Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Can Winston Ride Jacinda’s Wave To An Enduring Political Legacy?

Riding The Wave: A dark and glowering Winston Peters hurling rhetorical thunderbolts at all and sundry will find himself very poorly placed to participate positively in creative change. But, a wise and benevolent Winston Peters, determined to render every possible assistance to New Zealand’s youngest prime minister in more than a century, will leave behind a political legacy of no small significance.
 
IMAGINE HOW GALLING Jacinda Ardern’s Auckland Town Hall love-fest must have been for Winston Peters. Just one tumultuous month ago, that sort of spectacle had been his for the making. NZ First was on a roll: effortlessly rising on the swell of an electoral wave that had the pundits making serious predictions about Peters becoming New Zealand’s next prime minister. Not anymore.
 
It is only fair to note at this point that the NZ First surge was no figment of the pundits’ imagination. A month ago, Peters’ understanding of the political mood seemed altogether more profound than any of his rivals. His appeal to what he perceived to be a simmering anger, roiling just below the surface of New Zealand politics, was borne out by his party’s steady rise in the polls.
 
Political historians looked at those numbers and, recalling Peters’ ability to nearly double his party’s level of support over the course of the formal election campaign period, began speculating that the final NZ First vote might actually equal (or even outstrip!) that of the ailing, Andrew Little-led Labour Party. In those circumstances, the precariously placed, Party List-only candidate, Little, could, conceivably, have lost his seat in the House of Representatives, putting the post of prime minister well-and-truly in play.
 
The rise and rise of NZ First proved equally unsettling for the Greens. Their Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Labour Party should have been a source of political reassurance, but the fact that it expired on Election Day made it a constant source of worry. With NZ First nipping at their heels in the polls, and their own history of losing support over the course of the formal campaign period, what guarantee did they have that Labour would not pull another “2005” on them by striking a deal with Peters?
 
Recklessly, the Green Party co-leader, Metiria Turei, lashed out at Peters; castigating him and his party for their “racist” policies. Then, even more recklessly, Turei seized the opportunity of her party’s AGM to declare the Greens’ determination to legislate a “preferential option for the poor”. The signal to Labour was unmistakable: MoU, or no MoU, the Greens had lost faith in their putative coalition partner. Labour was sinking and the Greens were standing by to pick up all of those Labour voters sensible enough to abandon ship. A five-point surge in the polls suggested that this just might prove to be a winning strategy.
 
Labour’s answer was Jacinda Ardern – and it was devastating! As her first, astonishingly accomplished, media conference drew to a close, it was clear to every political observer in New Zealand that the game had changed.
 
How seriously it had changed for the Greens was made clear by their catastrophic slide in the One News/Colmar Brunton poll of 17 August. Amidst all the smoke and flames of Turei’s and the Greens auto-da-fé, however, it was easy to miss the less dramatic, but equally important, decline in the fortunes of Peters and NZ First.
 
The outcome of the 2017 General Election may now turn on whether or not Peters is able to discern the full strategic significance of Jacinda’s Love-Fest.
 
On his multiple tours of the provinces, Peters had registered a great deal of anger and resentment: feelings which, like Donald Trump, he believed he could distil into a winning brew of electoral moonshine. But, anger and resentment aren’t the only emotions out there in the electorate. As the heart-breaking responses to Turei’s turn towards the poor made clear, so are desperation and despair.
 
‘The Wave’ is not, however, generated by anger and resentment; nor is it impelled by desperation and despair. These raw emotions are just the foam at the Wave’s crest. Driving the Wave is a massive tide of dissatisfaction with the way New Zealand society is evolving. The voters want change, yes, but not for the purposes of punishing their fellow citizens and/or destroying the things they hold dear. The change they are seeking is creative and constructive; change to usher-in a fairer, more inclusive and more joyous nation.
 
A dark and glowering Winston Peters hurling rhetorical thunderbolts at all and sundry will find himself very poorly placed to participate positively in such creative change. But, a wise and benevolent Winston Peters, determined to render every possible assistance to New Zealand’s youngest prime minister in more than a century (think Winston Churchill and the young Queen Elizabeth) will leave behind a political legacy of no small significance.
 
All the great historical changes contain a blending of radical and conservative impulses: a determination to construct a better future on the solid foundations of a cherished past. If Peters draws the correct strategic lesson from Jacindamania, he will make himself the champion for all that made New Zealand great – and can make it great again.
 
This essay was originally published by The Press of Tuesday, 22 August 2017.

Pure Magic! Jacinda Ardern Launches Labour's Election Campaign.

Magic-Woman: The mantle of success has already been draped over Jacinda’s shoulders. Victory advances towards her with arms outstretched. Her followers are convinced they know how this year’s election is going to end. She has filled them to the brim with hope. That’s the Magic – that’s the trick. Photo by JOHN MILLER
 
THAT JACINDA ARDERN has the “Magic” is not now in dispute. Labour’s campaign launch proved it many times over. Not only in terms of the 200m-long queue stretching back from the Auckland Town Hall doors. Not only because the whole event went off without a hitch. Not only because Jacinda’s speech was an absolute blinder. The Magic resides in the fact that everyone involved in the launch: the organisers, the media, the audience itself; had turned up anticipating a triumph.
 
The mantle of success has already been draped over Jacinda’s shoulders. Victory advances towards her with arms outstretched. Her followers are convinced they know how this year’s election is going to end. She has filled them to the brim with hope. That’s the Magic – that’s the trick.
 
The enormous significance of political magic is made clear principally by its absence. None of Jacinda’s four male predecessors had it. Contact lenses and a new haircut couldn’t make it appear. Speechwriters working in shifts couldn’t summon it. Focus groups couldn’t even tell the party where to look for it. But no Labour member; no Labour voter; had the slightest difficulty understanding that the Magic was passing them by.
 
Because, without the Magic, the party’s leaders were just so many talking heads; and its policies just so many (so many!) words on paper. They could be wheeled out in front of the public, but the public couldn’t be persuaded to notice them. Promises to do good things could be announced, re-announced, and then announced all over again – and, still, nobody believed them. Absent the Magic, why should they? The party was never going to be in a position to make them happen.
 
But, oh, what a difference, when the Magic finally appears! First, there’s the shock of recognition. In Jacinda’s case, that came just a few seconds into her first media conference as Leader. No one had addressed the Press Gallery with such effortless authority since the departure of Helen Clark in 2008. The journalists all thought they knew Jacinda Ardern, but they were wrong. The Jacinda Ardern with power was a very different person from the Jacinda Ardern without it. That mysterious and indefinable “gift of grace” – kharisma in Ancient Greek – had taken up residence in Jacinda Ardern, and she was changed.
 
No call now for tedious recitations of party policy. When the Magic is with you people don’t want to know the details of any particular reform, they want to know its purpose. And that’s what this sudden infusion of charisma has done for Jacinda. It has enabled her to communicate the passion and the urgency of her intentions with striking clarity – as when she declared Climate Change to be her generation’s “nuclear-free moment”.
 
Page after page of earnest policy proposals could never have achieved the political impact of that single sentence. Like David Lange’s in/famous quip that “you can’t run a country like a Polish shipyard”, Jacinda’s “my generation’s nuclear-free moment” political marker discloses a potent combination of emotion and aspiration. Not the least of which is her clear determination to not only participate in History, but to shape it.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 21 August 2017.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Don't You Dare, Jacinda Ardern! Don't You Dare!

