Friday 7 August 2015

Reports Of NZ First’s Death Are (Still) Exaggerated.

Still Smiling: New Zealand’s leading political journalists appear to operate a roster when it comes to disparaging Winston Peters and his party. This week it was the turn of veteran NZ Herald journalist, John Armstrong, to put the boot in. That NZ First's prospects have seldom looked better was not permitted to influence Armstrong's tale of decline and doom.
A JOURNALIST FRIEND of mine once told me that most politicians’ credibility was inversely proportional to their proximity. Which was just her fancy way of saying “familiarity breeds contempt”. Which is about the best reason I can come up with for the Parliamentary Press Gallery’s ongoing, undisguised and frequently ill-judged contempt for Winston Peters and NZ First.
New Zealand’s leading political journalists appear to operate a roster when it comes to disparaging Peters and his party. This week it was the turn of veteran NZ Herald journalist, John Armstrong, to put the boot in.
In addition to being “unfashionable – and deliberately so”, Peters followers were also, in Armstrong’s expert opinion, “politically dazed and confused”. With their vision of the future “based on nostalgia for the relatively recent past”, Armstrong described NZ First’s supporters as being “marooned in a time bubble”. And that time would be? The New Zealand of the prosperous 1950s. With Peters’ small-c conservatives revelling in “the suffocating social conformity of that era”.
Entertaining writing, to be sure, but it has little, if anything, to do with Peters or the NZ First Party. Indeed, it’s the sort of condescending tosh meted out (with only a name change or two) to any politician or political party which dares to defy the neoliberal orthodoxy of our own era. The purpose of the insults is to encourage the reader to identify with the writer, and not the subjects, of the commentary. Who in their right mind would admit to being “unfashionable”, “dazed and confused”, living in a “time bubble” or revelling in “suffocating social conformity”?
In reality, of course, NZ Firsters are none of these things. Far from being “dazed and confused”, they are considerably more focused on what is happening in New Zealand – especially rural and provincial New Zealand – than the great majority of the conventionally-wise metropolitans to whom Armstrong is, presumably, appealing. What Armstrong condemns as “suffocating social conformity” and the “myth of a better past”, they recall as a period of strong communities and mass participation, when there were jobs and homes for everyone, and an entire household could live comfortably on a single income.
That Armstrong goes to such lengths to ridicule the historical memory of the NZ First voter is actually highly instructive. History is Kryptonite to Neoliberalism. Like Pol Pot’s genocidal Maoism, it needs to erase the memory of everything that existed before the revolution – “Year Zero”. Only those who know nothing of the child and family-centred social policies of the 1950s and 60s could possibly accept Armstrong’s “suffocating social conformity” as an adequate characterisation of the New Zealand of 50 years ago. There was a time when journalists aspired to do more than promote historical amnesia. But, like so much else, that was before 1984 – our own “Year Zero”.
Armstrong comforts his readers with the thought that NZ First’s prime electoral demographic – the so-called “RSA Generation” born in the 1920s – is a wasting asset. He argues that the party’s refusal to confront the “myth of a better past” condemns it to a slow death: “as those who lived through those times and who gain comforting reassurance from Winston Peters’ pronouncements pass away.”
Had Armstrong but looked around him at NZ First’s Rotorua Conference, he would have realised the inadequacy of that analysis. In 1993, when NZ First was born, the RSA Generation was much in evidence. Twenty-two years later, however, a roll-call of delegates would reveal a preponderance of Baby-Boomers. Armstrong appears to have forgotten that the New Zealanders born between 1946 and 1966 all have direct experience of what New Zealand was like before Rogernomics. Over the intervening 30 years, a great many of them have reached the conclusion that there are much worse things in this world than mediocre coffee and Rob Muldoon. RSA Generation voters, alone, did not take the Northland seat off National.
Armstrong would have done better to analyse Peters’ Rotorua appeal for more party members and a bigger war-chest. Standing atop his mountain of Northland ballots, he has seen a nation struggling to keep its head above water. Old, middle-aged and young New Zealanders are desperate to hear that “Help is on its way”. A NZ First that offers up the achievements of the past as proof that the future can be better, will not lack for voters.
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, 7 August 2015.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

I've never voted for Winston. I probably never will. But you're never going to make a living underestimating the man. I might say though that New Zealand First doesn't seem to have anyone of his calibre (whatever that is :-).) to take his place. So what happens when he retires or pops his clogs? The problem with people like Winston is that they often surround themselves with mediocrities in order to make themselves look better. Whether any of these can articulate whatever the vision happens to be is a matter of some doubt I think. Dismissing Winston lightly however is a really, really stupid mistake. He is one of the best 'politicians' around. There's not an interviewer anywhere in the country that can take him on with any hope of success. National would have done well to keep them in the fold. He was a decent Maori Affairs minister. Certainly the only one I can remember who had an actual policy. Unfortunately the policy scared the crap out of the white establishment. I still think it would have been better for National if he was inside the tent pissing out, because he's very good pissing INTO the tent.

