Friday 31 July 2009

Ancestral Voices

Rogernomics Rogues Gallery: From top to bottom: Roger Douglas, David Lange, Richard Prebble, Ruth Richardson, David Richwhite, Alan Gibbs. Targets: The New Zealand working class.

THERE is nothing very secretive about this Government’s social and economic agenda. Indeed, it’s intended direction is now perfectly plain. We can even see how John Key and his colleagues propose to make it happen – and, once again, it’s hardly rocket science.

In order to persuade voters to accept something they’re unsure of – in this case a new round of neo-liberal "reforms" – the trick is to make them believe there’s no rational alternative. Once you’ve convinced them that yours is the only sensible choice to be made, they will, however reluctantly, allow you to make it.

For example, the original package of neo-liberal economic policies, the programme known as "Rogernomics", was introduced following the collapse of "Muldoonism" – that idiosyncratic mix of regulatory and political "fixes" imposed on an increasingly restive New Zealand by National Party Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Sir Robert Muldoon, between 1975 and 1984.

The case for a decisive change of direction was made (rhetorically, at least) when the then Leader of the Labour Opposition, David Lange, famously declared: "You can’t run a country like a Polish shipyard."

That single, inspired sentence: conjuring up all the dreary imagery of a drab, inefficient, dictatorial, East European, socialist command economy, spoke directly to the electorate’s longing to break free from Muldoon’s authoritarian grip. When the newly-elected Labour Government’s Finance Minister, Roger Douglas, warned New Zealanders that no other viable alternative to his free-market policies existed – they were ready to believe him.

The political challenge confronting the present National Government is to convince New Zealand voters that the economic and social models guiding government policy for the past nine years have become similarly exhausted, and that the case for striking out in a bold new direction is unassailable.

It’s a big ask, because unlike the national experience of Muldoonism, New Zealanders’ recollection of the past nine years is mostly positive. Real wages and salaries rose; the value of people’s homes skyrocketed; credit was easy; and unemployment fell. It was only in the final year of Helen Clark’s third term that the economy headed south. Economically speaking, therefore, the Clark years are remembered as a buoyant and generally successful period.

On the social front, however, the Clark years generated considerable dissatisfaction. Her government’s social reforms, and her commitment to "closing the gaps" between Maori and Pakeha, unnerved and angered a great many conservative New Zealanders. By the end of her government’s third term, Clark’s policies had become inextricably linked with terms like "political correctness", "Helengrad" and "nanny state". Here, at least, the National Party was able to tap into a powerful mood for change.

Caught up in the coils of a global recession, however, National’s mandate to roll back Helengrad’s politically-correct Nanny State is of little use. What Key and his colleagues need is an effective strategy for restoring the country to economic health. Here is where their problems are multiplying.

The Government’s advice-stream, coming as it does from many of the same people who ushered in the first round of Rogernomics, is as narrow as it is familiar: increase the flexibility of the labour market; slash government spending; further deregulate the economy; and extend privatisation into health, education, welfare and housing. Unfortunately, such policies – essentially Rogernomics, Round II – are wildly unpopular with the voters, whose memories of Rogernomics, Round I, are mostly extremely unhappy ones.

It may have been an exceptionally silly expectation, but a majority of New Zealanders really do seem to have believed that, in voting for the Key-led National Party, they were voting for a government committed to pursuing all the usual economic objectives: full employment; rising living standards; enhanced social security; in a new way.

But, the Government’s so-far-unassailable popularity will not endure if the electorate looks at all the recent signs: the Business Roundtable’s promotion of a privatised welfare system; the Treasury’s advice to civil servants to slay themselves, or be slain; the appointment of Don Brash to lead a study into productivity; and concludes that the supposedly rehabilitated National Party is actually hell-bent on achieving economic recovery the old way.

Not even with the practically unanimous support of the mainstream news media, with its steady drum-beat of reportage and commentary in favour of striking out in "bold new directions", can this government hope to repeat the performance of the Lange-Douglas partnership. The ideological leadership provided by the news media in the years leading-up to the 1984 Snap Election was persuasive principally because it was working with the grain of history – not against it.

Muldoonism had been a failure. Wages and prices had been frozen for months. Regulation had run amok. Unemployment had risen to record post-war levels. The Government had allowed the Springbok Tour to proceed. New Zealand had been driven into a material and ethical cul-de-sac. It was time for change.

The other important factor that distinguishes 2009 from 1984 is that people did not know what the new free-market ideology would bring. They hoped the shift to more-market, less-government, solutions would bring prosperity and liberation from Muldoon’s heavy-handed economic and cultural tutelage – but they didn’t know. What encouraged them to put their trust, their faith, in the politicians urging them to take the risk was the fact that they were Labour politicians. No National government could have done what Lange and Douglas did.

That the electorate’s trust and faith was so poorly repaid by Labour turned out to be politically devastating. Indeed, the history of New Zealand politics, from the late-80s til the present day, has been about little else. Disentangling our political system from the consequences of Rogernomics took a whole quarter-century: without it there would have been no Alliance, no NZ First, no MMP, no ACT, no Greens, no John Key.

And yet, the Prime Minister, guided by the ancestral voices of the Rogernomics revolution, seems determined to repeat history – with the important difference that this time it will be National’s reputation that is shredded.

What’s more, because the voters (or, at least, the voters over 40) know what neo-liberalism means – for jobs, for public services, for national morale – almost any alternative will be considered preferable.

That’s the paradox. The only way Key’s government will convince New Zealanders that "there is no alternative" to Rogernomics, Round II, is if Phil Goff and the Labour Party are unable to offer one.

This essay was originally published in The Independent of Thursday, 30 July 2009.

This Week Ten Years Ago: (Private Vices, Public Virtues")

Gliding On: Playwright Roger Hall's characters came to epitomise the solid, decent - but uninspiring - central government bureaucracy. The Right dubbed them the "woolly-pulley brigade" after the sensible woollen pullovers Wellington civil servants wore to protect them against the capital's notorious southerlies.

POOR CHRISTINE RANKIN, reprimanded for displaying a lack of "financial discipline". It must be embarrassing, standing up there on your little WINZ podium, suffering our slings and arrows for the outrageous fortune expended on charter flights to Taupo. But for those of you experiencing a sense of grim satisfaction at the outcome of State Services Commissioner Wintringham’s inquiry, I have some bad news. Neither Ms Rankin, nor her reputation, are going to suffer the slightest long-term damage. Not where it counts. Not in the private sector.

