Sunday, 5 February 2023

Making It Look Easy.

So Long - And Thanks For All The Fish: In the two-and-a-bit years since Jacinda Ardern’s electoral triumph of 2020, virtually every decision she made had gone politically awry. In the minds of many thousands of voters a chilling metamorphosis had taken place. The Faerie Queen had become the Wicked Witch. From a resplendent balloon, carrying Labour effortlessly to victory, Jacinda showed every sign of becoming Labour’s Hindenburg – a disaster waiting to happen.

WASN’T IT ALL TOO SMOOTH? The official explanation for the textbook transition from Jacinda Ardern to Chris Hipkins – “nothing left in the tank” – is beginning to strike more and more political journalists as inherently implausible.

What sort of political party manages the acutely volatile business of swapping one leader for another so seamlessly? Was the sole nomination of Chris Hipkins’ strictly kosher? Why did no challenger step forward? Ambition, in Shakespeare’s words, should be made of sterner stuff. Contrariwise, if this leadership change was a stage-managed affair, then Labour’s stage-managers are second to none!

Before conspiracy theories take root and spread like briars across the political landscape, it is worth recalling that Labour has pulled-off such a transition before.

Hadn’t the woman who, on 19 January 2023, announced her intention of stepping-down from Labour’s leadership stepped-up and into that role with an equal absence of fuss and bother back in 2017? Relying, once again, on Shakespeare: is it not true that nothing so became Jacinda’s leadership like her elevation to it? And should we really be all that surprised to discover that the Labour MP who did the most to ensure Jacinda’s effortless ascent was none other than Chris Hipkins?

How interesting it would be to read the reports of Labour’s focus-group convenors and to study the confidential data of its pollsters. Because, if the transition from Jacinda to “Chippy” really was a premediated and carefully-planned affair, then the chances are high that the story the experts were telling the three people at the top of the Labour Party – Jacinda Ardern, Grant Robertson and Chris Hipkins – was a grim one.

In the two-and-a-bit years since the Prime Minister’s electoral triumph of 2020, virtually every decision she made had gone politically awry. In the minds of many thousands of voters a chilling metamorphosis had taken place. The Faerie Queen had become the Wicked Witch. From a resplendent balloon, carrying Labour effortlessly to victory, Jacinda showed every sign of becoming Labour’s Hindenburg – a disaster waiting to happen.

It is a measure of just how tight Labour’s leadership troika had become during their 15 years in Labour’s caucus that they could contemplate the grim psephological data set before them and conclude dispassionately that the “Jacinda” brand – once Labour’s most important asset – was now its most significant liability.

It was time for her to go.

That Jacinda did not demur is explicable largely in terms of the extraordinary burdens she had been required to carry between 2017 and 2022. Very few Prime Ministers are called upon to lead their nation through events like the Christchurch Mosque Massacres, the fatal eruption of White island and the most deadly pandemic to strike New Zealand in 100 years. In the post-war period, only National’s John Key has weathered storms of equivalent severity. Interestingly, he also decided to make an early departure.

With equal stoicism, the Finance Minister Grant Robertson declined to meet the expectations of the pundits by stepping into Jacinda’s shoes. He would stay exactly where he was – a key figure on the Bridge of the Ship of State, his safe pair of hands welded to the economic tiller. Like his two closest political allies, Robertson’s mission was a simple one: to steer Labour to a third parliamentary term.

Which left only Chippy to slip his feet into the stirrups of power. With weeks to think through and war-game every aspect of the transition, as little as possible was left to chance. In the finest tradition of Hengist and Horsa, not to mention Game of Thrones, Hipkins made sure that all the crucial players were gathered together in one place (Napier, for Labour’s annual “retreat”) before allowing Jacinda’s axe to fall.

Shocked and disoriented, Labour’s stunned caucus offered scant resistance as the Troika’s most trusted allies went to work, furiously spinning the narrative that the smoothest possible transition was an absolute electoral necessity. Anyone attempting to make a fight of the succession would be seen as a traitor to the party. Constrained by a lack of time, outmanoeuvred by Team Hipkins at every turn, potential rivals sensibly opted to fight another day.

Chris Hipkins wasn’t elected – he was crowned.

Once sworn-in as Prime Minister, everything would turn on the public opinion polls proving Hipkins’ colleagues had made the right choice.

On Monday night (30 January 2023) they duly obliged.


This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 3 February 2023.

Friday, 3 February 2023

Blowing Off The Froth: Why Chris Hipkins Must Ditch Three Waters.

Time To Call A Halt: Chris Hipkins knows that iwi leaders possess the means to make life very difficult for his government. Notwithstanding their objections, however, the Prime Minister’s direction of travel – already clearly signalled by his very public demotion of Nanaia Mahuta – must be confirmed by an emphatic and unequivocal pledge to repeal the Three Waters legislation and start again.

