Friday 31 August 2018

Compassing The Economy's Death.

What Were They Thinking? It’s probably fair to say that “Queen Jacinda’s” response to the "Crisis of Business Confidence" would be somewhat more robust than inviting Air New Zealand CEO, Chris Luxon, to chair a Business Advisory Council!

IN ENGLISH LAW “compassing the king’s death” was treason. “Compassing”, in this context, meant ‘imagining’, ‘contriving’ or ‘plotting’. Medieval jurists held fast to the notion that the thought is father to the deed. Which made even thinking about the king’s death a capital crime. After all, if the Gospel of Matthew (5:27-28) could hold that “whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart”, then any subject looking darkly upon the monarch was, at the very least, guilty of entertaining treasonous thoughts about his future. Thought Crime existed long before George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

It would be interesting to live in a world where simply thinking negative thoughts about important people and institutions could get you arrested. What would become of business leaders, for example, if they were shown to have consistently experienced (let alone given voice to) a woeful lack of confidence in the personnel and policies of the Government? Such negativity would, almost certainly, be drawn to the “monarch’s” attention. How would she respond?

It’s probably fair to say that “Queen Jacinda’s” response would be somewhat more robust than inviting Air New Zealand CEO, Chris Luxon, to chair a Business Advisory Council!

One can easily imagine her humbler subjects demanding that she take a very hard line with such rebellious noblemen. After all, compassing the demise of the kingdom’s economy strikes directly at the livelihoods of tens-of-thousands of hard-working men and women. Excessive business negativity costs jobs. It stymies much needed investment. Taken to extremes, it can seriously jeopardise the economic well-being of the entire country. It’s hard to see “Queen Jacinda” regarding this as anything other than economic treason.

In the Middle Ages, rebellious nobles faced not only execution, but also the complete forfeiture of their estates to the Crown. Were such draconian powers still available to the leaders of today, then it is easy to predict the outcome of what most of the country’s leading economists have characterised as a completely unwarranted “Crisis of Business Confidence”.

Queen Jacinda’s Attorney-General, David Parker, would be asked to draft her a sheaf of all-purpose Bills of Attainder which she would then pass over to her Justice Minister, Andrew Little, for presentation to the House.

Bill of Attainder? Oh, these were extraordinary documents! A “Bill” or, once passed, an “Act of Attainder” was a piece of legislation declaring a person or persons guilty of a crime, or crimes, without the irksome necessity of first securing their conviction in an ordinary court of law. Essentially, Bills of Attainder forced their victims to undergo “Trial by Parliament” (in the United States they call this “Impeachment”) in which the role of the jury was played by the assembled parliamentarians. A simple majority was enough to strip “over-mighty” subjects of their titles, offices, properties – even their lives.

With Lord Shane Jones playing the role of the Queen’s Special Prosecutor, it isn’t difficult to predict how these Trials by Parliament would go. The rebellious business barons would be found guilty of “Compassing the Death of the Economy” and their companies and corporations would be declared forfeit to the Crown. “Nationalisation”, you see, goes back a lot further than the Twentieth Century!

And what about Master Simon Bridges? Surely, Queen Jacinda and her counsellors have a strong prima facie case that he is not only the prime mover in this plot to kill the economy, but that he also intended the misfortunes flowing from its demise to effect the political death of the Queen?

Did he not declare on Thursday, 30th August that: “Business confidence has slumped further to levels not seen since the global financial crisis 10 years ago. This time the crisis is of the Government’s own making and the return to duty of the Prime Minister a month ago has only made it worse.”

No loyal subject of Queen Jacinda could read those words without forming the strong conviction that Master Bridges means his monarch harm. That he has already committed treason against her in his heart.

“Convey him to the Tower! Prepare the Bill of Attainder! Fetch timber for the scaffold! Sharpen the axe!”

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 31 August 2018.

Australia's Dysfunctional Democracy.

"Don't think of it as a hand on your shoulder, Malcolm. Think of it as a knife in your back." The ultimate beneficiary of the Liberal Party meltdown, Scott Morrison, is a deeply conservative evangelical Christian from one of Sydney’s leafiest suburbs. He replaces Turnbull largely because his name isn’t Peter Dutton – and because his face doesn’t remind the voting public quite so much of Harry Potter’s Lord Voldemort! In policy terms, however, there is very little that distinguishes Morrison from his ultra-conservative colleagues.

NEW ZEALANDERS WATCHED, with mounting incredulity, the meltdown of Australia’s Liberal-National coalition government. What unfolded appeared to be driven almost entirely by a toxic mixture of personal antipathies and oversized egos. Nowhere in the whole unedifying political saga did the interests of the Australian people appear to get a look in.

Mind you, the Australian people had made it easy for Malcolm Turnbull’s enemies. When questioned by the pollsters they had failed to draw a sufficiently clear distinction between the Prime Minister and his increasingly dysfunctional Party Room. Had they praised Malcolm Turnbull, and damned the Liberal Party, then the cause of governmental integrity and stability might have been strong enough to repel Tony Abbott, Peter Dutton and their reckless co-conspirators.

As it was, the polls and a swag of dispiriting by-election results in Queensland and elsewhere across Australia provided Abbott and Dutton with the pretext they needed for a leadership spill. Never mind that the declining popularity of the Liberals was almost entirely attributable to the party’s conservative faction’s blank refusal to accept that most Australians wanted nothing to do with their reactionary ideas.

Not even the decisive result of the informal plebiscite on Gay Marriage was enough to convince them that they were out-of-touch with mainstream Australia. They clung to the demonstrably false notion that “Real Australians” were with them.

Though fantastical, this conservative conviction was constantly reinforced by reactionaries in the news media. The views of a decided minority of the Australian electorate were thus supplied with amplification out of all proportion to their true demographic weight. As Dr Goebbels discovered more than eighty years ago: a fantasy repeated often enough will, eventually, take on the colour of reality.

Poor Malcolm Turnbull was, therefore, dammed if he did attempt to reassert the liberalism implicit in his party’s name; and damned if he didn’t. The deeply conservative ideology of the Liberal PM, John Howard, has become practically ineradicable from Liberal Party ranks. Turnbull may have been able to oust Abbot from The Lodge, but he could never muster the numbers to oust the conservative faction’s racism, misogyny, homophobia and purblind climate change denialism.

The ultimate winner of the Liberal Party leadership, Scott Morrison, is a deeply conservative evangelical Christian from one of Sydney’s leafiest suburbs. He replaces Turnbull largely because his name isn’t Peter Dutton – and because his face doesn’t remind the voting public quite so much of Harry Potter’s Lord Voldemort! In policy terms, however, there is very little that distinguishes Morrison from his ultra-conservative colleagues.

But, it is with these largely cosmetic considerations that the Australian political system’s willingness to be guided by the wishes of the electorate ends. The notion that the major political parties might still aggregate and organise the interests of clear and readily comprehensible chunks of the population: businessmen and professionals; shopkeepers and farmers; workers and intellectuals; has long since ceased to correspond to any recognisable description of political reality on either side of the Tasman.

