Put Your Heart In It: The National Party’s visceral attachment to the English-speaking brotherhood has found a more than worthy champion in the present Prime Minister.
THERE IS A REASSURING CONSISTENCY about the prejudices of the National Party. No matter how thick the spin-doctors and PR specialists apply the lacquer of moderation to the institution’s exterior, the reactionary timber beneath just keeps rotting away.
Nowhere is the utterly unreconstructed nature of National’s political mission more apparent than in the fraught arena of war and peace. The antiquated diplomatic responses these crucial foreign policy issues excite in what passes for the National Party’s intelligentsia are especially disconcerting.
The first real hint we got of just how atavistic those instincts might be came with Dr Don Brash’s infamous “gone by lunchtime” quip to a group of US officials back in January 2004. Clearly, the National Party has only ever paid lip-service to New Zealand’s anti-nuclear stance. Yes, it had embraced a Nuclear-Free New Zealand as far back as 1990, but, clearly, the party’s “conversion” to foreign policy independence had, in all respects, been both cynical and cosmetic.
Dr Brash’s promise that the policy would be abandoned “by lunchtime, probably” in the event of a National Party victory in 2005, showed that National’s MPs were only willing to wear the “No Nukes!” T-Shirt because that was part of what it took to regain power. The moment they got their feet under the Cabinet Table, however, and well before the next scheduled meal break, all such left-wing fripperies would be headed straight for the incinerator.
In marked contrast to Dr Brash’s unabashed impatience, the present National Prime Minister has displayed admirable forbearance in the matter of New Zealand’s anti-nuclear stance. Six years after he was swept into office, John Key has yet to initiate anything resembling a serious review (let alone repeal) of New Zealand anti-nuclear legislation.
Is this because Mr Key is a convert to anti-nuclearism? Has the Prime minister embraced the independent spirit of Norman Kirk’s foreign policy and learned, finally, “the trick of standing upright here”? Well, no. His refusal to get all het up about nuclear weapons and nuclear power is because he understands that the big issues of the 1980s are not the big issues of the 20-teens.
Nuclear-Free New Zealand: Yesterday's issue?
Like any good blitzkrieg general, Mr Key has simply directed his armoured columns around this potentially dangerous obstacle. He knows that if he pushes past it far enough the anti-nuclear policy will begin to look like the diplomatic relic of some long dead foreign-policy consensus. When that eventually occurs, there will only be a handful of people who will notice, and even fewer who will care that, following some distant future lunchtime, the policy has gone.
And when it does, be in no doubt, unreconstructed National Party stalwarts will all be displaying wolfish grins of satisfaction. Those forced to live through the anti-nuclear policy’s creation, will be able to mentally tick-off yet another faded remnant of the Left’s policy legacy.
Just how eagerly the Right is anticipating that moment was revealed earlier this week (20/1/15) when the NZ Herald published an article by the National MP for Manawatu from 1978 to 1987, Michael Cox. Entitled Clark’s Sad Legacy In ’84 Affair Shrinks UN Hopes, the think-piece positively revels in the presumed unwillingness of the USA and the UK to sanction Helen Clark becoming the next UN Secretary-General.
While careful to acknowledge Ms Clark’s undoubted strengths and her eminent eligibility for the United Nations’ top job, Mr Cox informs his readers that this is where “her positives” stop. Because two of “the most powerful members of the Security Council, the United States and Britain, will not have forgotten that she led the charge that weakened Western resistance to the USSR during the Anzus debacle in 1984.”
It is difficult to imagine a sentence more weighted-down with National Party ignorance and prejudice than this little gem.
Yes, both the US State Department and the Pentagon were pissed-off with New Zealand for breaking ranks in 1984, but they weren’t that pissed-off. By 1984 it was already clear to the Americans that the Soviet Union had no plans to impede seriously the advance of the new, global, market-driven economic order. They were also well aware that when it came to offering examples for the world to follow, New Zealand’s sterling efforts in radical, top-down, market liberalisation were easily outshining (where it mattered) her quaint, bottom-up, ban on all things nuclear.
To make his case against Ms Clark, Mr Cox draws heavily on the historical research of Gerald Hensley, Head of the Prime Minister’s Department under David Lange. In his book Friendly Fire, Mr Hensley suggests that it was well understood by the Americans that Ms Clark “accepted Roger Douglas’s right-wing financial policies [because] there had been a trade-off by which those on the Left, led by her, gained the mandate for the anti-nuclear ship policy in return for going along with his economic reform”.
If this is true (and as someone who was very active in the Labour Party Left during the 1980s, I’m not sure that it is) then both the Americans and the British will actually be more – not less – likely to back Ms Clark’s bid for the Secretary-General’s job. There is no better qualification for such a position than a proven track-record of making, and sticking-to, such Faustian political pacts.
Mr Cox does not see this. Like Mr Hensley, his sensibilities are those of the backwoods conservative raised on the uncompromising slogans of anti-communism, and whose loyalty to the global interests of the English-speaking peoples is absolute and unquestioning. In the eyes of such people, Ms Clark remains an oath-breaker and quasi-traitor, whose disloyalty will never be forgotten, and certainly not forgiven, by the five “fingers” of the Anglo-Saxon fist.
Viewed from this perspective, Ms Clark’s 2003 refusal to let New Zealand’s armed forces join in the illegal invasion of Iraq can only have heaped more hot diplomatic coals upon the heads of her country’s erstwhile allies – further compounding her earlier, anti-nuclear, treachery.
For the Brits and the Yanks, however, it will be Ms Clark’s diplomatic behaviour in the aftermath of the Iraq War that really counts when they vote for the next UN Secretary-General. Quite how Messrs Cox and Hensley reconcile their blue-stockinged quasi-traitor with the New Zealand Prime Minister whom the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, described as his “very, very, very good friend” is anybody’s guess.
What cannot be doubted, however, is that the National Party’s visceral attachment to the English-speaking brotherhood has found a more than worthy champion in the present Prime Minister. Witness his extraordinary comment that New Zealand’s sending troops to train the Iraqi armed forces for war against Islamic State, should be seen, simply, as “the price” we must pay for membership of the Anglo-Saxon “club”.
Making particular reference to the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing agreement, to which New Zealand is a signatory, the Prime Minister stated that it was important that his country was regarded as a reliable member of the club. Because, “we do know that, when it comes to the United States and Canada and Australia and Great Britain and others, that we can rely on them.”
And clearly, our “very, very, very good friends” (the 1984 anti-nuclear “affair” notwithstanding) can still rely on us. Or, at least, on those of us who continue to vote, unwaveringly, for the New Zealand National Party.
A version of this essay was posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 23 January 2015.