Saturday, 29 July 2017

Escape Velocity: The Greens Rocket Out Of Labour’s Gravity.

Blinded By The Light: Ignited by the fiery exhaust of the Green’s policy rocket, Labour’s Big Plan has burst into flame and crashed. Weary National supporters are unlikely to cross all the way over to Labour if it means endorsing, even tacitly, the behaviour of “welfare cheats”. For these cautious Kiwis, NZ First will be “quite far enough, thank you”.
 
WHERE DOES LABOUR GO from here? Because their Big Plan is fluttering down to earth in flaming tatters – burned out of the sky by Metiria Turei and the Greens.
 
Labour’s Big Plan? What’s that?
 
Simple. Labour’s Big Plan was an election strategy based entirely on luring the National voters of 2008, 2011 and 2014 back into Labour’s column. Tactically, that required Labour to be seen, by the people that matter – i.e. Chambers of Commerce and senior political journalists – as the “responsible” providers of “strong and stable” government. It also required the side-lining and/or removal of all those Labour MPs, party workers and ordinary members who see Labour as something more than National’s occasional substitute. At the same time, the Greens had to be persuaded to soften their public image and become Labour’s equally “responsible” helpers.
 
If these objectives are achieved, Andrew Little’s campaign strategists assure him, Labour will win and you will be Prime Minister.
 
To give the people behind Labour’s Big Plan their due, they came bloody close to pulling it off. Matt McCarten was exiled to Auckland, leaving the Leader of the Opposition’s Office in the hands of political operatives who looked for guidance and inspiration to the campaign “professionalism” of the Blairite Labour Party and the US Democratic Party. (It was McCarten’s determination to re-energise Labour’s electoral effort that led to the “Campaign For Change” fiasco.)
 
Even more successful were the Big Planners’ efforts to empty the Green brand of its “scary” radicalism. The infamous North & South cover shoot was only the most cheesy example of this re-branding exercise. Of considerably more importance was the Labour leadership’s success in persuading the Greens to sign-up to Grant Robertson’s extraordinary “Budget Responsibility Rules”. The latter were the clearest possible signal to the business community that it had nothing to fear from a change of government.
 
It’s possible that the Greens’ “rejuvenated” Party List is another side-effect of Labour’s “taming” of the Greens. The party’s new faces: Chloe Swarbrick, Golriz Ghahraman, Jack McDonald and Haley Holt; will have their chance to prove or disprove the charge in the weeks and months that lie ahead. In the words of Matthew’s gospel: “Ye shall know them by their fruits.”
 
That Labour’s Big Plan might be at risk was first revealed by NZ First’s gathering political momentum. Clearly, there was a hunger out there in the electorate for something gruntier than the Little/Shaw Business Breakfast Travelling Roadshow. Winston Peters’ angry denunciation of Neoliberalism (something Labour has yet to do unequivocally) struck a nerve in those voters weary of National but wary of Labour. The shift was on – Peters felt it in his bones – and his ambitions for the 2017 contest expanded accordingly.
 
The realisation that Labour’s Big Plan might result in the Greens being hopelessly compromised as a political force came very late. Labour’s strategists have for long been convinced that electoral success can only be achieved by substantially increasing Labour’s support, and that that, in turn, will only happen by decreasing the electoral heft of the Greens. That decrease can be absolute or relative – it hardly matters. What counts is that the public be reassured that in any future Labour-Green Government, Labour will be calling the shots.
 
Fortunately for the Greens, there were enough ex-Alliance activists in their ranks to warn them of the consequences of Labour’s Big Plan. First, your Party Vote drops precipitately. Second, your MPs are co-opted by their Labour “comrades” – to the point where they start looking upon their own members as “the enemy”. Third, the party descends into acrimonious arguments and recriminations, splits into factions, and falls below the 5 percent MMP threshold at the next election. Even those Greens disinclined to be believe the old Alliance fighters, could hardly deny that this is precisely what happened to the German Greens.
 
If the Greens were to be treated as anything other than Labour’s hapless footstool, then they had to do something. The party’s unease was heightened by the obvious success of Winston Peters’ angry populism. Speculation was growing that, once again, the Greens were going to be jilted at the altar. The much bally-hooed Labour-Green “Memorandum of Understanding” notwithstanding, it was generally agreed that NZ First was winking at Labour in the most provocative fashion.
 
If the Greens failed to pick up the banner of left-wing populism – which Labour steadfastly refused to touch – then the 2017 General Election was going to leave them politically stranded. Their best option: junior partners in a cautiously centrist Labour-led administration. Their worst: to sit in helpless frustration on the cross-benches as Andrew Little and Winston Peters governed the country over their heads.
 
Only by striking out boldly in the direction of the radicalism that Labour had worked so hard to extract from the Greens’ manifesto, could their supposed “partner’s” Big Plan be stymied. The launch of the party’s welfare policies at its AGM provided an opportunity for this departure. There was nothing cold-blooded about this. It represented, rather, the whole party’s growing awareness that it was on the wrong road. Six months earlier, they might have pulled their punches on welfare; now they saw the policy launch as possibly their last chance to reassert the Green Party’s core commitment to transformative politics. Metiria Turei’s decision to add the booster-rocket of her personal testimony as a former beneficiary to the launch – even at the cost of her political future – allowed her party to achieve escape velocity.
 
Ignited by the fiery exhaust of the Green’s policy rocket, Labour’s Big Plan burst into flame and crashed. Weary National supporters are unlikely to cross all the way over to Labour if it means endorsing, even tacitly, the behaviour of “welfare cheats”. For these cautious Kiwis, NZ First will be “quite far enough, thank you”. Meanwhile, Labour’s increasingly disillusioned progressive supporters will listen to their party’s deafening silence on the heart-and-soul issues paraded front-and-centre by Metiria and the Greens – and draw the inescapable conclusion. That to keep faith with the legacy of Mickey Savage, Norman Kirk – and Rod Donald – there is only one way to cast their Party Vote.
 
For the Greens.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Saturday, 29 July 2017.

Unrepentant Prejudice: The Liberals Keep On Lecturing - But Is Anybody Listening?

A Darker Message: Those of us who were taken aback by Winston Peters and NZ First’s sudden swerve to the Right, and distressed by the crude Trumpian language with which he assailed New Zealand’s political class, should resist the temptation to fall back upon the liberal assumption that he has once again opted to become the tribune of an electorally insignificant bunch of bad apples decaying at the bottom of an otherwise wholesome barrel of ordinary, decent, Kiwis.
 
STEEL YOURSELVES, readers, because this column is about to get ugly. In the next few column centimetres, I’m going to introduce you to the unvarnished language of anti-Maori prejudice. All of the following examples were posted less than a month ago on a far-right New Zealand website. The authors were responding to an article highly critical of their country’s indigenous people. Read on and weep:
 
“Let’s put this way: Less than 200 years ago, Maori were cannibals. They were savages, and they have not had time to evolve.”
 
