Tuesday 4 December 2012

'Waitakere Man' Finds His Avatar

It's Alive! When the monster escapes its creator's control terrible things happen. 'Waitakere Man' first appeared on the pages of The Independent Business Weekly in September 2009 and gained wide currency as a shorthand term for Labour's conservative deserters to National. Now Waitakere Man has found his own political avatar - John Tamihere.
FOR DR FRANKENSTEIN the moment of maximum horror and surprise came when the monster he’d created disobeyed his orders. He’d assumed it was his to command. But, once abroad in the world, the monster went its own way.
Mulling over the Labour Party’s decision to re-admit John Tamihere to its ranks, I’m beginning to understand how Dr Frankenstein felt. “Waitakere Man” – the monster I created more than three years ago on the pages of The Independent Business Weekly – has not only gone its own way, it’s acquired a powerful, new, flesh-and-blood political avatar.
Before proceeding any further, I’d better introduce my monster. He was born out of a desire to understand the character of the thousands of former Labour voters who had switched to National in the elections of 2005 and 2008.
This is how I described the person I called “Waitakere Man” back in 2009:
He’s the sort of bloke who spends Saturday afternoon knocking-back a few beers on the deck he built himself, and Saturday evening watching footy with his mates on the massive flat-screen plasma-TV he’s still paying-off.

His missus works part-time to help out with the mortgage, and to keep their school-age offspring in cell-phones and computer games.
His trade certificate earns him much more than most university degrees. Indeed, he’s nothing but contempt for "smart-arse intellectual bastards spouting politically-correct bullshit". 

What he owns, he’s earned – and means to keep.

"The best thing we could do for this country, apart from ditching that bitch in Wellington and making John Key prime-minister," he informed his drinking-buddies in the lead-up to the 2008 election "would be to police the liberals – and liberate the police."

Waitakere Man values highly those parts of the welfare state that he and his family use – like the public education and health systems – but has no time at all for "welfare bludgers".

"Get those lazy buggers off the benefit", he’s constantly telling his wife, "and the government would be able to give us a really decent tax-cut."

On racial issues he’s conflicted. Some of his best friends really are Maori – and he usually agrees with the things John Tamihere says on Radio Live.

It’s only when the discussion veers towards politics, and his Maori mates start teasing him about taking back the country, treaty settlement by treaty settlement, that his jaw tightens and he subsides into sullen silence. 

Though he didn’t say so openly at the time, he’d been thrilled by Don Brash’s Orewa Speech, and reckoned the Nats’ "Iwi-Kiwi" billboards were "bloody brilliant!"
Waitakere Man proved troublesome from the moment he emerged from my computer keyboard. Many people believed he was my avatar. They charged me with counselling the Labour Party to embrace this bigoted blowhard and tailor its policies to suit his prejudices. Not true. My intent was only ever to make Labour aware of Waitakere Man’s existence. To remind the party that he represented a lot of voters, perhaps as many as five percent of the electorate, and that if Labour had no thought of reclaiming this important political demographic, it could not avoid devising some means of replacing it.
But it soon became clear that Labour – or at least those elements advising Phil Goff – were openly entertaining thoughts of reclaiming Waitakere Man from National. They were anxious to shed the party’s image of being a place where no red-blooded, heterosexual working men would dare to venture; where political correctness had ousted common sense; and where the pet causes of educated middle-class New Zealanders (teachers) took precedence over the values of ordinary Kiwis (small businessmen).
The social liberals and trade unionists in Labour’s Caucus defeated Mr Goff’s attempt to re-connect with Waitakere Man. But, under his successor, David Shearer, the invitation has been re-sent. Mr Shearer’s sickness-beneficiary-on-the-roof story was one sop to the Waitakere Cerberus, his veiled threat to the teaching profession another.
And now, apparently at the behest of Mr Shearer, the New Zealand Council of the Labour Party has voted to re-admit Mr Tamihere to full membership status. Waitakere Man now possesses his very own ideological champion.
But what an ideology! Mr Tamihere is, after all, the man whose unreconstructed sexism and homophobia (“front-bums”, “queers”) cost him his seat at Helen Clark’s Cabinet Table. His subsequent career as Radio Live’s political shock-jock has only given these intellectually bankrupt and reactionary prejudices a wider audience. In welcoming him back, Labour’s New Zealand Councillors have spat in the faces of their most progressive members.
Because, like Dr Frankenstein’s monster, Waitakere Man’s newly-minted avatar answers to no one but himself. Labour has opened the door to an individual who regards most of its membership with undisguised contempt.
When, inevitably, he brings his knee up between progressive Labour’s legs, let no one who voted for Mr Tamihere’s re-admission feign either horror or surprise.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 4 December 2012.


