Wednesday 25 February 2015

Sharpening The Stick At Both Ends: "Lord Of The Flies" Comes To Parliament

"I've Got The Conch!" Democracy is a brittle construct and easily shattered. The Prime Minister's behaviour in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, 24 February 2015 plumbed new depths of intemperance and aggression. Like Jack in William Golding's Lord of the Flies, John Key evinces scant regard for the traditions of free speech and honest disagreement.
THE PRIME MINISTER’s conduct in the House of Representatives yesterday afternoon was disgraceful. It is doubtful if any of John Key’s predecessors have ever displayed such contempt for the dignity of their office. Shouting across the chamber in a manner which has been described, with considerable justification, as unhinged, Mr Key looked and sounded like someone on the verge of unleashing physical violence.
The Prime Minister, John Key: Unhinged?
“Get some guts! Join the right side!”, the Prime Minister screamed at the Opposition benches – as if it was an argument.
What happened then was, if anything, even more unnerving that John Key’s out-of-control demagoguery. As he dropped, exhausted, into his seat, the Prime Minister’s colleagues leapt to their feet, roaring and clapping.
Watching them on television, it was difficult not to mentally superimpose upon the screen the 1930s black-and-white footage of thousands of ecstatic Germans hoisted to their feet by the frenzied ravings of the Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler. If those National Party MPs had stretched out their right arms and begun chanting “Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!”, it would not have been any more outlandish than the Prime Minister’s own conduct.
It is to be hoped that, having had 24 hours to reflect upon their conduct during yesterday’s debate on the Cabinet’s decision to deploy close to 150 troops to Iraq, Mr Key’s parliamentary colleagues are feeling appropriately shamefaced.  Because, in the course of delivering his response to the other party leaders’ near-unanimous opposition to the Government’s announced troop deployment, Mr Key crossed a vital constitutional line.
Parliament’s rules, its “Standing Orders” insist that all members are “Honourable Members” – and must be treated as such. Without this rule, the conduct of the legislature’s business would rapidly descend into rancorous disorder. Rational debate would become impossible – raising the spectre of MPs coming to blows on the Floor of the House. It has happened many times in other jurisdictions, it would be tragic if it happened here.
Parliamentary democracy is a brittle thing and very easily broken. All it takes is for those who have agreed to abide by its rules to suddenly renege on their agreement. This democratic vulnerability and fragility is captured brilliantly in William Golding's famous novel, Lord of the Flies.
In the story, a group of English school-boys, stranded on a desert island, create a democratic assembly in which all important decisions are debated. Anyone wishing to speak at these gatherings asks for and is given a beautiful conch shell which, while held, guarantees the holder a fair hearing. The boys’ final descent into barbarity occurs when Jack, driven by his lust for power and control, kills the cleverest boy on the island, Piggy, as, conch in hand, he attempts to persuade the boys to keep working together. The murder weapon is a giant boulder which Jack dislodges from above. Piggy is crushed, and the conch shatters into a thousand pieces on the rocks below.
Yesterday, in the House of Representatives, John Key became Jack. His intemperate outburst, bristling with insults and barely concealed threats against everyone who'd dared to speak out against his government’s decision to commit New Zealand to another war in the Middle East, was as unprecedented as it was chilling. If not shattered, the delicate conch shell of parliamentary democracy was very roughly handled.
Tellingly, instead of reacting to their leader’s extraordinary display with the same stunned expression of horrified disbelief as the Opposition, the faces of the Government members registered only the most delirious approbation.
In Lord of the Flies, Jack’s followers whisper darkly that their leader has “sharpened a stick at both ends”. It is a metaphor well suited to this Government’s announced intention to not only deploy troops to the Middle East, but to pass legislation further strengthening the powers of the security and intelligence services. The same Parliament which the Executive refused to entrust with a vote on the Iraq Deployment, will soon be asked to invest that same Executive with even more powers to keep the New Zealand people under surveillance.
After catching a glimpse of the Jack that lurks beneath the mask of genial John, the House of Representatives would be most unwise to oblige the Prime Minister in this regard. Or, at least, not before he gives proof that he accepts and understands that the Labour, Green and NZ First parties (and, in the case of the Iraq Deployment, the Maori and United Future parties as well) constitute Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.
That these parties have rejected the Government’s decision to re-join the Middle East conflict is both their right and their duty. In saying “No.” they are representing the very substantial number of New Zealanders who do not want their soldiers in Iraq. These people are not gutless. Nor are they on the wrong side of the argument merely because the Prime Minister believes himself and his government to be on the right side.
The aggression and intolerance which the Prime Minister displayed in the House yesterday afternoon should fill all New Zealanders with a deep sense of foreboding. If the Iraq Deployment gives rise to deadly reprisals by Islamic State, it is by no means clear that this government’s response will be either rational or restrained. Those who hold the conch of free speech in their hands will need to keep their eyes open and their backs against the wall.
This essay was posted simultaneously on The Daily Blog and Bowalley Road of Wednesday, 25 February 2015.


