Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Was Class The Decisive Factor In Determining The Flag Referendum's Outcome?

Class Warrior? At the core of Labour MP Sue Moroney’s controversial "Just Because You Own" tweet was the unmistakeable whiff of class warfare. Her generous parliamentary salary notwithstanding, she clearly reacted with visceral working-class fury to the visual cues of the Silver Fern Flag and a “flash beach house”. In a peculiar, largely unacknowledged way, voting to retain the flag became, for many Kiwis, a small but satisfying gesture of class defiance.
 
FOR THE BEST PART OF A WEEK, the Labour MP, Sue Moroney, has been on the receiving end of a vicious media caning. Her crime? Tweeting a photograph of a handsome Waihi Beach property flying the Silver Fern Flag, accompanied by the incendiary caption: “Just because you own a flash beach house doesn’t mean you get to decide our flag.”
 
Was this an intelligent political gesture? Not really. A moment’s thought on Ms Moroney’s part would have warned her of the inevitability of a swingeing social media backlash, followed inexorably by the heavy artillery fire of the mainstream news outlets. A tweet of such provocative content was never going to pass unnoticed. Better, therefore, not to send it.
 
Ms Moroney should also have paused to consider the feelings of the people who actually owned the beach house over which Kyle Lockwood’s creation was fluttering. Their motivation for displaying the flag was something Ms Moroney could only guess at, and when you’re a Member of Parliament guessing isn’t good enough. The owners of the property had every right to complain, and Ms Moroney had no option but to remove the offending tweet.
 
Exactly what Labour’s Leader, Andrew Little, said to his errant colleague, as the controversy she’d created started spawning the most trenchant journalistic criticism, we have no way of knowing. It is, however, very likely to have included a great deal of admonition and very little approbation.
 
And yet, as the week progressed, and the journalistic vitriol increased in strength, I couldn’t help wondering whether, in this case, the media clobbering machine was protesting too much. Such exaggerated offence, and such ferocious criticism, strongly suggested that Ms Moroney had touched a very raw nerve. What could it be?
 
When the irrepressible Paul Henry says something provocative, his defenders frequently respond with the observation that he is only expressing what a whole lot of people are thinking. Did Ms Moroney’s inflammatory tweet fall into this category? Had she put into words what a great many New Zealanders were feeling about the social forces pushing for a change of flag?
 
It is difficult to argue against the proposition that the entire flag-changing exercise was driven from the top down. Certainly a review of the polling data offers scant evidence for there being a popular groundswell in favour of replacing our present flag. On the contrary, in the eyes of a large number of New Zealanders, the whole initiative originated from, and was associated with, the Prime Minister, John Key.
 
Are the following associative mental leaps similar to the ones Ms Moroney made when she saw the Silver Fern flying above that Waihi Beach property?
 
Look, there’s a swanky beach house flying that damned flag! — John Key has a swanky beach house. — I bet his is flying an even bigger Silver Fern Flag. — Why does he even want to change our flag? — Just to show us that he can! — I’ve always felt this whole referendum thing is nothing more than the Prime Minister and his rich mates telling us what to do. — It must be why the National Party, the news media, and the rest of the political establishment is backing him so strongly. — Because, when a National Party Prime Minister wants something, it’s important that he gets it. — Well bugger them! — Where’s my cell phone!
 
If that was the general direction of Ms Moroney’s thoughts, and if she was by no means alone in thinking about the referendum in such terms, then what New Zealand has just passed through may be a lot more significant than the political pundits are prepared to acknowledge.
 
At the core of Ms Moroney’s tweet is the unmistakeable whiff of class warfare. Her generous parliamentary salary notwithstanding, she clearly reacted with visceral working-class fury to the visual cues of the Silver Fern Flag and a “flash beach house”. Something in her personality (and in the personalities of tens-of-thousands of her fellow New Zealanders) linked together wealth, power, the proposal to change the flag, and the Prime Minister, in a causal chain of extraordinary emotive strength. In a peculiar, largely unacknowledged way, voting to retain the flag became, for many Kiwis, a small but satisfying gesture of class defiance.
 
Perhaps this explains why Ms Moroney’s tweet has elicited such an angry response from those who, in one way or another, contrived to carry the Prime Minister’s flag. Her bitter caption clearly stung them in ways many found difficult to explain. It implied that at least some members of the punditocracy had behaved discreditably; lined up with the wrong people; backed the wrong cause.
 
At the very least, Ms Moroney’s “class warfare” tweet has cast the indisputable class divide separating those who voted for the present flag from those who voted against it, in a new and disquieting light.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 5 April 2016.

24 comments:

Guerilla Surgeon said...

She should have used the "Top Gear" defence.

It's only a joke. Seems to go down well with conservatives all the time.

Anonymous said...

Except Moroney is no more a member of the working class than you are
People who own four houses and whose family are in the Jaguar Class have trouble knowing what we think and feel

Keith Johnson said...