Matthew said...

At least your Waitakere man was able to find a wife. Most young men these days aren't so lucky.

To be honest, I think you underestimate the latent anti-feminism that exists among young men in this country (and other Western societies). The "right" kind of political leader has much untapped fertile ground to work with.

Google the "the Misandry Bubble" for more information.

Lixin said...

With this decision Labour has lost another supporter.

Giovanni Tiso said...

"My intent was only ever to make Labour aware of Waitakere Man’s existence."

But doesn't this suggest that Waitakere man lives an objective sort of existence? I'm asking because I see Hooton has repeated the claim to that "5% of the vote" that would certainly follow Tamihere to NZ First unless Labour let him rejoin, which rather begs the question to me as what evidence there exists that this social construct of yours is a real social actor, let alone of this mythical yet remarkably precise percentage of the vote he's supposed to represent.

Your wish to disassociate yourself from Waitakere Man here is also complicated by the fact it's the actual name you've chosen for your new column in Truth, or am I mistaken about that?

stephen said...

" apparently at the behest of Mr Shearer"

Reference please?

Brendan McNeill said...


If the 'average voter' ever took a serious look at Labour's fragmented, identity politics caucus, and heard them discuss the issues that animate them, then Labour would remain forever unelectable.

The great irony of last election was Labour having a moment of 'self awareness' and realising that their caucus contained no one 'like us' out here in the electorate apart from Phil Goff whom they had decided was a liability, and West Coast MP Damian O'Conner. Consequently they dragged Damian back from outer darkness where he had been sent for making similar comments to John, your Waitakere man only a short time earlier, and had him front their TV opening advertisement!

They unashamedly sought to deceive the electorate by presenting their last remaining Kiwi bloke in caucus as the public face of the party.

What does it say about those Labour politicians as human beings, when they recognise that they cannot risk exposing who they are to the public in case they take fright, and instead put up someone to front their campaign that represents everything they personally despise?

In any event, they received a well deserved thrashing at the polls, which has prompted a good deal of soul searching and debate around what it takes to get elected. Rather than put Damian into drag, which clearly would have been the caucus preference, they have decided it's best to put on a 'straight' face, at least for public consumption, while they continue to run their identity politics behind closed doors.

Nothing has changed of substance within Labour, only a thin veneer of electability has been applied to the surface of the party. I suspect it will wash off by the time the next election rolls round.

Chris Trotter said...

Chosen for me, Giovanni, an Editor's privilege.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Talk about letting someone else define you! Blimey.

@lostinpoker said...

Waitakere Man is alive and well and has spread as far and wide as Central Auckland,Although he may be in his early 50s now or even retired he has not,and does not want to adjust to the "New World Order","why should fags get to marry ,& why cant I say gook,chink and call someone gay anymore"he wonders.But is he a supporter of that cheeky little darky JT ? No I think not.He may like and believe half of what JT says but its a whole different thing to bring himself to vote for him no matter what party JT signs up with.After all a vote for JT may as well be a vote for the Maori Party he thinks at the end of the day.
Waitakere Man likes JT but will never love him.
I myself think JT is far to concerned with being the best shockjock to be able to become the great politian we all thought and hoped he was going to be a few years ago.
That ship has long said,So JTs kitty cats relaxthe washhouse wont be calling you anytime soon.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure 'Waitakere Man' ever voted Labour consistently.

I have spent a good part of my life working with the sort of people you describe and they are more likely to move between National, Labour and NZ First.

They tend to be easily influenced by the latest headline and will buy into the prejudice of the day.

Who they vote for depends pretty much on what the media beat up is on during election week and whats on offer for themselves.

They are also easily bought off.

If a party thinks their vote is worth chasing then the best thing to do is throw them a bribe.

Nationals promise of tax cuts had far more influence on their voting than the supposed political correctness of Labour which was just something to moan about down at the pub, and not nearly as important as the possibility of being given a decent handout.

I don't know what percentage of the population they make up but they don't weild much influence because nobody outside their immediate mates because very few people are stupid enough to take anything they say very seriously.

