Friday 30 September 2011

Resurrecting Student Activism

The Words Of The Prophets: Arrogant, ideologically-driven and potentially self-defeating, the Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Act will almost certainly put an end to most of New Zealand's students associations. But why? Over the past decade these institutions have become politically inert and absolutely no threat to the staus-quo. Voluntary student membership, conceived by the Right as a cure for the student activism of the 1990s may, paradoxically, end up resurrecting the very radicalism it set out to destroy.

FOR THE New Zealand student movement to be resurrected, it first had to be killed. And that’s exactly what the Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Act 2011 did. Voluntary student membership killed the student unions stone dead. Within a couple of years they’d been wound up. Student leaders graduated, student assets were sold. It was over.

But the needs, which student unions had been set up to meet, survived. And, since the student unions were no longer there to meet them, the universities were forced to do the job. And, naturally, it was all user-pays. Services which had once been paid for and provided out of student union dues, were now supplied directly (and much more expensively) by the universities themselves.

To make sure that these services were being provided as effectively and efficiently as possible, the universities needed feedback from the student body. Academic staff were, accordingly, instructed to identify one student representative from each of their classes. Some were perfectly happy to shoulder-tap these class reps, but most agreed that true representation could only be guaranteed by election.

The universities soon had hundreds of class reps to call on for feedback and advice. To make consultation easier they decided to group them by faculty – Arts, Commerce, Science, Medicine, Law.

Inevitably, these faculty groups acquired Facebook pages, blogs and websites, and before long a lively dialogue developed. Discussion ranged over every aspect of student life, and pretty soon the class reps were making all kinds of demands on the university authorities. Unable or unwilling to meet the demands of the faculty groups, the universities decided to acquire student feedback by other means. The class reps were informed that their services were no longer required.

Bad move.

The genie of student democracy was not so easily squeezed back into its bottle. Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere erupted with messages and postings of protest. Flyers began appearing all over the nation’s campuses calling upon the sacked class reps to come together in a nationwide series of mass meetings. An excited student of French revolutionary history called them the “student constituent assemblies”. The name stuck.

Realising that the seven SCAs were too unwieldy to act with any real decisiveness, it was decided that the faculty groups should elect delegates to Student Representative Councils. The deliberations of the SRCs were beamed out, live, to every New Zealand student with a lap-top.

When one panicky university foolishly decided to deny its SRC the use of the meeting space it had commandeered, its delegates barred the doors and called upon the student body to defend them. Thousands of students responded. The Police were called. Students were batoned, tasered and arrested. But, the defensive ring held. The SRC presidents, meeting by video conference, called for a nationwide student strike.

University students throughout New Zealand responded in their tens of thousands. When the universities shut their gates, the students poured onto the streets. Their banners proclaimed: “Democracy or Revolution? Your Move.”

An alarmed government called the university vice-chancellors and the SRC presidents to a meeting in the Beehive. The student leaders demanded that the negotiations be broadcast live. Maori Television immediately offered its services. Reluctantly, the government agreed.

Its decision was soon regretted. The student demands placed before the government were escalating well beyond the right to represent themselves when dealing with the university. The repressive conduct of the authorities had raised the consciousness of students to the point where the legitimacy of New Zealand’s entire tertiary education system was under open challenge.

The call, now, was for the restoration of free university tuition, the payment of a living student allowance, and for the governing bodies of universities to be made up of one third students, one third academic staff, and one third representatives from the community.

As a good-will gesture, the Prime Minister offered to restore the former system of student representation.

“No thanks, Prime Minister”, laughed the SRC presidents, “ this new one’s much better.”

This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times, The Greymouth Star and The Waikato Times of Friday, 30 September 2011.

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Trivial Pursuits

Bovver Boy: Why has Labour made its chief head-kicker its chief election strategist? Trevor Mallard's recent attack on University of Otago political scientist, Dr Bryce Edwards, had about it the unpleasant whiff of Muldoonism, and stands in sharp contrast to the friendly, easy-going style of National's campaign.

THEY WEREN’T the most important events of the past week. In fact, in a world racked by economic crisis and intractable conflict, they weren’t important at all. But, as is so often the case with small, seemingly trivial events, they were highly instructive. They told us why John Key’s National Party will have to work so very hard to lose the forthcoming election, and why – barring a miracle – Labour hasn’t the slightest chance of winning it.

The first event involved a visit by the Prime Minister to the University of Canterbury. Nothing so remarkable in that: the limousine pulls up; people shake hands; people make speeches; PM opens the university’s new super-computer; people shakes hands again; limousine departs. Not much to see here.

Except for the sign that 4th Year Mechanical Engineering students had stuck to the “Mech Suite” window overlooking the PM’s arrival-point.

“John, mate”, read the sign, “come up for a yarn with your country’s future engineers.”

The Prime Minister spotted the sign and, yep, you guessed it, to the whoops and hollers of the (mostly male) students … he came up.

But wait, there’s more. Not only did the PM come up, but he also agreed to match one of his larger and more terrifying DPS bodyguards against the students’ massive arm-wrestling champion, “Maddog”.

“Just for the record,” quipped the Prime Minister having caught sight of Maddog, “I do have some really huge bodyguards. If I’d had a bit of advance warning…”

The two champions squared-off and, of course, Maddog won.

“If the New Year’s honour’s list was still open,” said the PM, over the cheers of the students, “I’d give you a knighthood.”

A story for the students’ grandchildren? Well, a few years ago that would have been the case. In 2011, however, the whole event was captured on video and uploaded to You-Tube.

Now, the cynics will say: “Aw, I bet the whole thing was staged.” And, who knows, it may well have been. But, staged or genuine, isn’t really the point. What matters is that a) John Key was up for it, and carried it off with considerable aplomb. And, b) The whole event is now available to the electorate via the Internet. Just three days after it was first posted, more than 13,000 people had already watched the You-Tube clip.

It had gone “viral”.

THE OTHER event also involved the Internet. Indeed, that’s where it happened – on the Labour Party blogsite, “Red Alert”. In a posting headed “Bill English Funds Bryce Edwards”, the Labour caucus’s chief election strategist, Trevor Mallard, launched a vicious attack on the young University of Otago academic, Dr Bryce Edwards, for his, at times, highly critical assessments of the Labour Opposition’s performance.