To be fair, most of the voting public has enthusiastically reciprocated the politicians’ lack of interest. Over the course of the past 30-40 years membership of political parties in both New Zealand and Australia has plummeted. Most voters now draw little distinction between a Member of Parliament and any other variety of highly-paid public servant. The crucial democratic role which the people’s representatives are supposed to play is no longer generally appreciated. As the unedifying spectacle of Malcolm Turnbull’s deposition unfolded before their eyes over the third week in August, the response of most Aussies was to angrily instruct MPs to: “Do your f***ing job!”

But, if the people are no longer sovereign – then who is? It’s a tricky question. In the days of Robert Menzies or Rob Muldoon it was pretty clear to everyone who ran the show. Nowadays, however, respect for the party leader tends to last only as long as the polls remain favourable. But, when public support falters, the most treacherous and ambitious politicians look in the mirror and ask the oldest question is politics: “Why not me?”

The historical precedent, therefore, is not that of a powerful monarchy like England or France, but of Poland or Scotland. Weak kingdoms brought down by the unceasing intrigues and inveterate treachery of aristocrats who cared more for themselves than they did for their country.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 31 August 2018.

Thursday 30 August 2018

The Warning Bells Of Absurdity.

Noises Off: This is the nightmare quality of current events. That, beyond the wafer-thin screens of normality, vast beasts go prowling in the dark. We can hear them barking and roaring: sometimes far away; sometimes frighteningly close. There’s a skittering of claws on marble floors. Eyes glowing green in the shadows. And, try as we may, we cannot wake up. Painting by Otto Dix.

HOW CAN YOU TELL when a system is falling apart? That the load-bearing walls of everyday reality are beginning to weaken? The simple answer is absurdity. Words spoken and positions taken that simply make no sense. Behaviour that raises suspicion of complete madness. Sums that stubbornly refuse to add up.

Think about the extraordinary display put on by Australia’s governing party, the Liberal Party. What was that all about? For some time the party has been declining in the polls. So, what does it do? It convulses itself in a bloody and ultimately pointless bout of political fratricide. Hurling aside an urbane, accomplished and highly intelligent politician, Malcolm Turnbull, and replacing him with an intellectually stunted and morally vacuous religious zealot whose primary political accomplishments have been the persecution of refugees and the punishment of the poor. Entirely unsurprisingly, the Liberal’s primary vote has sunk to record lows.

Then there is the ongoing campaign by the United Kingdom’s liberal establishment to destroy Jeremy Corbyn. Unable to counter the Labour leader’s policies: for fear of exposing their unshakeable allegiance to the “loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires” (thank you Paul Simon) that constitutes the actual government of the world; these ostensibly “progressive” politicians and journalists have embarked upon a barking-mad effort to paint Corbyn and his allies in the Labour Party as “antisemites”. By which they mean opponents of the State of Israel.

Now anyone who knows anything about Jeremy Corbyn (which includes the people who are levelling the charge of antisemitism against him) cannot possibly believe that he is prejudiced against Jews simply because they are Jews. Corbyn’s quarrel is with the ideology of Zionism, and with the unjust and often downright murderous actions of the Israeli state: a stance he has maintained with admirable consistency for more than thirty years.

Clearly, the prospect of such a man being just one general election away from No. 10 Downing Street is of profound concern to right-wing Israeli politicians and supporters of Zionism all around the world. That such people are attempting to undermine Corbyn is perfectly understandable. But, the campaign being waged against him on the pages of The Guardian isn’t about Israel – or Jewish people. It’s about something else; something all the more unnerving for being unspoken. It’s about who is entitled to govern the UK and who is not.

Corbyn constitutes an existential threat to the UK’s governing elites, whose formerly vice-like grip on the nation’s political and cultural institutions has been seriously weakened by a bottom-up political insurgency from the left of UK politics for which the veteran left-wing MP has acted as a lightning-rod. They are calling Corbyn an antisemite because they can’t plausibly call him a paedophile and because they are not yet desperate enough to call for his assassination.

That’s why it all sounds so mad. Like the accusations which Stalin levelled against the old Bolsheviks in the Moscow show-trials of the 1930s. They are lies – obvious and terrible lies – but with the power of the apparatus behind them they risk acquiring the character of Truth. So we go on reading the articles in The Guardian: noting the rising pitch of hysteria between every line; and the world lurches sideways under our feet.

And then we look at Donald Trump’s America, and Corbyn’s woes fade – overwhelmed by the dazzling image of the planet’s most powerful nation spontaneously combusting.

It’s all about race, of course. The whole history of the United States has been about race. About being white, or, more accurately about not being red, black, yellow or brown. The history of the United States of America is a series of evermore urgent reiterations of a consistent ruling-class strategy of making sure that the consciousness of class oppression is forever being displaced by the awareness of racial privilege.

The election of Barack Obama was the trigger. A black man in the White House was the ultimate symbol of white decline. From that moment on, a majority of white Americans were seized by a racial distemper that rotted their brains and inflamed their spleens. Though Trump has yet to speak or tweet the words explicitly, “Making America Great Again” has the ring of a genocidal call-to-arms. What else could it be? When demographic trends threaten to submerge white Americans in a diverse, multicultural morass?

When Trump talks about “draining the swamp” the assumption has always been that he is talking about cleaning up Washington DC. But what if he means draining away or diverting the waters that are lapping at the feet of white Americans? What if he intends to leave white America high and dry by simply getting rid of all those forces that are threatening to swamp it?

This is the nightmare quality of current events. That, beyond the wafer-thin screens of normality, vast beasts go prowling in the dark. We can hear them barking and roaring: sometimes far away; sometimes frighteningly close. There’s a skittering of claws on marble floors. Eyes glowing green in the shadows. And, try as we may, we cannot wake up.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 30 August 2018.

Tuesday 28 August 2018

Working For Families: Keeping The Wheels Of Capitalism Turning.

The Way We Were: If what used to be called the social wage (education, health, welfare payments such as Working For Families) had to be picked up by the bosses, then our society would very rapidly degenerate into something resembling early industrial Britain. The capitalists couldn’t pay their workers enough to cover the now non-existent social wage, so they wouldn’t. Human-beings would, wherever possible, be replaced by machines, and those without a stake in the new order of things would be left to starve in squalor.

SUSAN ST JOHN’S INDIGNATION at the way the Working For Families (WFF) payment has been cast as an employer subsidy is palpable. “Blaming WFF for low wages”, exclaims Susan “is a bit like pointing to our high rate of suicide and blaming it on the existence of the mental health services.” Neither is she slow to sheet home the “true cause of low wages”. This, she says, is to be found in “casualised hours, precarious employment, automation, globalised labour markets and falling wage share of output due to loss of union power.”

St John is scathing in her condemnation of the purveyors of what she regards as the “subsidy myth”. Matthew Hooton, Eric Crampton on the Right; Bryce Edwards on the Left; and “others”.

Well, among those “others” I must acknowledge myself. Until relatively recently, I, too, was convinced that WFF, by topping-up the manifestly inadequate wages paid to workers, acted as a multi-billion-dollar subsidy to the employing class. Instead of the bosses paying their workers a living wage, those workers were being kept afloat by the taxes paid by other workers. How could that be fair?

But then I found myself seated next to Susan at one of Laila Harré’s “salons” and was set straight on WFF in the most forthright fashion.