If Labour wants to get their vote the best way of doing so without alienating their genuine supporters is to bung them a few bob through tax write offs, reduced ACC fees for the self employed or other such mechanisms aimed at very small businesses that do not compromise voters who want to vote for something meaningful.

Anonymous said...

I’m a labour-voting white collar public sector worker and about as practical as Frank Spencer, but I do share a lot of the concerns attributed to “Waitakere Man” and so indeed to most people I know, few of whom fit this stereotype. Many Labour folk like myself feel alienated by the endless identity politics (Labour indeed seems at times the party of whichever grievance-mode minority squeals the loudest), the domination of ideology-driven Liberal elites, and their seeming desire to represent a debauched underclass ahead of the traditional worker. Labour needs to put the identity politics on the backburner for a while and focus on the everyday economic concerns of ordinary New Zealanders. We’ve never been worse off than under National, but where is Labour’s coherent economic alternative?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous (December 5, 2012 1:18 PM) said...

"Many Labour folk like myself feel alienated by ... the domination of ideology-driven Liberal elites, and their seeming desire to represent a debauched underclass ahead of the traditional worker."

I take it this is a troll, right?

I mean, no one really bashes beneficiaries and the unemployed like this, insults them, expels them from society simply for existing as beneficiaries and unemployed - and calls themselves a Labour supporter?

No Labour supporter or member would countenance such bile for even a moment. When faced with beneficiaries and the unemployed, just ask yourself, what would David Shearer do?

Oh... hang on a minute...

barry said...

Well I dont know about the influence of Waitakere man on the electorate (Im sure there is one - but Im just not sure which direction) but one thing is obvious.
Labour will have to share power with the greens if they are going to get back to the treasury benches in the next 10 years.
Thats a major problem because even though labour has turned into the party of identity politics, I think deep down they are pretty much in favour of more jobs, more industry, etc. These things the greens are obstinatly against.
Its going to be a messy partnership.....

Labour just might find life easier to embrace waitakere man instead. He might have some firm ideas, but hes not anti labours basic ideas.

Anonymous said...

As a response to Barry's comments, let me offer the actual policy statement from the Greens' website:

"The Green Party is committed to full employment with dignity and a living income, and rejects the idea that economic stability requires either a significant level of unemployment or a low level of protection for those in the paid workforce."

See http://www.greens.org.nz/policysummary/work-and-employment-policy-summary

Meanwhile, Labour still adheres to a largely neoliberal economic policy, which incorporates a degree of unemployment and weak labour law in order to keep wages down, thereby acting as a control on inflation.

So the policies of the two parties are in fact the exact reverse of what Barry contends.

I don't blame Barry. Perception is everything in politics. And the Labour Party is (somehow!) still trading on the perception that it is the party of the working class.

And all the while the ghost of Norman Kirk weeps.

Nick Smith said...

The shenanigans at Tainui have been really disheartening, particularly after the good work by so many good people (Mike Pohio et al) to remedy the egregious mismanagement by Tukuroirangi Morgan and his ilk back in the day (remember the Warriors investment).
Martin did good work at great personal cost to oust Morgan, who seems to think his mana is so enormous it requires the trappings of an oligarch to satisfy. One hopes this isn't over.

Sean Fliegner said...

Hi Chris, Sean Fliegner here. Shearer's 'roof top sickness beneficiary'jibe and now Tamihere: bespeaks a move to 'national lite' territory. This move doesn't deserve to work - even if it was capable of working.

Assuming that the tale is based in truth - the 'bludger on the ladder' tale has one glaring problem: Shearer was door knocking, and having faced down war lords, cannibals and others, why didn't Shearer simply cross the road, speak to ladder man and get the facts ?

NZ Councillors who voted to help Tamihere: it's on you when Tamihere turns against the Labour Party. (We've seen nothing yet).

Tamihere can't get what he wants from Labour while there's an organised left/organised union base in the Party. Shearer can't give Tamihere what he wants: when these contradictions become patent, Tamihere has only two roads. To swallow his thwarted ambition (this is likely isn't it), or to turn against Labour, in favour of for example NZ First.

The supine wonders in NZ Council have given Tamihere the best of all platforms - he can say his record was well known, when he was officially approved for Labour membership. Who else has been thus annointed ?

Chris, those NZ Councillors helping Tamihere have more than spit on progressives, they've spat on core Labour values. On the core Labour value that holds no kiwi is ever to be diminished because of colour, or gender or background.

