Thursday 25 June 2009

My Enemy's Friends

My Enemy's Friends: Until the Maori Party ceases to support the neoliberal agenda of the National Party and its allies, it must remain the un-natural enemy of all progressive New Zealanders.

SOMETIMES important political questions just have to be answered – no matter how much we might prefer to avoid them.

A few weeks ago, I encountered a posting by "Lew" at the Kiwipolitico blog entitled "Memo to the Left: The Maori Party is not your enemy."

I was sorely tempted to respond: "Memo to Lew: Yes it is." But blogosphere debates with well-meaning but misguided political naïfs like Lew are never-ending, and I had better things to do with my time.

The question, however, refused to go away – resurfacing at a PPTA field officers’conference in Auckland.

As I was the guest speaker, I could hardly avoid answering, and I’m afraid my reply was rather brutal.

"Yes, the Maori Party did make a huge mistake by throwing in its lot with National. No, I do not think the Maori leadership had a very clear view of their long-term political interests. Yes, the National Party did trick them. And no, I do not believe – even after six months – they realise how very wickedly they’ve been deceived, nor how much damage their relationship with National is about to inflict on both Maori and Pakeha New Zealanders."

To properly understand the Maori Party/National Party relationship, it is first necessary to comprehend the scale of the betrayal represented by the Foreshore and Seabed Act.

For Maori, the Fifth Labour Government’s decision to nullify the Court of Appeal’s judgement on Maori customary rights was every bit as egregious – and just as devastating – as the Fourth Labour Government’s betrayal of the broader labour movement under Rogernomics.

The Maori Party was born out of the same sort of deep political anguish that saw an embittered working-class battler scrawl on the wall of the Christchurch Trades Hall: "You were supposed to help." The same sort of anger that led to the formation of the NewLabour Party in 1989, and the Alliance in 1991.

It took nearly ten years for the rage of the people who walked out of the Labour Party to subside sufficiently for Helen Clark to be invited to the 1998 Alliance Conference, and for the delegates to vote unanimously in favour of a coalition with her despised party. For most of that decade the emotional intensity of the Alliance’s attacks on Labour had always been much greater than its criticisms of National. How could it be otherwise? Pain inflicted by someone you love is always more hurtful than the blows of an enemy.

With feelings running so high, the old proverb, "my enemy’s enemy is my friend", takes on a grim logic.

But, of course, your enemy’s enemy can just as easily be your enemy too – and in the case of the foreshore and seabed debacle this was especially true. Labour’s erstwhile deputy-leader, Michael Cullen, was telling no more than the truth when he pointed out that his government had no room to manoeuvre over the Foreshore & Seabed Bill.

From the moment the Court of Appeal’s decision was announced, Labour’s pollsters began to register a rising level of anti-Maori feeling in the Pakeha population. Clearly, it would require a strong, bi-partisan effort to withstand such political pressure. Of course, National’s pollsters were picking up the same racist vibes as Labour, but, rather than stand against them, the strategists surrounding National’s new leader, Don Brash, opted to exploit them.

The Orewa Speech delivered by Brash in January 2004, and the extraordinary shift in political allegiance from Labour to National that it accomplished, destroyed any hope of a bi-partisan approach to resolving the issues raised by the Court of Appeal.

Labour was left with just two choices: It could either take a principled stand against National’s racism – and watch its electoral support evaporate; or, it could bend before the racist gale, pass the most generous legislation it could get away with, and wait for better weather.

Labour’s Maori MPs – with the obvious exception of Tariana Turia – knew enough about te riri pakeha (the white man’s anger) to grasp that, in the long term, their constituents would be better off under Labour’s reluctant racists, than they would be under a National Party eagerly exploiting anti-Maori feeling to stay ahead in the polls.

It’s the failure of the Maori Party leadership to make the same differentiation that is setting up their people for disaster.