THERE’S FROTH, AND THERE’S BEER. What we see happening on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds every 6 February, not to mention the political performance-art on the lower marae, is froth. The beer of Māori-Pakeha relations is to be found in the private meeting rooms of Waitangi’s Copthorne Hotel & Resort, where the National Iwi Chairs Forum (NICF) deliberates in secret upon Maoridom’s next moves. It is there, in the days leading up to Waitangi Day, that New Zealand’s new Prime Minister, Chris Hipkins, will either face down the men and women driving the stake of co-governance into the heart of the Settler State – or see Labour spiral slowly to defeat.

The designation “Iwi Chairs” seems so innocuous. It conjures up the image of a roomful of corporate bureaucrats working their way through a very boring agenda, and breaking-off every now and then to listen to equally boring presentations from bankers, accountants and the occasional politician. In reality, the NCIF represents the High Command of Maoridom: the strategic hub of the campaign to take back control of Aotearoa from its Pakeha conquerors. Those gathering at the Copthorne are not a bit like the rag-tag groups of Māori nationalist activists that came together in the 1970s and 80s. If tino rangatiratanga means “the power of the chiefs”, then these are the chiefs who wield it.

Thanks to thirty years of Treaty Settlements, the NICF is both well-positioned and well-resourced to flex its muscles. Between them, the iwi represented at the Forum command assets valued in the billions. That buys them all the big law firms and all the big lawyers they need. It buys them top-of-the-line lobbyists and public relations experts. It buys them influence in the news media and the universities. It means that, when the NICF whistles, serious politicians from all the major parties tend to come running – up to and including prime ministers.

In short, the NICF is what you get when you don’t want hundreds-of-thousands of working-class Māori demanding their fair share of the national cake. An uprising of marginalised urban Māori (the primary focus of Māori political agitation in the 1980s) could hardly avoid inspiring an even larger number of marginalised Pakeha. Such a potent socio-economic alliance would be extremely harmful to capitalism and other exploitative creatures. Hence the Crown’s inspired prophylactic against the further radicalisation of the Māori working-class – the Treaty Settlement Process. Make a handful of Māori aristocrats and other assorted high-flyers rich and powerful, and not only can they then be relied upon to keep the urban Māori poor quiet, but also to co-opt anyone of a mind to stir them up.

For a while.

The great risk of re-establishing a well-resourced and powerful indigenous elite is that, a generation or two later, those responsible will be faced with confident, highly educated young Māori who can think of no good reason why they – the privileged beneficiaries of the Treaty Settlement Process – should continue to provide a buffer between the heirs of their colonial conquerors and the tens-of-thousands of Māori families made poor, and kept poor, by colonisation.

What’s more, this generation will evince no interest in constructing a Māori-Pakeha working-class alliance against either Pakeha Capitalism or the Neo-Tribal Capitalist sub-system brought into being by the Treaty Settlement Process. The generation raised under this ethnically-charged neoliberal regime will not be socialists, they will be ethno-nationalists. If wealth is to be redistributed, it will not be from the rich to the poor, but from the descendants of the Pakeha colonisers to the descendants of the colonised Māori. It will be a revolution driven by race, not class.

There could be no better example of the policies generated by the iwi elites and their political representatives than the project known as Three Waters. Putting Private Members Bills to one side, it is rare to encounter a piece of legislation so closely associated with and shaped by a single member of Cabinet – in this case, the then Local Government Minister, Nanaia Mahuta. Nor is it common to see a legislative project preceded by an advertising campaign subsequently condemned as both misleading and inaccurate. The Labour Government’s decision to reverse its earlier affirmation that local authorities would be free to opt-out of the scheme only compounded the ethical problems besetting Mahuta’s project.

At the forefront of these was the legislation’s commitment to “co-governance”. In the midst of structures specifically designed to protect the relevant “entities” from all forms of democratic accountability, the legislation located a body split 50/50 between members supposedly chosen to represent the interests of local consumers, and those indisputably chosen to represent the interests of local iwi.

NZ First’s Shane Jones’s description of Mahuta’s Three Waters Project was typically robust:

What was initially an attempt to fix some drinking water has turned into a highly divisive and pulverising social experiment that has got nothing to do with poo pipes and infrastructure. Now it’s got everything to do with whether or not tribes should have a superior right [over water].

Jones also argued that Jacinda Ardern’s government had “lost control” of Mahuta’s project:

She was unable to control Nanaia Mahuta, who has proven to be one of New Zealand’s most divisive politicians that God ever put breath into.

Nowhere was Ardern’s loss of control more evident that in the parliamentary debacle which followed the last-minute, constitutionally-dubious, attempt to entrench “anti-privatisation” clauses in the legislation setting up the Three Waters project as it neared the end of its passage, under urgency, through the House of Representatives.

