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.