Known principally for his weekly political columns and his commentaries on radio and television, Chris Trotter has spent most of his adult life either engaging in or writing about politics. He was the founding editor of The New Zealand Political Review (1992-2005) and in 2007 authored No Left Turn, a political history of New Zealand. Living in Auckland with his wife and daughter, Chris describes himself as an “Old New Zealander” – i.e. someone who remembers what the country was like before Rogernomics. He has created this blog as an archive for his published work and an outlet for his more elegiac musings. It takes its name from Bowalley Road, which runs past the North Otago farm where he spent the first nine years of his life. Enjoy.
The blogosphere tends to be a very noisy, and all-too-often a very abusive, place. I intend Bowalley Road to be a much quieter, and certainly a more respectful, place. So, if you wish your comments to survive the moderation process, you will have to follow the Bowalley Road Rules. These are based on two very simple principles: Courtesy and Respect. Comments which are defamatory, vituperative, snide or hurtful will be removed, and the commentators responsible permanently banned. Anonymous comments will not be published. Real names are preferred. If this is not possible, however, commentators are asked to use a consistent pseudonym. Comments which are thoughtful, witty, creative and stimulating will be most welcome, becoming a permanent part of the Bowalley Road discourse. However, I do add this warning. If the blog seems in danger of being over-run by the usual far-Right suspects, I reserve the right to simply disable the Comments function, and will keep it that way until the perpetrators find somewhere more appropriate to vent their collective spleen.
Zealandia Redux? What Winston Peters and his party now have to decide, is whether transforming their homeland into an economic, political and cultural colony of the People’s Republic of China was what they meant when they promised to put New Zealand first.
WHAT DOES NZ FIRST WANT? More than anything else, NZ First
and its leader, Winston Peters, would like to reconstruct the New Zealand
economy of the 1950s and 60s. These were years of extraordinary economic and
social progress, during which more and more New Zealanders were lifted into
relative affluence. The country’s infrastructure (especially its hydro-electric
energy generation capacity) was similarly enhanced. NZ First’s desire to
replicate this success is, therefore, commendable. But, is it possible? In a
world so very different from the one that emerged from World War II, is it
reasonable to suppose that the remedies of ‘Then’ are applicable – or even
available – ‘Now’?
At the end of World War II the United States of America
stood completely unchallenged: militarily, economically and culturally it was
without peer. The American mainland remained untouched by the fascist enemy;
its factories were geared to levels of production without parallel in human
history; and the sophistication of its science, which had bequeathed to the
world both cheap antibiotics and the atomic bomb, promised a future of
unbounded promise – and unprecedented peril.
Accounting for half the world’s production and nearly
two-thirds of its wealth, the United States nevertheless faced a problem. If
the rest of humanity was not to slide into the most wretched poverty and, once
again, fall prey to the purveyors of extreme political ideologies, then it
would have to be given the wherewithal to lift itself up into prosperity.
Except that, when the Americans spoke of humanity, they were not really
thinking of the human-beings who lived in the Soviet Union, or
civil-war-ravaged China, or in the vast continent of Africa. It was in the
rehabilitation of the peoples of Europe, South America and Australasia that the
USA was most interested.
New Zealand, also materially unscathed by the ravages of
war, was ideally positioned to benefit from the Americans’ self-interested
altruism. The United Kingdom constituted an insatiable market for this
country’s agricultural products, and the United States made sure its enfeebled
British ally received sufficient cash to go on buying (among other things) all
the butter, cheese, lamb and wool New Zealand could send it. It was an
arrangement which very quickly transformed New Zealand into one of the
wealthiest nations on earth.
Sixty-five years on from the fat 1950s, however, the world
is a very different place. Europe and Japan rebuilt themselves, and the USA’s
effortless hegemony became harder and harder to sustain. In lifting its own
people, and much of the rest of the world, out of poverty, American capitalism
had facilitated the rise of powerful working-classes in all the major Western
nation-states. They had created increasingly self-conscious and militant labour
movements which, if not tamed, would soon be in a position to transition their
societies out of capitalism and into a new, post-capitalist, form of economic
and social organisation.
The world currently inhabited by New Zealanders reflects the
self-defensive policies set in motion by the ruling classes of the leading
capitalist nations in the mid-to-late 1970s – the period of Capitalism’s
maximum danger. Perhaps the most important of these policies involved the
integration of the populations of the Soviet Union and China into what was
intended to become, as soon as they were brought safely under its influence, a
truly global capitalist economy. Against such a massive expansion in the supply
of cheap labour, the working-classes of the West stood no chance. The golden
age of post-war social-democracy – the age which Winston Peters and NZ First
would so like to re-create – was at an end.
Or was it? The Chinese Communist Party’s embrace of
“Socialism – with Chinese characteristics” (a.k.a State Capitalism)
following the death of Mao Zedong, not only assisted China’s integration into
the global capitalist economy, but unleashed pent-up forces of commercial
dynamism which, in the space of just 40 years, transformed China into an
economic behemoth. It is now China which offers New Zealand an insatiable
market for its agricultural products. Indeed, so constant is Chinese demand for
New Zealand exports that the same level of state-sponsored economic and social
uplift which characterised this country in the 1950s and 60s is, once again,
becoming a possibility. But only under Chinese hegemony.
What Winston Peters and his party now have to decide, is
whether transforming their homeland into an economic, political and cultural
colony of the People’s Republic of China was what they meant when they promised
to put New Zealand first.
This essay was
originally posted on The Daily Blog
of Thursday, 19 October 2017.
The Special Relationship: Uncle Sam and Britannia, weapons in hand and accompanied by their heraldic national beasts, stand atop the world. The image neatly captures the racial assumptions of global power, but it errs in its inclusion of the feminine. It is the 5 percent of the human population that is White and Male who wield 100 percent of the power-that-matters on Planet Earth.
HOW DOES A TINY MINORITY control an overwhelming majority?
As a young history student, it was a question that continued to intrigue me.
How, for example, did Great Britain, a nation of less than 15
million in 1850, manage to control the more than 50 million Indians? More
specifically, how was a ridiculously small contingent of British businessmen,
bureaucrats and soldiers able to subordinate the interests of the entire Indian
Subcontinent to those of their British homeland?
The answer, it emerged, was that, at its heart, the whole
imperial enterprise was nothing more than a gigantic bluff. The British ruled
India for more than a century because they could. Or, more precisely, because
the Indian people believed they could. The moment Mohandas Gandhi and the
Indian National Congress persuaded them to stop believing in the imperial might
of the British Raj, its days were numbered.
With imperialism (at least of the pith helmet variety)
safely interred in history’s graveyard, it was tempting to believe that the
whole notion of a tiny minority controlling all the peoples of the planet had
been buried with it. New Zealanders still look back with pride at the role
their country played in the abolition of minority rule in Apartheid South
These were, as Paul Simon told us in his 1986 album Graceland, “the days of miracles and
wonders” To many, the fall of Soviet Communism and the triumphant progress of democracy
across so much of the Earth, seemed the most wondrous miracle of them all.
So far, so smug: so safely and conventionally liberal.
And then, just the other day, my attention was drawn to the
existence of a tiny minority whose power exceeds that of all the nineteenth
century imperialists combined. In spite of the fact that they comprise just
five percent of the world’s population, White Males control the planet.
I was stunned. In fact, I was in denial. Could White Males –
the minority among whom I must include myself – truly represent such a tiny
fraction of global humanity? I would have to check.
Not such an easy thing to do.
Since the fall of Nazi Germany in 1945, the entire concept
of “race” – of “whiteness” and “blackness”, “Übermensch” (Supermen) and
“Untermensch” (Subhuman) – has been declared dangerously unscientific and
politically disreputable. As a consequence, the agencies of the United Nations
neither collect, nor publish, data on the “racial” composition of the human
In order to pursue this question further, therefore, it was
necessary to descend into the underworld of what is today referred to,
euphemistically, as the “Alt-Right”. For the advocates of “White Supremacy”,
the ratio of “Caucasians” (Whites) to the rest of humanity is a very important
The world of the White Supremacist is not a nice place to
visit. It is enveloped in a thick and choking atmosphere of unabashed racism.