Where were the critics of WFF prepared to call a halt? Susan demanded. If this particular “subsidy” was torn away, why not the taxpayer-funded public education system? Or public health? Just imagine how much more the bosses would be required to pay their workers if their wages were to cover not only the additional costs associated with raising children, but also the cost of private education and private health insurance? And what about the roads and the electricity grid? What about the water supply? Or sewerage disposal? How high would wages have to be lifted if every man and woman in the country was required to pay for all this crucial infrastructure directly – rather than by means of taxation?

The fact of the matter, Susan informed me, is that the entire capitalist system is subsidised. The viability of the present economic system; the ability of every company – private or public – to return a profit to its shareholders; rests upon the willingness of the state to pick up the lion’s share of the costs of raising, educating and keeping healthy all those workers whose daily labours keep their employers in business.

It was not always so. In the very early years of capitalism workers were paid just enough to cover the cost of keeping a roof over their heads and food in their bellies – less if demand faltered or prices increased sharply. The contribution of the state was limited to providing the soldiers necessary to restore order if the capitalists’ workers, driven to utter desperation, rebelled; the courts in which the ringleaders could be convicted; and the prisons (or penal colonies) in which such miscreants could be safely immured.

It didn’t work. As industrial technology grew ever more sophisticated, the need for a well-educated workforce grew ever more urgent. Likewise, with workers’ health. Deadly diseases left gaping holes in the working population. Clean water, hygienic waste disposal, unadulterated food, safe housing: all of these improvements, supplied collectively via rates and taxes, were crucial to improving the quality of life of the working-class. They were no less important, however, in keeping the capitalists profitable. Assessed from the perspective of the long-suffering wage and salary earner, the whole edifice of industrial civilisation looks suspiciously like an employer subsidy!

Which is precisely Susan St John’s point. If what used to be called the social wage (education, health, basic infrastructure) had to be picked up by the bosses, then our society would very rapidly degenerate into something resembling early industrial Britain. The capitalists couldn’t pay their workers enough to cover the now non-existent social wage, so they wouldn’t. Human-beings would, wherever possible, be replaced by machines, and those without a stake in the new order of things would be left to starve in squalor.

And, yes, you’re right, what this all adds up to is the far-from-novel conclusion that capitalism is an economic system subsidised by the many to the inordinate advantage of the few. Working For Families is, therefore, a very long way from being the most egregious example of society picking up the tab for meeting at least some of the needs of its most vulnerable members. Suggesting that the bosses take over this responsibility is pointless: they have neither the means, nor the inclination, to do so.

And, no, you’re not wrong, capitalism is, indeed, a grossly exploitative and unjust system which only goes on working because the people who keep the wheels turning get up every morning and, well ….. keep the wheels turning.

One hundred years ago, working people understood this. Hell, they even sang about it:

They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn,
But without our brain and muscle not a single wheel could turn.
We can break their haughty power, gain our freedom, when we learn
That the union makes us strong.

Solidarity forever!
Solidarity forever!
Solidarity forever!
For the union makes us strong.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 28 August 2018.

Saturday 25 August 2018

The Summit Of Folly: Why ‘Middle New Zealand” Will Have The Last Word On Crime And Punishment.

Little Proposes, Middle New Zealand Disposes: If nothing else, the Justice Summit has shown Andrew Little what he is up against. The anger and hurt of Maori. The anxious attempts of various state institutions to meet the often contradictory expectations of their political masters. And last – but by no means least – the inescapable reality of “Middle New Zealand’s” veto: it’s indisputable power and its implacable determination to have the final say.

ANDREW LITTLE must be wondering whether his Justice Summit was worth it. Encounters between practitioners of deliberative democracy and participants in direct democracy are seldom trouble free. How could they be? Deliberators are elected, while participants in direct democratic forums are often self-selected, or, even worse, the delegates of special interest groups. By the time the Justice Summit drew to a close it was very clear that the formal practices of deliberative democracy and direct democracy’s roiling currents of passion and conviction had only Little in common.

If nothing else, the experience will have shown Little what he is up against. The anger and hurt of Maori. The radical programmes with which the latter propose to empty the prisons of their disproportionate ethnic muster. The anxious attempts of the various state institutions tasked with managing crime and punishment to generate outcomes that meet the often contradictory expectations of their political masters. And last – but by no means least – the inescapable reality of “Middle New Zealand’s” veto: it’s indisputable power and its implacable determination to have the final say.

That power was on full display in the opening hours of the Summit when Jayne Crothall, whose three year old daughter, Brittany, was murdered as she slept in 1997, was reported as breaking down in tears when a Maori woman claimed Pakeha did not know what it was like to be victimised.

“This has been a horrendous summit for victims of crime”, Crothall told the 700 Summit participants “People have been told they don’t know what it is like to be a victim because they’re European. There have been a lot of racist comments made. I have never heard so much racism.”

Sadly, it is Jayne Crothall’s words that Middle New Zealand will take away from the Justice Summit. Her accusations of racism will be amplified across the country by the Sensible Sentencing Trust who are also likely to highlight the words of University of Canterbury criminologist, Greg Newbold, who boycotted the whole event as a waste of time and told RNZ National that if Little is serious about reducing the prison muster, then he should “build more prisons and end double-bunking”.

Middle New Zealand: overwhelmingly Pakeha; gainfully employed; living in their own homes; law-abiding and tax-paying; is temperamentally impatient (if not contemptuous) of sociological and historical explanations for Maori offending. To their ears, the arguments of academics and “experts” about poverty and colonisation come across as sounding suspiciously like excuses.

Which is why nearly all of the evidence of Maori suffering will have been, at best, half-heard by Middle New Zealand. At worst, it will be taken as proof of the “Maarees’” manifest deficiencies as citizens. By contrast, and simply because they chime so completely with their own deep-seated prejudices, Jayne Crothall’s words will not only be heard, but they will also be remembered and angrily repeated. Such is the power of Pakeha confirmation bias.

The thing to remember about all of the colonial societies in which the settlers have triumphed demographically, is that the over-representation of the colonised in the criminal justice and prison systems will be welcomed, consciously or unconsciously, by the settlers as proof that their culture is still on top. Were only 15-16 percent of prison inmates Maori (i.e. the muster matched the percentage of New Zealanders identifying as Maori) a number (probably a distressingly large number) of Pakeha would interpret the statistic as evidence that the Police and the Courts were not doing their jobs.

Of course, Andrew Little can’t say that: not if he wants his party to win the next election. What’s more, the Labour-NZF-Green Government cannot even be seen to be addressing the gross over-representation of Maori in New Zealand’s prison system to aggressively. Middle New Zealand’s tolerance threshold runs out at the notion of convicted criminals being rehabilitated outside prison walls. They will accept intensifying rehabilitation efforts behind bars, and many would accept the desirability of every prisoner having their own cell. What they will not accept is criminals being “set loose in the community” before they have demonstrated conclusively that it is safe to release them.

That’s why Greg Newbold advised Andrew Little to “build more prisons and end double-bunking”. Because he is shrewd enough (as both an ex-con and an academic expert) to know that his is the only formula which Middle New Zealand (the people who determine the outcome of general elections) is ready to accept.