For the past twenty years we have been told that the public service must follow the example set by private enterprise. To speed up the process, civil servants were transformed into objects of derision; figures of fun to be pilloried and laughed at. Sir Robert Jones liked to talk about the "grey shoes wearers". Richard Prebble laughed at the public servant’s fondness for "woolly pulleys". Even Bill Ralston was once moved to describe the Wellington of the early 1980s as a "grey, East European city". But it was the mild-mannered Roger Hall, who – in a caring way – inflicted the deepest wounds, with his hilarious play Glide Time and the Gliding On television series. And it still goes on. Only the other day, the Prime Minister, Mrs Shipley, was moved to remind her Federated Farmers audience of the bad old days when Social Welfare bureaucrats came to work in "walk-shorts and jandals".

It is a measure of what the Italian socialist, Antonio Gramsci, called "capitalist hegemony" that we take all this nonsense about the superior efficiency of the private sector seriously. The private sector is, by its very nature, inefficient. After all, what else is "profit" but the result of deliberately distorted pricing? Virtually any commercial service you care to name could be provided more cheaply if it were not for the private owners’ personal "cut".

Having trouble getting your head around this? Well, that’s the power of genuinely "hegemonic" institutions – in the end their arguments begin to sound a lot like "common sense".

To help you understand what I mean, consider the Mafia. In a recent newspaper article it was reported that thanks to the sterling efforts of the FBI, most of the great Mafioso crime families have been broken. This has led to a dramatic fall in the prices of the goods and services formerly under Mafia control – garbage disposal, the garment trade, building construction, etc. To extract their "profits" the criminal entrepreneurs of the Mafia imposed a sort of "tax" on the businesses they controlled. To pay this "tax" (and continue to make a profit of their own) businesspeople were forced to build it into their overall cost structures. The near elimination of Mafia extortion on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States has made life a lot cheaper for everyone.

That is what profit really is – a private "tax" on consumers. And that is why the New Right hates publicly owned businesses with such passion. Not because they are inefficient and wasteful, but because they have no need to "make a profit". They just can’t bear the fact that properly run public enterprises will always be cheaper and more efficient than their private sector rivals.

What’s more, the key motivation of public enterprise – to provide the best possible service at the lowest possible cost – instils a set of values radically at odds with the selfishness and greed of private sector players. Genuine public "servants" may not wear smart suits, or prattle on about "teamwork", but neither do they expect – or get – six-figure salaries, five star accommodation, and chartered air travel.

It’s private – not public – taxes that pay for those things. (Unless, of course, you’re Christine Rankin!)

This essay was originally published in The Dominion of Friday, 6 August 1999.

Grandfather's Beach (A poem from 1980)

Katiki Beach, North Otago.

It’s funny the way random events can shake free old memories and allow them to float up to the surface of one’s conscious mind. A query from a man who knew my grandfather’s brother’s son back in the 1930s wrote to me recently with a genealogical query. He had holidayed with this cousin of mine at Hillgrove in North Otago – just a short bike-ride from Katiki Beach. His questions recalled to my mind the following poem, written by me nearly thirty years ago about the very same spot, and my family’s ties to the surrounding countryside. The "wink-warning light" in the poem’s first stanza is, of course, the Moeraki Point lighthouse, situated on the next headland up. And the reference to "this cannibal coast" is drawn from Trotter family history, which tells of a great cache of human bones (many blackened by fire) uncovered not far from the beach. Interestingly, Michael Trotter, the cousin with whom my correspondent explored the area all those years ago, became a noted New Zealand archaeologist, and served for many years as the Director of Canterbury Museum.

Grandfather’s Beach

The headland black
Stretched arms-length seaward.
In the cloud-banked, soft-sighing night
No stars show –
Save the man-made wink-warning light
Fingering a dark sea face.
The ocean, vast,
Turns silently with the world,
Consumed in private longing
For a hidden winsome moon
Big-bellied and cloud-skipping
On the wide sky-sprawling cloak.

Here by night,
Above the saw-toothed zig-zagging reef,
Heavy with the seaweed’s slapping rags,
I stand – Man dwarfed
By the indifferent earth-blind hills.
Transient flesh,
Where sand-strangled rock
And the fish-gulping sea
Laugh, laugh
At a human wisp of time.

My Father’s Father’s
Father’s Father
Claimed this,
This bow-taut beach.
From the silver-singing sea
To sloping gorge-gut hill
He felled the trees,
Left his blubber-boiling, barb-sharp peers
For a deeper dream inland.
Where high-keening gulls
And the Kea’s wicked shriek
Close fast about a groping hand.

Fathering sons
Upon the scarred, unflinching earth
He wrestled wealth
From raped and ravaged land.
Poured forth his blood,
Set his soul free
To pace the frothing margins
Of this, His sullen
Southern strand.

Katiki – the name lingers
Along this cannibal coast.
Bone-bleached and broken skulled,
Spirits of the murdered dead
Whisper in the sand
And bubble blood
In the gurgling, tide-tugging pools.
Obscure ghosts haunt
The bush-buried creeks.
The skylines are empty of sound.

I walk.
I walk with slow strides
At the sea’s side, singing.
A living son
On his dead grandsire’s shore.
Heavy with history
The hills look down.
I step in time.
In time with the surf’s retreat,
With the Heron’s lazy beat upstream.
Where the creek spills over
The birds scatter
Like living wind-blown litter.

Answering the stone wall’s fall
I scrawl my name,
Heart’s graffiti
And a hundred years’ claim.
The sun dark hills
Muster in a line.
Sand-strangled rock
And the fish-gulping sea
Laugh, laugh
At a human wisp of time.

Chris Trotter
27 May 1980

Friday 24 July 2009

Bored of the "Mood"

"Control, Smithers, control. It's the only thing worth having!": But why should the "mood of the boardroom" count for more than the mood of the common-room, the smoko-room, or the staff-room?

IT’S the sub-text of the "Mood of the Boardroom" exercise that rankles most. The idea that a poll conducted of businessmen, by businessmen and for businessmen can somehow reveal the nation’s forward path. Even if New Zealand’s business leaders were famed throughout the world for the length of their education, the breadth of their social and scientific interest, and the depth of their cultural intelligence, the inherent conceptual narrowness of the commercial mindset would still rule them out as useful guides to national regeneration.