The Bill English reference stemmed from Mr Mallard’s contention that, since Dr Edwards’ “NZ Politics Daily” (a compilation of political stories carried that day in the New Zealand media) is partly sponsored by the National Party’s polling agency, Curia Market Research, it is indirectly subsidised by the state (via Parliamentary Services) and, therefore, by the Minister of Finance, Bill English.

The gob-smacking absurdity of this claim (another sponsor of Dr Edward’s compilation is the PSA union!) was only matched by the Labour MP’s accompanying insults. According to Mr Mallard, Dr Edwards is “one of the few remaining supporters of the Alliance”, who is being “bank-rolled” to provide “political commentary which mainly attacks Labour and the Greens from the looney left.”

Rounding off his attack, Mr Mallard declared: “The guy makes Margaret Mutu look like a well-balanced academic.”

It is difficult to know where to begin with this outburst.

That it was made by the caucus’s chief strategist raises a whole host of questions about the nature of the election campaign Labour is intending to run.

Does Phil Goff sanction this stuff? We can only hope that he does not endorse the sort of crude ad hominem arguments featured in Mr Mallard’s posting. We must hope, too, that Labour’s appeal to the electorate is fuelled by emotions considerably less disreputable than the petty spitefulness and partisan hostility which it displays.

Needless to say, Mr Mallard’s outburst did not go unnoticed by Labour’s opponents – or its friends. The blogosphere was soon buzzing with negative commentary and, like the You-Tube clip from the “Mech Suite”, the posting’s audience began to expand. Within days, the number of people in receipt of Mr Mallard’s “wisdom” had grown exponentially.

ALL ELECTIONS have a “tone”: a mode of address to the voting public which (largely unconsciously) “cues” their response to the competing parties.

If we compare and contrast the tone of the You-Tube clip of the PM’s visit to the “Mech Suite”, with the tone of Mr Mallard’s “Red Alert” posting, picking the election result becomes a cinch.

Sometimes, little things generate big consequences.

This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 27 September 2011.

Friday 23 September 2011

Failed Experiment (A Short Story)

Unity Is Strength: Unionism doesn't work with some in and some out. If one worker deserves the protection of trade union membership, then all workers do. After twenty years of voluntary membership and the collapse of effective workplace representation, surely it is time to acknowledge that the experiment has failed - and bring back compulsory unionism? 

 “WHAT YOU GOT there, Blue?”, said Harry, as his oldest friend eased himself into the chair by the window.

“This, my friend, is called an Old Speckled Hen - and it’s bloody delicious. Have a sip.”

Harry took the pint glass and sipped. “Hmmm,” he said smacking his lips, “that’s not bad.”

“About the only good thing you can say for Rogernomics”, said Blue, reclaiming his glass. “The choice of beer has improved out of sight.”

“Yep. It’s been a while since there was only DB and Lion.”

“They weren’t all bad though, were they?”, mused Blue, setting down his glass. "Those days before Labour went troppo and started out-Natting the Nats?”

“Nope. Not by a long chalk. I was talking to my grandson the other day. He’s just started his first job - a barista, of all things.”

“A what?”

“Makes coffee.”

“Oh. I thought he was at varsity?”

“He is. But my daughter and her husband can’t afford to pay his fees, so he has to work and study.

“Anyway, I was telling him about my first job. It was way back in the 1930s - just before Labour was elected for its second term. I told him about compulsory unionism: about how everyone - even the office girls - were getting organised. I recalled the pride in our union delegate’s eyes as he handed us a copy of our Award.

“‘No individual contracts back then, my boy‘, I said. ‘Didn’t matter where you worked, or who you worked for. If you did the job, you were paid the rate. You could be paid more if the Boss was willing but, by God, you couldn’t be paid less.’”

“What did he say to that?”

“Well, he wasn’t too sure about compulsion.

“‘Shouldn’t joining a union be a matter of choice, Gramps?’, he says.

“That’s when Len, my son-in-law, joins the conversation. He’s a good union man - member of the Service Workers.

“‘Unionism doesn’t work with some people in and some out, son,’ he says. ‘All that does is let the employers divide and rule - and it encourages people to free-ride on the guts and sacrifice of others. I’ve always argued that if it’s alright for the bosses to be protected by limited liability, it’s alright for workers to be protected by compulsory union membership.”

“Too bloody true!”, said Blue, taking another sip of his Old Speckled Hen.

“And you should have seen his face when Len rattled off what bar-staff were entitled to under the award negotiated by the old Hotel, Hospital and Restaurant Workers Union. Travel allowances, clothing allowances, penal rates, time-and-a-half, double-time, triple-time.

“‘In real terms, son,’ he said, ‘you’re earning less than I was back in 1973.’”

“What did he say to that?” Blue inquired, gazing through the window at the windswept gaggle of university students hurrying over the pedestrian crossing.

Harry laughed. “He said, if compulsory union membership and national awards were so good for workers, why isn’t the Labour Party promising to bring them back?”

“Bloody good question!” snorted Blue, distributing a fine spray of Old Speckled Hen across the table.

“I heard that Darien Fenton woman talking on the radio the other day - Labour’s industrial relations spokesperson. You know what she says?”

“What did she say?”

“She says: ‘Nobody on the Left is calling for the reintroduction of compulsory unionism and national wards.’”

“Never asked us”, said Harry.

“No, she bloody didn’t”, muttered Blue. “But I know what I’d like to ask Darien Fenton. I’d like to ask her how much longer Labour’s going to let this wretched experiment in voluntary union membership go on before declaring it a failure?

“Ninety-one out of a hundred, Harry. Ninety-bloody-one! That how many private sector workers lack union protection. Hundreds-of-thousands of ordinary Kiwis stripped of the ability to negotiate with their employers on equal terms. To look the boss in the eye and say ‘no deal’, without being sent down the road.

“Mate, you’ve known me for fifty years. You know I used to rave on about wanting union members by conviction - not compulsion. But after 20 years it’s painfully clear that your son-in-law’s absolutely right: unions don’t work with some in and some out.”

“You’ll get no argument from me”, said Harry, picking up Blue’s empty glass.

“Same again?”

This short story was originally published in The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times, The Greymouth Star and The Waikato Times of Friday, 23 September 2011.