That Little gets this was illustrated by his last-minute offer to hold a special summit for the victims of crime. It’s a terrible idea. Such a gathering will, almost certainly, morph into a no-holds-barred display of Middle New Zealand’s retributive instincts. Little will be ordered to keep on doing everything that his just-concluded Justice Summit begged him to stop doing. The racist arbiters of crime and punishment in New Zealand will jubilantly exercise their political veto – and, God forgive them, Andrew Little and Jacinda Ardern will comply.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 24 August 2018.

Friday 24 August 2018

“Keep Cutting, Jacinda!”

You Gotta Serve Somebody: Is it more accurate to describe MPs as employees of their party? Certainly, the master-servant characterisation works much better in this context than in any other. Without a party, becoming an MP is virtually impossible. Moreover, to become a parliamentary candidate, individuals are not only expected to sacrifice their judgement to the opinion of their party – they are required to.

JACINDA JUST FROZE her colleagues’ income for at least a year. Politicians, she reckons, don’t need any more money. With the average backbench MP’s salary topping $160,000 per annum, most of us would agree. Vehemently.

I say salary, but that’s just for convenience. The truth is, I don’t know what to call the income we taxpayers settle on our political representatives. The word “salary” implies some sort of master-servant relationship. That is certainly the talkback hosts’ assumption when they refer to the members of the House of Representatives as: “our employees in Wellington”.

Except they’re not our employees, they’re our representatives – and being an elected representative of the people is very far from being an employee of the people, let alone their servant!

The English philosopher and statesman, Edmund Burke (1729-1797) is often quoted on what the voters might reasonably expect from their Member of Parliament. In his famous “Speech to the Electors of Bristol” (1780) he wrote: “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

Less frequently quoted, but even more apposite, is Burkes’ contention that: “Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole.”

If only! In the 238 years since Burke delivered his famous speech, the British parliament (and our own) has ceased to be a collection of individual representatives dedicated to the “general good” (if such a disinterested body of politicians ever actually existed!) and has indeed become a “congress”. Not of ambassadors, to be sure, but of political parties. These institutions are, indeed, representatives of “different and hostile interests”; “agents and advocates” for every kind of purpose and prejudice; and for all manner of causes.

Is it more accurate, then, to describe your MP as an employee of his or her party? Certainly, the master-servant characterisation works much better in this context than in any other. Without a party, becoming an MP is virtually impossible. Moreover, to become a parliamentary candidate, individuals are not only expected to sacrifice their judgement to the opinion of their party – they are required to.

This raises all manner of problems, however, because, as the American novelist, Upton Sinclair (1878-1968) shrewdly observed: “It is difficult to make a man understand something when his salary depends upon him not understanding it.”

If the only way to become – and remain – a parliamentarian is by the grace and favour of one’s political party; and if the financial reward for being an MP is in excess of $160,000; then our political parties are particularly well set up to make “their” MPs understand only what the party leaders want them to understand – on pain of becoming instantly, and in most cases, considerably, poorer.

It is probably pertinent to observe at this point that an income of $160,000 per annum places its recipient in the top 5 percent of New Zealand’s income earners. At more than three times the medium income, it is difficult to see how any person in receipt of such a handsome living could long retain any sort of fellow-feeling with those required to live in more straightened financial circumstances. When one is earning such a large sum of money it is difficult to resist the whispered conclusion of one’s fattened ego that it is entirely proper and well-deserved. It is then but a small step to the conviction that the misery of others is similarly appropriate and well-deserved.

The legends live on in the Labour Party of its founding fathers living no better than their working-class supporters, and how prone they were to share with the most destitute of their constituents what little remained of their meagre parliamentary stipends. Such tales would certainly explain why socialism remained for the First Labour Government something much more than a mere rhetorical flourish; and why their ability to understand things was so refreshingly unimpaired.

So, keep cutting Jacinda! The less our MPs take, then, assuredly, the more likely they are to give.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 24 August 2018.

This Is Your Green Captain: We Are Going Down.

Approaching The Edge: The huge problem facing the Greens is that no matter how loudly they trumpet their latest round of “concessions” from Labour and NZ First, in their heart-of-hearts they know they’re not making the slightest difference to the pace and extent of what is looking more-and-more like runaway climate change.

GREEN POLITICS has never been about business-as-usual. Green politics has always been about the salvation of the planet and the reclamation of the human soul from the talons of the Capitalist death-machine. To reduce Green politics to mere environmentalism is to betray a complete misunderstanding of its raison d’être.

Sadly and predictably, however, that is exactly what the majority of New Zealand’s political commentators are doing. They are heaping their praise upon the Green caucus for taking the party back-to-basics with wonderful new policies about re-cycling car tyres and paying ten bucks to whoever before dumping your rubbish.

As if New Zealanders (or, at least, those New Zealanders with a still-functioning brain) aren’t aware that even if the entire nation voluntarily reverted to a stone-age existence, then the rest of the planet would struggle to measure the environmental impact of its sacrifice. New Zealand’s contribution to Anthropogenic Global Warming, by way of CO2 and Methane emissions, comes in at approximately 1 percent of the total. So the best we could hope for, capitalist-death-machine-wise, is to maybe knock just a tiny chip or two off its talons. Nothing more.

This is, of course, a huge problem for the Greens. No matter how loudly they trumpet their latest round of “concessions” from Labour and NZ First, in their heart-of-hearts they know they’re not making the slightest difference to the pace and extent of what is looking more-and-more like runaway climate change.

Alright! Alright! Calm down! I know it’s probably better to do something than nothing. But, really, isn’t that all about polishing our armour before riding out to certain death? We’re not going to win, but hey, at least we’ll look suitably heroic as we lose!

Except, the self-inflicted psychic violence required for this political strategy to work will very quickly destroy the Green Party. If “being in government” means accepting that climate change will continue to run amok before their helpless eyes, while in caucus-room and cabinet committee they argue about whether or not to exclude methane from the greenhouse gasses the agricultural sector should be expected to pay for, then, seriously, they’re nuts. Pretending white is black and up is down is injurious to people’s physical and emotional health. A political party which willingly engages in such Orwellian “doublethink” is bound to become very sick, very fast.

Before you know it, they’ll be attempting to rehabilitate the word “cunt”.

Or, failing to understand the need for legislation designed to keep every member of the Green Party’s caucus focused on how best to address the looming climatic apocalypse. Tender consciences should alight from the bus immediately.

Far from striving to remain in government, the Greens should be taking themselves out of it. By all means vote down every attempt by the National Party and Act to unseat the Labour-NZ First coalition, but don’t dissipate your energies in an unseemly scramble for a handful of sticky crumbs. Those New Zealanders who understand how serious the threat of runaway climate change has become want to know that the Greens get it too.

There’s a chilling track from Laurie Anderson’s Big Science album in which the lines “This is your captain /We are going down” are repeated over and over. That’s what it feels like now, whenever we read the latest grim findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “We are going down.” When we study photographs of vast holes in the Siberian tundra caused by the explosive release of tons of methane gas: gas trapped for thousands of years beneath the frozen soil; soil which is relentlessly thawing. “This is your captain /We are going down.”

What the Greens need to be telling us, both here and all over the planet, is how humanity can rush the cockpit, seize the plane’s controls and pull it out of its current death-dive. Does that amount to a revolution? Of course it does! How could it not? Is there any truly sentient individual who doesn’t believe that only a global revolution in the way human-beings interact with this planet’s biosphere can save them – along with the tens-of-thousands of other species threatened by rapidly rising global temperatures?

