Thursday, 19 September 2019

Jojo Tamihere Salutes Herr Goff.

Get Back Jojo! The elation in Mayor Phil Goff’s camp may be easily imagined as they watched social media light up in indignation at challenger John Tamihere’s "Sieg Heil to that" quip. Just when JT’s notoriously right-wing, sexist and homophobic stains were beginning to fade back into his ‘colourful’ past, “there he goes again”, handing his enemies a very large stick and inviting them to beat him to death.

GODWIN’S LAW hardly covers it. Drawing a comparison between the person, or persons, you are arguing with and the Nazi dictator, Adolf Hitler, was identified by US lawyer Mike Godwin, way back in 1990, as the point where meaningful debate ends. There can’t be many in John Tamihere’s mayoral campaign team who would disagree. JT’s “Sieg Heil to that!”, blurted out in response to a Phil Goff soliloquy on Auckland’s diversity has definitely become the takeaway comment from last night’s (17/9/19) bruising Pub Politics Mayoral Debate.

The elation in Goff’s camp may be easily imagined as they watch social media light up in indignation at Tamihere’s intervention. Just when JT’s notoriously right-wing, sexist and homophobic stains were beginning to fade back into his ‘colourful’ past, “there he goes again”, handing his enemies a very large stick and inviting them to beat him to death.

To make the whole debacle even worse, Tamihere explained his “Sieg Heil” quip by referencing Goff’s claim to have de-platformed Stefan Molyneux and Cheryl Southern – the two far-right Canadians prevented from holding a public meeting in Auckland in 2018. Given the views of the banned speakers, the comparison with Hitler was ideologically absurd. If Goff really did harbour Hitlerian tendencies, then he would have welcomed Molyneux and Southern with open arms.

If JT had to make some quip, “Long Live Chairman Phil!” would have sufficed. After all, it’s not just Nazis who censor their opponents, the Reds also have ‘form’ when it comes to putting a muzzle on free speech.

The other factor JT failed to consider before blurting was that, in the grim shadow of the 15 March mosque massacres in Christchurch, Goff’s impulse to de-platform the likes of Molyneux and Southern seems much less high-handed than it does prescient. Speaking up for the free speech rights of alt-right Valkyries and “scientific” racists was a lot easier before one of their gruesome tribe gunned down 51 innocent human-beings in their houses of worship.

So, why did he do it? What was he thinking?

The host of Pub Politics and Daily Blog editor, Martyn Bradbury, put his finger on it in his review of the Goff/Tamihere clash: “Trump and Brexit won by tapping into a deep resentment within the electorate, that resentment exists within Auckland and if JT wins, it will be because he understands that.”

“And because”, Martyn might have added, “he gives it a voice.”

Long before the Internet and its lawmakers, New Zealanders used to describe that all-too-familiar Kiwi stereotype – the authoritarian boss who thinks he knows everything and takes great pleasure in making the lives of everybody below him on the pecking order miserable – as a “Little Hitler”.

Those hard-bitten Kiwi soldiers returning from the Second World War weren’t overly tolerant of such people, and in the days when the trade unions still had some kick, they weren’t frightened to let them know. Blokes of a certain age, and blokesses too, will have no difficulty in recalling those moments when one of these Little Hitlers, having rattled-off their orders, provokes one long-suffering staff-member to raise their arm in a mocking “Sieg Heil!” salute to his retreating back.

Tamihere, in blurting “Sieg Heil to that”, wasn’t signalling his membership of some perverse right-wing fraternity. All he was doing was signalling his membership of something much less acceptable – the Maori working-class of West Auckland. (Not too many of them amongst the woke patrons of the Chapel Bar on a Tuesday night in trendy Ponsonby!)

And why might a working-class Maori from West Auckland consider Phil Goff to be a “Little Hitler”?

Could it have something to do with an Auckland Council that appears to only have ears for the bicycle-riders and the public transport theoreticians – by refusing to listen to the men and women who are forced to drive half-way across the city to work every morning in a car that gets harder and more expensive to warrant with every passing six months, and whose gas tank cost more to fill – thanks to Phil.

