Monday, 31 December 2012

From: "Jack's As Good As His Master." To: "Nobody's Better Than Jack."

The Master Of Jack: New Zealand's original egalitarianism confronted all who stood athwart the path to a fuller life. The new egalitarianism argues that if Jack is only willing to get with programme he’ll soon realise that the fuller life is already here – to be enjoyed on Jack’s terms, and nobody else’s. John Key is both the chief spokesman and ultimate exemplar of this new egalitarian spirit. Is he our master? Yes. Does that mean he’s better than us? No way!

NEW ZEALANDERS’ WILLINGNESS to overlook the peculiarities of their Prime Minister is remarkable. This past year John Key’s lapses of taste and his penchant for populist vulgarities were exceeded only by his convenient lapses of memory and his obvious disdain for the niceties of political accountability. And yet, the Prime Minister and his National Party-led government remain extraordinarily popular. Clearly, close to half the New Zealand electorate is simply not bothered by Mr Key’s lapses of taste and memory; his crude populism; or even by his healthy disregard for the etiquette of democratic politics. In fact, they rather like it.
The egalitarian spirit for which New Zealanders are justly admired around the world would appear to have undergone a remarkable change. Where once the Kiwi claim was that “Jack's as good as his master”; egalitarianism’s contemporary iteration seems to be “Nobody’s better than Jack”.
The shift in tone is significant. In their original assertion that Kiwi Jack (and, of course, Kiwi Jill) was his or her master’s equal, New Zealanders were repudiating the strict social hierarchies of the Old World and signalling their refusal to allow either their individual or collective aspirations to be constrained by the considerations of class, gender, ethnicity or ethical conviction. It was egalitarianism of an expressly political kind: embedded in the nation’s institutions and reflected back to us via its intellectual and artistic traditions. Think Smith’s Dream or Good-bye Pork Pie.
Part and parcel of this political form of egalitarianism was an ingrained suspicion of and resistance to anyone who tried to boss Jack around. Politicians, businessmen, policemen, judges, headmasters, bureaucrats, foremen – the boss-class in general – all became targets for the scepticism and suspicion of our political egalitarianism’.
The goal was to be left alone to get on with the things that really mattered in life: family, friends, hobbies, sports and communing with a natural environment that had become the special and spectacular birthright of every Kiwi.
But the “rugged individualism” of the egalitarian New Zealander was very different from that of the egalitarian American. Up until the 1980s, this was because the former understood what the latter has never fully grasped: that individual freedom only emerges through collective endeavour. That’s why Kiwis used to be such avid “joiners” and “belongers”. Whether it was through membership of school committees, play-centres, political parties or trade unions: we did things together.
Breaking the dialectical connection between individualism and collectivism was one of the key objectives of the neoliberal counter-revolution that engulfed New Zealand in the 1980s and 90s. The egalitarian spirit was too deeply entrenched in our national character to be simply rooted out, so it was essential that the dangerously political message inherent in the notion that “Jack is as good as his master” be neutralised by redefining egalitarianism to mean something quite different.
If those on the receiving end of neoliberalism’s “restructuring” of New Zealand society could be made to believe that “Nobody’s better than Jack”, then the collective action which posed the most deadly threat to neoliberalism’s success would be rendered both impracticable and, ultimately, unnecessary.
Neoliberalism’s point of attack was the Kiwi aversion to being bossed around. If nobody’s better than Jack then nobody should be allowed to tell Jack what to do. If nobody’s better than Jack, then Jack’s ideas are a good as anybody else’s. If nobody’s better than Jack then everybody should be treated the same. Taxes should be flat. Bosses and workers should negotiate face-to-face, as equals.(No need for unions – or at least, not compulsory ones.) The media should broadcast programmes that Jack likes – not what that some pointy-headed intellectual thinks Jack should understand. And Jack’s ideas – being as good as anyone else’s – should not be sneered at or contradicted by “experts”. What do they know?
The old egalitarianism confronted all who stood athwart the path to a fuller life. It did not deny the power of philosophy or science or art: on the contrary, it demanded equal access to that power. The new egalitarianism argues that if Jack is only willing to get with programme he’ll soon realise that the fuller life is already here – to be enjoyed on Jack’s terms, and nobody else’s.
John Key is both the chief spokesman and ultimate exemplar of this new egalitarian spirit. Is he our master? Yes. Does that mean he’s better than us? No way!
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 December 2012.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Who Is David Shearer? Revealing The Back-Story To The Back-Story

A Genuine Humanitarian:  But, David Shearer’s back-story has a back-story of its own: an unusual and counter-intuitive fascination with armed force that raises many more questions than it answers.