Oi! Jacinda! No!  If Jacinda Ardern follows the advice of her advisers to scale back voter expectations and re-commit to the Labour/Green "Budget Responsibility Rules", then she will endanger everything she has achieved to date.
 
“DON’T YOU DARE, Jacinda Ardern. Don’t you dare!” That’s what I shouted at the television screen as she started hosing-down the political prairie fire she’d so spectacularly ignited barely a fortnight before. Someone, somewhere, had impressed upon her the importance of walking-back the expectations that “Jacindamania” is raising – especially among the young.
 
Someone, somewhere, has drawn her attention to Labour’s longstanding commitment to fiscal rectitude. Rapidly rising voter expectations of increased government spending on education, health and welfare are threatening to make a bonfire of the party’s much-vaunted “Budget Responsibility Rules” and, clearly, her advisers are insisting that she dampen them down.
 
But, if she heeds this advice, Ardern will endanger everything she has achieved to date. Instead of being hailed as Labour’s political saviour: the woman whose sunny ways have thrown her four dismal predecessors into shadow; she will begin to look like a front-person. A phoney. A fake.
 
All that promise; all that thrilling sense of now, at last, Labour has a leader equal to the challenges New Zealand faces; will dissipate. The radiance of “The Jacinda Affect” will fade. And, in the ensuing gloom, we will see only a smiley-face puppet whose strings are being pulled by the same grey men who gave us Phil Goff, David Shearer, David Cunliffe and Andrew Little. Those “leaders” who failed us by making promises, and then, almost immediately, taking them back again.
 
According to her Wikipedia entry, Ardern has a BA in communications. So, I’m betting there’s a little voice telling her not to listen to her over-cautious advisers. A little voice demanding to know why she is putting her dream-run to the Ninth Floor of the Beehive at risk.
 
She should listen to that little voice, and ignore the voices of all those telling her that the sky will fall if an Ardern-led Labour Government deviates even a smidgen from the numbers set down in the Labour/Green Budget Responsibility Rules. Because it won’t.
 
No need to take my word for it, however. This is what Aussie economist, Professor Bill Mitchell, from the University of Newcastle, NSW, said when asked to comment on the rigid fiscal parameters set down in Labour’s and the Greens’ budget rules. He described them as “the height of economic irresponsibility”.
 
Responding to RNZ’s Wallace Chapman on the Sunday Morning programme of 30 July, Mitchell went on to argue that, since roughly 1 in 8 New Zealanders are either underemployed or unemployed; a third of our children live in poverty; and we have record levels of household debt – “so you’ve got consumption expenditure being driven by debt which is an unsustainable process” – and since we have an external sector that’s draining spending through current account deficits; the very idea of running a fiscal surplus is, in Mitchell’s own words, “irresponsible in the extreme.”
 
Of course all those grey men whispering in her ear will tell Ardern that Bill Mitchell is a crank whose views should, on no account, be heeded. But that is what the advisers to the British Labour Party’s tragic Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Snowden, said about John Maynard Keynes in 1929. And it is also, I’m guessing, what all the people she got to know in Tony Blair’s office said about Jeremy Corbyn’s “For the Many, Not the Few” manifesto. Grey, cautious men will always tender grey, cautious advice.
 
But if she really means to be New Zealand’s Justin Trudeau, then Ardern should follow his campaign strategy. Trudeau saw the New Democratic Party (Canada’s Labour Party) doing everything it could to be “responsible” – to the point where Canadians found it difficult to distinguish Thomas Mulcair’s NDP from Steven Harper’s Conservatives. Seeing the political opening before him Trudeau said something along the lines of “Let’s do this!” – and won.
 
Don’t hose down the expectations you have raised, Jacinda. Be guided, instead, by Bill Mitchell:
 
“[W]hat you’ve got in New Zealand is similar to many other countries in the advanced world. You’ve got the so-called “progressive parties” – the Greens and the Labour Party, who have abandoned [their traditional roles]. The Greens are sort of neoliberals on bikes. And the Labour Party are Neoliberal-Lite. They say, we’ll do austerity – but we’ll do it fairer.”
 
Except: “There’s no such thing as fair austerity when a third of your children are living in poverty.”
 
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, 18 August 2017.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Voter Motivators 2017: Water.

Worth Protecting? The threat to the nation’s water is real and it demands action. What’s more, the Water Issue comes with a whole cast of ready-made villains: someone to take the blame. Farmers.
 
WHO CAN FORGET that magic childhood moment when you first opened your eyes underwater? I remember mine like it was yesterday. I was splashing about in the Waianakarua River in North Otago. The first thing I saw when I put my head under the water and opened my eyes was a red and green “Pure New Zealand Honey” tin. So clear was the water that I could easily make out the bees and clover-heads printed on its surface. (Quite why the tin was in the river, which was otherwise blissfully free of litter, I never discovered!)
 
We all have memories like this of New Zealand’s rivers and streams. Those deep, clear swimming holes that family and friends frequented during the long, hot days of summer. It may be years since we visited them, but they feature prominently in our mental and emotional landscapes. They are places of the heart.
 
Which is why, when we hear about the extent to which New Zealand’s rivers and streams have become unswimmable, the impact is devastating. Whatever it is that’s polluting and degrading our waterways, it is also befouling our memories.
 
Understandably, these sort of emotional connections are tremendously concerning to the politicians on whose watch our waterways are being polluted. Be they central, regional or local government representatives, all are acutely aware that the “Water Issue” is not only one of the big Voter Motivators of 2017, but that it has also become a symbol of New Zealand’s entire beleaguered environment.
 
The devastations of global warming loom ahead of humanity – and that’s the problem. As a species we are notoriously prone to ignoring all but the most immediate threats. All of the measures which New Zealand (and a great many other countries) refuse to countenance when it comes to mitigating the effects of climate change would be adopted in an instant if we found ourselves at war. Indeed, “Victory Gardens”, compulsory re-cycling, and the strict rationing of fossil fuels were an accepted part of people’s everyday lives during World War II.
 
The threat to the nation’s water, however, is very much in the here and now. It’s real and it demands action. What’s more, the Water Issue comes with a whole cast of ready-made villains: someone to take the blame. Farmers.
 
And don’t they know it! The dairy industry is spending millions of dollars on public relations and advertising in an attempt to repair the damage done to the reputation of New Zealand farmers by the Green Party. The latter’s “Dirty Dairying” campaign, spearheaded by Russel Norman in the run-up to the 2014 election, turned urban New Zealanders off farmers in droves. Justified or unjustified, the connection between the vast expansion of this country’s dairy herd and the degradation of its waterways has been made. And all the beautifully shot images of salt-of-the-earth farming families walking their cows to milking in the dawn’s early light are not going to break it.
 
It gets worse. The National Party, which Labour’s Michael Cullen once described as “Federated Farmers at prayer”, is increasingly being identified as Dirty Dairying’s prime protectors and enablers. More and more voters are noticing that while the Department of Conservation has been wantonly downsized and cruelly starved of funding, the National-led Government has lavished hundreds-of-millions of dollars on irrigation schemes designed to further expand New Zealand’s dairy industry.
 