Driven by its nationalist ideology, the Maori Party refuses to draw a distinction between the Pakeha Right and the Pakeha Left. Both the National Party and the Business Roundtable have exploited this ideological colour-blindness with consummate political skill. John Key has deployed his considerable personal charm to engage with and befriend the Maori Party MPs. (Something Labour, unaccountably, refused to do.) Meanwhile, the Business Roundtable, in an astonishing display of ideological legerdemain, somehow persuaded Turia and her co-leader, Pita Sharples, that tino rangatiratanga and laissez-faire capitalism amounted to the same thing.

On the strength of this (false) identification, both National and the Business Roundtable have been quietly transforming the Maori Party into a stalking-horse for a new round of neo-liberal "reforms". Maori Party MPs are already supporting the privatisation of prisons, and their endorsement of education vouchers and private-public-partnerships in healthcare delivery is widely anticipated.

Seduced by the Right’s uninhibited "love-bombing" (not to mention the "mana enhancement" of ministerial salaries and prestige) Turia and Sharples seem oblivious to National’s and Act’s continuing promotion of anti-Maori prejudice among their conservative base.

While "that nice Mr Key" has been playing volleyball at Ratana Pa, paying court to the "underclass" of McGeehan Close, and hongi-ing furiously with every Maori leader he can find, the National and Act parties have been indulging in "dog-whistle politics" like there is no tomorrow.

In place of the "Maori privilege" of Brash’s Orewa speech, the two right-wing parties have substituted the over-heated rhetoric of "law and order". Why? Because whenever terms like "child abuse", "violent crime" and "dysfunctional families" appear in the news headlines, the stereotype conjured up in the mind of the "right"-thinking Pakeha voter is black – not white.

Not content with becoming a stalking-horse for neo-liberalism, the Maori Party has also allowed itself to be cast in the role of the Judas-sheep: bleating dutifully about Maori "empowerment", even as it leads its trusting followers into the slaughter-houses of poverty, ill-health, educational failure and incarceration.

Although they dearly wish it were otherwise, until the Maori Party stops advancing the Right’s extremist agenda, it must remain the un-natural enemy of all progressive New Zealanders.

This is a slightly amended version of an essay originally published in The Independent of Thursday, 28 May 2009.


Anonymous said...

a good read chris..and right on the button...i don`t think kiwi punters appreciate just how fundamentally conservative tariana turia really is...and what an opportunist peter sharples has shown himself to be...ah well...baubles of power, and all that mate...take care..

Unknown said...

I agree that it is of real concern that the Maori Party seems to have a much better relationship with the National Party than with Labour, but that is perhaps to be expected after the way Labour dealt with the foreshore and seabed issue (incidentally, I don't buy the argument that Labour's only two options were to enact the legislation they did or be defeated in the 2005 election - I think many people would have been surprised to see how many voters respect people who stand up for their principles). What is of greater concern to me is that Labour's strategy of trying to undermine the Maori Party MPs is only driving the Maori Party and its supporters closer to National. It is as though Labour wants to position itself as anti-Maori and give Maori voters every excuse to support the Maori Party's current arrangement with National.

Anonymous said...

a very perceptive piece. What the 4th Labour gov't lost was a sense for social justice, and that is what what is happening now, instead it is the Maori Party is going through the same loss. They should be asking why Pita Sharples cannot leverage his supposed personal relationship with the PM into Maori 'wards' for Auckland. Surely manawhenua extends that far. If their relationship is really so strong, this should be easily achievable.

But they are not alone. As Hone Harawira pointed out, key iwi are also losing their sense for social justice. We see this in the land around Bowalley Rd, where any sense for social justice and the wise discretion of manawhenua has been replaced by corporatisation . . . .

Jordan Carter said...

Chris: as ever thought provoking. I came to a similar conclusion in 2005 at Just Left with a post called "The Maori Party is *not* left wing". However, Labour has shown it has no trouble in dealing with non-left-wing parties.