IT’S SURPRISING how little we know about David Shearer. For most of us, his sudden appearance among the contenders for Helen Clark’s vacated seat of Mt Albert was the first appearance he’d made upon the New Zealand political stage. For Mr Shearer, however, the 2009 Mt Albert By-Election was a case of third-time-lucky. He had already stood for the Labour Party twice before: the first time, in 1999, as a lowly ranked candidate on the Party List; and the second, in 2002, in the safe National seat of Whangarei.
Our ignorance of those earlier attempts is forgivable, however, because Mr Shearer has always been a political paratrooper. In contrast to the party foot soldiers who slog their way through the Big Muddy of branch meetings, canvassing exercises, billboard construction and pamphlet deliveries, rising through the ranks to fight the good fight on policy committees or the NZ Council, Mr Shearer’s preference has been to jump into parliamentary candidacies from a great height and out of a clear sky.
The reason for this top-down method of delivery is Mr Shearer’s remarkable back-story. It’s not many thirty-five year-olds who are named New Zealander of the Year, and even fewer are awarded an MBE by the British Government. Mr Shearer’s experiences delivering aid on behalf of the Save the Children Fund in war-torn Somalia were genuinely heroic. Here, as far as the rest of the world was concerned, was a genuine humanitarian. But, Mr Shearer’s back-story has a back-story of its own: an unusual and counter-intuitive fascination with armed force that raises many more questions than it answers.
Some political observers have drawn comparisons between Mr Shearer and his chief antagonist, Prime Minister John Key. The young Labour activist, Connor Roberts, summed up the pair’s similarities and differences with his now famous quip: “John Key went overseas and made fifty million dollars; David Shearer went overseas and saved fifty million lives.”
This focus on Mr Shearer’s and Mr Key’s “overseas” experiences has led many to assume that both men were out of the country during the pivotal years 1984-1993. In Mr Shearer’s case, however, this is untrue. For nearly the whole period of the Fourth Labour Government (1984-1990) he was here, in New Zealand, studying, teaching and consulting. If he was a Labour Party member at any time during those tumultuous years, then he was a very quiet one. He certainly wasn’t among the ranks of those who fought against Rogernomics. He has, however, often spoken to journalists about his admiration for David Lange’s speeches.
This inability to get worked up about the core elements of neoliberal “reform”: labour market flexibility; privatisation; deregulation; monetary and fiscal discipline; explains his rather odd belief (for a Labour leader) that the contest between Left and Right is “a phony debate”. Such ideological agnosticism – explained away as good old Kiwi pragmatism – does, however, offer us a way into the most unusual and contradictory aspect of Mr Shearer’s entire career: his support for mercenary armies, or, as they prefer to be known these days: private military and security companies (PMSCs).
It is possible to trace this thread all the way back to Somalia in 1992 where Mr Shearer headed up the relief effort of the Save the Children Fund. It is more than likely he enjoyed a close working relationship with the United Nations Mission in Somalia and would, therefore, have been aware of their appeal to the PMSC, Defence Systems Ltd (DSL) for 7,000 Ghurkha mercenaries to protect their relief convoys. In the end DSL turned them down, but it is clear that the notion of PMSC involvement in UN protection work (as opposed to soldiers provided by UN member states) made a deep impression on Mr Shearer.
That impression was intensified by Mr Shearer’s experiences three years later as the UN’s Senior Humanitarian Advisor in the West African nation of Liberia. Just across Liberia’s northern border, in the ravaged state of Sierra Leone, the PMSC known as Executive Outcomes had been employed under contract to the Sierra Leone Government. Shearer was deeply impressed by this mercenary army’s lightning-fast defeat of the Liberian-backed forces assailing the ruling regime.

Fast and Furious: In 1995 the PMSC, Executive Outcomes, proved spectacularly successful in restoring order to war-ravaged Sierra Leone.
A year later, in 1996, Mr Shearer was advising the UN in Rwanda. It was here, just two years earlier, that a brutal genocide had taken place while the United Nations watched – and did nothing. Trying to stitch the rudiments of civil society back together after a disaster on that scale cannot have been easy.
This was followed by what might be called the John Le CarrĂ© phase of Mr Shearer’s career; his two-year stint (1996-1998) as a research associate at the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) in London. Like its sister institute – The Royal Institute of International Affairs, also known as Chatham House – the IISS has always laboured under strong suspicions of being a sort of “front organisation” for Britain’s foreign affairs, defence and intelligence “community”. This was most clearly illustrated in 2003 when the IISS released a report strongly favouring the UK’s participation in a US-led invasion of Iraq. Like the infamous “sexed-up” report released by the Security Intelligence Service (MI6) just two weeks later, the IISS also warned against Saddam Hussein’s (non-existent) “weapons of mass destruction”. Since 2003 the IISS’s Director of Transnational Threats and Political Risk has been Nigel Inkster – formerly the Deputy Director of MI6.
It was into this looking-glass world of spooks and former-spooks that Mr Shearer settled himself. His research bore spectacular fruit in 1998 when his article “Outsourcing War” was chosen as the cover-story for the Fall Edition of the prestigious American journal Foreign Affairs. Extremely well-written, the article is a paean of praise for outfits like Executive Outcomes and DSL. A very similar article, “Private Armies & Military Intervention”, was published that same years as Vol. 316 of the IISS’s Adelphi Papers.
Mr Shearer’s time at the IISS certainly did not hinder his career prospects in the United Nations. In 1999 he left London’s clubby world of foreign affairs, defence and intelligence cogitation for the considerably less congenial territory of the Balkans. With the Kosovo Crisis in full cry he helped coordinate UN aid in Albania, ultimately winding up in Belgrade as Chief of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
It’s probably as well to remind ourselves at this point of the dark history of PMSCs in the former Yugoslavia. The relationship between the UN and the private enterprises now responsible for everything from basic logistical services to security personnel was plagued by scandal. Whistle-blowers and journalists together exposed the links between the UN’s private contractors and organised crime. Most progressives would have recoiled from the revelations, but Mr Shearer’s support for the private sector’s increasing participation in UN operations persisted – especially when it took the form of PMSCs.
By 2000 Mr Shearer was back in New Zealand and working in the office of fellow Papatoetoe High School old-boy, Phil Goff – now Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade in the newly-elected Labour-Alliance Government. It was presumably with the latter’s blessing that, in 2001, Mr Shearer penned yet another article – this time for the Chatham House (remember them?) newspaper The World Today entitled “Privatising Protection”.
Though the reluctance of sovereign states to sanction the entry of foreign mercenaries into their territory had not changed, Mr Shearer’s article described a world in which private armies were an increasingly common feature:
Future troops being offered to peacekeeping forces might well come from private companies rather than states. The US firm Dyncorp, for example, provided the US share of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe monitors in Kosovo. Dyncorp is now training Colombian soldiers in its drug war. Another company, MPRI, also recently in Colombia, continues to train the Bosnia army in sophisticated US weaponry.
 (“Privatising Protection”, The World Today, August/September 2001)
By 2003 Mr Shearer was back with the UN, this time in the Middle East. As the Head of OCHA in Jerusalem and then as the UN’s Humanitarian Relief Coordinator during the Israeli assault on Southern Lebanon and Beirut, he distinguished himself as a fiercely independent upholder of the UN’s mission. Few were surprised, therefore, when, in 2007, after four years of negotiating his way through the labyrinth of Israeli-Palestinian relations, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ky Moon, named David Shearer as his Deputy-Special Representative in Iraq. He was also appointed Head of the UN Development Project Iraq. Holding these two very senior roles in the United Nations Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) Mr Shearer was almost certainly “in the room” when decisions about the use of PMSCs were being made.
Lou Pingeot, author of the New York-based Global Policy Forum’s June 2012 publication Dangerous Partnership: Private Military and Security Companies and the UN, has compiled some useful statistics on the amount of money spent on PMSCs by the UN. “Using the highest available numbers,” he writes, “there is a 250 percent increase in the use of security services from 2006 to 2011.”
The numbers for UNAMI are particularly interesting. In 2007 UNAMI spent zero dollars on PMSCs. In 2009, when its former 2IC was back in New Zealand campaigning for Helen Clark’s old seat of Mt Albert, UNAMI also spent zero dollars. In 2008, however, the amount spent by UNAMI on PMSC’s was US$1,139,745.
It is important to place this expenditure in context. It was in September of 2007 that the US-based PMSC, Blackwater Worldwide, found itself at the centre of war-crimes accusations following the unlawful killing of 17 Iraqi citizens in Baghdad’s Nasour Square by one of the company’s notorious “Personal Security Details”. The outraged Iraqi government had responded by revoking Blackwater’s licence to operate within its borders. It is fair to say that foreign mercenaries were not popular in Iraq in 2008.