Thursday 22 September 2011

All Of Us - Together

Tatou,Tatou. All Of Us - Together: The Otago University Students Association's Clubs & Societies Building was built using resources contributed by thousands of students over many decades. It will likely be just one of many student assets lost to the political vandalism and ideological spite of voluntary student membership.

LONGER AGO THAN I care to compute, I made the decision to “go to varsity” and become a student. It meant becoming part of a large, complex, exciting and intensely stimulating community. There was nothing “compulsory” about the process, I could exit the university at any time. The problem was, if you weren‘t part of the university, you couldn’t be a student.

In this sense “voluntary student membership” is an oxymoron. One can no more be a “voluntary” member of the student body than one can be a “voluntary” member of the human race. You either is or you ain’t - and if you ain’t you’ve no cause for complaint.

Very soon, however, it will be possible to pretend that you both is and ain’t a member of the student body. When the Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Act, making membership of students associations voluntary, takes effect in 2012, straightforward self-interest will dictate that every New Zealand university student becomes a “free rider”. If they are able to enjoy all the amenities provided and paid for by preceding generations of students, without any obligation to contribute to the general welfare of either their own or future generations - why would they do anything else?

In a surprisingly short period of time, New Zealand’s student associations will start to wither and die. For a year or two some will survive by using-up their cash reserves and selling-off their assets. But, when these resources are finally exhausted, so too will be the tradition of independent student representation in New Zealand.

Which is not to say that student representation, itself, will come to an end. Universities must have some means of managing the relationship between their administrative apparatus and the student body. One way or another, the means will be have to be found for preserving the indispensable dialogue between those who teach and those who learn.

In other words: If students associations cease to exist, it will be necessary for the university (with parliamentary assistance) to re-invent them.

Why, then, have the Act and National Parties passed the voluntary student membership legislation? If some sort of student representative structure is indispensable, and its re-constitution inevitable - why dismantle the structures already in existence?

What has led Act and National to such wanton political vandalism?

The answer to this question casts a dark shadow over the moral probity of both parties.

National understands, as perhaps the general public does not, that the nation’s students associations constitute what is undoubtedly the Labour Party’s most reliable source of talented recruits. Far more so than the trade unions, the churches or the NGOs, the students associations have developed and delivered the political talent Labour so desperately needs to remain competitive with the parties of the Right.

Grant Robertson, The Labour MP for Wellington Central, and tipped by many political commentators as a future leader of his party, won his spurs in student politics. And he’s by no means the only member of Labour’s caucus to have done so.

National knows that if the students associations are allowed to disintegrate, it will be decades before the student movement recovers sufficiently to provide Labour with the rejuvenation it so urgently needs.

Acts motivation, by contrast, is a mixture of genuine grievance and ideological rigor.

As student numbers have grown, and the financial burdens of tertiary study increased, the effectiveness and accountability of student associations has declined. Student branches of the Act Party have exposed a number of egregious lapses in both the administration of student funds, and the quality of student governance. In this respect the students associations have been their own worst enemies.

But, even if all the students associations had been irreproachable models of democratic participation and accountability, Act would still have plotted their demise. The extreme libertarian ideology of so many young Act-ivists vehemently rejects the concepts of mutuality and continuity which the student association embodies.

They are infuriated by the thought that, as human-beings, they cannot escape the realities of collectivism. That the moment they decide to “go to varsity” they enter a living community. The roots of that community extend far back into the past, even as it pushes them towards the future. Act’s ideologues refuse to accept the fact they can’t contract out of their obligations to their fellow students without damaging and devaluing the very qualities and experiences they joined the university to acquire.

During my time at university the students association erected a handsome building to house the many student clubs and societies. Beneath the plaque commemorating its opening were carved the Maori words tatou, tatou - All of us, together. The fund which paid for the building was contributed by tens of thousands of students over many decades.

It will not take that long for them to lose it.

This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 20 September 2011.

Party Like It's 1949

The Auckland That Never Was: The visionary 1940s urban design of Ernst Plischke would have given birth to an Auckland with a decidedly European feel. Held together by its ultra-modern light-rail system and high-density state-housing, the city would have become the Stockholm of the South Seas. The defeat of the First Labour Government in 1949 put an end to the Ministry of Work's grand plan, and, under successive National Government's, Auckland was transformed into the car-dependent, South Seas version of  Los Angeles we have today.

THE DEBACLE that was Auckland’s public transport system last Friday night was more than sixty years in the making. That’s how long it’s been since a group of brilliant urban planners, based in the Ministry of Works, sent their blueprint for post-war Auckland to Parliament. Had the Labour Party won just 50,000 more votes in the 1949 general election, that blueprint would have become reality, and Auckland would now be a very different city.

But, Labour lost the ’49 election, and the National Party government which replaced the planning-friendly administration of Peter Fraser was not impressed by the MoW’s version of Auckland’s future.

As far as the National Party was concerned, Auckland’s post-war growth was the business of the private sector – not the state. Housing construction, and the infrastructure required to service the new suburbs of the 1950s, would, as far as possible, be the preserve of commercial builders and contractors.

National’s belief in individualism and self-reliance similarly militated against the MoW’s plans for an Auckland woven together by an extensive network of electric railway units on the Hutt Valley model. The government of Sid Holland was convinced that the future belonged to the private automobile. In the nostrils of the Nats, trains always carried the whiff of socialism.

They still do – as anyone who has listened to Transport Minister Steven Joyce’s paeans of praise to the virtues of the motor car can attest.

To be fair, however, the failure to create a modern public transportation network in Auckland is not the National Party’s alone.

One of the largest and most important elements in the import substitution plans drawn up by the Second Labour Government, were the car assembly plants. Not only were these factories intended to save overseas funds, but they were also excellent devices for manufacturing loyal Labour voters. The MoW’s plans for an Auckland that ran on rails continued to gather dust.

It would be another 12 years before Labour was again in office. By the 1970s, the party needed little convincing of the shortcomings of Auckland’s congested car culture. Finally, Labour was ready to back (but not to fund) the plans for a light-rail network that Auckland’s indomitable Mayor, Sir Dove-Myer Robinson, had been advocating for more than a decade.

They had not reckoned on Sir Robert Muldoon.