A Green Party bent on saving the planet cannot be satisfied with a mere 5 percent of the votes. It’s target must be 99 percent. No deals, no coalitions, no memorandums of understanding: nothing less than complete control of humanity’s stricken aircraft.

What does that mean for a tiny country at the bottom of the world? It means remaining clear and consistent. It means waiting for people to hear through all the static the Greens’ uncompromising message. It means transforming this country into a megaphone of sufficient volume to reach the ears of every human-being ready to listen. It means turning New Zealand into the home of a Green “Comintern”. A place to which people come to receive the message of planetary salvation and the soul’s reclamation, and then head back out to spread it to everyone who is willing to listen.

With every passing year, the number of willing listeners will grow. It’s a race now, between humanity in the cockpit fighting to prise capitalism’s hands from the controls – and the ground.

This is your Green captain ….. 

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 21 August 2018.

Tuesday 21 August 2018

Act’s Populist Soufflé Unlikely To Rise Twice.

On Message: Close study of American politics had convinced Richard Prebble (above) that if Act's classical liberal policies were to be given a third crack in the New Zealand legislature (after the successes of Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson) then they would only get there on the coat-tails of right-wing populism.

DAVID SEYMOUR is attempting to replicate Act’s political success under the leadership of Richard Prebble. Unfortunately for Act, David ain’t no Richard. He lacks Prebble’s political instincts: those fearsome talents honed to a savage cutting-edge by years of hand-to-hand conflict in the Labour Party trenches. David is a theorist – not a pugilist – and, therefore, quite unsuited to the raw exigencies of populist politics.

The confident statements of young political reporters notwithstanding, however, it was not Richard Prebble who launched the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers (Act) in 1994, but Roger Douglas and Derek Quigley. What’s more, nothing could have been further from their minds, vis-a-vis their new-born political infant’s political identity, than populism.

With massive financial backing from one of New Zealand’s most enterprising business leaders, Craig Heatley, Act’s founders embarked on a nationwide tour to sell the classical liberal ideology of their new party. The man who gave New Zealand “Rogernomics” asked his many enthusiastic backers in commerce and industry for access to their workforces. Douglas was firmly convinced that once ordinary working-class voters “got” his message of freedom and enterprise, Act could look forward to receiving mass popular support.

It didn’t work. The New Zealand working-class remained stubbornly loyal to the Labour Party. A reputed $1.5 million and months of hard yakka by Douglas and Quigley netted Act a return of just 1.5 percent in the opinion polls. Pure and unadulterated classical liberalism did have an audience in New Zealand. Unfortunately, that audience was vanishingly small.

Enter Richard Prebble.

Close study of American politics had convinced Prebble that if classical liberal policies were to be given a third crack at the New Zealand legislature (after the successes of Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson) then they would only get there on the coat-tails of right-wing populism.

Years in the Labour Party had taught Prebble that if you want to bag political troglodytes, then the place to go hunting for them is in the countryside. He also knew that although the working-class supported Labour it did not do so unanimously. Working-class tories, “Waitakere Men” – call them what you will – constituted a substantial and readily recruitable political force. Of course, you had to be prepared to get your hands a little dirty – quite a lot dirty, actually – but a little grime under his fingernails had never bothered Prebble unduly. Not if it helped him to win.

Hard right-wingers from rural and provincial New Zealand; social conservatives and ambitious battlers from the working-class suburbs of the big cities; these thoroughly un-Act-like demographics were peremptorily bolted-on to the refined upper-class ideologues from the leafy electorates and the eager young libertarian idealists from the universities to power the party over the all-important 5 percent MMP threshold.

It was a butt-ugly way to make it into Parliament, but it worked. In the first MMP election, held in October 1996, Act secured 6.1 percent of the Party Vote and (with a nod and a wink from National’s Jim Bolger) Richard Prebble won the seat of Wellington Central.

Over the next three years, Act’s manifesto took on a decidedly Reaganesque flavour. Prebble’s dog-whistling over issues ranging from the Treaty of Waitangi to welfare cheats and law and order consolidated his grip on the unlikely coalition of conservatives and liberals with which he had secured the party’s parliamentary beach-head. Act’s 1999 Party Vote was 7.04 percent rising to 7.14 percent in 2002. The former Labour Party political brawler had proved it could be done.

Unfortunately for David Seymour, however, making Act electable (without National Party assistance) requires the services of a Darth Vader – not a C3PO. Prebble’s sudden departure from parliamentary politics in 2004 left Act floundering. It’s Party Vote in 2005 fell to 5.3 percent. Crucially, Rodney Hide’s heroic campaigning in Epsom secured Act the electorate life-saver it needed in the House of Representatives.

Seymour’s attempt to resurrect Act as a populist party is almost certain to fail. That he is even trying strobes abject political desperation. It also signals a curious insensitivity to the zeitgeist – the “spirit of the times”. If ever there was a moment for someone to lift up the banner of freedom – it is now. Combine the defence of free markets with the defence of free speech and Act – proudly rebranded as “The Freedom League” – might once again aspire to Prebble’s electoral success.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 17 August 2018.

Tuesday 14 August 2018

Who Are You Calling "Evil"?

This ordinary-looking man, who lived in an ordinary-looking house, on an ordinary-looking street, who was tried in this ordinary-looking courtroom - for mass murder:  Could this balding, middle-aged man wearing horn-rimmed glasses and an ill-fitting suit really be responsible for the deaths of six million innocent people? Far from resembling Lucifer, Adolf Eichmann looked like a worn-out bureaucrat – which is exactly what he was. The philosopher, Hannah Arendt, referred to this profoundly demoralising discrepancy as “the banality of evil”.

THE PROBLEM OF EVIL has taxed the minds of men and women for millennia. Is evil a force, like gravity, that drags human-beings down into the depths of depravity? Does this force reside in a single conscious entity: immensely powerful and seemingly immortal? If so, is this entity motivated to pour its essence into individual human-beings: transforming them into monsters? Or is it, rather, that certain individuals open themselves voluntarily to the malignant forces of the cosmos: deliberately absorbing them in order to unleash evil upon others?

Many theologians (yes, theologians, because any discussion of evil cannot help straying into the realms of religion and metaphysics) reject the idea of evil as a universal force and dismiss entirely the idea that evil can be personified. Their definition of evil employs the concepts of absence and distance. Evil, they say, manifests itself in the behaviour of people who have become separated from God. (Or, if you prefer, from what is Good.) The more prolonged the absence; the greater the distance; the greater their capacity to behave in “un-good” ways.

Since religion and metaphysics make a great many people living in the twenty-first century uncomfortable, the Problem of Evil is often transferred into the realm of science – most particularly, the disciplines of psychiatry, psychology and neurology.

Of course, if the explanation for evil is neurological – i.e. some form of brain malfunction – then the concept is immediately stripped of its moral dimension. If someone behaves violently, inflicting pain and suffering upon the innocent because of some physical defect they cannot control, then they cannot be considered evil. Dangerous, certainly. But not evil.

