Saturday, 29 July 2017

Escape Velocity: The Greens Rocket Out Of Labour’s Gravity.

Blinded By The Light: Ignited by the fiery exhaust of the Green’s policy rocket, Labour’s Big Plan has burst into flame and crashed. Weary National supporters are unlikely to cross all the way over to Labour if it means endorsing, even tacitly, the behaviour of “welfare cheats”. For these cautious Kiwis, NZ First will be “quite far enough, thank you”.
 
WHERE DOES LABOUR GO from here? Because their Big Plan is fluttering down to earth in flaming tatters – burned out of the sky by Metiria Turei and the Greens.
 
Labour’s Big Plan? What’s that?
 
Simple. Labour’s Big Plan was an election strategy based entirely on luring the National voters of 2008, 2011 and 2014 back into Labour’s column. Tactically, that required Labour to be seen, by the people that matter – i.e. Chambers of Commerce and senior political journalists – as the “responsible” providers of “strong and stable” government. It also required the side-lining and/or removal of all those Labour MPs, party workers and ordinary members who see Labour as something more than National’s occasional substitute. At the same time, the Greens had to be persuaded to soften their public image and become Labour’s equally “responsible” helpers.
 
If these objectives are achieved, Andrew Little’s campaign strategists assure him, Labour will win and you will be Prime Minister.
 
To give the people behind Labour’s Big Plan their due, they came bloody close to pulling it off. Matt McCarten was exiled to Auckland, leaving the Leader of the Opposition’s Office in the hands of political operatives who looked for guidance and inspiration to the campaign “professionalism” of the Blairite Labour Party and the US Democratic Party. (It was McCarten’s determination to re-energise Labour’s electoral effort that led to the “Campaign For Change” fiasco.)
 
Even more successful were the Big Planners’ efforts to empty the Green brand of its “scary” radicalism. The infamous North & South cover shoot was only the most cheesy example of this re-branding exercise. Of considerably more importance was the Labour leadership’s success in persuading the Greens to sign-up to Grant Robertson’s extraordinary “Budget Responsibility Rules”. The latter were the clearest possible signal to the business community that it had nothing to fear from a change of government.
 
It’s possible that the Greens’ “rejuvenated” Party List is another side-effect of Labour’s “taming” of the Greens. The party’s new faces: Chloe Swarbrick, Golriz Ghahraman, Jack McDonald and Haley Holt; will have their chance to prove or disprove the charge in the weeks and months that lie ahead. In the words of Matthew’s gospel: “Ye shall know them by their fruits.”
 
That Labour’s Big Plan might be at risk was first revealed by NZ First’s gathering political momentum. Clearly, there was a hunger out there in the electorate for something gruntier than the Little/Shaw Business Breakfast Travelling Roadshow. Winston Peters’ angry denunciation of Neoliberalism (something Labour has yet to do unequivocally) struck a nerve in those voters weary of National but wary of Labour. The shift was on – Peters felt it in his bones – and his ambitions for the 2017 contest expanded accordingly.
 
The realisation that Labour’s Big Plan might result in the Greens being hopelessly compromised as a political force came very late. Labour’s strategists have for long been convinced that electoral success can only be achieved by substantially increasing Labour’s support, and that that, in turn, will only happen by decreasing the electoral heft of the Greens. That decrease can be absolute or relative – it hardly matters. What counts is that the public be reassured that in any future Labour-Green Government, Labour will be calling the shots.
 
Fortunately for the Greens, there were enough ex-Alliance activists in their ranks to warn them of the consequences of Labour’s Big Plan. First, your Party Vote drops precipitately. Second, your MPs are co-opted by their Labour “comrades” – to the point where they start looking upon their own members as “the enemy”. Third, the party descends into acrimonious arguments and recriminations, splits into factions, and falls below the 5 percent MMP threshold at the next election. Even those Greens disinclined to be believe the old Alliance fighters, could hardly deny that this is precisely what happened to the German Greens.
 
If the Greens were to be treated as anything other than Labour’s hapless footstool, then they had to do something. The party’s unease was heightened by the obvious success of Winston Peters’ angry populism. Speculation was growing that, once again, the Greens were going to be jilted at the altar. The much bally-hooed Labour-Green “Memorandum of Understanding” notwithstanding, it was generally agreed that NZ First was winking at Labour in the most provocative fashion.
 
