Tuesday 29 January 2019

Red Noise: Should RNZ Be Promoting “Progressive” Causes?

Advocacy Journalism: Should a radical resetting of Auckland City’s priorities ever be undertaken in the way the “expert witnesses” quoted in Kate Newton's "White Noise" investigation (posted on the  RNZ website on 21/1/19) suggest, then it would entail a profound redistribution of municipal resources away from the leafy suburbs and towards the city’s poorest and most marginalised communities. To believe that Auckland’s upper- and middle-classes would sit idly by while this was happening is fanciful in the extreme.

THAT RICH, OLD, WHITE PEOPLE dominate decision-making in New Zealand hardly qualifies as news. Having taken barely a quarter-of-a-century to dispossess its indigenous Maori inhabitants; rich, old, white people set about creating a society and an economy in their own image. In terms of whose views count, the New Zealand of today differs only marginally from the New Zealand of 150 years ago. Why, then, was RNZ moved to produce “White Noise”?

The tag-line for RNZ journalist Kate Newton’s investigation summed it up nicely: “It’s our most culturally diverse city, but older, wealthier, Pakeha people have the loudest voice when it comes to shaping the city’s future.” What follows is a series of geographical, social and statistical vignettes featuring four Auckland suburbs: Devonport, St Helliers, Avondale and Mangere. Emerging from Newton’s examination of the data is the entirely unsurprising conclusion that older, richer and whiter Aucklanders forward more submissions to Auckland Council than anybody else.

The truly intriguing question arising out of Newton’s “White Noise” (reported in depth on RNZ’s Morning Report of 21/1/19) is: How did the national public broadcaster expect its listeners to respond? Were they supposed to be shocked and horrified at this prima facie case of white privilege? Were RNZ’s listeners (a very large percentage of whom will be older, richer and whiter than the average Kiwi) supposed to be wracked with guilt? Were Auckland listeners, in particular, expected to contact their local board members and/or councillors and demand that something be done to counteract this all-too-obvious racism?

The answer could very easily be “Yes” to all of the above. One of the people Newton turns to for “expert” commentary on the findings of her investigation is Dr Jess Berentson-Shaw, currently a senior associate at Victoria University of Wellington’s Institute for Governance and Policy Studies. The Institute’s website describes Berentson-Shaw as a “researcher, writer and communicator, interested in the values that inform the development and implementation of evidence-based policy”. The Institute is not, however, the only body with which Berentson-Shaw is associated. She is also the co-director of a “think and work tank” called “The Workshop”. This collection of high-powered social activists describes its vision as: “a more inclusive New Zealand” driven by “compassion and manaakitanga to others”. Exactly the sort of group to take umbrage at the fact that rich, old, white people are exercising a disproportionate degree of influence over the future direction of Auckland and (presumably) the rest of Aotearoa-New Zealand.

In Newton’s posting on the RNZ website, Berentson-Shaw is described simply as a “public policy researcher”. Her co-directorship of “The Workshop” is not mentioned, nor is there any reference to the latter’s unabashed enthusiasm for thinking about and working towards radical social and economic change in New Zealand society. Newton’s failure to fully inform her readers about Berentson-Shaw’s political mission casts a worrisome shadow across the entire “White Noise” investigation.

Also absent from Newton’s investigation is any significant reference to the decisive relationship between social class and political power. Her readers are asked to focus on the ethnicity, age and household income of those participating in the Auckland Council’s consultation process. Unexplored were such factors as whether those participants were unskilled wage-workers or salaried professionals. Closely related factors, such as levels of educational attainment, were similarly neglected.

These are significant omissions. Not least because had social class and educational attainment been the focus of Newton’s study, then it is entirely possible that instead of old, rich, white people emerging as the villains of the piece, the culprits would have turned out to be self-interested members of the highly-educated middle- and upper-classes. Viewed through this lens, the degree of exclusion of ethnic communities would have taken on a very different aspect. Indeed, it would almost certainly have confirmed that people’s political influence is principally determined by their position in the socio-economic hierarchy – not by their age and/or ethnicity.