The monstrous hydra of motorways continued to grow, along with the number of cars crawling along it’s sinuous necks.

Labour’s neoliberal conversion in the 1980s saw the railways ruthlessly downsized and readied for privatisation. Free marketeers drove cars: public transport (especially trains) were for state-subsidised losers.

Not even the election of a Labour-Alliance government in 1999 was enough to halt the madness. And when Prime Minister Helen Clark backed and won New Zealand’s bid for the Rugby World Cup 2011, there was scant understanding of what that would require of Auckland’s public transportation system, and even less enthusiasm for making it happen.

Labour’s finance minister, Dr Michael Cullen, could have left Auckland with a modern, electrified, light-rail network. Egged on by his Treasury advisers, he chose instead to prevaricate and delay. His successor, Bill English, at least had the excuse of a global financial crisis – not to mention the disadvantage of a Transport Minister who never saw motorway plans he didn’t fall in love with at first sight.

And so, when we most needed it to succeed, Auckland’s rail network simply collapsed under the sort of numbers most modern cities move about every day of the week.

Visitors here for the World Cup from Western Europe and North America must have wondered what they’d struck. Gazing incredulously at last Friday’s hopeless snarl of decades-old, diesel-belching locomotives, and SRO carriages lacking effective air-conditioning, a working PA system, and the professional assistance of trained railway-guards; they must have asked themselves if they really were in a first-world city, in the 21st Century.

Nope – on both counts. In Auckland, if you’re looking for efficient public transport by rail, it’s always 1949.

This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times, The Greymouth Star and The Waikato Times of Friday, 16 September 2011.

Tuesday 13 September 2011

The Legacy of 9/11

Sowing The Wind: And the whole world has reaped the whirlwind of American wrath.

IT WAS A Wednesday morning, much like any other, ten years ago, when I switched on my television set to witness the fall of the North Tower of the World Trade Centre. I stood there, transfixed, as all the air left my lungs. It was as if someone had punched me in the gut.

I wasn’t alone. The blow struck that day connected with the soft emotional tissue of the entire world; and in the ten years that have passed since “9/11”, the entire world has hardened-up.

But not in a good way.

The enormity of the assault upon the United States conferred upon its Al Qaeda perpetrators a momentary equivalence that proved to be entirely spurious. Yet, at the time, and when the inevitable American counter-attack came, it was enough for people to be convinced that human savagery had become uncontainable, and that all those who sought to “rescue” and “improve” humanity were, ultimately, cheats and liars. After 9/11 and Abu Ghraib, the best thing we, the sparrows of this world, could hope to do was stay out of the hawks’ field of vision.

Which suited the hawks just fine.

Conservative intellectuals and politicians all over the world – but especially in the United States and the United Kingdom – had long maintained that the human animal was wild, vile and in need of constant restraint. Enduring moral fables, insisted the followers of the conservative philosopher, Leo Strauss, were necessary to keep the masses headed in more-or-less the right direction. And for those who stepped out of line there needed to be punishments of sufficient severity pour encourager les autres.

I use the word “fables” advisedly here, because the stories constructed by the men who were empowered by 9/11 did not need to be true – merely motivational. In fact “truth”, with all its unrelenting and indiscriminate powers of illumination, was actually much less helpful than untruth. Those “weapons of mass destruction” – ready for deployment in 45 minutes – were far more effective in mobilising war-fever than any number of tiresome lectures on the geopolitics of middle-eastern oil.

9/11 has cowed and coarsened the quality of public discourse to the point where, increasingly, the wielders of power at home and abroad are treated as forces to be appeased rather than challenged.

We have witnessed some particularly telling examples of this attitude over the past fortnight as conservative academics, politicians and journalists have responded to the investigative journalist, Nicky Hager’s, latest book, Other People’s Wars.

Central to the conservatives’ response is the effort they’ve devoted to shoring up the “moral fables” justifying New Zealand’s involvement in the post-9/11 conflicts. The scorn directed at the book’s author by his fellow journalists shows clearly what a vital role the news media plays in perpetuating the “necessary fictions” so important to New Zealanders’ self-image.

As well they might. The horrors of the 9/11 attacks unleashed, in their turn, many new horrors (Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, prisoner rendition, waterboarding, drone-aircraft-assisted assassination) as well as rehabilitating many old ones (carpet-bombing, free-fire zones, collateral damage, extra-judicial killings, mass surveillance of civilians).

Many of these latter evils date back to the United States’ last great exercise in imperial power projection – Vietnam. It should come as no surprise, therefore, to learn that many of the principal architects of the post-9/11 global horror franchise (Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld) cut their political teeth in the Nixon Administration. While 9/11 spawned many historical novelties, it also reproduced an equally large – maybe greater – number of continuities.

At the heart of these continuities lies the inescapable fact that the United States remains the planet’s dominant military, economic and cultural power. Like Hitler before him, the leader of Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, misread the secular pluralism and cultural heterogeneity of his enemy as signs of weakness. He paid for that miscalculation with his life.

Nevertheless, the attacks carried out in Al Qaeda’s name ten years ago have produced enduring – if unintended – consequences.

It wasn’t just the twin towers that crumpled and fell on September 11 2001. Demolished also was America’s faith in the humane and progressive ideals which for so many centuries had distinguished it from other great empires. Bin Laden’s true triumph came when President George W. Bush was persuaded to tear up the Geneva Conventions and sanction the use of torture.

How tragic that the man occupying the White House on 9/11 lacked the rare moral strength and wisdom of Norway’s Labour Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, who, when confronted with the horrific work of Anders Breivik, told his people that the only answer to such violence was “more democracy, more openness”. And who then, using the words of one of Breivik’s intended victims, spoke directly to our broken world:

If one man can show so much hate, think how much love we could show, standing together.”

This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 13 September 2011.

Friday 9 September 2011

Eighties' Nostalgia: Student Politics

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose: What the "progressive" student politicians of the 1980s failed to grasp was that the students whose fees paid their honoraria were no longer the revolutionary vanguard they had appeared to be in the 1960s and 70s. They may have dressed like the poor, but, increasingly, students were thinking like the middle-class kids they'd always been. Thirty years on, and progressive politics is something student "unionists" are even less willing to either fight for - or pay for.

