Saturday, 31 October 2015

Be Careful What You Wish For: Will Lowering The Voting Age To 16 Really Help The Left?

Other Priorities: Taken in aggregate, young people have consistently demonstrated that they have other, more pressing, priorities than closely engaging with the electoral process. In this respect, the 18-25-year-old “Baby Boomers” of 1975 – the very same people who, forty years later play such a crucial role in determining New Zealand’s electoral outcomes – proved to be no exception.
 
MARTYN BRADBURY’S turbulent political career is notable for its passionate and unwavering commitment to the interests of young New Zealanders. From his stint as the editor of the University of Auckland’s student newspaper, Craccum, to his Sunday night polemics on the youth-oriented Channel Z radio station, “Bomber” Bradbury’s pitch has always been to those condemned to live with the consequences of contemporary politicians’ mistakes.
 
“Bomber” is part old-time preacher. (Who else greets his audiences with an all-encompassing “Brothers and Sisters!”?) But he is also a user of the very latest communications technology. Loud, brash, occasionally reckless, Martyn Bradbury may not be universally liked, or invariably correct, but his determination to mobilise the young in their own defence cannot be disputed.
 
His latest crusade on behalf of younger Kiwis calls for a lowering of the voting age from 18 to 16 years. This radical extension of the franchise would be accompanied by the inclusion of a new and comprehensive programme of civics education in the nation’s secondary school curriculum.
 
In Martyn’s own words: “The sudden influx of tens of thousands of new voters with their own concerns and their own voice finally being heard could be the very means of not only lifting our participation rates, but reinvigorating the very value of our democracy.”
 
Very similar arguments were advanced by the champions of young people’s rights more than 40 years ago. The late 1960s and early 1970s marked the high point of what left-wing sociologists were already calling the “radical youth counter-culture”.
 
The slogan of the so-called “Baby Boom” generation, then in their teens and twenties, was uncompromising: “Don’t trust anyone over thirty!” And, political activists among their ranks were convinced that if 18-year-olds were given the right to vote, then their “revolutionary” generation wouldn’t hesitate to sock-it-to the squares in the Establishment and usher-in the long-awaited Age of Aquarius.
 
Perhaps surprisingly, the Establishment were only too happy to oblige. In 1971, the Twenty-Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution declared: “The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.”
 
Outgunned: The older generation of Democratic Party politicians were out-organised by George McGovern's young supporters at the 1972 Democratic Party Convention.
 
Young activists in the Democratic Party wasted little time in flexing their political muscles. At the 1972 Democratic Party Convention, an army of young delegates, veterans of the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War struggles in the streets of America, turned the tables on the old “pols” of the Democratic Party “machine”. (The same machine which, just four years earlier, had unleashed the Chicago Police on anti-war convention delegates.) Using the new party rules which the Chicago debacle had inspired, these youngsters comprehensively out-organised their much older right-wing opponents and secured the nomination for George McGovern, the most left-wing presidential candidate since Franklin Roosevelt.
 
With millions of new voters eligible to participate, and a candidate committed to fulfilling a sizeable chunk of the youth agenda of economic, social and political reforms, the scene seemed set for a sea-change in American politics.
 
If only.
 
In the presidential election of 1968, when the voting threshold was still set at 21-years-of-age, voter turn-out had been 60.8 percent (a high figure by American standards). With 18-year-olds entitled to vote, and a radical candidate for them to vote for, the turn-out in 1972 was 55.2 percent – a participation rate 5.6 percentage points lower than the previous election. To make matters worse, the radical candidate, George McGovern, suffered one of the most humiliating defeats in American political history. His conservative opponent, the Republican Party incumbent, Richard Nixon, was swept back into the White House with 60.7 percent of the popular vote!
 
Eighteen-year-olds got the vote in New Zealand in 1974. The Labour Government of Norman Kirk had not only enfranchised the young, but he had also ticked-off a great many items on the New Zealand youth agenda for change. He’d abolished compulsory military training, withdrawn the last military personnel from Vietnam, sent a frigate to Mururoa Atoll to protest French atmospheric nuclear testing, and called off the 1973 Springbok Tour. And that wasn’t all: Kirk had even subsidised the creation of “Ohus” – rural communes situated on Crown land.
 
How did the newly enlarged electorate respond one year later, at the General Election of 1975?
 
The turn-out in 1972, when the voting age was 20, had been 89.1 percent. Three years later, with tens-of-thousands of “Baby Boomers” enfranchised, the participation rate fell by 6.6 points to 82.5 percent. Even worse, the Third Labour Government (the last to evince genuinely left-wing beliefs) was hurled from office by the pugnacious National Party leader, Rob Muldoon. The swing from left to right was savage: Labour’s vote plummeted from 48.4 percent in 1972, to just 39.6 percent in 1975. [Mind you, what wouldn’t Labour give for “just” 39.6 percent support in 2017!?]
 
Much as I can understand why Martyn believes extending the franchise to 16-year-olds would harm the re-election prospects of John Key and the Right, I’m equally aware that the historical record argues precisely the opposite.
 
Taken in aggregate, young people have consistently demonstrated that they have other, more pressing, priorities than closely engaging with the electoral process. In this respect, the 18-25-year-old “Baby Boomers” of 1975 – the very same people who, forty years later (as Bomber so rightly laments) play such a crucial role in determining New Zealand’s electoral outcomes – proved to be no exception.
 
When they bother to vote at all, it’s true that young people tend to vote for the parties of the Left. But, equally, there is no disputing the fact that their massive and consistent non-participation in the electoral process continues to be of overwhelming benefit to the Right.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 30 October 2015.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Purposeful Violence

Hierarchies Of Punishment And Reward:  Openly acknowledging its uneasy relationship with the values of patriarchy is becoming increasingly difficult for twenty-first century liberal capitalism. It is thus to the private – and domestic – sphere that capitalism is forced to turn to ensure that the cultural work of instilling the necessary habits of authority and subordination continues. It is no accident that the most effective translators of the realities of power, at the personal as well as the cultural level, are men.
 
WHAT PURPOSE does male violence serve? Is that an outrageous – or even an evil – question?  Surely, no good purpose is served by the violent behaviour of men? No good purpose, perhaps. But, asserting that male violence serves no good purpose, is not quite the same as saying that it serves no purpose at all. With New Zealand now leading the developed world in the recorded incidence of domestic violence, the not-so-good purposes of male violence clearly merit some investigation.
 
Often, it is easier to understand the behaviour of one’s own culture by examining the behaviour of another.
 
Several recent cases of extreme male violence against women in India have roused passions all around the world – not excluding India itself. In every horrific instance, physical battery and sadistic cruelty have accompanied prolonged and violent sexual assault. The victims were from every strata of Indian society. From a young medical student in New Delhi, to teenage sisters from the lowest “untouchable” caste.
 
In every case, the men involved justified their actions in terms of redressing what they regarded as breaches in the natural order of things. The men who raped and murdered the New Delhi medical student, for example, were affronted by her assumption that she was free to go and do as she pleased without the sanction of the appropriate male authority figures. In their view, the unfortunate young woman had been ‘asking for it’ and ‘got what she deserved’.
 