If the Greens failed to pick up the banner of left-wing populism – which Labour steadfastly refused to touch – then the 2017 General Election was going to leave them politically stranded. Their best option: junior partners in a cautiously centrist Labour-led administration. Their worst: to sit in helpless frustration on the cross-benches as Andrew Little and Winston Peters governed the country over their heads.
 
Only by striking out boldly in the direction of the radicalism that Labour had worked so hard to extract from the Greens’ manifesto, could their supposed “partner’s” Big Plan be stymied. The launch of the party’s welfare policies at its AGM provided an opportunity for this departure. There was nothing cold-blooded about this. It represented, rather, the whole party’s growing awareness that it was on the wrong road. Six months earlier, they might have pulled their punches on welfare; now they saw the policy launch as possibly their last chance to reassert the Green Party’s core commitment to transformative politics. Metiria Turei’s decision to add the booster-rocket of her personal testimony as a former beneficiary to the launch – even at the cost of her political future – allowed her party to achieve escape velocity.
 
Ignited by the fiery exhaust of the Green’s policy rocket, Labour’s Big Plan burst into flame and crashed. Weary National supporters are unlikely to cross all the way over to Labour if it means endorsing, even tacitly, the behaviour of “welfare cheats”. For these cautious Kiwis, NZ First will be “quite far enough, thank you”. Meanwhile, Labour’s increasingly disillusioned progressive supporters will listen to their party’s deafening silence on the heart-and-soul issues paraded front-and-centre by Metiria and the Greens – and draw the inescapable conclusion. That to keep faith with the legacy of Mickey Savage, Norman Kirk – and Rod Donald – there is only one way to cast their Party Vote.
 
For the Greens.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Saturday, 29 July 2017.

Unrepentant Prejudice: The Liberals Keep On Lecturing - But Is Anybody Listening?

A Darker Message: Those of us who were taken aback by Winston Peters and NZ First’s sudden swerve to the Right, and distressed by the crude Trumpian language with which he assailed New Zealand’s political class, should resist the temptation to fall back upon the liberal assumption that he has once again opted to become the tribune of an electorally insignificant bunch of bad apples decaying at the bottom of an otherwise wholesome barrel of ordinary, decent, Kiwis.
 
STEEL YOURSELVES, readers, because this column is about to get ugly. In the next few column centimetres, I’m going to introduce you to the unvarnished language of anti-Maori prejudice. All of the following examples were posted less than a month ago on a far-right New Zealand website. The authors were responding to an article highly critical of their country’s indigenous people. Read on and weep:
 
“Let’s put this way: Less than 200 years ago, Maori were cannibals. They were savages, and they have not had time to evolve.”
 
“The Maori culture is the reason for all the problems in NZ.”
 
“Maori have far too many children, trusting that the taxpayer will bring them up.”
 
“When will we admit the Maori just deny the fact [that] they are the cause of most of the problems.”
 
“There is an urgent need to drain the Maori Swamp in this country.”
 
“Maori are only a small percentage of the population of New Zealand. So why should the rest of New Zealanders be subjected to tribal voodooism?”
 
Well-meaning liberals will, as they always do, dismiss these comments as representative of only a tiny fraction of the population. “New Zealanders are a tolerant and generous people”, they will say, “and the individuals responsible for these statements are in no way typical of ordinary, decent, Kiwis.”
 
Except, it was the very same well-meaning liberals who assured us that Dr Don Brash’s in/famous “Orewa Speech” was a lamentable throwback to the assimilationist 1950s and 60s; and that New Zealanders had long since put such antediluvian ideas behind them.
 
People like themselves, maybe, but when the next opinion poll showed National’s level of public support shooting up by an unprecedented 17 percentage points, it was clear that the numbers lining-up behind Dr Brash were at least as great – if not greater – than the numbers lining-up to oppose him.
 
More recently, we have been treated to the hubristic sermonising of British and American liberals. Supremely confident that “ordinary people” would be guided by their pronouncements on the unwisdom of Brexit, and the unacceptability of Donald Trump, they reeled before their respective electorate’s disinclination to be convinced.
 
Perhaps it is time we stopped simply accepting the assurances of these well-meaning liberals. Yes, it is their version of reality which is presented to the population as the only belief system to which a reasonable person could possibly subscribe. But, as Brexit and Trump have demonstrated, this official view of the world is subject to multiple challenges. The neoliberal goals of free trade and globalisation are not without their detractors. The free movement of peoples and racial tolerance may not be the universal desiderata the liberal intelligentsia took them to be.
 