The Flying Tortoise said...

Which begs the question. Is Key's medical certification valid or is it past it's use by date...

jeff said...

For many years it was believed that the only casualty of war was the truth..
But after the the commotion that transpired in the house today is living proof that the only casualty of war is democracy.

peteswriteplace said...

Great post Chris. John key definately has mental health issues. Adolph Hitler used a form of methamphetamine later in his dictatorship. I wonder what key's choice is?

Anonymous said...

You are just realising this now? Key has behaved like an arrogant wally in the House for ages now, often he is embarrassing and bully boyish. His caucus are sheep, all they do is follow and applaud his lead. I often cringe watching Key in the House; it's the real side of him that the public never see enough of. I think he is dangerous.

Dave_1924 said...

Please Chris. Key can't express his real opinion?

But Mr Little can rant in parliament, as he has done in his nice "Cut the crap" speech?

personally the robustness of the exchanges around the deployment are a healthy thing. Gives the NZ public an insight into all parties and their perspectives.

Nice of you to Godwin your post so early in it as well.

Bottom line Key's government have made a decision and it does have a lot of support in the general populace. It's not overwhelming support but it's support nevertheless

is there risk attached.. absolutely. But personally I believe ISIS needs to be opposed. I would be happy for a more combat engaged role via a SAS involvement, but a non combat training role is at least engaging in an attempt to help the sovereign state of Iraq rid itself of a rather nasty and barbaric set of extremists...

an unchecked ISIS would be a bad thing for the world in my opinion

David said...

It would seem that this outburst has been some time in the making. Key has put up with months of the most vile and unsupported allegations about his motives and decisions and has not fought like-for-like. At some stage the dam had to burst and for a brief moment he let it out. What was surprising is that it was so short and I'll warrant will not be repeated any time soon.
The "get some guts" comment must be seen in the context of a multitude of speeches from party leaders who, while claimin to represent NZ opinion are really representing either party policy (Greens) or bloody-minded opposition.

Wayne Mapp said...

After reading this, I thought I should view the relevant speech. I had seen most of the initial speeches by the various Party Leaders, but not the reply by John Key.

By gosh you certainly know how to use hyperbole to make your point.

Yes, the PM was passionate, yes it was forthright. But he has done that many times before in Parliament.

No, it was not an echo of Hitler, and to suggest that it was is simply ridiculous.

And it does not imperil our democracy as you would also have us believe.

Chris, surely you have not lost all perspective?

Brewerstroupe said...


"it does have a lot of support in the general populace"

Be interested in seeing your (or Key's for that matter) evidence for this.
Has there been a poll?.

"Nice of you to Godwin your post so early in it as well."

Surely the point at issue is the propriety of using the comparison? Is it appropriate or not? Invoking "Godwin" is a simple ad hominem.

You believe ISIS needs to be opposed. As it happens, I do too. What is in contention is whether New Zealand has a role or can be effective. That, surely, is what governs our response to many other barbarous entities such as Saudi Arabia, Israel and the U.S. who created the conditions giving rise to ISIS (some credible reports allege more direct involvement in support).
For my part, I would like to see New Zealand's foreign policy based on principle rather than on an alliance with a bloc that pays little heed to New Zealand's aspirations and has wreaked havoc in the Middle East through complete disregard of prudence and International Law.
As Gordon Campbell has pointed out, ISIS could most effectively be opposed by shutting off their lines of supply. Do you see Israel and the U.S. exercising their power in this direction? Why not?