If ever a project needed to be abandoned completely, and the rebuilding of New Zealand’s drinking, storm and wastewater infrastructure reconceptualised in ways that keep it both affordable and accountable, then that project is Three Waters.

Not that the Iwi Chairs gathered at the Copthorne Hotel are likely to see it that way. Mahuta’s project had brought them closer to Jones’s “superior right” over water than any of her predecessors. Their message to Chris Hipkins is likely to be blunt: repeal Mahuta’s legislation at your peril.

New Zealand’s new Prime Minister knows that the National Iwi Chairs Forum has the means to make life very difficult for his government. Notwithstanding their objections, however, Hipkins direction of travel – already clearly signalled by his very public demotion of Mahuta – must be confirmed by an emphatic and unequivocal pledge to repeal the Three Waters legislation and start again.

If Labour is to secure a third term, then Hipkins must make it clear to all New Zealanders – Māori and Pakeha – that his government is not about fulfilling the agendas of corporate/tribal elites. It is about making sure that every New Zealander in need of a job, a living wage, and a warm, dry house, gets one. That their family’s right to publicly-provided, quality health care and education is not denied. And that the promise of equality, enshrined in Article Three of the Treaty of Waitangi, is kept. Because that’s the only beer that’s electorally fit for Labour to drink: the beer of class – not race.

Everything else is froth.


This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 2 February 2023.

Tuesday, 31 January 2023

After The Deluge.


On that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the earth.
Genesis 6:11-12

THE TORRENTIAL DOWNPOURS that dumped a record-breaking amount of rain on Auckland this anniversary weekend will reoccur with ever-increasing frequency. The planet’s atmosphere is warming, and since warm air carries more moisture the likelihood of such extreme weather events is similarly increased. New Zealanders are no longer entitled to write-off the sort of deluge that flooded much of Auckland on 27-28 January 2023 as a one-in-500-year event.

Not that New Zealanders are particularly receptive to the dire warnings of climatologists and meteorologists. With considerable justification, they demand to know what they are supposed to do about it. How, precisely, are the human-beings at the end of “atmospheric rivers” carrying mind-boggling quantities of water supposed to prevent them from dropping it on their heads? The air and ocean currents which determine New Zealand’s climate are not subject to the will of its human population – or their leaders.

Indeed, for those Aucklanders who lived through the events of Friday and Saturday, the power and indifference of the natural world was terrifyingly reiterated. Ours is a proud and headstrong species, but in the face of what one Aucklander described as “apocalyptic” precipitation, our arrogance is swiftly beaten down. The images of men and women wading through floodwaters chest deep, their faces frozen in a rictus of fear and uncertainty were biblical in their eloquence.

On Friday and Saturday the natural world also plunged Auckland into a fast-moving political crisis. In extremis, people turn towards those in authority for guidance and reassurance. Sadly, “Authority’s” response left much to be desired.

Auckland’s Mayor, Wayne Brown, who should have been all over the mainstream and social media, dispensing such information as he possessed, publicly ordering all the relevant Auckland Council bodies into action, and gathering what intelligence he could concerning the intensity and destructiveness of the weather “bomb” that was devastating his city, instead maintained an frustrating radio silence.

Hour after hour of torrential rain went by. Streets became rivers. Homes were flooded. Parks became lakes. Cars were abandoned. People drowned. It was not until 10:17pm, however, that Mayor Brown declared a local state of emergency – thereby allowing the Central Government to swing into action on behalf of Auckland’s citizens.

Those who were following the unfolding tragedy on Twitter were soon made aware of the rising fury of those Auckland City Councillors struggling to assist the flood’s victims. Members of Parliament, too, some of them Ministers of the Crown, were equally aghast. The equivalent of cheers went up on Twitter when the Minister of Transport and MP for Mt Roskill, Michael Wood, peremptorily ordered Waka Kotahi to get its shut-down website up-and-running and to post transport-related up-dates every half-hour.

The Minister’s rage was entirely justified as first the state highways in and out of Auckland, and then the domestic and international terminals of Auckland Airport, succumbed to the floodwaters. The city’s bus fleet struggled to carry its passengers out of the rising waters. In some of them the murky-brown flood-water sloshed back and forth along the access-aisle as alarmed passengers willed the vehicle forward. Private motor cars were quickly overwhelmed and abandoned. Citizen journalists captured eerie images of cars floating: their lights still glowing in the failing light; their windscreen wipers still thrashing ineffectually against the unceasing rain.

Mayor Brown insists that he was guided by the advice of his “professionals”, and that the moment they asked him to declare a state of emergency, a state of emergency was declared. He has further avowed that, as the person responsible for organising the city-wide response to what was fast-becoming a full-scale disaster, he did not have the luxury of delivering hands-on assistance at the ward and community-board level. Someone had to remain at the calm centre of the crisis.