Private Solutions? The US-based PMSC, Blackwater Worldwide, earned a fearsome reputation during the Occupation of Iraq.
And so we return to Mr Shearer’s preference for private military solutions to low intensity conflicts and his conviction that the United Nations is better able to carry out its humanitarian functions in something resembling safety with private sector support.
I raised the matter with Mr Shearer’s parliamentary colleague, Trevor Mallard, at the recent Labour Party Conference and he suggested that it was all about getting help to people quickly. That is certainly an important aspect of Mr Shearer’s own writing on the subject:
There is a serious question here: if a private force, operating with international authority and within international law, can protect civilians, how moral is it to deny people protection just because states can’t or won’t find the forces to do it? Or put another way, is the means of response more important than the end for which it is used – particularly where a failure to respond results in the death and abuse of civilians?
 (“Privatising Protection”, The World Today, August/September 2001)
Mr Shearer’s position has been explained away as just another case of a good Kiwi bloke, impatient to get the job done, and not being particularly fussed about how things are made to happen – or by whom. And if the universal experience of mercenary involvement in “peace-making” was as positive as Executive Outcome’s foray into Sierra Leone, the argument might have some force. In reality, however, Executive Outcome’s success in Sierra Leone stands out as a very lonely exception to a much darker rule.
The actual, on-the-ground, operational conduct of PMSCs over the past decade has demonstrated to the world just how dangerous it is to entrust the delivery of deadly force to individuals and corporations whose primary motivation is profit. Yet even in the face of the PMSCs’ appalling conduct in the Balkans and Iraq, Mr Shearer remains sympathetic towards private armies and mercenaries.
The Labour Leader’s on-going support for these private-sector problem-solvers speaks volumes – and very little is to his credit.
This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Merry Christmas Bowalley Roaders!

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. - Luke 2:14

A big 'thank you' to everyone who has visited Bowalley Road in 2012 and my special thanks to all who have commented - you have enriched the site immensely. Please accept my very best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a progressive and prosperous New Year.

Chris Trotter

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Remembering The Night: Christmas Story 2012

A Night To Remember: A grand story it was, and with the Galilean now preaching up and down the Jordan Valley, a story that was being re-told more often.
THE SUN WENT DOWN as it always did. Red and gold gave way to indigo and the white glitter of stars. Benjamin waited, as he always did, for the prosody of daylight to make way for the poetry of night – and memory.
Benjamin’s young companion, Joel, waited with him. Wondering if the older man would recite again his tale of magic and mystery.
A grand story it was, and with the Galilean now preaching up and down the Jordan Valley, a story that was being re-told more often – and not only by Benjamin.
It was about a king. A saviour born in a stable. The Messiah, no less: announced by angels; attended by Parthian wizards; hunted high and low by Herod; and welcomed into this world by shepherds. Shepherds like Benjamin – just a boy at the time.
It was a story that glowed with hope … and danger. Because the Romans crucified anyone they caught telling tales of saviours serving higher powers. The Jews already had a king, and he answered to just one higher power – the Emperor. The ruler of the universe lived in Rome – not Jerusalem.
And Rome’s yoke was a heavy one. Taxes – always more and more to pay. And woe betide the man who paid them late. Because when the Romans came collecting they always liked to leave something behind. Something to remember them by. A farmer’s body pierced by the points of their spears. A son’s face laid open by the studded soles of their sandals. A daughter’s belly swelling with the bastard child of some lecherous legionary.
Joel still carries the scars, and dreams of the day when he can repay the Romans for their kindnesses. It’s why he’s so fond of Benjamin’s tale. For when the Messiah comes and the prophecies are fulfilled Rome’s might will be as dust in the wind. The Saviour shall drive all before him. His sword will drip with the blood of the oppressor. And Israel will be free.
It’s why he still has such doubts of the Galilean: this carpenter’s son from Nazareth; this Jesus. It’s all very well to tell people that the Kingdom of God is at hand. But David’s kingdom is not about to be restored by a handful of farmers and fishermen. Rome’s legions will not be defeated by turning the other cheek.
“Describe it to me again, Benjamin. Tell me again of the Messiah’s birth.”
The old shepherd smiles into the darkness.
“Light and dark, Joel. Grandeur and humility. For a moment the veil that separates the material from the immaterial was lifted. We, the mortal creatures of time, beheld immortality: caught a glimpse of the eternal.”
“But it was a king’s birth, Benjamin. There was gold and frankincense and myrrh. Wise men from the East. You were the first to greet the Messiah: the saviour; the redeemer of Israel. You saw him.”
“I saw a mewling child still smeared with his mother’s blood. I saw three tired men: travel-stained and weeping. The air was filled with the stench of mortality, Joel. Kings are the children of kings, my young friend. But this child, this Jesus, was the Son of Man.”
“But he shall be mighty, Benjamin. He shall lead armies. He shall destroy Rome!”
The old shepherd looked up into the night sky: recalling the star’s brilliance; the angels’ shout; the pain of knowing.
“There is a kingdom greater than Israel’s, Joel. An empire larger than Rome’s. And he, the Son of Man, the blood-smeared child wrapped not in purple silk, but in the rough swaddling-cloth of a peasant girl, will lead us there.
“You look for a warrior-king. A man of might upon a white horse. But all Death’s horses are pale, Joel, and the Devil rides them.
“‘Peace on Earth’, the angels said. ‘Good will toward men’. The Galilean says it still.”
“And the Romans will kill him for it, Benjamin.”
“Yes, Joel. But he will not die.”
This short story was first published in The Dominion Post, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 21 December 2012.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

A Free Country?