WITH THE Voluntary Student Membership Bill about to become law, I was minded of an article I wrote for the Otago University student newspaper, Critic, in June of 1981.

Even thirty years ago it was clear to those willing to take a dispassionate look at the state of student politics that the peak organisation, NZUSA, was becoming further and further removed from its base – the ordinary students of New Zealand.

That the problems then afflicting NZUSA have, over three decades, migrated down to its constituent organisations – the students associations themselves – suggests that such dispassionate analyses of student politics as were published over that time went as unheeded as my own.

These were my concluding remarks:

“The [student] progressive movement, as such, owes its existence to the belief among a minority of New Zealand university students that NZUSA has an important social and political role to play in the development of New Zealand society.

By virtue of their commitment to this belief they have risen to positions of authority in their local student associations, and from there to National Office. In many instances they are developing radical policy positions within NZUSA that would be defeated if put before the rank-and-file of their constituents. Recognising the unrepresentative character of their actions, and yet determined – even at the risk of behaving undemocratically – to promote progressive policies, they have moved further and further away from the people who elected them: the students.

Isolated from their members and divided among themselves, progressive student politicians continue to pass policy motion after policy motion – all the time aware that effective action based on their own decisions is virtually impossible – the mass student support being non-existent.

[ … ]

The obvious need within NZUSA at the present time is for a drastic shift of power away from the upper echelons – National Office, student [association] executives – towards the student body. Only when policies arise out of political action at the grass-roots level, and only when those policies are based on the objective needs and genuine aspirations of students, can NZUSA lay claim, once again, to the title of a democratic representative institution.”

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.

The Anglo-Saxon Fist

The Tight Five: From the moment the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour on Sunday, 7 December 1941, the five Anglo-Saxon powers - the USA, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand - have, like a closed fist, constituted a whole considerably greater than the sum of its parts. Guarded by its own supra-national priesthood of spies, soldiers, businesspeople and journalists, the Anglo-Saxon imperium brooks no challengers.

GLOBAL SHARE MARKETS teeter on the brink. The Eurozone rocks backwards and forwards. Even China, the world’s workshop, looks a bit wobbly. Is there nothing solid left in this world?

Though they’ll never admit it, the mandarins at MFAT (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade) know the answer to that question. They were taught it by the people David Lange long ago derided as “geriatric generals”. And these, the retired senior officers of the Army, Navy and Air Force, learned it the hard way – in the crucible of war.

What did they discover? What is it that still possesses the strength to hold us up – even when the rest of the world is falling down?

The five fingers of the Anglo-Saxon fist.

Let’s count them off: there’s the United States of America, Great Britain, Canada, Australia and us, the smallest finger of the fist, New Zealand.

At the end of the Second World War it was this, the great alliance of what Winston Churchill liked to call “the English-speaking peoples”, that stood watch over those regions of the planet not dominated by the war’s other great victor – the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Oh yes, I know, there was the United Nations – that sophisticated Manhattanite, resplendent in her glittering ideals and high-minded notions. And later we met the European Economic Community. But the real power, the hard power, the power that kept capitalism humming, remained exactly where it had finally and irrevocably coalesced on Sunday, 7 December 1941: in the long, strong fingers of the Anglo-Saxon fist.

America dominated. Unscathed by bomb and shell; unmatched in wealth and productive power; unchallengeable in her atomic might; the United States looked forward to an “American Century”. But this did not mean that the other four fingers were powerless.

Great Britain and her empire might have been crippled by the war, but she remained an old and undefeated state. Her ruling class could call upon centuries of guile and an instructive imperial legacy. If the USA saw itself as the new Rome, then Britain claimed “the special relationship” of the Greeks.

And the English-speaking dominions? Canada, Australia and New Zealand. What would their contribution be?

When Russia got the Bomb, Canada’s strategic straddling of the Arctic circle gave the USA the crucial few minutes it needed to respond to a Soviet first strike. Australia and New Zealand, positioned with equal strategic facility beneath Asia’s vulnerable underbelly, promised instant power projection north, into the Indonesian archipelago; west, into the Indian Ocean; and east, across the island-dimpled Pacific, to South America.

Spread wide, the Anglo-Saxon fingers encompassed more than half the planet. Striking together, in a closed fist, they were all but invincible.

Unless …

For the fist to retain its strength, it had to remain united. Politicians with independent ideas: men like Jack Kennedy, Harold Wilson, Pierre Trudeau, Gough Whitlam and Norman Kirk; constituted a serious problem.

Serious, but not insoluble.

Because, in the decades since the Fist first came together it has brought into being its own, very special, priesthood. For these: intelligence and military officers; diplomats and trade representatives; businesspeople and journalists; the Anglo-Saxon Fist is a whole infinitely greater than the sum of its parts. The loyalty of this secret priesthood is not given to weak and ideologically compromised governments, but to the hegemonic power of the Anglo-Saxon imperium – and woe unto anyone who stands in its path.

Had the fourth Labour government not been presiding over New Zealand’s indoctrination into the new Anglo-Saxon creed of neoliberalism, while, simultaneously, implementing its deeply subversive anti-nuclear policy, it would have been as ruthlessly undermined as the government of Norman Kirk. Fortuitously, Rogernomics and the fall of the USSR persuaded the priesthood to wait.

That policy of wearing-down and waiting-out has borne fruit. New Zealand’s pinky finger is once again firmly embedded in the Anglo-Saxon Fist.

And, if you want to know the detail of how that was accomplished, I recommend Nicky Hager’s Other People’s Wars.

This essay was originally published in The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times, The Greymouth Star and The Waikato Times of Friday, 9 September 2011.

Thursday 8 September 2011

The Operation That Failed

Vales of Secrecy: What the Urewera "campers" were doing up there in the bush, and to what end, seems destined to remain hidden behind the mountains' swirling mist.

IT IS WITH genuine reluctance that I once again broach the subject of the Urewera 17. Not only is the legal process still in play, but such is the intensity of emotion surrounding this case that it has become practically impossible for those holding opposing views to engage in calm and rational debate.

But, the Crown’s decision to abandon its prosecution of 13 of the 17 persons accused of firearm’s offences, and the spin applied to that decision on the part of the accused’s legal counsel and supporters, has made some sort of response to the Defence’s version of events inevitable.

