Saturday 30 January 2016

Oh Lucky Man! Phil Goff's "Dispensation" Is As Ill-Considered As It Is Ill-Deserved.

You Bet He's Smiling! Phil Goff has somehow managed to convince Andrew Little that it's okay to have a senior Caucus member telling the world that the Labour Party's policy on the TPPA is wrong, and that the National Government's stance is correct. As they say: "With friends like these ..." And it's not even as if Phil has a proud history of approving dispensations for others - just ask Jim Anderton! For some reason, when it comes to Caucus collective responsibility, no exemptions are ever made for the Left.
PHIL GOFF IS A LUCKY MAN. Had Andrew Little extended to him the same measure of tolerance that he extended to Jim Anderton, 28 years ago, he’d no longer be a member of Labour’s caucus.
Goff was among those Rogernomes who, on 4 August 1988, passed the following resolution:
“This Caucus declares that the following understanding governs the relationship of Caucus members with each other: Members shall vote in Parliament in accordance with decisions of the Caucus. Where a member deliberately abstains from voting, or votes against a Government measure in the House which has been passed by Caucus, such action automatically removes the member from membership of the Caucus unless express permission to take that action has been given by Caucus.”
Referred to at the time as the “loaded gun” resolution, it was intended to block any member (but most particularly, Anderton) from either voting against, or abstaining from voting for, legislation setting in motion the privatisation of state assets. Anderton’s colleagues were well aware that the Labour Party’s official stance was one of opposition to privatisation, and that, strictly speaking they were all bound – as Labour MPs – to uphold Labour Party policy. They simply didn’t care.
By December of 1988, the circumstances anticipated in the Loaded Gun Resolution had come to pass. A bill enabling the government to partially privatise the BNZ was on the floor of the House. In spite of the Labour Party’s New Zealand Council informing the Caucus that privatisation would directly contravene the party’s 1987 manifesto, and contradict the expressed will of the Labour Party Conference, the David Lange-led Labour Government pressed ahead with the legislation.
On Saturday, 10 December 1988, Jim Anderton told a hushed House of Representatives:
“I cannot give my support to this enabling legislation. If we are not going to sell the Bank of New Zealand, we do not need this legislation. If we are going to sell it, then I am opposed to it and must show my opposition here, at this time, because there will be no other parliamentary opportunity to protest at or prevent the Government having the power to sell the Bank. As I said at the Committee Stages, I will not vote with the Opposition National Party. Their anxiety to sell the Bank of New Zealand and other state assets is well known. I will, therefore, record my opposition by formally abstaining when the vote is taken on this Third Reading.”
On Tuesday, 13 December 1988, the Senior Government Whip, Margaret Austin, wrote to Anderton informing him that he would receive no further Caucus communications and was stripped of his membership of Caucus committees. The Whip had been withdrawn; Jim Anderton was out of the Labour Caucus.
Not for Anderton the dispensation granted to Goff by his Caucus colleagues. Regardless of the fact that he was attempting, in good conscience, to uphold Labour Party policy (as required of him, and all of his colleagues, by the Labour Party constitution) permission for Anderton to abstain on the enabling legislation was denied.
Twenty-eight years later, the same Phil Goff who had voted to expel anyone who defied the will of Caucus has not only been extended the privilege of abstaining from voting against the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s enabling legislation, but also of actually crossing the floor of the House of Representatives and voting in favour of it.
The relevant Labour Party media release of 28 January 2016 sates: “Opposition Leader Andrew Little has given dispensation to MP Phil Goff to take his own position on the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement due to his historic involvement in negotiating its predecessor, the P4.” According to Little:  “Phil has had a longstanding involvement and public commitment to this agreement which differs with the Labour Caucus’ decision that it cannot support the deal in its current form due to its compromise of New Zealand’s sovereignty.”
But the 2005 P4 free-trade initiative, which the Helen Clark-led Labour Government had set in motion, and which Goff played a key role in negotiating, is in no way comparable to the TPPA. The P4 was a modest and mutually beneficial free trade agreement involving New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei and Chile. The TPPA, in sharp contrast, is a freedom charter for US transnational corporations. Granting Goff a dispensation on the grounds that he had a hand in negotiating P4 is, therefore, a political non-sequitur.
Moreover, in dissenting from his Caucus colleagues’ view that support for the TPPA compromises New Zealand’s sovereignty, Goff is actually asserting that what Labour is presenting to the electorate as the truth is, in fact, a lie. Which means that Little has given Goff a dispensation to declare that up is down, black is white, and the TPPA is a good thing. And why would a party leader anxious to enhance his own, and his party’s, credibility do that!
What’s more, the irrelevance of the P4 argument makes Little’s treatment of David Shearer’s dissidence utterly inconsistent and unfair. If Goff is entitled to deny the truth of Labour’s position, then why isn’t Shearer also being granted a pass from the reality-based community? Or, for that matter, any other Caucus member not yet convinced that the TPPA represents a dangerous corporate assault on what’s left of New Zealand’s democracy and independence.
What Little and his colleagues all need to find – and quickly – is a measure of the clarity and courage demonstrated by Jim Anderton on 10 December 1988. If the TPPA is a bad thing, then allowing a Labour MP to vote in favour of it cannot be ethically, or politically, justified. It follows, therefore, that those Labour parliamentarians who do not believe the TPPA is a bad thing; and who are unwilling to abide by the contrary judgement of their colleagues; have only one morally consistent course of action to take. They must resign, forthwith, from both the Labour Caucus and the Labour Party.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 29 January 2016.

Friday 29 January 2016

Are The Greens Arriving From, Or Departing For, Another Planet?

