Thursday, 25 February 2010

Know Thy Friends

Be careful what (and who) you allow through your gates: It is a truism of war and politics that one should "know thy enemy". In the case of National’s faltering relationship with the Maori Party, however, it’s more a case of "know thy friends".

IN BUSINESS and in politics, it always pays to know who – and what – you’re dealing with. All too often it is unfamiliarity (rather than its opposite) that breeds the contempt that leads to mistakes. Just look at the increasingly fractious relationship between the National and Maori parties. Government ministers’ lack of experience in dealing with Maori nationalism has made them easy marks. By the time they realise just how expertly they’ve been played – it may be too late to avert political disaster.

I’ve seen what can happen in this sort of situation.

When Jim Anderton was planning the Inaugural Conference of the NewLabour Party, his advisors (myself included) warned him against opening the occasion to all-comers.

"If you do that", we said, "every far-Left group in New Zealand will turn up and take it over."

But Jim, who’d been the President of the Labour Party for five years, was unmoved.

"They’ll be a tiny minority", he reassured us, "I’ll handle them."

But Jim didn’t know who he was dealing with. For many decades the Labour Party had rigorously excluded members of the Stalinist, Maoist and Trotskyite communist organisations from its ranks. The leftists Jim was used to "handling" were loyal social-democrats – a very different political animal from the sort of beast he was proposing to let into Wellington’s Overseas Terminal.

"But Jim", we pleaded, "communists are used to being in the minority. Their discipline and articulateness will more than make up for their lack of numbers. At the very least let us vet the membership applications!"

But Jim could not be budged. And, sure enough, on Queen’s Birthday Weekend, 1989, as the People’s Liberation Army’s tanks were rolling over students in Tiananmen Square, New Zealanders were treated to television images of earnest young men and women preaching revolutionary communism to Jim Anderton’s startled social-democrats. The NLP never recovered.

Watching the relationship between National and the Maori Party unravel, I’m forcefully reminded of the danger posed to any political organisation when its leader is unfamiliar with the beliefs, strategies and tactics of the people he has invited under its roof. And in John Key’s’s case he hasn’t even got a cadre of advisers with direct experience of how Maori nationalists work: no one to say "No John, don’t go there!"

Labour politicians, by contrast, are well aware of how ugly things can get when Maori nationalists move into Pakeha institutions. Phil Goff and his colleagues know families like the Harawiras from way back; they saw them in action in the 1980s; and more than once they were on the receiving-end of their "beliefs, strategies and tactics". Helen Clark’s infamous reference to "haters and wreckers" didn’t come out of thin air.

Pakeha are always at a disadvantage in the world of Maori politics. Its labyrinthine twists and turns confuse even the most seasoned political commentators.

Why, for example, did Hone Harawira use his speech in the Prime Minister’s Debate to thank the Iwi Leadership Forum’s for their contribution to the negotiations over the fate of the Foreshore & Seabed Act? Is their participation at an end? And should this almost casual dismissal of mainstream iwi leadership be read in conjunction with his earlier praise of Sir Tipene O’Reagan who "was there, and prominently so" on the day the 2004 protest hikoi marched into Parliament Grounds?

Was this Harawira’s way of acknowledging Ngai Tahu’s paramountcy on the issue? A heads-up to Maoridom that Sacha McMeeking (General Manager for Strategy and Influence with Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu, and the guiding legal mind behind the highly secretive Iwi Leadership Group and its controversial deal with the Government over the ETS legislation) is now leading the negotiations over the Foreshore & Seabed Act?

Ms McMeeking (32) is certainly one of the most impressive Maori leaders to have emerged from the Treaty settlement process of the 1990s. Equally at ease on the barricades as she is in the courtroom and the boardroom, she brings a formidable array of intellectual and ideological weapons to the debate over customary rights.

One wonders what sort of reply Key and his Treaty Negotiations Minister, Chris Finlayson, might make to someone who quite happily informed the audience at this year’s Hillary Symposium that her remarks were going to be guided by "neo-colonial theory – which is a bit like neo-Marxist theory but with an indigenous twist".

Does either gentleman really know who, or what, he’s dealing with?