“The Maori culture is the reason for all the problems in NZ.”
 
“Maori have far too many children, trusting that the taxpayer will bring them up.”
 
“When will we admit the Maori just deny the fact [that] they are the cause of most of the problems.”
 
“There is an urgent need to drain the Maori Swamp in this country.”
 
“Maori are only a small percentage of the population of New Zealand. So why should the rest of New Zealanders be subjected to tribal voodooism?”
 
Well-meaning liberals will, as they always do, dismiss these comments as representative of only a tiny fraction of the population. “New Zealanders are a tolerant and generous people”, they will say, “and the individuals responsible for these statements are in no way typical of ordinary, decent, Kiwis.”
 
Except, it was the very same well-meaning liberals who assured us that Dr Don Brash’s in/famous “Orewa Speech” was a lamentable throwback to the assimilationist 1950s and 60s; and that New Zealanders had long since put such antediluvian ideas behind them.
 
People like themselves, maybe, but when the next opinion poll showed National’s level of public support shooting up by an unprecedented 17 percentage points, it was clear that the numbers lining-up behind Dr Brash were at least as great – if not greater – than the numbers lining-up to oppose him.
 
More recently, we have been treated to the hubristic sermonising of British and American liberals. Supremely confident that “ordinary people” would be guided by their pronouncements on the unwisdom of Brexit, and the unacceptability of Donald Trump, they reeled before their respective electorate’s disinclination to be convinced.
 
Perhaps it is time we stopped simply accepting the assurances of these well-meaning liberals. Yes, it is their version of reality which is presented to the population as the only belief system to which a reasonable person could possibly subscribe. But, as Brexit and Trump have demonstrated, this official view of the world is subject to multiple challenges. The neoliberal goals of free trade and globalisation are not without their detractors. The free movement of peoples and racial tolerance may not be the universal desiderata the liberal intelligentsia took them to be.
 
Those of us who were taken aback by Winston Peters and NZ First’s sudden swerve to the Right, and distressed by the crude Trumpian language with which he assailed New Zealand’s political class, should resist the temptation to fall back upon the liberal assumption that he has once again opted to become the tribune of an electorally insignificant bunch of bad apples decaying at the bottom of an otherwise wholesome barrel of ordinary, decent, Kiwis.
 
A more intelligent assessment might acknowledge that, having toured provincial New Zealand ceaselessly for many months, Mr Peters is now well acquainted with the pent-up impatience of all those National Party voters who fell into step behind Dr Brash in 2005, only to find themselves hustled in a very different direction for nine years by John Key and his new-found friends in the Maori Party.
 
The NZ First leader is no fool. He knows that the abolition of the Maori Seats has been a solid plank in National’s election platform ever since Dr Brash nailed it firmly into place twelve years ago. He also likely suspects that it remains where it is because National’s grandees are unwilling to unleash the angry debate its removal would incite. Behind closed doors, with no journalists present, Mr Peters is doubtless confident that members of both the political parties with which he has been associated utter opinions indistinguishable from those with which this column began.
 
That inflammatory keynote speech of 16 July was Mr Peters’ way of telling Bill English that if National doesn’t want the votes of Kiwis opposed to “Maori separatism”, then he’ll happily offer them an alternative repository.
 
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, 28 July 2017.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The “Majestic Equality” Of The Law – And Its Challengers.

The Challenger Challenged: What has been so astonishing about the reaction to Metiria Turei's admission that she lied to Social Welfare is just how few New Zealanders identify with Jean Valjean, the hero of Les Miserables, and how many subscribe to the punitive instincts of his relentless pursuer, Inspector Javert. Over the past 30 years, for a significant number of Kiwis, the definition of "a fair go" has changed dramatically - and not for the better!
 
IN JUST SIXTY DAYS New Zealanders will choose a government. All elections are, to a greater or lesser extent, an exercise in collective self-definition. Revealed in each ballot box is the number of electors who use their votes as a tool, a shield, and a weapon. If the outpouring of outrage against Metiria Turei this past week is any guide, then the percentage of electors willing to wield their votes as weapons will not be insignificant.
 
In survey after survey, the value identified by New Zealanders as most reflective of their core identity is the affirmation that every Kiwi is entitled to “a fair go”. But, if the public reaction to Ms Turei’s confession that she lied to the social welfare authorities, rather than see her child go hungry, is any indication, then “a fair go” means different things to different people.
 
Clearly, a large number of Kiwis believe that “fairness” means accepting that the obligation to respect and obey the laws of the land is both universal and inescapable. In the eyes of these citizens, it is grossly unfair for an individual to derive a benefit from breaking The Law when her fellow citizens, by upholding it, place themselves (and their loved ones’) at a disadvantage. To these people, the Greens’ co-leader is guilty of “stealing” from them, and deserves to be punished. Come 23 September, many of them will use their votes as a lash.
 
The problem with this idea of fairness is that it separates The Law from its economic, social and political context. Like the Ten Commandments handed down to Moses on Mt Sinai, this approach to The Law has nothing to do with the need – or the greed – of humankind. Those who subscribe to this notion of legal obligation are simply incapable of accepting that a nation’s ever-changing laws are much more likely to reflect the needs of its dominant classes than the immutable insights of a mountain-dwelling God.
 
The French writer, Anatole France (1844-1924) summed up the absurdity of this “The Law is The Law” position in his famous quip: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” And, he might have added: to fail to acquaint the welfare authorities of any material change in their domestic circumstances vis-à-vis the rent!
 
Absent from the vicious condemnation heaped upon Ms Turei by these partisans of the Law’s “majestic equality”, is any attempt to locate her law-breaking in its historical context. That the right-wing government of the day had made it a matter of official policy to “incentivise” the poor out of welfare and into work by reducing their income by 25 percent, or, in Ms Turei’s own words, to “use poverty as a weapon against its own people”, is simply ignored.
 
That the law could be used by the wealthy against the poor was certainly not ignored by the people who fled from Great Britain to New Zealand in the Nineteenth Century. Sir John McKenzie, who as Lands Minister in the first Liberal Government, broke up the estates of the great run-holders of the South Island, had seen the way the law had driven thousands of Scottish crofters from their homes to make way for the lairds’ sheep. His determination to turn the tables, by using the law on behalf of the many against the few, caused him not a moment’s embarrassment.
 
Neither was the first Labour Government the least bit embarrassed to require the then Governor-General, George Vere Arundel Monckton-Arundell, 8th Viscount Galway GCMG, DSO, OBE, to swear-in a Cabinet fairly bristling with law-breakers (including the future Prime Minister, Peter Fraser). Nor did the Labour Leader, Mickey Savage, think it in any “inappropriate” to put a former guest of His Majesty – the erstwhile “young offender” John A. Lee – in charge of a programme to correct the two great afflictions of which he had the most direct personal experience: rack-renting landlords and homelessness.
 