Those of us who were taken aback by Winston Peters and NZ First’s sudden swerve to the Right, and distressed by the crude Trumpian language with which he assailed New Zealand’s political class, should resist the temptation to fall back upon the liberal assumption that he has once again opted to become the tribune of an electorally insignificant bunch of bad apples decaying at the bottom of an otherwise wholesome barrel of ordinary, decent, Kiwis.
 
A more intelligent assessment might acknowledge that, having toured provincial New Zealand ceaselessly for many months, Mr Peters is now well acquainted with the pent-up impatience of all those National Party voters who fell into step behind Dr Brash in 2005, only to find themselves hustled in a very different direction for nine years by John Key and his new-found friends in the Maori Party.
 
The NZ First leader is no fool. He knows that the abolition of the Maori Seats has been a solid plank in National’s election platform ever since Dr Brash nailed it firmly into place twelve years ago. He also likely suspects that it remains where it is because National’s grandees are unwilling to unleash the angry debate its removal would incite. Behind closed doors, with no journalists present, Mr Peters is doubtless confident that members of both the political parties with which he has been associated utter opinions indistinguishable from those with which this column began.
 
That inflammatory keynote speech of 16 July was Mr Peters’ way of telling Bill English that if National doesn’t want the votes of Kiwis opposed to “Maori separatism”, then he’ll happily offer them an alternative repository.
 
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, 28 July 2017.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The “Majestic Equality” Of The Law – And Its Challengers.

The Challenger Challenged: What has been so astonishing about the reaction to Metiria Turei's admission that she lied to Social Welfare is just how few New Zealanders identify with Jean Valjean, the hero of Les Miserables, and how many subscribe to the punitive instincts of his relentless pursuer, Inspector Javert. Over the past 30 years, for a significant number of Kiwis, the definition of "a fair go" has changed dramatically - and not for the better!
 
IN JUST SIXTY DAYS New Zealanders will choose a government. All elections are, to a greater or lesser extent, an exercise in collective self-definition. Revealed in each ballot box is the number of electors who use their votes as a tool, a shield, and a weapon. If the outpouring of outrage against Metiria Turei this past week is any guide, then the percentage of electors willing to wield their votes as weapons will not be insignificant.
 
In survey after survey, the value identified by New Zealanders as most reflective of their core identity is the affirmation that every Kiwi is entitled to “a fair go”. But, if the public reaction to Ms Turei’s confession that she lied to the social welfare authorities, rather than see her child go hungry, is any indication, then “a fair go” means different things to different people.
 
Clearly, a large number of Kiwis believe that “fairness” means accepting that the obligation to respect and obey the laws of the land is both universal and inescapable. In the eyes of these citizens, it is grossly unfair for an individual to derive a benefit from breaking The Law when her fellow citizens, by upholding it, place themselves (and their loved ones’) at a disadvantage. To these people, the Greens’ co-leader is guilty of “stealing” from them, and deserves to be punished. Come 23 September, many of them will use their votes as a lash.
 
The problem with this idea of fairness is that it separates The Law from its economic, social and political context. Like the Ten Commandments handed down to Moses on Mt Sinai, this approach to The Law has nothing to do with the need – or the greed – of humankind. Those who subscribe to this notion of legal obligation are simply incapable of accepting that a nation’s ever-changing laws are much more likely to reflect the needs of its dominant classes than the immutable insights of a mountain-dwelling God.
 
The French writer, Anatole France (1844-1924) summed up the absurdity of this “The Law is The Law” position in his famous quip: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” And, he might have added: to fail to acquaint the welfare authorities of any material change in their domestic circumstances vis-à-vis the rent!
 
Absent from the vicious condemnation heaped upon Ms Turei by these partisans of the Law’s “majestic equality”, is any attempt to locate her law-breaking in its historical context. That the right-wing government of the day had made it a matter of official policy to “incentivise” the poor out of welfare and into work by reducing their income by 25 percent, or, in Ms Turei’s own words, to “use poverty as a weapon against its own people”, is simply ignored.
 
That the law could be used by the wealthy against the poor was certainly not ignored by the people who fled from Great Britain to New Zealand in the Nineteenth Century. Sir John McKenzie, who as Lands Minister in the first Liberal Government, broke up the estates of the great run-holders of the South Island, had seen the way the law had driven thousands of Scottish crofters from their homes to make way for the lairds’ sheep. His determination to turn the tables, by using the law on behalf of the many against the few, caused him not a moment’s embarrassment.
 