How Free? New Zealanders like to think they live in "a free country". But, between the theory of democratic citizenship and its practice in the everyday lives of ordinary Kiwis, the gulf grows wider and wider.
“IT’S A FREE COUNTRY.” Ask someone if it’s okay to sit down, make a coffee, or take a squiz at the paper, and chances are you’ll receive this stock response. But just because a phrase is oft repeated doesn’t make it untrue. Ours is a free, open and democratic society, where everything that isn’t expressly forbidden is permitted.
Isn’t it?
Just a few days ago I was chatting with a group of young New Zealanders and the conversation turned to blogs and blogging. My companions were all intelligent, well-educated and gainfully employed Kiwis, and yet I was staggered to learn that none of them were willing to either post or comment on a blog using their own name.
Why were they so unwilling to put their names to their thoughts? What did they think would happen to them if they did? This is New Zealand, I reminded them with a puzzled frown. We’re not living in Putin’s Russia or North Korea. This is still “a free country”.
They gave me that weary, gently condescending look which Gen-Xers reserve for members of the Baby Boom generation who just don’t have a clue what life is like for people who didn’t grow up in the 1960s and 70s.
“If I apply for a job”, said one, “I don’t want my prospective employer to Google my name and be confronted with a whole series of fiery left-wing rants on controversial subjects.”
“It can hurt you professionally”, said another, “if your boss reads something you’ve written on a blog that he or she finds objectionable. It can harm your career prospects.”
“Or get you fired.”
This was too much. Had none of them heard of the Bill of Rights Act? The Human Rights Act? The Employment Relations Act? All New Zealanders are guaranteed the freedom of expression. It is illegal to be discriminated against on the basis of one’s beliefs. No one can be sacked for having an opinion – no matter how controversial.
“Maybe not in your day,” responded my young companions, “back when unions were strong and a civil service job was for life. But things are different now. Everyone’s vulnerable.”
And of course they were right. As we argued back and forth I suddenly recalled the extraordinary content of a recorded conversation broadcast on Radio New Zealand’s “Morning Report” on Monday 10 December – just a few days earlier.
Todd Rippon, a “Lord of the Rings” Tour Guide employed by Wellington-based Rover Tours Ltd, was fighting to keep his job following the communication of negative “feedback” to his employer, Scott Courtney, by the staff of Absolutely Positively Wellington Tourism. Mr Rippon’s offence? To have spoken in less than glowing terms about Sir Peter Jackson – a charge which Mr Rippon emphatically denies.
Listening to the recording, however, it soon became clear that the offence Mr Rippon’s boss objected to most strenuously was his employee’s active participation in the Actors Equity union.
“You’re involved with an organisation that is completely at odds with what I do”, Mr Courtney told his employee, even though Mr Rippon’s work as a tour guide was quite separate from his career as a professional actor and his role as the Vice-President of his union.
Also clear was that Tourism New Zealand – a body with which Mr Courtney’s firm works very closely – harboured similar misgivings concerning Mr Rippon’s associations.
When Mr Rippon asked his boss: “And what about the pressure from Tourism New Zealand? Do you think that it’s harming you that I’m working for you?” Mr Courtney replied: “Yes, I do.”
“Because Tourism New Zealand disapproves?”
“It will be something that is always at the back of their mind.”
This admission by Mr Courtney is deeply troubling. Tourism New Zealand has no legitimate interest whatsoever in the groups with whom Mr Rippon chooses to exercise his statutory right to freedom of association.
It got worse.
The industrial dispute between Actors Equity and Sir Peter Jackson over the filming of The Hobbit had appalled Mr Rippon’s boss:
“I am disgusted with what the Actors Equity union did and what their position is. It affects me, it affects my business. I don’t believe what they did was right. And it’s not something I want my company, or anyone involved with my company, to be involved with.”
When Mr Rippon objects: “You can’t set me aside because I belong to that.” Mr Courtney replies: “But I can! You see, this is the point.”
“You can’t do that!” protests Mr Rippon. “ It’s a basic human right to be a member of a union!”
“No, no, no!” Mr Courtney snaps back. “It’s not!”
It is difficult to imagine a better demonstration of the gulf which now exists between the theory and practice of democratic citizenship in contemporary New Zealand.
A free country? If only!
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 18 December 2012.

Friday, 14 December 2012

The Incorrectables: Or, Why Judith Collins Won't Resign.

Justice Minister? The rest of the world will look askance at a New Zealand Cabinet Minister’s public denigration of the internationally renowned Canadian jurist, Justice Ian Binnie. Collin’s conduct condemns us as a nation of ignorant and politically reckless barbarians.