Little Green Men: Coming Or Going? Green Co-Leader, Metira Turei's State of the Nation speech made it very clear that her party has grown very weary of living on Planet Impotence - and may even be contemplating a departure for Planet Key. Her plans for Treasury to audit political parties' manifestos would certainly make the Greens' stay on Planet Key more comfortable.
I’M WORRIED that the oft-repeated claim that the Greens come from another planet, might, in fact, be true. Because only someone recently arrived from an altogether more benign solar system could possibly argue that the NZ Treasury casting its cold forensic eye over left-wing parties’ policies is a good idea. The astonishing naivety of the suggestion confirms every old socialist’s slur that when you’re dealing with the Greens, you’re dealing with the children of a very different tribe. And, honestly, after Metira Turei’s “State of the Nation” speech, I’m minded to amend the end of that sentence to read: “a very different and a very stupid tribe.”
According to Ms Turei: “New Zealanders deserve more transparency from their politicians so that they can better engage in the political system. That’s why the Green Party is proposing the establishment of [a Policy Costing Unit] to provide independent costings for the policies proposed by political parties. The PCU would be an independent unit within the Treasury and available to all parliamentary parties. It would help cut through the noise of political party promises and deliver New Zealanders unbiased information.”
Unbiased information! Clearly, the inhabitants of the planet Ms Turei has been visiting for the past 32 years are entirely ignorant of the 1984 neoliberal coup-d’état spearheaded by the leaders of the New Zealand Treasury. How else are we to explain her child-like faith in the Treasury’s lack of bias? Any other politically aware individual from this benighted chunk of our planet would have not the slightest difficulty in identifying No. 1 the Terrace, Wellington, as New Zealand’s Barad-dûr – dwelling place of the Dark Lord and source of all the woes of Middle Earth.
Can it really be true that Ms Turei has never heard of “Economics II”, the special Treasury division headed by the late Roger Kerr (of Business Roundtable fame) which, working alongside Dr Bryce Wilkinson and Dr Graham Scott of “Economics I”, was responsible for bringing together “Economic Management” – the policy bible for what came to be known as “Rogernomics”? Does she really not know that the current institutional “culture” of Treasury descends directly from these implacable ideologues?
Obviously not. Otherwise she wouldn’t dream of advocating that her party entrust its policies to Treasury’s tender mercies. Any more than she’d happily dispatch her youngest child for a sleepover at Michael Jackson’s Neverland!
And yet, Ms Turei was here, in New Zealand, for the entire time Treasury’s neoliberal evangelists were transforming the country. She knows full well that before 1984 the number of children living below the poverty line was 15 percent, and that after 20 years of Treasury-guided economic “reforms”, that figure had nearly doubled.
So, if eradicating child poverty is one of the Greens’ most important “twenty-first century policies” (as she told us, on the radio, only this week) then how is she going to feel when Treasury solemnly vouchsafes to the electorate that the measures her party proposes are not only unlikely to reduce child poverty but may even make it worse. And if she refuses to believe that Treasury would stoop to such blatantly political tactics, then all I can recommend is that she spend an hour or two with Sir Michael Cullen. As Labour’s finance minister from 1999 until 2008, he became something of an aficionado of Treasury’s “ideological burps”.
There is, of course, another explanation for Ms Turei’s extraordinary suggestion. It involves the Greens not arriving from, but departing for, another planet. Planet Key.
After all, the planet they’re currently living on – Planet Impotence – is a very dreary place. Nothing ever happens on this dismal chunk of rock, and what makes their lives even more frustrating is that Planet Key looks like a place where the right sort of Green could have such a lot of fun! It’s so bright, so blue, and everyone living there looks so happy. A material girl soon grows tired of hanging out with the poor and needy. Surely, it must be someone else’s turn to nursemaid the Labour Party! Especially when, every time Labour manages to construct a spaceship capable of lifting them off Planet Impotence, they always leave the Greens behind!
And that’s the beauty of establishing a PCU! It more-or-less guarantees that the Green Party’s Treasury-vetted policies will be ideologically indistinguishable from those of a National Government.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times, The Greymouth Star of Friday, 29 January 2016.

Thursday 28 January 2016

The 0.004% Mandate: Why Opponents Of The TPPA Should Boycott Real Choice’s “Blockade” On 4 February.

Thumbs Down To Extremism: With the registered support of just 0.004% of the voting public, the activist group Real Choice claims a mandate to shut down central Auckland! If there wasn’t so much at stake it would be funny. The broader anti-TPPA movement can be assured, however, that there’s at least one person who is laughing his head off. John Key.
A GROUP calling itself “Real Choice” has announced its intention to “blockade” the Sky City complex on Thursday, 4 February 2016. It’s chances of doing this are, of course, zero. Unless several thousand Real Choice supporters have been knocking themselves out in a network of hidden “Non-Violent Direct Action (NVDA) training camps (at the same time as the riot squads have been doing their “Public Order Response Training”) the group’s planned blockade will not progress beyond the first Police skirmish-line.
Real Choice’s stated intention of “shutting down the surrounding area and stopping entry by blocking some surrounding roads – effectively creating a TPPA free zone” completely ignores the fact that the signing of the TPPA, featuring the representatives of twelve nations, is already the subject of a major security operation. The idea that anyone is going to be permitted to block roads or stop entry is simply delusional.
Forewarned of Real Choice’s intentions, preventative measures will already be underway. Police Intelligence will have supplied the security operation’s commander with the names and photographs of Real Choice’s principal operatives and their movements will be closely monitored from now until next Thursday.
Real Choice’s very public threats will also, very likely, have prompted the acquisition of interception warrants by the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) who will, doubtless, be liaising with their colleagues at the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) to set up comprehensive real-time surveillance of Real Choice’s members.
This will be done not because the group represents an actual threat to the signing ceremony, but simply because, through its actions, Real Choice has provided New Zealand’s security apparatus with a golden opportunity to “test drive” its new powers and resources. (Always assuming that Real Choice is not what’s known as a “false flag” operation: a group set up by the security services themselves - often to establish a case for government to give them even more powers and resources!)
Real or fake, Real Choice has delivered to John Key exactly what he was hoping for by staging the TPPA signing ceremony at Sky City. In doing so it has placed at jeopardy all of the work done by Jane Kelsey and Barry Coates at “It’s Our Future”. Entirely parasitic to the mass movement others have created, this tiny group has embarked on a course of action that threatens to undermine what tens-of-thousands of New Zealanders have researched, argued, organised and marched for.
Real Action, which began its life as the equally ineffectual “Show Us Ya Text”, claims to be acting in the name of democracy. It’s website describes itself as “a group of citizens who believe in democracy and think everyday Kiwis should have a say on the TPPA.” Quite what it thought “everyday Kiwis” were doing last night [the evening of Tuesday, 26 January - C.T.] in the Auckland Town Hall; or last August, when close to 30,000 of them participated in nationwide demonstrations; one can only imagine.
To most people, what It’s Our Future has been doing for the past four years is the very essence of democracy. The fact that, last night, it had assembled representatives of the Parliamentary Opposition on the Town Hall stage, and that, together, those politicians had signalled the prospect of a new coalition government putting an end to New Zealand’s participation in the TPPA in 2017, surely indicates that democracy is in absolutely no need of Real Choice’s “assistance”.
Real Choice, however, could use a lesson or two in exactly what democracy is and isn’t. Last November, for example, the group set up an online “referendum” to determine whether or not New Zealand should ratify the TPPA. The voting period extended from 23-30 November and, according to the website, 12,070 voted. Of these 11,731 (97%) voted against ratification. That was enough for the boys and girls at Real Choice – the people had spoken!
The people? Really? No. What they attracted were 12,070 votes out of an electorate numbering (at the 2014 General Election) 2,416,479 electors. In other words, Real Choice’s referendum (of which most of the country was entirely unaware) canvassed the opinion of just 0.004% of the voting public. And from this infinitesimal sample it now claims a mandate to shut down central Auckland! If there wasn’t so much at stake it would be funny.
The broader anti-TPPA movement can be assured, however, that there’s at least one person who is laughing his head off.
John Key.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 28 January 2016.

Tuesday 26 January 2016

TPPA - Don't Sign! Auckland Town Hall Meeting Tonight, 7:00pm.

This posting is exclusive to Bowalley Road.

Why Sky City, Prime Minister?