Until relatively recently, this was the historical context out of which most New Zealanders drew their notion of what it meant to give people “a fair go”. It did not signal a deification of The Law, but an understanding that the statutes written by politicians reflect the needs and interests of those who put them into office. (As well as of those who could, if necessary, remove them!)
 
Middle Class people harbour few illusions about the class nature of legislation. It’s why so many of them regularly and happily attempt to thwart the IRD in its redistributive mission. It also explains why so many of them are expressing outrage: not only at Ms Turei’s challenging confession; but also at her declared determination to lift the legal consequences of weaponised ballots from beneficiaries’ shoulders.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 25 July 2017.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Voter Motivators 2017: Immigration.

A Big Wide World Out There: Familiarity with “foreign” cultures has rendered “foreigners” a lot less frightening to young New Zealanders than old ones. New Zealanders raised entirely in the globalisation era know there’s a big wide world out there – a world which values highly the Kiwi’s celebrated ability to get along with just about anybody. Racism no longer pays.
 
IMMIGRATION has set the world on fire. The debt owed by both Brexit and Trump to the issue’s inflammatory power is huge. With record volumes of migrants pouring into New Zealand, immigration policy is widely expected to be among the biggest voter motivators of 2017.
 
But will New Zealanders react to these new arrivals in the same way as British and American voters? Or will the circumstances underpinning this country’s record migration flows smother the flames of racism and xenophobia before they take hold?
 
If New Zealand history is any guide, probably not. Net inward flows of migration have always been the signal of economic prosperity and growth. Just as net outward flows have been the surest sign that all is not well in God’s Own Country. There’s an ancestral voice in the racial memory of Pakeha New Zealanders which commands their attention during periods of rapid population growth. A voice which reminds them that, in these stolen islands, more non-indigenous people are always a good thing.
 
For Maori New Zealanders, the opposite is true. The more immigrants that arrive on these shores, the more the indigenous essence of Aotearoa-New Zealand is diluted. The Treaty the Maori chiefs signed with the British in 1840 seemed a wise and timely concession when barely 2,000 Pakeha were sprinkled lightly across their lands. Twenty years later, when the number of British settlers overtook the population of tangata whenua, the promises given at Waitangi proved to be as cynical as they were unenforceable.
 
What is it, then, which stops the latest population projections from Statistics New Zealand from setting the fern leaves of Kiwi nationalism alight? Released on 18 May 2017, these projections indicate that over the next 20 years the number of immigrants from East and South Asia will double. By 2038 the number of New Zealanders of “Asian” ethnicity will represent nearly a quarter of the country’s population. Maori, by contrast, will see their share of the population rise by just 2 percentage points – from 16 to 18 percent. “European” New Zealanders’ share of the overall population is projected to fall from roughly three-quarters to two-thirds.
 
In times past, projections such as these would have generated a massive public backlash against the political party, or parties, responsible for such a dramatic reconfiguration of the nation’s ethnic profile. Twenty years ago, media headlines decrying an “Asian Invasion” were exploited by Winston Peters’ to secure 13 percent of the Party Vote for his NZ First Party. Why, then, twenty years later, is NZ First not polling twice or three times that number?
 
The explanation is, almost entirely, economic.
 
Chinese immigration has encouraged Auckland property prices to soar – producing a “wealth effect” (courtesy of tax-free capital gains!) for which, justifiably or unjustifiably, Chinese investors are held responsible. Bolstering this shift in perception across the entire country has been the steady rise in China’s consumption of New Zealand’s exports. Rather than bite the hand which is, increasingly, feeding them, many Kiwis have considered it more prudent to retire the worst of their old prejudices.
 
In regional New Zealand, likewise, the sterling contribution of Filipino dairy farm workers is encouraging a hitherto undetected enthusiasm for multiculturalism.
 
Even in the working-class heartlands, the money to be made hiring-out the spare room to overseas students is often enough to defang traditional blue-collar hostility towards “low-wage workers” flooding “their” labour market.
 
The other factor which explains New Zealanders reluctance (so far!) to respond to nationalistic dog-whistles is the sheer number of Kiwis who have travelled overseas. Familiarity with “foreign” cultures has rendered “foreigners” a lot less frightening to young New Zealanders than old ones. New Zealanders raised entirely in the globalisation era know there’s a big wide world out there – a world which values highly the Kiwi’s celebrated ability to get along with just about anybody. Racism no longer pays.
 
None of which should be advanced as evidence that racism and xenophobia will find no purchase in the forthcoming general election. There are many thousands of New Zealanders who feel like strangers in their own land. Who miss the comforting homogeneity of the sleepy, white, British dominion in which they were raised. Such voters are, however, a dwindling asset for all but the NZ First Party. Only Winston can afford to make “A Whiter Shade of Pale” his theme song.
 
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, 9 June 2017.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Sins Of Admission: A Response To John Armstrong's Attack On Metiria Turei.

The Guilty Party: Metiria is guilty of a crime – but not the one John Armstrong rails against in his latest column. Her transgression was to break ranks with the socio-political formation that has kept Richardson’s and Shipley’s welfare cuts bleeding and raw for more than quarter-of-a-century.
 
JOHN ARMSTRONG rails against Metiria Turei’s admission that she lied to the welfare authorities. Like so many of the outbursts emanating from the Right on this subject, however, his words speak more eloquently of his own failings than Metiria’s.

Lacking the imagination for empathy, Armstrong and his ilk cling for comfort to the rules, all the rules, and nothing but the rules.
 
“She endeavoured to turn her breach of the law into a launching pad for her party’s welfare policy. That is audacious. It is also the height of arrogance. It is also to enter very dangerous territory. It implies you are above the law. It says it is okay to break the law in order to try and change it.”
 
Yes, John, that’s exactly what it implies. But, tell me, do you think that Mahatma Ghandi, Dr Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela would have any ethical difficulty dealing with those implications?
 
Metiria was required to raise her daughter in the years immediately following the Mother of All Budgets. You must remember that extraordinary act of social violence, John? When Ruth Richardson, with enthusiastic support from Jenny Shipley, slashed the already meagre incomes of New Zealand’s most vulnerable citizens by 25 percent? When the National Government of Jim Bolger did exactly what Metiria told her party a Green government would never do: Use poverty as a weapon against its own people?
 
Do you really expect us to believe, John, that you would have accepted the National Government’s vicious policies without protest or subterfuge – and watched your child go hungry? If that really is your position, then why did you write: “There is sympathy for her past plight and respect for her efforts in pulling herself out of it.”
 
Clearly, you understand that falling into the clutches of Work & Income was, and is, a predicament – a “plight” – and that getting out of it isn’t easy. It requires a working knowledge of every trick in the book. Some of those tricks are legal. Others are not. But, for their children, people do what they have to do. If you would rather they didn’t “steal” from the Government, John, then why not insist that the Government gives them enough to live on?
 