Hampering a clear elucidation of the issues by both sides is the continuing suppression of the Supreme Court’s judgement as to the inadmissibility or otherwise of much of the Crown’s evidence. A simple exercise in deduction, however, would suggest that the justices’ decision pertains to the considerable body of evidential material gathered under the Terrorism Suppression Act and whether the crown is entitled to make use of that evidence when prosecuting persons under another statute, in this case the Arms Act.

From what the Prosecution has already placed on the public record, it is relatively straightforward to deduce that the Supreme Court has denied the Crown the use of this evidence, thereby making a successful prosecution of those individuals charged with arms offences alone highly unlikely.

The Supreme Court’s decision highlights (and not for the first time in this case) the many and serious inadequacies of the Terrorism Suppression Act. From the very beginning of “Operation Eight” the TSA’s shortcomings have led the forces of the State from one misjudgement to another. These misjudgements have, in turn, provided those organising the defence of those arrested with a public relations bonanza, which they have exploited ruthlessly – and with considerable success.

From the moment in 2006 when two hunters stumbled on to what they told the Police looked like some sort of military training camp, the ill-fated “Operation Eight” became inevitable. With knowledge of the Urewera activity “out there” in the possession of civilians, there was the ever-present risk of it finding its way into the news media (which is what did, eventually, happen).

Astonished hunters aside, it is probable that the Police were already aware that something was up in Tuhoe country. Information about the “military training camp/s” could have come to them from at least two other sources.

The first, and most likely, institutional source would have been the Police Strategic Intelligence Unit (PSIU) which had (following its establishment in 2002, and taking a leaf out of the US and UK intelligence playbook) been running a number of spies and informants in the radical anti-war, anti-mining and Maori nationalist movements. It is probable that at least one of these informants attended the very first gathering of the radical clans in Tuhoe country and reported its proceedings back to their controller/s in the PSIU.

The other probable source is the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) which, like the PSIU, maintains a watching brief on radical individuals and organisations – especially those whose activities impinge even slightly on matters relating to the so-called “Global War on Terror”.

Both agencies would have immediately reported the Urewera activities to their bosses: the PSIU to the Commissioner of Police, Howard Broad; and SIS agents to the Service’s then Director, Richard Woods. These two gentlemen shared membership of a number of committees and groups pertaining to national security. Both belonged to “ODESC” – the Officials Committee for Domestic and External Security Co-ordination – which reports directly to the Cabinet Committee on Domestic & External Security, chaired by the Prime Minister. Broad and Woods were also members of “CTAG” – the Combined Threat Assessment Group – alongside representatives from the New Zealand Defence Force.

From the outset, therefore, it is highly probable that the activity taking place in the Ureweras was viewed almost exclusively through the prism of national security and subjected to the same kind of threat assessment which, in other jurisdictions, is regularly applied to suspected terrorist activity. In such circumstances it is simply inconceivable that the then Prime Minister, Helen Clark, and her Cabinet Committee on Domestic & External Security were not kept fully briefed on developments.

It is also highly likely that Police Commissioner Broad, aware that the eyes of the nation’s national security apparatus were on him, had no alternative except to hand over responsibility for keeping the Urewera campers under close surveillance to his responsible subordinate officer, Assistant Police Commissioner for National Security, Jon White.

According to the investigative journalist, Nicky Hager, White had a reputation among the activist community for heavy-handedness, and was seen as one of the drivers of what many radicals regarded as a rising level of authoritarian and anti-democratic policing in New Zealand. White had also attended a number of anti-terrorist seminars in the United States and the United Kingdom. He was, in short, a “hard-ass”.

When “Operation Eight” was finally launched on 15 October 2007 the images it supplied – of armed police officers, clad all in black, masked, helmeted and wearing Kevlar body-armour – provided the accused’s defence team with all the images of state repression they could use. White’s deployment of his men in and around the tiny Tuhoe settlement of Ruatoki carried an equally potent reminder of the tragic history of the Crown’s interaction with the Tuhoe people. That White either did not know – or simply didn’t care – that he was re-enacting scenes from the Iwi’s troubled past, was, from a strategic point of view, fatal. The propaganda war was lost by the Police on Day One.

Losing the legal war would take a little longer.

Given the national security environment in which he found himself enmeshed, Broad had little option but to rely on the Terrorism Suppression Act (2002) as the legal foundation of the Police operation. In this he was aided by Crown Law, which continually reassured him and White that the appallingly drafted piece of legislation, hurriedly cobbled together in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, was fit for purpose.

It was not.

When the Solicitor-General, David Collins, announced that, contrary to the advice given to Police by lawyers in the Crown Law Office, it would not be possible to charge those arrested in “Operation Eight” with offences under the TSA, the Police were left in an untenable position.

After twelve months of surveillance, during which the campers’ “training” had allegedly familiarised them with weapons and techniques of increasing sophistication and lethality, and the anxiety of the watchers had steadily mounted, Broad and his colleagues had been left with no choice but to act. Now, having acted, they’d been informed by no less a person than the Solicitor-General that the entire operation had been erected on the legal equivalent of quicksand.

For the Defence it was now open season. Not content with winning the propaganda war, they proceeded to launch a full-scale legal assault upon the evidentiary basis of the Crown’s alternative charges. What followed was a legal war of attrition, ascending through the High Court, the Court of Appeal, all the way to New Zealand’s highest seat of judgement – the Supreme Court.

Following the judgement of the Supreme Court, only four defendants remain in the Crown’s prosecutorial sights. Tame Iti, Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara, Emily Bailey and Urs Signer are charged with participation in an organized criminal group under s98A Crimes Act and unlawful possession of firearms and restricted weapons under s45 Arms Act.

According to the Crown Solicitor, S J Eisdell Moore:

“As a consequence of the Supreme Court decision, it would have been necessary for those charged solely under the Arms Act to have been tried separately to those charged under both Acts. It would not be practical for any such trials to proceed prior to the main trial in February, and were any such trials to proceed after the main trial, then the main trial would need to be the subject of wide ranging suppression orders.