This conclusion may have been considerably harder to sell, however, than one fixing the blame on old, rich, white people. For a start, class and conflict go together in a way that leaves precious little room for inclusion, compassion or manaakitanga. Should a radical resetting of Auckland City’s priorities ever be undertaken in the way Newton’s “expert witnesses” suggest, then it would entail a profound redistribution of municipal resources away from the leafy suburbs and towards the city’s poorest and most marginalised communities. To believe that Auckland’s upper- and middle-classes would sit idly by while this was happening is fanciful in the extreme. The very skills and advantages identified (and implicitly condemned) in Newton’s posting would be turned instantaneously to the task of bringing such a redistributive exercise to a shuddering halt.

It would not be a pretty process. The ugly intent of protecting class privilege would be carefully masked in the populist rhetoric of racial defence. Not all of Auckland’s ethnic communities would opt to identify with the poor and the brown. Nor would the rest of New Zealand. One has only to recall the fate of Labour’s “Closing The Gaps” initiative; or the extraordinary reaction to Don Brash’s Orewa Speech; to appreciate the political fragility of Newton’s optimistic assumptions.

The closest “White Noise” comes to anticipating this kind of push-back is in its description of Old, Rich and White Auckland’s jeering dismissal of “Generation Zero’s” vocal endorsement of the Auckland Unitary Plan in 2016. Newton describes an incident in which the representatives of this highly articulate group of young professionals found themselves under attack in a hall filled with elderly white property-owning opponents of the Plan. That naked self-interest could express itself with such shameless antagonism clearly came as a shock to these youthful champions of progressive urban design.

The core mission of change agents such as “The Workshop”, “Generation Zero” and, one suspects, journalists like Newton herself, is to find a way around the political obstacles erected against “progressive” reform by self-interest and prejudice. “White Noise” attempts to do this by delegitimating the contributions of well-heeled, well-educated and well-connected Pakeha Aucklanders, so that a more just distribution of the city’s resources can be effected. Whether or not this is viewed as a worthwhile project will depend, almost entirely, on the reader’s ideological standpoint. The question for RNZ’s managers is whether or not investigations like “White Noise” should be undertaken by a supposedly politically neutral public broadcaster at the taxpayers’ expense?

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 24 January 2019.

Saturday 26 January 2019

The Jacinda Problem: Where She Goes, We Go.

She's With Me: It wasn't quite Mickey Savage's "where she stands, we stand; where she goes, we go", but Jacinda Ardern's open-ended support for Theresa Mays Brexit-beleaguered Britain came pretty close. What has become of "transformational" Jacinda? Can she still "do this"?

WHAT’S HAPPENED to Jacinda? What’s become of the young woman who captivated the electorate sixteen short months ago? The Jacinda who promised New Zealanders a “transformational” government inspired by the politics of kindness. Where has she gone?

Surely the New Zealand Prime Minister who earlier this week pledged to stand by Britain: “Whatever you decide about your place in the global community”; cannot be the same woman who turned up to Buckingham Palace proudly wearing a Maori cloak? That Prime Minister would never have boasted (in the right-wing Daily Telegraph of all places!) that “around four in every five New Zealanders still claims British heritage”. She would have left that sort of racially-charged rhetoric to Donald Trump.

Except, of course, it was New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, who said those things. The very same Jacinda Ardern who’s been guilessly decorating the “loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires” who gather every year at the exclusive ski resort of Davos in the Swiss Alps.

It would seem that we misunderstood the Labour leader when she promised us a transformational government. Our naïve assumption was that she intended to transform New Zealand society when, clearly, it was herself she was determined to transform.

There will, of course, be a great many Kiwis who cannot get enough of their PM’s global celebrity status. Seated on the same stage as Sir David Attenborough. Discussing mental health with Prince William. What’s not to like? Jacinda is only going where Bono has so boldly gone before.

And yet, while our prime minister is rubbing shoulders with the good and the great at Davos, thousands of New Zealand’s most vulnerable citizens are without adequate accommodation and forced to rely upon grossly over-stretched food banks to feed their children.

While she earnestly discusses mental health issues with William Windsor, her Health Minister back home is, disgracefully, holding the cloaks of New Zealand’s DHBs while they attempt to stone the Resident Doctors Association to death.