The Perfect Backdrop: Why didn't John Key's government secure a distant, easily defended venue - like the exclusive Millbrook Resort pictured here - for the signing ceremony of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement? The choice of Sky City Casino, in the heart of Auckland City, is seen by many as a deliberate provocation to the TPPA's opponents.
IT WAS BARELY SIX MONTHS since the airliners had crashed into the Twin Towers. In strict secrecy, the intelligence chiefs of the five major English-speaking countries had flown into Queenstown for a series of discreet discussions on the global terrorist threat. From the airport they were driven to Millbrook Resort, a five-star accommodation and leisure complex located about 15 kilometres from the town. The chiefs came with their own close protection personnel who operated alongside New Zealand’s Diplomatic Protection police officers. In case Osama Bin Laden’s reach had extended even as far as Queenstown, a special hostage rescue team was kept in readiness throughout.
The “Five Eyes” intelligence colloquium of March 2002 would have passed entirely unnoticed had a sharp-eyed individual not recognised Robert F. Mueller, the newly appointed Director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, stepping off an unmarked Gulfstream 5 aircraft at Queenstown Airport. (As the French saboteurs of the Rainbow Warrior discovered back in 1985, we Kiwis don’t miss much!)
The question that is exercising many New Zealanders minds, 14 years later, is why our Government has decided against staging the signing ceremony of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) at a venue like the Millbrook Resort. Hundreds of miles from the country’s main population centres, and easily defended, it would have provided a breathtakingly beautiful backdrop to what the Government clearly considers the most important trade treaty New Zealand has ever helped to negotiate. A remarkable agreement, signed in the shadow of the Remarkables. What could be better than that!
Or more enjoyable for the trade representatives from the twelve countries – including the United States and Japan – who are party to the TPPA? It was, after all, the Millbrook Resort which played host to President Bill Clinton when he visited New Zealand in 1999. The President was as fulsome in his praise of its hospitality as his senior spooks were, no doubt, appreciative of its discretion three years later. Why, then, has Mr Key rejected the option that promised his esteemed guests an enjoyable and trouble-free signing ceremony? Why has he decided that the ceremony will, instead, be held at the Sky City Casino in Auckland?
The cynics among us have hailed the choice of a casino as the ideal venue for the signing ceremony. If you’re intent on making a wager as large and potentially catastrophic as the TPPA – where better than a gambling den! Also, as possibly the best domestic example of what can happen when transnational corporations and politicians adopt a common view of the future, the Sky City Casino (and Conference Centre!) has revealed the shape of things to come in the TPPA’s corporate-friendly Pacific.
But, for those of us who expect our Government to keep the peace and maintain law and order, the choice of Sky City as the signing ceremony venue has raised a number of very disturbing questions.
The casino is situated in the heart of downtown Auckland – the city that, just a few months ago, turned out between 10,000 and 15,000 anti-TPPA protesters. Feeling against the agreement is still running high, and the Prime Minister’s decision to effectively rub his opponent’s noses in the Government’s victory has done nothing to calm the situation. Many Aucklanders are now openly speculating that Mr Key would not be too upset if the inevitable mass protests against the signing of the TPPA turned into a riot.
Police confirmation that “public order training” – riot control – has been underway for some time in anticipation of increased “civic unrest” arising out of the signing decision has been received by opponents of the TPPA as ultimate proof of the Government’s bad faith.
Their mistrust is understandable given the Government’s initial flat-out denial that it was hosting the TPPA signing in New Zealand on 4 February. There is also considerable bad feeling about the proximity of the signing ceremony to Waitangi Day. Fear of the loss of national sovereignty is the prime motivator of opposition to the TPPA. To organise the signing of the agreement, in a casino, just 48 hours before the day that celebrates the birth of the nation, must surely rank as one of this Prime Minister’s most provocative acts.
It is also alarmingly at odds with the style of political leadership he has demonstrated to date. Mr Key, like the prime minister with whom he is most frequently compared, Sir Keith Holyoake, is considered a consensus-seeker – not a polariser and provocateur. For that we must turn to Sir Robert Muldoon – the last National Party leader to court riot and disorder for narrow electoral advantage.
Such cynicism was, perhaps, forgivable in a political leader staring down the barrel of imminent defeat, but John Key’s love affair with the electorate continues unabated.
Nothing good can come from this decision, Prime Minister.
Please, go to Millbrook.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 26 January 2016.

A “Menu” Of Protest: Confronting Riot Police Shouldn’t Be The Only Protest Option On 4 February.

Off-Putting - And Then Some! There will be many “Middle New Zealanders” reconsidering their level of commitment to the anti-TPPA cause in the light of this information. Very few will want to risk either themselves of their families by participating in a demonstration where that sort of heavy-handed policing is in prospect. What's needed is a safe, non-confrontational, alternative.
ONE OF THE MANY INNOVATIONS pioneered by Halt All Racist Tours (HART) in 1981 was the protest “menu”. Not every opponent of Apartheid relished the prospect of going head-to-head with the infamous “Red” and “Blue” riot squads. Nor, watching the violence unleashed following the cancelled Hamilton game, were there all that many protesters willing to confront the Springbok Tour’s most rabid supporters. Rather than see a large number of its own supporters stay away from the protests, however, the HART leadership came up with the idea of offering a menu of options.
For the most militant, there were “Special Ops”. Some of these involved small bands of protesters taking out the television signal relay-stations essential to broadcasting the games live. Other groups blocked motorways, ran onto airport runways, and immobilised the public transport services essential for getting Rugby fans to the match venue.
Perhaps the most famous of these “Special Ops” came on the final day of the Tour when a light aircraft made repeated runs over the Third Test, at Eden Park, dropping flour-bombs on Springbok and All Black alike!
Participants in these operations knew and accepted the risk of being arrested, tried and convicted. The flour-bomber of Eden Park, Marx Jones, spent eight months in prison for his spectacular protest. John Minto was sentenced to six months jail for blockading Rotorua Airport. Special Ops were not for the faint-hearted!
How The 1981 Springbok Tour Is Remembered: Helmeted protesters behind wooden shields face-off against Police riot squads wielding their signature PR-24 long batons. By no means all of the protests were so confrontational.
The next option on the protest menu involved testing the perimeter of the stadium where the Springboks were playing. This was the option that generated the images of the 1981 Springbok Tour with which New Zealanders are most familiar. The protesters are helmeted and padded-up against the Riot Squads’ infamous PR-24 long batons, and many carry wooden shields designed to prevent the sort of baton attack that injured so many defenceless protesters outside Christchurch’s Lancaster Park during the First Test.
The final option was intended for those who wished to avoid any kind of confrontation with either the Police or the Tour’s supporters. Many of those who availed themselves of this option were members of the mainstream Christian denominations. Others were elderly, or the parents of kids who wanted to participate safely in the anti-Apartheid protests. Such events took a variety of forms. Some groups opted for candlelight vigils and/or prayer meetings in the major centres’ churches and cathedrals. Others preferred to join strictly non-confrontational street marches protected by ordinary (i.e. non-riot-squad) police constables.
By offering its supporters these gradations of protest, HART maximised the full potential of the movement it had so patiently assembled over the entire decade of the 1970s. It was a shrewd tactical solution to the problem of what to do with people who wanted to do more than simply march up and down the street. The most militant opponents of the Tour were able to plan and execute radical protest actions of which HART remained entirely ignorant. Meanwhile, the perimeter-testers and the witness-bearers were able to engage in protests with which they felt morally (and legally) comfortable.
There is probably insufficient time for the anti-TPPA movement to develop a similar menu of protest actions against the signing of the TPPA on 4 February. “It’s Our Future” appears to be a much less structured organisation than HART, which boasted its own National Council for determining the anti-Apartheid movement’s strategic and tactical priorities.
Some consideration should, nevertheless, be given to the problem created by the Police’s announcement that it has been engaged for some time in “Public Order Training” – a.k.a. Riot Control. There will be many “Middle New Zealanders” reconsidering their level of commitment to the anti-TPPA cause in the light of this information. Very few will want to risk either themselves of their families by participating in a demonstration where that sort of heavy-handed policing is in prospect. In the absence of a “safe” alternative, people with jobs to lose and mortgages to pay are most unlikely to venture much further than the Town Hall on 26 January.
If, however, they were invited to turn up to the Auckland War Memorial in the Domain on 4 February, to recall the sacrifice of those who gave their lives for New Zealand’s national sovereignty, and to condemn John Key’s government for signing a document which puts that sovereignty at risk – thereby negating the sacrifice of so many young Kiwis – then it is my belief that many hundreds of Aucklanders who might otherwise have remained at home will seize the opportunity of registering a safe and responsible protest.
Something for Jane Kelsey and her comrades to think about. Because, this time, it’s not the rights and freedoms of Black South Africans that New Zealanders are fighting for – it’s their own.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 25 January 2016.

