Friday, 12 April 2019

Making The Tradies Pay.

Crunching The Numbers: On the subject of the Capital Gains Tax, it is simply not sufficient to assert that all income is the same and, therefore, must be taxed the same. Those who say this ignore the fact that, as RNZ’s Guyon Espiner so rightly observed, not all income is made the same. The working life of the small business owner is very different from that of wage and salary earners. In addition to plying their trade and/or providing their service, they are saddled with a great many other responsibilities.

IT’S A CLASS WAR – of a most unusual kind. The looming battle over Labour’s Capital Gains Tax (CGT) pits a pampered and overpaid Professional and Managerial Class (PMC) against the constantly expanding class of tradespeople, service providers and independent contractors: the tens-of-thousands of small businesspeople whose daily labours continue to make, move and mend this country.

The PMC is determined to protect its cosy position in New Zealand society by making sure that any expansion of the state’s revenues is secured by taxing something other than their salaries.

They have been made aware of the rapidly rising incomes of the “tradies”. How could they not, with their brand new SUVs clogging the streets outside the local school every morning and afternoon? What’s more, they strongly suspect that all this new-found wealth is not being taxed in the same way that their incomes are taxed. They may not know much about running a business that isn’t funded by someone else’s money, but they’re pretty sure these nouveaux riche boofheads are dab hands at short-changing the IRD.

Clearly, these upstarts need to be taxed at the same rate as themselves – 33 cents in the dollar. And because, as the owners of small businesses, they can get away with paying themselves ludicrously low wages, they must be made to hand over to the IRD one-third of the currently tax-free capital gains they make when they sell their businesses.

They’ll squeal and moan, of course, but a CGT is by far the fairest fiscal solution. Capital gain is a form of income – and all income must be taxed. Besides, it’s just not right that people with nothing more than a trade certificate (or whatever they call it) and often with no qualifications whatsoever, should be making more money than someone who spent four or five years at a university getting properly qualified. A university, mind you, not a dreary polytechnic tucked away in some provincial hell-hole like Wanganui or Invercargill!

But simply saying that all income is the same, and must be taxed the same, ignores the fact that, as RNZ’s Guyon Espiner so rightly observed, not all income is made the same.

The impressively credentialled members of the PMC, large numbers of whom are employed by the state, turn up for work every day and are paid every fortnight. All the necessary deductions for tax and ACC have been taken care of by their employer. If they’re teachers, nurses, social-workers, or just plain, common-or-garden civil servants, there’s a very high probability they’ll be members of a union. Regular pay-rises and improved working conditions are expected – and delivered.

Life for the small business owner is very different. In addition to plying their trade and/or providing their service, they are saddled with a great many other responsibilities. They have to take care of their own tax payments – as well as the tax payments of any staff they may employ. Then there’s Kiwisaver and ACC payments to sort out. They must conform to the provisions of OSH legislation and deal with the infernal complexities of the RMA. For many, being able to pay their bills depends upon other people paying theirs – and getting some debtors to cough-up can be a nightmare.

So, Guyon is right. Not all income is made the same. Which is why not all income is taxed the same.

Which leaves the PMC with a problem. They are only too aware of the need for increased government spending on health, housing, education and the environment. After all, so many of their jobs are about providing these public goods. On the other hand, they have a lifestyle to maintain; overseas trips to pay for; kids to finance into university and home ownership. Yes, their salaries may be large – but they’re fully extended. They are not keen on paying higher income tax. Not keen at all.

It might not be so bad if all these tradies; these restaurateurs; these independent contractors were caring and responsible citizens. But dammit! What’s with all these monster SUVs? Haven’t they heard of global warming? And the things they say! Honestly, it borders on hate speech. Sexists, racists, homophobes: the whole kit and kaboodle. To call them “deplorables” would be to seriously understate the problem. And then they get to retire with a cool million bucks – tax-free.

No bloody way!

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 12 April 2019.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Convenient Fictions

Abstract Noun: Do our political leaders still cleave to the Jeffersonian principle that government derives its just powers “from the consent of the governed”? Or do those who now inhabit the upper echelons of the New Zealand state consider themselves beyond the reach of democratic sanction?