But you don’t want to do that, do you, John? No, you would rather use the poor against the poor. Like when you write: “Turei’s flouting of the law will further alienate low-income families in which both parents work long hours and who consequently cannot abide welfare cheats. Those voters are already deserting the centre-left. Turei’s holier-than-thou disposition is hardly going to attract them back.”
 
And how would you know what low-income families are thinking, John? Has it never occurred to you that those “welfare cheats” (what an odious gob of verbal spittle that is!) are the sons and daughters of the working poor? How many of them, do you suppose, have attempted to support their children at the local Work & Income office and experienced first-hand the icy condescension and bureaucratic cruelty of MSD employees?
 
No, John, you don’t anything about that world of hurt and anger. What you do know, however, is what they should be thinking - and you will not hesitate to tell them at every given opportunity. Because the Right is terrified – yes, terrified – that Metiria’s admission that she was willing to lie to keep food on her little family’s table might persuade a dangerously large number of those low-income families that at least some Green MPs know what their own children are going through. And that the prospect of MSD’s hated “sanctions” being abolished might even convince those families that, this time, it’s worth casting a vote.
 
Metiria is guilty of a crime – but not the one John Armstrong rails against. Her transgression was to break ranks with the socio-political formation that has kept Richardson’s and Shipley’s welfare cuts bleeding and raw for more than quarter-of-a-century.
 
When Metiria Turei told the Green AGM that: “We will not be a government that uses poverty as a weapon against its own people”,  she must have known that she was breaking the biggest rule of all.
 
And that the John Armstrongs of this world would never forgive her.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Saturday, 22 July 2017.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

China's Got Talent!

 
 
A truly splendid rendition of
The Internationale. Enjoy.
 
Video courtesy of YouTube
 
This posting is exclusive to Bowalley Road.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Nothing Fresh About Labour’s Approach.

Not-So-Subliminal Messages: Labour's first campaign video is a shocker. I wasn’t expecting much but, depressingly, Labour managed to deliver less. Yes, Andrew Little does promise us "A Fresh Approach", but there should be a better reason for voting Labour than the fact that National’s getting a bit stale.
 
LEFT-LEANING VOTERS looking for a good reason to vote Green should take a look at Labour’s latest campaign ad. When the video arrived in my Inbox, I was almost too scared to open it. I wasn’t expecting much but, depressingly, Labour managed to deliver less. If this is the best the party’s highfalutin Aussie ad agency can do, then the sooner they’re sent packing back across the Tasman the better!
 

 
A while back, someone let slip that Andrew Little had been taking acting lessons. Three words: Waste. Of. Money. To call Little’s performance wooden would be an insult to the vibrant living entities we call trees. Do Labour’s Aussie ad-men not know that the best way to make any human-being look awkward is to ask them to act natural?
 
Have they never seen the celebrated paid political broadcast produced for the British Conservative Party? The agency was asked to introduce John Major to the electorate. So, they put the Prime Minister in the back of a car, set the cameras rolling, and drove him past his childhood home. The look on Major’s face; his priceless emotional response; humanised Maggie Thatcher’s grey successor in one, perfect, cinematic moment. What made the sequence so compelling was its unscripted authenticity.
 
Unfortunately, authenticity is the quality Labour’s video most conspicuously lacks. It’s as though Labour’s Campaign Committee brainstormed for hours on Little’s positive qualities and then turned everything they’d scribbled on the whiteboard into his script. Whoever told Little to deliver the line, “as a former cancer patient”, should be told to seek alternative employment!
 
The most jarring aspect of the video, however, is the way it exploits poor Jacinda Ardern. Every few seconds she appears, without any discernible narrative purpose, smiling brightly at Little’s side. It’s as if, at some point during the final edit, the production team suddenly remembered that the video was supposed to promote the Little-Ardern partnership. “Quick! someone track down those Andrew and Jacinda smileathons we recorded!” If that’s not the explanation, then I shudder to think what is.
 
And then there’s the tag-line: “A Fresh Approach for New Zealand”.
 
Labour’s former Finance Minister, Michael Cullen, was fond of regaling audiences with what he liked to call Kiwis’ “beach cricket approach to politics”. As in: “Aw, come on Helen, you’ve had the bat for ages. Don’t you think it’s time to give someone else a go?” Labour’s 2017 slogan comes perilously close to validating Cullen’s insight. There should be a better reason for voting Labour than the fact that National’s getting a bit stale.
 
What a pity the New Zealand Labour Party hasn’t been able to snare an Aussie creative director like Paul Jones. His 1972 campaign ad for the Australian Labor Party, “It’s time!”, featured Alison McCallum belting out the party’s campaign song with what appeared to be the whole of Australia joining in. It was a classic of its kind – and well worth checking out on YouTube!
 
 
The problem, of course, is that to make an ad like that work, you have to have something – and someone – to sell. Jones had Gough Whitlam. And, if I may paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen’s famous put-down of Dan Quayle in the 1988 US Vice-Presidential Debate: “I remember Gough Whitlam. And, Mr Little, you’re no Gough Whitlam!” Or Norman Kirk, for that matter.
 
Someone should remind Little and his team of what happened to their Canadian equivalent, the New Democratic Party, in 2015. Its leader, Thomas Mulcair, was so determined to be a “strong and stable” alternative Prime Minister that he persuaded the NDP to jettison everything even remotely radical or inspiring from its manifesto. Justin Trudeau, whose Liberals had been counted out of the race, saw the opening and seized his chance.
 
Following the inspirational performance of Metiria Turei, at last weekend’s Green Party AGM, there is now a real risk that Labour’s putative junior coalition partner could steal a march very similar to Trudeau’s. Never has the New Zealand Left been in such a state of flux. Turei’s passionate declaration: “We will not be a government that uses poverty as a weapon against its own people” is the sort of statement that changes minds.
 
If Andrew Little’s Labour Party refuses to stand with the poor, the marginalised and the downtrodden, then what, exactly, is its “fresh approach” supposed to deliver?
 
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, 21 July 2017.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

A Cautionary Tale From Canada.

"Something In The Air": Whatever it was in his country’s political atmosphere in 2015, Justin Trudeau blew out enough of it to inflate the Liberals’ appeal to winning proportions. With Winston exhaling anger, and Metiria Turei breathing hope, Andrew Little and Labour need to offer the New Zealand electorate something more than a deflated ideological balloon.
 
THOMAS MULCAIR wanted to be Prime Minister – and he thought he knew how to make it happen. His New Democratic Party (NDP) was the leading Opposition contender in a Canada grown weary of Stephen Harper’s brutal Conservative Government. More importantly, the formerly dominant Liberal Party had been reduced to a risible rump of just 36 MPs in the Canadian House of Commons. Its leader, Justin Trudeau, may have been blessed with a famous political name, but was widely dismissed as a pretty playboy who knew a lot more about snowboarding that he did about grown-up politics. Thomas Mulcair was far from being the only Canadian convinced that the 2015 General Election was the NDP’s for the taking.
 