Not class defiance in the conventional sense but defiance of the political class as a whole - the poseurs, the excitably righteous, the self-interested troughers, the apologists for ingrained machine politics establishments, the cynical spinners and shafters ...

Nickk J said...

I saw the whole flag thing as being conflated with the ego of John Key. It took me back to a previous National PM, who those of us who are old enough to remember would have known the phrase, "New Zealand the way I want it". That summed up Piggy well, Key too. The difference between the two seems to me to be the difference in the core values of their electoral bases.Piggy clearly represented Robs mob, a middle of the road bunch of social conservatives. Key represents his aspirational wannabee rich types, and more essentially those that already have too much and want more. This time Key could not buy the votes needed to change the flag, he must be spewing.

Moroney might have observed the win a little more silently, yes we all agreed with her but is just collateral damage Key loves to use as a counter.

Anonymous said...

No ,I do not think it was a class issue, the present flag is loved and cherished by many and the thought of changing it was not on their agenda.

Sue Moroney is not a socialist, she is a Labour Party MP which means that she is and has been very active in troughing off the tax-paying working class people of NZ.

She has acquired four house's including a holiday home, to snort at someone else's choice of flag is bad taste and low-life.

Charles E said...

Envy and spite explains her outburst. Not offensive. Offensive is fine and we must not give into those who pretend they have a right not to be offended. Stuff them.
But envy and spite is how the right sees the left so she just gave us ammo which clearly is politically daft.

I feel sorry for people with flash baches. They obvious don't know the joy of a cramped little crib full of discards with a suspect water source and half dead blowflies on a faded windowsill.
They also often over capitalise so have more money than sense..
Most of all, what they really lack is taste.
So that is snobbery. So much less of a fault don't you think?

Tiger Mountain said...

the flag vote will likely take a little while yet to be usefully analysed, and for a collation beyond what the likes of bloggers such as Bryce Edwards and others have so far managed, but a quick look at the Electoral Commission site certainly confirms that there is a definite class flavour to some of the voting by electorate

greywarbler said...

I don't think disquiet is the best description for present feelings amongst the hoi polloi. For me I think the feeling is not quiet, but compares to a rumbling, tearing noise. Like that during an approaching earthquake perhaps. And the reaction of the public - it is an emphatic cliche' of 'Enough is enough'.

Keith Johnson's thoughts summarise the situation and attitudes very well.

Punch said...

I doubt this could be construed as a "class" issue. New Zealand remains, despite many opinions to the contrary, a place where social portability is still possible - up or down. Our accessible education system and reward for vocational effort and enterprise allow this. Sue Moroney not only displayed envy, but also a great deal of hypocrisy, in posting this photo. After all, was she not in Waihi Beach at the time of the said photo, staying at her family bach ? Waihi Beach, let us be reminded, is also where the Clark family, of Helen fame, own a beach property. It is a far from exclusive enclave of many modest dwellings adjoining an expansive and safe beach.

Guerilla Surgeon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Guerilla Surgeon said...

One of the 'opinions to the contrary' is the OECD. Growing inequality stifles social mobility, and the first has grown more in New Zealand over the last 20 years or so than just about anywhere. Social mobility in that home of the American dream is pretty much down to nil at the moment.
Can't see what she's got to be envious of though? On her salary I'd probably have a batch somewhere. She probably has. So I can't see how envy applies here. Spite may be, though that's a term that's tossed around a little too much in these threads. As I said, she should have just passed it off as a joke. Jeremy Clarkson managed to do it for years :)

Anonymous said...

It was not a class issue, nobody wanted a new flag, it appeared out of the blue when the PM said we would have a referendum.
Idiotic journalists, up themselves sports stars and self stated celebraties put their 2 cents of opinion to the nonsense published in the newspapers which only added to the nonsense they published.
Andrew 'foot in the mouth' Little made anti John Key statements which made him look like a jealouse cry-baby.
Sue Moroney's tweet reminded me of the David Cunliffe claim that John Key lived in a 'leafy suburb' whilst he himself lived in a 5 bedroom house on Marine Parade !.
Sue Moroney has got 4 house's. Breath-taking.
Oh' I nearly forgot "Vote Labour".

Nick J said...

I'm shocked to say the least that Moroney has 4 properties. She has obviously done very well one way or the other, by way of marriage, inheritance, income, good fortune, clever investment, or any number of reasons. That could however be any of us, and we might still be Labour or whatever, and owning multiple properties should not exclude us from professing any viewpoint. So we should not damn her or pigeon hole her on that basis.