THE APPALLING CONDUCT of the Waikato DHB raises broader questions about the robustness of New Zealand’s liberal democracy. Most particularly, it challenges the whole notion that the administrators of New Zealand society remain accountable to the people they administrate. The DHB’s treatment of Dave Macpherson, Jane Stevens and their family; its consistent refusal to accept its responsibility for the avoidable death of their son and brother, Nicky, poses a further question. Do our political leaders still cleave to the Jeffersonian principle that government derives its just powers “from the consent of the governed”? Or do those who now inhabit the upper echelons of the New Zealand state consider themselves beyond the reach of democratic sanction?

Because it’s not only Dave Macpherson and his family who have been on the receiving end of a state apparatus that seems completely unconstrained. Consider the treatment of investigative journalist, Nicky Hager, and the editor of The Daily Blog itself, Martyn Bradbury, at the hands of the New Zealand Police. Recall the efforts of the New Zealand Defence Force to destroy the reputation of New Zealand’s leading war correspondent, Jon Stephenson. The extreme lengths to which the NZDF was prepared to go to undermine Stephenson’s credibility; and the hundreds-of-thousands of taxpayers’ dollars expended in the process; beggars belief.

The situation would appear nowhere near so grim if there was the slightest sign that the election of a progressive coalition government had led to the rapid correction of these abuses. To date, however, there is no sign that anyone in the new regime is seized with an urgent desire to put things right. Has the new Minister of Health instituted a full inquiry into the extraordinary decision-making of the Waikato DHB? Has he been there for Dave and Jane? Is there the slightest evidence that David Clark is committed to making his health administrators accountable to the people they are being paid to serve? Not so far.

It’s the same story with the supposedly independent inquiry into the NZDF’s “Operation Burnham”. What was supposed to be an open and transparent inquiry into allegations of officially undisclosed civilian casualties, has become an exercise in keeping the public at bay. The excuse of “national security” has been accepted by former prime minister, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, and former Solicitor-General, Sir Terrance Arnold, to the point where the possibility of the NZDF being held to public account – let alone charged with breaches of military and civilian law – has diminished to near zero.

The legal and political assumptions on display at the Operation Burnham inquiry bear closer scrutiny. Palmer’s and Arnold’s acceptance of the proposition that national security concerns over-ride the right of New Zealand citizens, in whose name the NZDF supposedly acts, to judge for themselves both the objectives, execution and consequences of military operations, implies the existence of secret set of state protocols from which even the most basic democratic principles have been rigorously excluded. The disturbing inference to be drawn from the rulings of Palmer and Arnold is that National Security and Democracy have very few – if any – areas of overlap.

As above, so below. If those on the lower rungs of the state apparatus are confident that the principles of democracy and accountability are regarded by their masters as convenient fictions, then they are hardly likely to pay them much mind themselves. If the preservation of the secrets of the state’s most daunting institutions is accorded an over-riding priority, then hiding their own failures from close public scrutiny is unlikely to strike them as objectionable. And, if they see the Police and the NZDF engaged in the ruthless pursuit of troublemakers, then why shouldn’t they screw over the likes of Dave Macpherson and Jane Stevens?

The repudiation of democratic accountability at the highest levels of the New Zealand state cannot help but contribute to the dangerous derangement of the moral compasses of its civil servants. Pressures from actors outside the state apparatus: business leaders; public relations firms, lobbyists, bloggers and press gallery journalists; are less and less likely to be resisted. Indeed, it is probable that the distinctions between public and private interests will blur and fade to the point where the only factor worthy of consideration is whether or not the persons or groups seeking the services of the state apparatus are powerful, or powerless.

Dave Macpherson’s treatment by the Waikato DHB is instructive in this regard. Determined to get justice for his son, and for the children of so many other New Zealanders let down by this country’s woeful mental health system, Dave stood for – and won – a seat on the Waikato DHB. Democracy in action, you might think. Unfortunately not. Dave is explicitly excluded from all discussions relating to the death of his son, on the grounds that he has a clear conflict of interest. Not perceived to have any kind of conflict of interest are the persons who are currently pursuing every legal means of overturning the Coroner’s verdict on the death of Nicky Stevens.