Sadly, the New Zealand business class possesses only the last of the attributes mentioned above. Indeed, when it comes to narrowness of vision it has few serious rivals.

With the honourable exception of Sir Robert Jones, and a handful of other cultured entrepreneurs, the Kiwi businessman has nothing but contempt for the liberally educated individual. Practical skills, rather than critical or creative thinking, is what he prizes most highly, and his reflexive anti-intellectualism may be relied upon to keep New Zealand’s productivity levels firmly at the bottom of OECD rankings (no matter how many reassuring noises he may offer to Business NZ’s pollsters.)

As the political wing of the business community, the National/Act condominium naturally mimics its masters’ failings with puppy-like enthusiasm. Dimly aware that a well-educated population is an indispensable pre-requisite for sustained economic growth, it has proudly squeezed out a policy of "national standards" and "national testing". No matter that expert opinion is unanimous in its condemnation of the policy, or that overseas experience has only grim tales to tell about the disastrous educational consequences of "teaching to the test" regimes, National’s education minister, Anne Tolley, backed by her Prime Minister, John Key, is absolutely determined to press ahead.

Addressing a Wellington business breakfast on Wednesday, 15 July, Key declared:

"The Government wants to introduce National Standards constructively, in a cooperative spirit ….. But there should be no doubt about the Government’s commitment to National Standards. Parents want them, this Government is going to deliver them, and I am backing the Minister of Education 100 percent."

If the PM’s words have a certain Churchillian ring to them, that’s because they really are a declaration of war on the education sector.

The introduction of the government’s "national standards" regime will only take place over the prostrate bodies of the powerful education unions, whose professional educators have quite rightly identified the government’s plans as a direct threat to the nation’s children. Naturally, the prospect of full-scale war with the trade unions is something from which neither the nation’s business leaders, nor their political factotums, have the slightest intention of resiling. Never mind the disruption, the trashing of professional expertise, or the lingering legacy of bitterness and mistrust: in education – as in all other things – business knows best.

This same wantonly destructive approach to all matters intellectual, critical and professional is reflected in the National Government’s decision to not only cancel the previous government’s dramatic expansion of research and development funding, but to proceed from the assumption that, in the PM’s own words: "Universities and Crown Research Institutes need to be more responsive to the needs of firms."

Not to the needs of scientists and their research teams, you will note, but to the needs of "firms". As if any New Zealand "firm" has ever possessed the wit to foresee the next great conceptual breakthrough, or anticipated the sort of scientific insight that flows only from the ability to conduct pure research free from the "insinuating tutelage of intelligent authority, and pressure weighted with gold." (Although, for most scientists, domination by "intelligent" authority would be considered a major advance!)

"Domination" is, of course, the central organising principle around which all such "Mood of the Boardroom" exercises revolve. Ever since the mid-1980s, when Treasury’s revolutionaries staged their bureaucratic coup d’état on behalf of a business community too lacklustre to do it for themselves, the necessary fiction of the omniscient Kiwi businessman has lain at the heart of the neo-liberal regime.

And that is the terrible irony of the "Rogernomics Revolution": that New Zealand’s historical shift towards the free market, master-minded and unleashed by a cabal of highly-educated civil servants, should be predicated on the notion that the very people who made the change possible, along with the social-democratic society which produced them, must, of necessity, be among its first sacrificial victims. Like the Soviet regime its adherents purport to despise, the neo-liberal state is doomed to moral and intellectual disintegration. It may have been started by men of brilliance, but its natural progeny will always be nasty, brutish, and short on talent.

Who, then, could be surprised to discover that 95 percent of the nation’s CEO’s identified the civil service as the prime target for government retrenchment? The experts, the specialists, the possessors of professional and scientific knowledge: what possible purpose could they serve in a society such as ours? The doctors, nurses, teachers and social workers who daily confront the consequences of a society driven by greed and fear: what remotely useful service could they render their fellow citizens?

It is this extraordinary conceit that makes the "Mood of the Boardroom" exercise so offensive: that the sellers of farm implements and telephone connections; book-keepers, cow-cockies and money-lenders; men and women who will never agree on anything more uplifting than that government expenditure – and hence their taxes – should be constantly and savagely reduced; should be turned to for sensible and disinterested advice by the rest of the population.

One day New Zealanders will recall that the era of their nation’s history during which its citizens experienced their most sustained period of economic, social and cultural uplift, was the era when the "mood of the boardroom" counted for no more than the mood of the common-room, the smoko-room, or the staff-room. An era when the fiction of the omniscient businessman was simply unequal to the population’s memory of the squalor, deprivation and injustice that constituted its real-world legacy.

Perhaps the current world-wide recession – the worst in 80 years – will supply a new generation of New Zealanders with a similar store of prophylactic memories, and they will come to understand, as their grandparents did, that, in a democracy, it’s not the "mood of the boardroom" that counts – but the mood of the people.

This essay was originally published in The Independent of Thursday, 23 July 2009. 

Beyond Reasonable Rout

No room for reason: "Alice felt dreadfully puzzled. The Hatter's remark seemed to have no sort of meaning in it, and yet it was certainly English. `I don't quite understand you,' she said, as politely as she could." New Zealand politics and Lewis Carrol's "Wonderland" seem to have more and more in common.

IT’S one of the most alarming sentences I’ve ever read – made all the more disturbing by being written by one of this country’s most respected journalists.

This is what The New Zealand Herald’s political correspondent, John Armstrong, wrote: "However, her major political crime was to be guilty of sounding reasonable."

Is this where we are now? At the point where a Minister of the Crown can expose herself to serious political criticism for behaving reasonably?

The event which prompted Mr Armstrong’s "guilty" verdict was the controversy surrounding the addition of folic acid to bread.

When this measure was first suggested by health professionals trying to reduce the number of babies born each year with neural tube defects like Spina Bifida, it was met with broad cross-party support by our legislators.

The overwhelming consensus among the international scientific community was that fortifying the population’s dietary staple in this way was not only extremely safe, but that it would also contribute significantly to reducing the individual and family suffering inevitably associated with such serious disabilities.

The Australians were ready to join the other Western nations (including the USA and the UK) already protecting their expectant mothers by fortifying flour-based products with Vitamin B, and New Zealand’s Labour-led Government voted to follow suit.