Davo Stevens said...

The Debating Chamber is pure theatre, the deals are done in the back rooms.

Looks good on TV but.

Gnossienne said...

As the Islamic State army would melt into a mirage without billions in funding why does not our rabid little US/Israeli sock puppet mount his war horse and gallop into Saudi Arabia or Pakistan?

Alan said...

We’re all actors on a stage. Key’s performance in the House was a pose and an act of course, not some rush of blood to the head when a core value was challenged.

Who was the performance for? It was for the bigger boys in the gang; US, Australia, Britain, and their cerebrally challenged local knuckle-draggers showing how loyal we are to the time-honoured belief that military options are the only ones red-blooded men can understand.

Yes Isis is a frightful development, but it has grown directly from the criminal military mayhem unleashed on the area by the Bush Wars which created chaos, not peace.

Key, for all his guile and smiles, is their small boy in the South Pacific. War, war, and more war,spawns deep hatreds and will never bring peace to that area, but the ‘warriors’ in their leather seats in the House have learned none of the lessons of the last 25 years. They, of course will be safe to enjoy their lattes and little cakes come Christmas.

Key’s argument that something has to be done in the face of the threat ISIS poses, is right, but he cannot see beyond the fact that the mess there is the product of war, and solving the mess with more war is insane.

To justify that on the grounds that NZ’s military involvement in the fight will somehow make the nation safer from jihadist attack is the thinking of a lunatic.

It won’t. Quite the opposite.

John Key will yet have Kiwi blood on his hands.

Alan Rhodes

pat said...

Beg to differ Davo...looks childish and appalling on TV and sounds the same on radio.

Brewerstroupe said...

I am not given to citing youtube videos as authoritative in any degree. Such media is very easily manipulated.
This video entitled Truth in Media: Origin of ISIS however: worth watching as it raises some interesting questions. In particular, the footage showing much U.S. equipment in the hands of ISIS. How did it get there? What are we getting into? Is there any other logical conclusion one can elicit from this debacle other than that the current meltdown was intended?

Anonymous said...

Entering into this war, is based around the argument that we need a massive and immediate response to perceived rape, murder and other atrocities, in order to stop it (isil) quickly, before it can expand any further. I believe this is not the agenda of the 5-Eyes group. We have committed for a minimum of 2yrs, Aus-3yrs. This is long-term commitment, totally contradicting the story. Isil openly recruits from the Iraqi army, and sends its new conscripts there for training. This is common knowledge throughout the middle-East, and all the Intelligence communities in the world. So why are WE, and others, being asked to train, and grow an Army, that the CIA and others, have gone to enormous lengths, to convince us, is pure evil ? What is the real aim of isil, and its creators ? And we have watched its creation,through the media from the start, when the USA, openly armed it, trained it, with many images of high-ranking US officials taking photo opportunities with isil leaders.. I would put money on isil being the tool, to attack Iran, with all the ensuing Russia/China implications... Stop watching the Kiwi-Clown-Sideshow , NewZealanders....and take note of what the puppeteers are really up to----

Anonymous said...

Key's comrades are coming out en force.
The man can do no wrong, he is 'passionate'...yeah right. More like full of contempt for the proper course of usual. Not even put to a vote in Parliament. Says it all.

Glad he is not my boss.

Dave_1924 said...


1 - Godwin. Will if you comapre some one to Hilter yo're going to get Godwin thrown back at you....

2 - Support amognst NZers.

Yes there have been polls. This article is 4/5 days old

As I said its not overwhelming support but support is there. Judging from my discussions with friends and observing social media, people see the right of opposing ISIL due to the barbarity they are displaying whilst also acknowledging that the Middle East is a cesspool of factions and greivances which we don't want to get to deeply in.

3 - Other matters.

Independent foreign policy - I agree to some extent.

We are small trading nation and should pursue policies in our interest and attempt to maintain friendly relations with all nations if possible.

