Friday 19 August 2011

Social Cohesion In A Second Term?

The Road Not Taken: Simply for bringing the Maori Party into his government, and sparing us the complete breakdown of social cohesion that would undoubtedly have followed if National's promise to abolish of the Maori Seats had been kept, John Key deserves a second term. The question is: will he be able to keep the peace for another three years?

NEARLY THREE YEARS AGO, Rob Campbell, who (by processes we haven’t the space to go into here) had undergone the remarkable transformation from Trades Hall brawler to capitalist investor, told me something I have not forgotten.

We were seated, very comfortably, at Auckland’s Cin-Cin restaurant, discussing what was already quite clearly a financial crisis of global significance. As I recall, the proportion of the world’s wealth which finance capital’s croupiers had just raked off the table amounted to about one-third.

Rob’s diagnosis of the situation was brutally clear. It would take upwards of a generation for the global economy to make good such colossal losses. The world, he said, was about to go through some very hard times.

I asked him what that meant in political terms.

“The greatest challenge we face,” said Rob, “as we go through this, will be maintaining social cohesion.”

IT IS, PERHAPS, the greatest achievement of John Key’s first term in government that the breakdown in social cohesion which Rob Campbell feared – and which we have just witnessed on the streets of the United Kingdom – has not taken place on our own.

For this the Prime Minister merits high praise.

What kept us together was his inspired decision to bring the Maori Party into his government. Had he not done so: had he simply relied upon National’s natural allies in Act; things could have been very different.

The Maori Seats, for example, would’ve been slated for abolition. This move, alone, threatening as it did the very existence of the Maori Party (and leaving them with dangerously little to lose) would have tested New Zealand’s social cohesion to breaking-point. Serious political disturbances – up to and including terrorist violence – could very easily have torn this country apart.

Simply for sparing us that terrible scenario, John Key deserves a second term.

THE BIG QUESTION,  I guess, is whether – having won a second term – John Key will be able to preserve this country’s social cohesion for another three years? Will the Prime Minister be strong enough to stare down the far-right of his own caucus (along with their clones in the Act Party) and pursue a policy agenda which, rather than driving New Zealanders apart, is designed to bring them together?

I have to say that, as things now stand, I am far from confident that the Prime Minister will be able to hold the line against a full-scale onslaught by the Right.

After three years of holding their noses against the cologne of compromise, they are ready to throw open the doors and let the winds of change blow through the House.

Mr Key, to his credit, is doing his best to win a comprehensive electoral mandate for the changes his colleagues are so desperate to make. In pursuing this objective, however, the Prime Minister is presupposing that the opinion polls are correct, and that National, for the first time since 1951, will secure more than half the votes cast on 26 November.

My gut tells me that, barring an extremely low turnout, such an outcome is highly unlikely. And, if the turnout is low, then National’s mandate will be next to useless. Dramatically falling levels of electoral participation is one of the surest signs that social cohesion is weak – and getting weaker.

THE OTHER FACTOR militating against Mr Key joining the great “coherers” of the past: men like Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Michael Joseph Savage; is that in 2011 – unlike the 1930s – global capitalism is not threatened by either a communist Russia or a fascist Germany.

Hedged-in by such existential threats, the intelligent capitalists of the Great Depression threw their support behind the “stimulus packages” of their day.

In 2011, however, unconstrained by the prospect of being supplanted by either the far-left or the far-right, global capitalism is demanding austerity measures of the most socially-destructive kind.

If National, in a second term, bows to those demands, then my old comrade’s, Rob Campbell’s, worst fears will be realised.

This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 19 August 2011.


Anonymous said...

This is a rather strange column, especially after the 'Gangster's Ball', does National really deserve another term? Is all it takes to secure social cohesion the co-optation of Maori leaders, whose party has split even before the end of the first mana-enhancing term? Are the Maori seats really critical to indigenous consent and State legitimacy?

What is really strange is the association with Rob Campbell, one of the major turncoats of the labour movement in the 1980s. He was a director of the BNZ at the height of its dodgy practices, which were blamed on State ownership. Campbell is not really an investor, but did establish a consultancy and employment agency based on contacts in government. Wheeler Campbell got to do the recruitment for certain public sector jobs, apparently because the public sector couldn't do them efficiently. He subsequently sold the business, but no doubt is still on the gravy train to some extent. Besides admitting to associating with such a person, I still can't see any great insight, anybody could have predicted that rising unemployment might threaten social cohesion.