And that is where the matter should have rested. Tragically, however, a substantial proportion of the general public, whipped into an irrational frenzy by the Food & Grocery Council’s CEO (and former National Party MP) Katherine Rich, and kept in that excited state by a handful of journalists and politicians, has spooked the National-led Government into suspending the folic acid programme.

As Mr Armstrong put it: "In such circumstances, scientific logic and reason is the first casualty."

There is no disputing that the new Food Safety Minister, Kate Wilkinson, lacked the requisite media savvy to withstand the live-to-air joint assault by Paul Holmes and Green MP, Sue Kedgeley, on TVNZ’s Q&A programme. Crucially, it was the Minister’s poor television "performance" – not the merits of the case – which, it’s generally agreed by New Zealand’s leading media commentators, doomed the folic acid programme to defeat.

As political commentator, Matthew Hooton, put it on Radio New Zealand-National’s Nine-to-Noon programme: "You do wonder: if Kate Wilkinson had been representing the Food & Grocery Council, and Katherine Rich had been the one who ended up being the Minister, whether there would have been a different result."

But is this really the way we want our country to be governed? Are we really content to let the fate of a scientifically sanctioned, utterly reasonable, and socially compassionate policy be determined by how well a particular minister performs in the intricately scripted and crassly artificial world of television? If it is, then we will have exchanged government policies based on scientific evidence and reasoned argument, for policies based on electronic demagoguery and the baying of the mob.

And we shouldn’t kid ourselves that there’s nothing morally wrong with the idea of turning politics into a kind of reality-tv show, in which unpopular policies are "voted off the island" by an electorate motivated by carefully contrived anxieties and insatiable greed.

Over the course of the next three years, more than a dozen babies who need not have been will be born with Spina Bifida. They and their families will suffer horribly – and unnecessarily – for the rest of their lives because the Food & Grocery Council demonstrated a more effective grasp of the principles of public relations than a handful of over-worked doctors.

Their mistake was to believe, along with the political philosopher Maurice Glassman, that: "The distinction between necessary and unnecessary suffering defines the limits of political rationality. In delineating a domain of pain which is amenable to concerted public amelioration from a sphere of grief that is immutable, it defines the power of society to respond to the miseries of life."

Confronted with the misery of Spina Bifida, and given the opportunity to ameliorate that misery through concerted public action, New Zealanders, through their government, have opted to leave the "domain of pain" undiminished.

We had the chance to reduce the unnecessary suffering of our fellow citizens, and we chose not to.

The best we can say of ourselves now, is that Mr Armstrong is unlikely to find us guilty of either "political rationality", or "sounding reasonable".

This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times, and The Greymouth Evening Star of Friday, 24 July 2009.

Sunday 19 July 2009

Nineteenth century history? - The hell with you, Phil!

Continue the journey; maintain the challenge: Phil Goff doesn't seem to understand that capitalism, unmodified by the ameliorating reforms of a politically organised working class, can only end in deepening social injustice and rule by a wealthy elite.

LISTENING to Radio New Zealand-National’s "Focus on Politics" yesterday evening, I was incensed and depressed, but I can’t honestly say surprised, to hear Phil Goff dismiss Labour’s founding objective – "the socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange" as "nineteenth century history."

It got worse, with Phil adding ideological insult to historical injury by declaring that the modern Labour Party believed "a well-functioning market system is the most effective and efficient way of organising an economy". Yes, he was willing to "recognise market failure", but only to the extent of ensuring "an adequate level of regulation".

As the indignant hum of Mickey Savage spinning in his grave grew louder, Phil then proceeded to define Labour’s twenty-first century mission as being all about "how you make a modern capitalist system work more effectively, and work in favour of all of the citizens of a country – and not just the chosen few, the elite at the top."

Now, as a proud social-democrat, I have happily worn the opprobrium heaped upon me by revolutionary socialists for echoing Eduard Bernstein’s contention that, when in comes to the construction of a socialist society "the journey is everything, the destination nothing". Or, in other words, social-democracy has always been, for me, a work in progress: one that requires of its adherents a constant struggle against the ideological defenders of capitalism – in all their institutional guises.

But even a social-democratic reformist like me has to draw the line at Phil’s gross mis-characterisation of the Labour Party’s historical mission.

Let’s begin with his glib dismissal of the "socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange" as "nineteenth century history".

It was, in fact, only at the Labour Party conference of June 1951 that the socialisation clause was deleted from Labour’s aims and objectives. This was, of course, during the infamous 1951 Waterfront Lockout, when state-sponsored red-baiting was at its peak. As Bill Sutch notes in The Quest for Security, it was an "expedient" decision, intended to distance Labour from the locked-out Watersiders and their allies. But it was also a disreputable and cowardly decision which, as things turned out, offered Labour scant protection from the rhetorical assaults of its political enemies.

The dropping of the socialisation clause did not, however, mean that the Labour Party constitution was purged of any and all references to its socialist beliefs and objectives. Even today, the Party’s constitution declares, as one of its foundation principles: "Co-operation, rather than competition, should be the main governing factor in economic relations, in order that a just distribution of wealth can be ensured." And among its objectives one can still read of Labour’s determination: "To ensure the just distribution of the production and services of the nation for the benefit of all the people.", and "To educate the public in the principles and objectives of democratic socialism and economic and social co-operation."

While these principles and objectives remain firmly enshrined in the Labour Party Constitution, it ill-behoves its leader to tell Radio New Zealand-National’s political editor, Brent Edwards, that they amount to nothing more than "nineteenth century history".

I would also take issue with Phil’s description of contemporary capitalism as "the most effective and efficient way of organising an economy". Leaving aside the recent massive failures of capitalist institutions in North America and Europe, it is extremely difficult to see anything remotely "effective" or "efficient" about an economic system which constantly drives millions of human-beings into both relative and absolute poverty; contributes massively to social and racial polarisation across the globe; trashes the planet’s fragile ecology, and brings closer with every passing day the prospect of catastrophic climate change.

That Phil apparently believes it is possible to make such a system "work more effectively [for] all the citizens of a country and not just the chosen few – the elites at the top" tells me that he fundamentally misunderstands the market system he claims to support.

A capitalist economy, unmodified by the ameliorating reforms of a politically organised working class, will always fail to deliver for the overwhelming majority of the population. That’s because capitalism is intended to advantage the few at the expense of the many, and can only lead to the political domination of society by "elites at the top".