But that’s not how the story ended. Determined to present both himself and the NDP as sensible and responsible, Mulcair prevailed upon his party colleagues to jettison any and all policies likely to scare the Canadian establishment’s horses. Canada’s equivalent of the NZ Labour Party promised “budget responsibility” – with bells on. Public spending would be kept in check and surpluses fattened. “Nothing to be frightened of here”, was Mulcair’s message to the people he thought he had to please to win. That was the point at which Justin Trudeau demonstrated that he was a great deal more than just a pretty face.
 
Mulcair’s decision to steer the NDP sharply to the right of its traditional position on the centre-left had opened up a dangerous amount of unoccupied ideological space. If Mulcair was willing to make his peace with neoliberalism, then Trudeau was prepared to lead his party into a passionate Keynesian embrace. With interest rates at record lows, Government borrowing would never be cheaper. The Liberals would give Canada’s economy the much-needed shot in the arm that Harper’s austerity programme had forsworn. Health, education and infrastructure would be the big winners. The Liberals, said Trudeau, were the only political party who understood that more of the same was unacceptable. Oh yeah – and they were ready to legalise marijuana!
 
Outflanked, out-argued and out-bid, Mulcair watched helplessly as the NDP’s poll-numbers dwindled and the Liberal Party’s popularity surged. Policy audacity was made palatable by Trudeau’s relentlessly sunny disposition. The clouds of gloom parted, and by the time the last ballot paper was counted the “pretty playboy” had rewritten Canada’s political rulebook. Not only had the Liberal’s driven the NDP into third place, they had won an absolute parliamentary majority. It was a comeback without precedent in Canadian history.
 
Trudeau’s historic 2015 election victory is a cautionary tale which New Zealand’s Labour leader would do well to study closely. There is still time for Andrew Little to halt his party’s relentless march towards the political centre. Still time to understand that the “something in the air” which Shane Jones talks about is the factor that will determine the outcome of this year’s election. Still time to realise that whatever it is in the political air, it is not a desperate public hunger for more of the same.
 
There is anger in the air – and that is the harvest which Winston Peters and NZ First are determined to gather in. But the air is also stirring with hope. That’s what the Greens have – at almost the last possible moment – understood. And, just like Justin Trudeau, they are preparing to ride the forgotten New Zealander’s hope for something better all the way to the biggest share of the Party Vote they have ever received.
 
Thomas Mulcair’s bid to become Canada’s Prime Minister foundered on his strategy of offering his opponents the smallest possible target to shoot at. All he succeeded in doing was reducing the NDP to something so dull and uninspiring that a crucial number of Canadians lost sight of it altogether.
 
Whatever it was in his country’s political atmosphere in 2015, Justin Trudeau blew out enough of it to inflate the Liberals’ appeal to winning proportions. With Winston exhaling anger, and Metiria Turei breathing hope, Andrew Little and Labour need to offer the New Zealand electorate something more than a deflated ideological balloon.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 19 July 2017.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Noticing Neoliberalism's Nakedness.

"But he hasn't got anything on!" - For 30 years New Zealand’s best and brightest business leaders, academics, journalists and politicians have been telling the rest of us that the only reason neoliberalism appears to be promoting a nakedly brutal and inequitable economic and social system is because we are too stupid to perceive the true beneficence of the free market. Painting by Thorarinn Liefsson.
 
IF THE 2017 GENERAL ELECTION turns into a messy boil-over, it will be the fault of New Zealand’s most successful people. For the best part of 30 years, the high achievers of New Zealand society have aligned themselves with an ideology that has produced consistently negative outcomes. Not for themselves. In fact, they have done extremely well out of the economic and social changes of the past 30 years. For the majority of their fellow citizens, however, the Neoliberal Revolution has been a disaster.
 
The real puzzle of the past 30 years is, therefore, why a political system intended to empower the majority has not consigned neoliberalism to the dustbin of history. Why have those on the receiving end of economic and social policies designed to benefit only a minority of the population not simply elected a party, or parties, committed to eliminating them?
 
A large part of the answer is supplied in Hans Christian Andersen’s famous fable, The Emperor’s New Clothes. Those who know the story will recall that the crucial element of the swindlers’ con was their insistence that the Emperor’s magnificent attire could only be seen by the wise. To “anyone who was unfit for his office, or who was unusually stupid”, the Emperor would appear to be wearing nothing at all.
 
The interesting thing about Andersen’s fable is that it’s actually supported by a critical element of scientific fact. If people whose judgement we have no reason to doubt inform us that black is white, most of us will, in an astonishingly short period of time, start disregarding the evidence of our own eyes. Even worse, if an authority figure instructs us to administer punishments to people “for their own good” most of us will do so. Even when the punishment appears to be causing the recipients intense, even fatal, pain, we will be continue flicking the switch for as long as the authority figure insists that the pain is necessary and that we have no alternative except to proceed. (If you doubt this, just google “Stanley Milgram”.)
 
For 30 years, then, New Zealand’s best and brightest business leaders, academics, journalists and politicians have been telling the rest of us that the only reason neoliberalism appears to be promoting a nakedly brutal and inequitable economic and social system is because we are too stupid to perceive the true beneficence of the free market. In language ominously reminiscent of Professor Milgram’s terrible experiment, we have been told by those in authority that there can be “no long-term gain without short-term pain”, and, God forgive us, we have believed them – and continued flicking the switch.
 
Nowhere has this readiness to discount the evidence before one’s own eyes been more pronounced than in our politicians. How many of them, when confronted with the social and environmental wreckage of neoliberalism, have responded like the “honest old minister” in Andersen’s fable, who, upon being ushered into the swindlers’ workshop, and seeing nothing, thought: “Heaven have mercy! Can it be that I’m a fool? I’d have never guessed it, and not a soul must know. Am I unfit to be the minister? It would never do to let on that I can’t see the cloth.”
 
How else are we to explain the unwillingness of the Labour Party and the Greens to break decisively with the neoliberal swindle? Or, the repeated declarations from National and Act praising the beauty and enchantment of its effects: “Such a pattern, what colours!”
 
Even as the evidence of its malignity mounted before them. Even as the numbers harmed by its poisonous remedies increased. The notion that the best and the brightest might perceive them as being unusually stupid and unfit for office led the opposition parties to concentrate all their criticism on the symptoms of neoliberalism. Or, in the spirit of Andersen’s tale, critiquing the cut of the Emperor’s new clothes instead of their non-existence.
 
Eventually, of course, the consequences of neoliberalism are felt by too many people to be ignored. Children who cannot afford to buy their own home. Grandchildren who cannot access mental health care. The spectacle of people living in their cars. Of homeless men freezing to death in the streets. Eventually someone – a politician unafraid of being thought unusually stupid, or unfit for office – breaks the swindlers’ spell.
 