What I'd like to see is some parliamentary thawing between the two, combined with Labour re-energising its Maori seats. We ought to be able to compete hard out given the different bases of ideology and values our two parties have, but like every other two-party relationship, a deal should be at least possible at some point.


Nick said...

Commentary on Maori issues as a Pakeha is always a very vexing subject: very brave of you to do so Chris as you are always open to the standard invective of inverse racism. The bit I find hardest to bite my tongue on as a left leaning child of the "enlightenment" is what appears to me to be a fostering by the Maori Party of an inherited class based society, with restrictive priveleges, and dissenfranchisements. Tell me I am wrong but it appears to me that the leaning to the right of the Maori party is a perfect fit with the NACT penchant for property rights and class hierachy.

Anonymous said...

Cracker post Chris, right on the nail as usual. One amendment:

With feelings running so high, the old proverb, "my enemy’s enemy is my friend", takes on a grim logic.

Subtends all logic, I'd say, as clearly demonstrated by your 4th Lab - Alliance/Lab examples and the actions of the MP leadership.

But not by their voters: hungry men know best what side their skinny bread is buttered, and the ten-to-one Maori electors who list-voted Labour have excellent memories - of decades of tory/ACT denigration, the nineties misery (including life-expectancy degradation), Orewa One etc etc ad daily, intergenerational nauseam. Hone's onto it: before too long the pissing will have to be directed into the tent - or the winds will change irreversibly.

Go easy on Lew et al: their memories are younger, but they only make your own point. Ramp the rhetoric too high and the personal will again swamp the logical. To coin a new saw: "they may be kupapa, but they're our kupapa." "Sell out" is sailing very close to the swamp.

Another point worth remembering before condemning, is that had the MP not cuddled up to Key, we'd now all be at the mercy of ACT. And that's one mangy tail that would never hesitate to wag the dog in the most violent way imaginable.

bevanjs said...

"in the long term, their constituents would be better off under Labour’s reluctant racists"
What an awful apologist line that is. I feel embarrassed for you.
Perhaps the Maori party are simply enjoying dealing with a less mercurial party, prepared to engage over at least a few issues.

Anonymous said...

Just trying to reconcile the dates... can you tell me when Court of Appeal decision was announced and when the when the Clark government announced it would legislate? I seem to remember a knee jerk reaction from the Labour government. Also when did Brash take the leadership, and the date of the Orewa speech? Didn't this post-date the Seabed and Foreshore announcement from Labour? I think you have your dates mixed up here, Chris.

DairyMan said...

A thought provoking post, as always, but how could the Brash speech in January 2004 have "destroyed any hopes of a bipartisan approach" when Labour's decision to legislate was made in June 2003, 4 days after the Court of Appeal decision? Brash wasn't even the leader!

Anonymous said...

Uhhh what ? Labour announced its legislation six months before the Orewa speech. In fact it was about two days from when the court made its ruling to when labour announced they would circumvent it with legislation.

Chris Trotter said...

The Court of Appeal's decision came as a complete bolt out of the blue - both to the Appellant and the Crown.

Don't forget, the whole matter was believed to be settled law. I was told, a year or so after the event, by one of the lawyers acting for the Appellant that both sides were absolutely dumstruck by the judgement, and that no one had anything remotely resembling a "Plan-B".

Clark, Cullen and Wilson did indeed announce their intention to intervene legislatively within days of the CoA's decision - to calm the growing fears of Pakeha responding to media reports that New Zealand's beaches might soon be off-limits to non-Maori. Remember the protest march in Nelson?

The opportunity was there, nonetheless, if National had signalled it was willing to take a bi-partisan approach, to fashion the legislation into something Maori could live with (which, even without National's support was what Cullen tried to do).

It's important to remember that the final stages of the F&S Bill were voted on after, not before, Orewa - the public response to which merely confirmed the Labour politicians' initial judgement that failure to reassure the Pakeha electorate would provoke the most extraordinary backlash.