A postscript: the English riots have really played into the Conservatives hands, or at least their ideology, that is why we will hear more of the discourse about welfare involving rights with no responsibilities from now on. Key would win even more easily if there had been less social cohesion.

Chris Trotter said...

When I last met with Rob he was managing Tappenden Holdings - a NZ investment firm owned by Trevor Farmer - I believe he's now working for Guinness-Peat.

Rob's passage from the unions' side of the fence to the capitalists' is not a straightforward tale of personal betrayal, but rather a tale of multiple betrayals by people on every side of the "quiet revolution" of the 1980s.

Certainly Rob's desertion was nowhere near as devastating as the CTU's betrayal of the NZ working-class in 1991.

And, yes, the deal with the Maori Party is, in my opinion, the only reason NZ has avoided a massive breakdown in social cohesion.

I was speaking to a number of Maoridom's best and brightest recently and asked them what they thought would be the result if a National-Act government attempted to abolish the Maori Seats.

Their reply was unequivocal. Such a move would be resisted, they said, quoting Malcolm X's famous phrase, "by any means necessary".

Avoiding that has got to be worth something.

Anonymous said...

There was nothing inspired or at all praiseworthy behind Key's decision to bring the Maori Party on board. From their strident rhetoric on election night, it was obvious that ACT were not only prepared, but positively salivating at the chance to "wag the dog" - and from previous utterances it was also obvious that Key was well aware of how electorally toxic ACT policy was (and still is). The Maori Party "invite" was merely convenient insurance, well poll-tested in advance.

But you're right: though utterly serendipitous, it has done more for progression on race-relations than decades of prior activism. The pro-NAT press has been stymied: unable to support and promote Brash's re-hash of Orewa One (in stark contrast to 2004)for fear of contradicting Key's "inclusive niceness" image. She sure doth move in mysterious ways.

Which is what makes this election so interesting. The MP (and Mana) are nothing unless they hold some sort of balance - whether outright or as "insurance" again.
Which is also why Mana Maori will form in a nano-second on November 27 if She so ordains: and MM will never enable a NAT-led govt.

That would leave us with pure NACT: the rabid tail untempered and Key uninsured. And yes, with the global mood turning angrier by the day, the prospect of real fireworks.


Anonymous said...

You are known by the company you keep, Chris, notwithstanding your explanation above; Rob Campbell -along with Ken Douglas and Angela Foulkes were 3 of the most notorious traitors to the working class in the Rogernomics years.

And it is capitalists like Rob Campbell who need ongoing social cohesion, by which they mean - workers adhering to the rules capitalists set to rule over us. Riots can be refreshing - the workers throw off the shackles of blind obedience to the laws of the ruling elite, which allows them to think outside the square, for new solutions.

Breaking down the tyranny of the capitalists will take more than just a few reforms Chris, and more than a couple of token Maori electorate seats. But I guess that doesn't make such reassuring copy for the capitalist press, huh?

Mad Marxist.

Anonymous said...


National would never abolish the Maori seats, even in a coalition with ACT. ACT know this, the Maori Party know this, Labour knows this, Maori know this and even the grassroots membership of ACT/National know this.

The policy is just there to keep the rednecks on board.

Everyone knows what will happen when such a move as that.

You give John Key and the Maori Party too much credit.

Apart from that point, I say your post is pretty much spot on.


Anonymous said...

Social cohesion is not necessarily something that should be maintained at any cost. Indeed it may be better if a smaller breakdown, a mini revolution if you like, takes place before the levels of explotiation, the diminishing of human rights or the gap between rich and poor becomes too extreme, rather than holding together some artificial consensus long past the point when it serves any useful purpose.
The longer the far right are allowed to run without serious challenge, the more entrenched they become, and the more bloody the eventual battle for freedom is likely to be.
The addiction of social democrats to rescuing capitalism every time the ruling classes greed threatens to tip it over is akin to the enabler of an alcoholic or gambler, who must eventually face up to their problem if it is to be overcome, and only encourages the bastard ruling class in their mindless pursuit of wealth, power and control over the rest of us.
In other words the middle class fear of any breakdown of social cohesion always plays into the hands of those who would do the rest of us harm.
Of course the John Key's and Rob Campbells of this world want us to stay socially cohesive while they steal the ground under our feet. They are no better than the rest of the far right, just more cunning and patient.

Anonymous said...