To guarantee that the economy works more effectively for the majority, it is necessary to challenge the idea that private ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange leads to a fair and equitable society. It has been Labour’s historical mission to lead that challenge, and to play a decisive role in the struggle against capitalist ideology.

The history of the past century has made me extremely wary of mounting that challenge primarily by the application of political violence and repression. My preference is for the principled and peaceful promotion of social-democratic ideas throughout the population – for making socialists of conviction rather than socialists by compulsion. Certainly, that means the journey will be slow, and there will be occasional reverses, but it most emphatically does not mean that we can ever afford to give up the challenge; put an end to the journey.

If it is your view, Phil, that the quest for democratic socialism should be dismissed as something belonging to "nineteenth century history", then I say: "The hell with you!"

And, to the members of the NZ Labour Party I say: "Find yourselves a new leader." 

Friday 17 July 2009

The Face in the Mirror

The Face in the Mirror: The culture of the new Auckland "supercity" is being formed right now - by the people in charge of the transition process. Those on the Left who decry Laila Harre's appointment to the Auckland Transition Authority need to ask themselves: "Who would you rather have in charge?"

IN her 2007 Bruce Jesson Memorial Lecture, Laila Harré quoted the former boss of the British Transport and General Workers Union, Moss Evans, who famously quipped: "When I look in the mirror when I am shaving I don’t see the face of the man who will bring down capitalism."

With her characteristic drier-than-dry humour, Harré joked that: "Of course like your typical union member today, I don’t get to first base on this one. I’m female."

At the time, Harré had only recently been elected National Secretary of the National Distribution Union (NDU). The election had been a hard-fought affair, but she’d run with the posthumous blessing of veteran union boss, Bill Andersen, who’d long admired her industrial and political skills. These were evident not only during her time as a Cabinet Minister in the Labour-Alliance coalition government of 1999-2002, but also in the "Nurses are worth more" campaign she masterminded for the Nurses’ Organisation between 2003-05.

While it’s been common knowledge for some time that Harré wouldn’t be seeking a second four-year term as National Secretary of the NDU, her latest appointment, to a senior human resources role in the new Auckland Transition Agency (ATA) has come as a major surprise.

Or, perhaps, that should be "shock". Because, if the reaction from some of the Left’s heavyweight commentators to Harré’s new job is anything to go by, she should not only forget about ever getting to Moss Evan’s first base, but consider herself disqualified from playing the trade-union/anti-capitalist game altogether.

Writing in his "Frontline" blog on Fairfax’s Business Day, the veteran leftist, John Minto, declared darkly that: "It was an inspired move to approach her and those involved will be overjoyed she accepted. Not because she will do a good job for them, which she will, but because she will provide the type of broad political cover for the agency which money can’t buy. The agency gets the added bonus that she will be the public face of the mass redundancies which will follow."

The killer-line in Minto’s posting makes very clear just how seriously he judges his former comrade’s apostasy: "Harré’s decision to join the process of corporatising and de-democratising Auckland governance will help ease Aucklander’s fears."

That statement is almost certainly true, but should we join Minto in judging Harré’s ability to allay not only Aucklanders, but Auckland local authority employees’ fears – a bad thing?

For revolutionary socialists, the pithy historical truth packed into Moss Evans "face in the mirror" quip has always been anathema. Far from seeing the trade unions as bargaining instruments, operating on their members behalf, whilst remaining firmly embedded within, and governed by the logic of, the capitalist economy, (Evan’s and Harré’s view) the revolutionary sees them as battering-rams; weapons of mass-membership destruction to be wielded against the entire capitalist system. In this all-or-nothing mindset, if you’re not part of a "fighting union", you’re not part of a union at all.

All well and good, of course, if you enjoy revolutionary rhetoric and the intoning of long-forgotten union anthems, but it butters no parsnips in the grim business of amalgamating the workforces of seven local authorities in a way that preserves the wages and conditions of those who get to stay, while ensuring adequate compensation for those who have to go.

That is a job that has to be done: a job that will be done. So the only thing to decide, really, is the sort of person you want to do it.

Are you looking for someone who has demonstrated over and over again her commitment to the rights of working people? Someone who understands and believes in the trade unions’ role of looking after employees’ interests? Someone with the education and vision to grasp the rich opportunities for creating and defining the new Super-City’s human resources "culture"?

Or, are you seeking a ruthless, union-busting, hatchet-man to set the tone for the new Auckland’s industrial relations environment? An ice-cold neo-liberal ideologue instead of a passionate social-democrat?

The Chief Executive of the ATA, Mark Ford, may see Harré as nothing more than "cover" for his dark designs to "corporatise and de-democratise Auckland governance", but I don’t think so. On the contrary, I believe the decision to appoint Harré is evidence of bold and imaginative thinking on the part of – and at the heart of - the ATA.

Certainly, the Key Government’s acquiescence in the appointment of such a prominent left-winger may simply reflect its urgent need to undo the damage done to National’s re-election chances by Rodney Hide and the shadowy right-wing forces urging him forward, but I think there is more at work here than mere party manoeuvring.

Those of us with long memories will recall that Mark Ford was one of the business experts recruited by the left-wing writer and politician, the late Bruce Jesson, during his 1992-95 term as Chair of the Auckland Regional Services Trust (ARST) – a body whose membership included Laila Harré. And I know, from many conversations with Bruce, just how much he admired Ford’s professional skills. The two became close allies in what turned out to be the ARST’s phenomenal (and unlooked-for) success in retaining Auckland’s publicly-owned assets, and in retiring its massive debt. Ford still sits on the Bruce Jesson Foundation.

Is it really beyond the comprehension of critics like Minto, that just as Jesson was able to admire the positive qualities of Ford the right-wing businessman; Ford, himself, may have found an equal amount to admire in the intellectual strength and political creativity of left-wingers like Jesson and Harré?

Inevitably, the proof of the pudding Ford and Harré have cooked-up will be in the eating. Neither protagonist is a fool, so we must assume that, fully aware of the consequences of failure, both have comprehensive exit-strategies prepared.

Harré, in particular, is well-positioned to profit from any demonstration of bad-faith on the ATA’s part. Having proved her commitment to the Super-City plan, and undertaken to give it as progressive a character as possible, who could blame her – should Minto’s dire predictions prove correct – for stepping away from the ATA, and ranging herself alongside other representatives of the intelligent and moderate Left, in the Super-City elections of 2010?