Could it be because when the Mayor waxes eloquent about diversity, the people in his mind’s eye are the wealthy property speculators and business investors from Asia – the ones who pour hundreds-of-thousands of dollars into the pockets of the New Zealand political class. That’s not the sort of diversity that trickles down the walls of those dank dwelling-places where the Maori, Pasifika and poor immigrant workers of Auckland live. Liberal Neoliberals like Mayor Goff don’t run into very many of them at their fundraisers.

At the doors of the Waipareira Trust, however, John Tamihere meets many such people. They come to see the doctors at its medical centre; the dentists at its dental practice. Many come for help with housing (far too many) or for a food parcel to see their kids through the week. Waipareira serves them all.

John Tamihere doesn’t ask for donations from the rich – he provides services to the poor. Has done for thirty years. His words may leave a lot to be desired at times, but you cannot fault his deeds.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 19 September 2019.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Behind Every Good Woman Should Stand – Another Good Woman.

Alone, Alone, All, All, Alone: To argue that the Prime Minister is the victim of her advisers’ failure to keep her informed may offer Jacinda some measure of exoneration – but only at the cost of casting her as a hopeless political ingénue. A star-dusted muppet, whose only purpose is to keep the punters entertained while the big boys get on with the job of governing the country.

TOO MANY BLOKES. Those three words sum-up the burgeoning problems afflicting Jacinda’s prime-ministership. Just consider the names that dominated the headlines of the past week: Nigel, Grant, Andrew, Rob. You don’t need a PhD in Political Science to know what’s wrong with this picture. Where, in the tight circle of advisers surrounding the Prime Minister are the women’s names? Helen Clark had Heather Simpson – who does Jacinda Ardern have?

Well, there’s Megan Woods. But, at last count, the Member for Wigram was holding down four big ministerial portfolios: Research Science and Innovation; Energy and Resources; Greater Christchurch Regeneration; and Housing. Certainly, Woods is one of the most competent ministers in the Coalition Government and, deservedly, one of Jacinda’s “Kitchen Cabinet”, but she is not – and cannot be – the sort of adviser Jacinda so urgently requires.

The huge service that Heather Simpson (H2) was able to provide Helen Clark (H1) was a drone-like overview, not simply of what was happening in ministerial offices, but also of who was doing what to whom in the Wellington bureaucracy, the trade unions, and, crucially, the NZ Labour Party. The crisis that has fastened itself so dangerously about the Prime Minister this past week simply couldn’t have happened back in the days of H1 and H2. Long before the complainants had become angry enough and disillusioned enough to take their stories to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, H2 would have heard about the problem, investigated the problem, and resolved the problem – keeping H1 informed of her progress every step of the way.

Could Jacinda’s Electorate Secretary, Barbara Ward, fill the role? Probably not. Ward knows a great deal about the Auckland Labour Party, but she’s not a Wellington mover-and-shaker. Besides, a prime minister has to have someone she can trust watching her back at the electorate level. No, Ward should probably stay where she is.

That no name springs to mind as the obvious candidate to fill the role of Jacinda’s H2 is, arguably, part of the problem. Unlike Helen Clark, Jacinda has risen to the top without hauling a conspicuous number of her sisters up with her. Indeed, if one wished to court controversy, one might observe that Jacinda’s journey to the top was accomplished largely on the shoulders of men. After all, people joked about “Gracinda” – Grant and Jacinda – not “Jacingrant”. If Helen Clark was Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, then Jacinda is “Gloriana”, Queen Elizabeth I, surrounded by her glittering retinue of male courtiers.

It’s an appealing comparison, but is Jacinda really our Elizabeth I? Yes, the Tudor Queen surrounded herself with powerful and intelligent men, but she never for one moment ceased to be her own woman – the person in control. A much less flattering comparison might place Jacinda alongside Mary Queen of Scots. She, too, was a Queen who found herself surrounded by dashing and determined men. Unlike the men surrounding her English cousin, however, the Scottish nobility always controlled Mary: Mary never controlled them.

Consider the argument of “plausible deniability”: the argument which, over the past week, has emerged as the most persuasive explanation for Jacinda’s late arrival at the sharp end of this devastating scandal. In a nutshell, this argument paints Jacinda as a leader more sinned against than sinning; someone deliberately kept out of the loop by her own closest advisers for her own political protection: “Nothing that need concern you here, Jacinda, we’ve got this.”

