Friday, 22 September 2017

Election Day Blackout.



A Song For The Times.




I know Bill Clinton’s 1992 Campaign got to this song first, but what the Hell!

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow
Don’t stop, it'll soon be here
It'll be even better than before,
Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone

Don’t Stop – Fleetwood Mac

NOW, GET OUT THERE AND VOTE!


Video courtesy of YouTube


This post is exclusive to Bowalley Road.

Some Things Never Change.

Sheer, Red-Baiting Idiocy: Here, just five days out from a general election, was proof that, in this country, there are still places which remain entirely untouched by the sunlight of the twenty-first century.

ON THE EVE of Women’s Suffrage Day, a Waikato cow-cockie was photographed carrying a sign declaring Jacinda Ardern to be “a pretty communist”. In terms of reasons for feeling outraged and affronted, Labour supporters were spoiled for choice. Should they be outraged at the overt sexism of the “pretty”? Or affronted by the sheer, red-baiting idiocy of the “communist”? Then again, a compelling case could be made for being disturbed by the whole extraordinary image. Here, just five days out from a general election, was proof that, in this country, there are still places which remain entirely untouched by the sunlight of the twenty-first century.

So unenlightened are these ideological troglodytes that they have yet to grasp the fact that the milk from their cows; the liquid that gets processed into powder in Fonterra’s factories; the export product that gets loaded onto ships; is bound for a country ruled entirely and exclusively by members of the Communist Party of China. That’s right! The people who keep our cow cockies in their tractors and utes may not be all that pretty, but they are, most emphatically, communists!

Another fact these strange subterranean folks seem to have forgotten (assuming they ever knew it in the first place) is that the comprehensive free-trade agreement between New Zealand and the Peoples Republic of China – the first such document ever signed by the Chinese state and a democratic western nation – was negotiated by the Labour Government of Helen Clark. That’s right! The world’s largest market for milk powder; the market that kept New Zealand’s dairy industry afloat through the dark days of the Global Financial Crisis; had been opened up for them by a left-wing woman – from the Waikato.

Not that the New Zealand Right’s blind hatred of all things Left is anything new. Throughout this country’s history, conservative Kiwis have demonstrated an exaggerated fear – bordering on full-blown paranoia – of “the wrong sort of people” (i.e. those not farmers or businessmen) being able to exercise the slightest measure of control over their lives.

The Right’s fear of being governed by the Left is not born out of strong libertarian principle. It is not as though the very idea of one group of human-beings exercising control over another is anathema to right-wing politicians and their supporters. After all, the Right is only too happy to use the full panoply of state power against those whose economic and social subordination is deemed essential to securing their own social and economic ascendancy. Indeed, the history of New Zealand is little more than the record of the Right’s never-ending struggle to resist and reverse the egalitarian policies and achievements of the Left.

Even when those policies and achievements have been to the obvious benefit of the nation as a whole, the Right has not, for a single moment, relented. On the morning of the 1938 General Election, for example, after three years of extraordinary progress under the First Labour Government, and with the ground-breaking Social Security Act due to come into force on 1 April 1939, this was the editorial warning the capital city’s morning newspaper delivered to its readers:

“Today you will exercise a free vote because you are under this established British form of government. If the socialist government is returned to power, your vote today may be the last free individual vote you will ever be given the opportunity to exercise in New Zealand.”

Over the top? Not according to a 1938 National Party circular to its parliamentary candidates:

“Oppose! Oppose! Oppose! That is the essential duty of Nationalist speakers. Use every possible play of words, every fact you can advance to show that your opponents are fools, political hypocrites, opportunists, seekers of power, despots, traitors to their own class, to their country, or their Empire.”

It was curiously reassuring, following the recent National Party claim that there is an $11.7 billion “hole” in the Jacinda Ardern-led Labour Party’s fiscal plan, to discover how little the Right’s strategic approach to fighting general elections has changed.

Be it the democratic nightmares of conservative leader-writers, or the fever-dreams of red-baiting Waikato cow-cockies, the right-wing reflex to “Oppose! Oppose! Oppose!” remains as strong as ever.