The fetishization of ethnicity that constituted not only the essence of Nazism,
but also of the ideology of “Scientific Racism” (which, alongside the
imperialist era it did so much to justify, reached its apogee at the turn of
the nineteenth century) certainly did not die with Hitler. On the Internet it
is alive and kicking.
From the Georgia-based National Policy Institute (the least
sulphurous of the American websites visited) I learned that the “White Race”,
which constituted 35 percent of humankind in 1900, had, by 1950, shrunk to just
under 28 percent, and was projected to collapse to just 10 percent of the
global population by 2060. The present-day figure, calculated at 6-8 percent by
the only slightly more respectable CIA
World Fact Book, makes the NPI’s projection look wildly optimistic.
In hard numbers, the total of “White” human-beings is
generally agreed, by White Supremacists, to be 750 million. With the current
human population estimated at 7.5 billion, the “White Race” thus tops-out at 10
percent of the total. Divide that figure by two, and “White Males” are, indeed,
representative of exactly one twentieth of the human species.
Such a tiny number, and yet, in every sphere: be it the
global financial system; the global media; or, the ability to project decisive
military force anywhere on the planet; the power lies preponderantly, and
indisputably, in the hands of White Males.
So, how does Donald Trump’s and Harvey Weinstein’s tiny
sliver of humanity get away with it? Because we can. Because the rest of
humanity lets us.
“You will not replace us!”, chanted the White Supremacists
marching through Charlottesville on 11 August 2017.
Yes, my brothers, they will – just as soon as they find
This essay was
originally published in The Press of
Tuesday, 17 October 2017.
The God Above: It is in the indistinct depths of prehistory that the first and most profound revolution in human affairs; the overthrow of the servants of the Earth Mother, by the worshippers of the Sky Father; took place. At the heart of this masculinist revolt lay a deep-seated fear and resentment of all things female – and a burning desire to master them.
WHO MAKES “MEN”? With the behaviour of movie magnate, Harvey
Weinstein, dominating the headlines, the nature and origins of masculinity have
become a hot topic. At issue is whether all expressions of masculinity are to a
greater-or-lesser extent “toxic” – or only some? And, whether the ultimate
liberation of womankind is contingent upon the unequivocal elimination of the
culturally constructed beings we call “men”?
In many ways the battle for control over the construction
and meaning of gender is the greatest revolutionary struggle of them all.
Indeed, it is possible to argue that until this critical issue has been
resolved, all of those historical upheavals to which the term “revolution” has
been applied have been mischaracterised.
The key question to ask in relation to these historic
transitions is whether or not, after the power relationship between master and
slave, lord and serf, capitalist and proletarian shifted, the relationship
between men and women; between the masculine realm and the feminine realm; was
similarly changed? Or, was it still very much a matter of, in Leonard Cohen’s
words, “that homicidal bitchin’ that goes down in every kitchen to determine
who will serve and who will eat.”? After the “revolution”, did masculinity (like
“whiteness”) continue to confer a huge societal advantage upon all who fell
within its definitional boundaries – regardless of their personal beliefs
But perhaps “revolution” is the wrong word to describe the
longed-for dethronement of masculinity? Perhaps the near universal institution
of patriarchy (rule by the fathers) is actually the product of the first great
social revolution in human history. Perhaps what feminist women are seeking to
achieve isn’t a revolution – but a restoration?
And here we must step out of the hard-copy world of recorded
history and enter into the much less solid realm of pre-history and mythology.
Because it is here, in the indistinct depths of time, that the first and most
profound transition in human affairs; the overthrow of the servants of the
Earth Mother, by the worshippers of the Sky Father; took place. At the heart of
this masculinist revolt lay a deep-seated fear and resentment of all things
female – and a burning desire to master them.
Rule by the mothers – Matriarchy – drew its justification
from the self-evident need for all living things to submit to the implacable
statutes of Mother Earth. Hers was the endless cycle of birth, death and
re-birth from which no living creature escaped. And the vessels within which
all living things are nurtured, and out of which all new life emerges into the
world, are female. Such was the deep magic of generation and fruition which
flowed from the timeless creator of all things: The Goddess.
But the sons of the Goddess were lesser beings than their
sisters. Helpmeets and protectors, certainly; seed carriers also; but from the
deep magic of the mothers they were perforce excluded. Men were the takers of
life: the killers of beasts and other men – their brothers. This, too, was a
dark and powerful magic, but dangerous and destructive of the settled order. It
was a force which the Mothers were careful to keep in check.
It is easy to guess where this story is going.
Men looked skyward, away from the Earth. They observed the
gathering darkness in the heavens and heard the deep rumble of the sky’s anger.
They witnessed the brilliant spears of light that stabbed the Earth, their
mother. In awe they watched her burn, powerless beneath the thrusts of a deity
who owed nothing to the slow cycles of growth and decay. Here was a magic to
surpass the impenetrable secrets of femininity. Here, in light and fire, they
found the power of beginnings: the shock and disruption of all that was new.
Not the circles of the Earth Mother, but the straight lines of the Sky Father –
the Maker of “Men”.
Masculinity is the world’s disease, and civilisation is its
symptom. Patriarchy is the product of the first, and the only true, revolution
in human history – and endures as its most malignant legacy.
This essay was
originally posted on The Daily Blog
of Monday, 16 October 2017.
To Rove Free, Or Bark In Another's Interest? Aesop's ancient fable concerning the House Dog and the Wolf offers a moral every bit as relevant to today's political realities as it was to those in Classical Greece. Once inside the "Wellington Bubble" is it only a matter of time before our progressive wolves become "great favourites" of the House?
EVEN IF WINSTON VEERS LEFT, the progressive New Zealand
community still has a problem. Their new political representatives: the people
upon whom so many progressive voters have pinned their hopes for meaningful
change; will soon discover that the speed at which they, themselves, are being
transformed is far outstripping any changes in the wider world. Indeed, it will
not be long before their elevated status leads them to begin questioning the
wisdom of the many economic and social changes they are expected to make.
Even the lowliest Labour or Green backbench MP, on a salary
of at least $160,000, now finds themselves among the top 5 percent of
income-earners. It will require considerable willpower on their part to resist
the lifestyle choices made possible by such a generous income. An even greater
effort will be needed to prevent the blandishments of their fellow
movers-and-shakers (who will be drawn to them like bees to honey) from turning
their heads. As fully-paid-up members of the New Zealand political class, they
will be expected to play by its rules. The most important of these: “Insiders
do not talk to Outsiders!”, is intended to render meaningful economic and
social change all-but-impossible.
It will only take a few weeks for these MPs to pass over
from the world inhabited by their friends and constituents, into the
“Wellington Bubble”. Once inside, they will find it very difficult to leave.
Only when they are inside the bubble will the true character of events be
revealed to them – nothing of which may be communicated to those living
outside. They will soon come to accept that the power to solve problems is only
ever made available to those who understand the importance of working inside
the bubble. Trying to effect change from the outside will only bring home to
them how powerless outsiders truly are.
These lessons will force our newly-minted progressive MPs to
make some hard choices among their friends and comrades. They will have to
decide who has what it takes to become an Insider, and who will forever be
counted among the outsiders.
Once inducted into the rules of “Insiderdom’, these people
will become the MP’s most trusted advisers and helpers. Regardless of what
office they hold (if any) within the wider party, these will be the ones who,
working alongside the MP, are permitted to wield the real power. Perhaps their
most important role is to supply outsiders with explanations and excuses for
why so many of the party’s promises for real and meaningful change cannot – at
this time – be fulfilled.
As a means of protecting the world of the Insiders, this
current arrangement is vastly more sophisticated than those of the past. Summer
warmth is always more likely to encourage a relaxation of vigilance than the
icy blasts of winter.