But, just think about the whole notion of plausible deniability for a moment. Who uses it – and under what circumstances? We all know the answer to that question: plausible deniability is what the CIA gives the US President by not informing him of activities that are either unethical, or unlawful, or both.

To argue that the Prime Minister is the victim of her advisers’ failure to keep her informed may offer Jacinda some measure of exoneration – but only at the cost of casting her as a hopeless political ingénue. A star-dusted muppet, whose only purpose is to keep the punters entertained while the big boys get on with the job of governing the country.

Even worse, it casts these “big boys” as deeply cynical power-brokers who long ago lost their moral compasses. And that, in turn, casts Jacinda as the hapless little woman kept in the dark by a bunch of cold-hearted bastards prepared to do whatever was necessary to keep their mate in his job.

The truth of the matter is much more likely to involve a whole lot of people cocking things up, than a vicious band of misogynist conspirators doing the dirty. Unfortunately, those observing the events of the past week from the outside may well opt for conspiracy over cock-up as the most plausible explanation for the Labour Party’s extraordinary behaviour. That moment, in politics, when people are more willing to believe the worst of you than the best of you, is the moment when you can be pretty certain you’ve got problems. Big problems.

Which is why Jacinda’s most urgent priority should be getting rid of the stink of testosterone from the upper floors of the Beehive and Bowen House – as well as the upper echelons of the Labour Party. If the women of New Zealand want to keep the Prime Minister safe from more cock-ups, then they should apply themselves to the task of identifying her very own H2. Someone to keep her fully informed. Someone to watch her back. Someone whose name isn’t Nigel, Grant, Andrew or Rob.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 17 September 2019.

Monday, 16 September 2019

Pissing-Off The Israelis Is A High-Risk Strategy.

Dangerous Foes: For those readers of Bowalley Road who feel disposed to dismiss any prospect of an Israeli destabilisation of New Zealand politics, the example of the United Kingdom repays close attention. Ever since the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the British Labour Party, the Israelis have sanctioned, funded and organised one of their most shameless interventions, ever, in the domestic affairs of a sovereign nation.

NEW ZEALAND’S GOVERNMENT faces a difficult choice between doing the right thing and the expedient thing over Israel’s latest outrage. This country has a proud record of lending its voice to the United Nations’ condemnation of the Israeli state’s repeated violations of international norms in its treatment of the Palestinian people. In the current international climate, however, upholding that proud diplomatic record risks making New Zealand politicians targets for Israeli destabilisation.

The latest, and potentially one of the most dangerous, Israeli threats to the Palestinians has been issued by the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. His proposal is, in essence, to annex the entire Jordan Valley to the Israeli state. Were he to be in a position, following the pending Israeli elections, to implement this promise, all hope of a “two state solution” peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority would evaporate completely.

For those readers of Bowalley Road who feel disposed to dismiss any prospect of Israeli destabilisation, the example of the United Kingdom repays close attention.

Ever since the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the British Labour Party, the Israelis have sanctioned, funded and organised one of their most shameless interventions, ever, in the domestic affairs of a sovereign nation.

Utilising every individual, group and institution responsive to Jerusalem’s guidance, the Israeli national security apparatus first redefined and then weaponised the concept of antisemitism, unleashing it upon Corbyn and his supporters with unprecedented political fury. Challenges to the foreign and domestic policies of the Israeli state – such as Corbyn has made for the past 30 years – are now routinely presented as incontrovertible proof of his antisemitic prejudice.

Such a self-serving redefinition of antisemitism would, almost certainly, have been laughed off the political stage had it not been for the extraordinary support it received from the mainstream British news media.

It is no accident that the two media organisations responsible for prosecuting Corbyn’s “antisemitism” most forcefully are the BBC and The Guardian. Had these two leaders of liberal opinion refused to buy into Jerusalem’s campaign, the attack would have had to be carried out by all the usual right-wing media suspects. That apparently “left-wing” journalists and columnists were willing to brand Corbyn an antisemite was crucial to the campaign’s impact.

So, how does the definition work? The proposition advanced is a very simple one.