All true, but a leader must also be seen to lead. He must be there – or, at least, his voice and image must be there – consoling, inspiring, thanking and guiding his city’s people. But, on that frightening Friday night, Brown wasn’t there. Very few Aucklanders will be prepared to swear – hand-on-heart – that, in the Great Auckland Flood of 2023, their Mayor did all that was expected of him. The response of Christchurch’s Mayor, Bob Parker, when Mother Nature shook his city to ruins in 2011, offers the people of New Zealand a particularly telling contrast.

Certainly, the country’s new Prime Minister, Chris Hipkins, did not need to be told that his place was in front of the electorally crucial voters of the nation’s largest city. Hitching a ride on an RNZAF Hercules transport, and then on an air-force helicopter, Hipkins was given a birds-eye view of the damage. But, even as he said all the right things and made all the right promises, the Labour Leader must have been asking himself whether the New Zealand state was up to a challenge of this magnitude.

New Zealand’s cities were founded and grew to their present size in the bounteous years before global warming was recognised as a problem. Their waste and stormwater infrastructure simply wasn’t built to cope with the sort of deluge that descended on Auckland.

“Flooding happens when stormwater can’t drain away fast enough”, writes James Fenwick in an opinion piece posted on the Newsroom website. “So what we need are bigger drains, larger stormwater pipes and stormwater systems that can deal with such extremes.” Except, as Fenwick notes: “The country’s stormwater drain system was designed for the climate we used to have – 50 or more years ago. What we need is a stormwater system designed for the climate we have now, and the one we’ll have in 50 years from now.”

Hipkins despair at being forced to confront even bigger challenges in managing New Zealand’s three waters (drinking, waste and storm) than the ones already on his plate is readily imagined. Also gnawing away at his confidence – as well, no doubt, as Christopher Luxon’s – will be the frightening conclusion that the highly-urbanised nation that is New Zealand is going to have to be rebuilt from top to bottom. Or, failing that, left to simply decline and decay for want of the billions-upon-billions of dollars needed to re-fit it.

After the deluge, the questions around climate change become even starker. This country’s contribution to global warming is infinitesimal – barely two-tenths of one percent. We could revert to the Stone Age tomorrow and not only would the rest of the world fail to notice or appreciate New Zealand’s sacrifice, but also – and much more ominously – those devastating atmospheric rivers would not stop turning warm air into disasters.

It would appear that the choice between rolling-back global warming, and seeking to mitigate its worst effects, is being made for us.


This essay was originally posted on the Interest.co.nz website on Monday, 30 January 2023.

Friday, 27 January 2023

Jung At Heart.

The Clinical Magus: Of particular relevance to New Zealanders struggling to come to terms with the sudden departure of their prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, is Jung’s concept of the anima. Much more than what others have called “the feminine principle”, the anima is what the human male has made out of women. All women. From mothers and grandmothers, to sisters and cousins. From female friends and colleagues, to wives and lovers. From Nobel Prize-winners to porn stars. Sirens to soulmates. Jung’s anima is the distillation of every human female in which the human male invests his emotions.

CARL JUNG (1875-1961) was a magician masquerading as a psychoanalyst. His psychological theories were conjured out of myths and symbols, and he transmuted the human individual’s fraught journey from birth to death into the hero’s sacred quest for wholeness.

It’s easy to laugh at this little Swiss doctor now, but he developed his theories in a world that did, indeed, seem to have fallen under an evil spell. In the same Viennese streets where he and Sigmund Freud walked, sharing excitedly their ideas about the unconscious elements of the human personality, there also wandered the young Adolf Hitler.

This terrifying embodiment of Europe’s worst psychoses and obsessions (what Jung would later call “the shadow”) seems, in retrospect, to confirm Jung’s key insight that all of us inhabit curiously familiar stories, peopled by characters we have never met, but whom we recognise instantly. Humanity itself, Jung argued, possesses its own unconscious, within which move the archetypes we have collectively fashioned to confer order upon chaos – the characters we once called gods.

Of particular relevance to New Zealanders struggling to come to terms with the sudden departure of their prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, is Jung’s concept of the anima. Much more than what others have called “the feminine principle”, the anima is what the human male has made out of women. All women. From mothers and grandmothers, to sisters and cousins. From female friends and colleagues, to wives and lovers. From Nobel Prize-winners to porn stars. Sirens to soulmates. Jung’s anima is the distillation of every human female in which the human male invests his emotions.

Think about that for a moment. Scary, isn’t it? Because, obviously, not every female in which a male invests his emotions responds as anticipated or desired. The sum total of all these responses – good and bad – adds up to his anima, his unconscious formulation of what being female means.