Anonymous said...

NZ First lives because of one buffoon leader who has understood the intricacy of MMP much better than anyone except for the National party strategists. He is racist but implies it with plausibility. He is also a popualist. Young people may be taking a interest but that is because the Labour party cannot under its present voting system get traction with under 40s indeed you may argue with any demographic. When Winston goes so will NZ First as Ron Mark is perceived as devious and will not become the leader. I agree that a new person could emerge as a new leader other than Ron Mark. I sincerely believe that MMP is a crock to the betterment of NZ, to me Winston Peters proves it.

Jigsaw said...

I am not at all surprised that John Armstrong's condemnation of the 'days gone past' annoys you Chris, as much of what you say reflects your love of golden days that actually never were. From my observation most of the people I know who vote for Winston vote for him just because his isn't one of the other parties and because he condenses politics down to sound bites that they can identify with. The very lack of any underlining discernible philosophy makes it easy to imagine that he would have an answer to every problem.

Anonymous said...

The only supporters I know who claim fealty to NZF are in the over 75 age group and on the face of it hanker after a NZ that simply does not exist anymore. Their NZ is devoid of immigration unless it's WASP and on their terms. While I don't support a party who scaremongers and is xenophobic, I recognise their right to representation like all minor parties in the MMP environment.

Olwyn said...

It's rather ironic when people whose outlook seems to combine 19th century optimism with 1980's hubris accuse others of hankering after a rose-tinted past.

Brutus Iscariot said...

Your fifth and sixth paragraphs seem to contradict something that you said in an earlier column, a passage that i've remembered ever since as i found it wonderfully evocative.

"In Ashburton you can still catch a glimpse of New Zealand as it used to be. That place of bright and brittle friendships where, behind the post-war Kiwis’ welcoming smiles, lust and greed and violence seethed like a sack full of eels."

Surely this contrasts with the idyll described above?

Davo Stevens said...

Don't ever underestimate our Winnie, he's a master of brinkmanship.

jh said...

“politically dazed and confused”. With their vision of the future “based on nostalgia for the relatively recent past”, Armstrong described NZ First’s supporters as being “marooned in a time bubble”. And that time would be? The New Zealand of the prosperous 1950s. With Peters’ small-c conservatives revelling in “the suffocating social conformity of that era”.

So what has changed?
National identity: "NZ isn't just for white people!"; it doesn't belong to you - (a people predominantly descended from U.K settlers). What do we get in exchange for it not being ours?

A clamp down on opinion: "new New Zealanders" the "New New Zealand"; multiculturalism (whatever that is), diversity, superdiversity (whatever that is?). What ever happened to the close knit community with ligatures going back generations?

The vicious property market: Harcourts Shanghai, Bayley's etc. Someone described a real estate agent as "prowling dingo like around the rich pickings of Lyttleton Harbour".

In the current context change isn't just happening it is the result of social engineering and lobbying by property interests.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I must say, having watched/listened to the Republican nominee's debate, I think the Winston makes them look like amateurs. No wonder they call it the clown car/limousine. There is not one of them I'd hire to "clean the bloody floors" as Donovan once said. I really hope Trump gets it :-). He'd be great for employment – mostly comedians but comedians gotta make a living too. It's a pity Elizabeth Warren is not running for the Democrats. Now there's a politician who actually knows some shit.

Jamie said...

An anonymous simp says

"The only supporters I know who claim fealty to NZF are in the over 75 age group"

I say...


Anonymous said...

According to Armstrong, Peters’ followers are politically dazed and confused and “marooned in a time bubble.”

He will not attempt a characterisation of Key lovers, leaving that fertile field for our imaginations. Not just for the exercise of formulating our own descriptions of course but envisaging how Armstrong would depict them.

Victor said...


You've neglected to mention 18th century contractualism


Of course Winston has a coherent philosophy. It's called Tory Keynesianism and was, in one guise or another, the default governing ideology of most Western nations during the period 1950-75 (approx).

On the whole it worked pretty well (certainly better than either Socialism in any as yet realised form or Neoliberalism in any conceivable form).

But a question mark hangs over its ability to work in an underpopulated, under-resourced and under-skilled country such as New Zealand, without a captive market such as Britain provided in the decades after World War Two.

That's what makes comparisons twixt life before and after the Rogergnomes somewhat academic.

Once the UK abandoned Commonwealth Preference, New Zealand no longer had a functional economy. Muldoon did an extraordinary job of papering over the cracks for a decade and a bit. But, eventually, he cracks became impossible to ignore.