The State of Israel represents the last, best hope of protecting the Jewish people from persecution and genocide. To suggest that the Jews can rely upon anybody but the State of Israel in this respect is to wilfully misread the lessons of history. To undermine in any way the strength and coherence of the Israeli state is, therefore, a hostile act. Those who do so represent a clear and present danger to the Jewish people’s sanctuary. Only those who seek to do the Jews harm could countenance such a policy. They are, ipso facto, antisemites.

That this simplistic formula actually works on well-educated and otherwise progressive individuals is explicable in no small measure by the identity of those who have, over the course of the last 70 years, made no secret of their wish to destroy the State of Israel. Journalists over 60 recall the Six Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973, and ask themselves what would have happened had the Israeli Defence Force not prevailed. Younger intellectuals remember the terrorist campaigns of the PLO, Hamas and Hezbollah, and ponder the ethics of “ proactive self-defence”.

“If you’re looking for a good reason to stand with the Jewish people,” say Israel’s defenders, “just take a look at who’s standing against them.”

The Israeli case is strengthened by the geopolitical considerations that have never ceased to drive the policies of both the United Kingdom and the United States – especially when it comes to oil. The repeated trashing of the Middle East by the UK and the USA, from the end of World War II to the present day, has, among many other effects, increased immeasurably the military and economic strength of Israel. All three states have a powerful vested interest in keeping the balance of power firmly tilted in Israel’s favour.

Such are the considerations that New Zealand’s diplomats must weigh before responding to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s incendiary promise. Our convalescing Foreign Minister, Winston Peters, will, therefore, be asking himself two vital questions.

Dare we remain silent in the face of a policy that can only lead to the wholesale ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Israeli-occupied territory?

And.

Will Jacinda thank me for adding the fearsome capabilities of the Israeli national security apparatus to a plate already piled high with troubles?

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 13 September 2019.

Friday, 13 September 2019

A Movement That No Longer Moves.

Moving And Shaking: There was a time when people spoke matter-of-factly about the “labour movement” – a political phenomenon understood to embrace much more than the Labour Party. Included within the term’s definition was the whole trade union movement – many of whose members looked upon the Labour Party as their wholly-owned subsidiary. No more.

A PAIR OF SCANDALS, one afflicting Labour, the other the Greens, raise troubling questions about the state of the Left.

There was a time when people spoke matter-of-factly about the “labour movement” – a political phenomenon understood to embrace much more than the Labour Party. Included within the term’s definition was the whole trade union movement – many of whose members looked upon the Labour Party as their wholly-owned subsidiary.

No longer. What remains of the New Zealand trade union movement is now little more than a collection of powerless political supplicants. Every three years their leaders gather to thrash out a list of requests (demands would be altogether too strong a word!) to be tentatively inched across the table towards Labour Party representatives empowered to decide which of these the next Labour-led government might, at some point, and only after lengthy consultations with all the other stakeholders, be prepared to enact.

It’s a transition which has taken more than 40 years to complete: from a mass political party born out of, and filled with representatives of, the organised New Zealand working-class; to what the political scientists call a “cadre party”, composed of professional politicians and careerist chancers, more than willing to watch the working-class, many of them homeless and hungry, queue for food parcels in the rain.

It is precisely this lofty detachment from the suffering of others; this ability to weigh all appeals in the scales of partisan political advantage; that explains the appalling treatment meted out by the Labour Party organisation to the young women, all of them party members, who came before their governing body seeking some measure of redress – some semblance of justice.

On Monday, 9 September, the National Party’s chief pollster, David Farrar, a man well-ensconced in the many intersecting networks of the capital city, blogged about the Prime Minister’s Office staff-member at the centre of the women’s accusations of sexual assault, harassment and bullying: “I’ve heard that his role makes him invaluable to Labour’s election campaign. Labour have decided he must be protected.”

The Prime Minister’s barely-suppressed fury at being kept only minimally informed about the purpose and progress of the party’s inquiry into the young party members’ accusations, lends Farrar’s charge a daunting ring of authenticity.