However there is no denying we have common ties and attitudes with the other 5 Eyes members based on a shared lineage - i.e. Great Britian is a parent country to the other 4 members, we derive a lot of our legal and political conventions form GB.

I also agree re attacking the supply lines of ISIL - but coupled with targetting the leadership and propaganda arms of ISIL.

I would love to see the Americans moderate their behaviour in Latin America and the Middle East.

In a lot of ways the current situation is of there making - and they should tidy up the mess.

We are going to support allies and to maintain consistency with our stance [forceably articulated during the Rwanda debacle] of opposing genocide.

What ISIL are doing is evil in my view. They need opposing and we should share in the effort. And when ISIL is neutralised we should get heavily involved in reconstruction and economic development activities if that is requested by the Iraqi government

And yes Saudi, Israel, the US have questions to answer in terms of actions and policies in the Middle East. As do the Gulf States and Iran. Its complex and the proxy battle between Saudi and Iran that has been waged for a long time is at the root of a lot of the ongoing problems.

Brewerstroupe said...

John Pilger reporting on a previous US intervention. Look familiar?

"In the 1960s, a popular revolution swept Afghanistan, the poorest country on earth, eventually overthrowing the vestiges of the aristocratic regime in 1978. The People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) formed a government and declared a reform programme that included the abolition of feudalism, freedom for all religions, equal rights for women and social justice for the ethnic minorities. More than 13,000 political prisoners were freed and police files publicly burned.

The new government introduced free medical care for the poorest; peonage was abolished, a mass literacy programme was launched. For women, the gains were unheard of. By the late 1980s, half the university students were women, and women made up almost half of Afghanistan's doctors, a third of civil servants and the majority of teachers. "Every girl," recalled Saira Noorani, a female surgeon, "could go to high school and university. We could go where we wanted and wear what we liked. We used to go to cafes and the cinema to see the latest Indian film on a Friday and listen to the latest music. It all started to go wrong when the mujaheddin started winning. They used to kill teachers and burn schools. We were terrified. It was funny and sad to think these were the people the West supported."
.....On July 3, 1979, the White House secretly authorised $500 million in arms and logistics to support tribal "fundamentalist" groups known as the mujaheddin. The aim was the overthrow of Afghanistan's first secular, reformist government. In August 1979, the US embassy in Kabul reported that "the United States' larger interests... would be served by the demise of [the PDPA government], despite whatever setbacks this might mean for future social and economic reforms in Afghanistan." "

Chris Trotter said...

To: Dave_1924.

The so-called "Godwin's Law" is an adolescent nonsense which has somehow achieved the status of Internet lore/law.

The idea that one of the most extraordinary periods in world history, and certainly the period containing the most vital political lessons for people living today, should be expressly ruled out of all political discussion and debate on-line is, quite simply, absurd.

Those who call "Godwin" in grown-up discussions of politics immediately disqualify themselves from any further participation.

It is also worth noting that the cry of "Godwin" acts as a way of shielding the Right from entirely justifiable criticism and condemnation. Objectively (to use an old Marxist-Leninist expression) this makes all those who use the term defenders of the Right.

Davo Stevens said...

@ Brewer. The PDPA was set up and financed by the Yanx old enemy Russia. Something that John Pilger omitted in his report on the subject. It was a Socialist Govt. and that is the anathema of the Yanx so they set up and financed the Mujahadeen to over throw it.

In the 1970's, Unical was eyeing up the vast oil and gas fields in Kazarkhstan to exploit. 1979 Russia invaded Afganistan to back the socialist Govt. In 1978 when I was visiting there, Unical was surveying an oil pipeline down through the Kandahah valley to Pakistan. To bring the oil/gas to Karachi for export. The pipeline was to cross Tajikstan from the Kazarkh highlands and through Afganistan. Unical couldn't take the oil out through the north as Russia wouldn't let them, they couldn't take it east as China wouldn't let them and they couldn't take it west because Iran wouldn't let them so Afganistan was the only option left.

There are three groups of countries in this world; Oil Producers. Oil Consumers and the third group of the "Oh Shit" countries. Afganistan is one of the latter.

Dave_1924 said...