ARTHUR ALLAN THOMAS, Peter Ellis, David Bain – and these are just the cases that have seared themselves into our consciousness. How many similar miscarriages of justice have blighted the lives of innocent men and women: passing unnoticed for want of a Pat Booth, a Lynley Hood or a Joe Karam to stir the nation's conscience? What is it about the New Zealand Establishment that renders it virtually incapable of self-correction? What makes our rulers so unwilling to admit their mistakes?
Today it’s Judith Collins whose been caught in flagrante delicto with error. But the present Justice Minister is simply the most recent in a long line of politicians who have decided that they and the system they represent are in all respects beyond reprimand, admonition or rebuke. That in New Zealand the powers-that-be are incorrectable.
Is it because we’re so small? Are the hidden networks connecting those who wield political, judicial and economic power over our daily lives so hopelessly entangled; so pervasively compromised by unacknowledged conflicts of interest; that even the slightest scrutiny would instantly provoke a general collapse in public trust and confidence? Is that the reason we constantly emerge from international comparisons as the least corrupt country on the planet? Not because we are incorruptible, but because by the general (if unspoken) agreement of the elites, incidents which in other jurisdictions would inevitably attract accusations of corruption and malfeasance are in New Zealand consistently characterised as something else?
There’s no doubt that the New Zealand Establishment has become extraordinarily proficient at protecting itself. Just consider the three cases already referred to: the Thomas Case, the Ellis Case and the Bain Case. What was the common factor which ensured that Thomas and Bain were vindicated? What is Peter Ellis still waiting for? The answer, of course, is a foreign pair of eyes. Thomas was rescued by Rob Muldoon’s populist instincts. Recognising an obvious Establishment stitch-up, he initiated a Royal Commission of Inquiry headed by an Australian judge. Bain was saved by the five pairs of British eyes assigned to his case by the Privy Council in London. Peter Ellis’s great misfortune is that those responsible for reviewing his case have all been senior members of the New Zealand judiciary.
It should never be forgotten that in all of these cases the New Zealand Court of Appeal upheld the wrongful conviction of innocent men. Evidentiary insecurity – in all cases due to “lapses” in the gathering and retention of crucial forensic material and/or testimony – was never considered by the Court as being of sufficient weight to vacate the earlier verdicts. Not even when, in the Ellis case, the evidence was patently absurd and obviously untrue.
And now we have the Report of Justice Ian Binnie – a Canadian jurist with a formidable international reputation – who, like so many other foreign judges, has studied the evidence used to convict a New Zealand citizen and unequivocally rejected it as unpersuasive of anything except that person’s innocence. In arriving at his conclusions he has had a few highly critical things to say about the way the New Zealand Police conducted their investigations. And, by implication, the New Zealand Court of Appeal is criticised for its failure to spot what was so clear to both himself and UK Privy Council.
Asked by the then Justice Minister, Simon Power, to help the Cabinet to decide whether or not to compensate David Bain for the 13 years he spent in jail, Justice Binnie could have had no inkling of the insults to which Power’s successor, Judith Collins would subject him.
Collin’s behaviour is explicable only in terms of the New Zealand Establishment’s blank refusal to be corrected. Upon receiving Justice Binnie’s report her first instinct was to pass it on to the Solicitor General and the Police. The Canadian judge had dared to suggest that they had erred – a conclusion which was plainly false since the New Zealand authorities are incapable of error. In spite of passing on the report to parties which were, in effect, Bain’s opponents, the Justice Minister did not think it proper to provide a copy to the legal representatives of the man most directly involved. Not content with this extraordinary breach of the basic principles of fairness, she then commissioned a former New Zealand High Court judge, Robert Fisher QC, to “peer review” the former Canadian Supreme Court Judge’s findings.
The Minister’s extraordinary behaviour was then compounded by her decision to unleash a campaign of public denigration against Justice Binnie. The eminent jurist was painted as an incompetent assessor of evidence and accused of having a poor understanding of “New Zealand Law”. In a chilling example of ruthless politicking, Collins withheld Justice Binnie’s report until Fisher QC’s critique of its findings could be released simultaneously. In this way Bain’s opponents would have a ready counter to Justice Binnie’s conclusions.
The rest of the world will look askance at a New Zealand Cabinet Minister’s public denigration of an internationally renowned jurist. Collins’ conduct condemns us as a nation of ignorant and politically reckless barbarians. Her seeming disregard for the ability of future New Zealand governments to access expert international legal advice renders her unfit to hold the office of Justice Minister, and her failure to honour the most basic requirements of natural justice should attract the strong censure of the New Zealand Law Society.
Will it happen? Probably not. Judith Collins’ behaviour is entirely consistent with the New Zealand Establishment’s “incorrectable” traditions. The Prime Minister has already cast the cloak of his protection over her shoulders, and that part of the population which prefers to believe that its political, judicial and economic masters are as blameless and honourable as they are disinterested and incorruptible will cheer her to the echo.
Better by far that ten innocent people remain incarcerated than the corrupt New Zealand Establishment which wrongfully convicted them ever be held accountable.
This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.

Judgements Written In Blood

By Their Fruits Shall Ye Know Them: To the neoliberal political elite the victims of Pike River and the CTV Building Collapse are simply collateral damage in an unending struggle against those who attempt to restrict the free play of market forces.
TWO TRAGEDIES: a mine explosion and an engineering failure: and neither needed to happen. That they did happen is attributable, almost entirely, to the influence of neoliberalism – the most pernicious political ideology to assail the modern world since fascism.
In a sane country, Pike River and the collapse of the CTV Building would already have brought the thirty-year-long reign of neoliberalism to an end. But “sane” is no longer an adjective applicable to New Zealand society. Sane societies learn from their mistakes. Have we? Do we still know how?
 I say “we”, but the collective entity I’m actually referring to is the very thin layer of politicians, business leaders, top civil servants and public relations experts who “govern” the rest of us. For these people, neoliberalism has taken on the unquestionable character of a religious faith and is, therefore, impervious to evidential refutation.
And precisely because it is a faith, neither Pike River nor the CTV Building Collapse will produce anything very much in the way of meaningful change. The neoliberal elite fervently believe that “heavy-handed” regulation is a more profound long-term threat to the public good than gassy mines or badly designed buildings.
To this political class, the 29 Pike River miners and the 115 victims of the CTV Building Collapse are simply unfortunate casualties: collateral damage in the never-ending war against those who would constrain the free operation of market forces.
New Zealanders could take heart if there was even one major political party that opposed without equivocation the neoliberal policies in which their country is enmeshed. But, think about it: when was the last time you heard a spokesperson for the Labour Party not only condemn the policies and plans of the National-led Government, but also promise that, immediately upon taking office, Labour will repeal the legislation giving effect to those plans and policies?
Consider, for example, the formation of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MoBIE). This brain-dead bureaucratic monstrosity is the brain-child of National Cabinet Minister, Steven Joyce, and is the very last organisational model a government would adopt if it was genuinely concerned about the health and safety of workers in dangerous industries like mining and forestry. The Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Pike River Disaster, itself, specifically recommended the establishment of a stand-alone health and safety agency. The Prime Minister demurred.
A Tragedy Waiting To Happen: The Pike River Coal Company failed comprehensively to ensure the safety of its workforce. Under neoliberalism it is always Money First - People Second.
Now it’s true that Labour opposed the formation of MoBIE and voted against the legislation setting it up, but has anyone heard them promise to instantly dismantle it upon taking office? Have they unequivocally endorsed the Royal Commission’s recommendation of a stand-alone agency or, failing that, pledged to rebuild the full regulatory capacity of the Department of Labour?
Come to think of it, has Labour ever honestly acknowledged its responsibility for unleashing the fast-talking, hands-off, corner-cutting wide-boys whose feverish appetite for quick and excessive profit-taking led directly to jerry-built tragedies-in-waiting like the CTV building?
Now, to be fair, Labour’s organisational wing has attempted to acknowledge the party’s role in unleashing the neoliberal ideology on an unsuspecting New Zealand. In the first chapter of the initial draft of the party’s new policy “platform” its authors state: “[T]he Fourth Labour Government’s programme of extensive economic reform was in breach of Labour’s traditions and values. Without any specific mandate this Labour government ….. gave up a large degree of regulatory control in favour of unrestrained market forces.”
That draft has yet to be ratified, and I must confess to being more than a little sceptical of ever hearing David Shearer or David Parker deliver so unequivocal a repudiation of Labour’s neoliberal past. Not while Mr Shearer’s predecessor, Phil Goff, continues to influence Labour’s economic and social policy-making. It was, after all, Mr Goff who told Radio New Zealand’s political editor, Brent Edwards, in July 2009: “a well-functioning market system is the most effective and efficient way of organising an economy.”
The tragedies of Pike River and Christchurch’s CTV Building are judgements written in blood against neoliberalism. Grim testimonials to the moral delinquency of a system that puts profit and convenience ahead of human-beings and safety.
It’s now up to us, while democracy endures in this country, to dig down to the roots of our national malaise. To wrench out the neoliberal ivy that is relentlessly strangling our institutions – and killing our fellow citizens.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Journalism In Twenty-First Century New Zealand