Coming hard on the heels of the trial of another young man accused of sexual misbehaviour at a Labour Party youth camp, this present case (for the exposure of which we are all indebted to the journalistic efforts of The Spinoff’s Alex Casey) makes a paraphrase of Lady Bracknell’s famous quip in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest irresistible.

“To preside over one sex scandal, Mr Haworth, may be regarded as a misfortune; to preside over two looks like carelessness.”

But if these latest revelations raise serious questions about the transactional morality currently defacing Labour’s reputation, the censoring of an 80-year-old feminist by the Greens has caused many of their supporters to respond with anger and deep, deep disappointment.

The removal of Jill Abigail’s opinion piece: an essay politely critical of some aspects of transgender activism; from the Green Party’s website, Te Awa, is but the latest example of the bitter rancour and division which this issue is constantly provoking across the entire New Zealand Left.

Scores of women, among them some of New Zealand’s most distinguished feminists, have put their names to an open letter calling upon the Greens to reaffirm their commitment to all women’s rights, including their right to freedom of expression. Until such a recommitment is forthcoming, the signatories longstanding support for the Green Party at the polls will be withheld. The negative electoral ramifications of this dispute are likely to be substantial.

There was a time when the Greens presented themselves as the “elves” of the left-wing movement. Otherworldly they may have seemed, in their tie-dyed skirts and embroidered braces, but they were capable of performing spectacular electoral magic. Like the shimmering inhabitants of Tolkien’s enchanted forests, they appeared benignly disinterested; refusing to sully themselves with the dirty politics practiced by the other political parties.

“The Greens are not of the Left,” quipped the late Rod Donald, “the Greens are not of the Right. The Greens are in front.”

Theirs was the high, cold call of conscience, raised above the cacophony of partisan self-interest and ideological intransigence.

The Left already misses it.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 13 September 2019.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Labour's Fatal Flaw.

 Two-Faced? Labour insiders' commitment to the neoliberal status quo puts them at odds with their party’s membership; its trade union affiliates; and a majority of Labour voters, but this only serves to strengthen the perception they have of themselves as a special elite. Among the lesser breeds, they’ll talk up a social-democratic storm – promising them everything from 100,000 affordable houses to the end of child poverty. But, among themselves – among the ones who "get it" – the objectives, and the rules of the game, are very different.

WILL ANYBODY IN the Labour Party learn anything from this latest debacle? It seems doubtful, especially coming so soon after the last debacle! (The 2018 Summer School Scandal.) Nigel Haworth, who didn’t so much fall on his sword this morning (11/9/19) as get thrust very roughly into it, has gone, but the malady lingers on.

What Labour is suffering from is a disease that is easy to diagnose but hard to explain. The Ancient Greeks called it hubris – roughly defined as: “excessive pride and/or over-confidence”. That’s fine, as far as it goes, but a better sense of the word’s meaning is gleaned by listing its synonyms: arrogance, conceitedness, haughtiness, pride, vanity, self-importance, pomposity, superciliousness, hauteur. Those afflicted by the fatal flaw of hubris harbour unfaltering feelings of superiority over all those lesser breeds with whom they are forced to have dealings. It is usually fatal.

The time-line of this latest scandal, helpfully pulled together by the journalists at The Spinoff, reveals just how seriously infected Labour has become by the hubris disease. Throughout the crooked course of this tawdry saga every one of the synonyms listed above has been in evidence; and each character failing appears to have occasioned a corresponding failure in performance. That’s the awful thing about hubris: its way of leading the sufferer into terrible misjudgements and mistakes. Wonderful for driving forward the action in Ancient Greek theatre. Not so helpful in politics.

It wouldn’t be so bad if Labour had a lot to feel excessively prideful and over-confident about. But they don’t. The party’s record since 2008 has been one of ever-worsening failure – calibrated by the steady decline in Labour’s Party Vote up until 2017. And who was the person who rescued the party’s fortunes that fateful year? It most certainly wasn’t Nigel Haworth; or the Labour Caucus; or the clowns in the Leader’s Office. No, it was Jacinda Ardern wot won it. Except, of course, not even that is true. The person wot won it for Labour in 2017 was Winston Peters.

And yet the hauteur of Labour MPs and their party-dwelling apparatchiks remains undiminished. They still evince utter disdain for all those “lesser breeds without the law”.