Saturday 23 January 2016

Let’s Not Lose Our Tempers: If John Key Wants A Riot Outside Sky City – Don’t Give Him One!

Setting A Trap? The readily predictable consequences of his decision to host the signing ceremony of the TPPA at the Sky City Casino – mass protest action, with a high probability of violence and property damage – may be exactly what the Prime Minister, John Key, wants to happen.
ON THE FACE OF IT John Key has made a serious tactical blunder. By insisting on hosting the signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) in New Zealand, just two days before Waitangi Day, at the country’s most notorious beneficiary of crony capitalism, he would appear to have given his opponents an unparalleled opportunity to rally their forces and reinvigorate their campaign.
Frankly, I’m suspicious. Because John Key is not prone to making tactical blunders. Which raises the worrying possibility that the readily predictable consequences of his decision – mass protest action outside Sky City, with a high probability of violence and property damage – may be exactly what he wants to happen.
The Chinese philosopher-general, Sun Tzu, wrote: “If your enemy is of choleric temper – irritate him.”
Few would argue that, at present, the opponents of the TPPA are in a very bad mood indeed. Even fewer would suggest that they have not been extremely irritated by the National Government’s decision to host the official signing of the TPPA at Sky City in Auckland on 4 February.
Is John Key setting them up?
That might be the case if it was within John Key’s power to refuse to host (or, at least, delay) the signing ceremony. To decline this honour (as the NZ Herald describes it) would, however, involve a tremendous loss of face by Key’s government. It was, after all, New Zealand that set the whole process in motion more than a decade ago. It would be an unthinkable humiliation for its government to ask another signatory to host the signing ceremony.
But if Key has no option but to host the signing of the TPPA, he most certainly does have a choice as to where it takes place. Which raises the question: Why Sky City? The ceremony could just as easily have been staged at the exclusive Millbrook Resort outside Queenstown. This was where President Clinton stayed in 1999, and where the Intelligence Directors of the “Five Eyes” nations gathered just a few years ago. Far away from New Zealand’s major cities, and easily defensible by a relatively small number of police and security personnel, the Millbrook Resort would not only have offered splendid “visuals” but also the smallest chance of disruption.
Which brings us back to Sun Tzu.
What does the Prime Minister know, that the people he is goading into besieging the Sky City complex do not know?
My best guess is that over the summer, Key and his pollster, David Farrar, have been drilling down deep into New Zealanders’ thoughts and feelings about the TPPA. Judging by the Government’s actions, this is what they have discovered.
That most New Zealanders are quite relaxed about the TPPA. Any fears Kiwis may have had about it in 2015 were allayed by a combination of Helen Clark’s pre-Christmas endorsement of the agreement, and the mainstream media’s generally positive coverage of the final draft. The media has painted the TPPA as being nowhere near as bad as even some of its supporters feared it would be, and that, overall, it will be of considerable benefit to New Zealand Inc.
It is also highly likely that the polling data has revealed the opponents of the TPPA to also be dyed-in-the-wool opponents of John Key and the National Government. Such people can be used, as they were used in the 2014 “Dirty Politics” furore, to reinforce the prejudices of National supporters, and shift the views of those who describe themselves as being undecided. This is especially likely if they can be manoeuvred into behaving in ways that cause “mainstream New Zealanders” to view them as irrational and potentially dangerous “nutters”.
Something John Key is reported as saying in this morning’s (22/1/16) NZ Herald also makes me think that Farrar’s polling may have revealed that Prof Jane Kelsey is viewed by a majority of New Zealanders as being akin, politically, to Nicky Hager. That is to say, as a left-wing “stirrer” hell-bent on embarrassing the Government. How else should we interpret this morning’s thrust from the Prime Minister:
“I suspect people who are vehemently opposed are, broadly speaking, opposed to free trade agreements because the arguments they have put up have been proven to be incorrect. It doesn’t matter how many times we say Jane Kelsey is actually wrong, in the end she doesn’t want to believe she is wrong, and the people that follow her don’t want to believe that.”
When I read those words, my instant reaction was “uh-oh”. A politician doesn’t dismiss someone of Jane Kelsey’s standing in those terms unless he is pretty damn sure that a majority of the electorate already shares his views.
If that is the case, then an angry protest, or, worse, a violent riot, outside the Sky City complex will rebound, almost entirely, to the Government’s advantage. Not only it will reinforce the prejudices of Key’s supporters, but it will also alienate those who are still making up their mind on the TPPA.
Anarchist Or Agent Provocateur? The vandalism of masked "Black Bloc" protesters in demonstrations overseas has played directly into the hands of a news media primed and ready to broadcast images of violence and destruction.
It is, therefore, vitally important that any protest against the signing of the TPPA be absolutely non-violent. Every effort must be made to persuade anyone planning on forming, or joining, some sort of “Black Bloc”, to refrain from doing so. Masked militants are a gift to agent provocateurs from the security services. The experience of mass, anti-capitalist protests overseas is that Black Blocs are easily infiltrated and used to supply the mainstream media with the most provocative and violent footage from the protests.
The fight against the TPPA must not be waged on the streets – where John Key wants it to be waged – but in the hearts and minds of those New Zealanders who are still not sure that the agreement will, in the end, be good for their country.
If John Key wants a riot at Sky City, then that’s the very last thing the anti-TPPA movement should give him.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 22 January 2016.