Fair enough Chris its your blog if you want Godwin not raised, then thats the rule.

As long as the analogy of any over wrought speeech in the House that leads to a standing ovation from the speakers party can be described in the same way you charaterised Keys speech then that sounds like an adult conversation...

Jigsaw said...

Amazing how you can ignore the venom that often comes from Andrew Little. He's a screamer in the house although the camera rarely shows it. I would say he often is more stirred up than Key was on that occasion,

Brewerstroupe said...


"Something that John Pilger omitted in his report on the subject"

Oh no. Pilger is known for his exactitude. He takes it head on with Cyrus Vance as backup:

"The PDPA government was backed by the Soviet Union, even though, as former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance later admitted, "there was no evidence of any Soviet complicity [in the revolution]".

I had rather hoped that readers would follow the links rather than respond only to the quoted text.

Not sure what to make of the balance of your post. The Pipelinistan stuff seems only to confirm that the U.S. has priorities that supersede the interests of the Afghan people, that the U.S. is perfectly prepared to deny sovereignty and inflict decades of death and destruction upon a people for purely commercial interest.
Am I reading you correctly?
Its becoming a recognisable ideology, all too common in my view.

manfred said...

Andrew Little's anger is indignation mixed with a bit of a telling off.

John Key's anger was seething with violence.

Davo Stevens said...

@Brewer, Your comment is fair. Pilger did have a go at Vance. I have a high regard for Pilger and his reporting but in that instance he didn't get stuck into how the Yanx interfered in that troubled country's modern history. Any sort of "Socialism" is an anathema to the Yanx.

The PDPA asked the Yanx to help them with their exports etc. and the Yanx disdainfully told them to change their policies before they would give any help.

So the PDPA turned to Russia. The CIA stirred up a revolt by the wealthy Afgans and Russia invaded to protect the PDPA. The rest, as they say, is history. In doing so the Yanx set up a deliberate proxy war with Russia.

The Yanx set OBL in charge of al Quaida (The Base) to train hot-headed extremists to fight the Russians and he turned on the Yanx as so many monsters turn on their masters.

After the 11/9 the country the Yanx should have attacked was Saudi Arabia but it's not difficult to see why they didn't. It would have sent the price of oil through the roof!

By their machinations in Afganistan the Yanx set the stage for everything that is going down in West Asia today.

Pasquino said...

Dear John,

Just because Jihadi John's
Cut off many heads of late,
You don't have to copy him
By beheading all debate...

And if you really must...,
Lift a leaf from his book:
Do it very 'cool and couth',
Sans frothing at the mouth.

And thanks, Dear John, again,
For turning us, for no real gain,
And without any proper debate,
Into dumb dogma-mongers' bait.

& friends

Brewerstroupe said...

"ISIS is another example of a small but murderous group whose reach and danger has been wildly hyper-inflated for western domestic political reasons. Fanatical, adept at public relations and social media, ISIS has stolen the limelight from al-Qaida and gladdened the hearts of western militarists, hard rightists, and arms makers.

In fact, ISIS appears to go out of its way to make itself hateful and repulsive to westerners. But the danger it poses outside the Mideast is so far negligible. Before we launch any more crusades against ISIS, let’s be aware that this bunch of killers originated in the US-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and was primarily financed by Saudis. ISIS thrives in the chaos and ruins caused by George W. Bush’s illegal invasion of Iraq and later campaign to subvert Syria.

George W. Bush was re-elected thanks to Midwestern soccer moms who feared Osama bin Laden was about to swoop down from the Hindu Kush and make off with their little Johnnies.

Something similar is happening again in North America, Australia and New Zealand. Many fear ISIS is outside Peoria or Winnipeg. Scared people readily accept dictators."

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 201

As a war correspondent Margolis has covered conflicts in Angola, Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique, Sinai, Afghanistan, Kashmir, India, Pakistan, El Salvador and Nicaragua. He was among the first journalists to ever interview Libya’s Muammar Khadaffi and was among the first to be allowed access to KGB headquarters in Moscow.