So inured has the DHB Board become to its unelected staff calling the shots, that they see nothing unusual or wrong about this state of affairs. Neither does the Minister of Health. Nor the Labour-NZ First-Green Coalition. What’s more, until the governed get up on their hind legs and remind their government that every power it wields, it wields only because they will it; and that they and their servants are accountable to the people – and only to the people; then the slow but steady diminution of citizens’ democratic rights will continue until they become, in reality, the convenient fictions which politicians and administrators have, for the past thirty years, been working so assiduously to make them.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 9 April 2019.

Friday, 5 April 2019

Shadows Of The Past.

The Past Intrudes Upon The Present: While they continue to ride forth, pausing in their wild career to salute with uplifted arms, and uplifted swords, the Crusaders cheering fans, deep racial memories, born of the bloody excesses of Pakeha New Zealanders’ ancestors, will stir and rise to the surface. The past has a dangerous way of intruding upon the present.

THE DEBATE over re-naming the Crusaders rugby team is being framed as a case of inadvertent cultural insensitivity. According to the team’s administrators, the name was chosen simply because it “represented Canterbury rugby’s crusading spirit”. It was also a name which, way back in 1996, lent itself to all kinds of effective merchandising. Certainly, no harm was ever intended to the Christchurch Muslim community. Which is why, in the context of the recent terrorist atrocity, the team management is casting about for a new name, a new brand, and a new beginning.

So far, so plausible.

But, is it?

It was the Austrian psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, who came up with the idea of the archetype: hugely powerful words and images embodying the primitive urges and longings buried deep in what he called our collective unconscious. Others, less altruistic than Jung, interpreted them as mythic figures emanating from the indestructible recollections of the volk – racial memories.

It is difficult to argue that the crusader knight is not an extremely potent archetype. A racial memory that is very far from being forgotten. Even today, eight centuries after the last crusader kingdom was over-run by the armies of Islam, boys and young men (New Zealand rugby’s most important target market) still thrill to the image of the mounted Christian knight, Christ’s cross emblazoned on shield and surcoat, his flashing sword upraised in defiance of the infidel defilers of Jerusalem – the holy city.

It is an archetype that has shifted shape many times. Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur incorporates and appropriates the crusading ethos – morphing it into the chivalric ideals of the mythic King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. What else is Malory’s Quest for the Holy Grail but a potent sub-plot of the over-arching crusader narrative?

These stories are buried deep in our cultural DNA. “The Crusaders” sounded good to rugby fans because it reminded them of something. Something to do with riding forth against the enemy. Something about fighting for ultimate values. Something about finding on the field of battle more than mere personal glory. It was a name that conjured up something much bigger than a game of footy. Small wonder the team’s management chose it.

They were certainly not the first to have done so. The Romantics of the nineteenth century seized upon the chivalric ideal and its crusading spirit. The Gothic Revival, Sir Walter Scott’s historical novels, Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poetry: so utterly incongruous in the grim landscapes of industrial Britain; so wonderfully congruent with the imperialist mission the hugely productive forces of British capitalism made inevitable.

What else could the naked greed of Britain’s imperial quest for new markets be cloaked in except the crusading spirit? What else were the crusades but the first projection of European power beyond its borders since the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century?

It was no accident that the French-speaking Franks referred to the crusader states they had set up in what is now Israel, Lebanon and Syria, as Outremer – Overseas. No accident, either, that as Britain extended her reach “overseas”, the founders of colonies, like the Wakefield Settlement of Christchurch, saw themselves as latter-day crusaders, carrying both the cross and the sword to bring light and redemption to a fallen world.

It wasn’t just the British who instinctively reached for the archetype of the crusading knight. The English-speaking peoples were not the only ones who, contemplating conquest and the annihilation of ideological infidels, drew forth this potent symbol from their racial memory.

The black and white crosses that adorned the wings of the Luftwaffe, and the tanks of the Wehrmacht, were modern-day renderings of the heraldic devices of the Teutonic Knights: the Germanic crusading order which, long after the Crusader kingdoms of the Middle East had fallen, did battle with the heathen peoples of Eastern Europe and Russia.