The face in Harré’s mirror my not be destined to bring down capitalism, but it could very easily play a role in bringing down John Banks.

This essay was originally published in The Independent of Thursday, 16 July 2009. 

Who Wants the Foreshore & Seabed Act?

Contested Ground? If the notion of customary rights is to acquire a legal significance over and above that contained in the current legislation, a repetition of the "Iwi/Kiwi" conflict, which the Foreshore & Seabed Act attempts to resolve, will be unavoidable.

The Act is strongly opposed by Maori and not strongly supported – indeed, often actively opposed – by non-Maori. Had there been powerful public support for the Act we would have expected to have encountered it, but we did not.

- Ministerial Review: Foreshore & Seabed Act
NOTHING better illustrates the weakness of the Ministerial Review Committee’s report to the Attorney General, Chris Finlayson, than it’s self-serving assumption that powerful public support for the Foreshore & Seabed Act does not exist.

Nor could the Committee’s predisposition in favour of the Act’s repeal, be better illustrated.

Had the Committee been genuinely interested in gauging the level of popular support for the Foreshore & Seabed Act, it would have commissioned an independent survey of public opinion. The fact that the Committee did not do this suggests a number of things.

It suggests that they were frightened of what a properly conducted attitudinal survey might have revealed.

If so, they made a crucial error. The whole fraught issue of who owns the foreshore and seabed was driven almost entirely by Pakeha mistrust of Maori intentions, and by the insistence that every New Zealander’s right to enjoy the beaches be irrevocably enshrined in statute law?

The Committee needed to know if this was still the case.

The refusal to scientifically test public opinion also suggests that something else was at work in the committee’s deliberations besides fear. It’s difficult to give it a name, but it has something to do with the notion that the views of Pakeha unsympathetic to Maori issues can be (and should be?) safely ignored.

It’s a notion which surfaces whenever the subject of Maori rights arises in elite circles. And it’s based on the conviction that your average Pakeha "redneck" is too ignorant and prejudiced vis-à-vis the tangata whenua to have an opinion worth hearing.

The Committee’s dismissive statement powerfully reinforces this suggestion of elitism. It obviously never occurred to Finlayson that the choice of a panel comprised of a Maori judicial activist, a sympathetic academic lawyer, and the daughter of Tipene O’Reagan, just might signal to individuals and groups strongly supportive of the Act that turning up would be a waste of time. (At least one such group has stated that when speaking to their submission they got the distinct impression the Committee didn’t want to hear what they were saying.)

There’s another possible reason the Ministerial Review Committee did not encounter very many supporters of the Act on their travels. Bluntly speaking, it’s because the vast majority of Pakeha New Zealanders almost certainly believe that the matter was settled five years ago. What’s more, with a National Government in power, the possibility of the Act’s repeal is probably inconceivable to all those Pakeha "rednecks" who elected Key to office. This is, after all, the same political party which gave us the "Iwi/Kiwi" billboards.

And it is upon this rock of Pakeha expectation that the Committee’s report is likely to founder.

To avoid the sort of devastating shift in political allegiance that Don Brash achieved with his infamous Orewa speech, John Key must provide his Pakeha supporters with a rock-solid guarantee that their ability to stroll, swim, sail, fish, and generally enjoy New Zealand’s coastline will not be in any way undermined. And this is, indeed, the line he has been pushing ever since the report’s release last week.

But what could guarantee public access more effectively than "the single biggest land nationalisation statute enacted in New Zealand history"? At present there is simply no disputing the Crown’s ownership of the seabed and foreshore. By passing the explicit legislative measures recommended under international law, the Crown formally extinguished Maori customary title.
That’s why Maori remain so aggrieved.

But if the Act is repealed – what then? Will it be replaced by a new piece of legislation which simply, in slightly more conciliatory language, re-imposes Labour’s original solution: a sort of Foreshore & Seabed Act "Lite"? Would anyone in Maoridom – let alone the Maori Party – accept that?

And if legislation conferring real property rights on Maori hapu and iwi is introduced? Aren’t we then right back where the country found itself after the Court of Appeal’s fateful decision of 19 June 2003?

Key and Finlayson can obfuscate as much as they like about the Committee recognising Kiwis’ cultural affinity for the beach, but "recognising" something is not the same as surrounding it with enforceable legal protections. Just as acknowledging the public’s "interest" in maintaining "access" to the foreshore and seabed, is very far from acknowledging their right to go there whenever they wish.

And that is the question the Committee should have commissioned a reputable polling agency to ask Pakeha New Zealanders: "Would you be concerned if the Act of Parliament which guarantees your right to stroll, swim, sail, fish, and generally enjoy New Zealand’s coastline, was repealed?"

Now, it may be perfectly obvious why the Committee didn’t ask that question, but the Prime Minister would be well advised to ask the National Party’s pollsters to get the answer. Because if he believes that this issue can be finessed away with soothing phrases and meaningless assurances, and that he and his Maori Party allies will be permitted to cobble together a piece of legislation which extinguishes the foreshore and seabed as the common property of all New Zealanders, then he and his government are in for a very unpleasant surprise.

Goff may be unwilling to play the race-card in the same way as Brash. To salve Labour’s wounded conscience on the issue, he may even help to construct yet another bi-partisan "consensus" over the explosive implications of legally acknowledging tino rangatiratanga. With the Greens, that would give National an impressive parliamentary majority for repeal. But the Prime Minister would be foolish to think that a parliamentary majority is the be-all and end-all of politics.

Because, inevitably, somewhere out there in "punterland" there will be someone with the requisite political skills, and the necessary finance to mobilise them, who’s going to seize upon any attempt to limit New Zealanders’ right to walk freely on their nation’s beaches, and turn it into a populist crusade of such electoral power that our political landscape will be utterly transformed – and not for the better.

Te Riri Pakeha – the white man’s anger – was ugly enough in the Nineteenth Century. It will look no prettier in the Twenty-First.

This essay was originally published in The Independent of Thursday, 9 July 2009.

Our Common Heritage

Unity trumps Identity: Labour's twenty-five-year love affair with the politics of identity has seen its share of the popular vote dwindle: from commanding nearly 50 percent electorate support in the early 1970s, to barely a third of the voters in 2008. Successful left-wing politics has always been about promoting the sort of just and equal society citizens acting together can create. It should never be about fulfilling the discrete, and often contradictory, agendas of groups created out of nothing more than the accidents of their members' births.