Rudyard Kipling’s line is especially apt in this context, because it is the Labour Party’s movers-and-shakers understanding of what constitutes “the law” that lies at the very heart of their hubris.

Jacinda, herself, must have come into contact with it during her brief stint as one of Tony Blair’s bright young things in the early-2000s. The key question for any Blairite was whether or not so-and-so “gets it”. Gets what? Simple: the whole “New Labour”, “Third Way”, “New Times” – call it what you will – “project”. You were either smart enough (and ambitious enough) to get that the days of old-fashioned social-democracy (don’t even mention the word ‘socialism’!) were over, and that capitalism had won the battle of ideas hands-down, or you weren’t. If you didn’t “get” this – if you still don’t “get it” – then you are no bloody use to anybody who takes politics seriously.

Putting all this back into a New Zealand context, the “getting-it” test goes all the way back to Rogernomics. It’s not so much a matter of having to sign-up to everything Roger Douglas and his fellow free-marketeers did. It was more a case of, to make your way upward in the post-1984 Labour Party, you had to make it absolutely clear to all the people who mattered that you had no intention of un-doing it.

That this commitment to the neoliberal status quo must instantly set the movers-and-shakers at odds with a pretty big chunk of their party’s membership; an even larger chunk of its trade union affiliates; and what is still, almost certainly, a majority of Labour’s most loyal voters, only serves to strengthen the perception they have of themselves as a special elite. Among the lesser breeds, they’ll talk up a social-democratic storm – promising them everything from 100,000 affordable houses to the end of child poverty. But, among themselves – among the ones who get it – the objectives, and the rules of the game, are very different.

And yet, these are the rules the young complainants in this latest scandal have had to negotiate their way through: a task made all the more difficult and distressing by the fact that nobody told them what they were. They did not understand that the invitation to come forward with their personal experiences of sexual misconduct was never meant to be taken seriously. They did not grasp that the prime objective of the Labour Party is not to build a better, fairer world, but to win the next election. Or, that the people to be protected within the party are not its youngest and most idealistic members, but its most skilled electoral technicians; the paid staffers who know their way around the ever-more-complex circuitry of political power.

These complainants, however, have proved to be fast learners of the elite’s unwritten rules. (Telling their stories to Paula Bennett and The Spinoff proved a masterstroke!) What was supposed to have been “managed” out-of-sight and off-camera, has been hurled bodily into the media’s unforgiving glare. Suddenly, the vast abyss that separates the idealistic from the hubristic Labour Party (the Labour Party that “gets it”) has been revealed in all its Nietzschean darkness and danger.

So, talk fast Jacinda. You’re talking for your political life.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 11 September 2019.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Warning! Warning! Danger Jacinda Ardern! Danger Marama Davidson! Warning!

Lost In Political Space: The most important takeaway from this latest Labour sexual assault scandal, which (if I may paraphrase Nixon’s White House counsel’s, John Dean’s, infamous description of Watergate) is “growing like a cancer” on the premiership, is the Labour Party organisation’s extraordinary professional paralysis in the face of an accusation that demanded the most circumspect and judicious handling.

IF THE SEXUAL ASSAULT scandal engulfing the Prime Minister’s office hasn’t been properly dealt with by the time you read this, Labour’s in big trouble. An article in this morning’s (9/9/19) edition of The Spinoff has catapulted this matter squarely into the realm of full-blown political crisis. The detail supplied brings to life the victim’s accusations in a way that cannot help but elicit sympathy. The Labour Party’s response, by contrast, inspires nothing but the most profound contempt.

The question repeated endlessly after the posting of Alex Casey’s article is: “How on earth did it get to this?” The person at the centre of these allegations isn’t just a Labour mover-and-shaker among other Labour movers-and-shakers, he’s a mover-and-shaker who works in Jacinda’s office! This means that, like Caesar’s proverbial wife, he must be “above suspicion”. Why those around the Prime Minister did not see fit to protect her from the fallout of a potentially catastrophic investigation is a deeply problematic mystery.

National’s pollster and Kiwiblogger, David Farrar, has openly stated that: “I’ve heard that [the accused person’s] role makes him invaluable to Labour’s election campaign. Labour have decided he must be protected.” If true, this tells us a great deal about the moral quality of decision-making within Labour’s ranks – none of it good.

