’s hapless leader must have felt like he’d been run over by a fully-laden freight train, which had then stopped and reversed back over him, just to make sure.
No wonder the poor fellow behaved bizarrely. When the political historians have to go all the way back to 1922 to find a comparable result, bizarre behaviour is probably the very least that should be expected. Because, sadly, no political leader can come back from a hiding of such career-killing severity. Sooner or later that bitter truth just had to sink home. In David Cunliffe’s case, sooner would have been better, but he got there in the end.
And now, of course, we are witnessing the contest to find his successor. Andrew Little, Nanaia Mahuta, David Parker and Grant Robertson are all vying for Labour’s top job while the rest of New Zealand looks on with a mixture of fascination and disbelief. Most cannot fathom why Labour’s caucus and the wider party organisation have opted to set about finding a new leader before determining what needs to be done to get Labour match-fit by 2017.
See above re: bizarre behaviour. By resigning the leadership when he did, Mr Cunliffe set in motion a relentless constitutional process that neither Labour’s MPs nor its New Zealand Councillors can countermand. A more rational order of events might have been assured if, on election night, Mr Cunliffe had announced his intention to stand down as leader in six months’ time – thereby permitting a thorough post-mortem of the debacle. But, he didn’t. So, they ain’t.
In the absence of any conspicuous rationality, a host of political journalists, columnists, PR specialists, bloggers and academics have hastened to proffer their well-meaning (and not so well-meaning) advice as to how the party might be resurrected. Most of this may be boiled down to: Labour lurched too far to the left. Recovery lies in the centre-ground.
Labour’s 2014 manifesto was considerably less left-wing than the manifesto it took to the country in 2011. David Cunliffe may have campaigned for the Labour leadership in fiery left-wing poetry, but he campaigned to become New Zealand’s prime-minister in the dullest, the most uninspiring and, ultimately, the most unconvincing prose.
The party’s election strategy, under both David Cunliffe and his predecessors, David Shearer and Phil Goff, had been to woo “soft” National Party voters back into Labour’s orbit. There was nothing remotely left-wing about raising the age of eligibility for superannuation. In fact, it turned Labour supporters off – in droves. The same applies to Labour’s Capital Gains Tax:  a measure which even the OECD has advised New Zealand to introduce!
Labour didn’t lose the election because it was too left-wing; it lost because in an election dominated by extra-parliamentary sideshows (Dirty Politics and The Moment of Truth) it failed to get cut-through.
How does one get cut-through? Well, for a start, you hire the very best pollsters and focus-group analysts you can afford; you tell them exactly what you’re trying to do; and then you listen to them when they tell you how to do it. That’s what National and its leader, John Key, does – and it works.
There is absolutely no point in acquiring accurate intelligence about the electorate’s mood; its likes and dislikes; its hopes and fears; if you then do nothing constructive with it. A political party should never allow its policies to be dictated by polls and focus groups, but when it comes to telling a party how to present or, more importantly, how not to present its policies, they become tools of extraordinary utility. If talking about a specific policy turns voters off, then don’t talk about it!
Whoever becomes Labour’s leader needs to understand, precisely, what New Zealanders do NOT want to hear, and stop saying it to them – loudly.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 24 October 2014.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