What is it the French say? Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. The more things change, the more they stay the same.


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, 22 September 2017.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

You’re Wrong Keith: We Have To Do This NOW.

Let's Do This NOW! Elections are won when the electorate’s general preference for prosperity and stability is overwhelmed by its desire to turn the page and begin something new. When simply restoring the same old faces to the same old places no longer seems enough. When obtaining justice for past wrongs; and securing for themselves, and for their children, a different and better future; calls forth from the nation’s voters an unaccustomed measure of courage and daring. (Photo by JOHN MILLER)

KEITH RANKIN IS WRONG about Jacinda needing to lose this election. If that’s what happens on Saturday: if National somehow hauls itself back onto the Treasury Benches; then it is the purest folly to suppose that the election of 2020 will be a Labour walkover. If the Centre-Left cannot win in 2017, then the question that begs to be answered is: “Can it win at all?”

Presumably, Keith is being guided by the historical precedent of the 1969 “nearly-but-not-quite” election; That was the election which Labour lost by 14,000 votes, only to be swept into office three years later in the “It’s time!” election of 1972. Or, perhaps he’s thinking of the “Springbok Tour Election” of 1981, when National secured a two-seat majority in spite of receiving 4,122 fewer votes than the Labour Party nationwide. As happened in 1969, Labour’s narrow defeat was followed by a unambiguous victory three years later in the watershed snap-election of 1984.

If these are the precedents that Keith has in mind, then they deserve closer scrutiny. Especially since Keith’s reason for identifying the 2017 election as the one Jacinda needs to lose is that, in his opinion: “there will be a financial crisis next year … [which Labour] … is ill-equipped to handle … Further, it may take a major financial crisis (with Labour in Opposition) to drag Labour into the present century, just as the 1930s’ crisis belatedly dragged Labour into the twentieth century.”

Leaving aside the fact that Labour was very much a twentieth century political party (founded in 1916) and, therefore, in no need of being dragged anywhere; its failure to win the 1931 general election after close to three years of the most calamitous economic depression in modern history is highly instructive. Certainly, Labour expected to win and was deeply demoralised by the right-wing United-Reform Coalition’s electoral success.

Now, if we follow Keith’s thesis, Labour’s 1931 defeat merely presaged its inevitable victory of 1935. Except that Labour’s 1935 win was more a matter of good luck than good management. In fact, had the New Zealand Right not fallen into bitter factional strife over the best way to deal with the Great Depression, then there is absolutely no guarantee that Labour would have won. Certainly, if the country had had a proportional electoral system (as it does today) then the Centre-Left’s total of 46.5 percent may not have been enough.

Significant, also, in terms of Keith’s thesis, is the fact that, by 1935, the worst years of the Great Depression were over. The nadir had been reached in 1932, when widespread rioting had broken out in all of New Zealand’s major cities. Over the course of the next three years, however, the rapid spiral into misery and hopelessness had slowed. Although, it must be said, things were still very bad, and working-class hatred for the Coalition Government was palpable. Even so, the chance was there in 1935. Had the Right been united, and led by the moderate former prime-minister, Gordon Coates, Labour could have been run very close – and maybe even defeated.

Certainly, the sharp economic downturn of 1967-68 was insufficient to unseat the National Government of Keith Holyoake in 1969. What’s more, by late November 1972, the New Zealand economy was going gang-busters. There was over-full employment, wages were rising ahead of inflation, and the NZ Dollar was worth more than the US Dollar! And yet, in spite of all this good economic news, the electorate turfed-out Jack Marshall’s National Government with nary a backward glance.

Likewise, in 1984. The loud criticisms of his ideological foes in the finance sector and news media notwithstanding, Rob Muldoon’s two-year Wage & Price Freeze had brought inflation down to low single figures, and his Think Big projects in the regions had kept the unemployment rate well below 10 percent. Most impressive of all, however, was the stunning recovery in per capita GDP growth, which, at close to 6 percent, was an astonishing 8 percentage points higher than the recessionary -2 percent recorded the previous year. Not bad for a Polish shipyard!