The Nature Of The Beast: How should journalism be defined in Twenty-First Century New Zealand?

WHAT DOES IT MEAN to be a journalist in Twenty-First Century New Zealand? Why do thousands of young people every year sign up (and pay for) tertiary courses in journalism and communications studies? It certainly isn’t for the journalist's starting salary. Modern journalism is a high-stress, unrelenting, poorly-paid and (if the trust and confidence surveys are to be believed) almost universally despised profession. Why bother?
The oldest and still the most common answer journalists, both real and aspiring, offer to those who ask this question is: “To make a difference.” Ever since the invention of the printing press, people with something to say have seized the opportunity communication technology provides to reach a mass audience. In other words, people become journalists to access the power of the media. Their motivation is political.
Most journalists are loath to admit that power and politics have even the slightest bearing on their reasons for joining the profession. They’ll object that their motivations were much more honourable than the crude pursuit of power. Many will insist that they were only interested in sharing information with the public. Some will say they joined to right wrongs and correct abuses. Others will plead simple curiosity – an overwhelming need to know what’s going on.
They should not be believed.
The first thing that any journalist encounters – no matter whether he or she is in print, radio, television or web journalism – is their new employers’ editorial culture. This will determine practically every aspect of their job. If they’re interested only in gathering and disseminating information, the editorial culture of the newspaper, magazine, radio station or TV network will very soon make it clear which information is to be gathered and disseminated and which is best left alone. If they’re out to slay ogres and dragons they’ll be told which ones are fair game and which ones to leave undisturbed. If they’re simply curious they’ll learn very swiftly that there are institutions and individuals about whom it is positively dangerous to ask too many questions.
Every journalist entering the profession, therefore, has a choice. Submit to the culture, or walk away. That so few choose to walk away speaks volumes about the professional temperament of journalists. The thrill of reaching and influencing a mass audience trumps just about every other consideration. As is the case with all mercenaries, money is important to the working journalist – but it isn’t crucial. They do what they do because nothing else comes close. Who cares if the issues being addressed and the editorial line being followed are dictated by somebody else? It’s the journalists’ words, and their images, that make the difference on the ground.
If you remain doubtful that journalists are essentially power-seeking politicos with keyboards and/or cameras, just consider the twenty-first century “communications” career-path. In the process of making a master communicator journalism is only the apprenticeship phase. A few years of “churnalism”, of demonstrating that he or she possesses a safe pair of hands, and the apprentice is taken up into the public relations industry.
Providing there’s nothing in the journalist’s career suggesting some unwillingness to embrace the culture of their paymasters, the shift to PR work will generally double their income overnight. In this world there’s no place for idealistic self-justifications. Here, the journalist’s talents for effective communication are to be placed unashamedly at the disposal of corporate power – end of story.
An alternative path to becoming a well-paid shill for the rich and the powerful is via the offices of Government and Opposition politicians. For ambitious members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, becoming a “spin-doctor” is easily the quickest route to a six-figure salary. It does, however, require a solid grasp of the realities of political reporting: hunt as a pack; share the spoils; and under no circumstances attempt to write your own words or music to the unfolding drama.
Above all else, the successful political journalist understands and accepts that democratic politics can only be about the replacement and replenishment of elites. Faces may come and go, but the fundamental story must always be the same. Politicians and journalists who attempt to construct and/or popularise a political narrative substantially at odds with the version provided by “official sources” should anticipate neither a lengthy nor a successful career.
This examination of Twenty-First Century New Zealand journalism cannot, however, be concluded without a word or two concerning the glittering exceptions to the profession’s new rules. These are the celebrity journalists – the handful of political editors, presenters, news-readers, talk-back hosts and entertainers who dominate the electronic media and are, thus, the principal shapers of public opinion.
Like the actors of Ancient Greece, their role is to demonstrate how little we human-beings control the urges and forces that shape our universe. To explain, in short, the ways of gods to men.
In the Twenty-First Century these deities are the great private and public organisations to which most of us offer up our daily labour. Through the celebrity journalists' own carefully constructed masks and most particularly through the heroes and heroines they create, we are invited to participate vicariously in both the comedy and tragedy of the human condition. In their stories we learn to recognise hubris and hamartia, the overweening pride and the fatal flaws, that first raise up and then cast down the dramatis personae of our ruling elites.
What they dare not do – on pain of themselves being cast down from the electronic Olympus – is encourage their audience to believe that the greatest story of all; the story yet to be written; is the story ordinary people will one day write for themselves.
This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Mistaken Assumptions: Labour's Anti-Democratic Culture