Neither was the first Labour Government the least bit embarrassed to require the then Governor-General, George Vere Arundel Monckton-Arundell, 8th Viscount Galway GCMG, DSO, OBE, to swear-in a Cabinet fairly bristling with law-breakers (including the future Prime Minister, Peter Fraser). Nor did the Labour Leader, Mickey Savage, think it in any “inappropriate” to put a former guest of His Majesty – the erstwhile “young offender” John A. Lee – in charge of a programme to correct the two great afflictions of which he had the most direct personal experience: rack-renting landlords and homelessness.
 
Until relatively recently, this was the historical context out of which most New Zealanders drew their notion of what it meant to give people “a fair go”. It did not signal a deification of The Law, but an understanding that the statutes written by politicians reflect the needs and interests of those who put them into office. (As well as of those who could, if necessary, remove them!)
 
Middle Class people harbour few illusions about the class nature of legislation. It’s why so many of them regularly and happily attempt to thwart the IRD in its redistributive mission. It also explains why so many of them are expressing outrage: not only at Ms Turei’s challenging confession; but also at her declared determination to lift the legal consequences of weaponised ballots from beneficiaries’ shoulders.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 25 July 2017.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Voter Motivators 2017: Immigration.

A Big Wide World Out There: Familiarity with “foreign” cultures has rendered “foreigners” a lot less frightening to young New Zealanders than old ones. New Zealanders raised entirely in the globalisation era know there’s a big wide world out there – a world which values highly the Kiwi’s celebrated ability to get along with just about anybody. Racism no longer pays.
 
IMMIGRATION has set the world on fire. The debt owed by both Brexit and Trump to the issue’s inflammatory power is huge. With record volumes of migrants pouring into New Zealand, immigration policy is widely expected to be among the biggest voter motivators of 2017.
 
But will New Zealanders react to these new arrivals in the same way as British and American voters? Or will the circumstances underpinning this country’s record migration flows smother the flames of racism and xenophobia before they take hold?
 
If New Zealand history is any guide, probably not. Net inward flows of migration have always been the signal of economic prosperity and growth. Just as net outward flows have been the surest sign that all is not well in God’s Own Country. There’s an ancestral voice in the racial memory of Pakeha New Zealanders which commands their attention during periods of rapid population growth. A voice which reminds them that, in these stolen islands, more non-indigenous people are always a good thing.
 
For Maori New Zealanders, the opposite is true. The more immigrants that arrive on these shores, the more the indigenous essence of Aotearoa-New Zealand is diluted. The Treaty the Maori chiefs signed with the British in 1840 seemed a wise and timely concession when barely 2,000 Pakeha were sprinkled lightly across their lands. Twenty years later, when the number of British settlers overtook the population of tangata whenua, the promises given at Waitangi proved to be as cynical as they were unenforceable.
 
What is it, then, which stops the latest population projections from Statistics New Zealand from setting the fern leaves of Kiwi nationalism alight? Released on 18 May 2017, these projections indicate that over the next 20 years the number of immigrants from East and South Asia will double. By 2038 the number of New Zealanders of “Asian” ethnicity will represent nearly a quarter of the country’s population. Maori, by contrast, will see their share of the population rise by just 2 percentage points – from 16 to 18 percent. “European” New Zealanders’ share of the overall population is projected to fall from roughly three-quarters to two-thirds.
 
In times past, projections such as these would have generated a massive public backlash against the political party, or parties, responsible for such a dramatic reconfiguration of the nation’s ethnic profile. Twenty years ago, media headlines decrying an “Asian Invasion” were exploited by Winston Peters’ to secure 13 percent of the Party Vote for his NZ First Party. Why, then, twenty years later, is NZ First not polling twice or three times that number?
 
The explanation is, almost entirely, economic.
 
Chinese immigration has encouraged Auckland property prices to soar – producing a “wealth effect” (courtesy of tax-free capital gains!) for which, justifiably or unjustifiably, Chinese investors are held responsible. Bolstering this shift in perception across the entire country has been the steady rise in China’s consumption of New Zealand’s exports. Rather than bite the hand which is, increasingly, feeding them, many Kiwis have considered it more prudent to retire the worst of their old prejudices.
 
In regional New Zealand, likewise, the sterling contribution of Filipino dairy farm workers is encouraging a hitherto undetected enthusiasm for multiculturalism.
 
Even in the working-class heartlands, the money to be made hiring-out the spare room to overseas students is often enough to defang traditional blue-collar hostility towards “low-wage workers” flooding “their” labour market.
 