The propagandists of the Nazi Party knew exactly what they were doing when they released a poster depicting Adolf Hitler, the man who was determined to see Germany once again carve out “living space” in the East, as a Teutonic Knight in shining armour carrying a cross into battle – albeit a crooked cross.

Adolf Hitler as Teutonic Knight.

Were the franchise-holders thinking of Nazi propaganda when they chose the name “Crusaders”? Of course not. But 1996 was not that far away in time from 1991, when the armies of the West (supported by their reluctant Arab allies) had gathered on the sands of Arabia, homeland of the Prophet, to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. The word “crusader” was in many Muslim mouths at the time of the First Gulf War: most particularly, in the mouth of a Saudi billionaire’s son: Osama Bin Laden.

US Marines on an Operation Desert Storm training exercise in the Saudi Desert 1991.

No discussion of the Crusades could end without at least a passing reference to the religious military order whose name still echoes in the West more than six hundred years after its last Grand Master died at the stake. (Heaping curses, it is said, on the French king who sent him there.)

“God wills it!” was the battle-cry of the Knights Templar, and to these fanatical soldiers of Christ the Muslim war-leader, Saladin, offered no quarter. It is the Knights Templar that the “crusaders” who ride out at the commencement of the Canterbury franchise’s home fixtures most resemble. (The so-called “Black Knight” who rides out alongside the “Red Knights” is clad in the livery of the Templars’ brother order, the Knights Hospitaller.)

Knights Templar and Hospitaller

Quite what those members of the Christchurch Muslim community who hail from the lands assailed by crusader armies in the eleventh and twelfth centuries make of these displays nobody, prior to the tragedy of 15 March 2019, has ever thought to inquire. Presumably the rugby authorities were entirely ignorant of the fact that the awful deeds of those armies have not been forgotten in the Arab world. Westerners are not the only people in possession of a racial memory.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, however, thought must be given to the crusader archetype. Especially since in figured with such sinister force in the thinking of the Christchurch Shooter. Like his role model, Anders Breivik, the shooter claimed to be acting on the orders of the Knights Templar. Delusional? Only if you fail to grasp the power of archetypes.

While they continue to ride forth, pausing in their wild career, to salute with uplifted arms, and uplifted swords, the Crusaders cheering fans, deep racial memories, born of the bloody excesses of Pakeha New Zealanders’ ancestors, will stir and rise to the surface. The past has a dangerous way of intruding upon the present.

Best not to summon it forth … for a game of footy.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 5 April 2019.

The Multiple Faces Of Radicalisation.

Radicals Come In All Shapes And Sizes: Consider the radicalisation taking place under our very noses in the sociology, women’s, indigenous, and communication studies departments of the country’s universities? Where do they sit on the threat spectrum? Are the young men and women being taught to hate the racist, sexist, Islamophobic and homophobic bigots who threaten their proudly diverse multicultural society, more or less dangerous than the “fascists” they seek to de-platform with such extreme prejudice?

RADICALISATION, it’s a thing. A brand new academic discipline is growing up around investigating the ideas and experiences that lead individuals towards acts of terroristic violence. The national security apparatuses of the Western powers are snapping-up every graduate in radicalisation studies they can lay their hands on. The idea, presumably, is to intercept and redirect those en route to events like 9/11 and 3/15. To recognise the plant biology of extremism and nip it in the bud.

The problem with radicalisation, as a concept, is that it comes loaded down with all manner of assumptions. The most obvious of these is the assumption that to be possessed of radical impulses; to subscribe to radical ideas; to advocate radical solutions; is ipso facto to be considered both psychologically dysfunctional and politically dangerous. To be a radical of any sort in this age of neoliberal orthodoxy, is instantly to become ‘a suitable case for treatment’.

Given that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), several years ago registered Oppositional Defiant Disorder as a form of mental illness, the redefinition of radicalism as a form of political sickness is entirely unsurprising. What better way to prevent people from getting to the root of society’s ills (the word radical is derived from radix, Latin for root) than by more-or-less criminalising the acquisition of radical ideas.