Vulnerable Medium: The young editors of the Otago Labour Regional Council's newspaper, Caucus, could only reach their readership through the expensive processes of the printing press. This gave their publisher, by virtue of its control of the purse-strings, the ability to shut the paper down if it strayed too far in the direction of controversy. That was in the early 1980s. Today's political bloggers cannot be silenced so easily - or so they thought.
THE FIRST ISSUE of Caucus appeared in September 1982 and the last in April 1983. The third (and final) issue featured a highly critical opinion-piece entitled: “Yes – I’m the Great Pretender: A Socialist Critique of David Lange.” Since Lange had only been Labour’s Leader since February 1983, the editors’ decision to publish the critique in a Labour Party newspaper was either exceptionally brave or extremely foolish.
The newspaper’s publisher, the Otago Regional Council of the Labour Party, did not have to wait long for Lange’s reaction. At its next meeting the Labour Leader turned up unannounced, asked the man on the door to point out the author of the offending article, took a seat beside him, removed a copy of Caucus No. 3 from his briefcase and tore it into little pieces.
The Port Chalmers Branch of the Labour Party went one better than their leader. After passing a motion of censure in the newspaper’s editors, all 200 of their branch’s copies of Caucus were burned.
A few days later, Caucus’s two young editors were asked to drive Labour’s then Transport spokesperson, Richard Prebble, to Oamaru for a “Save Rail” rally. Mr Prebble took advantage of his captive audience to deliver a stern homily on party discipline.
“Your first mistake”, he told the hapless twenty-somethings, “was to assume that the Labour Party is a democracy.”
Thirty years later, supporters of internal Labour Party democracy are facing many important differences from the early 1980s, but also some startling continuities.
The most obvious difference between 1982 and 2012 is the size of the party. Labour’s current membership is reportedly at an historic low, but thirty years ago it was at an all-time high. Putting to one side the trade unions’ affiliated membership, Labour’s branch membership in the early 1980s numbered more than 80,000. The very fact that a regional council possessed sufficient funds to publish its own newspaper points not only to the sheer scale, but also the organisational vitality, of what was indisputably a mass political movement.
It was also a time before the invention of the World Wide Web. To reach a mass audience in the early 1980s required the assistance of a printing-press – and that cost money. Having strayed beyond the paths of acceptable opinion, Caucus very quickly discovered that he who pays the piper calls the tune. Not that the Otago Regional Council would ever censor its own newspaper – perish the thought! It was simply a matter of budget priorities, which were deemed, in the weeks following the notorious Caucus No. 3, to NOT include a regional party newspaper.
The Offending Article: Said Richard Prebble to the editors of Caucus: "Your first mistake was to assume that the Labour Party is a democracy."
In 2012 no party subsidy is required for Labour members and supporters to speak to one another. The World Wide Web and the “blogs” it has spawned have relocated the no-holds-barred political debate which the young editors of Caucus had so courageously attempted to encourage in 1982-83 to “cyberspace” – a realm well beyond the financial veto of the Labour Party’s regional and national hierarchies.
Foremost among New Zealand’s Labour-focused blogs is The Standard (its name inspired by Labour’s nationwide newspaper of the 1940s and 50s) with a readership in the hundreds-of-thousands. Like Caucus, The Standard has earned the wrath of the party hierarchy (and especially Labour’s parliamentary caucus) for its outspoken criticism of Labour’s leader – criticism that’s only grown louder following the demotion of Mr Shearer’s purported challenger, David Cunliffe.
It is at this point that we encounter some powerful continuities with the Labour Party of thirty years ago. For it would seem that those participating in The Standard have made the same “mistake” as the editors of Caucus: that of assuming the Labour Party to be a democracy.
Stung by The Standard’s continued criticism of Mr Shearer, a “senior Labour MP” is reportedly seeking to limit the ability of Labour members to post articles and/or offer commentary on any blog operating outside the effective editorial control of the party organisation. Even more damning, from the perspective of a generation raised on the ethical protocols of the Web, information supplied in confidence to the Labour Caucus controlled blogsite, Red Alert, is allegedly being used to identify Labour members participating either anonymously or pseudonymously on The Standard and other blogs critical of Labour’s performance.
It is too soon to predict the outcome of this latest attempt to curb democratic debate within the Labour Party. It is, however, possible to draw some lessons from the fate of Caucus.
Prophetically, the author of “Yes – I’m the Great Pretender” wrote: “It is ironic that Lange leading the fourth Labour government will probably succeed in the reconstruction of capitalist relations where National has failed.” How very different Labour – and New Zealand – might have been had such prophetic insights been debated instead of suppressed.
Only a democratic Labour Party can re-construct a democratic New Zealand.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 11 December 2012.

Friday, 7 December 2012

An Appointment With Reality

Making Greens See Red: German Green Party leader (and Foreign Minister in Germany's first Red-Green Coalition Government) Joschka Fischer, copped an earful of abuse (and red paint) after endorsing the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999. Paint-bombs notwithstanding, the special Green Party conference which convened at Bielefeld to debate Fischer's decision voted to put the retention of political power ahead of its pacifist principles. Sometime between now and 2014 New Zealand's Greens face an equally uncomfortable appointment with reality.

“WARMONGERS! WARMONGERS!”, chanted the protesters as Green Party delegates, escorted by police, made their way into Bielefeld’s Seidensticker Hall. It was May 13 1999 and the Children of May 1968 had an appointment with Reality.
Over the rogue state of Serbia NATO bombers were staging a “humanitarian intervention” on behalf of the threatened citizens of the breakaway province of Kosovo. For the first time since the end of World War II, German forces were engaged abroad.
Joschka Fischer, Green Party leader and Foreign Minister in Germany’s first Red-Green Coalition Government, had endorsed the decision to intervene. At Bielefeld, 800 delegates would decide whether or not his dramatic departure from the Green Party’s founding principle of “Non-Violence” would stand. The long-simmering battle between the right-leaning “Realos” (Realists) and the left-leaning “Fundis” (Fundamentalists) was about to be decided.
As it usually does, “Reality” won the day at Bielefeld. The German Greens, faced with the choice of modifying their principles or stepping away from their coalition with the Social Democrats, decided (415/335) to modify their principles. All violence might be awful – but some forms of violence were more awful than others.
The NATO sorties continued.
Whether they believe the German Greens grew up – or sold out – at Bielefeld, New Zealand’s Greens, at some point during the next three years, will inevitably be faced with a Bielefeld of their own.
It is entirely unrealistic for a political party to join a coalition government without first acknowledging the inevitability of compromise. This is especially true if the party in question attracted fewer votes, and thus has fewer seats, than its prospective partner. The larger party cannot be expected to re-order its policy priorities or sacrifice its leading personnel merely to keep its junior partner happy. To do so would attract – and merit – universal scorn.
Such are the brutal realities of coalition politics. Parties either accept them – and become genuine players in the political game. Or, they reject them and remain permanent political spectators.
It is really only the world’s Green parties which struggle to accept these largely self-evident rules. As the ideological offspring of May 1968 (the year in which the great counter-cultural uprising of the world’s youth reached its zenith) the prototypical German Greens eschewed all political hierarchy in favour of “Appropriate Decision-Making” – by which they meant “grass-roots”, “bottom-up”, consensus-based democracy. And this was no mere rhetorical flourish: Greens really do believe that the way they arrive at major decisions is every bit as important as the decisions they make.
All of which lays a heavy burden on the shoulders of Russel Norman and Metiria Turei. Rather than laying claim to portfolios their prospective coalition partners in the Labour Party couldn’t possibly agree to assign them (not without opening up huge divisions within its own ranks) the Greens’ co-leaders should be thinking about how to reconcile their fellow party members’ to the unavoidable compromises of coalition politics.
Because these are likely to be both numerous and unpalatable. On practically every economic and social issue that matters the Greens have positioned themselves well to the left of Labour. That being the case, very few, if any, of the Greens’ preferred solutions to the high dollar, unemployment, child poverty, homelessness, climate change and dirty dairying, will win Labour’s unqualified endorsement.
As a political party on its way to the Treasury Benches, the New Zealand Greens would be wise to learn from the experience of their German counterparts. Tumultuous gatherings on the model of the Bielefeld Conference make for the most stunning political theatre, but the long-term consequences in terms of preserving ideological coherence, or even the enduring good-will and commitment of the party rank-and-file can be extremely debilitating.
It wasn’t just an earful of red-paint that the “warmonger”, Joschka Fischer, received in the Seidensticker Hall. His role in undermining the Green’s pacifist traditions won him a new and much less flattering image than the “principled activist” persona he had worn since 1968.
Reality plays no favourites.
This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 7 December 2012.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