Put all of the above together with National’s refusal to enlist farmers in the war against global warming and the picture that emerges is not a pretty one. Clearly, the befouled state of our rivers and streams is merely the most visible and shocking evidence of an industry which has for decades traded environmental degradation for profit. It is just the tip of New Zealand’s rapidly melting environmental iceberg.
 
The real wonder of this year’s election is that the Greens have not made more of their former leader’s extraordinary political gift. It’s almost as if the party’s new co-leader, James Shaw, is frightened by the sheer intensity of public feeling against the role played by farmers in the ruin of our waterways. (Not to mention the giving away of New Zealand’s pristine springwater to foreign bottling companies!)
 
If future generations of young New Zealanders are to experience the joy and wonder of their wild water heritage, then today’s voters need to open their eyes.
 
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 June. 2017.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

“Let’s Tax This?” – “Hell, Yeah!”

"Hell, Yeah!" - Labour must not retreat before National’s “Let’s Tax This!” counter-attack. Not when a majority of New Zealanders are ready to rescue their ailing public services from further deterioration. When National hurls the “tax and spend” accusation at Labour candidates they should respond instantly with a hearty “Hell, yeah!”
 
‘LET’S TAX THIS!’ Looks like being the National Party’s strategic rejoinder to Jacinda Ardern’s “Let’s Do This!” campaign slogan. If it is, then it deserves to be as ineffective as it is unoriginal. National’s campaign manager, Steven Joyce, is experienced enough to know that making the Left’s alleged propensity to “tax and spend” the central feature of a National Party election campaign only works when Labour is in power.
 
The reason for this is obvious. One of the main reasons National governments fall is because they are ideologically allergic to both taxing and spending. As the years pass, and the necessary investments in health, education, housing and infrastructure are withheld, the public starts to notice a worrying decline in the quality and quantity of essential social services.
 
Urgent surgical operations are routinely deferred, or, worse still, declined. School classrooms become overcrowded. The recruitment and retention of qualified teachers becomes impossible. Demand for affordable housing outstrips supply. Homelessness reaches crisis levels. Rivers and streams become unswimmable. To all but the greedy and the cruel, the moral case for increased taxation, to enable long-deferred public expenditure, is irrefutable.
 
Where New Zealand now stands, the need of a “tax and spend” government is palpable. Voters convinced of this need are, therefore, unlikely to run screaming for the hills at the prospect of a Labour government taking office. That National is defaulting to such a tired old attack-line is a sign not of strategic confidence – it actually signals something pretty close to despair.
 
Why then is Mr Joyce rolling the dice so recklessly?
 
The most likely answer is that he believes Labour’s leaders – most particularly its finance spokesperson, Grant Robertson – are incorrigibly risk averse, and that they will recoil from National’s “Let’s Tax This!” counter-attack in confusion and dismay.
 
On the strength of Labour’s performance under Andrew Little, Mr Joyce’s gamble is not unreasonable. It was, after all, Mr Little who nixed Labour’s 2011-2014 policy of introducing a capital gains tax. Nor was he willing to countenance a sharp rise in the progressivity of the Income Tax. His preference for a “working group” of “experts” to write his party’s tax policies – but only after Labour has been safely elected – betrayed the Opposition’s extraordinary sensitivity towards these issues.
 
Mr Joyce is hoping that the more pressure the National Party is able to heap upon Labour in relation to tax, the more confused and equivocal its spokespeople will become. This would be of enormous assistance to National; not least because it would spike the Opposition’s rhetorical guns on at least two issues where the Government is acutely vulnerable: Auckland’s escalating traffic woes; and the appalling condition of New Zealand’s waterways.
 
Ms Ardern’s bold policy announcements on both of these issues have included unabashed references to such fiscal instruments as regional fuel taxes, resource-use royalties and irrigation levies. Had she not included these references, National’s charge would have been that Labour has no idea how its promises will be paid for. By anticipating this criticism, however, and countering it, Ms Ardern handed Mr Joyce the “Let’s Tax This!” attack-line he was looking for.
 
For a day or two, Mr Joyce’s strategy appeared to be working. Interviewed by Lisa Owen on the Three network’s current affairs programme, “The Nation”, Mr Robertson’s confidence visibly faded when asked whether or not Labour would be putting a capital gains tax back on the agenda. As his opponent floundered, the wolfish grin on Finance Minister Joyce’s face told the viewers everything they needed to know!
 
By the following day, however, Labour had developed an attack-line of its own. Interviewed on TVNZ’s “Q+A”, Labour’s environment spokesperson, David Parker, hit back against criticism of his party’s water policies by turning the disparagement back on its originators. Mr Parker simply demanded to know whether or not the Government, Federated Farmers, horticulturalists and vintners were suggesting that the biggest contributors to New Zealand’s water problems should be exempted entirely from making a reasonable contribution to their solution?
 
That Mr Parker rebuked his critics while wearing an expression that positively shouted: “You have got to be kidding me!”, made his challenge even more persuasive. Television is an ideal medium for this sort of non-verbal communication – As Mr Joyce had proved the day before.
 
Labour should not, therefore, retreat before National’s “Let’s Tax This!” counter-attack. Not when a majority of New Zealanders are ready to rescue their ailing public services from further deterioration. That “taxation is the price we pay for civilisation” has become increasingly clear over the nine years of Bill English’s undeclared, but unmistakeable, austerity campaign against the public sector. When National hurls the “tax and spend” accusation at Labour candidates they should respond instantly with a hearty “Hell, yeah!”
 
“Let’s Do This!” and “Let’s Tax This!” are simply different ways of saying the same thing.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 15 August 2017.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

The Greens' Campaign Reset: Normal Ideological Transmission Is Resumed.

Who Loves Ya Baby? “I didn’t come to Parliament to act like other political parties. But this week that’s where we ended up. We have not been our best selves, and for that I am sorry.” But who are your best selves? And why are they sorry?
 
WATCHING THE GREENS’ campaign re-set unfold, I couldn’t help but feel the absence of the pre-Dotcom Mana Party. Because sure as eggs-is-eggs, the Greens have put poverty behind them. Not rhetorically, of course, as James Shaw, now the party’s sole leader, made clear to the assembled journalists: “[W]e will continue to talk about poverty. That conversation makes a lot of people uncomfortable. I’m comfortable with that.” Except, of course, he isn’t. Not in the least. Not on your Nelly.
 
The Greens have no intention of avenging Metiria. In fact, Metiria is in the process of being air-brushed out of the Green Party’s political history in a way that would have made Joe Stalin proud.
 
As for the issue of poverty: well, the proof of the Greens’ commitment to keep this issue front and centre politically is, surely, to be found in the content of the party’s re-edited campaign advertisement. And it is – but only in the sense that poverty isn’t there. The very first promise we hear in the Greens’ re-edited 30-second spot is NOT that they will make poverty history, but that, under the Greens: “Aotearoa New Zealand can be a place where businesses are booming in a thriving green economy.” In the whole 30 seconds, the word “poverty” is never spoken.
 