While she lends her most solemn and concerned expressions to Sir David Attenborough’s desperate pleas for urgent action on global warming, her “green” government is frantically fabricating new and ever-more-ridiculous excuses for, once again, letting New Zealand’s farmers off the climate change hook.

It is to be hoped that somewhere between all her high-powered forums and Davos’s swanky cocktail parties our prime minister is lucky enough to run into a wealthy venture capitalist by the name of Nick Hanauer. He would be the same Nick Hanauer whose opinion-piece, “A stake through the heart of neoliberalism”, was recently posted on the Newsroom website.

“I am a practitioner of capitalism”, declared Hanauer, “I have started or funded 37 companies. I was the first outside investor in Amazon. I have been rewarded obscenely for my success, with a life that the other 99.99 percent of Americans can’t even imagine. Yet the most important lesson that decades of experience at the heart of market capitalism has taught me is that morality and justice are the fundamental prerequisites for prosperity and economic growth. Greed is not good.”

Hanauer’s solution to global inequality is refreshingly straight-forward: “A fundamental prerequisite for a more just society is that the wealthiest should pay their fair share of tax.”

If only this clear-eyed billionaire could contrive to sit down with Jacinda and her Finance Minister, Grant Robertson, for a few minutes and explain this to them. Coming from a person as rich and successful as Hanauer, this simplest of social-democratic truths might have a better chance of being accepted than when advanced by the churches, the trade unions, Oxfam, and even one or two of the less star-struck members of their own party.

How sad that it has come to this. That a member of the 0.01 percent sees more clearly what must be done than the young woman who, just sixteen months ago, invited her fellow citizens to “Let’s do this!” How tragic that, sixteen months later, so few of those same citizens have the slightest idea what the “this” that she enjoined them to “do” actually is.

Jacinda is the most accomplished ambassador for New Zealand to have graced the global stage since David Lange bowled-over the Oxford Union. That is not, however, enough. Jacinda is not New Zealand’s MC, she’s our PM.

It’s time for her to start acting like one.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 25 January 2019.

Friday 18 January 2019

Silence Of The Lambs: Why Is The CTU Saying So Little About The Resident Doctors’ Struggle?

“In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies … but the silence of our friends.”
 ─ Martin Luther King

THE COUNTRY’S DHBs have embarked on a dangerous and deeply cynical campaign to oust the Resident Doctors Association’s (RDA) long-time champion Deborah Powell. One of New Zealand’s most effective employment negotiators, Powell has become an intolerable hindrance to the DHB’s determination to roll back the gains of health professionals in the nation’s public hospitals.

The RDA represents roughly 3,500 of the 4,000 resident doctors working in New Zealand. In 2017 it was successful in securing significant improvements in its members working conditions – most particularly in relation to the number of hours, consecutive days, and night-shifts the DHBs could require them to work. The RDAs success did not come easily. Strike action was required before the DHBs reluctantly agreed to the changes demanded by the union’s members.

It is now clear, however, that the DHBs were not willing to let the RDA’s achievements stand.

Around the middle of 2018, a very small group of resident doctors, with logistical assistance from the Public Service Association (PSA) combined to form a new union: Specialty Trainees of New Zealand (StoNZ). The new union’s 400 members very swiftly negotiated their own multi-employer collective agreement with the DHBs. The improved conditions incorporated in the RDA’s national agreement were not included in the SToNZ document.

That achieved, all the DHBs had to do was wait for the RDA’s national agreement to expire. From 1 March 2019, the only collective agreement available for a resident doctor joining the staff of a public hospital would be the document negotiated by SToNZ – not the RDA. By running out the clock, the nation’s DHBs could wipe out all the RDA’s gains and fundamentally undermine Powell’s relationship with its members.

The strategy adopted by the DHBs’ negotiators bears an alarming similarity to that adopted 107 years ago by the Waihi Gold Mining Company. Step 1: Encourage the establishment of a small rival union. Step 2: Use it to undermine the position of the much larger union resisting the employer’s demands. It was a strategy which led directly to one of the most bitterly contested industrial disputes in New Zealand labour history. The Waihi Strike was only broken by a fatal explosion of state-sponsored violence.