'Waitakere Man' Finds His Avatar

It's Alive! When the monster escapes its creator's control terrible things happen. 'Waitakere Man' first appeared on the pages of The Independent Business Weekly in September 2009 and gained wide currency as a shorthand term for Labour's conservative deserters to National. Now Waitakere Man has found his own political avatar - John Tamihere.
FOR DR FRANKENSTEIN the moment of maximum horror and surprise came when the monster he’d created disobeyed his orders. He’d assumed it was his to command. But, once abroad in the world, the monster went its own way.
Mulling over the Labour Party’s decision to re-admit John Tamihere to its ranks, I’m beginning to understand how Dr Frankenstein felt. “Waitakere Man” – the monster I created more than three years ago on the pages of The Independent Business Weekly – has not only gone its own way, it’s acquired a powerful, new, flesh-and-blood political avatar.
Before proceeding any further, I’d better introduce my monster. He was born out of a desire to understand the character of the thousands of former Labour voters who had switched to National in the elections of 2005 and 2008.
This is how I described the person I called “Waitakere Man” back in 2009:
He’s the sort of bloke who spends Saturday afternoon knocking-back a few beers on the deck he built himself, and Saturday evening watching footy with his mates on the massive flat-screen plasma-TV he’s still paying-off.

His missus works part-time to help out with the mortgage, and to keep their school-age offspring in cell-phones and computer games.
His trade certificate earns him much more than most university degrees. Indeed, he’s nothing but contempt for "smart-arse intellectual bastards spouting politically-correct bullshit". 

What he owns, he’s earned – and means to keep.

"The best thing we could do for this country, apart from ditching that bitch in Wellington and making John Key prime-minister," he informed his drinking-buddies in the lead-up to the 2008 election "would be to police the liberals – and liberate the police."

Waitakere Man values highly those parts of the welfare state that he and his family use – like the public education and health systems – but has no time at all for "welfare bludgers".

"Get those lazy buggers off the benefit", he’s constantly telling his wife, "and the government would be able to give us a really decent tax-cut."

On racial issues he’s conflicted. Some of his best friends really are Maori – and he usually agrees with the things John Tamihere says on Radio Live.

It’s only when the discussion veers towards politics, and his Maori mates start teasing him about taking back the country, treaty settlement by treaty settlement, that his jaw tightens and he subsides into sullen silence. 

Though he didn’t say so openly at the time, he’d been thrilled by Don Brash’s Orewa Speech, and reckoned the Nats’ "Iwi-Kiwi" billboards were "bloody brilliant!"
Waitakere Man proved troublesome from the moment he emerged from my computer keyboard. Many people believed he was my avatar. They charged me with counselling the Labour Party to embrace this bigoted blowhard and tailor its policies to suit his prejudices. Not true. My intent was only ever to make Labour aware of Waitakere Man’s existence. To remind the party that he represented a lot of voters, perhaps as many as five percent of the electorate, and that if Labour had no thought of reclaiming this important political demographic, it could not avoid devising some means of replacing it.
But it soon became clear that Labour – or at least those elements advising Phil Goff – were openly entertaining thoughts of reclaiming Waitakere Man from National. They were anxious to shed the party’s image of being a place where no red-blooded, heterosexual working men would dare to venture; where political correctness had ousted common sense; and where the pet causes of educated middle-class New Zealanders (teachers) took precedence over the values of ordinary Kiwis (small businessmen).
The social liberals and trade unionists in Labour’s Caucus defeated Mr Goff’s attempt to re-connect with Waitakere Man. But, under his successor, David Shearer, the invitation has been re-sent. Mr Shearer’s sickness-beneficiary-on-the-roof story was one sop to the Waitakere Cerberus, his veiled threat to the teaching profession another.
And now, apparently at the behest of Mr Shearer, the New Zealand Council of the Labour Party has voted to re-admit Mr Tamihere to full membership status. Waitakere Man now possesses his very own ideological champion.
But what an ideology! Mr Tamihere is, after all, the man whose unreconstructed sexism and homophobia (“front-bums”, “queers”) cost him his seat at Helen Clark’s Cabinet Table. His subsequent career as Radio Live’s political shock-jock has only given these intellectually bankrupt and reactionary prejudices a wider audience. In welcoming him back, Labour’s New Zealand Councillors have spat in the faces of their most progressive members.
Because, like Dr Frankenstein’s monster, Waitakere Man’s newly-minted avatar answers to no one but himself. Labour has opened the door to an individual who regards most of its membership with undisguised contempt.
When, inevitably, he brings his knee up between progressive Labour’s legs, let no one who voted for Mr Tamihere’s re-admission feign either horror or surprise.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 4 December 2012.