Friday 22 January 2016

The Ultimate Guarantor.

Don't Mess With Me! The knowledge that a nation possesses nuclear weapons is usually enough to dissuade its enemies from launching any kind of attack or invasion. For those unfortunate states caught in the cross-hairs of the great powers, it is difficult to imagine a stronger incentive to risk everything on acquiring the ultimate guarantor of national independence.
WITH THE IMPORTANT EXCEPTION of Israel, no nation in possession of nuclear weapons has ever been invaded. It is difficult to conceive of a better incentive for any state threatened with aggression to risk everything for the deadly technology History has taught it to esteem as the ultimate guarantor of national independence.
Exactly how many nuclear weapons Israel possessed when she was attacked by her Arab neighbours in 1973 is unclear, but she certainly possessed some. Exactly how close she came to using them, however, remains even more historically hazy.
To the south, the Israelis had the buffer of the Sinai Peninsula in which to absorb Egypt’s thrust across the Suez Canal. In the north, however, the situation was much more fraught. Had the Israeli Defence Force not been able to halt the advance of Syria’s armoured columns in the first 72 hours of the Yom Kippur War, Prime Minister Golda Meir may have concluded that she had no choice except to threaten Damascus and Cairo with obliteration if hostilities were not halted immediately and their troops withdrawn.
In the deadly chess game that is nuclear strategy, the very possibility that Israel might feel obliged to make such a threat, required the United States to signal that a nuclear counter-threat against Israel, issued by the Soviet Union in defence of its Arab allies, would not be countenanced. That signal took the form of advancing the US armed forces to DEFCON 3 – a “Defence Condition” positioned just two perilously short steps away from Armageddon.
The Nearest Run Thing You Ever Saw: The Israeli PM, Golda Meir and her Defence Minister, Moshe Dyan, visit the Golan Heights in the hours following the Syrian army's thwarted attack. Had things gone differently, Israel's leaders would have been forced to threaten the use of its small stockpile of nuclear weapons.
Fortunately for the world, the Russians were not about to initiate World War III on behalf of Egypt and Syria. With the benefit of hindsight it is also clear that the mere possibility of an Israeli nuclear strike was sufficient for the leaders of Egypt and Syria to limit their military and diplomatic objectives to the restoration of Sinai and the Golan Heights, and the Israeli evacuation of the West Bank and Gaza.
In the light of these facts, the Israeli case is not as exceptional as it might, at first, appear. Even when they possessed the military resources to launch a war of annihilation against the State of Israel, the Egyptians and the Syrians dared not do so. No one doubts the willingness of the Jewish people to defend themselves against a second genocide with every weapon at their disposal – including Israel’s atomic bombs. Like the biblical hero Samson, Israel, in extremis, will not hesitate to bring down the Temple upon the heads of its enemies – even at the cost of being crushed itself.
These lessons in invulnerability were not lost on Israel’s middle-eastern neighbours. Does anyone seriously suppose that the United States and the United Kingdom would have launched a conventional invasion of Iraq if Saddam Hussein had possessed even a small stockpile of nuclear weapons? And is anyone truly surprised that the revolutionary government of the Islamic Republic of Iran very early on began diverting resources to what Israel and the United States were convinced was an all-out effort to create a nuclear arsenal?
That Iran has been persuaded to abandon its, geopolitically-speaking, extremely strategically destabilising nuclear-weapons programme, is not due entirely to the United Nations’ crippling economic sanctions. The Iranians have witnessed the exemplary fate of, first, the Iraqi, and then the Syrian, attempts to construct and operate a nuclear reactor capable of enriching Uranium and/or producing weapons-grade Plutonium.
The Israelis call it the “Begin Doctrine” – after Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who, in 1981, authorised a pre-emptive air-strike against Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor at Osirak. Begin described Osirak’s successful destruction as “anticipatory self-defence at its best”. In 2007 the Israelis did it again. “Operation Orchard” utterly destroyed the nuclear reactor constructed (with North Korean assistance) in the remote Deir ez-Zor region of Syria.
Although the Iranians took the precaution of locating most of their nuclear facilities deep underground, their military chiefs were never entirely convinced that the Israelis wouldn’t deploy tactical nuclear weapons to take them out. The bloodthirsty threats of Israel’s hard-line Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu (whose bellicosity frightens even his own generals!) upped-the-ante still further. In 2015, sanctioned and intimidated, the Iranians finally abandoned their bid for the ultimate guarantor.
One question, however, remains. Does Israel’s acceptance of Iran’s diplomatic assurances have anything to do with Pakistan’s possession of nuclear weapons?
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 22 January 2016.

Thursday 21 January 2016

Not By "Bread And Butter" Alone: Making The Case For A More Inclusive Left.