“‘But he hasn’t got anything on,’ a little child said.
 
‘Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?’ said its father. And one person whispered to another what the child had said, ‘He hasn’t anything on. A child says he hasn’t anything on.’
 
‘But he hasn’t got anything on!’ the whole town cried out at last.”
 
Now, the whole New Zealand electorate may not be calling “Time!” on neoliberalism – and certainly not its best and its brightest – but Winston Peters is.
 
And the town is whispering.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 18 July 2017.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

For Metiria ...


“We will not be a government that uses poverty as a weapon against its own people.”
 
- Metiria Turei, Co-Leader of The Greens
 
Video courtesy of YouTube
 
This posting is exclusive to Bowalley Road.

The Bright Sunlit Uplands Of Radicalism: Metiria Turei And The Greens Set The 2017 Election On Fire.

Do You Hear The People Sing? Metiria Turei’s pledge that: We will not be a government that uses poverty as a weapon against its own people”, is nothing less than a call to arms. Requiring the MSD to stop treating its “clients” as second-class citizens: making a bonfire of work tests, drug tests, bedmate tests, and all the other oppressive means of “sanctioning” beneficiaries, will have the same electrifying effect as the cry which swept through Paris on 14 July 1789 – “To the Bastille!”
 
METIRIA TUREI has rescued the 2017 General Election from the timidity and moral squalor into which it was fast descending. In a speech that brought tears to her listeners’ eyes and cheers to their throats, the Greens’ co-leader carried her party out of the shadows of moderation and into the bright sunlit uplands of radicalism that have always been its natural habitat. The Green Party’s AGM of 15-16 July 2017 will go down in history as the moment when it repudiated the “Insider’s” devilish bargains – and reclaimed its soul.
 
Turei’s revolutionary plans for New Zealand’s social welfare system will be examined below, but first a word or two about her prescience in regard to Winston Peters and NZ First.
 
Clearly, there is now no disputing her warnings about the racist implications of NZ First policy. What looked like gratuitous and counter-productive name-calling a week ago has been vindicated emphatically by Winston Peters’ utterances of the weekend just past.
 
It’s one thing to allow race and immigration to become confused (NZ First is by no means unique in this regard!) but it is quite another to call for a binding referendum on the retention of the Maori Seats. The last senior politician to draw a bead on the Maori Seats was Don Brash – and New Zealand only dodged that bullet by the skin of its teeth!
 
So, let’s be clear: there is nothing democratic about demanding a binding referendum on this issue. On the contrary, it is a shameless appeal to the very worst majoritarian instincts of the New Zealand electorate. Allowing 85 percent of the population to determine the fate of a representative institution dedicated to protecting the rights of the country’s indigenous 15 percent is not only reactionary, it is a direct threat to the “public welfare, peace and tranquillity of New Zealand”.  In such circumstances, no progressive New Zealander could possibly consider voting for NZ First.
 
By the same token, The Greens’ revolutionary welfare policies make it difficult for any progressive New Zealander to vote for anybody else.
 
As anyone who has read the heartfelt postings of people living at the razor’s edge of our welfare system (the latest one is here) knows, the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) presides over an empire of cruelty with few precedents in New Zealand history. The National Government boasts about the numbers who have been removed from the welfare rolls since they assumed office. That this is due to the sheer awfulness of being caught up in the Work and Income mincing machine is an “achievement” they are much less keen to acknowledge.
 
Though most Kiwis remain oblivious to what is happening behind the security-guarded doors of their welfare system, there are tens-of-thousands of families with direct personal experience of what it’s like to be a beneficiary – or the loved one/s of a beneficiary. To these folk, Metiria’s pledge that: “We will not be a government that uses poverty as a weapon against its own people”, is nothing less than a call to arms. Requiring the MSD to stop treating its “clients” as second-class citizens: making a bonfire of work tests, drug tests, bedmate tests, and all the other oppressive means of “sanctioning” beneficiaries; will have the same electrifying effect as the cry which swept through Paris on 14 July 1789 – “To the Bastille!”
 
The question is: do the Greens possess the electoral infrastructure to spread the good news to the tens-of-thousands of disillusioned voters who stand to gain from their policies. These marginalised citizens (minimum wage workers as well as beneficiaries) now have a very good reason to enrol and vote. The Greens boast that, this election, they have more campaigning resources than ever before. Here is their chance to prove it.
 
One reason to be hopeful that beneficiaries will hear about the Greens’ revolutionary welfare policies is Metiria’s extraordinarily courageous decision to admit that when, as a solo mum, she was faced with the choice of lying to the welfare authorities, or letting her child go hungry, she lied. Except that the story does not end there. Like Jean Valjean, the hero of Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Miserables, Metiria made sure that the many opportunities which flowed from her transgression were turned towards making her society a better place.
 
Hugo wrote of his sprawling literary masterpiece that:
 
“So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age—the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night—are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.”
 
Any more than Metiria’s confession, or, the Greens transformative welfare policies, can be useless. They are the stuff out of which social justice is made. Meaning that, if Labour wishes to catch up with the only progressive coalition partner now available to them, then they had better start running hard – now.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 17 July 2017.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Voter Motivators 2017: Poverty.

Making Poverty History: Dorothea Lange's iconic portrait of a Depression Era mother and her children speaks of a time when poverty was a problem to be solved - not a condition to be sneered at.
 
WHEN ENOUGH PEOPLE ARE POOR, poverty changes. Instead of being seen as the outward manifestation of vice, poverty is transformed into the enabler of virtue. In communities where everyone is poor, the merits of compassion, solidarity and generosity are everywhere on display. Poor people support one another, take care of one another, defend one another.
 
In societies where wealth and resources are controlled by a tiny minority, it is the rich who find themselves stigmatised. Their greed, love of luxury and relentless selfishness are everywhere condemned. In the eyes of the poor, wealth and vice are indistinguishable.
 
Eighty-five years ago, at the height of the Great Depression, poverty stalked four out of every five New Zealand streets. More than one in four men of working age were unemployed, and those who still had jobs were forced to accept regular – often savage – reductions in their wages and salaries.
 
As the economic crisis deepened, the spectre of poverty crept out of the urban slums and into the leafy suburbs of the middle-class. Respectable men on respectable salaries found themselves “let go”. Poverty ceased to be something that affected the “lower orders”. Now ordinary “decent” people were staring it in the face.
 
In 2017, with a general election looming, the issue of poverty still ranks as one of New Zealand’s big voter motivators. People sleeping in their cars; children succumbing to Third World diseases; workers lining-up at food banks for assistance; whole families going hungry to pay the power bill and keep the landlord happy: those lucky enough to live in the three out of four streets where poverty does not intrude have been made to feel profoundly uneasy by its evident proximity.
 