The other factor which explains New Zealanders reluctance (so far!) to respond to nationalistic dog-whistles is the sheer number of Kiwis who have travelled overseas. Familiarity with “foreign” cultures has rendered “foreigners” a lot less frightening to young New Zealanders than old ones. New Zealanders raised entirely in the globalisation era know there’s a big wide world out there – a world which values highly the Kiwi’s celebrated ability to get along with just about anybody. Racism no longer pays.
 
None of which should be advanced as evidence that racism and xenophobia will find no purchase in the forthcoming general election. There are many thousands of New Zealanders who feel like strangers in their own land. Who miss the comforting homogeneity of the sleepy, white, British dominion in which they were raised. Such voters are, however, a dwindling asset for all but the NZ First Party. Only Winston can afford to make “A Whiter Shade of Pale” his theme song.
 
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, 9 June 2017.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Sins Of Admission: A Response To John Armstrong's Attack On Metiria Turei.

The Guilty Party: Metiria is guilty of a crime – but not the one John Armstrong rails against in his latest column. Her transgression was to break ranks with the socio-political formation that has kept Richardson’s and Shipley’s welfare cuts bleeding and raw for more than quarter-of-a-century.
 
JOHN ARMSTRONG rails against Metiria Turei’s admission that she lied to the welfare authorities. Like so many of the outbursts emanating from the Right on this subject, however, his words speak more eloquently of his own failings than Metiria’s.

Lacking the imagination for empathy, Armstrong and his ilk cling for comfort to the rules, all the rules, and nothing but the rules.
 
“She endeavoured to turn her breach of the law into a launching pad for her party’s welfare policy. That is audacious. It is also the height of arrogance. It is also to enter very dangerous territory. It implies you are above the law. It says it is okay to break the law in order to try and change it.”
 
Yes, John, that’s exactly what it implies. But, tell me, do you think that Mahatma Ghandi, Dr Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela would have any ethical difficulty dealing with those implications?
 
Metiria was required to raise her daughter in the years immediately following the Mother of All Budgets. You must remember that extraordinary act of social violence, John? When Ruth Richardson, with enthusiastic support from Jenny Shipley, slashed the already meagre incomes of New Zealand’s most vulnerable citizens by 25 percent? When the National Government of Jim Bolger did exactly what Metiria told her party a Green government would never do: Use poverty as a weapon against its own people?
 
Do you really expect us to believe, John, that you would have accepted the National Government’s vicious policies without protest or subterfuge – and watched your child go hungry? If that really is your position, then why did you write: “There is sympathy for her past plight and respect for her efforts in pulling herself out of it.”
 
Clearly, you understand that falling into the clutches of Work & Income was, and is, a predicament – a “plight” – and that getting out of it isn’t easy. It requires a working knowledge of every trick in the book. Some of those tricks are legal. Others are not. But, for their children, people do what they have to do. If you would rather they didn’t “steal” from the Government, John, then why not insist that the Government gives them enough to live on?
 
But you don’t want to do that, do you, John? No, you would rather use the poor against the poor. Like when you write: “Turei’s flouting of the law will further alienate low-income families in which both parents work long hours and who consequently cannot abide welfare cheats. Those voters are already deserting the centre-left. Turei’s holier-than-thou disposition is hardly going to attract them back.”
 
And how would you know what low-income families are thinking, John? Has it never occurred to you that those “welfare cheats” (what an odious gob of verbal spittle that is!) are the sons and daughters of the working poor? How many of them, do you suppose, have attempted to support their children at the local Work & Income office and experienced first-hand the icy condescension and bureaucratic cruelty of MSD employees?
 
No, John, you don’t anything about that world of hurt and anger. What you do know, however, is what they should be thinking - and you will not hesitate to tell them at every given opportunity. Because the Right is terrified – yes, terrified – that Metiria’s admission that she was willing to lie to keep food on her little family’s table might persuade a dangerously large number of those low-income families that at least some Green MPs know what their own children are going through. And that the prospect of MSD’s hated “sanctions” being abolished might even convince those families that, this time, it’s worth casting a vote.
 
Metiria is guilty of a crime – but not the one John Armstrong rails against. Her transgression was to break ranks with the socio-political formation that has kept Richardson’s and Shipley’s welfare cuts bleeding and raw for more than quarter-of-a-century.
 
When Metiria Turei told the Green AGM that: “We will not be a government that uses poverty as a weapon against its own people”,  she must have known that she was breaking the biggest rule of all.
 
And that the John Armstrongs of this world would never forgive her.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Saturday, 22 July 2017.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

China's Got Talent!