Both phrases are highly illustrative of the way men raised in rigidly patriarchal societies interpret female behaviour. If a woman is at ease in the company of men, then, clearly, she considers herself to be their common sexual property. As such she may not only be raped with impunity, but also physically assaulted – as punishment for improperly inflaming the lust of her attackers. This deadly mixture of rage and desire fuels male violence all over the world.
 
To keep such extreme, socially disruptive behaviour in check (or, at least, to confine it strictly to the domestic sphere) patriarchal cultures have, over many centuries, erected structures of masculine power designed to control every aspect of women’s lives. When feminists insist that rape is not about sex, but power, this is what they mean. In an alarming number of men, the imperatives of masculine authority are internalised to the point where, in relation to “their” women, individual males take on (often unconsciously) the roles of policeman, prosecutor, judge and executioner.
 
It is tempting to relegate these extreme manifestations of patriarchy to the less-enlightened nations of the developing world. Liberal capitalism, with its proud record of emancipatory reform (the abolition of slavery; the introduction of universal suffrage) surely has no need for the rigid patriarchal power structures of India or Saudi Arabia?
 
Considering all the legislative effort devoted to making full sexual equality a reality throughout the developed world, one could be forgiven for regarding capitalism and patriarchy as natural antagonists. Absent from such consideration, however, would be how absolutely capitalism relies upon patriarchal thought-ways for its efficient functioning. Capitalists operate in top-down hierarchies, within which the social dynamics of authority and subordination determine economic outcomes every bit as ruthlessly as traditional patriarchies. In both systems there are winners and losers – and strong sanctions against challenging those above on behalf of those below.
 
The congruence of capitalist and patriarchal thought-ways largely explains the absence of women in the nation’s boardrooms. It also accounts for the vast discrepancy in remuneration between those engaged in male, as opposed to female, dominated industries. When it comes to consumption, capitalism strongly endorses the widest possible diversity. When it comes to exercising power, however, old habits die hard.
 
Openly acknowledging its uneasy relationship with the values of patriarchy is becoming increasingly difficult for twenty-first century liberal capitalism. It is thus to the private – and domestic – sphere that capitalism is forced to turn to ensure that the cultural work of instilling the necessary habits of authority and subordination continues. It is no accident that the most effective translators of the realities of power, at the personal as well as the cultural level, are men.
 
Obedience, diligence, loyalty, and conformity aren’t just the qualities of the perfect capitalist employee, they’re also the attributes of the perfect patriarchal daughter and/or wife. The purpose of male violence is to frighten both into existence.
 
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, 30 October 2015.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Palace Coup? Shocking New Revelations About The 1975 Dismissal Of Gough Whitlam’s Labour Government.

Queen's Man: Australian Research Professor, Jenny Hocking, in her just published book, The Dismissal Dossier: Everything You Were Never Meant To Know About November 1975, alleges that Sir John Kerr was in contact with Queen Elizabeth II, her Private Secretary, Sir Martin Charteris, and Prince Charles, weeks before the final dismissal of the Whitlam Government. At no point, says Hocking, did any member of the Royal Family alert the Prime Minister of Australia that his country's democratically-elected government was about to be overthrown.
 
SCEPTICISM ABOUT THE EXISTANCE of the “Deep State” is very strong in New Zealand. This country has been fortunate in avoiding the sort of constitutional crises that bring the machinations of Deep State actors into public view. Our neighbours across the Tasman have not been so fortunate.
 
It is almost exactly 40 years since the Governor General of Australia, Sir John Kerr, sacked the government of Gough Whitlam’s Labour Party. The “dismissal” of the Whitlam Government was long thought to be the work of Kerr alone; a vice-regal intervention intended to resolve a constitutional stalemate that was threatening to bring Australia to its knees. This “official” version of events is now being challenged. In The Dismissal Dossier: Everything You Were Never Meant To Know About November 1975, Australian Research Professor, Jenny Hocking, makes it frighteningly clear that Kerr had help.
 
One of the questions often asked by students of Whitlam’s dismissal is: Why didn’t the Prime Minister simply pick up the phone and dial Buckingham Palace? The Governor-General is, when all is said and done, merely the monarch’s stand-in. Should he so forget his place as to seriously contemplate dismissing a democratically re-elected government from office, then, surely, a quick conversation between the Prime Minister and Her Majesty would secure his instant removal from Government House and replacement by somebody more committed to the democratic process.
 
According to Hocking, that most simple of solutions was denied to Whitlam for the very simple reason that the Queen and her Private Secretary, Sir Martin Charteris, were forewarned of the dismissal. Kerr had taken the precaution of both writing and speaking to the Queen about what he was planning to do well in advance of 11 November 1975. Indeed, the Queen’s Private Secretary and the Governor-General had together run through the options should Whitlam attempt to secure Kerr’s removal from office. In the event of this “contingency”, Charteris informed Kerr, the Queen would “try to delay things”.
 
Had Whitlam dialled Buckingham Palace, it is highly likely that Charteris would have informed him that Her Majesty was indisposed and unable to take his call.
 
At no time during the course of these alleged exchanges, says Hocking, did the Palace think it appropriate to speak to the Prime Minister of Australia about his Governor-General’s intentions. In such circumstances it would have been very difficult for Kerr to interpret the Palace’s silence as anything other than tacit support.
 
As if all this wasn’t bad enough, Hocking claims that, in addition to the Queen, Kerr also discussed his plans to dismiss the democratically-elected government of an independent Commonwealth nation with the heir apparent to the British throne, Prince Charles. The latter’s alleged response, if accurately reported by Hocking, raises serious questions about Charles’s suitability as New Zealand’s next head of state.
 
According to Hocking, the Prince of Wales’ reply was: “But surely, Sir John, the Queen should not have to accept advice that you should be recalled at the very time should this happen when you were considering having to dismiss the government.”
 
It seems that the Royal Family was not Kerr’s only source of advice and support. The Governor-General is also said to have consulted senior members of the Australian judiciary and, shockingly, the Liberal Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Fraser. Apparently, they, too, saw no reason to acquaint the Prime Minister with the fact that Kerr was planning to overthrow the Australian government.
 
There was another person in Australia who seemed to be extraordinarily well-informed about the future of Whitlam’s government – Rupert Murdoch. He had returned to Australia in the early months of 1975 peculiarly confident that the Labour Government would be gone by Christmas. Accordingly, the Murdoch-controlled press, well-informed by sources deep with the civil service, waged an unrelenting campaign against Whitlam’s beleaguered ministry, and was entirely supportive of the bloodless coup that toppled it.
 
Hocking’s accusations are, of course, political dynamite. They call into question not only the constitutional reliability of the House of Windsor, but all of Australia’s and the United Kingdom’s unelected power structures – their Deep States. Australians also have cause to wonder about their country’s relationship with the elected governments of the United Kingdom. After all, how likely is it, if Hocking’s allegations are true, that the Queen would have kept her own Prime Minister and his Cabinet in the dark about Kerr’s intentions? Mind you, these were the years in which rumours of coups against the Labour Government of Harold Wilson were rife. Was Her Majesty advised that it might be wisest to keep Sir John Kerr’s intentions to herself?
 