The effect of the delay would be that those accused facing Arms Act charges alone would not be tried for a period of at least four and a half years from the date of their arrest. Further, they were remanded in custody for a period of time following their arrest, and they have been on restrictive bail conditions through much of the time since their release. Taking these matters into account together with findings made by the Supreme Court about the seriousness of their offending, it is the Crown decision that the continuation of proceedings against them would not be in the public interest.”

A “hard-ass” Assistant Police Commissioner’s gross insensitivity to his own country’s history, coupled with his utter failure to understand the key strategic importance of political imagery, lost the propaganda war ignited by “Operation Eight”.

For a Police Commissioner desperately concerned to do the right thing, and the Crown prosecution his decisions set in motion, the problem was an appallingly drafted act of parliament and shoddy legal advice.

For us, the public, these two failures raise the very real possibility that we may never know what those two hunters stumbled into; the PSIU’s spy heard discussed; the SIS interception warrants revealed; and the Police’s listening devices and videos recorded.

New Zealand is one of the world’s oldest democracies: a nation committed to the rule of law. The Urewera 17 (or, at least 13 of them) have escaped prosecution and possible conviction because of that commitment. They have taken full advantage of the presumption of innocence, and have strenuously exercised their right to silence.

What they were doing up there in the bush, and to what end, remains hidden in the swirling Urewera mist.

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Election Humour: Joke No. 1

This delightful political joke was sent to me by Dr Peter Thompson, who lectures in Communication Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. Enjoy.

WHILE WALKING DOWN the street one day a Member of Parliament is tragically hit by a truck and dies.

His soul arrives in Heaven and is met by St Peter at the entrance.

“Welcome to heaven,” says St Peter. “Before you settle in, it seems there is a problem. We seldom see a high official around these parts, you see, so we’re not sure what to do with you.”

“No problem, just let me in,” says the MP.

“Well, I'd like to, but I have orders from higher up. What we’ll do is have you spend one day in Hell and one in Heaven.  Then you can choose where to spend eternity.”

“Really, I’ve made up my mind. I want to be in Heaven,” says the MP.

“I’m sorry, but we have our rules.”

And with that, St Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to Hell.  The doors open and he finds himself in the middle of a green golf course. In the distance is a clubhouse and standing in front of it are all his friends and other politicians who had worked with him.

Everyone is very happy and in evening dress. They run to greet him, shake his hand, and reminisce about the good times they had while getting rich at the expense of the people. They play a friendly game of golf and are then invited to dine on lobster and caviar and drink the finest champagne. After the meal they smoke the best Cuban cigars and enjoy a vintage cognac.

Also present is the Devil, who turns out to be a really stand-up guy, who shows them a truly fantastic time, dancing and telling jokes. They are having such a good time that before he realizes it, it’s time to go. Everyone gives him a hearty farewell and waves while the elevator rises.

The elevator goes up, up, up and the  door reopens on Heaven where St Peter is waiting for  him.

“Now it’s time to visit heaven.”

So, 24 hours pass with the MP joining a group of contented souls floating from cloud to cloud, playing the harp and singing.  They have a good time and, before he realises it, the 24 hours have gone by and St Peter returns.

“Well, then, you’ve spent a day in Hell and another in Heaven. Now, choose your eternity.”

The MP reflects for a minute, then he answers:

“Well, I would never have said it before, I mean Heaven has been delightful, but I think I would be better off in Hell.”

So, St Peter escorts him to the lift and he goes down, down, down to Hell.

Now the doors of the lift open and he’s in the middle of a burning waste willed with ordure and rubbish. He sees all his friends, dressed in rags, picking up the trash and putting it in black bags as more filth falls eternally from above and demons with pitchforks exhort them to work harder.

The Devil comes over to him and puts his arm around his shoulder.

“I don't understand,” stammers the MP, “yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and clubhouse, and we ate lobster and caviar, drank champagne, and danced and had a great time. Now there’s just a wasteland full of filth and my friends are being tormented . What’s happened?”

The Devil looks at him, smiles, and says:

“Yesterday we were campaigning. Today you voted.”

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.

Tuesday 6 September 2011

No Place For Partisanship

Hail To The Chief: Members of the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team based in Bamiyan Province, Afghanistan, welcome US General David Petraeus to "Kiwi Base", 9 May 2011. According to Nicky Hager's latest book, Other People's Wars, the base also contains a communications post staffed by non-military US personnel - almost certainly CIA/NSA employees. Kiwi journalists embedded with the NZ Defence Force had not considered this US intelligence presence sufficiently newsworthy to be included in their reports to the New Zealand public.

WHAT SEPARATES the great from the merely successful prime minister is knowing when to leave partisanship behind. John Key, in responding to the Canterbury earthquakes and the Pike River disaster, spoke for all New Zealanders. He’s not an eloquent man, but on those tragic occasions it wasn’t important. Most Kiwis mistrust the easily eloquent, and are actually rather proud of having a prime minister who not only speaks for them – but like them.

After the high and solemn rituals of mourning associated with natural disasters, the most important responsibilities of national leadership are those attached to the grim exigencies of war and peace. Committing the nation’s blood and treasure in war is, perhaps, the most important decision a prime minister makes. Which is why, when confronted with serious questions about the conduct of his country’s armed forces, a prime minister cannot afford to be careless, or flippant, or dismissive in his responses. Above all, he cannot afford to be partisan.

And yet, last Thursday, when confronted with the plethora of serious questions contained in Nicky Hager’s latest book, Other People’s Wars: New Zealand in Afghanistan, Iraq and the war on terror, Prime Minister Key’s response was careless, flippant, dismissive and partisan.

“I don't have time to read fiction,” quipped the Prime Minister, adding that the book contained “no smoking gun”, just supposition, which, “makes it business as normal for Nicky Hager.”

Lawyer, Stephen Price, captured the extraordinary rudeness of the Prime Minister’s response on his Media Law Journal blog:

“Just heard John Key discussing the book on [Radio New Zealand’s] Checkpoint. He said (a) there was no evidence for Hager’s claims; and (b) he hadn’t read the book. I hope other people find that as breath-taking as I do, given that the book contains more than 1300 footnotes, most of them referring to documentary sources.”

Curiously, our Prime Minister – more than any other New Zealander – has reason to honour Mr Hager. It was, after all, Mr Hager’s last book, The Hollow Men, which precipitated the downfall of Dr Don Brash, and elevated Mr Key to Leader of the Opposition. Without Nicky’s “smoking gun” back in 2006, it’s possible some other National Party MP may have become prime minister.