What, then, does it say about New Zealand’s men and boys that so many of them were so eager to heap abuse upon New Zealand’s young female prime minister, Jacinda Ardern? Quite obviously, she presented a version of the feminine which in no way comported with the inner sheila of the average Kiwi bloke.

Viewed objectively, Jacinda Ardern was remarkably close to her own self-assessment: Kind, but strong. Empathetic, but decisive. Optimistic, but focused.

Since the archetypal leader is often represented as a kingly figure, Jacinda’s leadership says a great deal about the strength of her own animus – the human female’s unconscious formulation of what it means to be male. Her experience of maleness has clearly been sufficiently positive to produce a harmonious personal blending of both the masculine and the feminine. On the one hand, strong, decisive and focused. On the other, kind, empathetic and optimistic.

Such rare psychological harmony should evoke both confidence and admiration – and among most New Zealanders those were indeed the feelings Jacinda inspired. But, for a minority of New Zealanders the woman they listened to on the radio, watched on television, and read about in newspapers and magazines proved to be seriously psychologically jarring.

Called upon to respond to a woman in the top job, many New Zealand males betrayed a stunted and impoverished anima. Their unconscious formulation of the feminine left them utterly incapable of recognising anything at all positive in their country’s leader.

Jung might have surmised that their anima was the product of acutely damaging experiences of emotional and possibly physical abuse meted out by the females who dominated their early lives. Certainly, the psychological concept of projection would explain why so many New Zealand men were eager to describe their prime minister as something monstrous and evil. As a woman in charge she could not, in their unconscious minds, be anything else. Females with power were terrifying, and what human-beings fear, they hate.

Jacinda Ardern’s critics were not exclusively male, however, many New Zealand women joined in the abuse of the Prime Minister and her family. Observing a woman with power over them and their families, their reactions betrayed the impact of terrible experiences not dissimilar to those of abused males. They, too, projected outward the feelings they were too terrified to acknowledge in themselves.

And so the story ended as all Jung’s stories end, with the hero learning and leaving. We are saddened – but not surprised.


This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 27 January 2023.

Thursday, 26 January 2023

After Ratana.

Smiling And Waiving A Golden Opportunity: Chris Hipkins knew that the day at Ratana would be Jacinda’s day – her final opportunity to bask in the unalloyed love and support of her followers. He simply could not afford to be seen to overshadow this last chance for his former boss to shine. National’s Christopher Luxon, however, was under no such obligation.
 
CHRIS HIPKINS found himself in an impossible situation yesterday (24/1/23). He had come to the tiny village of Ratana at the side of his Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. At what would be her last official public engagement in that role, he could not possibly upstage her. His job was to smile and mouth platitudes. He was there to “introduce” himself to the assembled leaders of Maoridom and convince them that he will be a fitting replacement for the most accommodating prime minister Māori have ever had. He knew that this would be Jacinda’s day – her final opportunity to bask in the unalloyed love and support of her followers. He simply could not afford to be seen to overshadow this last chance for his former boss to shine.

The other Chris, however, National’s Christopher Luxon, was under no such obligation. He came to Ratana with a message to deliver. That message was not for the assembled Māori leaders, or, at least, not primarily for them. Luxon’s message was aimed squarely at all those Pakeha conservatives who have for many months been openly sceptical of National’s willingness to take a strong stand against Co-Governance, He Puapua and Three Waters. Ardern’s resignation and the uncontested election of Chris Hipkins to replace her had made the delivery of an unequivocal repudiation of all three of these racially-charged propositions a matter of urgency. Luxon and his advisers knew that if National didn’t stake out its position immediately, then the Hipkins-led Labour Party would beat them to the punch.

And Luxon did stake out a clear – or should that be clearer – position. His remarks concerning co-governance, recorded by RNZ-National’s reporters, left little room for misunderstanding:

I think it has been quite a divisive and immature conversation over recent years,” Luxon told the Ratana crowd, “and I personally think it’s because the government hasn’t been upfront or transparent with the New Zealand people about where it’s going and what it’s doing […..] We believe in a single coherent system – not one system for Māori and another system for non-Māori – for the delivery of public services. Things like Health, Education, and Justice, and critical infrastructure like Three Waters. It doesn’t mean that we don’t want Māori involved in decision-making and partnering with [non-]Māori, [but] we have a princip[led] objection because New Zealand has one government: it’s elected by all of us, it’s accountable to all of us, and its public services are available to anyone who needs them.

Clear enough for the Pakeha conservatives? Possibly. But, for many on the Right, National remains the party of John Key. The same John Key who secretly dispatched Te Pāti Māori’s Pita Sharples to the United Nations in New York to sign on behalf of all New Zealanders the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The very same UNDRIP that Labour’s Helen Clark had refused to sign, because, with her much deeper understanding of the indigenous debate, she understood that the Declaration posed a direct threat to the constitutional integrity and sovereignty of the New Zealand state.