THANKS to Winston Peters, Labour now has some serious thinking to do.

Mr Peters appearance on TVNZ’s Q&A programme came as a timely reminder that, on issues as controversial as who "owns" the foreshore and seabed, Parliament is not the be-all and end-all of the political process. More to the point, with an electoral base of approximately 100,000, and the rudiments (at least) of a nationwide party organisation, NZ First is more than capable of filling any political vacuum created by National, Labour, Act, the Greens and the Maori Party "uniting" to smother an incipient Pakeha backlash against the repeal of the Foreshore & Seabed Act.

Labour, in particular, should ponder the consequences of allowing Mr Peters to apply his considerable campaigning skills to this issue. The Leader of the Opposition, Phil Goff, needs to decide – and quickly – if he is happy to see Helen Clark’s and Michael Cullen’s handiwork repudiated by the Labour Left. And, if he isn’t, whether a resolute defence of the Foreshore & Seabed Act would help Labour reconnect with all those communities alienated by the social-liberalism of its disastrous third term.

Amidst all the Maori Party talk about the foreshore and seabed being "stolen" (a palpable lie) it is worth reminding ourselves of the Act’s purpose: "to preserve the public foreshore and seabed in perpetuity as the common heritage of all New Zealanders".

That phrase, "the common heritage of all New Zealanders", offers a clear path forward for the Labour Party. A path which, on the vexed question of Maori-Pakeha relations, would lead it in a new, and much more wholesome, direction than the path it has been following since the early 1980s.

Essentially, for the past quarter-century the Labour Party has been driven by the "politics of identity": the ideologies underpinning the "new social movements" of anti-racism, feminism, gay rights, the rights of the disabled, and environmentalism.

These were the causes of the largely middle-class, university educated professionals who poured into the Labour Party and (to a lesser extent) the trade union movement, in response to the authoritarian and confrontational political style of the Muldoon-led National Government of 1975-84.

And, just as these new middle-class professionals swiftly overwhelmed and supplanted the working-class membership of the "old" Labour Party, their new "identity politics" overwhelmed and supplanted the socially conservative, but economically radical, working-class politics which had guided the party since its birth in 1916.

The great problem with identity politics is that it takes as its focus a series of factors for which the individual is not responsible, and over which he or she has no control. Our race, gender, sexuality, etc are attributes we inherit – they have nothing to do with personal choice, and, for the most part, they are factors we can do nothing about.

This is less of a problem when, in terms of socio-economic, cultural and political status, you’re on the debit side of the historical ledger, because then the world can be forced to make good the discrepancy. If, however, you’re not black, female, or gay, life can get pretty rough. White, heterosexual, males, in particular, are expected to pay, and go on paying, until the scales are evened-up.

But, twenty-five years on, it has become painfully clear that the application of identity politics has benefited no one so much as the social strata which promoted it in the first place: middle-class, university educated professionals.

Working-class women still earn less than their brothers. Working-class Maori still fill our prisons. Working-class gays are still persecuted. Working-class disabled people are still shut out from a full and equal life. Working-class environments remain bleak.

That’s why emphasising our common heritage and, more importantly, promoting our common future, promises to pay such hefty political dividends. Apart from emphasising the things that unite us, our common humanity, it’s a political credo which reaffirms human-beings’ ability to change their world.

Our place in this country need not be dictated by an accident of birth: whether we are Maori or Pakeha; but by how much each of us is willing to contribute to the goals that we – as a nation – set ourselves.

If Phil Goff and Labour refuse to seize this opportunity to democratise and collectivise the politics of national aspiration, then you may be certain Winston Peters and NZ First will grab it with both hands.

This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Evening Star of Friday, 10 July 2009. 

Monday 6 July 2009

Slouching towards Wellington

The many faces of Winston Peters: all of them, whether we like it or not - our own.

THE POLITICAL CLASS has never understood Winston Peters. Even when they thought they were stoning him to political death in the run-up to the 2008 election, they had no idea what they were really doing.

Peters is "us" – New Zealand – plagued with all our vices, and blessed with all our virtues. Drive him from Parliament and our democracy doesn’t become stronger – it becomes weaker. Banish his "redneckery" from public discourse and all you do is infuse it with the terrible allure of the forbidden.

When I think of Peters, I am reminded of the scene in Oliver Stone’s Nixon, when the beleaguered president stands before the portrait of JFK in the White House and says: ‘When the American people look at you, they see themselves as they would like to be. When they look at me, they see themselves as they are."

That’s the way it is with Winston.

Some of us, of course, are appalled at the sight, but a great many others like what they see. That certainly would have been the case when they watched the clips from last Sunday’s Q&A replayed on One Network News.

There he was – the people’s champion – saying all the things they had been waiting to hear someone in Parliament say ever since the Ministerial Review of the Foreshore & Seabed Act was released on Wednesday, 2 July 2009.

You certainly have to give Winston credit: not only for the performance itself – which was as good as anything he had ever done in the past – but also for his timing. Since the loss of 2008, he has watched and he has waited. And now, thanks to John Key’s extraordinary political naiveté, the moment for him to make his move has arrived.

Like his namesake, Winston Churchill, he’s been dwelling in the political wilderness – driven from power by his enemies, and deserted by his friends. But on Sunday, sensing a moment of national peril, and with the people's supposed "representatives" all succumbing to "sickly white liberal" appeasement, he stepped forward to demand action.

This is National’s worst nightmare: Winston live on network television; whistling "Dixie" and flashing that trademark grin. Naturally, Messers Farrar, Slater and Hooton will spit and snarl, but, in their Machiavellian heart-of-hearts, they know that Peters is on his way back – with scores to settle.

The big question for the Labour Opposition to answer is: "Do we try to beat him, or join him?"

Phil Goff has a heaven-sent opportunity to re-connect with the constituency Labour turned its back on between 2005 and 2008.

Will he take it – and become Prime Minister? Or, will he bow to his Left, expiate the guilt of 2003-04, and see Labour’s fortunes falter?

Surely he’s not silly enough to cast aside an issue that could rescue his party from endless years on the Opposition benches? Surely he won’t forgo the opportunity to join forces with the man who can shatter National’s grip on provincial New Zealand? Or spurn a coalition partner capable of electorally eclipsing both the Greens and the Maori Party?

