Tuesday 21 January 2014

Act 4.0 - Let's hear It From Jamie Whyte

Act's Great Whyte Hope? If the Act Party is seeking a well-spoken, thoroughly erudite, persuasively articulate, refreshingly honest and witty champion of the battle-scarred neoliberal cause, then the New Zealand-born, Cambridge-educated philosopher, Jamie Whyte, is the obvious choice.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS are a poor basis for accurate political judgement. Had I been guided by my first impressions of Jamie Whyte my judgement would have been harsh – and wrong. His comments about the calibre of New Zealand’s politicians would have led me to dismiss the “philosopher” who’s trying to become the next leader and reviver of the Act Party as just another right-wing bigot – not to mention a very sorry ambassador for Cambridge University.
Our members of Parliament seek the support of their fellow citizens on behalf of many and varied causes. What unites them is a common desire to leave the world a better place than they found it. In pursuit of this goal they risk the breaking apart of their marriages, estrangement from their children and the endless jibes and insults of people who haven’t the slightest idea of the fraught and very lonely existence politicians are required to endure.
It is, therefore, quite outrageous to suggest, as Mr Whyte did in this week’s Sunday Star-Times, that: “[S]hamefully, it’s just the best job they are capable of getting … they have no particular talents, somehow they have managed to get in with their party and get elevated and they are as happy as a pig in shit. Otherwise, they would be working in the food industry [think McDonalds] or cleaning.”
Outrageous and (if I may be so bold with a Cambridge philosopher) illogical. Glossing over the huge rhetorical, social and organisational effort required to make it across the threshold of the 120-strong New Zealand House of Representatives with the word “somehow” is very “bad thinking” indeed.
If every cook and janitor could just as easily find work as a parliamentarian, then surely Parliament would be filled with patty-flippers and mop-wielders? Now, a good socialist might argue that Parliament would be all the better for the addition of some genuine workers, but an empiricist, noting the complete absence of such persons, would have to question seriously both Mr Whyte’s powers of observation and his reasoning.
More out of respect for Cambridge University than for anything I had so far learned about Mr Whyte I persevered with my enquiries. Surely there had to be more to recommend this person as a potential party leader than political sentiments more usually encountered in the commentary threads of right-wing blogs?
And thanks to the boundless memory of Google and YouTube – there was.
The first and most pleasant surprise was Mr Whyte’s accent. Given the frequency with which he reverted to the copulatory expletive in his Sunday Star-Times interview, I was expecting to hear a Kiwi accent broad enough to rival the Prime Minister’s. What I actually heard was beautifully modulated “English” English. (Think Lindsay Perigo’s perfect diction minus the Randian brio.) Mr Whyte could make a recitation of the phone book sound like a neoliberal treatise.
The other surprises were Mr Whyte’s facility for oratory; his skill in constructing simple yet persuasive illustrations of his ideas; and his wit. The ability to make people laugh – especially at one’s opponents – is an invaluable political skill. His 2013 address to an Act Party conclave is a little masterpiece of simple but effective political rhetoric.
Also impressive (not to say transgressive) is the interview he conducts with himself as part of the IViewMe website’s series of “thoughtful interviews with creative people”. Mr Whyte asks himself 10 questions and the impression which emerges from his own answers is very different from the boorish individual effing and blinding his way across Page 2 of Sunday’s paper.
Perhaps Mr Whyte (why do I keep thinking of Reservoir Dogs?) has been told that the New Zealand voter will never vote for a politician who rounds his vowels so beautifully? Perhaps he believes that to win public office it is necessary to speak to the electors as if they are all infantile buffoons? If so he should dismiss immediately any thought of reviving Act’s fortunes.
With Mr Key’s centrist policies anchoring the National Party firmly in the centre-ground of New Zealand politics and with his mangled English pronunciation making him the average Kiwi joker’s populist Everyman, the Act Party could do a great deal worse than to choose as its leader a well-spoken, thoroughly erudite, persuasively articulate, refreshingly honest and witty champion of the battle-scarred neoliberal cause.
It has always been the dream of Act’s founders that if they built the argument for free markets and open societies then the voters would come. In Jamie Whyte they have the opportunity to put that proposition to one final test.
Not with a shrewd but cynical populist; not with an ebullient perk-buster; not with a schoolmasterly admonisher or a robotic former National Party Cabinet Minister; but with someone who not only believes what he says – but says it superbly.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 21 January 2014.