Notwithstanding this alarming precedent, the NZ Council of Trade Unions (CTU) has opted to make no comment on the tactics being employed against Powell and the RDA. Sources within the trade union movement attribute the CTU’s reticence to an ongoing and acrimonious row over membership recruitment. On one side stands the Association of Professional and Executive Employees (APEX) serviced (along with the RDA) by Contract Negotiation Services (CNS) Powell’s private company. On the other, the CTU’s largest and wealthiest affiliate, the PSA.

When it comes to Powell, the PSA National Secretary, Erin Polaczuk, pulls no punches. In an e-mail leaked to Stuff’s Stacey Kirk, Polaczuk writes: “The fact that workers are leaving CNS across the board should come as no surprise given their infamy, modus operandi and history. PSA strongly supports the CTU code of operating between affiliate unions and disagrees entirely with the approach that CNS organisations take, which is to poach organised labour”. Neither the RDA nor APEX belong to the CTU.

Curiously, Polaczuk’s e-mail makes no mention of the PSA’s role in helping SToNZ get established. “Poaching” from “organised labour” is clearly regarded as a much graver sin that facilitating the formation of a minority union which employers later use to break the industrial resistance of the union representing the overwhelming majority of workers in dispute. In the lexicon of the trade union movement there’s a very ugly word for that sort of behaviour.

It would be a tragedy if the CTU’s refusal to follow the example of the Nurses Organisation – the CTU affiliate which has proudly and publicly expressed its solidarity with the striking members of the RDA – has anything at all to do with the fact that the current CTU President, Richard Wagstaff, is a former National Secretary of the PSA. Union rivalries should not be allowed to obscure the very real threat posed to the New Zealand trade union movement by the DHBs’ divide-and-rule strategy. If Powell and her CNS negotiating team are beaten, and the RDA sustains a massive industrial defeat, then employers in other sectors of the economy will not be slow to follow the DHBs’ lead.

The precedent set at Waihi: establishing a “scab” union to facilitate the crushing of a real one; instantly became the template for the destruction of militant unionism in New Zealand. Has the CTU lost so much of its historical memory, is it so bereft of strategic acumen, that it is willing to see the DHBs strip the resident doctors of their hard-won conditions – and do nothing? Can it not appreciate how quickly the health sector bosses will move on from the resident doctors to their senior colleagues? And from them to the nurses?

If it is not appropriate for the CTU to draw a line in the sand on this issue, then when will it be appropriate? When the only union left standing is the PSA? And that only because the state sector bosses are holding it up.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 18 January 2019.

The Politics Of Distraction.

Keeping Their Eyes On The Road: The Coalition Government's re-election depends crucially on the dominant themes of the 2020 election remaining firmly rooted in the practical concerns of the majority. If, however, the National Party Opposition can wrench the electorate’s attention away from the Coalition’s bread-and-butter priorities, then everything will be made significantly more difficult for Labour, NZ First and the Greens.

2020’s GENERAL ELECTION will differ from 2017’s in one vital respect – it will not be about “the economy, stupid”. This poses serious problems for the Coalition Government. 

The unlikely pairing of Labour and NZ First would not have happened had the dominant themes of the 2017 election not been inequality, homelessness, child poverty and pollution. Fluid public concern surrounding these issues had congealed into a broad political consensus that “something must be done”. This, in turn, had led to a blurring of traditional electoral boundaries. It was this blurring effect which encouraged a party of the populist right to reach out to a party of the centre-left and, more surprising still, accept the participation of radical greens in a new government.

The re-election of this unlikely electoral alliance depends crucially on the dominant themes for 2020 remaining firmly rooted in the practical concerns of the majority. Is the gap between the rich and the poor widening or closing? Are people better housed than they were in 2017? Have first-home-buyers been given the hand-up they were promised? Has the percentage of kids living in poverty gone up or down? Are New Zealand’s rivers and lakes more – or less – swimmable?