When the Labour Party was in its infancy, back in the 1920s
and 30s, the salary paid to ordinary MPs was derisory – less than the wage of a
skilled tradesman. Traditionally, the role of legislator was deemed one for
which only “gentlemen” were socially, professionally and financially equipped.
The rough-hewn working-men and women who entered the hallowed halls of
Parliament were, therefore, met by a veritable force-field of class prejudice
and scorn. Labour was the party of Outsiders – and the Insiders weren’t the
least bit shy about letting Labour’s MPs know it.
While this state of affairs undoubtedly gave the enemies of
progressivism considerable satisfaction, it was, politically-speaking,
dangerously counter-productive. In terms of their lifestyle, working-class
Labour MPs remained largely indistinguishable from their constituents. The
complex apparatus erected around present-day electorate MPs by Parliamentary
Services, was non-existent. When people came to a Labour MP seeking assistance,
they were met more often than not by their spouse, who acted as the MP’s unpaid
electorate secretary. There are countless stories about Labour MPs – especially
during the Great Depression – reaching into their own, near-empty, pockets to
prevent their constituents from going hungry. These were gestures that bred a
party loyalty strong enough to bridge generations of voters. As Outsiders
living among outsiders, the fires of progressive fervour that distinguished
Labour’s team of parliamentarians were never in any danger of going out. No
bubbles of wealth and privilege surrounded them to shut out the cries of the
angry poor who were Labour’s nation.
In the words of Aesop’s fable – The House Dog And The Wolf
THE MOON WAS SHINING
very bright one night when a lean, half-starved wolf, whose ribs were almost
sticking through his skin, chanced to meet a plump, well-fed house dog. After
the first compliments had been passed between them, the wolf inquired:
“How is it cousin dog,
that you look so sleek and contented? Try as I may I can barely find enough
food to keep me from starvation.”
“Alas, cousin wolf,”
said the house dog, “you lead too irregular a life. Why do you not work
steadily as I do?”
“I would gladly work
steadily if I could only get a place,” said the wolf.
“That’s easy,” replied
the dog. “Come with me to my master’s house and help me keep the thieves away
“Gladly,” said the
wolf, “for as I am living in the woods I am having a sorry time of it. There is
nothing like having a roof over one’s head and a bellyful of victuals always at
“Follow me,” said the
While they were
trotting along together the wolf spied a mark on the dog’s neck. Out of
curiosity he could not forbear asking what had caused it.
“Oh, that’s nothing
much,” replied the dog. “perhaps my collar was a little tight, the collar to
which my chain is fastened – ”
“Chain!” cried the
wolf in surprise. “You don’t mean to tell me that you are not free to rove
where you please?”
“Why, not exactly,”
said the dog, somewhat shamefacedly. “You see, my master thinks I am a bit
fierce, and ties me up in the daytime. But he lets me run free at night. It
really is very convenient for everybody. I get plenty of sleep during the day
so that I can watch better at night. I really am a great favourite at the
house. The master feeds me off his own plate, and the servants are continually
offering me handouts from the kitchen. But wait, where are you going?”
As the wolf started
back towards the forest he said:
“Good night to you, my
poor friend, you are welcome to your dainties – and your chains. As for me, I
prefer lean freedom to fat slavery.”
This essay was
originally posted on The Daily Blog
of Saturday, 14 October 2017.
People Power: "Politics without romance" was how the extreme right-wing "public choice" theorist, James Buchanan, described the substitution of market forces for Democracy’s “expressive interests”. If the 2017 election was about anything, it was about turning that around.
REGARDLESS of NZ First’s ultimate decision, Writ Day, 12
October 2017, was a day for celebration. The 2017 General Election, now completed, will, eventually,
deliver a government which has been shaped by the will of the New Zealand
people – in full accordance with democratic principle. The tragedies and
injustices that impelled the electorate's judgement will carve-out for themselves
a substantial and urgent claim upon the new ministry’s programme. The
priorities of government will change, for the very simple reason that we, the people, have
changed them. Any politician who believes it possible to simply pick up where
he or she left off before the voting started, is in for a rude awakening.
Not that our elected representatives need to be told this.
Those who live and die by the democratic sword require no lessons in the
keenness of its blade. Of much more concern to us should be the people in our
community who wield delegated authority. Those employees of central and local
government whose daily decisions influence people’s lives so dramatically. The
class of persons who used to be called “public servants”, but who are,
increasingly, taking on the appearance of our masters.
It’s a process which has been underway for the best part of
thirty years; set in motion, as you would expect, by the radical “reforms” of
the Rogernomics era. The idea of public service was, of course, anathema to the
devotees of the so-called “free” market. The ideas of the latter only made
sense if human-beings were driven entirely by self-interest. That thousands of
people willingly, and for only modest financial reward, were daily devoting
themselves to the welfare of their fellow citizens, flatly contradicted the
free-market ideology of the “reformers”.
That these free-marketeers seized upon the “public choice”
theories of the American economist, James Buchanan, is unsurprising. A Nobel
laureate, Buchanan was feted by the Right for his “insights” into the behaviour
of public institutions. These he characterised as classically self-interested
entities, whose actions, more often than not, turned out to be economically and
It was only after Buchanan’s death that researchers
uncovered his life-long links to the most extreme anti-democratic elements of
the American Right. Buchanan’s concern, like that of his wealthy backers, was
that the stark contrast between private selfishness and public altruism would,
in the long term, prove politically unsustainable. Only by forcing the public
sector to become as vicious and unaccountable as the private sector could the
dangerous example of collective caring be negated.
The recent furore about the level of remuneration paid to
the upper-echelons of New Zealand’s largest local government bureaucracies points
to the “success” of the public choice theorist’s reforms. The old local
bureaucracies, presided over by executive officers known, quaintly, as “Town
Clerks”, exerted minimal pressure upon the public purse. The new bureaucracies,
however, modelled as they are upon the ruthless rapaciousness of the private
sector, are presided over by CEOs who clearly draw their inspiration from the
obscene bonuses paid out to their corporate counterparts. Such unaccountable
looting of the public treasury is, of course, music to the free-marketeers’
ears. Collective unaccountability and excess being infinitely preferable, as an example of public sector conduct, to
collective responsiveness and restraint.
If our new government is serious about wanting to bring
public spending under control, it could do a lot worse than to start by
reversing the perverse reforms of Buchanan’s “public choice” disciples. After
all, if there is one group these free-market theorists hate more than
responsible and caring public servants, it is responsive and caring
It is a measure of the free-marketeers’ success in
undermining the credibility of anyone claiming to serve the public good, that
merely suggesting a politician might be responsive and caring is enough to
invite instant incredulity and derision.
Buchanan and his ilk’s hostility to democracy arises
precisely out of its ability to create public institutions capable of
responding positively to the expressed interests of ordinary citizens.
Democracy also makes it possible for ordinary citizens to redirect economic
effort away from purely private purposes and towards more publicly beneficial
endeavors. In other words, the expressed will of the people is able to
override the “logic” of the market.
“Politics without romance” was how Buchanan described the
substitution of market forces for Democracy’s “expressive interests”. If the
2017 election was about anything, it was about turning that around.
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, 13 October 2017.
An Unlikely Revolutionary Banner? A well-organised campaign to root out neoliberalism from all of our economic and social institutions would signal that Peters was serious about changing the way this country is run. And for all those who pretend not to know what the term neoliberalism means, let me spell it out. I am talking about the deliberate intrusion and entrenchment of the logic and values of the marketplace into every aspect of human existence.
“THESE TALKS ARE ABOUT A CHANGE in the way this country is
run. Both economically and socially.” That is how Winston Peters characterised
the government formation negotiations currently drawing to a close in
Wellington. But, what could his words possibly mean, in practical terms?