The psychiatrists, by contrast, search for the causes of predatory and sadistic behaviour in the individual’s past. Traumatic events, experienced in infancy, are believed to influence the individual’s adult conduct. Violence and cruelty, especially, are thought to manifest themselves intergenerationally. Or, as the English poet, W. H. Auden, expresses the idea in his famous poem, “1 September 1939”:

I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

But, even this approach to the Problem of Evil leaves many people feeling troubled. Since we cannot control the things that are done to us in our infancy then, surely, it is unfair to hold adult individuals responsible for their aberrant behaviour. If the harm they inflict on others is generated by harms inflicted on them, then how can we call them evil? Our unease becomes even more pronounced when we discover that extreme trauma can leave not only emotional, but also very real neurological scars on its victims’ minds and brains. And, if that is true, then, once again, the concept of evil dissolves before our eyes.

Psychology only compounds these concerns. If human behaviour is the result of “drives” impelled by the mitochondria in our cells, our instincts; and if religious, philosophical and ideological systems are overlaid upon these drives in order to control and channel their social effects; then, again, the scope for individual human agency is severely limited. As the American socialist writer, Upton Sinclair, shrewdly observed: “It is very difficult to make a man understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

The other great difficulty presented by the Problem of Evil is the way in which human-beings, upon being convinced that a certain course of action is not only entirely justified but entirely right, will proceed methodically to ensure that the course of action is implemented – no matter what the cost.

Dr Stanley Milgram’s horrible experiment, in which people were instructed to inflict electric shocks on participants who failed to answer set questions correctly, offers grim confirmation of this human weakness. Responding to the instructions of the authority figure overseeing the experiment, fully two-thirds of the participants were prepared to deliver potentially lethal shocks. They could hear the person screaming (or thought they could since no one was actually being hurt) but, when ordered by the man in the white coat to “continue with the experiment”, they obeyed.

In a society divided by class, gender and ethnicity there will inevitably be people whose salaries depend upon their willingness to deliver shocks – both real and symbolic – to their fellow human-beings. It is extremely difficult to convince such people that they are doing anything wrong. While the prevailing social and economic system and its practices are believed to be both justified and right, the actions of these people, and the consequences of their actions, will be similarly regarded.

The German philosopher, Hannah Arendt, observing the trial of Adolf Eichmann (one of the leading planners and executors of the Holocaust) in a Tel Aviv courtroom was struck by how ordinary he looked. Could this balding, middle-aged man wearing horn-rimmed glasses and an ill-fitting suit really be responsible for the deaths of six million innocent people? Far from resembling Lucifer, Eichmann looked like a worn-out bureaucrat – which is exactly what he was. Arendt referred to this profoundly demoralising discrepancy as “the banality of evil”.

Because, unfortunately, evil looks nothing like the artist’s impression: there are no horns, no tail, no cloven hooves, no whiff of sulphur. Life would be so much easier if there were! No, if you really want to know what evil looks like, then examine the faces of the people who live next door; the people on the bus; the people in the lunchroom at work. But don’t stop there. If you truly want to examine the face of evil – just take a look in the mirror.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 14 August 2018.

Sunday 12 August 2018

Checkmate In Two Years?

Checkmate: The impending political crisis over free speech threatens at least two of the multiple players currently engaged on New Zealand’s political chessboard. For Labour and the Greens it may already be too late to protect themselves from the moves of their opponents. For National and NZ First, however, a path to electoral victory in 2020 beckons.

A CHESS GRAND-MASTER can discern the future direction of the game from the way the pieces on the board are configured. He is thus able to predict the moves of his opponent with considerable accuracy. In some instances, he will be able to identify a path to victory that cannot be blocked. When both players see this path, the doomed King is laid flat and the game is over.

The impending political crisis over free speech threatens at least two of the multiple players currently engaged on New Zealand’s political chessboard. For Labour and the Greens it may already be too late to protect themselves from the moves of their opponents. For National and NZ First, however, a path to electoral victory in 2020 beckons.

The passions aroused by the recent visit of two Canadian right-wing provocateurs, Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux, are evidence of deep cultural tensions within New Zealand society.

Superficially, these tensions appear to be generated by powerful disagreements over what freedom of speech actually means. Those who regard free speech as an indispensable precondition for any functioning democracy pit themselves against those who consider the whole concept to be a mere rhetorical flourish: a principle promoted by dominant groups for no better reason than to maintain their economic, social and cultural privilege.

At a deeper level, however, the controversy threw into sharp relief the ideological contours of twenty-first century New Zealand. Multiculturalism was exposed as something much more than an academic buzzword. What Southern and Molyneux made clear, by opposing it so openly and aggressively, is that multiculturalism has become our official state ideology.

There’s a saying, often attributed to Voltaire, which declares: “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticise.” The free speech controversy, by identifying multiculturalism as the concept Kiwis are not allowed to critique without drawing down the unrelenting wrath of its state-sanctioned and supported defenders, has caused many citizens to wonder when and how “nationalism” and “biculturalism” became dirty words.

The answer is bound up with New Zealand’s – or, at least “official” New Zealand’s – wholesale embrace of neoliberalism and globalisation. A country whose elites have signed-up to an economic philosophy based on the free movement of goods, capital and labour: the three fundamental drivers of globalisation; is more or less obliged to adopt multiculturalism as it core social philosophy.

Old fashioned New Zealand nationalism, and its more recent offshoot “biculturalism”, were products of a country which saw itself as offering something uniquely and positively its own to the rest of the world. It is probable that a substantial majority of Kiwis still subscribe to this notion (although a significant minority still struggle with the concept of biculturalism).

What the free speech controversy of the past four weeks revealed to New Zealanders was that too forthright an expression of cultural nationalism can result in the persons advocating such notions being branded xenophobic or racist – and even to accusations of being a white supremacist, fascist or Nazi.

The battle for free speech cannot, therefore, be prevented from extending out into a broader discussion over whether or not New Zealanders have the right to reject the downsides of neoliberalism, globalisation and multiculturalism. Is it any longer possible to advance the radically nationalistic idea that the nature and future of New Zealand is a matter which New Zealanders alone must decide, without finding oneself pilloried on Twitter or banned from the nation’s universities?

Returning to our chess analogy, it is possible to foresee that in the months ahead NZ First will find itself feeling more and more alienated from the radical multiculturalists in Labour and the Greens. The sharper the free speech debate becomes, the more likely it is that Winston Peters and his fellow “fetishizers of New Zealandness” will find themselves branded purveyors of “hate speech” by the Red and Green pieces on the political chessboard.

If National refuses to take the lead role in upholding free speech, then the chances are high that a new political party dedicated to defending New Zealanders’ rights and freedoms will start placing additional pieces on the chessboard. The sheer venom (and violent protests) such a party would be bound to attract from the Ctrl-Left would very soon lift its support above the 5 percent MMP threshold.

Checkmate in two years.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 10 August 2018.

The Government v. The Business Community: Playing Chicken Over Employment Law Reform

But Has Grant Got His Leather Jacket Caught In The Handle? Declining business confidence and how the government should respond to it is fast developing into a game of political and economic ‘chicken’. Both sides know they are being challenged. They also know that the longer they delay responding the greater the risk of a tragic outcome. (Screen shot from Rebel Without A Cause) 

EVERY TIME the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance address the “Business Community” I wince. It’s painful to watch them abase themselves in the way they do. As if their endless protestations of good will and their oft-repeated promise to “listen” will make the slightest difference. The Business Community is acutely aware that there is nothing with more potential to cause them harm than a left-wing government. If it cannot be tamed, then it must be broken.