It also tells us that everyone within the Wellington “Beltway” knows who this guy is. That includes, of course, the Parliamentary Press Gallery, who will be on nodding terms (at least) with every staff-person in the Prime Minister’s Office. This knowledge, privileged for the moment, can only add a dangerously intimate ingredient to what is already a toxic political mix. How long Wellington’s political journalists and commentators will allow themselves to go on knowing things that their viewers, listeners and readers do not, is anybody’s guess – but it cannot be for very much longer.

Word has it that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Paula Bennett, will name the accused staffer under the protection of Parliamentary Privilege as early as Tuesday afternoon (10/9/19). It was to Bennett that a number of aggrieved young women went with their grievances about Labour’s handling of this matter, so the DLO has skin in the game.

The most important takeaway, so far, from this scandal, which (if I may paraphrase Nixon’s White House counsel’s, John Dean’s, infamous description of Watergate) is “growing like a cancer” on the premiership, is the Labour Party organisation’s extraordinary professional paralysis in the face of an accusation that demanded the most circumspect and judicious handling. Senior party officials should have spared no effort to ensure that the process of their investigation was as impartial as it was forensic. “Best Practice” should have been only the starting-point!

That it was so far from anything resembling best practice only reinforces the rapidly congealing public impression that this government can do nothing right – or well. It is becoming harder by the day to avoid the conclusion that the movers-and-shakers in and around this government are incapable of assessing how bad their own behaviour, and the failure that flows from it, looks to those living outside the bubble.

Jacinda has about 24 hours to seize control of this situation – or risk being seriously damaged by it. Everyone in the Prime Minister’s office serves at the Prime Minister’s pleasure – something which every staffer’s contract makes clear. Jacinda needs to make her displeasure known in ways that cannot possibly be misconstrued. She must act – now.

*  *  *  *  *

EQUALLY IN NEED of remedial action is the Green Party. It’s recent decision to take down from its Te Awa website an opinion piece penned by the veteran New Zealand feminist, Jill Abigail, has set in motion what shows every sign of turning into an avalanche of voter disaffection.

Abigail’s entirely reasonable and courteously framed objections to the words and deeds of those she clearly regarded as transgender zealots very soon fell foul of the very zealotry she was complaining about. The justification advanced by the Greens’ co-leader, Marama Davidson, for censoring Abigail was that she had put “trans people’s right to exist” up for debate.

By any reasonable reading of Abigail’s essay, Davidson’s accusation is entirely groundless. And, for that very reason, it has inspired scores of formerly Green Party-voting women and men to put their name to an open letter demanding a full accounting of the party’s apparent unwillingness to defend not only the rights of women, but also the right of citizens to express themselves freely without being subjected to emotional and/or physical violence.

That some of these signatures belong to feminists whose careers span more than 40 years of struggle on behalf of women and girls should give Davidson and her ilk serious pause. Just as positive word-of-mouth communication can be a wonderful form of advertising; a steadily rising chorus of outrage is capable of inflicting extreme damage upon a minor party’s reputation and – hence – its chances of re-election.

What the Green Party needs to decide is whether or not it is willing to bow to the demands of what may – or may not – be a majority of its members, even if, by doing so, it alienates a very substantial number of its voters. Twitter is not New Zealand. Indeed, it is nothing like New Zealand – not even that narrow slice of the country some people still like to call “progressive New Zealand”. Confined within the hothouse precincts of the Parliamentary complex it is all-too-easy to forget that.

Demographics matter. Psychographics matter. That being the case, it makes no sense for the current Green leadership to drive out female voters aged 55+ whose progressive political principles – especially those relating to women’s rights – were forged in the 1970s and 80s. This is especially true of those conscientious voters who look upon the attitudinal and legislative changes secured for women during their lifetimes as some of the most important achievements of their generation.

Nor should the Greens forget that these female voters have partners and brothers, daughters and sons, and grandchildren – all of whom are about to hear, from someone very close them, a vivid description of the intolerable and unforgivable treatment meted out to an 80-year-old feminist veteran, Jill Abigail, by the Greens.