Emancipation and Solidarity: Powerfully illustrated in the 2014 movie Pride, the emancipatory impulse has the power to transform and enliven the labour movement. An authentic human identity is only available to those who insist on being something more than the means to someone else’s end. Who we are now, and what we may yet become: both conditions drive us forward. In this respect, “progressive politics” and “identity politics” are one and the same.
STEPHANIE RODGERS IS RIGHT. It is impossible to build a mass movement for progressive change by ignoring or rejecting, “issues faced by the majority of people in society.” In fact, a movement in which demands for action on these issues are not thrust forward constantly is, almost certainly, not a progressive movement at all.
The longing for emancipation, like lightning, cannot be caught in a bottle. It is as wild and dangerous as it is beautiful and brilliant – and it will not be gainsaid. Nor should it be, because the quest for social progress is about nothing if it is not about creating a world in which an ever-increasing number of people are free to live happy, rewarding and fulfilling lives.
The past successes of the Left owe almost everything to honouring the emancipatory impulse, and its failures are almost all attributable to the fear generated by emancipation’s disruptive effects. Where this fear takes hold, it typically manifests itself in attempts to narrow the movement’s objectives; manage its members’ expectations; and strictly control their conduct.
Nowhere is this narrowing, managing and controlling strategy more in evidence than in the trade union movement. Even in “the glory days of compulsory unionism” it was, more often than not, the standard operating procedure of organised labour.
It’s years ago now, back when I was a young union official, but I can still remember the extraordinary speech delivered by a regular rank-and-file delegate to his union’s annual wage negotiations. He passionately condemned year-upon-year of compromise and surrender by the union’s leadership, and ended by thumping his clenched fist on the bargaining table, and shouting: “I say we FIGHT!” The impact of his words on the other rank-and-filers was electric, and the union’s paid officials all looked to me, a fellow bureaucrat, to break the delegate’s spell, lower the members’ expectations, and generally calm the whole discussion down. When I said simply, “I have nothing to add to _____’s contribution”, my colleagues were aghast. The vote was to strike, and the strike was won, but I was never again invited to join the inner-sanctum of official union negotiators.
It was only when the unions were prevailed upon to widen the scope of their concerns that their enormous progressive potential was revealed. Not only did Sonja Davies’ championing of the Working Women’s Charter open up the whole issue of the role and status of women in the trade union movement, but it also forced male trade unionists to think about how women were treated in society generally.
In a movement peopled by “hard men” and “militants” this was a challenging proposition. Was the bloke so quick with his fists on the picket line equally pugilistic on the home front? What did it mean that his wife was more frightened of him than any scab? And why, when the bosses’ advocates told such awful sexist jokes in the hotel bar after a deal had been signed, did so many of the union delegates join in the laughter? When the debate was about working-class sexism and homophobia, that old union standard “Which Side Are You On?” took on a new and unsettling meaning.
Through the 1980s and into the early 1990s the debates raged. More and more women began taking the lead in union affairs; more and more issues were making their way onto the agendas of union conferences. Over six years, the Fourth Labour Government’s Trade Union Education Authority trained thousands of union delegates. For decades the labour movement had limited its purview to “bread and butter issues” – no more. Workers needed little encouragement to begin thinking of their movement as something much more than simply a provider of “bread and butter”.
Just how ready they were to assert that wider view of workers’ – and human – rights was demonstrated at the end of 1990 when National’s Bill Birch introduced the Employment Contracts Bill. In a curious way, the ECB’s objectives weren’t that far removed from those of the old-style unionists: to narrow, manage and control. (All the legislation did was cut out the union middle men!) The Council of Trade Union’s affiliated members were having none of it. In the first four months of the following year scores of thousands of them marched and met and voted and declared: “I say we FIGHT!”
Would that their officials had learned as much about democracy and emancipation as they had! A union friend of mine once observed of the Moscow-aligned communists in the Socialist Unity Party: “They’d rather keep control of the losing side, than lose control of the winning side.” Never was that more true than in April 1991! Ignoring the wishes of their rank-and-file members, the leaders of the largest CTU affiliates voted down (by a narrow majority) the motion to call a General Strike against the ECB.
Narrowing, managing, controlling: isn’t that the story of the last thirty years? And isn’t the need for a movement driven by the emancipatory principle greater now than it has ever been? We have seen our lives narrowed, managed and controlled to the point where even the idea of rebellion now seems implausible, impossible, absurd. But an authentic human identity is only available to those who insist on being something more than the means to someone else’s end. Who we are now, and what we may yet become: both conditions drive us forward. In this respect, “progressive politics” and “identity politics” are one and the same.
If, in our “left-wing movement”, it’s become a sin to struggle for anything more than just “bread and butter”, then I, for one, range myself proudly on the side of the sinners.
“I say we FIGHT!”
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 20 January 2016.

Wednesday 20 January 2016

Third Term Temptations.

First, Fill Your War-Chest: With its radically innovative and politically transgressive “Future of Work” policy package, Labour should be able to pass the hat around New Zealand’s major enterprises with every hope of receiving more than polite refusals.
THE THIRD TERM in Opposition is always the most dangerous. It’s the time when sticking to one’s principles is hardest, and when the blandishments of “professionals” promising easy victories are at their most persuasive. The prospect of another three years in opposition: of feeling powerless and useless; looms ahead of Opposition MPs like a prison sentence. They’ll do anything to escape. To win.
In 2016 Labour is in its third term of opposition, and it’s easy to imagine how desperately its caucus is looking for a way out. The party is heading into its hundredth year without a charismatic leader, shorn of just about all of the policies it campaigned on in the 2011 and 2014 elections; and as close to broke as any major party should ever be. What Labour needs is reinvigoration – reinvention even. Otherwise it risks being rejected by the electorate as too old and too irrelevant to make a difference. Yesterday’s party, filled with yesterday’s politicians.
Labour’s been here before – most recently in 1998. That, too, was the middle year of a National-led government’s third term, but it’s there that the similarities end. The government of Jenny Shipley was a government of rebels and turncoats and it was deeply unpopular. It was also a government made up of politicians elected under a radically new and different electoral system – MMP.
The Bolger-led National Government’s opponents had split their votes between three parties: Labour, NZ First and the Alliance; and most of them expected a government composed of all three. Winston Peters confounded those expectations by throwing in his lot with Bolger – a decision which inflicted near-fatal damage on his party. NZ First’s generosity notwithstanding, however, by December of 1997 Shipley had rolled Bolger and split Peter’s parliamentary ranks in two.
The Shipley Government never took. Lacking democratic legitimacy it was widely regarded as a political “dead man walking” towards the 1999 electoral gallows. It’s only hope of survival was the bitter enmity between Labour and the left-wing Alliance, led by Jim Anderton. If these two parties were to contest the 1999 election as rivals, and the Left presented to the voters as hopelessly divided, then there was a chance – a very slim chance – that National could come through the middle.
Would Labour risk it? Could Helen Clark beat Anderton’s Alliance into a poor third and win power in its own right? There were those in Labour’s caucus who believed it could, but following the Alliance’s surprisingly strong showing in the Taranaki-King Country by-election of May 1998 (Labour polled 17.53 percent to the Alliance’s 15.46 percent) Helen Clark opted to accept the olive branch offered by Anderton and publically announced Labour’s readiness to form a loose coalition government with the Alliance following the 1999 general election.
The rest, as they say, is history.
In 2016, is the Labour leader, Andrew Little, also faced with Clark’s 1998 predicament? Is he, too, confronted with the prospect of a National Party Government only too willing to repeat its propaganda victory of 2014, when the Labour/Green/NZ First/Mana opposition (not-to-mention Kim Dotcom) were successfully portrayed as a ship of fools, with everyone rowing in opposite directions? And, if so, does he really have any other option except to follow Clark’s 1998 example and announce Labour’s readiness to form a coalition government with the Greens in 2017?
That is certainly the option progressive New Zealanders are hoping Labour will take. Their not unreasonable assumption being that a coalition with the Greens will anchor Labour firmly on the Centre-Left, and decisively weaken the right-wing faction of Labour’s caucus. There are, however, a number of problems with this analysis.
First and foremost is the undeniable fact of the Prime Minister’s – and his government’s – still astonishing levels of popularity. John Key is no Jenny Shipley, and his government certainly isn’t cobbled together from rebels and turncoats. Far from being a “dead man walking”, Key’s government shows every sign of robust political health and is more than ready to make a successful bid for a fourth term. It’s a level of confidence that’s likely to keep National’s election war-chest full-to-overflowing (and Labour’s empty). It also serves as a warning to the all-important news media that, as things now stand, changing sides would not be a good idea.
In this gloomy context, the recent statements from Grant Robertson make bright and sunshiny sense. With his eyes not on 1998, but 1983, Robertson is readying the Labour Party for another bid to win the backing of big business. Like Roger Douglas before him, he is inviting his party to become, once again, New Zealand’s great political facilitator. Last time it was the Free Market Revolution of 1984-93 that Labour facilitated. This time it will be what the one-percenter luminaries gathering for the World Economic Forum at Davos are calling “The Fourth Industrial Revolution”.
It’s an extraordinarily clever move on Robertson’s part. The NZ Herald’s “Mood of the Boardroom” revealed that, while appreciated as a canny election-winner, Key is not regarded as the political and economic innovator New Zealand so desperately needs. With his radically innovative and politically transgressive “Future of Work” policy package, Robertson should be able to pass the hat around New Zealand’s major enterprises with every hope of receiving more than polite refusals.
Nor will he be alone. The Greens’ James Shaw is perfectly placed to act as Robertson’s seconder in the nation’s boardrooms. With his assurances that the Greens, too, are committed to developing a whole new political and economic paradigm – one equal to the enormous challenges of the 21st Century – the business community’s fears about the Greens can be sufficiently allayed to make the announcement, at Labour’s hundredth annual conference, of a Red-Green Alliance something big business can welcome – rather than condemn.
Will it be enough to defeat the Third Term Blues? Possibly. But it will certainly be enough to render Labour electorally competitive in ways the New Zealand electorate has not seen for 18 – maybe even 33 – years.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 18 January 2016.