At the moment the attention of the government’s business opponents is focused on its reaction to the evidence of plummeting business confidence. This is fast developing into a game of political and economic ‘chicken’. Both sides know they are being challenged. They also know that the longer they delay responding the greater the risk of a tragic outcome. The Business Community is, however, convinced that, on the basis of its previous experience with left-wing governments, Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson will swerve first.

By “swerving” they mean backing away (if not actually backing down) from their proposed employment law reforms. The more intelligent members of the business community are only too aware of the head of steam that is building up in the workforce for a decisive shift in the power relationships prevailing in the workplace. Any reform that makes it easier for workers in the private sector to be organised into unions – let alone aggregated into the occupational collectivities of the pre-Employment Contracts Act era – has the potential to set off a wave of unionisation that could fundamentally disadvantage shareholders of all sizes.

Such a “revolution of rising expectations” has, however, been on the cards from the moment Jacinda began scattering her stardust hither and yon in the run-up to last year’s election. That stardust poses a huge problem for Labour. Without it, there was – and is – no possibility of the party winning anything like enough support to form a government. In deploying her politics of hope and kindness, however, Jacinda has raised New Zealanders hopes and dreams to dangerous new heights.

New Zealanders are expecting the Labour-led government to usher-in real and positive changes in the way they live their lives. Failure to meet these expectations will, almost certainly, result in the fall of the Labour-NZF-Green Government.

Jacinda and her team know this. They may have bought themselves some time by setting up scores of working-groups and inquiries, but at some point before the 2020 general election they are going to have to start delivering real gains to the people who voted for them. Being seen to back away, albeit under fierce business pressure, from restoring a modicum of fairness to the workplace will be seen by many traditional Labour supporters (especially the present and former members of trade unions) as a betrayal.

And yet, as the wage campaigns of public sector workers (the only groups who have been able to retain a credible measure of union density) are rolled out and resolved in settlements involving double-figures, the restiveness of the largely un-unionised private sector workforce can only grow. The Business Community do not need to have the consequences of this restiveness spelled out for them. Employment law reform could quite easily result in an unprecedented and largely unorganised strike-wave sweeping across the country.

That’s enough to shake the confidence of even the most unflappable CEO.

Unfortunately, it is also more than enough to unsettle the nerves of a social-democratic government that would (to paraphrase the shrewd observation of an old trade unionist pal of mine) retain control of the losing side in an argument about employment law reform than lose control of the winning side.

In spite of its name, the last thing Labour wants is the New Zealand working-class taking matters into its own hands.

Those who have put their money on Jacinda and Grant swerving at the last minute have, if history is any guide, made a pretty safe bet.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 10 August 2018.

Saturday 11 August 2018

Better Health & Safety Laws Could Have Stopped The 1981 Tour!

People Could Get Hurt Here! If we’d had the same health and safety rules back in 1981 as we have now, then the Springboks wouldn’t have got to play a single game!

IF ONLY the New Zealand of 1981 had possessed health and safety legislation to match the laws of 2018. It took Pat McQuarrie, at the controls of the light aircraft he had stolen from Taupo airport, and his threat to fly it into the grandstand of Hamilton’s Rugby Park, to persuade the Police Commissioner, Bob Walton, that it might be in the interests of the health and safety of the spectators gathered to watch the Springbok-Waikato Rugby match on 25 July 1981 to cancel the fixture.

Fast-forward 37 years and just think how easy it would be to achieve the same result today. No need for the likes of Pat McQuarrie in 2018. A few hundred raggle-taggle left-wing gypsies threatening to “confront” Rugby patrons if they attempted to enter the ground is all it would take to convince the New Zealand Rugby Union that the game would have to be called-off.

Crikey! If we’d had the same health and safety rules back then as we have now, then the Springboks wouldn’t have got to play a single game. The anti-tour movement was just so huge in 1981 that its entirely credible threat to organise major disruptions of air travel, the railways and the motorways would have been more than enough to induce Rob Muldoon to instruct the Rugby Union to withdraw their invitation to the South Africans.

Certainly, the state television network would have required little more than the threat of interference with its super-expensive transmission equipment to announce its determination to boycott the Springbok Tour altogether. Of course, without television coverage of the matches it would hardly have been worth the Rugby Union proceeding.

Such a shame that in 1981 the authorities cared so little for the health and safety of New Zealanders that they were prepared to deploy thousands of Police and employ the armed forces to lay thousands of metres of barbed-wire to ensure that the rights of Rugby players and spectators were not infringed. Not only that, but if any protester attempted to prevent the Rugby matches from proceeding then they could expect to be cracked over the head with a Policeman’s baton.

Yep. The consequences for exercising your right to free expression back in 1981 could be severe. When the Springbok-Waikato game was called-off, the protesters who had made it onto the field were lucky to escape with their lives. Bottles and beer-cans rained down upon their heads leaving many of them bloodied and bruised. Spectators pouring out of the park then attacked the first-aid station treating the injured.

New Zealanders back then were horrified at the level of violence unleashed on the protesters. But that’s only because people were much less aware in 1981 that if people “talked shit” then they deserved to “get bashed”. It was nowhere near as well understood in those days that speaking-out against the prevailing ideas of the day constituted nothing less than an open invitation to everybody who subscribed to those ideas to have at the dissidents with fist and boot.

The 1980s were such unenlightened times. The appalling events  of that era could never happen in the Aotearoa-New Zealand of 2018. Our health and safety laws simply wouldn’t permit it!

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 9 August 2018.

Friday 10 August 2018

The “Over-65 Vote” May Be “Funkier” That National Expects.

We Didn't Die Before We Grew Old: It is sobering to realise that by 2020 roughly half of the Baby Boom Generation will be drawing a pension. The “Over-65 Vote” will no longer be composed overwhelmingly of what Colin James dubbed “The RSA Generation”. More and more of these older voters will cherish youthful memories of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.

PICTURE THIS. It’s a just a few weeks before the 2020 general election and social media is smoking. A superb piece of digital fakery has the National Party leader, Simon Bridges, inhaling enthusiastically. Over a Pink Floydesque soundtrack, Bridges exhales an impressive cloud of marijuana smoke. “My party is opposed to legalising pot” he explains, grinning broadly and winking knowingly. “But, if the people of New Zealand vote yes to dope in the forthcoming referendum, then a new National Party government will honour their decision and end cannabis prohibition within its first 100 days.” The clip ends with a rather glassy-eyed Bridges flashing his viewers the peace sign. The video’s tag line flashes up on the screen: Simon says, VOTE YES – AND NATIONAL.

Now, the prospect of a “funky” National Party mobilising the “Head Vote” will no doubt  strike many readers as a most unlikely proposition. For a start, the staunchly conservative Mr Bridges would certainly not take kindly to being portrayed as some sort of peace, love and mungbeans hippie. Less certain, however, is whether his campaign team would be all that bothered by such a clever piece of guerrilla advertising. Not all fake news is bad news.

It is, similarly, important to realise that by 2020 roughly half of the Baby Boom Generation will be drawing a pension. The “Over-65 Vote” will no longer be composed overwhelmingly of what Colin James dubbed “The RSA Generation”.