A veteran of many conflicts in the Middle East, Margolis recently was featured in a special appearance on Britain’s Sky News TV as “the man who got it right” in his predictions about the dangerous risks and entanglements the US would face in Iraq.

Anonymous said...

Now it exists, ISIS cannot be stopped by any means except force. The Kurds and the Syrian and Iraqi governments cannot do it by themselves. Without the help of other countries, tens of millions of non-Sunnis will be raped or be beheaded and then ISIS will carry on elsewhere. This is the most brutal state formation in human history and their literal intention is to bring armageddon to every place on earth. The pacifism being promoted by some as the ideal means of stopping ISIS cannot work. Moreover, they would never leave us alone no matter what we say or do so potential "reprisals" from them would be a media strategy not a military one.

While I'm no fan of John Key I would be hesitant to compare him to his fellow Austrian, Adolf Hitler. Hitler's policies will have had an indelible effect on Key's family. It is unusual for John Key to become so wound up so this must have some personal resonance. Perhaps he identifies ISIS's intention to exterminate the Kurds with the Nazi's attempt to exterminate the Jews. Or perhaps the deep anti-Americanism behind most of the left's opposition has stepped too much on his love affair for America.

In a sense, the great emotional attachment the left and right in New Zealand have for America has come to a head on this issue. The left increasingly has a burning hatred for America while the right would almost be happy to turn us into their 51st state such as with the TPP. This irrationality is becoming politically dangerous for New Zealand because politicans are willing to make damaging decisions on the basis of their strong emotions towards the USA instead of a basis of reason.

Norman's statement on the anti-ISIS deployment was a long anti-American spiel that noteably failed to mention the Kurds but did mention Israel and the Palestinians in an entirely predictably way.

While I agree trying to train the Iraqi army is probably hopeless at best, I can't help but think that through the red mist of hatred towards America some on the left have lost their humanity. There is strong hatred for America, but little feeling towards ISIS. Strong sympathy towards the Palestinians, but no sympathy towards the Kurds. A sentiment that culpability for jihadi attitudes and attacks rests not with jihadis with those who they target. A strong intent to counter America, but little desire to counter a state that wishes to commit genocide against us and others.

"But the danger it poses outside the Mideast is so far negligible."
It's known they're putting an emphasis on Libya specifically so they go after Italy next so I can't agree with that.

Brewerstroupe said...

"This is the most brutal state formation in human history"

You need to get out more. Preferably to a Library if there are any left in your neighbourhood.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Jesus anonymous, why is it that right wing people always, always assume that we hate America. I've been to America, I quite enjoyed America, and I certainly don't hate it. What I dislike is American foreign policy in the Middle East. (And other places.) Plus of course American Exceptionalism, and American fundamentalist Christian Dominionism. Both of which you should look up in said library. You speak as if IS came out of nothing. Go and have a look at the origins of the organisation before you comment on it again for Christ's sake. It's basically a direct result of American foreign policy. One of the unintended consequences that Bush was too dumb to think of, or decided to ignore. And don't assume stuff about me please, you have little idea of my motivations or likes and dislikes.

Anonymous said...

It would be hard to find a state in a history book that wished to conquer the entire world and bring about the end of humanity while in the process inflicting beheadings and rape on nearly everybody.

ISIS's behaviour is constrained by capabilities not intentions. ISIS's intentions exceeds anything that has come before because they aren't a mere golden horde of criminals but a doomsday cult that rejects life; they don't want a "1000 year reich" because they want the world to end.

They grew tenfold in the space of a year and without outside intervention would've continued growing in strength at a similar pace for another year again.

Iraq was a real influence in the genesis of ISIS but something like it would likely now exist in Syria even if Bush hadn't invaded Iraq. Much of ISIS's leadership draws from the former Soviet Union with much experience in cruelty in their homelands and there is plenty of domestic hatred within Syria. If ISIS didn't exist, the same people from Syria, Russia and Central Asia would still be fighting in Syria with the same behaviour. There are four levels of rebellion in Syria with fighters joining the group with the level of behaviour they endorse.

By no means does every leftist in New Zealand hate America but it has become a typical position. New Zealand is culturally dominated by that right wing country so it isn't surprising politically active people have a feeling about it.