Gillard in Australia on misogyny, Obama and Key on gay marriage, Obama defying all odds and returning to office with his rainbow coalition. The world has moved on.

Does anyone think Obama could have been returned with a well known team member denigrating 51% of voters "front bums", alienating gay voters and their whanau and friends "hazard to the community", and the democrat Party itself as out of touch and irrelevant "head hunters", and with that team member (thanks NZ Council) being rightly criticised by the "chief nazi hunter" of the Wiesenthal Centre ? (Look up the Wiesenthal Centre and Tamihere).

One day the leading lights of the Labour Party will stand up for core Labour values, and have a programme to rebuild New Zealand: when that day comes, but only when that day comes, today's bullies will be on the fringes where they belong.

Brendan McNeill said...


You said: "One day the leading lights of the Labour Party will stand up for core Labour values, and have a programme to rebuild New Zealand"

Can I ask "what are Labour's 2012/13 core values"?

I understand that they are keen on gender equity, equality of representation between gay, unions, feminists, pacifica, maori and any other minority group that puts its hand up for recognition.

Aside from that, what are their core values?

Sean Fliegner said...

hi Brendan - yes this is part of the challenge for Labour.

There isn't a narrative.

Ask anyone who isn't a front row observer of politics - and many who are 'what does Labour stand for', 'where will Labour take New Zealand' - and you'll get no answer, or a confused answer.

Core Labour values have been translated into rescuing new zealand from the great depression, the welfare state, free public health and education, nation building, waitangi tribunal, fighting french testing in the pacific (Labour sent the Otago with a Minister on board) and a million miles more. See Norman Kirk talking about the pensioner and her new shoes, about lifting up poweless and downtrodden kiwis here in New Zealand.

The Third Labour Government under Kirk then Rowling put in a super scheme that they intended would secure our investment in our future - Muldoon broke the law in his haste to get rid of the scheme (Fitzgald v Muldoon - NZLR). The scheme was going to be a powerful machine for home made growth, employment, and part of the foundations for a strong just society: another example of core Labour values.

In short, there are core Labour values, shown by Savage, John A Lee, Kirk, Holland (the 1st Labour leader), and latterly the force behind KiwiBank - Jim Anderton. And many others. And the countless rank and file members who insist on the impossible.

There are core Labour values. The problem is that they're not own display where they need to be.

Anonymous said...

"understand that they are keen on gender equity, equality of representation between gay, unions, feminists, pacifica, maori and any other minority group that puts its hand up for recognition."

You say that as if it were a bad thing.

Matthew Hooton said...

Surely Labour's core value is the importance of working. The name kind of gives it away.

Giovanni Tiso said...

I can't believe that this needs saying, but apparently it does. Repeat after me, everyone: "civil rights aren't in contradiction with workers' rights." Got that? Good. If you're a worker suffering from twenty-five years of erosion of your rights and resent gays being able to marry, you're a) an arsehole, and b) picking the wrong fight. Your beef is not with Labour for standing for civil rights, or for Maori and minorities, to the limited extent that it does. Your beef is with Labour for having utterly lost its way on welfare and workers’ rights, and on how and for the benefit of whom it runs the economy. Identity politics is the only area in which Labour is actually half doing its job as a left-wing party.

So stop attacking it for it, if you’re of the left, and keep campaigning for it to finally turn its back on neoliberalism. And support the struggles for civil rights. They don’t threaten you - they make us stronger.

I can’t subscribe enough something that socialist writer Dougal McNeill said
earlier this year:

“I’ve little patience with contemporary leftist critiques of so-called identity politics, whatever previous value that struggle may once have had. They seem now, for the most part, to be dedicated to trying to get other people to quieten down about their identity, all in the name of a (largely mythical) ‘central’ class concern. This isn’t just bad politics. It’s also bad class politics. A left which isn’t – like the working class itself – attuned to, and welcoming of, the varieties of human sexuality and gender identity, and actively anti-racist, is hardly worth the name or the bother.”

Amen to that.

Olwyn said...

@ Matthew Hooton: There is a significant difference between representing those who must sell their work to live, and representing only those whose work has buyers. Earlier Labour governments responded to the first of these formulations with a policy of full employment. The second formulation is not a decent or honest replacement for the first.

Unknown said...

Labour is a broad church.There is too much political correctness there already. John will create discussion. Before Labour gets too het-up. It is the voters who will decide the outcome - not activists.