No doubt the spooks and their academic supporters would object that their use of the term ‘radicalisation’ is limited to the specific process of inculcating extreme political and/or religious beliefs in individuals carefully selected and subsequently recruited by terrorist organisations. When they talk about radicalisation, the groups they have in mind are Islamic State and Boko Haram.

Except, of course, like all such initiatives, the drive against radicalisation is prone to “mission creep”. If radicalising individuals to serve the purposes of Islamic extremism is considered a bad thing, then so, too, must be the radicalisation of individuals to serve the purposes of the burgeoning white supremacist ‘international’. Then, of course, there are all those tiny Marxist-Leninist and Trotskyist organisations filling their followers heads with dreams of proletarian revolution and capitalism’s imminent demise. Not forgetting, of course, the anarchists, animal rights activists and deep ecologists. Presumably, they too must be nipped in the bud – before they can burst into flowers of fire and blood.

But why should the war against radicalisation stop there? What about the radicalisation taking place under our very noses in the sociology, women’s, indigenous, and communication studies departments of the country’s universities? Where do they sit on the threat spectrum? Are the young men and women being taught to hate the racist, sexist, Islamophobic and homophobic bigots who threaten their proudly diverse multicultural society, more or less dangerous than the “fascists” they seek to de-platform with such extreme prejudice?

What to do, when glib YouTube philosophers reassure their ‘antifa’ acolytes that all political philosophies are ultimately grounded in violence, and that even liberal democracies are ultimately held in place by the policeman’s baton, or, when revolution threatens, the soldier’s gun? Call the cops? E-mail the GCSB?

If radicalisation really is a thing, and radicals – regardless of their ideology or religion – warrant the closest surveillance, then extreme Islamists, white supremacists, Marxists and environmental activists cannot possibly represent the full extent of the authorities’ watchlist.

The readiness to withhold empathy from those whose values the radical extremist abhors has always been the first step on the staircase that leads to terrorist atrocity. The second is the radical’s hate and rage when those deemed to hold abhorrent values refuse to be silent.

The question the spooks and their academic advisers must ask themselves is: how far up the staircase should the enemies of liberal democracy and freedom of expression be permitted to climb before their escalating radicalisation becomes a threat to their fellow citizens?

This essay was jointly posted on The Daily Blog and Bowalley Road on Friday, 5 April 2019.

Unwilling To Disclose.

Targeted: The great bundle of bearish energy that is my friend, Martyn “Bomber” Bradbury, could not understand why, suddenly, his usually supportive bank was refusing to rollover his website’s, “The Daily Blog’s”, overdraft. Bradbury was not to know that, a short time before, the Police had asked for and been given access to his bank accounts. Nor that the very fact the Police were asking had inscribed a large and very black mark against Bradbury’s name.

ONE OF THE DANGERS of keeping secrets is that the measures required to conceal them all-too-often end up revealing them. The unprecedented Police request to present secret evidence to the Human Rights Commission, for example, raises all sorts of questions about what, or who, they are trying to protect.

The great bundle of bearish energy that is my friend, Martyn “Bomber” Bradbury, could not understand why, suddenly, his usually supportive bank was refusing to rollover his website’s, “The Daily Blog’s”, overdraft. Bradbury was not to know that, a short time before, the Police had asked for and been given access to his bank accounts. Nor that the very fact the Police were asking had inscribed a large and very black mark against Bradbury’s name. Only later would he discover that his bank had not only failed to demand the production of a search warrant, but also neglected to inform Bradbury that the Police were in possession of his financial records.

If this story sounds familiar it’s because it is practically identical to the experience of another left-wing journalist, Nicky Hager. Like Bradbury, Hager was believed to have knowledge of the identity of the hacker calling him or herself “Rawshark”. It was Rawshark who, by his or her own admission, had hacked the computer of Cameron Slater, at that time the proprietor of the “Whale Oil Beef Hooked” blog. It was Rawshark’s purloined trove of Slater’s private e-mails that provided the controversial detail of Hager’s best-selling 2014 exposé, “Dirty Politics”.