Of course Hocking’s allegations, if wide of the mark, could very easily be corrected by releasing all of the Palace’s 1975 communications with Kerr. Unfortunately, these remain sealed under a 50 year suppression order not set to expire until 2027. Even then it is most unlikely that they will be released until all of the persons involved in the events of November 1975 are deceased.
 
The Deep State does not like the light.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 28 October 2015.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

One Picture's Worth.

"A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?" Canadian Press photographer Andrew Vaughan's 2013 photograph captures that magical political moment when anyone with a beating heart knows – just knows – that this is the one to watch?
 
IT’S ONE OF THOSE PICTURES that freeze-frames a political leader in the making. Half-turned from the enthusiastic crowd of Prince Edward Islanders he is addressing, Justin Trudeau’s upraised arm acknowledges something beyond the image’s point of reference. A pale sunlight lightly gilds the palm of his outstretched hand and highlights the features of his face. Taken in 2013, Canadian Press photographer Andrew Vaughan’s photograph captures to perfection the same political magic that swept the 43-year-old Trudeau to victory in last Monday’s Canadian general election.
 
Inevitably, those New Zealanders favouring a change of government in 2017 are scouring the ranks of opposition parties for a Kiwi politician capable of bringing some Trudeau magic to our own political arena.
 
Labour supporters, in particular, are looking at the rather dour figure of Andrew Little and wondering whether he has what it takes to unseat a Prime Minister as popular as John Key.
 
New Zealand leftists who have studied the Canadian campaign are worried that Labour has already committed itself to the sort of moderate and fiscally unadventurous course that saw Canada’s left-wing New Democrat Party (NDP) relegated to third place behind Trudeau’s Liberals and Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.
 
So concerned was the dour and rather tetchy NDP leader, Tom Mulcair, to fend-off criticism that his party wasn’t ready to manage the Canadian economy, that he promised voters to keep the federal Budget in permanent surplus. Given that this was also Stephen Harper’s policy, Mulcair’s decision allowed Trudeau to outflank the NDP on the left. Little’s critics look at his inept handling of the Trans-Pacific Partnership issue and wonder whether something similar hasn’t already happened here.
 
The Greens male co-leader, James Shaw, certainly shares much with Trudeau in terms of projecting youthful energy and good looks. Less certain, however, is his willingness to adopt the Liberal leader’s strategy of inviting voters from across the political spectrum to join his nationwide crusade for “real change”. And, even if he was up to persuading his colleagues to leave the the safety of their eco-socialist strongholds, and embrace the political centre, would he be able to persuade the electorate that the Greens, in office, would remain politically centred? It is the curse of the Greens to be perceived as enthusiastic promoters of a rather narrow ideological agenda. Historically, the Canadian Liberal Party has attracted solid voter support across the whole electorate. It’s a trick New Zealand’s Greens have yet to master.
 
NZ First, by contrast, has never ceased presenting itself as a party with the broadest possible voter appeal. Indeed, in its early days, back in the early 1990s, its support rivalled that of the National Party’s. Unashamedly populist in his political instincts, NZ First’s long-time leader, Winston Peters, would dearly love to replicate Trudeau’s utter trouncing of John Key’s good “mate”, Stephen Harper. Unfortunately, youthfulness is not a quality many people associate with NZ First. A sunny disposition is, however, well within Peters’ political repertoire. One flash of his 1,000 watt smile generally absolves him of most political sins. Which is why, presumably, NZ First’s highly successful by-election campaign in Northland was so jaunty and up-beat. If Peters is able to demonstrate such sunny ways on a national scale in 2017, who knows what might happen.
 
In the end, however, most of the speculation about whether a Justin Trudeau is lurking, unrecognised, in the Opposition’s ranks circles back to the Labour Party. If Little is too dour and grumpy to beat the man Bill English once described as “bouncing from cloud to cloud”, who is left to bounce Labour’s banner up there alongside him?
 
Grant Robertson would probably say Grant Robertson. (And, to be fair, there are many in the Labour Party who would agree!) But, to the rest of New Zealand, Robertson can come across as just a bit too complacent; a bit too absolutely, arrogantly, Wellington. For the best part of a year, he’s had plenty of chances to shine as Labour’s finance spokesperson. That his light has barely flickered in that role must count heavily against him.
 
Which leaves just two names for Trudeau-seekers to play with: Stuart Nash and Jacinda Ardern. Both are well endowed with the skin-deep trappings of the Trudeauesque politican: youth and good looks. Nash even boasts a famous Labour name – although, the number of people who know that New Zealand once had a Prime Minister called Walter Nash cannot be very large. Ardern, herself, is already registering in the preferred Prime Minister stakes – always a sign of better things to come. The positives are definitely there for both MPs.
 
But can either of them boast a photograph like Andrew Vaughan’s? Has a photographer ever frozen Nash or Ardern in that magical political moment when anyone with a beating heart knows – just knows – that this is the one to watch?
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 27 October 2015.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

When Monsters Fight: Benjamin Netanyahu Blames A Palestinian Cleric For The Holocaust.

A Monster Himself: Such is Benjamin Netanyahu's hatred of the Palestinian people that he is willing to absolve Adolf Hitler of responsibility for the Holocaust and shift it, instead, onto the shoulders of a Palestinian cleric, the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini (1897-1974). This revisionist lie reveals the true extent of Zionism's moral collapse.
 
WRITING ABOUT ISRAEL is never easy. Always there is the shadow of the Shoah. The attempted genocide of the Jewish people by the Nazis interposes itself between the Israeli people and their critics. The Holocaust is a crime so vast in scope, so horrendous in execution, that the crimes of the Israeli state seem small and petty by comparison. Whatever Israel does risks being absorbed in, and absolved by, the Jewish people’s unique historical tragedy.
 
A cynic might even go so far as to suggest that the Shoah is Israel’s most precious possession. Those grainy black and white images, recorded by the liberators of the death camps at the end of World War II, are seared upon humanity’s collective memory. The mechanisation – no, the industrialisation – of mass murder marked a definitive break in the supposedly upward trajectory of civilisation. In Auschwitz and Treblinka humankind was presented with an abysmal mirror, into which most people did not care to look.
 
That the victims of the Holocaust were Jews contributed an inescapably religious dimension to the horror. God’s chosen people, reviled and persecuted across the centuries, had finally become the playthings of pure evil. Who dared object to the traumatised survivors being allowed to return to their ancient homeland? How could the West, who worshipped a crucified Jew, possibly say “No.” to the State of Israel? Hadn’t the Jews earned it?
 
The answer, of course, is “No. They had bought, borrowed and (in the end) stolen it from the people who had lived in the land the Romans called “Palestine” from the Second Century to the late Nineteenth Century, when Theodor Herzl and his Zionists began buying up Palestinian farms and businesses. The encroachment of these Jewish settlers, and their settlements, gathered pace through the early decades of the Twentieth Century, to the point where the Palestinians and their religious leaders rose in angry revolt. One of those leaders, the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, was to become an implacable enemy of the Zionist project.
 