Positive answers to these questions – and the absence of too many distracting alternatives – should turn the Coalition Government’s re-election into a slam-dunk. If, however, the National Party Opposition can wrench the electorate’s attention away from the Coalition’s bread-and-butter priorities, then everything will be made significantly more difficult for Labour, NZ First and the Greens.

Unfortunately for the governing parties, the 2020 election shows every sign of being defined by the politics of distraction.

For this, the governing parties have no one to blame but themselves. They were the ones who decided to put euthanasia, the legalisation of cannabis, the decriminalisation and liberalisation of abortion, and the reform of New Zealand’s justice system on the political agenda. All of these issues are distinguished by one over-riding political characteristic: their capacity to polarise the electorate. The very outcome which this curious, composite government should be straining every political sinew to avoid.

The National Party and its allies have lost little time in girding their loins for this fight – one much easier to win than a battle against consolidating the material gains of the voting public. Already, the conservative lobby-group, Family First, is pouring over the poll results supplied to it by Curia Research, the agency directed by National’s long-time pollster, David Farrar.

Family First have noted the white-heat generated by all aspects of the transgender issue and, thanks to Curia Research, now know how New Zealanders feel about some of the most sensitive questions associated with transgender politics. More importantly, Family First has hard evidence that the gulf between the attitudes of NZ First and Green Party voters is vast. The potential to destabilise the government by driving the transgender issue to the front of the electorate’s consciousness is, correspondingly, huge.

Curia’s data also makes clear how divided the centre-left’s electoral base is on the transgender issue. If the Right is able to goad the identity politicians of Labour and the Greens into displaying a series of extreme responses to the transgender issue, then the potential for alienating a significant number of socially conservative Labour supporters is considerable.

The likelihood of the activist left perceiving this danger is, however, remote. Of more significance to them will be the fact that upwards of a third of voters are happy to have transgender issues canvassed within New Zealand schools. They will, rightly, celebrate the sheer numerical dimensions of the tolerance and solidarity on display. Of less interest to these activists will be Curia’s finding that a clear majority of citizens are opposed to teaching children that their gender, far from being biologically fixed, can be changed.

The exploitation of the political sensitivities associated with the transgender issue will only be the first of many diversions as the politics of distraction unfolds between now and the general election. At most risk of electoral injury will be NZ First, whose deeply conservative electoral base will experience ever-increasing levels of personal and political unease as Labour and the Greens advance their ultra-liberal social agenda.

If, by 2020, National is able to convince NZ First supporters that Labour’s and the Green’s priorities are no longer theirs, then it will win.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 18 January 2019.

Friday 11 January 2019

Fanning The Flames.

F.Anning Discontent: Far-Right politicians like Fraser Anning (above right) are highly-skilled at exploiting racially charged narratives, such as Melbourne's "African Gangs" controversy, to broaden the appeal of Conservative Australia’s anti-immigrant crusade.

FRASER ANNING is one of those political figures who populate the periphery of politics in liberal-democratic states. Opportunistic, scornful of political norms, hard to frighten or shame, the Fraser Annings of this world are frighteningly well-adapted to the politics of cultural resentment and fear. Had the Independent Senator for Queensland been born in late-Nineteenth Century Italy or Germany – instead of mid-Twentieth Century Australia – he  would, almost certainly, have been drawn to Benito Mussolini’s Fascisti or Adolf Hitler’s Nazis.

As it is, he has won notoriety as the sometime ally of leading right-wing Australian politicians Pauline Hanson and Bob Katter. It says something about the man that his current status as an “independent” is largely attributable to even these far-from-moderate parliamentarians finding Anning’s views too extreme – even for them. (Hardly surprising when, in his maiden speech to the Australian Senate, Anning talked about a “final solution” to Australia’s “immigration problem”!)

Anning’s latest provocation was to attend (at the Australian taxpayers’ expense) a United Patriots Front (UPF) rally held in the Melbourne seaside suburb of St Kilda. The UPF is at the extreme end of an ongoing campaign by Australian conservatives (up to and including the ruling Liberal Party) to secure more rigorous policing of the so-called “African Gangs” said to be terrorising Melbourne citizens. The African “gangsters” singled out for particular condemnation by the Right are almost all refugees and/or the children of refugees from war-torn South Sudan.