Perhaps it’s the fact that he’s peculiarly beholden to Mr Hager which explains why the Prime Minister feels obliged to add his own full measure of bile to those of all the other right-wing critics of Mr Hager’s work?

One can only speculate as to why the New Zealand Right responds with such irrational and defamatory fury to Mr Hager’s publications. He is, after all, an award-winning investigative journalist with an international reputation. His first book, Secret Power, on global intelligence systems (including our own Waihopai listening station) was described by intelligence expert, Jeffrey Richelson, as “a masterpiece of investigative reporting” and led to a year-long European Parliament inquiry.

In his own land, however, Mr Hager is without profit and seldom honoured. Victim of a right-wing demonstration of the Tall Poppy Syndrome? Perhaps. But I suspect there’s more to it than that. I suspect that Mr Hager represents what the Right fears the most – an effective Fourth Estate. In this country, investigative journalism is (just) tolerated in the fields of crime, business and public administration. When it comes to the dark arts of public relations, political campaigning, intelligence-gathering and national defence, however, it is not tolerated at all.

The revelations contained in Mr Hager’s book, augmented by fellow investigative journalist and war correspondent, Jon Stephenson’s, Metro article, “Eyes Wide Shut”, tell us why. Both men succeed in directing a very bright light into some of the most fiercely protected areas of “national security”.

It also explains why Mr Hager and Mr Stephenson arouse such animosity among less independent journalists. Bluntly expressed, these others stand exposed for the crude “stenographers of power” they have allowed themselves to become.

In Other People’s Wars, for example, Mr Hager reveals the co-existence, within the New Zealand Defence Force’s Bamiyan base, of an American intelligence-gathering operation almost certainly staffed by members of the CIA and/or the US National Security Agency. New Zealand journalists who’d been embedded with the NZDF in Afghanistan moved with indecent haste to pour scorn on Mr Hager’s revelations.

Once again, quoting Stephen Price: “The line on the CIA seems to be, simultaneously, that (a) they were not there, and (b) if they were, it was obvious to everyone.”

In which case, why wasn’t this “obvious” presence reported?

Serious though the failures of these embedded reporters may be, they do not approach the Prime Minister’s failure to leave petty partisanship behind. As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 looms before them, John Key owes New Zealanders a much more statesmanlike response to the serious questions Mr Hager’s investigative journalism has raised about New Zealand's longest engagement in somebody else's war.

This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 6 September 2011.

Friday 2 September 2011

No Politics Please - We're Consumers

Not Interested! In sharp contrast to the New Zealanders of 25 years ago, the New Zealanders of 2011 feel themselves to be the objects of mediated political discourse - rather than its subjects. In other words, while political news is aimed at us, it's no longer about us.

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO just under half of the news items on the six o’clock news were devoted to politics. Today, less than a quarter qualify as political coverage.

If you ask news editors and producers why the number of political stories is so low, they will tell you it’s because viewer tolerance for politics is equally low. Run too many political stories and the audience will simply “vote with their remote”, the network’s ratings will fall, and journalists’ jobs will be on the line.

I do not doubt the truth of this explanation. What does perplex me, however, is what happened to us – the viewers? When did we decide that politics had become so vexing, boring and/or irrelevant that we no longer needed, or wanted, anything more than the barest of summaries included in our daily news-fix?

The biggest clue lies in the chronology. What happened a quarter-of-a-century ago that might explain the dramatic decline in the public’s interest and engagement in politics?

The answer, of course, is “Rogernomics”.

At the heart of the neoliberal revolution that Roger Douglas and the Fourth Labour Government ushered in was a profound hostility towards, and impatience with, New Zealand’s highly participatory political tradition.

In his celebrated essay, The Labour Caucus and Economic Policy Formation 1981-1984, the political sociologist, W. Hugh Oliver, writes: “According to Douglas, governments behave irresponsibly when they allow economic policy to be influenced by the demands of the people for better and more secure standards of living and social provision. It follows that the formulation and implementation of economic policy should be the concern of a small elite, standing apart from, and immune to, social and electoral pressures.”

And, even in the mid-1980s, those social and electoral pressures could be formidable. New Zealanders’ participation in political parties was the highest in the world. Under the presidency of Sir George Chapman, the National Party’s membership topped out at roughly quarter-of-a-million. Labour’s membership, under Jim Anderton, numbered 85,000 (not counting the party’s affiliated trade unionists).

Public participation in the political process was by no means restricted to membership of a political party. Writing about the New Zealand of the early 1970s, the British political scientist, Austin Mitchell, noted that: “One of the great Kiwi skills is organising bureaucracies. Give them a problem and they’ll set up a committee, or an organisation.”

In addition to organisations such as CARP (Campaign Against Rising Prices) and HART (Halt All Racist Tours) the institution of compulsory unionism meant that in every major city there existed what amounted to a miniature workers’ parliament – the “Trades Council” – which felt free to, and did, make its views known on everything from the level of public expenditure to nuclear disarmament.

This was the vibrant political culture that “Rogernomics”, along with its partner in crime, “Ruthanasia”, laid waste in the years between 1984 and 1993.

A precipitate decline in party membership showed that most New Zealanders’ had quite quickly figured-out that, in the eyes of politicians, business leaders and Treasury officials, they’d become unwanted baggage. Between 1984 and 1990, for example, Labour’s membership plummeted from 85,000 to less than 10,000.

What chance did Austin Mitchell’s “committees and organisations” have against the unbridled power of the “free market”? Little by little, active citizens morphed into passive consumers: inhabitants of a world in which those with the most dollars cast the most votes. Today, the most potent political messages aren’t found in network news-bulletins, but in the advertisements that fund them.

“Politics” has become a sort of professional sport, and is reported in much the same way. Experts comment on the strength of the respective captains and their teams. We are granted “sneak peeks” at the protagonists’ strategic and tactical game-plans. The polls tell us who’s ahead and who’s behind.

When the gap narrows, we pay a little more attention. When it widens, who – apart from an oligarchical political class – really cares?

After 25 years, we get it: politics isn’t about us anymore.

This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 2 September 2011.