Shaw may have taken the opportunity to announce Marama Davidson’s new role as the party’s spokesperson on Poverty, but I’d be very surprised if she harbours any illusions about the way she is – and is not – expected to advance Metiria’s adoption of “the preferential option for the poor.” *
 
The careful stage-management of the campaign re-set: from Shaw’s heroic entry, surrounded by his top 20 candidates; to the “up-cycling” of the Greens’ 2014 campaign slogan “Love New Zealand”; was intended to – and did – convey a single message. The feverish political distempers which have, for the past month, thrown the Green Party into such disorder, are now at an end.
 
Or, as Shaw put it: “Our slogan for this campaign was ‘Great Together’. But, to be frank, over the last couple of weeks we haven’t been all that together and it hasn’t been all that great.” For this lamentable lapse in political discipline, Shaw offered Green Party supporters an apology: “I didn’t come to Parliament to act like other political parties. But this week that’s where we ended up. We have not been our best selves, and for that I am sorry.”
 
Sorry for what, though? Toby Manhire may have voiced the question, but he was by no means the only journalist present who was wondering. Sorry for interrupting our relentless advance from the kooky margins to the sensible centre of parliamentary politics? Sorry for upsetting our core electoral base in the nation’s leafy suburbs? Sorry for not perceiving the acute political dangers associated with Metiria’s radical turn towards the poor?
 
Shaw didn’t say – but, then, he didn’t really have to. The empty space where Metiria used to stand was saying it for him.
 
* This central tenet of the Catholic Church’s social teachings became a focus of the World Synod of Catholic Bishops in 1971, which reaffirmed that: “Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation.”
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 15 August 2017.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Election 2017: No Country For Old Men.

A Big Ask: How are Bill English and Steven Joyce supposed to defeat a young woman who can set the cold, cold heart of Paddy Gower aflame? How do a couple of guys on the wrong side of 50 fight a social-media phenomenon? Sure, they can say that elections are about policies – not personalities – but, after ten years of relying on John Key’s winning personality, who’s going to believe them?
 
THE NATIONAL PARTY’S BIG PROBLEM in 2017 is that Jacinda Ardern cannot be relied upon to deliver it a fourth consecutive term in government. As anticipated, Phil Goff and David Cunliffe proved to be extremely reliable self-saboteurs – albeit for very different reasons. David Shearer’s challenge to National was real enough – that damn back-story! – but only for a while. The UN trouble-shooter realised pretty early on that he and the Labour Party were never going to be friends and wisely took himself out of play. Andrew Little desperately wanted to be Labour’s next PM, but didn’t know how. Confronted with a guy who couldn’t seem to get out of his own way, National must have thought its fourth consecutive term was in the bag.
 
Not anymore.
 
How are Bill English and Steven Joyce supposed to defeat a young woman who can set the cold, cold heart of Paddy Gower aflame? How do a couple of guys on the wrong side of 50 fight a social-media phenomenon? Sure, they can say that elections are about policies – not personalities – but, after ten years of relying on John Key’s winning personality, who’s going to believe them?
 
Besides, when it comes to policy, National’s bill-of-fare just isn’t that appetising. English’s great achievement, as John Key’s Finance Minister, was to impose an austerity regime upon New Zealand’s public sector without the voters noticing. Now that he’s Prime Minister, however, the consequences of nearly a decade of underfunded social services and insufficient infrastructural spending are hitting the electorate hard where it hurts. Promising to put right your own deliberate “mistakes” isn’t all that likely to make the voters feel forgiving.
 
You have to hand it to Key – he sure knew when to quit!
 
And this time National can’t even fight dirty. In 2014, Kim Dotcom and David Cunliffe may, between them, have rescued National from the consequences of its own spectacular political sinning. But, they can’t rely upon the “Moment of Truth” of an overweight deus ex machina to save them a second time. Jacinda Ardern sure as hell ain’t going to apologise for being a woman!
 
Not even the media is to be relied upon anymore. Oh sure, the dear old NZ Herald will continue to plod on ahead of the National Party, striking out predictably at all the usual left-wing suspects. In 2017, however, the Government must do without John Armstrong. Yes, Audrey Young and Claire Trevett are still there, but do either of these two women journalists any longer have a dog in National’s electoral fight? Does “More of the same” really beat “Let’s do this!”?
 
As for the rest of the news media: well, National can pretty much forget about it. With the obvious exceptions of Mike Hosking and Leighton Smith, the inhabitants of the news media’s Olympian heights are bored with the status quo. If “Jacindamania” didn’t already exist, they would have felt obliged to invent it. Moreover, thanks to Metiria Turei’s reckless gamble (heroic sacrifice?) the blood-lust of the press corps’ most ferocious predators has been pretty well satisfied. (Some of them, one suspects, may even be feeling a little guilty!) Destroying one young woman politician might be passed-off as an unfortunate necessity; but destroying two begins to look like sadistic misogyny.
 
And then there’s Winston. (There’s always Winston!) That old dog still has a good nose for what’s coming down the road – especially if that road’s in Northland. Like the hapless Green Party, he’s watching his supporters stream past him. He knows where they’re headed and what it means. Come election night, the winds of change will be blowing hard and he knows better than to steer NZ First’s ship into the teeth of a howling gale. Even if he was able to, somehow, reach the good ship National, Peters knows that all NZ First can look forward to in 2020 is being dragged under with it – along with his political legacy.
 
Winston understands that, in 2017, New Zealand is no country for old men who attempt to stand in the way of young women.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Saturday, 12 August 2017.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Tales From A Possible Future: Avenge Metiria!

Never forget, the best way to avenge the wrongs of the past is by seizing control of the future!
 
IT WAS SHORTLY AFTER MARAMA DAVIDSON’S impassioned appeal to Metiria Turei’s devastated supporters, that the “Avenge Metiria” meme made its first appearance. No one’s entirely sure who started it, but pretty soon it was all over social media. Then the ideas for action started pouring in to the Green Party HQ. Though expressed in a multitude of ways, the message was clear: “If Metiria is to be avenged, then we have to get her supporters to the polls!”
 
Over the next few days, dozens of IamMetiria volunteers began texting their friends and neighbours with news that “Avenge Metiria” meetings were being organised around the country. Posters featuring Metiria’s image started going up all over New Zealand saying, simply: “Don’t mourn – organise!”
 
The meetings attracted hundreds of people. Among their very first decisions was a vote to ban the mainstream news media from all further “Avenge Metiria” gatherings. Some wag even sent a message to the television networks: “Stay healthy, guys – stay away!” Gang members offered to provide “security” for the rapidly growing movement’s leading organisers.
 
When Marama Davidson announced that the Greens would accept an invitation to address the rally being organised by the South Auckland chapter of “Avenge Metiria”, it soon became clear that the turnout would be huge. And when word spread that Metiria, herself, would be speaking, the organisers were forced to secure a bigger venue – a much bigger venue.
 
Metiria’s speech, carried live on social media, was electrifying. Freed from the constraints of her co-leadership role and with nothing left to lose, she spoke from the heart about the need for those who had been silenced by poverty and bureaucratic oppression to find their voices. To take on the system with the objects it feared the most – their votes.
 
“Don’t do it to avenge me!”, she cried, “Do it to avenge yourselves! Do it to avenge all those New Zealanders whom the greedy and the cruel have driven into the shadow world of poverty and despair. For the ones still living in the dark. For these lost souls, I am asking every one of you here tonight to become a light-giver. Never forget, the best way to avenge the wrongs of the past is by seizing control of the future!”
 