If seriously intentioned, Peters’ call for economic and
social change would have to encompass the thorough-going “de-neoliberalisation”
of New Zealand. And, yes, the obvious reference to the “denazification” of post-war
Germany is quite deliberate. Between 1945 and 1947 (when a resurgent American
Right began insisting that Soviet communism posed a far greater threat than the
tens-of-thousands of National Socialists who were quietly re-entering German
society) the Allied occupation forces undertook a serious attempt to identify
and exclude all those who had facilitated and/or participated in the most
appalling crimes in human history.
A well-organised campaign to root out neoliberalism from all
of our economic and social institutions would signal that Peters was serious
about changing the way this country is run. And for all those who pretend not
to know what the term neoliberalism means, let me spell it out. I am talking
about the deliberate intrusion and entrenchment of the logic and values of the
marketplace into every aspect of human existence.
Neoliberals have been hard at work in New Zealand society
since 1984 and the damage they have inflicted upon practically all of its
institutions is enormous. So, how would a Labour-Green-NZ First government that
was serious about redefining good government in New Zealand begin? Well, it
could start by inviting the two Maxes, Rashbrooke and Harris, to undertake a
root-and-branch reform of the State Sector Act. The two Bryans. Easton and
Gould, could be asked to revise the Reserve Bank Act. Matt McCarten, Robert
Reid and Maxine Gay could be given the job of beefing-up the Employment
Relations Act. Claudia Orange, Annette Sykes and Moana Jackson could be tasked
with fully integrating the Treaty of Waitangi into the New Zealand Constitution
being drafted by Sir Geoffrey Palmer and Andrew Geddis. Metiria Turei and Sue
Bradford could be issued with blowtorches and sent into the Ministry of Social
It’s only when you start thinking in these terms that the
awful implausibility of Peters’ statement strikes home. Putting to one side the
ingrained provincial conservatism of NZ First’s electoral base, there is simply
no possibility of anyone in the senior ranks of the Labour Party endorsing even
a pale imitation of this “de-neoliberalisation” agenda. Willie Jackson and a
handful of his Maori and Pasifica colleagues might be keen, but no one else.
Only the Greens could advocate with an credibility for this sort of
root-and-branch reform – which almost certainly explains why there were no
Green Party negotiators seated at the table with Winston and Jacinda!
But, if New Zealand is not going to be de-neoliberalised in
any meaningful way. If neither NZ First nor Labour would entertain for a moment
any of the individuals mentioned above, in any of the roles mentioned above,
then what of any lasting worth could a Labour-Green-NZ First government
More importantly, perhaps, what would be in it for the
Greens? If Peters’ very public characterisation of the Greens as a powerless
appendage of the Labour Party, with no role at all in the government formation
talks, is an accurate reflection of his attitude towards the party, then not
only do the Greens have no way of influencing the shape and policies of any new
centre-left government, but they will also have no place within it. As
Newshub’s Lloyd Burr so succinctly put it, they are being “shafted”.
It is possible, of course, that Peters is talking-up his
disdain for the Greens in order to avoid spooking his core supporters in the
countryside; and that, privately, he is right behind the eco-socialists’
radical policy agenda. Except, if that is the case, then he must surely be
bitterly disappointed by Labour’s extreme policy timidity. Is the sort of party
that invites Sir Michael Cullen and Annette King to join its young leader at
the negotiating table, really the sort of party that is getting ready to throw
its weight wholeheartedly behind “a change in the way this country is run.
Economically and socially”?
By this time next week, Winston willing, we’ll have an
This essay was
originally posted on The Daily Blog
of Thursday, 12 October 2017.
Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all
the world, she walks into mine.
- Humphrey Bogart (as Rick Blaine) in Casablanca
WINSTON PETERS may
have thought he could sit out the looming years of parliamentary conflict on
the cross benches. Like Rick Blaine, the flawed hero of Warner Brothers’
classic movie Casablanca, he figured
on doing as little harm and as much good as he could, as far away from the
action as he could possibly get. But just because you don’t go looking for
trouble, doesn’t mean trouble won’t come looking for you. Now trouble has found
Winston Peters. Trouble in the shape of a lanky brunette with a bad haircut and
a crooked smile. “Here’s looking at you kid.”
Like one of those
affairs that seem inevitable to everyone except the participants, Labour and NZ
First were bound to get together sooner or later. There’s just too much of the
old Labour spirit in Winston. That cussed determination to set an independent
course for the New Zealand economy – the vision that drove Coates and Sutch and
Kirk - has always been central to NZ First’s philosophy. In much the same way,
Winston’s instinctive mistrust of big business, and his realisation that only
the state is strong enough to challenge its power, used to be central to
Most of the men Helen
works with aren’t like that. Today’s Labour men tend to resemble the Victor
Laszlo character in Casablanca – high-minded
types who grasp the theory, but struggle to master the practice. Above all
else, Winston is a practical man.
And so, in ways that
Winston has yet to appreciate, are the Greens. When it comes down to the
nitty-gritty of practical politics, he may find that he and Rod Donald are not
so far apart. Sustainability, for example, may turn out to have a great deal in
common with forging a multi-party consensus on the optimum size and composition
of New Zealand’s population.
The Greens opposition
to Free Trade Agreements, their call to “Buy NZ Made”, and their policy of
keeping New Zealand land in New Zealand hands, slot easily into Winston’s
campaign for economic sovereignty. Both parties also decry the fact that 25
percent of New Zealand children live in poverty, and both have called for the
Minimum Wage to be raised to $12 per hour.
Give the deal a year,
and Winston may even end up repeating to Rod and Jeanette Rick’s famous line to
the Vichy French police captain at the very end of Casablanca: “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful
An even closer
alliance stands ready to be forged between Winston’s team and the beleaguered
remnants of Labour’s right-wing faction.
Right-wing Labour MPs
like Phil Goff, Clayton Cosgrove and Damien O’Connor will find ready-made
allies in the likes of Ron Mark, Peter Brown and Doug Wollerton. These are men
who can be relied upon to hold the line against the Labour Left and the Greens’
obsession with unpopular causes.
It may even have
occurred to the wily Mr Peters that his current core constituency of elderly
New Zealanders isn’t getting any younger. If it is to grow and prosper in the
21st Century, NZ First needs to expand its electoral base beyond
white-haired old women and grumpy old men. This is especially pertinent given
Winston’s surprise defeat in Tauranga.
In Labour’s socially
conservative, blue-collar voters there lies a vast reservoir of potential NZ
First support. Fed up with “political correctness”, sick of the Treaty, opposed
to mass immigration, punitive when it comes to drugs and crime, instinctively
protectionist and proudly patriotic, these voters used to regard the incautious
Mr Tamihere as their spokesman. Now that he’s no longer in Parliament, they may
be in the market for a new champion.
It’s not a silly idea.
Jim Anderton and Matt Robson have spent the last three years trying to persuade
Labour’s blue-collar battlers to switch over to the Progressive Party.
Unfortunately for Jim and Matt – especially Matt - the fledgling party was
sending out too many mixed messages. On the one hand there was the Progressive
Party’s popular stance on drugs and the drinking age; on the other, its
decidedly unpopular championing of Ahmed Zaoui and the rights of refugees.
Winston Peters and his
team are in no danger of getting their messages mixed. No one is likely to
mistake Ron Mark for a bleeding-heart liberal.
On some issues,
however, Winston and his colleagues will have to tread carefully. Granting
confidence and supply to a Labour-Progressive minority government presupposes a
willingness on NZ First’s part to engage both more frequently and more
effectively with organised labour. The same social conservatives who applaud
Peter’s stance on Ahmed Zaoui, will look askance at any attempt to undermine
workers’ rights in the workplace.
Once again, NZ First
and its leader may discover they have allies in the unlikeliest places. Winning
a $2.50 increase in the Minimum Wage is not the worst way to kick off a closer
relationship with the Council of Trade Unions. And Winston Peters’ distinct
lack of enthusiasm for Labour’s proposed Free Trade Agreement with China is
unlikely to get him off on the wrong foot with CTU economist, Peter Conway, or
the Engineers Union boss, Andrew Little.