Exactly who does Marama Davidson believe these folk are most likely to side with in the polling-booth? The Green Party Co-Leader – or their mothers and grandmothers?

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 9 September 2019.

Monday, 9 September 2019

Who Shall We Turn To When God, And Uncle Sam, Cease To Defend New Zealand?

Bewhiskered Cassandra? Professor Hugh White’s chilling suggestion, advanced to select collections of academic, military and diplomatic Kiwi experts over the course of the past week, is that the assumptions upon which Australia and New Zealand have built their foreign affairs and defence policies for practically their entire histories – are no longer valid.

WHO IS HUGH WHITE and why is he so determined to alarm us? Formally, Hugh White is the Emeritus Professor of Strategic Studies at the Australian National University in Canberra. Informally, he’s a disrupter of cherished fictions. Unwilling to further embellish the orthodox accounts of Australia’s and New Zealand’s strategic obligations, White dares to ask the sort of questions that make his audiences either bristle with indignation or recoil in horror. In short, White possesses the Devil’s imagination: that terrifying ability to interrogate a worst case scenario without flinching.

White’s chilling suggestion, advanced with bewhiskered geniality to select collections of academic, military and diplomatic Kiwi experts over the course of the past week, is that the assumptions upon which Australia and New Zealand have built their foreign affairs and defence policies for practically their entire histories – are no longer valid.

Both nations are the offspring of empire: peripheral adjuncts to a core imperium powerful enough to guarantee the security of both. Accordingly, the unwavering principle of Australian and New Zealand statecraft has been to keep strong the ties that bind them to their distant protectors. Up until the Second World War that meant listening intently to the voice of London. After HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse were sent to the bottom of the South China Sea by Japanese bombers in 1942, however, Canberra and Wellington found it more expedient to tune-in to Washington.

The key image to keep in mind is that of the “young lions”. A poster depicting Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand answering the summoning roar of the leader of the imperial pride, Great Britain. Alone, not one of the so-called “White Dominions” was strong enough to see off either Hitler or Hirohito. That is why they answered the call. The British Empire would face the “audit of war” as a unit: Albion’s “pride” would stand, or fall, together.

In the words of the New Zealand Prime Minister, Michael Joseph Savage, broadcast to the nation almost exactly 80 years ago: “Both with gratitude for the past and confidence in the future, we range ourselves without fear beside Britain. Where she goes, we go; where she stands, we stand.”

It was the same (minus the eloquence) with Uncle Sam. When he hollered, the Aussies and the Kiwis came a-runnin’. Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, Iraq: one way or another both countries made it their business to show up. The Australians were always more demonstrative of their love for Uncle Sam than the Kiwis. Even before the break with Washington in 1985, occasioned by New Zealand’s anti-nuclear policy, Wellington generally contrived to contribute only the very least it could get away with. Where Robert Menzies sent thousands of young Australian conscripts to South Vietnam, Keith Holyoake sent a few hundred volunteers – albeit with Howitzers.

White’s unnerving propositions posit a strategic situation in which not only does Uncle Sam cease to holler, but also – and much more alarmingly – ceases to come when called. He sees a new, multi-polar, world in which the principal nation-states have withdrawn behind their nuclear-fortified walls in watchful suspicion. A world frighteningly similar to that of the 1930s, in which a feeble and increasingly despised League of Nations simply ceased to matter. When leaders closed their mailed fists around the hilts of their swords and no longer bothered to pay even lip-service to the principles of international law.

This grim strategic position, so far from the “amazingly benign strategic environment” inherited by Helen Clark in the dying days of American hegemony, is made much worse by the USA’s ability to cast-off the ties that bind without significant cost. Great Britain depended on the food and raw materials of its far-flung dominions in a way that the USA, a vast continental power, does not. Abandoning the Western Pacific will not break the American economy, nor will it cause its people to starve. Indeed, the reverse may be true!

Which leaves us facing the one power which does evince an interest in what Australia and New Zealand have to offer – the Peoples Republic of China. White taxes his audience with questions about how far we Anzacs are prepared to go to preserve a modicum of freedom of action within the new imperium radiating from Beijing.

More importantly, how much are we willing to pay?

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 6 September 2019.