Yet the cure proved worse than the disease, as, indeed, it was bound to do. And so we still have a dysfunctional economy. But we also now have a dysfunctional society.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your erudite summation, love him or hate him he is a very astute politician, I saw him blow away all the pretenders at a 'meet the candidates' with Bridges and other dorks at a panel in Tauranga, his memory of bad law making by our previous governments is quite remarkable . He pleads that we we do not make the same mistakes again with water rights like we have done with fishing quota . Ron Mark would be a top minister of defence unlike the morbidly obese ex woodwork teacher from chch.

Unknown said...

Jigsaw has one piece missing-the data. On almost any basic issue ordinary New Zealanders had a more secure place in the 1950s than they do today. Of course we must adjust for time- CT scanners and cellphones had not been invented then. They had the dignity of valued work and not precarious employment at wages less than a quarter of professional salaries. They had affordable housing, rather than a lifetime of insecure rentals. Of course new houses now have m ore advanced technology (for those that can afford it) but relative to global standards the houses were of higher quality. They had the school down the road to go to and not the ghettoisation of the white flight school segregation we have fostered. Off course we cant reverse the clock and go back to those times, but we can aspire to the same basic fairness that characterised those decades and are still found in civilised countries such as Switzerland or Sweden.

Jamie said...

Lulllzz - [I laugh not to cry]

Gerrard Liddell claims Sweden is a "civilised country"

Four grenade attacks by muslim invaders in a week in Malmo, Sweden's fourth largest city

Sounds more like a third world sh*t-hole to me

Go on someone call me a waaacist for objecting to the mass immigration of foreign cultures

Anonymous said...

But a question mark hangs over its ability to work in an underpopulated, under-resourced and under-skilled country such as New Zealand,
Who says NZ is under populated (if that is what you are saying)? This is an idea promulgated by Mathew Hooten, David Farrar, Whale Oil, Dr No, NZEIR the Property Councli, Oily Newland.... The promoters of this idea would like us to believe that it is settled economic theory; their men in suits on national TV are no more trust worthy than the men in lab coats in the toothpaste commercials.

jh said...

Has anyone come up with a better vision for NZ than Sir Paul Callaghan? He didn't condone a population Ponzi or mass tourism.

pat said...

Like the summary Gerrard, and the aspiration...the thing thats missing is the process , particularly in the face of an international (read corporate) agenda that is both contrary and hostile.

Victor said...

Gerrard Liddell

You are wholly right that what has been lost was more valuable than what has been gained.

But there's also a piece missing from your analysis. New Zealand in the 1950s was part of a post-Imperial "family" of nations, linked together by ties of affection, culture, ideology and very recent memories of shared sacrifice.

As a result, consumers in the most populous of these nations were required to pay hugely inflated sums for food stuffs from countries just over the horizon, so as to keep New Zealand farmers on the land and, by extension, to enable New Zealand governments to provide all manner of desirable benefits.

This was not a sustainable model. Nor was it a model that encouraged the pursuit of excellence and hence of genuine comparative advantage on New Zealand's part.

So, to my mind, there is little practical point in comparing New Zealand then with New Zealand now.

But I do agree with you that we would have done much better to preserve the sense of fairness to which governments in those days aspired. Likewise, we are the poorer for losing a sense of a long-term national interest more complex and multifaceted than mere immediate financial advantage.

I'm unlikely to ever vote for NZ First, but I get the impression that Winston genuinely "gets" these issues and understands them in the context of a country with economic prospects much reduced from the days of his youth.

In the past, I've been put-off by his party's penchant for racist dog-whistles. But these have now reproduced themselves elsewhere on the political spectrum and are therefore less of a defining characteristic.

Moreover, I note that Winston has recently made some far from xenophobic suggestions with regard to the global refugee climate. So I find myself becoming far less censorious of him than of yore.

And the fact is that the guy has held three major offices of state and performed to a high level in all three. So I'm not anxious to see his demise.

Kat said...

What Armstrong finds threatening is Winston Peters keeps rising in popularity while John Key slides slowly downwards.

JanM said...

It's good to see you commenting on the shenanigans of the main stream media - I don't know how some of them sleep at night with the rubbish they deliberately spout in order to make the political right look good. In the 70s I had close associations with the parliamentary gallery, and they were nearly all right wing (with the notable exception of Tom Scott, and as you may recall Muldoon threw him out of his press conference as a result) and deliberately slanted their so called 'news' accordingly.
Few of the current collection will like Winston much because he calls out their biases and deals with them accordingly.They need to be called out a lot more.

David Stone said...