Palestinian protests and uprisings against the unceasing encroachments of Israeli settlers and settlements continues to this very day. In its latest manifestation, the resistance takes the form of what amount to suicidal knife attacks on Israelis as they walk the streets of Old Jerusalem. Not surprisingly, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s belligerent Prime Minister, has demanded that these attacks be quelled – by any means necessary!
 
Few would have predicted, however, that in his determination to rouse the passions of his people, Netanyahu would have seized upon the single most important – and certainly the most sacred – talisman of the Israeli state: the Shoah.
 
So intense is the Israeli PM’s hatred of the Palestinians that, in a speech to the World Jewish Congress, he claimed that the responsibility for the mass murder of European Jewry lay not with Adolf Hitler and his Nazi co-conspirators, but with the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini.
 
Haj Amin al-Husseini meets with Adolf Hitler in Berlin, 28 November 1941.
 
“Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time”, Netanyahu told the Congress, “he wanted to expel the Jews. And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, ‘If you expel them, they’ll all come here’. ‘So what should I do with them?’ he asked. He said. ‘Burn them’.”
 
Historians from all over the world, and many within Israel, responded to Netanyahu’s words with a mixture of fury and disbelief. The Nazi’s genocidal project was commenced long before al-Husseini met with Hitler on 28 November 1941. The infamous Wannsee Conference, held outside Berlin in January 1942, brought together for final approval plans and specifications demanded several months earlier, as the massive logistical implications of Hitler’s “final solution” to the Jewish Question became clear. The Mufti of Jerusalem was little more than a Nazi catspaw in the complex military and diplomatic equation that was the Middle East. For anyone to suggest that he, and, by some curious Zionist variant of the “blood libel”, the Palestinian people, were responsible for the Holocaust would be outrageous. But for the Prime Minister of Israel to make such a statement, in the midst of serious sectarian strife, is beyond outrageous – it is criminal.
 
It also marks an important, and quite possibly fatal, deterioration in the intellectual and moral condition of Zionism. That a Zionist leader is willing to publicly exonerate Adolf Hitler for the extermination of six million Jews, and place the blame, instead, upon a Palestinian cleric, indicates how abysmal are the depths into which the defenders of Israel have fallen.
 
The Nineteenth Century German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, said: “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster... for when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
 
Have we not just seen the abyss swallow up the monster called Netanyahu?
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Saturday, 24 October 2015.

Friday, 23 October 2015

A Time Of Fear

Terror Drives Them Westward: Syrian refugees trudge the dusty roads of Serbia en route to "Angela's" country - Germany. It is impossible to view the great throngs of migrants, piling up like driftwood against the newly-erected fences of the European Union, and not recall the Great Migration of uprooted peoples into the Western Roman Empire between 300-800 AD.
 
IT WAS A TIME of fear. People cast worried glances to the East, where rumour reported whole peoples on the move. Travellers said they were fleeing in terror from men who laid waste to villages, towns and cities without scruple or regret. Women, children, the temples of the gods: none were spared. Military commanders looked to the strength of the Empire’s defences: to the mighty walls and high gates that had stood for so long – and they wondered.
 
Between 300 and 800AD successive waves of migrant peoples beat against and washed over the borders of the Western Roman Empire. During these turbulent centuries, the component peoples of the “Great Migration” laid down the ethnic foundations of modern Europe. Some of its most powerful nations still bear the titles of these “Dark Age” migrants. The Frankish tribes settled in what is now France. The Angles gave their name to England. Rome’s empire, however, did not endure. The West fell.
 
It is impossible to view the great throngs of migrants piling up like driftwood against the newly-erected fences of the European Union and not recall the Great Migration. Impossible, too, not to imagine the panicky communications between all those provincial governors and the Emperor’s servants back in Rome. “What are we supposed to do with all these people! Should we feed them – or slay them?”
 
Rome’s answer, then, was the same as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s, now: “Let them in.” Like the ranks of Rome’s fourth century legions, the ranks of Germany’s industrial workers have been thinning of late. Dangerously low birth-rates dictate that the Empire of Porsche and Mercedes Benz admit as many auxiliaries as it can lay its hands on.
 
No doubt the bureaucrats in Rome, fervent believers in the Empire’s ability to make loyal Roman citizens out of the most unprepossessing of barbarian material, reassured their provincial governors that all would be well. These Goths were doughty warriors, they said. Properly trained they would ensure that the Emperor’s legions remained invincible.
 
Chancellor Merkel is equally upbeat. The upwards of a million refugees pouring across Germany’s borders from the civil war in Syria, and all those other great concentrations of misery along the North African coast, will soon be made into “Good Germans”. In the coming decades, the Fatherland’s complexion may grow a few shades darker, but Germany’s culture will survive unscathed.
 
The Romans’ optimism was misplaced. The migrant peoples admitted to the Empire may have swelled the legions depleted ranks, but they were never accepted as equals by “real” Romans. In the years ahead, ethnic rivalries would erupt into riots: blood would be spilled; hatreds flare and burn. The legions, increasingly composed of “barbarians”, would hear of these massacres, and the Emperor’s military resources would haemorrhage like an untended wound. In 410AD, the Visigoth chieftain, Alaric, sacked Rome. Saint Jerome, hearing the news in far off Bethlehem, lamented: “The city which had taken the whole world was itself taken.”
 
Alaric's Visigoths conquer Rome 410 AD.
 
Chancellor Merkel’s confidence may be equally misplaced. As the so-called “Summer of Smiles” – during which trainloads of exhausted refugees were met by Germans beaming with love and goodwill – gave way to Autumn gales and cold driving rain; and the refugees’ tent cities began springing up outside quiet German villages and towns; anti-immigrant demonstrators started appearing in the streets. The German people would appear to be much less confident of their assimilationist capacities than their increasingly unpopular Chancellor.
 
Forty years after the sack of Rome, Visigoth and Roman fought side-by-side on the Catalaunian Plains of Western Gaul against Attila and his Huns. It was from such fierce Asiatic tribesmen, the Huns especially, that so many of the peoples who joined the Great Migration were fleeing. By combining their strength, and defeating Attila, the Roman general, Flavius Aetius, and his Visigothic ally, Theodoric, were able to give the civilised communities of the Western Empire a few more decades of security and stability.
 
Modern day equivalents of Attila's Huns - Soldiers of the Islamic State.
 
How sad it is that the modern-day equivalents of Flavius and Theodoric – Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin – cannot emulate their predecessors’ success by putting aside their differences and combining their strengths against the modern-day equivalent of Attila the Hun – Islamic State and its army of jihadis.
 
What other means is there of stemming the human tide lapping at Europe’s borders? The West looks down from its crumbling walls – and it wonders.
 
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, 23 October 2015.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Here Comes The Sun: Justin Trudeau Changes Canada's Political Climate.

Favourite Son: The young Liberal leader with the famous name was convinced that, more than anything, Canadians were hoping for a change in their country's political climate. So that is what Justin Trudeau gave them. His “sunny ways” broke up the ice of Harper’s endless winter. The wind dropped away. The sun came out. The electorate’s doubts about the Liberal Party were cast aside. And he won. (Photo: Andrew Vaughan, The Canadian Press.)
 