More Latté Than Lager: Reflections on Grant Robertson's Campaign Launch

The People's Flag Is ... Mint Green? Grant Robertson and Jacinda Ardern (whom Twitter immediately dubbed Gracinda) pose in Mint Green for one of the glossy women's magazines. In a non-revolutionary era, superficial is about as deep as it gets.
BIKERS? SERIOUSLY! Had Grant Robertson’s campaign launch been organised by Phil Goff? Was this a pitch for the votes of what few Waitakere Men remain in the Labour Party? Was I even at the right place?
Well, yes, I was. And rather than doubling as crude political props, those bikers were simply middle-aged motorcycle enthusiasts enjoying a smoke in the King’s Arms car-park. So, no, the Robertson launch was not even remotely interested in winning the support of Labour’s Waitakere Men. Quite the reverse!
The young men and women bustling self-importantly about in their New Generation To Win T-shirts looked like they’d be more comfortable sitting in a Courtenay Place or Ponsonby Road café than on a tradie’s West Auckland deck. The King’s Arms, itself, (car-park bikers notwithstanding) was chosen by Robertson for its close associations with the New Zealand music scene – no doubt in hopes that the popular late-night venue’s cultural street-cred would rub off on the candidate.
Labour’s new process for electing the party leader cannot help being inward looking, but even allowing for the fact that it’s all about the membership talking to itself, there was something about the Robertson campaign launch that reminded me of the ultra-cool university student parties of my youth. The whole insider/outsider shtick was unmistakeable. It made me wonder if an old-fashioned bogun’s mullet would have been as well-received among these bustling Grantistas as their diminutive comrade’s close-cropped purple hair.
In spite of the fact that the King’s Arms serves some very fine beers, I have to say that the whole event struck me as being much more latté than lager. Certainly, the speeches delivered by both Robertson and his “running-mate”, Jacinda Ardern, appeared to be comprised almost entirely of froth. About the only mentally taxing portion of Robertson’s brief address was the bit in which he promised to make Labour the party of “the worker, the small businessman and the entrepreneur”. Presumably all three of those groups will be found in that section of the socialist paradise where the lions lie down with the lambs?
But perish all such unworthy thoughts! On One News at six o’clock it was impossible not to observe what a lovely couple Grant and Jacinda made. And not only on the telly. Who could possibly prefer Revolutionary Red after seeing Grant and Jacinda – or, as Twitter immediately dubbed them, Gracinda – smiling sweetly for the glossy women’s magazine’s photographer in matching outfits of Mint Green?
Fluff and froth may be my abiding memories of the Robertson launch, but upon sterner analysis it is easy to discern in its overall design the guiding influence of an astute political brain. Pitching for the votes of the generation with the longest futures in the Labour Party (as opposed to the longest pasts) is very far from being a silly idea. Equally shrewd is Robertson’s understanding that the political choices of young New Zealanders in 2014 are more akin to what sort of music they like, what sort of clothes they wear and what sort of places they go to have fun, than they are about which group of grim ideologues they would have aligned themselves with back in the 1980s.
The essential truth that Robertson and his key advisors (take a bow SIR Michael Cullen) have grasped is that the politics of 2014 are the politics not only of a post-revolutionary, but a non-revolutionary era. In such times superficial is about as deep as it gets.
A friend of mine recently compared Grant Robertson to Joseph Stalin. There is, he insisted, the same easy familiarity with the party apparatus; the same willingness to wield it ruthlessly in his pursuit of power. According to this same friend, David Cunliffe was Labour’s Leon Trotsky. Brilliant, but utterly blind to the importance of building (and keeping strong) the networks so essential to political success.
Too much? Probably. But the comparison got me thinking.
If Labour is to survive this latest, catastrophic, electoral defeat then it’s going to need a Stalin figure. Someone capable of restoring party unity – even at the cost of purging Labour of all dissent. Because, if you think about it, unity is exactly what Helen Clark was able to offer the party, and why she was able to remain its leader for an unprecedented 15 years. (And let’s not forget whose protégé Robertson once was and from whom he learned most of what he knows about Labour.)
Of course life was made a great deal easier for Clark by the decision of the Labour Left to split from the party in 1989 and form NewLabour, and by the departure of the Labour Right for Act and the United Party five years later. The so-called “centrists” who opted to remain with the mother-ship were thus spared the “wet work” of an involuntary and very large purge of party comrades.
Which is not to say that the “rectification” of Labour under Clark was entirely bloodless. In assigning candidates to the seats Labour needed to win back after Jim Bolger’s landslide victory in 1990, Clark’s supporters in the party apparatus were careful to ensure that as few as possible were supporters of Mike Moore – the man Clark had manoeuvred into the party leadership just weeks before the 1990 General Election, and who she very badly needed to lose in 1993. (Indeed, the unpleasantness currently on display within Labour’s parliamentary ranks bears a striking similarity to the viciousness which accompanied Clark’s deposition of Moore in the aftermath of the 1993 general election.)
With Moore’s fall, and the relegation of his faction to powerless purgatory, Clark and her supporters in both the caucus and the wider party organisation were free to re-orient the Labour Party towards the radically revisionist ideas of the British sociologist, Anthony Giddens. Steve Maharey (himself a sociologist and for a long time Clark’s assumed successor) was a strong supporter of Giddens’s new take on the Labour project – which boiled down to the conclusion that, thanks to the historical success of Labour’s original mission, we are all capitalists now.
Ideological gleichschaltung (co-ordination, making the same, bringing into line) will also be an urgent priority for whoever wins Labour’s latest leadership contest. Without a recognisable – and recognised – party line, the endless troubles which have bequeathed Labour five different leaders in the space of six years will only continue. And in this regard, at least, my friend’s comparison of Robertson to Stalin may not be so outrageous.
Speaking last Sunday (19/10/14) on TVNZ’s current affairs show Q+A, Robertson made it very clear that, as leader, his line would be the party’s line:
ROBERTSON: If people step outside of that, there have to be consequences.
Q+A: Does that mean they have to leave the Labour Party?
ROBERTSON: It may well do – for some.
Dissenters in the Labour Party – piss off. Grant has everything to lose – and a new generation to win.
This essay was posted simultaneously on The Daily Blog and Bowalley Road on Wednesday, 22 October 2014.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Gough Whitlam: 1916 - 2014