Tiger Mountain said...

A prize JAPE– Just another privileged egotist.

One should rarely trust a man who shaves his balding bonce. This must take a lot of product and hands on attention to what avail? When a room full of shineheads commune together over drinks it can remind of “pod people” or suchlike.

ACT never did have far to fall. From Roger advising the ex soviet oligarchs on how to clean out the cupboards, Donna Awatere’s husband assaulting Sue Bradford, Donnas fingers in the till, to the hypocrisy of stolen IDs, Kerr and Brash chasing the party cougars “Codds” and Foreman and perk snorting Rodders. And who could forget “Hillary’s eyes” on a brothel billboard.

I am all for the fringes being exposed to voter sunlight and the real world effect of National’s “mini me”–ACT has imposed on us among other strikes for a more unequal NZ…
• the super city CCOs
• Rebstock’s war on the poor
• Charter schools
• Sinking lid minimised local government
• Shrunken and contracted out public service

…and that is quite enough exposure for this voter. Time for ACT to pack up and shuffle off and if this new fool leads them into final and deserved obscurity, job well done.

Brendon Harre said...

I think it is disappointing Chris focuses so much attention on a dying party and philosophy. I understand it was traumatic for him at a personal level to watch his party being torn apart from his almost 'utopian' memories of the Norman Kirk era. But really it is time to move on.

There is new ground up political movements and ideas out there in kiwi land and we need the considerable intellect and commentatory skills of Chris to tell us what it means.

The whole housing affordability issue is reaching boiling point and it is coming from citizen initiated action, in particular Hugh Pavletichs Housing affordability surveys http://www.interest.co.nz/property/68092/demographias-2013-survey-shows-all-new-zealand-housing-markets-are-unaffordable-big-d.

This is bringing out issues such as NZ's excessive private debt, vested interests like the class society of 100+ years ago, voters prepared to vote on this single issue etc. Someone like Chris should be all over issues like this.

Robert said...

White is white. Dylan is delight, went the Sandie Shaw song about the Isle of White Rock concert in 1970. The last festival for Hendrix and Morrison and a turning point for rock , with the rock artistocracy increasingly isolating itself from the hoi poli seeking free admission.
My own view is that the calibre of all NZ parties Mp's are extraordinarily low. Listen to the 19-1-14, Laidlaw interview with former PM, Jim Bolger and you'll hear someone truly braindead. Bogers view is exactly what he was told by his political staff in the 90s and the MFAT people t the Washington embassy a decade ago. He's learnt nothing since and just followed advice.

Victor said...

'What I actually heard was beautifully modulated “English” English.'

Chris, why do you think this would neccessarily be a pointer to neo-liberalism?

The class/ideology map both here and in the UK is much more complex than that.

Barry said...

In the Star-Times interview he said that he did not want to go to war over the Treaty - I'd like to know why not. And what about "treaty settlements"?

Also he said he would not get into something he called "Maori bashing". I'd like to know what he meant by Maori bashing - including does he consider one law for all to be Maori bashing?

Thank you.

Barry said...

Sorry - I missed out saying that I enjoyed his address to the Act conference. My memory of the Star-Times interview is that none of his ideas that were in the address were in the printed interview'

Kat said...

Yes, act is dead, long live the act.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Maori bashing, for those too ignorant to recognise it.

"They can have fishing rights even mining rights or even control of the
lands, but let them do that without the education, materials and
technology the whities provided."

"Its about time that it was realized that they have nothing if it wasn't
for what those stupid whiteis bought to this country."

You sound like the sort of person who might hang around websites like these, surprised you haven't come across it Barry.

Anonymous said...

Quote from Chris' post: "With Mr Key’s centrist policies anchoring the National Party firmly in the centre-ground of New Zealand politics and with his mangled English pronunciation making him the average Kiwi joker’s populist Everyman, the Act Party could do a great deal worse than to choose as its leader a well-spoken, thoroughly erudite, persuasively articulate, refreshingly honest and witty champion of the battle-scarred neoliberal cause."

Anchoring the NZ National Party firmly in the centre-ground, yeah right! Tui humour, I suppose?!