“SUNNY WAYS, my friends, sunny ways.” The rest of the world may have struggled to grasp the meaning of Justin Trudeau’s words, but Canadians knew exactly what he meant. Canada’s new prime minister was beginning his victory speech by quoting an old one – the highly successful Wilfrid Laurier (1841-1919).
 
In the Aesop’s Fable, from which Laurier drew his catch-phrase, the North Wind and the Sun compete to remove the cloak from a passing traveller’s back. The freezing breath of the North Wind strips the leaves from the trees, but the traveller wraps his cloak ever-more-tightly around his body. Defeated, the North Wind makes way for the Sun, who beams down upon the traveller with radiant good will. The North Wind’s chill is replaced by shimmering summer heat. Overjoyed, the traveller casts aside his cloak.
 
“If I were in power, I’d try the sunny way”, said Laurier. And he was as good as his word, choosing persuasion and positivity, over force and negativity, on every possible occasion during the 15 years (1896-1911) he served as Canada’s Prime Minister.
 
Trudeau’s “sunny ways” quip was, therefore, political shorthand for: “The frigid years of Mr North Wind, Stephen Harper, are over; and the years of Mr Sunshine, Justin Trudeau, are about to begin.”
 
But the 43-year-old son of Pierre Trudeau (Prime Minister of Canada from 1968 until 1984) wasn’t content to draw rhetorical inspiration from Canadian leaders alone, his superb victory speech went on to borrow from President Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address.
 
Once again it was about the superiority of positive over negative politics. Having promised Canada a Liberal-led Government that would be “positive, generous and hopeful” he reminded his cheering supporters of the extraordinary campaign that had made it possible. Proof, he said, that: “You can appeal to the better angels of our nature – and win by doing it.”
 
And what a win it was! The Liberal Party began the campaign holding just 34 seats in the Canadian House of Commons. By the end of election day, 19 October, the Liberals had won 184 seats – ten clear of the number needed to govern the country on their own. Lazarus would’ve been proud!
 
How did they do it? How did they rise from third party status to overhaul the left-wing New Democrat Party (NDP) Opposition, which the early run of opinion polls had identified as the front-runner? And, how did Justin Trudeau do it? An MP for just seven years, and leader of the Liberals for less than three years, how did a 43-year-old schoolteacher unseat an incumbent Prime Minister and dash the hopes of his NDP rival, Leader of the Opposition, Thomas Mulcair?
 
First and foremost, Justin Trudeau won because he was … Justin Trudeau. As the son of one of Canada’s most popular prime ministers, Pierre Trudeau (1919-2000) he was always going to be talked about as a prospective prime minister. Such expectations do, of course, have their downside. Still, instant name recognition across the entire electorate is a pretty hefty advantage with which to begin one’s political career.
 
He also had the advantage of growing up in an intensely political environment: absorbing, from an early age, the abstruse rules of the political game; the unique political culture of his father’s Liberal Party; and the intoxicating fumes of dynastic expectation.
 
As if these advantages were insufficient to set him apart from his political competitors, Trudeau is also highly intelligent and blessed with a film-star’s good looks. In 2005 he married Sophie Gr√©gorie – a prominent Canadian TV celebrity journalist – and in short order they produced three, equally telegenic, children. These sort of things shouldn’t matter – but, of course, they do. Right from the start Justin, Sophie and the little Trudeaus looked like Canada’s First-Family-In-Waiting – straight out of Central Casting!
 
And yet, even with a great name, a lifetime spent in and around politics, a celebrity wife and three gorgeous kids, a politician still has to possess, in his own right, the attributes and instincts of an effective leader. Perhaps the greatest of these attributes is political courage: the capacity to do what others would dare not do, and to stick with his choices – no matter how fierce the criticism. He must also be able to read the political terrain. To see a way of reaching his objectives that his own choices, and the choices of others, have opened up. The other attribute a politician needs is an acute sense of timing: of knowing, like Kenny Rogers’ Gambler, when to hold onto your cards; fold-up your hand; walk away from the table; and run for the nearest exit. All that – and luck. Lots of luck.
 
Like the NDP Leader, Thomas Mulcair, believing that he had to prove the NDP was ready for office by coming out in favour of a balanced budget. Trudeau immediately saw that, by tacking to the right, the NDP had opened up a vast swathe of political terrain to its left. Already convinced that the politics of austerity was a dead-end street, the Liberal Leader courageously abandoned conventional wisdom and declared that his government would rescue Canada’s faltering economy – not by reducing expenditure, but by stimulating it through job-creating infrastructure projects. If the NDP was willing to line up alongside Stephen Harper, then the Liberals were only too happy to channel the spirit of John Maynard Keynes!
 
And he did it all with a winning smile and an unrelentingly positive demeanour. He sensed that Canada’s patience with Mr North Wind’s vicious flurries towards war and religious intolerance; his squalls of fiscal and social conservatism; had come to an end. The young Liberal leader with the famous name was convinced that, more than anything, Canadians were hoping for a change in the weather. So that is what he gave them. His “sunny ways” broke up the ice of Harper’s endless winter. The wind dropped away. The sun came out. And the electorate’s doubts about the Liberal Party were cast aside – like a cloak they no longer needed.
 
And he won.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 21 October 2015.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Spinning, Spinning, Spinning: Are Matthew Hooton's TPP Musings Personal Or Professional?

The Sultan Of Spin: Matthew Hooton has been delivering superior quality spin about the TPP across the entire media spectrum ever since the deal was signed in Atlanta. The question is: Is he spinning for love - or money?
 
MATTHEW HOOTON runs a PR company, Exeltium. His clients include some of New Zealand’s largest companies. Joseph Stiglitz, is a winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics, and he recently told the readers of the New York Times, that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is “an agreement to manage its members’ trade and investment relations – and to do so on behalf of each country’s most powerful business lobbies.” Do you think, perchance, these two events might be related?
 
In the fortnight since the deal was done in Atlanta, Hooton has been all over the media (social as well as mainstream) with his analysis of the TPP. The essence of what he’s been saying is that both the proponents and the opponents of the TPP are guilty of grossly over-selling its content. The free trade boosters claimed it would usher New Zealand into a land of milk and honey (or, at least, a land of milk powder and beef) while the fair traders claimed to see the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse galloping over every ridge.
 
The truth, argues Hooton, falls somewhere in between. Moreover, New Zealand’s chief negotiator, the wily Tim Groser, determined to preserve this country’s bipartisan approach to free trade issues, was at some pains to bring back an agreement that met (more or less) the Labour Party’s famous five TPP preconditions.
 
“What’s not to like?” is Hooton’s upbeat refrain. Groser’s deal is something both political parties can sign-up to with a clear conscience. In fact, adds Hooton, mischievously, if Labour had been smart, it would have claimed the whole thing as a triumph. “By standing firm on our five preconditions,” Andrew Little could have said, “Labour gave Groser no choice but to bring home the bacon. So, what’s everybody waiting for? Fire up the barbie!”
 
Now, this is spin of a very superior sort: carefully crafted to calm people’s fears about the TPP, and convey a sense of cautious optimism about its content. The National Government comes out of it looking good – but also humble. Because, after all, it had to fashion a deal that Labour could live with. And Labour? Well, if the Left had only possessed a modicum of common-sense, it could have come out of this whole thing smelling of the finest red roses. That Little and his team have managed to cock things up so comprehensively is just, well, astonishing.
 