On Election Night 2017, puzzled political scientists reported a huge increase in voter turnout. For the first time since 1984, more than 90 percent of registered voters had cast a ballot. Equally confounded were the mainstream news media’s leading political journalists. All of whom were at a loss to explain the unprecedented level of support for the Green Party.
 
“The polls gave us no inkling of this”, complained one baffled pundit. “We simply had no idea it was happening!”
 
As it became clear that Labour and the Greens were racking-up an historic landslide victory, a new meme mysteriously appeared on social media – and almost instantly went viral.
 
“Metiria Is Avenged!”
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 10 August 2017.

You Can’t Turn A Green Party Red Overnight.

Red Or Green? Metiria Turei’s sudden and dramatic elevation of issues relating to the poor and marginalised shocked and surprised many of the Greens’ middle-class voters. That their own social class was being cast as the villains of her “I, Daniel Blake” drama did not make the acceptance of Ms Turei’s radical welfare policies any easier.
 
THE GREENS as a political party, a social movement, and an electoral block, constitute three very different groups. Metiria Turei, by failing to balance the respective claims of each group, has plunged all three into a potentially terminal political crisis – destroying her own parliamentary career in the process.
 
The Green Party defectors’ (David Clendon and Kennedy Graham) grasp of the moral expectations of actual Green voters has proved to be considerably stronger than their co-leader’s.
 
As numerous political scientists and journalists have pointed out over the 28 years of the Green Party’s existence, its electoral base is overwhelmingly middle-class. “The wives of doctors, lawyers and architects from Wadestown and Mt Eden”, as one Press Gallery pundit put it.
 
Putting to one side the sexist over-simplification, the raw electoral data shows him to be more right than wrong. Nandor Tanczos, Sue Bradford and Keith Locke – the so-called “Red Greens” – may have captured the headlines when the Green Party first squeaked into Parliament back in 1999. But, the MP who most resembled the typical Green voter was the very middle-class Sue Kedgely. Close behind her was the irrepressible Rod Donald. As the former manager of a small business, he, too, represented a good-sized chunk of the Greens’ electoral base.
 
If one listened only to the rhetorical sallies of Sue Bradford, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Green party was chock-full of eco-socialists. Well, it ain’t necessarily so. For the voters concerned about dangerous food additives, genetic engineering and climate change, the Greens were neither Left, nor Right – the Greens were in front!
 
Metiria Turei’s sudden and dramatic elevation of issues relating to the poor and marginalised shocked and surprised many of the Greens’ middle-class voters. Their astonishment turned to alarm as the political implications of her defiance of WINZ acquired greater clarity. The Greens’ co-leader obviously regarded the laws surrounding the administration of social welfare as unjust manifestations of one class’s determination to limit the life chances of another. That their own social class was being cast as the villains of this “I, Daniel Blake” drama did not make the acceptance of Ms Turei’s radical welfare policies any easier.
 
Given that this sort of class war rhetoric had not been deployed in mainstream New Zealand politics for many decades, the public’s (including 51 percent of Green Party voters’) largely negative reaction to Ms Turei’s intervention was hardly surprising.
 
That Labour voters had celebrated enthusiastically their early leaders’ run-ins with the law reflected the extent to which class-based political ideologies had seized the imagination of the New Zealand working-class. Labour’s formation in 1916 came barely three years after the Great Strike of 1913 – generally accepted by historians as the closest this country has ever come to open class warfare. As late as 1932, it was still possible for unemployed rioters to wield the Auckland Methodist Mission’s picket fence against the Police – and receive absolution.
 
“If what happened last night makes authority act to help desperate people obtain the justice they deserve,” said Colin Scrimgeour, in his guise as the broadcaster “Uncle Scrim”, “the pickets torn off the fence of the Methodist Mission in Airedale Street will have caused this church to give the people the most outstanding service of the church’s hundred years of history.”
 
By 1935, however, Labour’s new leader, the avuncular Mickey Savage, was dampening-down the fiery class rhetoric of his party. To extend the appeal of Labour beyond the militant trade union movement from which it sprang, Savage required his comrades to master a more inviting and inclusive political language.
 
Herein lay Ms Turei’s error. To ask a political party to embrace the uncompromising goals of a social movement, in defiance of the moral expectations of at least half of that party’s electoral base, and without the lengthy preparations necessary to modify those expectations, can only be described as the purest political folly. It is all very well to present yourself as the reincarnation of Victor Hugo’s Jean Valjean, the hero of Les Miserables, but only after a majority of your fellow New Zealanders have been made familiar with the plot – and only if your own and Jean Valjean’s poverty are genuinely comparable!
 
The tragedy is not only that Ms Turei’s unapologetic radicalism has terminated her political career, but that the Greens did so little to prepare their supporters for its sudden arrival.
 
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, 11 August 2017.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Have The Greens Entered Their Jacobin Phase?

A Green Robespierre? As the following posting was being sent to The Daily Blog, the Greens female co-leader, Metiria Turei, was announcing her resignation from both her position in the party and Parliament. The logic of uncompromising revolutionary virtue is inherently hostile to the notion of politics as the art of the possible - and to liberty itself.
 
THE JACOBINS, along with “Madame Guillotine” and Robespierre’s Reign of Terror, will forever be associated with political extremism. So, the mere suggestion that our very own Green Party might be entering its Jacobin Phase is unlikely to be well received – especially by the Greens!
 
The historical lessons of Jacobinism should not, however, be dismissed unheard. The rise and fall of the Jacobins is instructive to all pursuers of progressive change, precisely because it reveals the calamitous consequences of elevating revolutionary virtue above all other considerations.
 
The tragic irony of the Jacobins is that, in the beginning, they were the new French Constitution’s most avid defenders – most particularly of its Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. It is only as the French Revolution unfolded: each succeeding chapter bloodier and more terrifying than the last; that the Jacobins, its most eloquent, energetic and effective defenders, found themselves propelled relentlessly towards increasingly extreme measures. Believing themselves to be the only reliable champions of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”, they found it easier and easier to brand all those who opposed them as counter-revolutionary agents of the ancien régime.
 
Initially, the eloquence of the Jacobin deputies [MPs] and the venom of their journalistic allies, was reserved for members of the more moderate factions within the National Assembly. But, as the French people’s enemies, both internal and external, multiplied, the Jacobins’ political paranoia worsened. The number of executions rose sharply, causing even the Jacobins’ own followers’ misgivings to grow. Undeterred, their leader, Maximillian Robespierre, intensified the Reign of Terror. The man the people of Paris called “The Incorruptible”, sent former friends and comrades to the guillotine with the same cold resolve with which he dispatched members of the despised aristocracy.
 
To quote his own, memorable, advice to the Jacobin-controlled Committee of Public Safety: “the first maxim of your policy ought to be to lead the people by reason and the people’s enemies by terror.”
 
As the realisation eventually dawned on what remained of France’s revolutionary leadership that if Robespierre was not stopped they would all be killed, the National Assembly was galvanised into action. Robespierre, himself, was declared an “enemy of the people” and laid open to Madame Guillotine’s sibilant kiss.
 