Those same conservative Pakeha also know that National is the party of Chris Finlayson who, while New Zealand’s Attorney-General and Treaty Settlements Minister, did more to hasten the fulfilment of the Māori nationalist agenda than any politician not named Mahuta or Jackson. The Right understands that an extremely radical reading of te Tiriti o Waitangi has already been deeply entrenched in the New Zealand Public Service (bolstered by legislatively enforceable Treaty principles) and is steadily transforming the way in which New Zealand is administered, as well as raising serious questions about the long-term future of private property rights.

There is also serious doubt on the right of New Zealand politics that Luxon and his advisers have even read – let alone understood – the He Puapua Report. Their fear is that, as the Māori nationalist, Donna Awatere, observed back in the early-1980s, Pakeha politicians will continue to remain blind to virtually every aspect of the nationalists’ project, and that this, the Pakeha’s racist refusal to take Māori sovereignty seriously, is what offers its promoters their best chance of success. Moreover, when two Labour prime ministers in a row have proved themselves incapable of answering basic questions about the content of te Tiriti o Waitangi, it’s difficult not to concede that Awatere and the conservatives have a point!

While it is certain that Luxon’s statements at Ratana constitute a direct conceptual challenge to the transformative constitutional project posited by the authors of He Puapua, what is much less certain is whether the National leader – unlike the leader of the Act Party, David Seymour – grasps just how much of the basic infrastructure of co-governance has already been constructed. Having drawn his line in the sand at Ratana, Luxon cannot now avoid arriving at the same political destination Seymour reached more than two years ago. The point where he realises that the progress towards a racially bifurcated, co-governed Aotearoa can only be halted by enshrining a conservative reading of te Tiriti in law, and by rooting-out with ruthless thoroughness all of the structures and procedures that have grown out of the radicals’ reading of te Tiriti’s meaning.

The daunting challenge confronting Chris Hipkins is how to regain the initiative from Luxon without locking himself into the same conservative logic currently drawing National and Act inexorably towards a maximalist, Pakeha-driven, revision of the Treaty’s constitutional, political and cultural significance. Between now and the October General Election, Hipkins and his party are going to have to learn to take Māori nationalism seriously. Because Luxon is right, to date Labour’s handling of this issue has been divisive and immature. The new prime minister could, therefore, do a lot worse than to sit down with an old one, Helen Clark, and learn a few home-truths about the deadly seriousness of the indigenous forces seeking to take their country back.

Hipkins’ first and most obvious move is to announce that the Three Waters legislation will be repealed, pending a broad and thorough examination of the project’s all-too-obvious political and economic shortcomings. Pushing the pause button on this extraordinarily unpopular project will be good, practical, “bread-and-butter” politics. Were the new prime minister to follow it up with a promise to initiate an equally broad and thorough democratic debate about the moral and practical status of the Tiriti/Treaty in twenty-first century New Zealand, the public response might be even more positive – especially if the right of all schools of historical and constitutional thought to freely contend with one another was guaranteed by Hipkins’ Government.

Jacinda Ardern’s greatest contribution to her country’s evolution was to reinvigorate the idea that politics should be about more than conventional administration and “responsible” financial management. She made us believe again that a person’s reach should exceed their grasp. “Jacinda” was a ray of sunlight through the drear neoliberal darkness. In that shaft of sunlight she showed us a new and wonderfully different nation. The task she has bequeathed to her successor – and her people – is to create the road that will take them there.


This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 26 January 2023.

Ominous Similarities.

Extremism Consumes Itself: The plot of “Act of Oblivion” concerns the relentless pursuit of the “regicides” Edward Whalley and William Goffe – two of the fifty-nine signatories to King Charles I’s death warrant. As with his many other works of historical fiction, Robert Harris’s novel brings to life a period that is at once starkly alien but also curiously familiar to our own.

ROBERT HARRIS’S LATEST NOVEL, “Act of Oblivion” is a welcome reminder of fanaticism’s terrifying aptitude for extinguishing human happiness. By recalling that period in English history when God was taken seriously enough to die and kill for, it also serves as a timely check upon our readiness to condemn the excesses of contemporary religious bigotry.

The plot of “Act of Oblivion” concerns the relentless pursuit of the “regicides” Edward Whalley and William Goffe – two of the fifty-nine signatories to King Charles I’s death warrant. As with his many other works of historical fiction, Harris’s novel brings to life a period that is at once starkly alien but also curiously familiar to our own.

Whalley and Goffe were colonels in Oliver Cromwell’s “New Model Army” – a fearsome body of righteous killers that might best be thought of as the Taliban in breastplates. Both men were what their contemporaries called “Puritans” – standard-bearers for a radical Protestantism that sought to strip away from Christian practice all oppressive hierarchies and unnecessary rituals, until only the purified encounter between God and the sinner remained.