Harawira also made mention in his speech of the contribution made by the radical legal scholar, and arch Maori nationalist, Moana Jackson. In answering his own question: "So what exactly is it that the Maori Party want to see after the repeal?", Harawira informed the House that "the kaupapa I’ve been touting all ‘round the place over the past few months was approved by our caucus last week as the basis for a new deal on the Foreshore & Seabed.

"It’s based on a paper written for us by Moana Jackson which proposed the notion of tupuna title – which basically says that if the whole world already knows that Maori people were here first, then lets stop being ridiculous by making Maori go to court to prove it. Let’s simply accept it’s true and build on that."

The legal implications of tupuna title for the future of property relations in New Zealand are, of course, nothing short of revolutionary. And if, as Harawira insists, Jackson’s ideas now constitute the core of the Maori Party’s (i.e. McMeeking’s) negotiating position, then Key, Finlayson and the whole National-led Government are rapidly approaching a very deeply-drawn line in the sand.

Caught in a subtle pincer movement between Jackson’s attempt to wipe out 170 years of colonial history, and McMeeking’s negotiating brio, the National-led Government will either have to step over the line, to electoral ruin, or step away from it, and watch its agreement with the Maori Party dissolve.

What happens then? Nothing calculated to make Key, his Government, or the country feel any more at ease. Freed at last from the embarrassing embrace of the National Party, a Maori Party denied its victory over the Foreshore & Seabed is likely to run the war canoes out into deep water and start paddling.

Only then, perhaps, will National finally understand who, and what, it’s been dealing with.

This essay was originally published in The Independent of Thursday, 25 February 2010.


peterquixote said...

Most New Zealanders know well that radical Maori are an enemy of our Nation.

We don't mind what Harawira made mention in his speech,
or the idiotic Moana Jackson gobbledygook title claim which basically says that
"if the whole world already knows that Maori people were here first,
[ and therefore own everything] ,
then lets stop being ridiculous by making Maori go to court to prove it"
and we don't care that
"Ms McMeeking (32) is certainly one of the most impressive Maori leaders to have emerged from the Treaty settlement process of the 1990s"

The foreshore is going to stay in the hands of NZ Nation care of NZ Govt for all the people and thats guaranteed Trotsky people..

Victor said...


I largely agree with your analysis

But I'm not sure I agree that the NLP never recovered from the intrusion of infantile leftists in 1989.

I don't have your insider knowledge but I always had the impression that the NLP basically ran the Alliance, which was, for several years, the single most successful 'third party' of recent times and which came close to eclipsing Labour as the main, effective opposition to the Bolger government.

The Alliance also had an ability to appeal across class and ideology to people who would never have dreamed of voting Labout, e.g. the Tamaki blue rinse brigade.

And, of course, the Alliance (and hence the NLP) played a big role in drawing Labour back to the middle ground after the right-wing excesses of the 80s and 90s.

Some failure!

Chris Trotter said...

That's all quite true, Victor.

I guess the point I'm making is that the Founding Conference of the NLP was intended to launch a "new" Labour Party, a left social-democratic party ready to embrace the policies of the successful North European states.

The intrusion of the Far Left destroyed that opportunity, and forced Jim Anderton to mask the NLP's "far-left" reputation with the coalition of parties that was the Alliance.

What this meant in practice was that, come MMP, the best candidates available - outstanding individuals like Prof. Jim Flynn, for example - were forced to make way for second-raters from the upper ranks of the Alliance's truly eccentric coalition partners (the Democrats, Mana Motuhake, the Liberals).

It was this fatal weakness that prevented the Alliance from building up the critical mass of truly talented political leaders who could have mounted a really serious challenge to the political hegemony of right-wing Labourism in New Zealand.

Imagine how far to the Left a party like that could have shifted the centre of political gravity in this country!

Jim's failure to understand who and what he was dealing with cost New Zealand dearly.

Victor said...

Thanks Chris. That's interesting. I was relatively new to New Zealand at that point and may have missed the bl..ding obvious.

Anonymous said...

Chris - putting aside your digs at the 'far-left' and 'Maori nationalists', did it ever occur to you that the Maori Party may be trying to tackle the difficult issue of resolving land theft & Treaty breaches perpetrated by the government that now claims the right to settle those disputes? That makes for a very one-sided situation.