Now doing away with much public input in decision- and law making, turning select committee processes into farcical circus shows for the public, changing laws to stop protesters, to follow "sped up" processes and bypassing concerns in RMA based decisions, to choke off and do away with remnants of true public, and community broadcasting media, to favour the big business and the also not quite so big business, to lash out and whip beneficiaries while engaging in corporate welfare, to sell state shares assets to a few, to make deals with large corporate player like Sky Casino, Rio Tinto, Hollywood Studios, and to ridicule opposition parties as "far left", all that and more is now supposed to be "centre grounded" now? John Key may appear to be a "centrist" given his talent to be casual, easy talking and appealing to the basic common instincts of people watching or meeting him, but I doubt very much, that he is a "centrist", nor is today's National Party.

I cannot believe reading this from Chris, and while Mr Whyte may have capabilities to speak and think, and will likely be a candidate for ACT trying to justify what most have decided to put into the political waste paper bin, I feel the man gets too much credit here.

NZ politics and public sentiment have in economic and social matters moved so far to the right, it only seems that Key and Nats are "centrist", as even Labour is slightly right of centre now. Only the "libertarian" approach to same sex marriage and the likes mislead people to think this is "progressive". Apart from a few trendy matters, the drive is firmly to the right (re worker's rights, beneficiary rights, common democratic participation rights, law and order, public interests and economic and strategic policies).

Guerilla Surgeon said...

If I was a right-wing voter I think I would sooner vote for a professor of philosophy, however libertarian he might be, than a fundamentalist nut-job who maybe thinks we didn't get to the moon and who doesn't believe in evolution. Now, the ability to completely ignore overwhelming evidence of something might be an advantage in a politician it seems to me, but I couldn't vote for someone as bad as THAT :-).

Barry said...

Hello Guerilla Surgeon

I think you said that yesterday tongue in cheek - I hope so!

I think they would have killed themselves out long ago if white people had not brought the rule of law to NZ. That seems to be why so many so-called chiefs wanted to sign the treaty.

the pigman said...

Anonymous @ 12:37

You beat me to it. CT seems to have jumped the shark in giving oxygen to this odious party (and I'm not talking about Act).

It seems like all his venom is these days saved for the Labour Party. Honestly, reading this post here and his most recent on The Daily Blog, one could be forgiven for thinking he's gone completely rogue.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

No Barry, it wasn't tongue in cheek. It was a direct quote from a typically racist right-wing website. Including spelling errors. Sometimes I wonder about the intellectual capacity of the racist right. It's obvious they have never studied history. Maori society was relatively stable, with inter- tribal warfare. Even with the introduction of muskets there was no way they could have "wiped each other out." There was a period of instability due to this, but things would have settled down without the "rule of law". A rule of law I might say which did not stop Europeans from regularly engaging in warfare. In 19th century Europe alone, there were 50 wars both great and small. That doesn't allow for the various 'European' wars in North and South America. God, there are times I get so frustrated with idiots who say this crap. You are blind, or wilfully ignorant.

Davo Stevens said...

Right on Surgeon, the Maori were no more or less warlike than the Europeans or any other group for that matter.
I know the site where you got that from and I read it occasionally when I want a bloody good laugh! The ignorance of some of the posters there is breathtaking!

Getting back to the topic; ACT is slowly dissolving into the Gnats and soon they will be a party in name only.

The very fact that Our Johnny keeps on referring to the opposition as "Far Left" shows he is concerned about them, perhaps even worried about them too. He's trying to get the swing voters who are of a rightwing persuasion to vote his way by scaring the horses.

Barry said...

Guerilla Surgeon

Thank you for replying.

Jigsaw said...

Guerilla Surgeon - time you read 'The Musket Wars' by Ron Crosby to find out just how Maori 'lived in peace'. Crosby estimates that between 1805 and 1840 some 140,000 Maori perished and there was great cruelty. As late as 1846 Te Rauparahau was planning more strife. Saying that they could have wiped themselves out is not far from the truth. Could I suggest that you read some history not written by the fashionable and revisionist historians that the TOW industry has produced.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Oh god jigsaw, not another dick measuring contest. I read that book when it came out. It does nothing to alter my statement, which was not that Maori lived in peace, but that their society was stable until the introduction of muskets, and would have stabilised eventually without the intervention of Europeans and the treaty. My point was that they were no more violent than Europeans at the time. Tell you what, I will promise to reread The Musket Wars, if you will read my posts properly.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Further to that, now I've had my tea – when I first read the book I looked for academic reviews. Found none. Now there are some, and perhaps you should read them. You should also read some of the later books by proper historians, who give a much more nuanced and balanced account of the Musket Wars, and at least try to show the Maori point of view.