Thus does History instruct us. That any political movement which abandons the reasonable pursuit of achievable objectives and embraces instead a regime dedicated to the imposition and enforcement of a universal and uncompromising “republic of virtue”, may begin by executing its enemies, but it will end by making enemies of, and executing, its friends. Freedom can never be secured by coercion. Every revolutionary movement which tried has ended up devouring itself.
 
If the Greens have indeed entered their Jacobin phase, it is likely to be their last.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 9 August 2017.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Friends In High Places: Will Jacinda Be Swept Into Power By Another “Revolution From Above”?

People Power: Unlike David Lange in 1984, Jacinda Ardern cannot rely upon the overt and covert assistance of a strategically located ruling-class faction. If she is to be swept into power on a mighty wave of change, then its energy will not come from those who scheme and plot upon the heights, but from the anger of those no longer willing to suffer silently in free-market capitalism’s abysmal depths.
 
IN 1984 the smartest and most ideologically driven members of the New Zealand ruling class were willing Labour to win. In the upper echelons of the Treasury and the Reserve Bank that preference was already being translated into action. Likewise, in the news media, where New Zealand’s leading journalists were already in open and eloquent revolt against “Muldoonism”. In Labour itself, nearly all of the party’s most effective politicians had been similarly converted to the “free market” ideology. Like all the other players, however, they knew that before the new free market era could be ushered-in, Muldoon’s old order had to be brought down.
 
Thirty-three years on, are we witnessing the stirrings of a similar top-down revolution? Is there an equivalent determination among a frustrated fraction of the ruling class to do something about the present National Government’s all-too-obvious inadequacies?
 
New Zealand capitalism is in urgent need of a reboot. The agricultural sector is offering nothing more imaginative than more (and more!) of the same: more cows, more milk powder, more massive irrigation schemes, more befouled waterways. The road transport industry is swallowing a disproportionately large amount of New Zealand’s limited investment capital. Our civil service is not only displaying alarming levels of inefficiency but also outright corruption. The health and education sectors have been deliberately run down to the point where they are now holding back the entire economy.
 
The question is: has the level of dissatisfaction with the current National government’s performance reached the critical mass attained by the enemies of Muldoonism in 1984? Is there rebellion in the ranks of the Reserve Bank and Treasury? Are the leading newspapers full of ideologically-driven critiques of the incumbents’ economic and social policies? Is there a crucial bloc of Labour MPs just aching for the chance to put these new ideas into practice?
 
Certainly, there has been a great deal of “policy work” undertaken by the Labour caucus over the past nine years. What’s lacking, however, is any sense that the leading lights of Labour’s 2017 caucus are as confident as their 1984 predecessors that their policies will be implemented without resistance from the Powers-That-Be. Roger Douglas, Richard Prebble and Michael Bassett knew that Treasury would do everything within its power to facilitate Labour’s blitzkrieg of “reform”. There is simply no sense that Grant Robertson, Phil Twyford or David Parker expect their programme to be received with equal enthusiasm by today’s bureaucrats and businessmen.
 
In summary, the current balance of political and ideological forces is very different from that which prevailed in 1984. Thirty-three years ago, the great neoliberal wave was still gathering momentum. Its inherent contradictions and manifold inequities were not yet apparent to its ideological cheerleaders in the bureaucracy, the business community, the news media and, of course, the NZ Labour Party. Even thirty-three years later, with the inadequacies of neoliberalism laid bare by the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, there is no broadly accepted alternative to our entrenched free-market system.
 
Jacinda Ardern cannot, therefore, rely upon the overt and covert assistance of a strategically located ruling-class faction convinced that they have seen the future – and that it works. If she is to be swept into power on a mighty wave of change, then its energy will not come from those who scheme and plot upon the heights, but from the anger of those no longer willing to suffer silently in free-market capitalism’s abysmal depths.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 7 August 2017.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Are Jacinda Ardern’s “Sunny Ways” Enough To Mobilise Savage’s Grandchildren?


All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

- William Butler Yeats, “Easter 1916”

MIKE WILLIAMS, searching for a political precedent, reached all the way back to the Snap Election of 1984. His fellow panellists on TVNZ’s Q+A couldn’t help but agree. Certainly, I remember the electrifying effect of Rob Muldoon’s surprise announcement. On the evening of the day after the night before, dozens of people turned up to the emergency campaign committee meeting called by Stan Roger, Labour’s candidate for Dunedin North. The meeting room was far too small to accommodate all of them comfortably. It was standing room only – with the doors flung wide.

I recall looking at the faces of the people present. Some were familiar, party stalwarts of forty years standing, but many were new. Looking at the younger, middle-class professionals lining up along the walls, the nascent political analyst in me could hardly miss the blindingly obvious conclusion: Labour was going to win.

Even in the 1980s, Labour needed more than the unionised working-class to seize the Treasury Benches. Thirty years ago – just like today – electoral victory could be secured only by drawing into Labour’s ranks a critical mass of young, well-educated, urban professionals: the confident offspring of Mickey Savage’s welfare state. (The very same demographic, it should be noted, who rescued Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party from oblivion back in June.)

It’s a notoriously difficult group to engage politically. If they cannot be convinced that something new and positive will be achieved by casting a vote, then they have no qualms at all about sitting an election out. In 1984 the opportunity to usher in something new and positive was unmistakeable and the yuppies seized it with both hands. Nine years of Rob Muldoon had been more than enough!

Jacinda Ardern’s dramatic ascension to the Labour leadership has captured the attention of Savage’s children and grandchildren alike. Her arrival has generated an overwhelming surge of money and people into Labour’s camp. More than that, however, her “unrelentingly positivie” and “sunny ways” are rapidly persuading tens-of-thousands of young New Zealanders that – this time – casting a vote just might make a difference.

If that process of persuasion and mobilisation is to continue, however, Ms Ardern must make very clear what she is running against. In 1984, David Lange was challenging Muldoon’s last-ditch defence of Keynesian economics. New Zealanders had had enough of wage and price freezes, massive agricultural subsidies and patently absurd bureaucratic regulations. “You can’t run a country like a Polish shipyard!”, Lange thundered, and the New Zealand electorate cheered him to the echo.

In 2017, Ms Ardern is running against a very different set of economic and social phenomena. Her targets are not massive and poorly directed state interventions, or heavy-handed government controls. On the contrary, her targets are the consequences of Keynesian economics wholesale rejection. When she says “Let’s do this!”, the “this” that her supporters anticipate is an unequivocal repudiation of the squalor and misery that Roger Douglas unleashed, Ruth Richardson intensified, and which even Helen Clark’s and Michael Cullen’s best efforts failed to eliminate. Jacinda’s “Muldoon” is Neoliberalism: the relentless extension of competitive markets into every corner of New Zealand society and into every facet of New Zealanders’ lives.

Nowhere are the consequences of this country’s thirty-year neoliberal experiment more obvious than in housing, health, education and the environment. The squalid spectacle of poverty amidst plenty. The entrenched inter-generational unfairness of the housing market. The deep cultural affront of undrinkable water and unswimmable rivers. The virtual debt peonage into which so many young New Zealanders seeking higher education have fallen. The appalling state of New Zealand’s mental health services. These are the targets upon which Ms Ardern must train her rhetorical guns. To prove that “New Zealand can be better than this” – they are the giants she must slay.