 
 
A truly splendid rendition of
The Internationale. Enjoy.
 
Video courtesy of YouTube
 
This posting is exclusive to Bowalley Road.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Nothing Fresh About Labour’s Approach.

Not-So-Subliminal Messages: Labour's first campaign video is a shocker. I wasn’t expecting much but, depressingly, Labour managed to deliver less. Yes, Andrew Little does promise us "A Fresh Approach", but there should be a better reason for voting Labour than the fact that National’s getting a bit stale.
 
LEFT-LEANING VOTERS looking for a good reason to vote Green should take a look at Labour’s latest campaign ad. When the video arrived in my Inbox, I was almost too scared to open it. I wasn’t expecting much but, depressingly, Labour managed to deliver less. If this is the best the party’s highfalutin Aussie ad agency can do, then the sooner they’re sent packing back across the Tasman the better!
 

 
A while back, someone let slip that Andrew Little had been taking acting lessons. Three words: Waste. Of. Money. To call Little’s performance wooden would be an insult to the vibrant living entities we call trees. Do Labour’s Aussie ad-men not know that the best way to make any human-being look awkward is to ask them to act natural?
 
Have they never seen the celebrated paid political broadcast produced for the British Conservative Party? The agency was asked to introduce John Major to the electorate. So, they put the Prime Minister in the back of a car, set the cameras rolling, and drove him past his childhood home. The look on Major’s face; his priceless emotional response; humanised Maggie Thatcher’s grey successor in one, perfect, cinematic moment. What made the sequence so compelling was its unscripted authenticity.
 
Unfortunately, authenticity is the quality Labour’s video most conspicuously lacks. It’s as though Labour’s Campaign Committee brainstormed for hours on Little’s positive qualities and then turned everything they’d scribbled on the whiteboard into his script. Whoever told Little to deliver the line, “as a former cancer patient”, should be told to seek alternative employment!
 
The most jarring aspect of the video, however, is the way it exploits poor Jacinda Ardern. Every few seconds she appears, without any discernible narrative purpose, smiling brightly at Little’s side. It’s as if, at some point during the final edit, the production team suddenly remembered that the video was supposed to promote the Little-Ardern partnership. “Quick! someone track down those Andrew and Jacinda smileathons we recorded!” If that’s not the explanation, then I shudder to think what is.
 
And then there’s the tag-line: “A Fresh Approach for New Zealand”.
 
Labour’s former Finance Minister, Michael Cullen, was fond of regaling audiences with what he liked to call Kiwis’ “beach cricket approach to politics”. As in: “Aw, come on Helen, you’ve had the bat for ages. Don’t you think it’s time to give someone else a go?” Labour’s 2017 slogan comes perilously close to validating Cullen’s insight. There should be a better reason for voting Labour than the fact that National’s getting a bit stale.
 
What a pity the New Zealand Labour Party hasn’t been able to snare an Aussie creative director like Paul Jones. His 1972 campaign ad for the Australian Labor Party, “It’s time!”, featured Alison McCallum belting out the party’s campaign song with what appeared to be the whole of Australia joining in. It was a classic of its kind – and well worth checking out on YouTube!
 
 
The problem, of course, is that to make an ad like that work, you have to have something – and someone – to sell. Jones had Gough Whitlam. And, if I may paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen’s famous put-down of Dan Quayle in the 1988 US Vice-Presidential Debate: “I remember Gough Whitlam. And, Mr Little, you’re no Gough Whitlam!” Or Norman Kirk, for that matter.
 
Someone should remind Little and his team of what happened to their Canadian equivalent, the New Democratic Party, in 2015. Its leader, Thomas Mulcair, was so determined to be a “strong and stable” alternative Prime Minister that he persuaded the NDP to jettison everything even remotely radical or inspiring from its manifesto. Justin Trudeau, whose Liberals had been counted out of the race, saw the opening and seized his chance.
 
Following the inspirational performance of Metiria Turei, at last weekend’s Green Party AGM, there is now a real risk that Labour’s putative junior coalition partner could steal a march very similar to Trudeau’s. Never has the New Zealand Left been in such a state of flux. Turei’s passionate declaration: “We will not be a government that uses poverty as a weapon against its own people” is the sort of statement that changes minds.
 
If Andrew Little’s Labour Party refuses to stand with the poor, the marginalised and the downtrodden, then what, exactly, is its “fresh approach” supposed to deliver?
 
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, 21 July 2017.