A Mighty Totara has Fallen: Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam paying his respects to the late NZ PM, Rt. Hon. Norman Kirk, during his Lying-in-State at Parliament Buildings, Wellington. Wednesday, 4th September, 1974. (Photo by John Miller.)
A BIG MAN IN EVERY SENSE, Gough Whitlam tested the boundaries of social-democracy under capitalism. Though he wielded power for just three years (1972-1975) it seemed longer because he had made Australia, and the world, feel larger. Wherever the power of principled advocacy and progressive endeavour is honoured, Gough Whitlam will be remembered.

Men and Women of Australia! The decision we will make for our country on 2 December is a choice between the past and the future, between the habits and fears of the past, and the demands and opportunities of the future. There are moments in history when the whole fate and future of nations can be decided by a single decision. For Australia, this is such a time.

Gough Whitlam - 13 November 1972

Well might we say 'God save the Queen', because nothing will save the Governor General!

Gough Whitlam - 11 November 1975

Australian Labor Party election advertisement 1972
Video courtesy of YouTube
This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Manufacturing Terrorism

Domestic Terror: Police constables and detectives outside the Wellington Trades Hall, 27 March 1984. After 33 years of vilification directed at trade unionists, at least one of their enemies finally made the leap from words to deeds, and an innocent caretaker, Ernie Abbott, lost his life.

“IF ANYONE BELIEVES there is absolutely no risk of a form of domestic terrorism here then they're actually deluded.” So says John Key, our Prime Minister, and of course he’s right. New Zealand has already been the victim of at least one fatal domestic terrorist bombing. The carefully planned and professionally executed attack resulted in the death of an elderly Wellingtonian. Sadly, the perpetrator (or perpetrators) of this terrorist outrage have yet to be brought to justice.
The Wellington Trades Hall Bombing of 27 March 1984 had only one victim, the building’s caretaker, Ernie Abbott. He was killed by three sticks of gelignite concealed in a suitcase and triggered by a movement-sensitive mercury switch. It is generally conceded in trade union circles that the bomb’s intended target was not the unfortunate caretaker but the impending meeting of the Wellington Trades Council Executive. Ernie Abbott (as is so often the case with terrorist attacks) was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
What differentiates the Wellington Trades Hall Bombing from more recent acts of terrorism around the world is that the bomber’s motives were ideological – not religious.
A deep hatred (and that is not too strong a word) for organised labour lies at the very core of the National Party’s ideology. Unions are despised and feared by National Party members because their unabashed collectivism challenges directly the individualist ideal so vital to the conservative’s self-image. It took the first National Government just fourteen months to engineer a run-of-the-mill dispute between the Waterside Workers’ Union and the ship-owners into a brutal and divisive industrial confrontation lasting five months, during which nearly all of the accepted notions of democracy and civil liberty were cast aside.
And if you think such animosity is a thing of the past, then just look at the recently re-elected National Government’s legislative agenda. At the very top you will find the long-delayed “reforms” of the Employment Relations Act. By the time Michael Woodhouse finishes the job begun by his predecessor, Simon Bridges, the already fragile capacity of trade unions to service their members will be reduced still further.
It is precisely within such officially-sanctioned (and all-too-often officially created) climates of fear, loathing, denigration and discrimination that domestic terrorism grows and acquires strength. In the 33 years that separated the 1951 Waterfront Dispute from the Wellington Trades Hall Bombing, at least one right-wing extremist was impelled beyond the political conviction that trade unions had no right to exist, to the homicidal belief that trade unionists – or, at least, their “misleaders” – had no right to live.