In the course of their investigation of the theft of Slater’s e-mails, the Police not only sought and received (once again without the necessary authorisation) Hager’s bank records, but they also raided (this time brandishing a search warrant) his Wellington home and seized his computers.

Subsequent legal challenges by Hager’s lawyer, Felix Geiringer, established that the Police had obtained their search warrant improperly. The issuing judge had not been told that Hager enjoyed the legal protections of a journalist. Also exposed was the practice of Police investigators seeking and being supplied with individuals’ private financial information by an alarming number of the country’s biggest banks. The upshot was the return of Hager’s seized property, the communication of an official Police apology, and the payment of an undisclosed (but reportedly substantial) sum of money to New Zealand’s leading investigative journalist by way of compensation.

When Bradbury discovered that he had fallen victim to the same Police investigation as Hager, and that his reputation and privacy had been similarly violated, he laid a complaint with the Human Rights Commission. Over-worked and understaffed, the Commission took two years to get to Bradbury’s case. In the wake of the Hager settlement, however, Bradbury was confident of a favourable outcome.

His dismay upon discovering that the Police had applied to the Commission for permission to present evidence against him in private is easily imagined. Evidence, moreover, that Bradbury, the complainant, would not be permitted to view or challenge. Up until that moment, Bradbury, like most complainants to the HRC had been representing himself. Now he discovered that he was up against not only the serried ranks of the NZ Police, but also the be-wigged attorneys of Crown Law.

The question is, of course, Why? What, precisely, is the nature of the information which the Police are so determined to keep from public view?

Could it be that the information upon which the Police were persuaded to launch their extraordinary investigation had been supplied to them by one or both of New Zealand’s two national security organisations: the Security Intelligence Service and/or the Government Communications Security Bureau?

If so, then questions would have to be asked about the legal justification for placing journalists and bloggers under such surveillance. Had the requisite interception warrants been supplied – and on what grounds? That Hager and Bradbury were fierce critics of government policies? But, since when is political opposition grounds for spying on New Zealand citizens?

The suspicion arises that in 2014-2015, in some unspecified, possibly unlawful, and highly secretive way, the country’s national security apparatus was working hand-in-glove with senior elements within the police to silence and punish a couple of outspoken critics of the National-led 2008-2017 Coalition Government.

Such a pity that equivalent, over-zealous, investigative efforts were nowhere in evidence when the Christchurch Shooter was planning his homicidal attack.

Disclosure: The author is a personal friend of Martyn Bradbury, and a long-time paid contributor to The Daily Blog.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 5 April 2019.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Dark Matter

Dark Realm: Since Friday, 15 March, the Left has been dazzled by Jacinda’s light. So much so, that it has failed to understand that, far from defeating the Right’s darkness, the Prime Minister’s recent illuminations have only exposed the terrifying dimensions of its realm. Light speaks only to light. Political dark matter has always been, and always will be, profoundly deaf to everything except the soundless screaming energy of its black and inexhaustible rage.

ALL IS NOT AS IT SEEMS. That’s the brutal truth to keep in mind. Even in the golden afterglow of last Friday’s extraordinary National Remembrance Service: all is not as it seems.

So many on the Left do not appreciate the true dimensions of the vast and immovable cultural-political consensus that allows Capitalism to survive and thrive. If it wasn’t there: or, if it was there, but amenable to reason and love: then Capitalism would long ago have given way to a more human order.

This grim judgement is a lot easier for the Left to accept when reactionary ideas and parties are in the saddle and riding them hard. In those moments, it is easy to convince Capitalism’s enemies that it is, indeed, a monstrous nightmare pressing down upon the lungs of human hope.

A Left without illusions has a much better chance of organising effectively and, on rare occasions, winning.

The real danger comes when events conspire to make it appear as though the Left has already won.

Consider the events that shook Paris and the rest of France in May 1968. The tens-of-thousands of students in the streets. The barricades. The CRS – France’s brutal riot police – counter-attacking. Parisians rushing to the aid of the beaten and bloodied citizens. Clouds of tear-gas wafting down the boulevards of the capital. Spontaneous strikes in France’s largest industries. Workers turning their bosses away from the factory gates. Surely, in May 1968, France teetered on the brink of revolution?