“All changed, changed utterly” was how the Irish poet William Butler Yeats described the Ireland that emerged from the tragedy of the 1916 Easter Rebellion. Before the rising, he had despaired of his society as a place where only fools prospered; a place of “polite meaningless words” and pointless pub conversations. And then, suddenly, it wasn’t. Where once there had been the despondent resignation that nothing could ever change, the uprising’s tragic heroism was transforming everything. Suddenly, a “terrible beauty” was born.

Yeats is right. The Goddess of History is a terrible deity to behold. Ruthless and utterly uncompromising in her expectations of those she thrusts forward onto the stage of human affairs. Yes, it is a good thing to be “unrelentingly positive”. And, yes, “sunny ways” are by far the best means of securing the electorate’s co-operation. But, if Ms Ardern intends to offer them as alternatives to a 1984-style electoral uprising, then she will fail.

“Sunny ways” are not enough.


This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 8 August 2017.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Simon Wilson Just Came Up With The "Jacindatrain" - Here's Another Kind!

 
 
“All aboard the Jacindatrain ... It’s the Let’s Do This train, the revivalist train, the laugh-while-you-change-the-world train.”
 
– Simon Wilson.
 
 
Video courtesy of YouTube.
 
This posting is exclusive to Bowalley Road.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

The Right Thing To Do: Metiria Turei Stands Aside.

Out Of Options: The conversation on poverty ignited by Metiria Turei’s personal candour and courage has been enormously productive. But, her best hope, now, for turning talk into action: for making sure that the Greens’ radical policies for alleviating poverty and empowering the poor become a Labour-Green government priority; is to make sure that the conversation about poverty is not reduced to a conversation about her.
 
CRUEL NECESSITY drove Metiria Turei’s decision to rule herself out of any ministerial role in a Jacinda Ardern-led government. Dramatic changes in the Left’s fortunes, initiated by Andrew Little’s resignation on Tuesday morning, presented the Greens female co-leader with very few realistic alternatives. For those shocked and angered by this stunning reversal of Metiria’s fortunes, a brief examination of those limited political options, may make her self-sacrifice slightly easier to accept.
 
The most tempting option must surely have been to double-down on her radicalism by throwing the condemnation of her quarter-of-a-century-old transgressions against WINZ and the Electoral Act straight back in her critics faces. Metiria could have challenged the politicians and journalists clamouring for her resignation to acknowledge the clear implications of their denunciations. To accept that if they are prepared to allow relatively minor legal infringements, committed many years in the past, to debar a politician from wielding executive power 25 years later, then what they are really saying is that no radical activist can be a Cabinet Minister.
 
Responding to Kelvin Davis’s less-than-friendly comments on the AM Show this morning (4/8/17) she could have pointed out that the first Labour Cabinet contained a whole swag of radical activists whose youthful union activities in the Red Feds regularly involved breaches of the law. She could have pointed out that Labour’s second prime minister, Peter Fraser, had been jailed for sedition during the First World War. Would Kelvin Davis have told Peter Fraser (or Paddy Webb, or John A Lee) that they had made their own beds and now they would have to lie in them?
 
The problem with this argument is that the transgressions of Fraser, Webb and Lee were committed in full public view and, like all acts of civil disobedience, undertaken in the certain knowledge that they would be met with an equally public official response. John A Lee, similarly, had made an open book of his juvenile delinquency by penning the largely autobiographical novel “Children of the Poor”. Had Metiria done something similar, her list of options would now be longer.
 
Upping the radical ante would, almost certainly, be a counter-productive response for another reason. With Labour in what looked like terminal decline, it made perfect sense for the Greens to stake their claim to its apparently moribund relationship with the poor and marginalised. If nothing else, it would at least ensure that one political party remained to defend these New Zealanders’ interests. Sure, it meant taking votes off Labour, but with the erstwhile socialist standard-bearer in the grip of what appeared to be a suicidal lethargy, wasn’t that a good thing?
 
With Labour led by Andrew Little? – Maybe. Under Jacinda? – Not so much. Formerly despairing left-wing voters, inspired by Labour’s new leader, have been swarming back to her party in droves. Moreover, with the heady scent of victory in their nostrils, they have – virtually overnight – become highly sensitive to anything and everything which might impede the progress of Jacindamania. Rightly or wrongly, Metiria’s youthful indiscretions have come to be regarded as an impediment to Labour’s expected electoral recovery.
 
Ignoring the rising clamour against Metiria’s indiscretions, or, doubling-down on them, is no longer the way to pump-up the Green vote. On the contrary, either course of action will now be interpreted as evidence that the Greens are deliberately hindering Labour’s chances. Were that perception to become entrenched, then the most likely consequence would be a decline in Green Party support. The in-your-face radicalism that drove the Greens’ numbers up, would end by dragging them down.
 
Not for nothing did the British Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, observe: “A week is a long time in politics.”
 
The over-riding imperative for Metiria has been to keep alive the long-deferred but much-needed conversation about the material circumstances of New Zealand’s beneficiaries, and their appalling treatment at the hands of this country’s social welfare bureaucracy.
 
That conversation was ignited by Metiria’s personal candour and courage, but now, her best option for turning talk into action: for making sure that the Greens’ radical policies for alleviating poverty and empowering the poor become a Labour-Green government priority; is to make sure that the conversation about poverty is not reduced to a conversation about her.
 
That is what she has done – and who on the Left would dare not applaud her for it?
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 4 August 2017.

Friday, 4 August 2017

You Say You Want A Revolution.

Meet The New Boss: Jacinda does need to put herself at the head of a revolutionary throng. Not one bearing rifles or waving little red books of dogma, but at the head of a movement determined to re-order this country’s economic and social priorities That such a re-ordering has become a matter of urgent necessity is self-evident to all but the greedy and the cruel.
 
“I THINK THIS BEATLES SONG sums it up”, commented Darth Smith, below a link to the Fab Four’s 1968 classic “Revolution”. Almost immediately, Darth’s homage to Jacindamania was countered by Iain Mclean who linked The Daily Blog’s readers to that revolutionary cold shower, The Who’s “Don’t Get Fooled Again”. Then it was John Minto’s turn to post on Labour’s leadership change. Fair to say, this was much more in the spirit of The Who’s “meet the new boss – same as the old boss” than Lennon and McCartney’s “you say you got a real solution”.
 
Meanwhile, 13,000 kilometres away in Caracas, Venezuela, the world is being treated to yet another example of what happens when “socialism” takes precedence over “democracy” in the playing out of Democratic Socialism. As the world watches the conflict unfold on the streets of Caracas, its understanding of the word “socialism” – never very strong – is further distorted by the wild scenes of anarchic violence coming at them through their television screens.
 
“But the people of Venezuela are only fighting back against the organised (and US-backed) resistance of their ruling class!” Yes, that is what the John Mintos of this world would say – and, in part, they would be right.
 
But it is equally true to say that, after years of economic mismanagement, the slum-dwelling poor who formed the backbone of Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution, have had enough. Rampant inflation, shortages of basic household necessities, and an horrific escalation in violent criminal behaviour have lent credence to the right-wing opposition’s charge that the Revolution has failed.
 