None of these figures did Muldoon much good at the ballot-box in 1984, however. Attacked from the right by Bob Jones’s New Zealand Party, and from the left (or so we thought!) by David Lange’s Labour Party, National’s vote fell from 38.8 to 35.8 percent. (A surprisingly modest drop – all things considered!) Labour itself, lifted its vote from 39.0 to 42.9 percent. Another modest result – and well below the 48.4 percent share of the popular vote Labour had attracted in 1972 – the last time it won a general election.

The lesson to be drawn from these historical examples is that misery, alone, is insufficient to propel a left-wing party into power. If it was, then Labour would most certainly have been elected in 1931. Nor is economic success the key determinant of electoral outcomes. If it were, then Muldoon, like Holyoake in 1969, should have been able to fend off Lange’s challenge in 1984. [And, before anybody objects that New Zealand faced an economic crisis in 1984, I would remind them that the run on the $NZ was deliberately engineered by Roger Douglas, who “accidentally” left a position paper indicating Labour’s intention to order a devaluation of 20 percent if it won the election, lying on his chair for journalists to find at an election meeting in Auckland. – C.T.] Clearly, Bill Clinton’s 1992 Presidential Campaign Team’s oft-quoted quip: “It’s the economy, stupid!”, isn’t always true.

What is true, I think, is that elections are won when the electorate’s general preference for prosperity and stability is overwhelmed by its desire to turn the page and begin something new. When simply restoring the same old faces to the same old places no longer seems enough. When obtaining justice for past wrongs; and securing for themselves, and for their children, a different and better future; calls forth from the nation’s voters an unaccustomed measure of courage and daring.

The trick, of course, is to prevent that courage and daring from fading away. In this respect, it is not the general election of 1935 that changed New Zealand history, but the 1938 election which followed it. In the three years that separated that first Labour victory from the second, the government of Michael Joseph Savage had laid the groundwork for a genuine transformation of New Zealand society. Effectively, he was saying to the New Zealand people: “Three years is not enough to complete the task we have begun on your behalf. Give us your votes so we can finish the job.”

And that’s exactly what the people of New Zealand did. At an astonishing 55.8 percent, Labour’s share of the popular vote was the highest ever recorded at a New Zealand general election.

What I would say to Keith, therefore, is that Jacinda cannot afford to lose in 2017 – any more than Mickey Savage could afford to lose in 1935. The groundwork, for a fairer, smarter and environmentally sustainable New Zealand in the twenty-first century, needs to be laid over the course of the next three years, so that the true, the irreversible, transformation can take place in the years following the 2020 election. Just as there could have been no 1938 without 1935, there will be no 2020 without 2017.

We have to do this NOW.


This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 21 September 2017.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

A Song For The Times.



It’s the terror of knowing
What the world is about
Watching some good friends
Screaming ‘Let me out’ 

Under Pressure - David Bowie/Queen


Video courtesy of YouTube


This posting exclusive to Bowalley Road.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

When The Country Goes To Town.

Pretty Ugly, Pretty Quickly: That the demographic and cultural divide between rural and urban New Zealand remains a source of deep unease to farmers cannot be doubted. Equally indisputable, historically-speaking, has been the militant, even violent, character of rural New Zealand’s response. In New Zealand history, when the country comes to town, things tend to get pretty ugly, pretty quickly. Morrinsville, New Zealand, 18 September 2017.

YESTERDAY IN MORRINSVILLE farmers rallied against Labour’s proposed “Water Tax”. Why Morrinsville? Because that was the little country town in which Jacinda Ardern grew up. Just think about that for a moment. Think about what it says about the mindset of a distressingly large percentage of New Zealand’s farming community.

The president of the Waikato branch of Federated Farmers, Andrew McGiven, told the NZ Farmer newspaper that farmers were tired of being scapegoated by politicians. Another protest organiser, local farmer Lloyd Downing, complained to the same publication in similar fashion:

“The lack of fairness and consistency in some of the proposed policies, and the laying of blame solely at the feet of rural New Zealand for all of our environmental challenges is what is frustrating farmers – particularly when it is well known that the most polluted waterways are in urban catchments. The water quality issues are a challenge for all New Zealanders. Farmers recognise that, and are spending tens of thousands of dollars each on reducing their environmental impact.”