A straight revocation of Labour's foreshore law means iwi and hapu have to prove their 'unbroken ownership/occupation' of the foreshore & seabed to the very Crown courts that helped disposess them in the first place. And proving unbroken use of the land Maori were often kicked off is almost laughably impossible.

I think you will find it is this issue that causes Hone and others to talk of simply recognising these 'self-evident truths' we all know.

How about the Crown just recognising that iwi & hapu held all the foreshore & seabed as at 1840, give full fee simple title to a trust jointly owned by those iwi (they can resolve boundary disputes themselves over the years), and the Crown lease back the foreshore and seabed as they need (for public access, minerals mining, etc) at either peppercorn or commerical rates - depending on whether it was a public or commercial need for access? I reckon most Maori and the Maori Party could live with that, as could most pakeha.

Better that revoking 'hater Helen's' Foreshore & Seabed Act just to replace it with another ripoff act... that would rip apart the relationship between Maori Party and National (hmmm. maybe every cloud does have a silver lining).

Anonymous said...

Well Anonymous - And how about ownership by conquest then? By means fair or foul - seemed fair enough in the day.
To the winner the spoils?
Keep the home fires burning whilst you may ay?
Moanas theory needs to encompass all of Maori traditions.

mike said...

Anon #2:

That whole "ownership by conquest" argument IMHO betrays a weird wishful fantasising: "Oh if only we had just straight out conquered New Zealand instead of this wishy-washy treaty thing... Oh if only we'd been more like the yanks/aussies and kind of got rid of our injuns..."

But, no, there was a treaty. Which was then broken by the crown in a myriad of ways. The miracle is that this is being redressed after 140 years. Seems quite positive.

As far as pre-contact Maori tradition goes. Well, there was conquest, yes, but treaties too, intermarriages, alliances etc. etc. These are the more appropriate things to compare.

Chris Trotter said...

Yes, Mike, there was a treaty - and it is New Zealand's glory and pride. For it would, indeed, have been easier and much more advantageous (in the long term) to have embraced the same exterminist policies as the Americans and Australians.

Anon #2 is right, however, to draw our attention to the Maori tradition of rule by right of conquest. It was an argument put forward to the Native Land Court well after the signing of the Treaty - in justification for the extinction of all Moriori claims to the Chathams, for example.

I can understand the unease of those Pakeha who survey our recent history and wonder whether both races are working from the same set of basic assumptions re: biculturalism.

When I hear the words of Margaret Mutu and Moana Jackson - I wonder too.

mike said...

Chris, you were probably being ironic, but "advantageous" for who?

Not only was colonial conquest disadvantageous for the indigenous people, but also for the descendents of the colonisers.

Robert Hughes has, for example, spoken of the festering darkness in the centre of the white aussie soul. It derives, he says, from the simple fact they can't properly confront what their ancestors did, let alone think about proper redress. White racism, both in Australia and the States, is psychologically under-pinned by this massive denial.

Give me the NZ situation anyday over that.

IMHO, again, I think the approach of many Maori so-called "radicals" are often deeply misconstrued. I regard, as Pakeha myself, the words of Mutu and Jackson as a challenge. They are putting the ideas out there and challenging others to look a bit deeper at their inherited values and assumptions. Not unlike Brecht they are saying: "Change the world. It needs it."

Perhaps we Pakeha on the left need to start looking back a bit further than Marx, the industrial revolution and commodity society (before there was "a left"), when the Western way of life wasn't so different from pre-Contact Maori society.

Maybe we could think about becoming modern non-moderns again?

STC said...

"Robert Hughes has, for example, spoken of the festering darkness in the centre of the white aussie soul"

Wow. And here was me envying my Australian cousins for their great lifestyle and practical attitudes, all along unaware that a "festering darkness" is in the centre of their white souls.

I am also interested by this idea of ditching civilisation because the industrial revolution was mistake, juxtaposed to the notion that people ought to look 'a bit deeper at their inherited values and assumptions'. And here was I, beginning to believe that the 'green, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist' movement was one of the all time greatest set of inherited, undebated and uncritical assumptions.

But your argument that pre-industrial revoloution, pre englightenment dark ages Europe is a better model to base our society on certainly turned me around on that.