Fanaticism was more-or-less built into Puritanism. So much religious falsity was said to have been interposed between the simple Christian seeker and his Bible, and for such base and nefarious purposes, that clearing the path to glory struck the Puritan-in-arms as an inescapable duty. Not the Church of England, not the Roman Catholic Church (whose doctrines and practices were thought to skulk beneath the Anglican Bishops’ surplices) not even the King of England, after years of civil war, could be permitted to go on corrupting and obstructing the path to salvation. Not if these New Model Puritans had any say in the matter.

And for the eleven years of the English republic – dubbed the “Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland” by Cromwell, its “Lord Protector” – they did have a say. In their zeal, the Puritans shut down the brothels and the theatres, and cut down the “pagan” maypoles standing erect over a multitude of English village greens. Not even Christmas – similarly denounced as an excuse for pagan revelry – escaped the attentions of the Puritan Parliament’s censorious legislators. Under the Commonwealth, celebrating Christmas became a crime.

Today, those evincing such unyielding determination to do good would be described as “Woke”. The comparison is far from original. No less a luminary than the English historian, David Starkey, has noted the rather ominous similarities between the Sixteenth Century’s Protestant Reformation (of which Puritanism was but one radical evolution) and the “Woke Revolution” of the Twenty-First.

Both movements were born out of game-changing technological innovation. The Protestants’ progenitor was the printing-press, the Woke communicate via the Internet. If the Reformation was the inevitable corollary to the emancipatory impulses of the Renaissance, then Wokeism is the heir of the counter-cultural upheavals of the 1960s and 70s.

In both cases, the movements’ intellectual trajectories trace a course from moderation to extremism; liberation to forced conversion. Once accepted as righteous and true by its followers, any system of religious, moral and/or political thought will be refined and intensified to the point where the idea of the rest of humanity continuing to languish in moral and political ignorance becomes intolerable. Those dwelling in darkness must be made to see the light. Those who wilfully reject the enlightenment of the righteous deserve only punishment.

The danger arises when religious and political fanaticism acquires arms. Christianity found the Emperor Constantine and his legions. The Puritans did not so much find as construct their New Model Army. The Bolsheviks enrolled the armed deserters fleeing the Russian Czar’s broken armies.

The Woke have yet to find their army – but they are close.

Like the English Puritans of the 1630s and 40s, the Woke of the 2020s are to be found embedded in the nation’s most powerful political, legal, commercial and intellectual institutions. They are determined and ingenious promoters of their cause, and a significant fraction of the means of communication is under their control. All they need is an antagonist to match the folly of Charles I – someone to deliver them the key to the arsenal.

But, as Robert Harris’s latest novel makes clear, fanaticism burns too brightly to long endure. It also conjures up its own nemesis. For every fanatical action, there is an equal and opposite fanatical reaction.

Extremism consumes itself.


This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 20 January 2023.

Tuesday, 24 January 2023

What Is Co-Governance?

Two Flags, Two Masters? Just as it required a full-scale military effort to destroy the first attempt at Māori self-government in the 1850s and 60s (an effort that divided Maoridom itself into supporters and opponents of the Crown) any second attempt to establish tino rangatiratanga, based on the confiscatory policies required to give it cultural and economic substance, could only be achieved militarily. That is to say, by fighting a racially-charged civil war.

CO-GOVERNANCE presents New Zealanders with the most acute constitutional challenge since the Land Wars of the 1860s. Paradoxically, it would be a considerably less vexing problem if our ancestors truly had been the colonialist monsters of contemporary “progressive” folklore. Had the defeated Māori tribes been driven onto and confined within “reservations” – as happened to the Native Americans of Canada and the United States – instituting co-governance in the 2020s would be a breeze. Likewise, if the National Government of 1990-1999 had opted to create the New Zealand equivalent of “Bantustans” (self-governing ethnic enclaves) instead of instituting the internationally celebrated Treaty Settlement Process.

The central difficulty of the Treaty Settlement Process, as so many Māori nationalists have pointed out, is that it cannot offer more than a fraction of a cent on the dollar in terms of the current value of the Māori lands alienated under the laws of successive settler governments. To recover these from their present owners would require the outlay of hundreds-of-billions of dollars, a sum well beyond the means of even the New Zealand State – let alone individual iwi.

And yet, as the Waitangi Tribunal’s recent finding in relation to the Ngapuhi rohe makes clear, the establishment of authentic rangatiratanga is virtually impossible without the land that gives chiefly authority its political heft. With all but a tiny fraction of New Zealand presently under the control of the New Zealand State, its Pakeha citizens, and a not insubstantial number of foreign owners, any discussion of co-governance is inevitably reduced to sterile arguments over Māori representation on city councils and other public bodies.