Nearly ten years ago,
in the April/May 1996 issue of NZ
Political Review, Bruce Jesson attempted to define the phenomenon that was
Winston Peters. Jesson felt aggrieved that his fellow political journalists
were always so quick to brand him as both a racist and a populist:
“I personally think
that they have consistently misjudged Peters as a politician. His strength as a
politician is that he has the ability to cause a sensation, but that does not
make him simply a sensationalist. He has the ability to tap popular feeling,
but that does not of itself make him a populist (whatever that means in the New
Jesson took a kinder
and more measured view of his subject:
“Perhaps the truth is
that Peters is a sensationalist with an element of sincerity? Who knows?
Probably not even Peters. It doesn’t matter anyway because Peters’ importance
is his role not his motives. His role is indicated by the name he has chosen
for his party: New Zealand First. And it is indicated by the things he
campaigns about, because there is a consistent thread running through them. He
is as fiercely opposed to foreign investment as he is to the government’s
immigration policies. Peters is a rarity in New Zealand, he is a nationalist –
probably our only serious nationalist politician since Norman Kirk, or perhaps
even John A. Lee.”
It is significant, I
think, that both of the politicians to whom Peters is compared by Jesson were
At this point in its
history, New Zealand stands in need just such a nationalist politician.
Already, in the private seminars and political briefings paid for by the big
corporations, there is talk about the changes our association with the
burgeoning economies of Asia is bound to bring. Hints that our Enlightenment
faith in individual liberty and the Rights of Man may have to be modified if we
are not to antagonise our new “partners”.
heard similar whispers in the early months of 1940 – and rejected them.
Britain, he knew, was more than a collection of islands, it was a collection of
ideas. Ideas too valuable to surrender for the paltry “rewards” of a dictated
“peace”. Ideas worth fighting for.
It’s that same
determination to stand and fight that lifts the movie Casablanca so far above the ordinary Hollywood fare. The unlooked
for appearance of the idealistic Ilsa, draws forth a kindred response from the
world-weary Rick. In the end we discover that the hero’s dead-pan,
wise-cracking persona hides something altogether more admirable - more noble.
So play it Winston.
Play it one more time.
You know what we want
You played it for
Bolger, now play it for Clark.
If he could stand it,
so can she.
This essay was originally published in The Independent of Wednesday, 19 October 2005.
The Only Question That Counts: Have Labour and the Greens got Winston singing that Hallelujah Song?
WHAT’S WINSTON LOOKING FOR in a Labour-Green-NZ First
Government? What must he be convinced of before he tells Bill English and the
44.4 percent of New Zealanders who voted for the National Party that, this
time, he and his party are signing-up with the Left?
First and foremost, he needs to be convinced that such a
government will be a success. Between now and 2020, Winston is looking to
secure an enduring political and historical legacy. That can’t happen if the
government he imposes on New Zealand turns out to be a fractious shambles –
disaster is not the legacy he’s looking for.
So, as he receives Labour’s offers and makes his
counter-offers, he will be watching closely and listening carefully for the
slightest sign, the faintest note, of the Hallelujah Song. Winston needs to
know that Labour’s reach continues to exceed its grasp: that its MPs strive for
something beyond mere political power; that it is still a party of
He will be studying Jacinda Ardern especially closely. Does
she fully appreciate the sheer weight of the hopes and dreams New Zealanders
have heaped upon her? Is she ready, truly ready, to fulfil them? And, does she
show even the slightest sign of knowing how? Is hers the principal voice among Labour’s
team of negotiators? Or, does she constantly defer to her friend and ally,
Grant Robertson? And does Grant, in turn, look to his mentor and patron, Sir
Michael Cullen, for the right words at the right time? And has Sir Michael ever
known how to sing the Hallelujah Song?
Objection will be raised that Winston’s a hard-nosed old
bugger; and that he’s much more likely to be found singing along with Kenny
Rogers’ “The Gambler”, than attempting to join in some airy-fairy Hallelujah
Song. That will certainly be the case when he’s sitting down with Bill English
and his wise-guys. With National, everything will be hard-nosed and zero-sum.
He is, when all is said and done, of National’s tribe: they know him, and he
Winston is fluent in the transactional languages of the
Right. When he’s with National it will all be about things given, things taken;
advantages secured, potential gains foregone. Like Kenny Rogers’ Gambler, he’ll
tote-up his winnings and calculate his losses – but never at the table. NZ
First’s and National’s negotiations will be conducted according to the
bloodless protocols of businessmen exercising due diligence on a proposition
their principals will be asked to either endorse or reject.
But National is Winston’s fall-back position. It is the
party he’ll turn to if, in spite of his best efforts, he can find no trace of
the Hallelujah Song. He knows full-well that a Labour-Green-NZ First Government
will only work if it is animated by a unifying determination to roll-back thirty
years of ignorance, cruelty and greed. He will be looking for the unmistakable
signs of a political army getting ready to march. Not only must he find
evidence of solidarity, but also of that fierce delight which people display
when they find themselves in the company of like minds and kindred spirits.
You Got Me Singing - Leonard Cohen.
If that’s present in the room when he meets with Labour’s
negotiators, then he really has no need to meet with the Greens. If he
encounters a Labour Party charged with the thrill of solidarity and primed for
action, then the Greens will be too – only more so. In a room like that there’s
no need for the brute diction of win and lose, profit and loss. He and his team
will know that NZ First, Labour and the Greens can do this in a way that will allow him to leave politics as an
honoured and beloved statesman.
But, if all he hears in that room is the language of caution
and denial. If all he’s given are countless reasons why things cannot be done.
If all he senses on the other side of the table is a supercilious disdain for
himself and his party, and open contempt for the Greens. Well then, he will
listen politely and walk back sadly to the barren realism of Bill and his
In the absence of the Left’s uplifted voices, Winston will
take what he can get from the Right. Better to deal with people who have never
known that such transformational music exists, than be disappointed by
Labour-Green politicians who no longer consider the Hallelujah Song worth
This essay was
originally posted on The Daily Blog
of Tuesday, 10 October 2017.
The Man In The Middle: “When one walks down the centre of the road, one foot falls slightly to the right, the other to the left, but the head and the heart remain in the centre.”
- Winston Peters.
With all you’ve got on this week, it’s highly unlikely
you’ll have time to read these words. Even so, I thought it was worth adding my
ten-cents-worth to the raucous debate about what NZ First should do with the
final election result. Your party has been left holding the nine votes needed
to assemble a majority in the House of Representatives. As you wryly observed,
this puts it between the Devil and the deep blue sea. For the next three years,
New Zealand’s future lies in NZ First’s hands.
Before adding anything further, however, let me be very
clear about the expectations of the New Zealand political class. In the eyes of
all those whose job it is to sell the status-quo to their fellow New
Zealanders, your party has no choice at all – it must deliver all nine of its
votes to National. Any other choice will earn you, and your party, their bitter
– and active – enmity.
That is not something to be casually dismissed. I’m sure the
memories of 2008 are still very raw. Even from the perspective of a rank outsider,
the behaviour of the political class on that occasion was a whole order of
awfulness beyond the norm. How it felt up-close-and-personal, I can only guess.
Still, that’s the way the political class rolls. Nine years ago, they needed
you gone – and you went. Nine years later they need you to kiss-and-make-up with
your former tormentors – and they expect you to do it with feeling. Telling
them “No.” would be a mighty-big – and a mighty brave – call.
What is it, then, that tells me a decision in favour of the
status-quo is not the decision you wish to make. There’s a clue, perhaps, in
the illustrious name you bear. Winston Churchill was a conservative, and yet he
served in one of the great reforming governments of the twentieth century. In
1940, when vast swathes of conservative Britain were every bit as keen to make
peace with the fascists as conservative France, he chose, instead, to lead his
people in the paths of righteousness – to their finest hour. It’s part of the
explanation for why the political class fears and hates Winston Peters so much:
his need to do the right thing – as opposed to the Right thing.