It was in response to these “continued attacks” on “rural New Zealand” that farmers rallied in their hundreds under Morrinsville’s giant cow statue.

New Zealanders like to think of themselves as people with strong ties to the land. It’s a fallacy which perhaps explains the enduring popularity of the television programme, Country Calendar. Except that, for most of its history, New Zealand has been an urban nation. Certainly, by the early years of the twentieth century most Kiwis resided and worked in towns and cities. In terms of their jobs, lifestyle and political outlook, these “townies” were a very different breed.

That this demographic and cultural divide between rural and urban New Zealand was a source of deep unease to farmers cannot be doubted. Equally indisputable, historically-speaking, has been the militant, even violent, character of rural New Zealand’s response. In New Zealand history, when the country comes to town, things tend to get pretty ugly, pretty quickly.

In 1913, for example, hundreds of armed farmers on horseback (known forever after as “Massey’s Cossacks” after the farmer-friendly Reform Party prime minister, William Massey) were brought into New Zealand’s major cities to crush what would come to be known as “The Great Strike”. According to New Zealand historian, James Belich, exchanges of gunfire between Massey’s Cossacks and the “Red Fed” strikers were common. Many of the trade unionists involved in the Great Strike later became MPs and Ministers in the First Labour Government.

One of those unionists was Peter Fraser. In 1945, as Prime Minister and Labour Party Leader, Fraser presided over the abolition of the infamous “Country Quota”. This was the section of New Zealand’s Electoral Act which, ever since 1881, had added a 25 percent weighting to votes cast in rural electorates.

The reaction of the farming community to Fraser’s long-overdue rectification of what can only be described as a democratic outrage is instructive. In his book, The Quest For Security In New Zealand 1840-1966, W B Sutch describes how Labour’s plans to abolish the Country Quota were met with “country-wide protests from farmers’ organisations, an appeal to the Governor-General asking him to intervene, and threats of direct action.” Quite what the cockies meant by “direct action” remains unclear, but the Dominion Executive of the Farmers’ Union (forerunner of Federated Farmers) was prepared to raise the then quite considerable sum of £250,000 to fund it!

The sort of thing the cockies had in mind only became clear in 1951, when the first farmers’ government since 1935 was willing to shut down New Zealand’s democracy for the 151 days it took Sid Holland’s National Party to replicate its Reform Party predecessor’s success in ruthlessly suppressing militant trade-unionism in the nation’s ports, coal mines, railways and freezing works.

Thirty years later, the reactionary cultural instincts of rural New Zealand were, once again, pitched into a prolonged and violent confrontation with the progressive values of metropolitan New Zealanders. The 1981 Springbok Tour not only bore testimony to the tenacity of rural conservatism, but also to its steady migration into the upper-middle-class suburbs of the largest cities.

When Mike Hosking challenged National’s current leader to name something he would march for, Dipton’s favourite son was at a loss. This was curious, since the photographs of a placard-carrying Bill English, seated jauntily on ‘Myrtle the Tractor’, at the 2003 Federated Farmers’ protest against the so-called “Fart Tax”, in Parliament Grounds, were still in the archives – and easily retrieved.

When Andrew McGiven and Lloyd Downing encouraged their rural brethren to gather under Morrinsville’s giant cow yesterday, they were simply adding another chapter to an already lengthy story of rural antagonism towards the needs and aspirations of New Zealand’s urban majority. The latter looked on, appalled, at the selfishness and ignorance which unfailingly follow the country into town.


This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 19 September 2017.

Monday, 18 September 2017

1969: The "Nearly-But-Not-Quite" Election.

Labour Nearly Did This: It didn’t really seem possible that Labour could have lost. Its 1969 campaign had broken new ground in terms of media sophistication. Labour’s theme-song “Make Things Happen” had topped the local charts, and its television commercial, put together by a hungry young ad-man called Bob Harvey, was slicker than anything New Zealand voters had hitherto encountered.