In a society where only a quarter of children are being raised in poverty, however, the remedies for privation and despair are hotly contested. With security and comfort now the norm in New Zealand, the question a great many voters ask themselves is: “What is going on in these families which prevents them from living a happy and productive life like the rest of us?”
 
In 1935, the answer to that question could be reduced to two words: “The Slump”. The effects of the Great Depression weighed upon the whole of New Zealand like a leaden overcoat. It made all the old explanations of poverty redundant. Whoever was to blame for the collapse of the capitalist economy – it wasn’t the poor.
 
And, for those who were hurting, the remedy was clear: vote for the party pledged to make poverty history. Let the state take the place of your family, friends and neighbours and become the collective deliverer of compassion, solidarity and generosity. All those things denied the poor: good jobs on good pay; free education and health care; a warm, dry house at an affordable rent; a measure of equality in the workplace; state assistance in old age, infirmity and economic adversity; these were the changes that Labour promised – and delivered.
 
Not only was poverty (in the sense of the harsh economic and social conditions experienced by a clear majority of the population in the early years of capitalism) reduced dramatically by the creation of the Welfare State, but in the decades that followed its moral character underwent an enormous revision.
 
No longer was poverty seen as the consequence of the viciously rich and their failed economic system. No longer was it celebrated as the creator of virtuous behaviour. Now it was regarded as the consequence of individual and familial inadequacy. Now it was the poor who exemplified vice. Laziness, drunkenness, violence, cruelty and crime: these became the new markers of Poverty.
 
The National Party’s twenty-first century response to this re-defined poverty is unequivocal: deal with the individual and familial inadequacies of the poor and the vicious circles of deprivation can be broken. They call it “Social Investment”.
 
Labour’s position is much more difficult. Gone are the days when an economically victimised majority saw themselves as the deserving beneficiaries of a long overdue and radical redistribution of society’s resources. In 2017, the no-longer-poor majority identify much more readily as taxpayers, and are much less certain that Labour’s (and the Greens’) compassion, solidarity and generosity are entitlements to which the “undeserving poor” have any claim.
 
Poverty will be motivating voters in 2017 – but in ways far removed from those of 1935.
 
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 June 2017.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

The Boxer

"But The Fighter Still Remains": Bill English should be staggering across the electoral ring like a bloodied, punch-drunk boxer desperate for the salvation of the fight’s final bell. Instead he’s still up on his toes and trading punches with an opposition that seems incapable of laying a single glove on his up-tilted prime-ministerial chin.
 
JUST OVER NINE WEEKS to go before New Zealand votes – and what a mess! The National-led Government is an administrative disaster in which demonstrable incompetence strives against refined political cruelty for mastery. At this point in the electoral cycle, Bill English should be staggering across the ring like a bloodied, punch-drunk boxer desperate for the salvation of the fight’s final bell. Instead he’s still up on his toes and trading punches with an opposition that seems incapable of laying a single glove on his up-tilted prime-ministerial chin.
 
Labour’s performance is especially woeful. Andrew Little and Jacinda Ardern swing wildly and miss. That there are two other fighters in the ring with Labour should be imbuing the whole anti-government team with confidence. Except that, instead of taking turns to punch Bill English in the face, the Greens and NZ First are trading blows with each other. Hardly surprising, then, that Labour is losing focus!
 
This lack of focus, this weakness, lies at the heart of the Opposition’s difficulties. Labour should now be polling in the high 30s, with the Greens and NZ First struggling to stay above the 5 percent MMP threshold. Even when defeated by John Key in 2008, Helen Clark and Labour still managed to attract 34 percent of the Party Vote. The Greens were minor players, with a modest 6.7 percent, while NZ First, with just 4.7 percent support and no electorate seats, was driven out of Parliament altogether.
 
Labour’s repeated failure to produce a credible replacement for Clark has created a political vacuum into which both the Greens and NZ first have been only too happy to step. In doing so, however, they have contributed to the widespread public perception that the Opposition is a house divided, or, in the devastating visual language of the National Party’s 2014 campaign propaganda – a Ship of Fools.
 
The explanation for Labour’s failure is to be found in the arrogance and lack of imagination of its caucus. Though the party membership understood the need for a clear reaffirmation of Labour’s core principles, its MPs remained wedded to Clark’s cautious incrementalism. Without a Don Brash-like “defender of the faith” to re-energise Labour’s base and reassert its claim to leadership of the Left, the party’s share of the vote fell to 27 percent in 2011 and 25 percent in 2014. Four lacklustre leaders in nine years have not only sapped the morale of the party membership, they have also contributed to a pronounced loss of public confidence in the political competence of the Left as a whole.
 
As Labour has weakened, the Greens and NZ First have convinced themselves that the role of second party is theirs for the taking. In the case of NZ First, this is not an altogether fanciful ambition. Given the right set of circumstances: a cruel and incompetent National government; a fast declining Labour Party; an electorate looking to shake up the status quo; and it is possible to envisage Winston Peters breaking through. That the Greens will somehow exceed the 10-11 percent which, to date, has defined the outer limits of their support – that is much harder to see. Nonetheless, they will try. Labour’s failure being the precondition of their success.
 
So Bill English keeps dancing, jabbing and, occasionally, connecting. Watching him confront not one, but three, opponents, the punters may even start seeing the Prime Minister as the underdog in this fight. What should have been an execution – an act of euthanasia even – continues to be a contest.
 
And, so far, National isn’t losing.
 
UPDATE: 8:00am, Saturday, 15 July 2017 - The latest UMR polling data (UMR is the Labour Party's pollster) has been leaked to Newshub's Paddy Gower. It shows Labour plummeting from 34 percent in May to 26 percent in July. As Labour's vote collapses, however, the poll shows support for Winston Peters and NZ First surging to 14 percent. The Greens are close behind with 13 percent. Meanwhile, National boxes on with 42 percent.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 14 July 2017.

Friday, 14 July 2017

A Special Kind Of Prejudice.

Self Portrait Of A Sinophobic  Killer: Thankfully, New Zealand history boasts only one self-confessed homicdal racist - Lionel Terry. To ensure we never have another, the issues of race and immigration must be kept entirely separate.
 
LIONEL TERRY was waiting for Joe Kum Yung as he came limping up Haining Street on the evening of Sunday, 24 September 1905. The 70 year-old veteran of the Otago gold rush knew nothing of the 32 year-old English adventurer lurking in the shadows of Wellington’s notorious “Chinese Quarter”. As Joe shuffled past, Terry stepped forward, raised his revolver and fired. The elderly man collapsed in the street. Stunned neighbours rushed to render assistance but, by the time he arrived at the nearby hospital, Joe Kum Yung was dead. Terry, meanwhile, had disappeared into the Wellington night.
 
The next morning, however, Terry turned himself in to the authorities. “I have come to tell you that I am the man who shot the Chinaman in the Chinese quarters of the city last evening”, he explained. “I take an interest in alien immigration and I took this means of bringing it under the public notice.”
 