That is certainly what it looked like and felt like.

Except, that is not what was happening.

After the French Communist Party had bribed the striking workers with a ten percent across-the-board wage rise and the factories had been handed back to the bosses. After President Charles De Gaulle had returned from Germany, where he had taken refuge with the French army units stationed there. After the French Prime Minister, Georges Pompidou, had allowed the scheduled elections for the French legislature to proceed. Only then was it made clear what the people of France really thought about the events of May 1968.

In those elections, the governing Gaullist party and its allies won 387 seats in the National Assembly. The Socialist Party and the Communist Party, between them, just 91. The Governing party had taken 111 additional seats. The combined forces of the Left had lost 99.

What had looked like a revolution was anything but.

In the United States the story was the same.

Between 1968 and 1972, the USA was rocked by some of the most tumultuous political protests of its entire history. Mass demonstrations against the Vietnam War grew ever larger. The “Youth Revolt” filled newspaper columns and the airwaves. Young left-wing delegates to the 1972 Democratic Party Convention secured the presidential nomination for Senator George McGovern – an avowed liberal and fierce opponent of the Vietnam War. The Democrats offered the American electorate the most progressive party platform since Roosevelt’s New Deal.

McGovern’s opponent, President Richard Nixon, appealed to “the great silent majority of Americans” to give him four more years in the White House.

The great silent majority were only too happy to oblige.

Nixon won an astonishing 60.7 percent of the popular vote: McGovern just 37.5 percent. The streets of America may have been teeming with young, idealistic protesters, but they were vastly outnumbered by the silent and invisible armies of the Right.

Closer to home, in 2002, the National Party was routed by Helen Clark’s Labour Party, receiving just 20.9 percent of the Party Vote. Pundits reckoned it would take National several elections to rebuild its support. Some even suggested the party might be over. Three years later, however, the Don Brash-led National Party came within 46,000 votes of winning the 2005 General Election.

Brash’s in/famous “Nationhood” speech, delivered to the Orewa Rotary Club in January 2004, unleashed a vast wave of hitherto unacknowledged Pakeha resentment towards the New Zealand state’s official policy of bi-cultural “partnership”. Responding to the highly-charged mood of racial anxiety which Brash’s speech had whipped-up, Clark felt obliged to pass the deeply divisive Foreshore & Seabed Act. Had she not, it is probable that Brash would have defeated her government, scrapped the Treaty of Waitangi and abolished the Maori Seats. The sleeping dogs of Pakeha racism, kicked into a state of vicious wakefulness, had demanded, and been given, large chunks of raw political meat – by both major parties.

When we look up into the night sky, what do we see? The moon, the planets and the stars ranged across the heavens in a glittering diadem of light. Looking at all this beauty, it is easy to believe that the universe is made up of nothing but light. But, all is not as it seems.

What the physicists and cosmologists tell us is that in between the stars there is something else. Something mysterious and invisible, and yet so powerful that without it the universe could not exist. These unknown forces are said by the physicists and cosmologists to make up 85 percent of the universe. The world of light, they calculate, represents a mere 5 percent. The names given to these mysterious and invisible cosmic forces are “Dark Matter” and “Dark Energy”.

The capitalist universe is similarly held together by dark matter infused with dark energy. Though silent and invisible, these political forces are ubiquitous and immensely strong. Powered by the dark psychic energy that drives capitalism: the lust for power and wealth; the willingness to exploit and consume; the hatred of all that is weak and in need; the worship of force and violence; and the ever-present fear of falling into powerlessness and poverty; dark political matter is not exceptional in the capitalist universe – it is the rule.

Since Friday, 15 March, the Left has been dazzled by Jacinda’s light. So much so, that it has failed to understand that, far from defeating the Right’s darkness, the Prime Minister’s recent illuminations have only exposed the terrifying dimensions of its realm. Light speaks only to light. Political dark matter has always been, and always will be, profoundly deaf to everything except the soundless screaming energy of its black and inexhaustible rage.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 2 April 2019.