The temptation must be very great to kick this slippery ball
of choice into touch, and seat NZ First on the cross-benches. Resist it. A
decision to abstain on matters of confidence and supply is just another way of
siding with Bill English and his National Party. Keep your NZ First troops out
of the fray and the Nats will win every confidence and supply motion by 57
votes to Labour-Green’s 54.
Is that the legacy you wish to leave behind? An enfeebled
minority National government kept in power by NZ First’s refusal to strike it
down? Never think that by sitting, Caesar-like, on the cross-benches and giving
the thumbs-up, or down, to every piece of legislation that comes before the
House, you will earn the admiration and support of your fellow citizens.
Rather, they will curse you for making such a circus out of their democracy –
and such a bonfire out of everything NZ First used to stand for.
Neither Jacinda Ardern, nor James Shaw, possess anything
like the quantity of true political grit required to change this country’s
economic and social direction. But, if your political career has been about
anything, it has been about acquiring the grit needed to, one day, truly put
New Zealand first. It was Nietzsche who wrote: “What doesn’t kill us, only
makes us stronger.” You have learned the truth of that; and, more importantly,
you can teach the next generation of political leaders not only how to survive
the difficult choices, but also how to turn them to their advantage.
The National Party needs no such instruction. National and
its predecessors represent all those who came to these islands – and who come
here still in their thousands – to make money. Their one, unwavering, political
objective has always been, and remains, to keep out of office, or drive from
power, every individual and/or political party which stands in the way of
private enrichment. Bill English and his colleagues have more than enough grit
to go on doing what National has always done. Why would you choose to help
I wonder if you recall these words you sent me 23 years ago?
“When one walks down the centre of the road, one foot falls
slightly to the right, the other to the left, but the head and the heart remain
in the centre.”
Changing the government will require a wise head and a great
heart. You have until Thursday, Winston, to prove to New Zealand that you
This essay was
originally published in The Press of
Tuesday, 10 October 2017.
Meet The Old New Boss: Sir Michael Cullen's snow-white head of hair is clearly visible as Labour's negotiating team prepare to meet waiting journalists after their preliminary meeting with the negotiators for NZ First. The presence of so many former members of and advisers to the government of Helen Clark in Jacinda's entourage raises some troubling questions. When Labour's new leader talked about ushering in “generational change”, most New Zealanders fondly assumed that she was committed to taking their country forward – not back.
WHAT’S GOING ON, JACINDA? Why has the former Labour Finance
Minister, Sir Michael Cullen, and Helen Clark’s former Press Secretary, Mike
Munro, been invited on to your team of negotiators with NZ First? And, while
we’re on the subject of Labour’s Rogernomics Generation, why was Annette King
sent to ride shotgun alongside you for the duration of the election campaign?
These are important questions, because when Jacinda talked
about ushering in “generational change”, most New Zealanders fondly assumed
that she was committed to taking their country forward – not back.
The other assumption New Zealand made, as the baton of
leadership passed from Andrew to Jacinda, was that she was completely up to the
job of carrying it without assistance. We made precisely the same assumption
about her senior team’s readiness to govern the country without “adult
The September newsletter from “Positive Money” (a group
dedicated to creating “a money and banking system that serves a fair,
democratic, and sustainable economy”) may, however, give many Labour supporters
cause to wonder whether any of those assumptions were justified.
In the newsletter, two of Positive Money’s stalwarts, Don
Richards and Sue Hamill, describe a “surprising and somewhat disappointing”
exchange of views with Sir Michael Cullen at an election meeting in Whakatane
on Friday, 15 September:
“Sir Michael, the former Labour Finance Minister during
the Helen Clark-led government was with Grant Robertson, the Labour Party’s
current Finance spokesperson and Kiri Allan, our local Labour Party candidate.
I asked Grant Robertson if he was aware of what was
happening in Japan with the Central Bank buying up a significant portion of
their national debt. Inflation in Japan was close to zero and the real economy
was thriving. Had he considered instructing the Reserve Bank to do the same,
thereby saving taxpayers money for social and infrastructure projects?
Grant asked Sir Michael to answer the question and he
said that Japan had been experiencing negative growth for some time and so the
two economies were not similar. I reminded Sir Michael that the Japanese
economy was now thriving and the Central Bank was still buying up their
national debt. I was told that a Labour government would not be doing that.
Sue then asked Grant Robertson if he had thought about
doing what the first Labour Government did in the 1930s, using the Reserve
Bank’s balance sheet to fund the building of housing and infrastructure? The
question received a few claps from the audience.
Sir Michael once again fielded the question. He said that
we had to be fiscally responsible otherwise we could end up with an economy
like Germany after World War One, Venezuela or Zimbabwe. Sue carried on with a
second question stating that as private banks create most of the money in the
economy, why not let the Reserve Bank do it as well. Sir Michael responded by
saying the banks do not create money.
The meeting finished with an invitation to meet at a
local café for a chat. We went home and printed off the Bank of England’s
article and the IMF’s discussion paper that stated categorically that banks
create money in the act of lending. Sue went back to the café and had a further
conversation with Sir Michael. He dismissed the Bank of England paper as not
relevant and that it did not mean that banks created money. He also dismissed
the IMF paper saying that banks lend out people’s savings.
It was a frustrating experience and if Sir Michael has
the ear of Grant Robertson, as he appears to have, then no difference will be
made to the way our money is created, should the Labour Party come to power.”
When Richard’s and Sue’s report of this encounter was drawn
to my attention, I responded with the following comment:
“That is the most alarming piece of intelligence I have
received in the entire course of the 2017 election campaign. It is hard to
distinguish which is the most dispiriting aspect of [the] report: that Grant
Robertson cannot answer basic questions on political economy without reference to
his mentor, Sir Michael Cullen; or, that Sir Michael’s grasp of these issues is
as woeful as Don Brash’s (who also refuses to accept that banks create money).
If this truly is the level of understanding in Labour's senior ranks, then we
are all - to use a technical political science term - fucked.”
This essay was
originally posted on The Daily Blog
of Saturday, 7 October 2017.
False Flags: Violence in America is not something which comes from outside. Violence dwells at the heart of American society and culture: it is the constantly beating organ which pumps its deadly and destructive energy into America’s arms and legs; into its brain and hands; into its trigger-finger.
HAVE YOU EVER THOUGHT ABOUT the way a bowl of fruit goes
bad? All those apples, pears, oranges and mandarins may have been picked
together, transported together, displayed together and sold together; but they
do not go bad together. There is always one that goes bad before the others.
Looking at each item of fruit, as you fill the bowl, it is practically
impossible to identify which one that might be. But, give it sufficient time,
and the right conditions, and that piece of fruit will make itself known to
Stephen Paddock’s brothers certainly hadn’t picked their
murderous sibling as a bad apple. They simply had no idea he was capable of
unleashing horror from the thirty-second floor of Las Vegas’s Mandalay Hotel –
or why? One of them told reporters that hearing of his brother’s deadly attack
on concert-goers was like being struck by an asteroid.
And that’s the way the rest of America will attempt to make
sense of this latest mass shooting. Paddock’s crime will be characterised as
something entirely exogenous to the daily rhythms of American life: something
which, like a wayward piece of space rock, arrives unheralded, and unstoppable,
from somewhere beyond this world.
Except that violence in America is not something which comes
from outside. Violence dwells at the heart of American society and culture: it
is the constantly beating organ which pumps its deadly and destructive energy
into America’s arms and legs; into its brain and hands; into its
Violence has been fundamental to American history. Whether
it be the genocide basic to colonial America’s birth; or the indentured
servitude and slavery which underpinned its economic expansion; violence has
always been absolutely central to the American project.
Perhaps the easiest way to drive this point home to New
Zealanders is to ask them to think about Australia. Why did Great Britain send
forth its convict ships to Tasmania and Botany Bay in the late 1780s? What
could possibly have spurred the British to such a colossal investment of men
and resources downunder?