Convicted of Joe’s murder, Terry was sentenced to hang. But this was New Zealand in 1905 and English gentlemen did not die for killing elderly Chinese. Declared insane, the murderous white supremacist spent the rest of his life in psychiatric institutions where, in later years, he was allowed to paint and write poetry. With his long white hair and neatly trimmed beard he was treated as an eccentric minor celebrity.
 
It takes a special kind of prejudice to kill a man for the purposes of bringing an issue “under the public notice”. But the anti-Chinese feeling which Joe’s homicide highlighted was by no means exceptional. Nor was it a phenomenon restricted to the political right. Indeed, in the early years of the twentieth century, anti-Chinese agitation was associated much more closely with the political left. Terry himself was a staunch anti-capitalist who railed against employers who imported “coolie-slave labour” at the expense of honest Britons who expected a fair day’s work to be rewarded with a fair day’s pay.
 
For most of New Zealand’s history, racism and immigration have been inseparable. At issue, always, was not the number of immigrants arriving in New Zealand, but the extent to which the new arrivals either challenged, or conformed to, the expectations of the non-immigrant population.
 
Foremost among those expectations was the working-class prohibition against selling one’s labour for less than the going rate. This was an article of left-wing faith all around the Pacific Rim: adhered to with every bit as much fervour in New South Wales and California as New Zealand. That Chinese workers represented a deadly threat to “White Men’s” wages was part and parcel of the same working-class gospel, fuelling European workers’ racist antipathy towards the “Yellow Peril”.
 
For Chinese New Zealanders the consequences of this deeply-ingrained racial prejudice were severe. The legal barriers to their full acceptance as New Zealand citizens (poll taxes and administrative restrictions on travel) took a scandalously long time to dismantle, and the social barriers lasted even longer. It was only fifty years ago that Kiwi schoolchildren regaled each other with “Ching Chong Chinaman” rhymes and jokes.
 
In 2002 Helen Clark issued a Prime Ministerial apology to Chinese New Zealanders for the treatment meted out to them by the New Zealand state. Ten years later, however, a senior New Zealand politician was still willing to entertain his audiences with the jocular observation: “Two Wongs don’t make a White.”
 
There has been considerable consternation at the Green Party co-leader, Metiria Turei’s, uncompromising criticism of NZ First’s “racist” immigration policies. When placed in the shameful context of this country’s long history of anti-immigrant (especially anti-Chinese immigrant) prejudice, however, the Green Party’s progressive sensitivities on this issue are a lot less surprising.
 
Where they do lay themselves open to criticism, however, is in their refusal to cast an equally large accusatory stone at their preferred coalition partner, Labour. The latter’s willingness to mix race and immigration issues has a long history. Whether it be Bill Rowling’s backing of Rob Muldoon’s 1982 legislation stripping Samoans of their New Zealand citizenship, or the more recent “Chinese-sounding names” debacle, Labour’s record on this crucial progressive litmus test is, on the face of it, no less worthy of criticism than NZ First’s.
 
Thankfully, New Zealand history boasts only one Lionel Terry. To ensure we never have another, the issues of race and immigration must be kept entirely separate.
 
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, 14 July 2017.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Is Barry Coates Serious? Are The Greens Really Willing To Trigger A Second Election Before Christmas?

Christmas Cheer-Leader? According to Green MP, Barry Coates, if Labour attempts to form a minority coalition government with NZ First alone, then the Green Party will withhold the support it needs to withstand a Vote of No-Confidence from the National Party and its allies. In other words, if the Green Party is not included in a progressive coalition government, it will send New Zealanders back to the polling booths before Christmas for another go at electing a government.
 
HOW SERIOUSLY should New Zealanders take the words of Green MP Barry Coates? In a recent post to The Daily Blog he said: “The memorandum of understanding with Labour is the foundation for building the next government. However, if we were not part of the coalition, we would not accept a Labour-New Zealand First government and certainly not a National-New Zealand First government. Neither will be acceptable to the Greens.”
 
On its face, that statement suggests that if Labour attempts to form a minority coalition government with NZ First alone, then the Green Party will withhold the support it needs to withstand a Vote of No-Confidence from the National Party and its allies. In other words, if the Green Party is not included in a progressive coalition government, it will send New Zealanders back to the polling booths before Christmas for another go at electing a government.
 
How do James Shaw and Metiria Turei feel about this extraordinary statement? Do they endorse it? Or, have they been blindsided by their most junior Member of Parliament? [Barry entered Parliament off the Green Party List on 7 October 2016, following the resignation of Kevin Hague.]
 
Let’s assume, in the absence of any loud public denials and/or disciplinary action from James and Metiria, that Barry’s summation of the Greens’ position is accurate: what are its likely consequences?
 
Well, let’s just consider what the electorate will have witnessed between 23 September and whenever the newly-elected House of Representatives is dissolved by the Governor-General.
 
First, they will have watched in disbelief as the Greens allowed the proposed coalition government brought together by Andrew Little and Winston Peters to be voted down by National, the Maori Party and Act. Then they will have seen Labour, NZ First and the Greens vote down Bill English’s attempt to form a government of the Right. Just weeks after participating in one general election, the voters will be faced with the unwelcome prospect of participating in another.
 
But surely, some will object, if Winston is unable to govern alongside Andrew Little, then he will simply switch his allegiance to Bill English? That is certainly what an utterly cynical politician, quite unconcerned about the moral quality of his political legacy, would do. A more astute populist politician, however, would recognise in the extremity of the political crisis precipitated by the Greens a heaven-sent opportunity to improve not only his own party’s position, but also that of his preferred coalition partner.
 
Because there can be little doubt that the electorate would punish the Greens mercilessly for landing them with such an unwelcome Christmas present. The voters would reward the Green Party’s dog-in-the-manger irresponsibility by hurling it unceremoniously out of Parliament – a place to which it would struggle to return.
 
The Green Party vote would be swallowed by Labour, while NZ First would be rewarded for its principled decision to refuse the baubles of office by harvesting an even bigger crop of erstwhile National Party voters than they had already gathered-in on 23 September.
 
Paradoxically, the very thing the Greens had hoped to prevent by refusing to guarantee Confidence and Supply to Little and Peters will have come to pass: a Labour-NZ First Coalition Government. Except on this, the second time around, it will be a government over which the Greens are unable to exert any influence whatsoever.
 
If Barry misspoke, then surely it is long past time that James and Metiria said so.
 
UPDATE: 9:00am, Thursday, 13 July 2017 - Following yesterday's release of this story on The Daily Blog, it was picked up by both Newshub and Radio New Zealand (without attribution in the case of the latter). The sudden media attention forced James Shaw to publicly disavow Coates' statement. As an advertisement for the Greens readiness to govern, the past few days have not been a conspicuous success!
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 12 July 2017.