I have not (please note GS) been a member of the Labour Party since 1989, nor have I voted for them for years. I would really like to do so again, my emotional reaction is that they don't represent a workable socialist alternative, there always seem to be so many faux socialist centrist middle class types on their books, such as Moroney. When Josie Pagani calls herself a Leftist I cringe, but that's what she says she is, whatever that means. Myself, well my grandparents were solidly working class, my parents upwardly mobile and myself next generation new middle class. And that I suspect is the way NZ is in a socio-demographic way. Are we post proletarian, post industrial, post-unions? Who represents the wage earning / beneficiaried poor? Increasingly I think that rather than react on ideological grounds we need to view the changed landscape before taking aim.

Kevin Welsh said...

What Sue Moronity did aside, do you not think that there is class warfare going on Chris? I think that not only is there a worldwide class warfare going on, it's practically nuclear. These is almost a hatred from those who have against those who have not.

Anonymous said...

I think you're right Chris. Interestingly I noticed it less with baches than the business class (although they could be much the same folk of course), flying at sizable SMEs and corporates. Seeing the flag flying there crystallised the top down nature for me. Note this is a class of which I'm a member. I've been in business since 1999 and would earn in the top 2 - 3%, but I never forget where I've come from, and I don't like being told what to think.

On another matter, I don't want to derail your thread here but please put a column up about the tax haven stuff soon. My take: this is for John Key what say, smacking was for Clark - you could not contrive a better issue to corner him on, that he would struggle to defend himself with greater difficulty etc. If Labour can't land some blows here that actually damage him, make him squirm, then they can't do it anywhere for anything - he will be in power until he decides he wants to do something else with his life.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about anyone else, but I don't want this country to be one where we are expect to bow and scrape and doff our hat to the rich, as the MSM it seems expect us to do.

Go Sue.

peter petterson said...

Even many of the better off take 20 years or so to pay off their new houses. Sue wears her heart on her sleeve.

Stephen Franks said...

"Indisputably" a class issue? Until Labour's weird decision to oppose it might have been a classic conservative/progressive contest. But after that dumbness the sane position for a careful commentator is 'sit this one out'. All Moroney confirmed was simple old fashioned chip on shoulder hypocrisy, spite in triumph and unsuitability for office.

Anonymous said...

About 10 years ago I was working in a government department.

Some time earlier, I had written at university a major essay talking about an aspect of class and it scored a high mark. I was casually discussing this topic with some colleagues in the staff room. A manager heard the discussion and indicated that I meet with him in his office.

He proceeded to give me an super-serious talk that included statements such as:

'There is no such thing as class in New Zealand - we are all equal',

'It's dangerous to think like this', and

'The difference between New Zealand the rest of the world is that we are classless'

and after all this he concluded with the patronising:

'Do you understand this now?'.

This moron is now a senior bureaucrat in Wellington.

Michael Smythe said...

"... Labour's weird decision to oppose it ..." Stephen Franks? Are you one of those generating this spin or are you mindlessly repeating it? Labour simply argued that the first stage in the process should be a discussion around the pros and cons of having a new flag. As any psychologist would tell you - first the nation has to want to change. This was consistent with Labour's 2014 policy which read:

Labour will review the design of the New Zealand flag involving flag design experts and with full public consultation and involvement.

In my view much of the opposition to the process was driven by awareness that we were being manipulated into 'choosing' John Key's pre-prepared solution (designed by breakfast time on morning TV 7 February 2010, etc, etc) rather than undertaking a genuine design process evaluated on merit. This concern was felt across the socio-economic spectrum and had nothing to do with class.

On the other hand - by rejecting clumsy mediocrity a majority of New Zealanders showed a lot of class.

Anonymous said...

My late mother saved for about 10 years for the deposit on a rental property doing jobs she didn't particularly like with people she didn't particularly want to associate with but she was prepared to get on with things and be aspirational - even voting for Labour when it suited her.

Unknown said...

How to hide an inconvenient finding: use a typo???

Percentage of New Zealanders who say each
of the factors below will have a position impact
on New Zealand in the next 10 to 20 years.

Immigration
from Asia to
New Zealand 48%
http://asianz.org.nz/reports/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Perceptions-of-Asia-2015-Report.pdf
see page 8

Anonymous said...

It was not a class issue, nobody wanted a new flag,

Bay of Plenty, Clutha-Southland, East Coast Bays, Ilam, Selwyn, and Tamaki wanted a new flag.

Dunedin North, Dunedin South, Invercargill, Kelston, Mangere, Manukau East, Manurewa, Mt Albert, New Lynn, Northland, Rongotai, Te Atatu, plus the seven Maori seats really hated Key's flag, to the point where less than 40% wanted change.

That's class, no matter how you spin it.

Jigsaw said...

Except that Moroney isn't just a TV presenter-she has stood for parliament six times and been rejected each and every time. Only because of MMP is she an MP at all. If she wants to make jokes she needs to signal them clearly at the beginning. I think that she just demonstrated the level of competence that would disqualify her from almost any public post. And yes she does have seaside batch to which she is perfectly entitled-and apparently several other properties.