“WE’VE GOT IT!” Was the triumphant (if incautious) assertion of the supposedly neutral Professor Bob Chapman on the night of the 1969 “nearly-but-not-quite” general election. The worthy professor should perhaps be forgiven for his premature psephological ejaculation. He had marked down the electorate of Eden as the seat Labour was bound to take if it was on-course to becoming the government. On the night, Labour’s candidate, the distinguished New Zealand historian, Professor Keith Sinclair, had taken it. Chapman, whose Labour sympathies were well known to his colleagues (if not to the television audience) had waited nine long years to see the National Government of Keith Holyoake defeated. And, half-way through the election-night telecast, it seemed as though his political patience was being rewarded. That Keith Sinclair was also Chapman’s good friend and colleague, merely slapped a good-sized dollop of icing on the cake.

By the end of the telecast, however, the story had changed. Sinclair’s narrow election-night majority notwithstanding, Labour had fallen four seats short of the 43 needed to win. An industrial dispute involving a ship called the Wainui – culminating in a march up Queen Street by the communist-dominated Seafarers’ Union – had cost the Labour leader, Norman Kirk, the Auckland seats he’d needed (and confidently expected) to secure the prime-minister’s job. Even Eden, after the counting of Special Votes, reverted to National’s John Rae by the wafer-thin margin of 67 votes.

It didn’t really seem possible that Labour could have lost. Its campaign had broken new ground in terms of media sophistication. Labour’s theme-song “Make Things Happen” had topped the local charts, and its television commercial, put together by a hungry young ad-man called Bob Harvey, was slicker than anything New Zealand voters had hitherto encountered. What’s more, between the 1966 and 1969 elections, New Zealand had passed through its sharpest economic downturn since the Second World War. Export prices had collapsed and unemployment had risen to a post-Depression peak. It seemed inconceivable that a nine-year-old government, offering such a lacklustre record, could possibly be re-elected. How was it that Holyoake won?

First-off, there was the rapidity of the country’s economic recovery. Export prices recovered and unemployment fell sharply in the months leading up to the 1969 election. National’s new finance minister, Rob Muldoon, was thus able to project competence and control in equal measure. To many voters, the 1967-68 recession seemed nothing more than a glitch, an aberrant departure from the steady upward trajectory of New Zealand’s post-war economic performance. Certainly, Muldoon’s message to the electorate was unequivocal: “I’ve got this!” His reputation as National’s “economic wizard” dates from this period.

But an improving economy wasn’t the only reason for National’s surprise win in 1969. There may have been growing ferment on the nation’s campuses, and increasing union militancy in the nation’s factories and freezing-works but, at heart, New Zealand remained a deeply conservative society. The events of the previous year: the annus horribilis of 1968; with its tragic list of assassinations (Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy) and its frightening clashes between young protesters and out-of-control police personnel (Paris, Chicago, Mexico City) had culminated not in revolution, but in the election of Richard Nixon as President of the United States. There was “something in the air”, alright – conservative paranoia!

And so, late in the evening of Saturday, 29 November 1969, it was a visibly relieved Keith Holyoake who gently chastised Professor Chapman for his earlier – premature – celebration of a Labour victory. Against all the odds, National’s three-term government had been returned for a fourth. Only the first Labour Government of Mickey Savage and Peter Fraser could boast an equal number of consecutive election victories (1935, 1938, 1943, 1946).

But, Holyoake was no fool. He knew that only “events, dear boy, events” had rescued his party from the jaws of certain defeat on 29 November 1969. Twenty-six months later, on 7 February 1972, just nine months out from the next scheduled general election, Holyoake would step away from the prime-ministership – passing-on a poison-smeared baton to his loyal deputy, Jack Marshall. Similarly, on the night of that agonisingly close contest (National’s 1969 vote, at 605,960, was just 13,905 votes ahead of Labour’s tally of 592,055) “Big Norm” Kirk was quietly confident that, in spite of losing the “nearly-but-not-quite” election of 1969, nothing short of divine intervention was going to prevent him from leading Labour to victory in 1972.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 18 September 2017.