Cold Case: In spite of intensive enquiries, the identity of the Wellington Trades Hall Bombers has never been discovered. The file remains open.
Which is why the best defence against domestic terrorism is always political and religious tolerance and officially reiterated respect for the rights and liberties of the citizen. The very worst thing that any government can do to restrict the growth of terrorism is to either openly declare, or slyly imply, to a majority of the population that it is under threat from a dangerous and alien minority: the proverbial “enemy within”.
The designation of any minority population – the New Zealand Muslim community, for example – as a potential “breeding ground” for terrorists, immediately sets up a pernicious and potentially deadly dynamic.
Members of the majority culture may feel encouraged to take “action” against the potential “terrorists”. This has already happened in Australia where, following the massive police “anti-terrorist” raids of Muslim addresses in New South Wales and Queensland, Muslim women and girls have been verbally abused and physically attacked for wearing traditional attire.
In response to such persecution, the citizens living in these targeted communities may feel obligated to defend themselves against the majority culture. In such fraught circumstances, extremists of all kinds – local and foreign – will inevitably receive a more sympathetic hearing.
Finally, if Government’s response to the threat of terrorism is to increase dramatically the surveillance and interrogative powers of the State, then the officials so empowered, protected from both media scrutiny and judicial sanction, may themselves begin to behave in ways indistinguishable from the terrorists they are supposed to be protecting it from.
Holding people in solitary confinement for days or weeks without access to family or friends. Subjecting detainees to traumatic forms of interrogation. Is this not, itself, a form of terrorism?

State-Sponsored Terrorism: On 10 July 1985 French agents blew a hole in The Rainbow Warrior, killing Greenpeace's Portuguese photographer, Fernando Pereira.
Let’s not forget, New Zealand’s other fatal bombing, of the Rainbow Warrior, was perpetrated by state terrorists.
This essay was originally published by The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 17 October 2014.

Friday, 17 October 2014

What A Real Labour Party Member Sounds Like.


HARRY SMITH, 92 years old, describes the world in which he was raised. A world of poverty in which the ravages of ill health simply could not be resisted by ordinary working-class families. Harry lost his sister to tuberculosis and heard his neighbour succumb, with agonised cries, to cancer. "My life", he told the British Labour Party Conference, "is your history, and we should keep it that way."

In 1945, at the age of 22, Harry cast his first vote for Labour to secure the National Health Service which formed the centrepiece of the Party's manifesto. Seventy-one years later, he implores the members of the contemporary Labour Party to hold fast to the crowning achievement of their predecessors.

To Britain's present Prime Minister Harry Smith had only this to say: "Mr Cameron keep your mitts off my NHS!"

Video courtesy of YouTube

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.

What A Genuinely Progressive Leader Sounds Like

I FOUND THIS extraordinary recording while searching for something quite unrelated on Google. It contains excerpts from Franklin Delano Roosevelt's speech to Democratic Party supporters gathered in their thousands at New York's Madison Square Garden during the presidential election campaign of 1936.

Under the rubric of Roosevelt's "New Deal", the United States was passing through what was undoubtedly the most radical period of economic and social reform in its history. After four years in the White House, Roosevelt, as is plain from this recording, was at the peak of his powers as a reforming (as opposed to his later role as America's wartime) president.

Of most interest - at least to me - is the way Roosevelt confronts head-on his enemies in the ruling-class. "They are unanimous in their hatred for me," he bellows defiantly, "and I welcome their hatred!" It is difficult to imagine any American (or New Zealand!) politician uttering such a statement in the Twenty-First Century. Nor was Roosevelt willing to step back one inch from his programme of reform: "Of course we will continue ...", he repeatedly assures his followers ("Yes we can!"?) and then proceeds to reiterate every radical plank in the Democratic Party's platform.

Yes, times have changed. And, yes, we might approach social and economic crises on the scale of those of the early 1930s differently in 2014. But the need for, and the inspirational effect of raw political courage and an unswerving commitment to the needs of ordinary people: that does not change.

Video courtesy of YouTube.

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.