More and more of these older voters will cherish youthful memories of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.

On a darker note, their personal experience will have confirmed over and over again the brute reality that alcohol is capable of inflicting immeasurably more harm on families, friends and workmates than cannabis sativa.

Their children will point out the absurdity of preserving the market for increasingly deadly iterations of synthetic cannabis by prohibiting the cultivation and use of the real thing – a substance with no known fatalities to its credit.

The idea that the careers of their grandchildren may be jeopardised by engaging in what is, essentially, a harmless habit, will fill them with a mixture of exasperation and dread.

What’s more, as the Baby Boomers’ bodies begin to fail them and the aches and pains of old age make themselves known with ever-increasing intensity, the analgesic and stress-relieving qualities of cannabis will recommend themselves with ever-increasing force. Why should the law be interested in the consumption of a slice of hashish-infused chocolate-cake to relieve arthritis?

These are the considerations that National’s campaign strategists will be inviting Simon Bridges and his conservative colleagues to consider. Active Christian worship is now very much a minority sport. Likewise the misogyny and homophobia of those involuntarily celibate keyboard warriors who daily defile the Internet. The overwhelming majority of New Zealanders are men and women of good will and good humour. Those responsible for developing National’s election manifesto would do well to remember that.

Good will and good humour does not, however, signal soft-headedness. Sixty-five years and more on this earth has a habit of exposing the weaknesses of youthful propositions concerning human nature. Monty Python mercilessly satirised the notion that all individual failings could be laid at the door of “Society” by offering to “book them too”.

The explanation for the rock-solid character of National’s massive electoral support owes a great deal to older New Zealanders’ reluctant acceptance that many of the wounds which their less fortunate fellow citizens are expecting them to heal have almost certainly been self-inflicted. For the past forty years, doubt has been growing steadily in “Middle New Zealand” about the Welfare State’s capacity to improve the lives of either its “clients” or the society in which they live.

Bill English recognised this growing doubt and attempted to address it by means of his “Social Investment” initiatives. Much more work on these is required before they are ready to be rolled-out as the replacement for the First Labour Government’s “Social Security” model. There is, however, the whiff of the future about English’s ideas, so, if Simon Bridges is as wise as he is ambitious, then social investment will be the project into which he and his caucus colleagues hurl themselves in the run-up to 2020.

Bridges simple message to Middle New Zealand could be: “National’s not hard-hearted – just clear-headed”.

Except, of course, when it’s stoned.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 3 August 2018.

How The New Zealand Left Transformed Southern And Molyneux From Unknown Rightists Into Free Speech Heroes.

From Right-Wing Moles To Free Speech Mountains: Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux were confident that all they needed to do to spread their ideas in New Zealand was announce their intention of staging an event. The Left could be relied upon to do the rest.

WHAT A PITY there is no “Politburo” of the New Zealand Left. A central committee of knowledgeable and experienced left-wing strategists and organisers who could make decisions on behalf of the wider progressive movement. Had such a body existed when the news of the impending visit of Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux broke, then what happened next would have been very different.

The Politburo would have perused the available information on the Canadian duo and very quickly realised that the best course of action for the New Zealand Left was to do absolutely nothing. No media releases. No posters. No protests. Certainly no threats to disrupt the speakers’ public meetings. In response to Southern and Molyneux, the New Zealand Left would do precisely zero, zip, nada, nothing.

Why? Because even a cursory glance at Southern’s and Molyneux’s modus operandi would have alerted the Politburo to the fact that protests and threats of disruption were absolutely indispensable to the success of the pair’s political touring. 

Without the threats of disruption from Peace Action Auckland, the Auckland Council would have had no grounds for denying Southern and Molyneux access to the Bruce Mason Theatre in Takapuna (along with every other council venue in Auckland!) on health and safety grounds. The meeting would have taken place and, if the Canadians were lucky, they might have merited a few brief paragraphs in the NZ Herald. Most Kiwis would have remained blissfully unaware that Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux even existed.

If provocateurs fail to provoke, do they make any sound at all?

We’ll never know. Because, of course, the New Zealand Left does not have a Politburo to provide it with sagacious strategic advice. It is a wild, anarchic melange of individuals and groups, united only by the fierce conviction that all those who challenge the phantasmagoria of sectional sensitivities which constitute the contemporary “progressive” movement must ipso facto be fascists whose every public utterance, being “hate speech”, must be suppressed – by any means necessary.

Knowing this, Southern and Molyneux would have been confident that all they needed to do to spread their ideas in New Zealand was announce their intention to hold a meeting. The Left could be relied upon to do the rest.

That the Canadians’ first infusion of power came from the Mayor of New Zealand’s largest city must, however, have struck them as more than usually fortuitous. Phil Goff’s naked assertion of the right to determine what the citizens of Auckland could and could not hear was bound to rouse the defenders of free expression to action. Better and better! Southern and Molyneux could now count on tens-of-thousands of New Zealanders googling their names and watching their YouTube channels.

The next step was to begin the game of “will they or won’t they be able to secure a private venue?”. With social media crackling with ideological thrust and counter-thrust and “anti-fascist” coalitions being announced, the next phase of the propaganda operation was ready to unfold.

It was a phase Southern and Molyneux could hardly lose. Either the secured venue would stand firm against the inevitable threats and the meeting would go ahead. Or, the venue’s owners would be subjected to such intolerable pressure that the meeting was cancelled. If the former eventuated, then it would inevitably attract hundreds, if not thousands, of screaming left-wing protesters. If it was cancelled, the Canadians could present themselves as the victims of left-wing intimidation. Either way, the mainstream news media would feel obligated to step into the story.

Which, with the Powerstation’s decision to first hire out, and then deny, its facilities to the duo, is exactly what happened.

Had the proposed meeting at the Bruce Mason Theatre gone ahead without incident, Southern and Molyneux would have been able to preach to, at most, 800 already converted enthusiasts. As they wing their way back to Canada, however, they will be congratulating themselves on being presented to the tens-of-thousands of Kiwis watching the television current affairs programme “Sunday” in prime-time.

Many socially-conservative New Zealanders, seeing the Canadians for the first time, will doubtless have wondered how anyone could be offended by two such telegenic and articulate individuals. The stridency of their opponents, by contrast, must have appeared strange – even slightly sinister.

Had it ever been the intention of the Left and its kindred souls in the Human Rights Commission to extend and strengthen New Zealand’s laws against “hate speech”, then its fruitless attempts to suppress the views of Southern and Molyneux can only have rendered such an exercise significantly more difficult.

The debate stirred up by the repeated denial of both public and private stages to the pair on account of threats and intimidation has placed the issue of free speech squarely on New Zealand’s political agenda. The Left will find it much harder, now, to sell its arguments in favour of limiting New Zealanders right to free expression that would have been the case if Southern and Molyneux had simply been allowed to come and go without incident.

The Powerstation, Auckland, graffitied.

The person who sprayed graffiti on the Powerstation’s walls over the weekend described Southern’s and Molyneux’s foray into New Zealand politics as the “FREE SPEECH - EULOGY TOUR”. Given that eulogies are only pronounced over the dead, the graffitist is clearly someone who believes the Left has either already killed free speech, or is intending to do so in the near future.

He, or she, is wrong on both counts.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 7 August 2018.