Maori nationalists and their supporters can't have it both ways. They can't complain that New Zealand is still, in its heart, a racist/colonial society - and then act all shocked and hurt when it lives up to its critics' expectations.

I have also observed, over the years, that those who cry "Let justice be done - though the heavens fall!", are seldom the ones who have to live among the rubble.

Lee Clark said...

Gosh, yes, when you put it like that, Chris, I can now see how, Labour unilaterally screwed Maori - and the history suggests with no prompting from Don Brash, (who was at that stage a twinkle in history's eye) - or 'his strategists' - all out of an altruistic regard for the good of Maori. I think the salient issue here is that although there are those who claim there is a neo-colonialist racist agenda going on, it was perhaps innaccurately thought by Maori that Labour was taking pains not to subscribe to it. I think a better take on this would have been 'With friends like those, who needs enemies?"

Chris Trotter said...

I'm intrigued, Lee C, as to how you see politics working.

Are you of the view that the possession of a temporary majority in the House of Representatives should encourage a party to arrogantly ignore the views and wishes of the people whose votes gave it that temporary majority?

Or, do you see statesmenship as comprising nothing more than simply responding to the demands of anybody and everybody who petitions the Government?

Let me assure you, politics is nothing like that.

And if you want proof, just examine the consequences of Helen Clark forgetting that she owed her ability to govern to the voters. Labour's handling of the anti-smacking legislation, and its ham-fisted attempt at electoral finance reform, turned off its former supporters in droves.

Clark's handling of the F&S crisis, and her response to Brash's Orewa speech, on the other hand, earned her party another term in government.

You do the math.

Swimming said...

Clark’s assessment that by quickly acting to remove the right of Maori to go to Court, Labour would neutralise the issue. She would do over Maori for they had nowhere else to go politically; her concern was a cold hard pragmatic one; swinging voters (between National and Labour) don’t like Governments “pandering” to Maori. She opted for these swinging votes and against Maori.mart Maori stayed in Labour who abused Maori interests. Dumb Maori left Labour formed a Party only to be duped by the racist National Party (and Business Roundtable).

Face it Chris, Helen Clark wanted to pass legislation to cut out the conflict. Maori, in her view would not swing. . So stiffing Maori who swing would have no political consequences, as they`d stay with Labour just like they alway did. Clark saw the Maori Party as the last cab off the rank. Now they are in the driving seat and Labour is the party whose wheels have been stolen from the cab. And you don't like that, Chris. That's what this is all about, isn't it. Maori will now be better off without Labour.

Anonymous said...

The PM's announcement that the Goverment would legislate (to give clear expression to the Crown’s ownership of foreshore and seabed, which the Ngati Apa decision cast doubt upon in limited and unknown places) did come within days of the Ngati Apa decision. However the final shape of the final legislation was not concluded until much later, well after Brash's appointment, his Orewa speech, Labour's retreat from Closing the Gaps etc, that was the context in which the Act took shape. The role of the other political parties and the media were also important.

There were alternatives to the Act, allowing due process for one. Engaging in discussion and dialogue around what the Court really said, what the real credible risk of anyone being excluded from anywhere they had gone to before-and if there was such a risk couldn't some further dialogue and discussion have taken place? These approaches required a degree of respect for the public's/electorate's intelligence and confidence in the Government's leadership, persuasiveness and intelligence.

Are you able to share any more detail about the comments of the solicitor who was surprised at the outcome? The Ninety Mile Beach precedent had been the subject of much criticism so the Court of Appeal's departure from it should not have been a surprise.

The "math" might have delivered another term but it undoubtedly created the Maori Party (when other recent attempts to create such a party had stumbled), the vote-splitting in the Maori electrates indicates where those votes might otherwise have gone.

Chris Trotter said...

You're absolutely right Dave, I don't like it. And neither, I hasten to add, do a great many Maori Party members, especially the young, who quite rightly see their Party's support for the political descendents of the very worst of the colonisers as a rank betrayal.