They watch the Bolivarian government of President Maduro traduce their nation’s constitution – the key clauses of which Chavez caused to be printed on the packaging of everyday items so that even the poorest citizens would know and understand their democratic rights – and they are forced to acknowledge that the bruised and bloodied middle-class protesters on the streets of Caracas bear a strong resemblance to their younger selves of 15 years ago.
 
“Meet the new boss – same as the old boss.” Indeed.
 
Which is why I believe Darth Smith is right when he hints that the Beatle’s “Revolution” should be Jacinda’s unofficial campaign theme-song. Not only for the way in which the music drags left-wing politics on to the dancefloor and forces it to embrace the wild carnival expectations of its emancipatory rhetoric, but also because of the hard-nosed, working-class realism of Lennon’s lyrics.
 
Revolution according to Lennon - not Lenin.
 
“You say you want a revolution”, sneers Lennon, “we’d all love to see the plan”. No fool, Lennon understood that the social upheaval produced by revolutionary action always comes at a cost to real, flesh-and-blood human-beings. If that’s what you’re suggesting, he says, then you’d better have a very clear idea of how greatly the benefits of your revolution are going to exceed its inevitable price.
 
Nowhere in the song is Lennon’s disdain for the dilettantism of 1968’s student revolutionaries more pronounced than when he delivers the lines: “But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao/ You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow.”
 
Lennon was pilloried in the left-wing press for his unequivocal declaration: “But when you talk about destruction/Don’t you know that you can count me out”. The New Left Review called it “a lamentable petit-bourgeois cry of fear”. But Lennon’s artistic eye and ear understood what the revolutionary intelligentsia did not. That their revolution: the revolution of armed workers parading through the streets, a la Petrograd 1917; or of Mao’s murderous Red Guards shaking their Little Red Books in the faces of their terrified elders; was not what revolution would look like in the welfare states of the West in 1968.
 
Any revolution breaking out amidst unprecedented material abundance; any revolt undertaken by an educated population; was not going to resemble any of the upheavals of the past. In 1968, the French communists looked at the graffiti daubed on the walls of Paris and shook their heads in incomprehension. “Underneath the pavement – the beach!” What did that even mean! Lennon knew.
 
Twelve years after the release of Revolution, and not long before his assassination, Lennon was still insisting that destructive change was counter-revolutionary: “Count me out if it’s for violence. Don’t expect me on the barricades unless it’s with flowers.”
 
I’m with John. That’s why I agree with Darth. The Beatle’s song does sum it up. Jacinda does need to put herself at the head of a revolutionary throng. Not one bearing rifles or waving little red books of dogma, but at the head of a movement determined to re-order this country’s economic and social priorities by means of an unprecedented blending of intelligence and compassion. That such a re-ordering has become a matter of urgent necessity is self-evident to all but the greedy and the cruel. The revolution that Jacinda leads must be a revolution of real solutions drawn from and supported by New Zealand’s caring majority.
 
Don’t you know it’s going to be alright, alright, alright.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 4 August 2017.

Nothing "Accidental" About Jacinda's Success.

On Her Way To The Top: No one who witnessed Jacinda Ardern’s extraordinarily accomplished performance before the assembled news media on Tuesday morning could reasonably describe her as an “accidental” leader. Hardened journalists – many of them disposed to be cynical about the day’s dramatic turn of events – were astonished at her easy command of the situation. Here was wit, verve and – in her own words – “unrelenting positivity”. Photo by Cameron Burnell.
 
IT’S ONE OF THOSE PICTURES. The sort that captures not just a moment, but the essence of a moment. Justin Trudeau had one. It was taken nearly a year before he became Canada’s prime minister but, looking at it, you kinda knew that’s where he was headed.
 
On Tuesday morning, Fairfax photographer, Cameron Burnell, took “one of those pictures” of Jacinda Ardern. In a brilliant example of artistic opportunism he spotted Labour’s new leader striding alone through the corridors of power and pressed the shutter.
 
The image he selected for the Stuff website tells Tuesday’s story with minimalist precision.
 
First and foremost, it is about the stark isolation of political power. Jacinda strides, unaccompanied, down one of Parliament’s carpeted corridors, head turned slightly to the right, as if seeking confirmation that she is not being observed. Whether she should accept, or decline, the Labour leadership, was not a decision to be shared, or put to a vote, or turned into a media spectacle: it was hers alone.
 
The importance of the job she is being asked to do; the weight of the responsibility her colleagues are asking her to take upon her shoulders; is etched upon Jacinda’s features. The face in this photograph is not the happy, smiling countenance so familiar to the readers of women’s magazines. Unaware that she is being photographed, Jacinda’s expression is one of quite startling seriousness.
 
Her mouth is set in a straight line, her nostrils slightly flared – like a beast of prey testing the flavour of the air. Most striking of all are her eyes. Shrouded in shadow they absorb the detail of her surroundings without a trace of furtiveness or fear. This is the face of someone in control of both herself and her circumstances.
 
The other quality conveyed in Burnell’s photograph is purposeful movement. Jacinda strides towards the camera like a person with no time to lose. The cell-phone gripped tightly in her right hand suggests that the irksome but necessary back-and-forth of collegial communication has come to an end. She is moving now, irresistibly, towards her rendezvous with destiny.
 
Looking at this photograph, it is extremely difficult to accept the idea that Jacinda Ardern is Labour’s “accidental leader”. The woman captured by Burnell’s camera does not look like someone overwhelmed by circumstances beyond their control. Hers is not the face of the agonised prophet who beseeches God to “take this cup away from me”. Quite the reverse. The woman in the photo wears a look of “cold command” that Shelley’s Ozymandias would recognize instantly as the mark of a fellow sovereign.
 
Which is not to say that each step of Jacinda’s ascension to the Labour leadership was planned with icy precision. As Oliver Cromwell observed of the vicissitudes of personal fortune: “no one rises so high as he who knows not whither he is going.”
 
What we can say, however, is that ever since her time in Helen Clark’s office, Jacinda has understood the supreme importance of keeping oneself in the proximity of power. She has also noted how ready most leaders are to bestow power upon those who appear to have no serious interest in wielding it.
 
Labour is not the sort of party in which naked ambition goes unnoticed. The moment an MP is suspected of having designs upon the top job, every other aspirant for the position becomes their enemy. Better by far to evince a non-threatening naivety; a willingness to smile winningly for women’s magazines; and, most especially, an oft-expressed reluctance to climb the greasy pole. That way, one’s inexorable approach towards the throne goes largely unnoticed, until the day suddenly arrives when one’s astonished rivals find themselves agreeing that there’s no one else with a better claim to sit on it.
 
No one who witnessed Jacinda Ardern’s extraordinarily accomplished performance before the assembled news media on Tuesday morning could reasonably describe her as an “accidental” leader. Hardened journalists – many of them disposed to be cynical about the day’s dramatic turn of events – were astonished at her easy command of the situation. Here was wit, verve and – in her own words – “unrelenting positivity”.
 
Jacinda clearly means to emulate Justin Trudeau’s highly successful “sunny ways”. New Zealand voters tempted to see Jacinda as some sort of political Pollyanna, however, should study Cameron Burnell’s photograph.
 
Tuesday was no accident.
 
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, 4 August 2017.