Hi Chris
Lots of comment each way here and previously on the changes in the world since the '80s. By far the most profound change over the period, but with hints in the '70s has been in our understanding of the earths resources. Before this it had been possible to regard the earth as an unlimited source of everything. If we wanted more timber we cut down more forests. If we wanted more fish we built bigger trawlers, if we wanted more metals,oil , rare earths etc we dug another hole. During the '70s and '80.s , and ever more so since ,it has become clear that the earth can't stand this approach much longer , either in her ability to supply or capacity to cope with the resulting pollution.
Of all the systems of governance ever invented the most peculiarly inappropriate to address this situation is the market based economy we now have. All the open market can do is set up a race to grab as much of the limited resources as quickly as possible, and exploit it as quickly as possible before someone else does , and leave the residue for someone else's children to clean up.
Don't get the idea that I don't believe in markets, or capitalism, they are great tools for civilisation; I don't see how anything but capitalism could ever be consistent with freedom and democracy. But they must be the tools of society not the governance.And the greatest threat to capitalism is the mad caricature of the system that is neoliberalism .
Maybe one day in the distant future there will be a responsible world government that will look after the earth for us all, but that's a long way off . All international trade fora seem bent on doing so far, is in secret, to establish protection for the richest world wide monopolies, against future national governments managing their diminishing resources on behalf of their people.In the meantime we can only wish our government would responsibly manage the resources within their jurisdiction.
It doesn't matter which of the instruments that can and have been used by government to manage our nation's accounts , or if some of them were used in the '50s and '60s , Or if new ones can or need to be invented. What matters is that government takes back control of our account, instead of leaving it in the lap of the gods of the market.
Since 1984 we have balanced our books first by selling off most of the businesses nz taxpayers owned , then facilitating the sale of all our iconic high country stations, most of the coastal farms and other farms of significant size, forests, the houses we live in, and untold New Zealand citizenships. Within neoliberal there's no other way to balance the books.
Last night a visiting inlaw raised the question; what is the difference between GDP and GNP and I realised I didn't know , so I googled. GDP is the economic activity in a year that takes place in a country defined by it's geography, nz GDP =284.84Billion,nz GNP is the economic activity in a year that is owned and controlled by that countries govt and citizens=56.34Billion, So about a fifth of our countries business that is now owned by us. For god's own sake New Zealand

Victor said...

David Stone

In my more lucid moments (they don't happen very often) I might have been able to tell you the difference between GDP and GNP. But I had little idea of how far these two items were out of kilter in our current case. Thank you for enlightening me. It's very sobering.

Victor said...

see my post of 12.30 above

I meant "crisis" not "climate" in penultimate paragraph.

pat said...

@ jh 8 august 09.09
your post should be in lagre font,caps and technicolour.

peterlepaysan said...

J Key has always been Armstrong's poster boy.
J Armstrong will do anything to protect "his precious".
If that means slagging off WP, so be it.

Yawn, it must be another slack day in journo land.

But another column is published, another salary/wage payment is delivered.
Heraldland Rules!

jh said...

Victor said...
This was not a sustainable model. Nor was it a model that encouraged the pursuit of excellence and hence of genuine comparative advantage on New Zealand's part.

So, to my mind, there is little practical point in comparing New Zealand then with New Zealand now.

however mass migration with it's genisis in the Lange government had motivations other than economic:

The attitudes of New Zealanders in the mid-1990s towards immigration may not have reflected the positive perspective on the value of diversity in our society that is contained in the Review of Immigration Policy August 1986. But this does not mean that the globalisation of immigration to New Zealand was an “unintended consequence of policy changes in 1986”. It was a deliberate strategy, based on a premise that the “infusion of new elements to New Zealand life has been of immense value to the development of this country to date and will, as a result of this Government’s review of immigration policy, become even more important in the future” (Burke 1986:330).

At the same time in the U.K the labour government opened the borders to "rub the right's noses in diversity"

It would be interesting to analyise the arguments in the 1990's as people became concerned about the potential demographic changes. My guess is that:

if someone suggested the present scale of demographic changes in Auckland they would be called xenophobic and racist.

if someone suggested the PM would be selling us an apartment life style they would have been called xenophobic and racist.

if someone suggested the (thrust of) immigration policy would continue even after a group such as the Savings Working Group sounded severe warnings they would have been called xenophobic and racist.

if someone suggested Chinese residents would be acting as conduits for hot money from China and 9% of a migrant ethnicity were buying 40% of the housing stock they would have been called xenophobic and racist.

if someone suggested house prices would be through the roof and rents were sky high they would have been called xenophobic and racist.

if someone suggested migrants would step straight into tour buses and come to dominate the industry they would have been called xenophobic and racist.

Of course if you don't want to be racist you must not see such things; you must see angel dust ( holy diversity)!

I remember on the Andy Griffith Show Barney has a rival who has captured the rapturous attentions of Thelma Lou. When someone points out the obvious Barney puffs his chest out and says: "yes! That's because he's my friend

Jh said...

On Croaking Cassandra Michael Reddell points out that Stats NZ is adding spin in it's media releases. That's like a government putting tranquilizer in the water (or something)? In this sense spin is serving some groups agenda?