Tuesday 19 January 2016

Winston's Choice.

Which Way Will He Go? This is the choice that Winston Peters must make. To go on doing what he has been doing since 1993: dog-whistling softly – but not at a pitch to arouse the entire kennel – so as to secure for himself and his followers a seat or two at the top table. Or: to do what he has all along known he has the power to do – unleash hell upon the New Zealand political class.
HOW DOES WINSTON PETERS wish to be remembered? In this, the middle year of John Key’s third term as prime minister, the leader of NZ First must surely be asking himself the same question. Will he be recalled, ultimately, as the gad-fly of New Zealand politics? Memorable for the amount of irritation he was able to cause – but for little else. Or, will all that came before the 2017 General Election be seen, simply, as the necessary preparation for the triumph of his final, finest, hour?
His Northland by-election victory, in particular, must be giving him considerable pause. Something was revealed there which can only have sent shivers down the spines of both the National and Labour parties. A vast and inchoate rage, bubbling and churning like magma just below the apparently placid surface of New Zealand politics. There can be little doubt that Peters sensed its presence – hence his unshakeable confidence that the seat was winnable. But, it is doubtful that he foresaw its size and power. On the night of his runaway win, even the wily Mr Peters must have felt a shiver or two.
The same sort of shivers, perhaps, that Dr Don Brash felt when he sat on his sofa and watched the National Party record an unprecedented 17 percentage point surge in the Colmar Brunton opinion poll on the strength of his Orewa Speech. Dr Brash’s right-wing populism came within an ace of victory in 2005. The ground heaved and flattened, heaved and flattened, but, crucially, the magma did not break through. New Zealand did not burn.
Eleven years on from Orewa, as Mr Peters undoubtedly knows, the target of “Middle New Zealand’s” rage is no longer just “Maori privilege” (although that still rankles). In 2016 the unease is generated by much larger and more profound changes in the shape of New Zealand’s population. If the dominant Pakeha fraction of Kiwi society felt challenged by the Maori Renaissance, it is experiencing the early stages of existential dread about the growing influence of Asian immigration.
There is more to this dread that old-fashioned racism. It originates in the pervasive sense that New Zealand is being changed in ways that most New Zealanders have neither asked for nor desired. That decisions concerning their nation’s future have been made on the basis of research and discussion about which most Kiwis remain completely unaware.
New Zealand’s turn towards Asia, for example, and the dramatic shift in population policy it required, have never constituted the core of a Labour or National election manifesto. Both of the major parties have, instead, quietly accepted the advice of an elite group of senior public servants and academics that New Zealand must prepare for a multicultural future, and that this option is much to be preferred to the country remaining a singularly misplaced, and increasingly isolated, outpost of European civilisation.
NZ First was the only political party to question the wisdom and desirability of the Asian turn – and it was viciously criticised for its pains. Taunts of racism are the political class’s stock response to any individual or organisation foolhardy enough to demand a democratic mandate for a population policy as radical as the one into which New Zealanders have been strapped.
Not that the major parties are unaware of the additional heat New Zealand’s unsanctioned population policies are adding to the magma bubbling and churning beneath the surface of its political landscape. Concern over the sale of New Zealand land to foreigners – out of which both National and Labour, as well as NZ First and the Greens, have sought to make political capital – is but the venting of steam and ash.
The whole political class is acutely aware that if New Zealanders’ concerns about the changing composition of their society; their worries about the neglect of provincial New Zealand and the growing economic power of Auckland; and their fear that the country’s future is being determined without a democratic mandate; were ever to become the core of a political party’s electoral appeal, then the whole country could erupt.
This is the choice that Winston Peters must make. To go on doing what he has been doing since 1993: dog-whistling softly – but not at a pitch to arouse the entire kennel – so as to secure for himself and his followers a seat or two at the top table. Or: to do what he has all along known he has the power to do – unleash hell upon the New Zealand political class.
If a single fissure in Northland could lay the Government low, just imagine what a nationwide rupture could do. Yes, New Zealand would burn, but fire is only a bad thing when it destroys what people value. There is much in contemporary New Zealand that its people would happily consign to the flames.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 19 January 2016.

Friday 15 January 2016

"Flexicurity" - The Future Of Work?