Seriously, as spin, this really sparkles.
 
So, why has the news media not made a determined effort to discover whether this excellent line in pro-TPP spin is nothing more than Hooton’s personal thinking on the matter. Just his idle cogitations, which, as a good citizen, he feels duty-bound to share with the rest of New Zealand. Or, whether he’s actually acting on behalf of a client?
 
Because if, just for the sake of argument, I belonged to the New Zealand United States Council, a body committed to “fostering and developing a strong and mutually beneficial relationship between New Zealand and the United States.” And if, as an American member of the Council, I was a strong “advocate for the expansion of trade and economic links between the two countries including a comprehensive free trade agreement achieved either bilaterally or in the context of an expanded Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.” And if the Council was Exeltium's client. Well then, I'd feel that Matthew was giving us truly excellent value for our money.
 
Not that I have any way of knowing who – if anyone – has contracted Hooton to sell the TPP to an apprehensive New Zealand electorate. But, you know, were I the editor of a major New Zealand newspaper, I’m pretty damn sure I’d be asking one of my best reporters to find out.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 20 October 2015.

Rejecting The Evidence Of His Census

Know-Nothing Conservative: Canada's PM, Stephen Harper, shocked responsible opinion across the political spectrum by making the completion of the Canadian Census voluntary. Harper's decision is emblematic of Capitalism's turning away from inconvenient scientific knowledge and critical thinking in the twenty-first century.
 
IT WAS A DECISION which stunned Canadians across the political spectrum. To protect the individual privacy of its citizens, Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, was making the Census voluntary. Canada’s knowledge of itself: of how well, or how badly, it is doing in the fields of health, education, employment, income distribution, economic opportunity, and the preservation of its environment; was to be fatally compromised.
 
According to Stephen Marche, writing in the New York Times, Harper’s decision was protested by nearly 500 Canadian organisations, “including the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and the Canadian Catholic Council of Bishops.” All to no avail. In spite of the fact that the conducting of censuses has been a feature of advanced civilisations since biblical times, Harper refused to budge. Canada is now flying blind.
 
Which is, presumably, what Harper intended all along. Marche’s NYT article is called “The Closing of the Canadian Mind”, and it paints a very grim picture of the consequences of nine years of what he calls “know-nothing conservative” rule. As the party of big business (particularly of big Albertan oil) Harper’s Conservatives have done everything they can to prevent the facts from spoiling their wonderful story. If the evidence points to the Harper Government’s policies generating worrying levels of inequality, injustice and environmental degradation – just stop collecting the evidence. If playing to the racial anxieties and petty prejudices of provincial Canada is what gets you re-elected – then, by all means: “Play on, Maestro, play on!”
 
With Canada’s general election still in progress, the world has yet to learn if the music has stopped for Stephen Harper, or whether, in spite of a late surge by the Canadian Liberal Party, his Conservative orchestra will play on for another four years. Win or lose, however, Harper’s prime-ministership has much to tell the world about the nature of contemporary capitalist politics.
 
A century ago, the parties established to represent the controlling interests of the new industrial societies placed enormous stock in science and the expansion of human knowledge. These were, rightly, seen as the driving force behind technological, economic and social progress. By 1900, the publicly-funded education systems of the two leading industrial economies, the United States and Germany, were pumping out university graduates by the tens-of-thousands. An economy driven forward by science and technology, serviced by a well-educated workforce, was the sine qua non of capitalist modernity.
 
Throughout the first three quarters of the Twentieth Century, Capitalism’s faith in science and education did not falter. Scientific research and technological innovation, backed by the state, both supported and encouraged the most extraordinary changes in human existence. By 1969, the United States had sufficient technological expertise to put a human-being on the surface of the Moon and bring him back to Earth. In the industrialised nations of the West, the contraceptive pill was revolutionising gender relations.
 
It was only in the final quarter of the Twentieth Century, when science turned its attention to the environmental consequences of industrial capitalism, and a new generation of highly-educated citizens began to investigate its increasingly destructive social side-effects, that the parties of capitalism – and their financial backers – began to look at science and education through narrowed eyes.
 
What has emerged in the first quarter of the Twenty-First Century is a peculiarly equivocal capitalist approach to science and education. The mature industrial economies are as dependent on their products as ever. Whether in the form of Apple’s latest smart-phone, or the algorithms of the most recent financial derivatives, capitalism continues to be driven forward by the innovations of its supremely-skilled engineers and mathematicians.
 
Less welcome, however, are the social scientists and ecologists who look ahead and see only the looming planetary catastrophe of capitalist-induced global warming, with all its attendant social ills. For these scientists, Capitalism’s more aggressive defenders offer only scepticism, challenge and/or outright ridicule. The effect on the public mind is pernicious. Increasingly, science is seen as the bought-and-paid-for handmaiden of ideology and propaganda. Her quasi-religious status, over two centuries, as the illuminator of Truth and deliverer of Progress, has been traduced.
 
Across the Western world, the institutions of higher learning have been similarly debauched. Pure knowledge, pursued for its own sake, is increasingly downgraded, and the development of critical intelligence institutionally discouraged. With the exception of Oxford and Cambridge, Harvard and Yale, and all the other great seats of learning (which are, once again, reserved for the children of the elites) the world’s universities have been transformed into dreary knowledge factories. Overcrowded workshops, where standardised paradigms, purchased at ruinous expense, are imprinted upon the minds of the indentured young.
 
So, win or lose, Stephen Harper has already earned his place in history. In Twenty-First Century Capitalism’s great turning away from Science and Education, he already stands amongst its first and most shameless exponents.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 20 October 2015.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Burning Down The House: Why Does The Labour Caucus Keep Destroying The Labour Party In Order To Save It?

Political Arsonists: Only a mass influx of people determined to make policy – not tea – can rescue the Labour Party from the self-perpetuating parliamentary oligarchy which is continually burning it down in order to save it from itself. Only a rank-and-file membership that is conscious of, and willing to assert, its rights – as the Corbynistas are doing in the United Kingdom – has the slightest hope of selecting a caucus dedicated to meaningful economic and social reform.
 
SO, PHIL GOFF now feels confident enough to answer questions about Labour’s TPPA stance on Paul Henry’s breakfast show. That pretty much says it all. The victory of Labour’s right-wing rear-guard (and the parallel humiliation of Andrew Little) could hardly have been expressed more forcefully.  With this latest usurpation, Labour Party members need to ask themselves two questions: 1) “Why does the Labour Caucus keep destroying the Labour Party in order to save it?” And: 2) “Why is the rest of the Labour Party unable and/or unwilling to stop them?”
 
To answer the first question, one must try to view the Labour Party from the perspective of Phil Goff and Annette King. In their eyes Labour is still the party that rescued New Zealand from Muldoonism, and dragged its sclerotic economy kicking and screaming into the era of free markets and free trade. Though they have learned not to say so too loudly, they remain immensely proud of the achievements of the fourth Labour government. And they absolutely will not repudiate its legacy. (When a trenchant repudiation of Rogernomics was included in the 2012 draft of Labour’s “Platform” document, it was “amended” out of all recognition!)
 