You are also quite right about Clark. She did make the cold and quite ruthless calculation that Maori had nowhere else to go. What you're forgetting, however, is that she was right. Enough Maori did stay the course with Labour for it to secure re-election in 2005.

I remember commenting on National Radio, the morning after the 2005 Election, that it was the working-class Maori and Polynesian vote that had rescued Labour from certain defeat, and that if Clark was wise she would take care to "dance with the one she came with" in the years ahead.

Sadly, she did not heed that advice; doing little (if anything) to develop a strong and supportive relationship with the Maori Party, and failing to advance the interests of her core electoral base over the following three years.

John Key was not so foolish. From the moment he showed up at Ratana Pa and joined in a game of volleyball with the rangatahi, it was very clear that he intended to convince the Maori Party MPs that he was a very different sort of National Party leader from Don Brash.

On election-night 2008, as Labour waited in vain for "the big South Auckland booths" to once again save them, I recalled my prophecy of 2005 and wondered whether, in the end, there was some sort of fatal disconnect between Clark and her advisers and the Maori people; some deep failure of empathy and/or historical understanding that prevented her from seeing the bleeding bloody obvious political synergy of a Labour-Maori Party-Green electoral alliance.

That alliance still remains to be forged, of course, but I suspect it will have to wait for a major change of heart on Labour's part, the retirement of Turia, and the coming into his own of Hone Harawira.

Lee Clark said...

Thank you for your response Chris, but I fear we are talking at cross purposes. My view of politics is that the elected representatives should properly consult and act upon such advice. That is one of the problems in NZ there are too few checks and balances on overuse of prerogative Helen Clark's approach to Foreshore, Seabed, retrospective validation, EFA and s.59 signalled this. A second house would be a good start. If you are going to cite the 'status quo' of 'how politics work' as a defense of any viewpoint, I fail to see how you can realistically refer to yourself as a progressive thinker. Falling back on 'that's just the way of the world' is an intellectually lazy and condescending point of view. Further to that, 'the maths' indicate that another term in office was not the result of the 'Maori' issue, as Brash took National from nowhere to within one seat of a majority. By your argument, you would support legislation by redneck. Besides, In fact, Helen's 'statemanslike' approach assisted in the creation of a new political party which drove a wedge into her traditional support base. And, some might argue that National's near-majority was on the basis of the 'iwi-kiwi' billboards. Nope - The net result of Labour's enlightened and democratic attitude was the creation of the Maori Party and the EFA which, if you are suggesting was hardly indicative of a democratic attitude from Labour. No, I think to claim that Labour's 'statesmanlike' approach over F&S is piffle. It was The EB-factor and a nasty hate campaign of Labour's own design that enabled them to narrowly scrape home. They got slaughtered the next time at the polls. your 'maths' has a plus/minus of about one, I suggest you take another look at your calculations.

Unknown said...

I am sure that you have seen Farrar's criticism of you on Kiwiblog. Reading through the article and and subsequent posts left me feeling somewhat schizophrenic. They were suggesting that Labour had done a bad thing, that the criticism of Brash's hardline stance was not deserved but that there was no way that they would agree to Maori retaining any rights they might have in the foreshore or seabed.

The really interesting aspect is what will Key's National do? If it follows the Brash hard line then the agreement with the Maori party is history, if it does what the Maori Party wants many of its supporters will be incandescent with rage. Talk about the horns of a dilemma!

I bet Key wishes he was still watching screens at Merril Lynch!

Anonymous said...

"...the Maori Party... leads its trusting followers into the slaughter-houses of poverty, ill-health, educational failure and incarceration."

Perhaps, but Maori have had plenty of experience of these things, under both Labour and National.

I'm no fan of the Maori Party, but I think if they want to play the game of politics as it is, they made the right decision to go with National - if only to deal a strong blow to Labour's complacency on Maori issues.

- Sam Buchanan