That’s why the true underlying agenda of those who preach the gospel of co-governance can only be the re-confiscation of the tribal territories lost since the Land Wars. This may sound far-fetched, but it is not impossible. As Māori discovered in the 1860s, and subsequent decades, all that is required to deprive a people of their lands, forests and fisheries is control of the legislative process, and the military force necessary to enforce the legislators’ will.

While Pakeha New Zealanders remained united in their resolve to construct a “Better Britain” on the lands confiscated and/or acquired (all too often by immoral means) from the country’s indigenous people, the notion of re-confiscation could be dismissed as an absurdity. But, if a substantial portion of the Pakeha population, most particularly those occupying the critical nodes of state power: the judiciary, the public service, academia, the state-owned news-media, and at least one of the two major political parties; were to become ideologically disposed to facilitate the compulsory restitution of confiscated Māori resources, then the idea would begin to sound a whole lot less far-fetched.

To see how it might be accomplished one has only to study the manner in which the government of the newly-declared People’s Republic of China secured effective control of the privately-owned elements of the Chinese economy. The Communist Party of China, in sole control of the nation’s legislative machinery, and assured of a compliant judiciary and civil service, simply required private concerns to make over an ever-larger fraction of their shareholding to the Chinese state. With Boards of Directors dominated by government appointees, and no prospect of ever recovering control of their enterprises, the “owners” reluctantly sold their remaining shares to the state (receiving only a risible fraction of their true worth). The smart capitalists, reading the writing on the wall, sold-up early and fled to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the United States. The one’s who hoped for the best, generally fared the worst.

With the news-media firmly under the Communist Party’s control, and the legal climate growing increasingly hostile to any citizen courageous enough to challenge the government’s policies, the transfer of private property into state hands was accomplished by the end of the 1950s – in less than a decade. It would have taken considerably longer if the People’s Liberation Army had not been standing behind the Communist Party’s legislators, civil servants and journalists. But, its willingness to apply military force to enforce the party’s will was never in doubt. In the words of the Chinese Communist leader, Mao Zedong: “All political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

How might a New Zealand parliament dominated by political parties favourably disposed towards co-governance set about transferring land held by private Pakeha/foreign interests to iwi authorities? One option might involve imposing all kinds of environmental and cultural obligations on landowners – obligations that could not be fulfilled without rendering the enterprise unprofitable. Crown purchase (at a fraction of the land’s true worth) would follow, allowing the state to amass a vast amount of additional  real-estate. This process would undoubtedly be speeded-up by the consequent catastrophic collapse in agricultural land prices, which only constant and massive Crown purchases could stem.

With most of New Zealand land now in the possession of the Crown, returning it to tangata whenua would be the obvious next step towards meaningful co-governance. The Waitangi Tribunal, or some other, similar, body could be tasked with delimiting Aotearoa’s iwi boundaries as they existed at the time of the Treaty’s signing in February 1840. (Given that many of these boundaries would have been extended, reduced, or eliminated altogether as a consequence of the Musket Wars of the 1820s and 30s, deciding who should get what would likely entail a fair amount of ‘robust’ negotiation!)

The critical question to be settled in order for this process to succeed is whether a pro-co-governance parliament could rely upon the Police and the NZ Defence Force to enforce its legislative will. That there would be considerable resistance to the government’s plans may be taken as given, with such resistance escalating to terrorism and a full-scale armed rebellion more than likely. With the outbreak of deadly race-based violence, the loyalties of the Police and the NZDF would be tested to destruction.

Just as it required a full-scale military effort to destroy the first attempt at Māori self-government in the 1850s and 60s (an effort that divided Maoridom itself into supporters and opponents of the Crown) any second attempt to establish rangatiratanga, based on the confiscatory policies required to give it cultural and economic substance, could only be achieved militarily. That is to say, by fighting a racially-charged civil war.

Some would argue it makes more sense to accept that the historical evolution of the nation of New Zealand has actually allowed Māori to enjoy the best of both worlds. Their language and culture endure alongside their iwi and hapu connections, all very much alive beneath the overlaid institutions of the settler state. 

That they are able to take full advantage of those institutions is due to the historical oddity of the colonists who created New Zealand not following the example of their white settler contemporaries and forcing the remnants of the indigenous tribes onto reservations – entities particularly suited to being “co-governed” in “partnership” with their conquerors. Instead, the Pakeha declared Māori to be full citizens, afforded them parliamentary representation, and laid the foundations of the bi-cultural society fast-emerging in Twenty-First Century Aotearoa-New Zealand.

If co-governance denotes a political system in which an indigenous people and the descendants of the settlers who joined them wrestle together with the legacies of colonisation – as free and equal citizens – then we already have it.


This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 17 January 2023.