Goff and King are also acutely aware that there are fewer and fewer Labour MPs with Cabinet experience. Not surprisingly, they feel an obligation to make their own experience available to the younger occupants of Labour’s Front Bench. And, when they see an inexperienced Labour leader marching into what they perceive to be “trouble”, they understandably feel duty bound to intervene, and steer him out of it.
 
Many of those younger Labour leaders (Grant Robertson, Jacinda Ardern, Chris Hipkins) won their political spurs working for Helen Clark’s Government. Like Goff and King, these younger MPs take enormous pride in “their” administration’s achievements. In their eyes, Clark’s 9 years in office constitute an example of outstanding political management. Where other party members took issue with Clark’s authoritarian style, these young and highly ambitious members of the PM’s ‘apparatus’ became convinced that only a highly centralised and tightly disciplined party could guarantee social-democracy’s electoral success in the twenty-first century.
 
David Shearer is a curious Labour politician. The older members of Caucus regarded him not only as someone in whose hands Roger Douglas’ reforms would be perfectly safe, but also as a politician whose “back-story” was sufficiently varied and exciting – not to say “heroic” – to offer some much needed competition to John Key’s rags-to-riches, state-house-to-White-House narrative. That he failed to fire as Labour’s leader left the Caucus’s right-wing faction without a viable candidate of its own. It can intervene, but it cannot lead.
 
Taken together, the attitudes of these Labour MPs reveal an overwhelming preference for government by elites: a process which admits very little in the way of popular participation. Elitist politicians believe the will of the people is best ascertained by scientific opinion polling, and that the content of party policy is best left to appropriately qualified experts – not the votes of poorly educated delegates at out-of-control party conferences. So called “democratic” government is not about giving power to the people – God forbid! The true purpose of elections is to resolve high-level disputes about the optimum management of the state and economy. An outcome best achieved, according to the Italian social scientist, Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) by means of an “orderly circulation of elites”.
 
Eruptions from below (like the election of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK) pose a deadly threat to elite politics – especially if you’re one of the elite that’s about to be circulated into office! The last thing you need then is a bunch of unruly party members determined to lay their untutored hands on the delicate machinery of government. Better by far to lose an election or three, than to install the animal spirits of popular democracy on the ninth floor of the Beehive. After all, life among the elites can, in many ways, be its own reward. Eventually, your turn will come.
 
Why doesn’t the Labour Party organisation sweep this elitist arrangement into the dustbin of history where it belongs?
 
The easy answer is: “Because it’s just too bloody hard!” Members of Parliament are well-paid professionals, while most rank-and-file members are well-meaning amateurs, with jobs to go to and families to look after. In any contest between these two, the odds generally favour the professionals. Moreover, when played seriously, politics is a far from congenial pastime. From those who succeed in mastering its dark arts, it almost always exacts a very high psychological toll. There are even some who say that by the time an aspiring MP has a reasonable chance of entering Parliament, none of the qualities that initially recommended him, or her, for the job, will have survived!
 
The other great impediment to the NZ Labour Party turning itself back into the vibrant, highly creative and enthusiastically democratic organisation it was in the early 1980s, is its own history. By 1989, Rogernomics had driven the Left out of the party, and, by 1994, the arrival of MMP had persuaded the Right to follow suit. What remained was a political party emptied of all conviction and passion, and absolutely terrified at the prospect of a return to the bitter factional disputes of the late-1980s.
 
By the turn of the century, many members had learned to positively relish the level of control Helen Clark and her caucus exercised over the party organisation. The latter’s expert “guidance” from above had impressed upon them the logic of Pareto’s version of democracy. From 1993 onwards, the party was happy to let Helen and Michael and Phil and Annette and Steve and Trevor handle the important stuff. They were happy to hand out the pamphlets, erect the billboards, make the tea.
 
Only a mass influx of people determined to make policy – not tea – can rescue the Labour Party from the self-perpetuating parliamentary oligarchy that currently controls it. Only a rank-and-file membership that is conscious of, and willing to assert, its rights – as the Corbynistas are doing in the United Kingdom – has the slightest hope of selecting a caucus dedicated to circulating the whole oxymoronic notion of democratic elitism out of New Zealand’s political system altogether.
 
A version of this essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 16 October 2015.

Friday, 16 October 2015

With Friends Like These.

Abject Surrender: Rather than simply reiterate his party's agreed position on the TPPA, Andrew Little told Radio NZ's Morning Report that the agreement was something Labour “is not in a position to oppose”. New Zealand, he said was “now committed” to the TPP. It simply “doesn’t matter what we say and do” because “we’ve got what we’ve got”. As these defeatist phrases dribbled off Little’s tired tongue, you could almost hear the four-letter expostulations of Labour’s base as it turned and walked away.
 
WHEN ANDREW LITTLE met with Tim Groser on Monday evening he was not alone. Joining him for the Trade Minister’s two-hour briefing on the Trans-Pacific Partnership were Phil Goff, Annette King, Grant Robertson and David Shearer.
 
This is not the team a leader of the NZ Labour Party would have taken with him if he was planning to strongly oppose the TPP. Quite the reverse, in fact. Not only would  the Labour Left have no difficulty in identifying the caucus members sitting down with Little and Groser as leading representatives of the Labour Right, they’d also finger them as former stalwarts of the infamous ABC (Anybody But Cunliffe) group within Labour’s parliamentary caucus.
 
Viewed from the outside, then, Little’s entourage looks a great deal more like a pack of right-wing minders than a troop of left-wing comrades. And, if his interview on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report of Tuesday, 13 October, is anything to go by, those two hours with Groser and his officials left him worn-out and dispirited. Would this have been his demeanour if his colleagues had pitched in aggressively and often to challenge and refute the Trade Minister’s assertions? No. Most likely his hang-dog performance was born of the suspicion that he was the only person in that briefing-room who didn’t regard the TPP as the greatest thing since sliced bread.
 
Nor was it simply a demoralised Opposition leader who responded to Suzie Fergusson’s questioning on Morning Report, Little had also been appallingly advised.
 
He could have simply reiterated Labour’s current policy of opposing a TPP agreement that failed to meet the party’s five “non-negotiable” conditions. These are:
 
1) Pharmac must be protected;
2) Corporations cannot successfully sue the Government for regulating in the public interest;
3) New Zealand maintains the right to restrict sales of farm land and housing to non-resident foreign buyers;
4) The Treaty of Waitangi must be upheld;
5) Meaningful gains are made for farmers in tariff reductions and market access.
 
But, rather than leave it at that, Little spoke of the TPP as something Labour “is not in a position to oppose”. New Zealand, he said was “now committed” to the TPP. It simply “doesn’t matter what we say and do” because “we’ve got what we’ve got”. As these defeatist phrases dribbled off Little’s tired tongue, you could almost hear the four-letter expostulations of Labour’s base as it turned and walked away.
 
And then he made things worse.
 