"You are known by the company you keep, Chris, notwithstanding your explanation above; Rob Campbell -along with Ken Douglas and Angela Foulkes were 3 of the most notorious traitors to the working class in the Rogernomics years."
the working class don't understand Marxism. What they do understand is the Helen Clarke opens the flood gates to New Zealands most desirable living spaces for the well healed of the world to feed on and after slogging away behind the wheel they go home to their diminished environment where civil liberties ensure a weak limped response to any threat to their personal safety.

Michael Wood said...

Chris - someone made the observation to me recently that people in NZ (particularly the young) seem to internalise despair and hopelessness, rather than live it out through the kind of outbreaks of dis-order we have seen in the UK. So instead of riots, we get heightened rates of drug abuse and suicide.

It's just an observation of course, but something about it rings true to me. If so, it would suggst that we haven't avoided a breakdown in social cohesion, just that it is manifesting more quietly. Interested in your thoughts.

Brendan McNeill said...


Mark Steyn has recently written an insightful book called "After America". I recommend it to the readers of this column.

Let's take the example of the UK riots that you mentioned. When you create a society where one in five children live in a 'family' where no one works, and this experience is true for their neighbors and their neighbors, it's hard to image how anything other than social unrest can result.

Where one in three children are raised on welfare in a 'family' where there is no father present, as it is in the UK, then the results are predictable.

Here in NZ one child in four is raised in such circumstances.

In the west, our issues are existential more than they are financial.

In the space of two, perhaps three generations we have spent the social capital inherent in our culture that was built up over hundreds of years.

In 1980 one NZ child in eight was raised by a welfare dependent solo parent. Today it's one in four, if the scale is linear by 2040 it will be one in two.

This is unsustainable. That means that regardless of how compassionate we are with our own money, or with other peoples money, one day it will cease to exist.

On that day, or before then, our cities will be violent places, just as we have witnessed in the UK recently, only more so.

The one 'blessing' we have here in NZ is that Europe and parts of the USA will get there before us. This means that we 'might' learn from their experience and realize that we cannot, by means of wealth transfer, buy our way out of this problem.

We need to revisit the core of who we are as people, stop rewarding stupidity with our tax dollars, and begin a new narrative based upon historical virtues, such as thrift, deferred gratification, personal development (training), work (any kind of work), faithfulness in marriage, and personal sacrifice for ones children and grandchildren.

This is an easier path for a people of faith who understand transcendence, but faith or no faith, it's our only hope.

Anonymous said...

Any kind of work?

For any kind of money?

Thrift and faithfulness can't grow in that kind of soil.

Brendan McNeill said...

@Anonymous: 6:24 AM

You ask:

Any kind of work?

For any kind of money?

I would say that unpleasant as that may sound to some people, the honest answer to that question is 'yes'.

Today we have a choice.

Tomorrow, if we maintain the present course, there will be no choice.

It's far preferable to take personal responsibility for your circumstances today, than to have an external 'solution' imposed upon you tomorrow.

To think that the State will come to your rescue one way or another, is to live in denial.

The West has run out of cheap money, our welfare system cannot be sustained with a shrinking tax base, and a growing number of 'entitled'. There are simply not enough rich 'patrons' in NZ from whom the State can extract sufficient revenues to keep the illusion alive.

I believe there is still hope for New Zealand, but it will require a significant change in the way we view our relationships with each other and the role of the State in our lives.

In the article Chris asks if "John Key will be able to preserve this country’s social cohesion for another three years?"

The very fact that this question is being asked should tell us something about the very tenuous nature of present circumstances.

It's not about John Key, he is just one man. It's about us.

Victor said...


I agree with you entirely.

But then I'm a Burkeian (small 'c')conservative, for whom the preservation of social cohesion is the alpha and omega of politics.

Are you becoming one as well?

David said...

It is perhaps an ironic commentary on the scene when Chris gained his insights from Campbell at Cin Cin on Quay, - one of Auckland's most prestigious (and thus expensive) restaurants. "We are known by the company we keep" indeed.

Rob Campbell said...

An interesting column Chris, and your analysis is in my view correct. The individual difficulties which economies globally are experiencing are not unprecedented, though the scale and complexity are certainly a challenge. In the face of this the various power centres of the global economy will achieve accomodations sufficient to enable economic activity to continue but the spread of locations and the overall pace of growth in this activity will be lower than has been experienced in recent decades. Both these processes, and the mix of liability payments to which Western states have committed themselves, will cause a great deal of pressure to social structure in the West. None of this will be greatly impacted by our choice of dining and drinking establishments, as it happens, but one remains amused by the apparent ongoing ability of the "loose left" to fire at irrelevant targets (and miss). Rob.

Anonymous said...