The Fictional Realm: Borgen's prime-ministerial heroine Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen) is consoled by her Machiavellian spin-doctor Kasper Juul (Pilou Asbaek) in the award-winning drama series from Danish public television. Until very recently one of the world's most progressive states (its current immigration reforms are insupportable!) Denmark is able to run active labour market policies such as "flexicurity" only because the Danish working-class still enjoys effective representation in the country's political system. Would it were so in New Zealand!
IF ONLY New Zealand’s politics could be like those of Borgen – the Danish television series. Centred around the actions of a fictional Danish prime minister, Borgen’s politics are realistically riveting. More than this, however, they are rational. Denmark is portrayed as a nation with a conscience: the host of better angels to which, in extremis, Borgen’s heroine (yes, the prime minister is a woman) can successfully appeal. In the fictional realm, at least, the Danes remain the sort of people New Zealanders once believed themselves to be: decent, practical and courageous.
In population terms, Denmark and New Zealand are not that far apart: 5.6 million to 4.6 million. They are also similar in possessing large and efficient primary production sectors. Like New Zealand, Denmark’s political history has been strongly influenced by social democracy, with both countries boasting large and historically competitive Labour parties.
It is, therefore, unsurprising that left-wing intellectuals and Labour politicians from New Zealand have, from time to time, turned to Denmark for inspiration. In the late-1950s the left-wing political economist and public servant, William B. Sutch, urged Walter Nash’s Second Labour Government (1957-60) to follow the example of the small, highly-productive nations of northern and western Europe by radically increasing the range and complexity of New Zealand’s exports.
Excluding the political anomaly of the Rogernomics years (1984-1990), Sutch’s blueprint, albeit much updated and amended, has remained at the core of Labour’s economic thinking ever since.
Equally consistent has been the party’s predilection for adapting Scandinavian solutions to New Zealand’s social problems. Until the mass unemployment created by Roger Douglas’s free-market policies rendered the whole subject moot, the David Lange-led Labour Government borrowed heavily from the so-called “active labour market” regimes of the Scandinavian countries – especially Sweden and Denmark. Under the rubric of Grant Robertson’s “Future of Work Commission”, Labour is about to look northward again.
The Holy Grail? Grant Robertson's Future Of Work Commission looks set to make "flexicurity" an important part of Labour's 2017 manifesto.
Robertson’s buzzword-de-jour is “flexicurity”. As the name of this highly successful Danish policy suggests, the dual objective is to facilitate the maximum degree of labour market flexibility while providing the maximum level of employment security. Employers are offered considerable freedom to hire and fire, but, in return, employees are generously supported through periods of unemployment, and assisted with re-training and re-entering the labour market, by the state.
According to the official website of the Danish Government: “Danes are positive about globalisation and do not fear losing their jobs. Rather they seek opportunities for new and better jobs. This is partly ascribed to the flexicurity model which promotes adaptability of employees and enterprises.”
Small wonder that Labour’s Future of Work website links directly to this quintessentially Danish solution. In a New Zealand labour market increasingly composed of “independent” contractors, people holding down multiple jobs, part-timers, interns, and the plethora of similarly “precarious” employment relationships, the Danes’ flexicurity policies must have appeared to Grant Robertson in much the same way as the Holy Grail appeared to King Arthur.
Unfortunately, Robertson and his advisors failed to read the small print. New Zealand and Denmark have many similarities, but in 2016 they also feature a number of vital differences. In relation to flexicurity, the most important of these is the respective level of union density.
As the official Danish website puts it: “The development of the labour market owes much to the Danish collective bargaining model, which has ensured extensive worker protection while taking changing production and market conditions into account. The organisation rate for workers in Denmark is approx. 75%.”
The organisation rate for New Zealand workers in 2014 was approx. 19%.
It is typical of the contemporary New Zealand Labour Party that it has simply ignored the profound contextual differences between the workers of New Zealand and Denmark. With three-quarters of the workforce organised, the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions is a force in the land. With fewer than one in five New Zealand workers organised, the NZ Council of Trade Unions is in no position to prevent flexicurity turning into a government-backed scheme for employers to hire and fire at will. Presumably, the lone trade unionist on Robertson’s “External Reference Group” pointed this out. Presumably, Robertson wasn’t listening.
Borgen’s politics are rational because the balance of social forces in Denmark obliges its politicians to behave reasonably. Labour’s policies of 30 years ago predetermined the future of work in New Zealand: flexibility without security.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 15 January 2016.

Wednesday 13 January 2016

"Fear No Ghosts!": Little, Labour And The TPPA.

Crucial Intervention: Helen Clark's highly controversial endorsement of the TPPA struck the anti-TPPA movement like a torpedo amidships and left it dead in the water. It is now rumoured that another former Labour PM, Mike Moore, will lend his not inconsiderable advocacy skills to the promotion of the TPPA
ANDREW LITTLE has failed to make Labour’s response to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) a “leadership issue”. It’s a failure that threatens not only Mr Little’s credibility, but also that of the Labour Party itself. As matters relating to the TPPA unfold over the next few weeks, it will become increasingly clear that much more is at stake here than a trade agreement.
In part, Labour’s stance on the TPPA has become a matter of protecting legacies. Labour’s embrace of free markets in the mid-1980s necessarily embraced the dogma of free trade. The 1999-2008 Labour Government’s success in negotiating the China-NZ Free Trade Agreement (China’s first with a recognisably “Western” government) is held up as its most important achievement. Certainly, Helen Clark regards the China-NZ agreement as the jewel in the crown of her political legacy.
Just how important Labour’s free trade stance is to Ms Clark became clear on 1 October 2015, in New York, when she stood alongside the National Prime Minister, John Key, and joined him in singing the praises of the TPPA. This endorsement by Ms Clark struck the anti-TPPA movement like a torpedo amidships, leaving it dead in the water.
Few New Zealanders grasped the significance of Ms Clark’s intervention. As a senior United Nations’ official, she is bound by the strictest protocols from intervening in the slightest way in the domestic politics of a member state. That she was willing to run the risk of being accused of breaching that protocol speaks volumes about how much personal and political capital she has invested in Labour’s continued adherence to free trade policies.
If Ms Clark fails in her attempt to become the United Nation’s first woman Secretary General, her intervention in New Zealand’s domestic TPPA debate may well turn out to be one of the deciding factors.
It is possible that Ms Clark may not be the only former Labour Prime Minister to enter into the TPPA debate. Rumours are rife that Mike Moore – indisputably New Zealand’s most fervent free-trade champion – is intending, his health permitting, to stump the country in favour of the TPPA. If the rumours prove to be true, then the anti-TPPA campaigners will be faced with a doughty opponent: Mr Moore’s promotional skills are legendary.
Ms Clark’s and Mr Moore’s determination to uphold Labour’s free-trade legacy will find ready allies in Labour’s parliamentary caucus. Phil Goff was this country’s leading FTA negotiator with the Chinese and he will not abandon his legacy without a fight. At his side he will likely count Annette King, Trevor Mallard, Clayton Cosgrove and David Shearer. These are not the sort of politicians a Labour leader alienates without consequences – just ask David Cunliffe!
It should be clear, from the above, that even if Mr Little does harbour doubts about the wisdom of supporting the TPPA (and that is by no means certain) he faces some pretty daunting obstacles when it comes to expressing them. He and his team of advisers have made a political fetish out of presenting a unified team to the electorate. An open and, in all likelihood, vituperative debate about the merits of opposing the TPPA runs the risk of reopening a multitude of old wounds. If disunity is death, then courting disunity must surely be political suicide?
On the other side of the debate stand those within the Labour caucus and throughout the wider party who regard the TPPA as something much more sinister than a simple trade agreement. In particular, the Investor/State Dispute Settlement Process (ISDP) contained in the agreement is seen by many New Zealanders as a mechanism for preventing the TPPA signatories from introducing economic and social measures inimical to the interests of the large, transnational corporations the TPPA appears to have been set up to serve. Not to put too fine a point upon it: the purpose of ISDP is to prevent Labour-type political parties from ever again behaving like Labour-type political parties.
The compromise position Mr Little has thrashed out with his colleagues is to reassure the electorate that a Labour-led government would “defy” the TPPA by passing legislation strictly regulating the circumstances in which New Zealand land may be sold to foreigners. Quite why the caucus has agreed to this we can only speculate, especially when a TPPA exemption to the same effect (which Australia, Malaysia and Singapore have already secured) is, apparently, ours for the asking.
The faux radicalism offered up by Mr Little and his colleagues on the question of foreign ownership in no way addresses the profound issues arising out of the TPPA’s imminent ratification  – nor is it likely to appease Labour’s critics.
At the site of an earlier rebel army’s defeat, Mao Zedong told his faltering troops to: “Fear no ghosts! The past does not return!”
Andrew Little should do the same.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 12 January 2016.