In the most simple and brutal terms, Australia was Great
Britain’s response to the loss of its American colonies. Until the outbreak of
the American War of Independence in 1776, Great Britain’s North American
colonies fulfilled a role very similar to that which would, a decade or so
later, be assigned to its Australian possessions: a vast wilderness into which
His Majesty’s excess and most troublesome subjects – men and women – could be
decanted. Throughout the eighteenth century, white indentured servants (persons
legally bonded to their wealthy masters for a punitive period of time) vastly
outnumbered African slaves.
Even after the American colonies won their independence, the
stigma of indentured servitude and the rigid class hierarchy it did so much to
engender and entrench, remained a constant of American social relations. The
fledgling United States’ republican ideology may have attributed the
individual’s position in American society to his or her own efforts, but the
violence meted out by those ranked above, to those ranked below, was the glue
which held American society together. Men were superior to women. Wealthy
whites were superior to poor whites. Americans descended from the English and
the Scots were superior to immigrants from Asia, Latin America, Ireland and
Europe. All whites were superior to all blacks. The only good Indian was a dead
It was an economic and social hierarchy constructed out of,
and maintained by, a brutal combination of legal, cultural and physical
violence. That it drove American history forward cannot be doubted. Certainly,
America’s greatest president, Abraham Lincoln, apprehended its moral legacy.
Speculating in his Second Inaugural Address whether America would remain riven
by the “scourge of war” until “all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two
hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop
of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword”.
Science tells us that what rots the fruit in the bowl is the
effect of microscopic organisms that float in the air all around us. All it
takes is a particularly forceful bruise, or tiny cut, to begin the process. The
spores of violence, likewise, float in the cultural air Americans breathe.
Inevitably, her most damaged citizens; the United States’ rotten fruit, will
make themselves known.
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, 6
Poking The Luminaries: Former Vice-Chancellor of Waikato University and one-time aspirant for Jeremy Corbyn's current job, Bryan Gould, has urged Labour's luminaries to follow the brave example of Michael Joseph Savage's government of the 1930s and shake off the shackles of economic orthodoxy.
BIG UPS TO BRYAN GOULD. Perhaps anticipating a disappointing
choice from NZ First on 12 October, the former Vice-Chancellor of Waikato
University has put the rhetorical boot into Labour’s fiscal and monetary caution.
Holding up the example of the First Labour Government’s
radical solution to the problem of how to fund its ambitious state housing
programme (Mickey savage’s government hit upon the novel idea of simply
borrowing the money from itself!) Gould is demanding an equal display of
courage and innovation from Labour’s current crop of leaders. 2020 looms as a
year of new departures, politically. Gould wants the centre-left to be ready.
Even if NZ First turns left, Gould’s critique remains
timely. Grant Robertson, guided by his patron, Sir Michael Cullen, will attempt
to put the kibosh on Winston Peters’ expansive (and expensive!) economic
programme. So, waving the bright red flag of a NZ First-friendly alternative monetary
and fiscal strategy in advance of coalition talks strikes me as a damn good
idea. Gould just might convince the “Three-Headed-Beast” to do a little more
thinking before binding itself in the chains of Robertson’s reactionary “Budget
In the simplest terms, Gould’s argument boils down to this.
If the private banks are allowed to create money (by crediting us with the
money to buy our houses and then charging us interest on our mortgages) then
why shouldn’t the state? He then argues that not only isn’t there a good reason
why the state shouldn’t do this, but that it already has. “Quantitative Easing”,
says Gould, was all about northern hemisphere states crediting their private
banks with the money they needed to remain solvent. What, then, stops our own
state from funding crucial infrastructure projects: railway and port expansion;
new state houses; fully-funded training for thousands of new doctors and
teachers; with similar financial instruments?
In his own words:
“Our leaders, however, including luminaries of both right
and left, some with experience of senior roles in managing our economy – and in
case it is thought impolite to name them I leave it to you to guess who they
are – prefer to remain in their fearful self-imposed shackles, ignoring not
only the views of experts and the experience of braver leaders in other
countries and earlier times, but – surprisingly enough – denying even our own
home-grown New Zealand experience.”
Gould’s gentlemanly reticence is all very well, but
sometimes a spade should be called a bloody Grant Robertson! Thousands of New Zealanders
are pinning their hopes on Winston veering left – as if that’s all that needs
to happen. These same people do not appear to have the slightest idea that
Labour’s current economic policies would render a Labour-NZ First-Green
government next-to-useless. Yes, there might be just enough money to keep
health and education stumbling along for the next three years – but there’ll be
bugger-all for anything, or anybody, else.
Gould may be too polite to state the matter so bluntly, but
I’m not all that interested in politeness. The awful political truth that we
all need to get our heads around, is that “orthodox economics” is how otherwise
“decent” politicians deliver pain and suffering to the most vulnerable people
in our society. And that, at present, just about all the senior
figures in the Labour Party and its parliamentary caucus are irrevocably wedded
to orthodox economics.
If Winston is of a mind to veer left, therefore, he will
first need to persuade Jacinda to abandon her opposition to any person other
than Labour’s finance spokesperson taking on the role of Finance Minister.
Labour’s intransigence on this matter is a strong indication of the party’s
unwillingness to step away from economic orthodoxy. But, neoliberal orthodoxy is precisely what Winston has set his own, and his party’s,
face against. How can he possibly enter into a coalition with Labour and the
Greens while they remain committed to their ultra-orthodox Budget
Jacinda should interpret Gould’s latest blogpost as a
last-minute appeal for her to think outside the conceptual box in which Labour
has imprisoned itself. If life is to be made better for those New Zealanders on
the receiving end of neoliberal economic orthodoxy, then Labour must reach back
into its collective memory and summon forth the courage and creativity which
made New Zealand the “social laboratory of the world”.
In this regard, Gould deserves the last word:
“Many of today’s generation will have forgotten or be
unaware of the brave and successful initiative taken by our Prime Minister in
the 1930s – the great Michael Joseph Savage. He created new money with
which he built thousands of state houses, thereby bringing an end to the Great
Depression in New Zealand and providing decent houses for young families (my
own included) who needed them.
“Who among our current leaders would disown that hugely
This essay was
originally posted on The Daily Blog
of Thursday, 5 October 2017.
When Will New Zealand Labour See His Like Again? Octogenarian socialist MP, Dennis Skinner, addresses the British Labour Party Conference in Brighton. Traditional Labour values and policies are on the way back in the UK - but New Zealand's Labour Party remains mired in 1990s "Third Way-ism".
THERE’S A VIDEO doing the rounds on social media. It
features the octogenarian Labour MP and socialist, Dennis Skinner, addressing
the British Labour Party conference in Brighton. Even Helen Clark was moved to
pass on the link to her many thousands of followers. Her
accompanying comment, however, was telling: “We shall never see his like
Having viewed the short video clip, however, I feel obliged
to voice my disagreement with Helen. That Dennis Skinner was invited to address
the Labour Conference at all is a remarkable testament to how far the party has
departed from the Blairite path. The rapturous reception he received, plus the
warm handshake from fellow socialist, Jeremy Corbyn, add up to one inescapable
conclusion. That the ideas of Dennis Skinner are not on the way out – they are
on the way back. Meaning that the British Labour Party will be seeing a great
many more like him in the years ahead.
Where I believe Helen’s comment does ring true, however, is
in relation to the New Zealand Labour Party. I have been racking my brains to
think of any living equivalent to Dennis Skinner in the party of Jacinda Ardern
– and have come up empty.
There’s a very simple reason for that. There are no Dennis
Skinners in the NZLP because, in 1989, just about every Labour socialist abandoned
the Party of Rogernomics to join Jim Anderton’s NewLabour Party (NLP). By 1991,
the NLP had joined forces with Mana Motuhake, the Democrats and the Greens to
form the Alliance. What followed was a bitter struggle for supremacy. Between
1991 and 1998, Labour and the Alliance battled for control of the left of New
Zealand politics. Though Labour would, ultimately, emerge triumphant, its
victory over the Alliance was only secured at considerable cost.