It’s a no-brainer Phil.

Prove to us you’ve got the balls to do what all leaders must do, one way or the other.

See power lying in the gutter – and pick it up.

It's all pure W.B. Yeats, boys and girls. The words of The Second Coming need only the slightest tweaking:

… somewhere, in bowells of TVNZ
A body in a Saville Row suit with a head of steel-grey hair,
His gaze blank and pitiless as the TV lights,
Is flossing his bright white teeth, while all around him
Flit the shadows of indignant Gallery journalists.
The darkness drops again; but now we know
That eight months of stony silence
Were broken by a Ministerial Review,
And what svelte beast, his hour come round again,
Slouches toward Wellington to be reborn?

Friday 3 July 2009

The Politics of Barking and Biting

Barking mad? The last time the New Zealand State took the threats of Maori nationalists seriously, many New Zealanders responded by accusing it of over-reacting and "going a bit over-the-top". It is to be hoped that the mostly rhetorical and/or symbolic "barking" - of both sides - never progresses (as it did in the 19th Century) to "biting". Photomontage by Pam Templeton.

PROTESTING against "160 years of colonial oppression", Mr Tass Davis, a Ngapuhi elder, has announced his intention to lead up to 300-400 Maori in the non-violent "occupation" of courthouses and courtrooms in and around Auckland, and in the "invasion" of properties belonging to "targeted" judges.

It says something rather touching about this country, that this politically inflammatory news story has been received by most New Zealanders with either a weary sigh, or a wry grin – followed by a dismissive shake of the head.

And, so accustomed have Government Ministers and security officials become, over the past forty years, to radical talk from angry Maori groups, that threats like Mr Davis’s are simply absorbed and digested without anyone flying into a panic.

It is doubtful whether, in any other jurisdiction of this post-9/11 world, threats to occupy courthouses and invade the properties of the judiciary (albeit "non-violently") would be received with such equanimity.

In North America, Europe and Asia, anyone making such threats would almost certainly be rousted out of bed in the early hours of the morning by black-clad, heavily-armed policemen, and hauled off to several weeks of none-too-gentle "interrogation".

Indeed, so certain have New Zealanders become that this country’s indigenous population poses no threat to the status-quo, that, on the one occasion when our own police force did go in black-clad and heavily armed, there were howls of outrage, and a popular consensus swiftly formed that "the cops had over-reacted" and that their invocation of the anti-terror legislation was "a bit over-the-top".

For Maori activists, this Pakeha complacency at the quiescent state of New Zealand’s race relations must be almost as galling as the "colonial oppression" they are trying to resist.

Those familiar with the "Frankfurt School" of Marxist social criticism will, of course, recognise the phenomenon as an example of Herbert Marcuse’s "repressive tolerance". Or, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde: "The only thing worse than being taken seriously by the Colonial State – is not being taken seriously by the Colonial State."

It’s enough to make a Maori revolutionary upset the apple cart, if only to see, in D. H. Lawrence’s lovely line: "which way the apples go a-rolling".

Although, in this particular case, the political efficacy of the exercise would appear to lie in the threat itself. Because, according to Mr Davis, his group’s real purpose is to secure a meeting with the Minister of Maori Affairs, Mr Pita Sharples.

"We want to bring a sensible approach to these discussions, not incite fear", was how the Ngapuhi elder and former policeman put it to Jonathan Marshall of The Sunday News. "That does nobody any good."

Given the fact that Mr Davis’s nephew is none other than the Minister’s Maori Party colleague, Mr Hone Harawira, one might be forgiven for thinking that a simple phone call would have produced the desired outcome more effectively than threatening to re-start the sovereignty wars of the 19th Century. But, then again, the Maori way of politics has always erred on the side of subtlety.

Perhaps the actions of Mr Davis, like the actions of Mr Harawira’s nephews at Waitangi earlier this year, are targeted not so much at the wider Pakeha population, as at the Prime Minister, Mr John Key.

Perhaps it is Mr Harawira’s – and his left-wing faction of the Maori Party’s – way of saying to Mr Key: "Don’t take us for granted, or make the mistake of believing that, just because we’ve struck a deal with you, we’re no longer dangerous. For the moment, Prime Minister, we have chosen to smile at you. But that doesn’t mean we have lost any of our teeth."

A few years ago, a friend of mine very presciently remarked that Maori now held the place in New Zealand politics formerly occupied by the trade union movement. By which he meant that the tangata whenua possesses, as the unions once did, the collective strength of purpose to intervene directly – and decisively – in the life of the nation.

He was also saying that the level of coercive power required to break the strength of Maoridom would be far too draconian, and divisive, to ever risk deploying except in the direst need.

The Harawira whanau knows this, and the Pakeha Establishment knows that they know it.

Let us hope that neither side ever feels honour-bound to prove it.

This essay was originally published in The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Evening Star of Friday, 3 July 2009. 

Wednesday 1 July 2009

Eighties Radicalism (Poem from 1980)

Otto Dix To Beauty 1922

On the day the Ministerial Review Committee released its report on the Foreshore & Seabed Act, a shiver of cold foreboding ran up my spine, and I recalled this poem. Written as the Thatcher-Reagan counter-revolution was hitting its stride, and based on a real encounter in Dunedin’s famous Captain Cook Tavern, the poem addresses the awful attractiveness of creative irrationality and intelligent cynicism – with which the fascist temperament is imbued, and which confers upon its most talented exponents such frightening plausibility.

No Stars Shone

The bar all but deserted,
He smoked silently in the shadows,
Keen eyes strafing the tables.

The clock clanked ominously.

‘Your bearing betrays you, comrade –
Visions of Nuremberg plague your dreams.’
He laughed at my confusion.

‘None believe the soft tales Mother told’,
He whispered. ‘The bullet and the buckle
Seduced us long ago.
Drink with me now and let us speak
Of fire and death.
The ultimate orgasm of annihilation
That all men yearn for – kill for.’

In the ashes of his cigarette
He traced a swastika.

Night thickened beyond the bar windows.

He recited the litany:
Hitler, Heydrich, Himmler, Hess,
Goring, Gobbels and Speer –
The best of them all.

A toast!’ he cried,
Crashing his heels together.
‘To better leadership
And improved technology!’

His glass shattered against the wall.

Our paths diverged into the darkness.
A pale moon shivered
Among the clouds.

No stars shone.

Chris Trotter.