Labour’s options vis-√†-vis the TPP are clear. It can, either, return to, and reaffirm, Labour’s former bipartisan approach to free trade issues, and offer its full parliamentary support for the Government’s enabling legislation; or, upon being satisfied that one or more of its non-negotiable conditions has not been met, it can declare the party’s opposition to the TPP, announce its intention to vote against its enabling legislation, and then withdraw from the agreement as soon as legally possible.
 
Both options are clear and principled – all Labour has to do is make a choice. But that, apparently, is much too simple and straightforward a solution. Instead, Little told Morning Report that the Labour Party, not being in a position to oppose the TPP, would accept it as a fait accompli, but, upon becoming the Government, it would “flout” – yes, that was the term he accepted – all those provisions of the agreement with which it disagreed.
 
Quite what the rest of the world will make of a country that first signs agreements, and then flouts them, is anybody’s guess. Personally speaking, I do not believe the rest of the world would make very much of us. Such a course would, I am certain, rapidly result in New Zealand’s international reputation as a fair-dealing and principled nation being torn to shreds.
 
The Leader of the Opposition must surely have access to better advice – and advisors - than this? Surely, somewhere in the Labour caucus, or the wider party, there still exists a modicum of political intelligence, moral fortitude and simple common sense?
 
Exactly how Trade Minister Groser responded to Little’s post-briefing performance we can only guess. But if he said: “Crikey! I didn’t expect it to be that easy. The PM will be over the moon!” We could hardly blame him. But then, the Labour Left would probably add: “Don’t get too cocky, Tim. You had help.”
 
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, 16 October 2015.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Flouting The Rules: Why Has Andrew Little Rejected A Winning TPPA Strategy For A Guaranteed Loser?

Flouting Common Sense: Labour members have a right to know why it was that the obvious (and potentially winning) strategy of joining with the Greens and NZ First to campaign against the TPPA was jettisoned without the slightest input from either the Caucus or the Party, and replaced with a policy guaranteed to submerge the Labour Opposition in a self-inflicted deluge of derision and shame.
 
THE STRATEGY SEEMED SO OBVIOUS: Seize upon the one issue around which the three principal opponents of the Key Government could unite and win the 2017 election. The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) was not only philosophical Kryptonite to Labour, the Greens and NZ First, but, once ratified, it would constitute a position from which National and its allies could not retreat. John Key, the master of the policy flip-flop and the 180 degree emergency hand-brake turn, could not resile from or repudiate the TPPA. Not without losing face – and credibility – in front of the whole world. Meanwhile, Labour, the Greens and NZ First would march to victory on a road paved with the TPPA’s odious concessions and unreasonable expectations.
 
Labour and the Greens are reforming parties, as is, in its own strange fashion, NZ First. The TPPA is designed to prevent political parties from reforming anything. That is why, philosophically-speaking, the agreement is Kryptonite to all except those parties dedicated to advancing the Neoliberal cause.
 
When John Key and the Trade Minister, Tim Groser, reassure New Zealanders that they can’t envisage any circumstances where the Investor/State Disputes Settlement (ISDS) provisions would be enforced against a New Zealand government, they are, in a dishonest sort of way, telling the truth. A National-led government is never likely to renationalise the banks and insurance companies; establish a NZ Residential Construction Authority, strengthen organised labour; introduce tough new measures against climate change; clean up our rivers and streams; or revitalise public broadcasting. So what possible reason would the big transnational corporations have to invoke the ISDS provisions of the TPPA against it?
 
But a Labour-Green-NZ First coalition government, pledged to implement every one of the above policy initiatives, would constitute a clear and present danger to the profits of transnational capital. Resolving the resulting ISDS claims, brought against it under the TPPA, would cost a reforming New Zealand Government tens – quite possibly hundreds – of millions of dollars. In other words, you can have a Labour-Green-NZ First government dedicated to meaningful social and economic reform, or, you can have the TPPA, but you can’t have both.
 
The question Labour Party members need to ask themselves, now, is both quite simple and quite scary: “Is our party still committed to meaningful social and economic reform?” Because, if Labour remains a party dedicated to the uplift and empowerment of the marginalised and exploited members of our society, then it cannot possibly accept the TPPA in its current form. And yet, Labour’s current leader, Andrew Little, speaking on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report on Tuesday, 13 October 2015, declared the TPPA to be something that Labour “is not in a position to oppose”. The National Government, he said, had “committed” New Zealand to the TPP. So, it simply “doesn’t matter what we say and do” because “we’ve got what we’ve got”.
 
It is difficult to interpret those words in any other way than as a declaration that Labour does not intend to fight the 2017 General Election on the issues of national sovereignty; the health of our democracy; citizens’ rights in the workplace; environmental sustainability; the state provision of affordable housing; or a comprehensive reform of the news media. Nor does Mr Little appear to either understand or endorse the obvious strategy of building a united electoral front around these issues. A strategy which would, simultaneously, highlight the role the TPPA would play in corporate attempts to stymie such profit-threatening reforms.
 
Not that Mr Little was without a strategy on Tuesday morning. His proposed way of dealing with the TPPA was to see it ratified; to assist the National Government in bringing New Zealand’s laws into conformity with its provisions; and then, upon becoming the Government, simply “flout” all those TPPA rules which conflict with his government’s plans.
 
As a gift to Labour’s political opponents, this strategy is hard to beat. No responsible political party loudly announces to the world that, if it wins office, no other nation should place the slightest trust in their country’s solemnly given word. Such behaviour would turn this country into an international pariah.
 
Not that it’s likely to happen. From now until the 2017 election, National will use Mr Little’s words to shred Labour’s political credibility. Not only that, but Little’s decision to “flout” will also allow Mr Key to present New Zealand’s adherence to the TPPA as a matter of national honour. Labour will be made to look like an untrustworthy bunch of thieves and liars.
 
Among the many problems associated with Mr Little’s performance on Tuesday morning was the fact that it took place several hours prior to the scheduled meeting of Labour’s parliamentary caucus – the first at which the previous week’s settlement of the TPPA could be debated. On the strength of discussions held the night before with his own advisors and the group (Phil Goff, Annette King, Grant Robertson and David Shearer) who’d accompanied him to a special, 2-hour, TPPA briefing session, organised by Trade Minister Groser, the Caucus’s agreed position on the TPPA (that it would not be endorsed if it failed to meet five carefully worded and non-negotiable conditions) was effectively overturned, and the new policy of “flouting” the TPPA adopted.
 
Aspects of Groser’s special briefing raise several more worrying questions. Why was it not arranged to take place at a time when Labour’s shadow Attorney-General and spokesperson on trade and export growth, David Parker, could attend? Why was Andrew Little, on holiday for the previous week, not given time to catch his breath before being thrown in to such an important meeting? Was there contact between Goff, King and Shearer and Groser’s team in the run-up to the Tuesday briefing? And, finally, was any attempt made to involve the NZ Council of the Labour Party, or members of the party’s Policy Council, in discussions preparatory to the Tuesday briefing – or the change of policy that followed it?
 
Labour members have a right to know why it was that the obvious (and potentially winning) strategy of joining with the Greens and NZ First to campaign against the TPPA was jettisoned without the slightest input from either the Caucus or the Party, and replaced with a policy guaranteed to submerge the Labour Opposition in a self-inflicted deluge of derision and shame.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 14 October 2015.