Stripped of its left-wing members, and all the
transformational and emancipatory impulses that inspired them, Labour ceased to
be a party committed to bringing the voices of working-class Kiwis into
government, and became instead a party dedicated to providing good governance
for all New Zealanders. This distinction between government and governance is
crucial to understanding the difference between Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party
and Jacinda Ardern’s.
Perhaps the best way of distinguishing government from
governance is to examine the two distinct phases of Labour’s 2017 election
For the first few weeks of the campaign, the country was
seized by the giddy notion that Labour’s new leader was about to upset the New
Zealand Establishment’s apple-cart. Her gloriously vague slogan – “Let’s Do
This” – allowed every person to project onto Jacinda all their hopes and dreams
for the country’s future. Labour’s poll numbers rocketed upwards on the strength
of the popular conviction that a Jacinda-led government would be a government
dedicated to installing new priorities and new voices at the heart of the
Augmenting this heady notion was the way in which Jacinda
appeared to seize the torch of radical change even as it fell from Metiria
Turei’s grasp. Had she not made the Greens’ priorities her own? Had she not
vowed to make Climate Change the “nuclear-free moment of her generation”? Metiria
had lit the fires of hope, and Jacinda (at least at first) seemed willing to
keep on fanning them.
That was when the Labour Party dedicated to providing New
Zealand with ‘good governance’ stepped onto the stage – and everything changed.
From the young and fearless people’s champion, Jacinda morphed into an earnest
young person talking about “working groups” of “experts”. Her marvellous slogan
“Let’s Do This” shrank before our eyes. From a brave call for radical and
far-reaching change, it was reduced to a brisk and business-like appeal to
simply swap one team of “good governance” providers for another.
That was all the National Party needed. Up against a ‘people’s
champion’ they had nothing to offer. But, on the subject of a young and
inexperienced woman asking us to believe she can provide New Zealand with ‘good
governance’, from the top down, they had plenty to say. The moment Jacinda
allowed her mission to be diverted from changing the purpose and direction of
government, to changing the oil in New Zealand’s clapped-out neoliberal
machine, all hope of genuine change was lost.
Even if Winston Peters deigns to make her our next Prime
Minister, Jacinda has made it very clear that she hasn’t the slightest
intention of frightening the Establishment’s horses; and that her own – and
Labour’s – determination to provide good and responsible governance to all New
Zealanders, from the top down, will not falter.
Dennis Skinner addressed Britain’s Labour Party in front of
a massive screen emblazoned with the slogan “For the Many – Not the Few”. He
and his leader talked about unions, and nationalisation, and ordinary people
taking power into their own hands. Their promise was not to provide a passive
population with ‘good governance’, from the top down, but to make sure that the
many are given all the tools they need to bring down the towers of the few.
It was the sort of inspiring performance I’d very much like
to see again in New Zealand’s Labour Party.
This essay was
originally posted on The Daily Blog
of Tuesday, 3 October 2017.
Not This Time - But Never Say Never: James Shaw and his fellow Greens cannot put off forever the hard decision of whether or not to reverse out of the Left-of-Labour cul-de-sac in which they have stranded themselves. As Nandor Tanczos so succinctly put it in a recent blogpost: “players only respect other players”. To negotiate the treacherous rapids of political power successfully, the Green waka’s load must be lightened – by offloading the excessive weight of its conscience.
MUCH HAS BEEN MADE of the “opportunity” the Green Party now
has to “make a difference”. Unsurprisingly, most of this much-making has come from
the right of the political spectrum. The prospect of being robbed of his
“kingmaker” role by a last-minute display of National Party + Greens political
jiu-jitsu, is clearly intended to keep Winston Peters on his tactical toes.
Not all of this tactical advice, however, is coming from the
Nats. The former Green MP, Nandor Tanczos, is also urging the Greens to escape
the self-imposed confinement of their Left-of-Labour cul-de-sac. In a recent
blogpost, he identifies the Greens’ fundamental problem as having bought into
an “inadequate conceptual model” of twenty-first century politics.
Specifically, “the idea that political philosophy can be represented in one
dimension on a straight line between left and right.”
The New Zealanders that Tanczos holds up as the unfortunate
victims of this one-dimensional conceptualisation of New Zealand politics are
the “450,000 small businesses in Aotearoa employing five people or less.”
Self-employment, according to the former Green MP, “speaks
to core Green ideals of supporting local economies, building self-reliance and
personal autonomy, helping people lift themselves out of poverty and fostering
stronger linkages between businesses and the social ecological communities in
which they are located.” Tanczos claims to know “a great many small business
owners who support the ideals of the Greens but who don’t connect with us a
party because we are not speaking to them.”
This is smart thinking on Tanczos’s part. Right from the
start, the Greens most obvious electoral deficiency has been a solid
socio-economic base from which to strike out in pursuit of political power.
Unlike the National Party, with its businessmen and farmers; and the Labour
Party, with its wage-workers and Maori; the core of the Green Party vote has never
consisted of a social class whose interests it protects, but always of a social
movement whose ideals it expresses. Since movements tend to be as varied as
they are volatile, it is no wonder that the level of Green Party support can
fluctuate wildly between one election and the next.
Historically-speaking, the transition from a movement-based,
to a social-class-based, political party is neither easy nor painless. To get
some idea of just how difficult and painful these ideological and sociological
shifts can be, one has only to study the evolution of the German Green Party –
Within all Green parties, the most obvious division is
invariably between those who come to the party from what might best be called
the conscientised, publicly-funded salariat (academics, scientists, teachers,
bureaucrats) and those who have made themselves into exemplars of alternative
ways of living in a world dominated by consumption-driven capitalism (students,
artists, hippies, anti-capitalist artisan-activists).
In Germany, the former group was dubbed the “Realos”
(realists) and the latter group the “Fundis” (fundamentalists). The tension
between the two factions became a constant feature of Die Grünen’s internal
politics. The event which tipped this tension into open and bitter intra-party
conflict was – of course – the German Greens’ acquisition of real political
In alliance with Germany’s Social Democratic Party (the
equivalent of New Zealand’s Labour Party) the Greens soon found themselves
confronted with a decision that went to the very heart of their political
It was 1999, and NATO was bombing Serbia. The Greens’
leader, and Germany’s Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer (a Realo) argued that,
for the first time since the Second World War, German fighter aircraft should
be sent to attack a nation which had not violated Germany’s borders. The Fundis
– many of them veterans of the huge German peace and anti-nuclear movements of
the 1980s – were horrified. Fischer was proposing to violate the core Green
principle of Non-Violence. A Special Conference of Die Grünen was convened in
the city of Bielefeld, in north-west Germany, to decide the matter.
Getting An Earful: Joschka Fischer's "realo" foreign policy prevailed over its "fundi" opposition within Die Grünen, but only at the cost of bitter internal strife.
New Zealanders who lived through the 1981 Springbok Tour
would have recognised all the signs of strife. The conference hall was ringed
with barbed-wire and guarded by hundreds of armed police officers. Delegates
were jostled, and as Fischer entered the hall he was struck by a bag of
blood-red paint. The anger of the Fundi protesters outside the hall was equalled
only by the fury of the Fundi delegates inside. All to no avail. By a margin of
415/335 the German Green Party’s idealistic fundamentalists were required to
make way for its power-wielding realists.
Eighteen years later, Die Grünen, alongside the Free
Democrats (the German equivalent of New Zealand’s Act Party) are engaged in
coalition negotiations with the conservative Christian Democratic Government of
As Nandor Tanczos so succinctly puts it: “players only
respect other players”. To negotiate the treacherous rapids of political power
successfully, the Green waka’s load must be lightened – by offloading the
excessive weight of its conscience.
This essay was
originally published in The Press of Tuesday,
3 October 2017.