Friday, 29 March 2019

Now And Then.

Extraordinary Leadership: Jacinda Ardern sails serenely above the fray: resplendent in her all-conquering empathy and internationally feted for her heart-stopping hymns of peace and love. Were an election scheduled, then she and her party would be utterly invincible.

IT’S A RACE NOW between a transcendent Labour Party and a National Party determined to get back in the game. For the moment, at least, the winds of fortune are at Labour’s back. Jacinda Ardern sails serenely above the fray: resplendent in her all-conquering empathy and internationally feted for her heart-stopping hymns of peace and love. Were an election scheduled, then she and her party would be utterly invincible. Unfortunately, for Labour and its leader, the next scheduled general election is still 18 months away.

And that is Labour’s biggest problem. In 18 months the bright, poignant images of late-March 2019 will have faded. Five hundred ordinary suns will have bleached out all but the most solid outlines of the Christchurch Mosque Shootings. Other priorities will intrude – as other priorities always do. Life is a series of special moments imperfectly recalled. And politics is a kind of life.

National’s best hope of getting back in the game is to craft its conduct around the sad but irrefutable truth that powerful emotions cannot be sustained indefinitely. Eventually the electorate’s momentarily numbed hip-pocket nerve will reassert itself. It would be a wonderful thing if “They Are Us” proved to be a more durable slogan than “What’s In It For Me?” National’s election strategists no doubt privately agree – but they’re not counting on it.

What they are counting on, however, is that the Christchurch Mosque Shootings have holed the pocket battleship NZ First below the waterline. In eighteen months it will have long since slipped below the waves. The tried and tested political themes that have lifted the NZ First Party and its leader back into electoral contention: Anti-Maori, Anti-Immigrant, Anti-Muslim; have been rendered electorally toxic.

What else could Winston Peters have been contemplating so deeply in Istanbul? He is much too astute a politician to have missed the brute fact that the Christchurch Shooter, in addition to slaying his Muslim victims, has also killed any chance of NZ First mounting a right-wing populist comeback.

That leaves Labour with only one potential coalition partner – the Greens. And therein lies Jacinda’s other big problem.

Unless there is a pretty firm laying-on-of-hands within the Greens’ caucus – and soon – there is a better-than-even chance that in 18 months’ time the Greens’ own eco-socialist sloop will have joined NZ First at the bottom of the sea.

It is becoming ominously clear that the “strategy” of bifurcating the Green Party’s image between its calm and responsible Ministers Outside Cabinet (James Shaw, Julie Anne Genter, Eugenie Sage) and its “woke” firebrands (Marama Davidson, Golriz Ghahraman) is on the point of sending the whole crew to the bottom.

The Greens would not be the only progressive political organisation to have allowed itself to be steered into the wild waters of Maori sovereignty and revolutionary leftism. Who now remembers that formerly highly-reputable overseas aid organisation, Corso? Or the Unemployed Workers’ Rights Union? When hitch-hikers are encouraged to take over the driving, the destination of the original passengers is apt to change.

A radical environmental party committed to making climate change the nuclear-free moment of this generation is one thing; but a party dedicated to challenging the white supremacist assumptions of New Zealand’s settler state, is another.

In 2002, the Alliance Party cast aside the moderation and pragmatism of its leader, Jim Anderton, and invited the New Zealand electorate to carry its socialist agenda into Parliament. The voters responded by giving the Alliance 1.27 percent of the Party Vote.

Labour can no more afford to remain indifferent to what is happening to its left in 2019 and 2020 that it could in 2002.

The arithmetic of MPP is as brutal as it is simple. If the 2020 General Election is reduced to a straightforward scrap between Labour and National: a battle fought without the distractions of minor parties; then the most likely outcome is a National victory. Labour’s vote, minus 7 percent (NZ First + Greens) will, almost certainly, leave it with a smaller share of the Party Vote than National.

That wouldn’t be the outcome if the general election was held now. Even without the support of NZ First and the Greens, the Labour Party of late-March 2019 would carry all before it.

But, New Zealanders now know how long a fortnight can be in politics.

Eighteen months is agonisingly longer.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 29 March 2019.