United Patriots Front leader, Blair Cottrell, addresses anti-immigrant rally at St Kilda Beach, Melbourne, 5 January 2019.

The Right’s fixation on Victoria’s tiny Sudanese community is largely explicable in terms of the extraordinary lengths to which the state’s left-leaning government has gone to minimise the impact (or even the existence) of the “African Gang” problem.

Just how strongly the Left felt about the issue was demonstrated by the noisy protest which took place outside the offices and studios of Channel 7 Melbourne in July 2018. The protesters were incensed by Channel 7’s current affairs show, Sunday Night’s, alleged “race-baiting” coverage of the issue.

The item’s promo was certainly provocative:

“Barely a week goes by when they’re not in the news. African gangs running riot, terrorising, wreaking havoc. Police are hesitant to admit there’s even a problem. The latest attack was just days ago, so what can be done?”

The Left’s response played directly into the Australian Right’s deeply embedded narrative of a culturally-deracinated cosmopolitan elite hellbent on dissolving Australia’s European heritage in a multicultural melting-pot. So powerful is this “progressive” elite said to be that it has the power to suppress coverage of anything which runs counter to the multicultural ideal – even when this activity involves “African gangs running riot, terrorising, wreaking havoc”.

Far-Right politicians like Anning are highly-skilled at exploiting this narrative to broaden the appeal of Conservative Australia’s anti-immigrant crusade. Their job is made easier when even the Right’s bette noir, the publicly-owned (and allegedly left-wing) Australian Broadcasting Corporation, acknowledges that “the Sudanese offender rate is six times higher than their population share”.

Last weekend’s UPF St Kilda rally – itself inspired by the Victorian Police’s decision to prevent UPF leader, Blair Cottrell, from recording the activity of Sudanese youths on the beach – provided Anning with a brown-shirted opportunity to promote his anti-immigrant message by doing little more than simply turning-up.

Cottrell and Anning would have known that, from the moment it was announced on social media, the rally would attract large numbers of left-wing “anti-fascists”, journalists and police. Inevitably, the news media would make a bee-line for the right-wing Queensland Senator and, equally inevitably, he would be ready with a sound-bite:

“There was no racist rally,” Anning informed the news media. “There were decent Australian people who demonstrated their dislike for what the Australian government has done which has allowed these people to come into this country and then bash people at random on the beaches, in their homes.”

Inner-city Melburnians were suitably shocked at this eruption of right-wing extremism on their favourite beach. But, in small-town Australia, in the Bush, Anning’s words would have struck a very different note.

In this setting, Anning, scion of a Queensland farming family notorious for its bloody appropriations of Aboriginal land, could be confident of loud choruses of approval. It’s what the Left knows, but cannot understand. That racism is as Australian as Cricket at the MCG. As welcome as a cold tinny on an incendiary afternoon at St Kilda Beach.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 11 January 2019.

Friday 4 January 2019

2019 - If We Get Lucky.

Sweet Dream Scenario:  As Vice-President Mike Pence is being sworn-in as the 46th President of the United States - following Trump's sudden resignation - he suffers a massive heart attack and dies. His constitutionally designated successor is the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. By a strange twist of fate, the United States of America gets its first female president after all.

PREDICTING THE FUTURE is a mug’s game. If it could be done, then gambling would be impossible and stockmarkets would crash. Not that these and a host of equally strong objections ever prevented professional seers from giving us the benefit of their prognostications. Some of them, by the simple law of averages, will be correct. Most, however, will not. This is because, as a wise woman once said: “We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

In that spirit, allow me to describe the coming year as it might look – if we get lucky.

If we get lucky, then Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller will present a report which damns President Donald Trump in ways unanticipated in even his worst nightmares. Republican and Democratic legislators, alike, conclude that his continuing occupation of the White House has become untenable.

Congressional leaders privately inform the President that there is more than enough support in both the House and the Senate to secure his impeachment. The President reaches for his cell-phone – only to discover that the Deep State has prevailed upon Twitter to shut down his account. Realising that the jig is up, the President resigns.

As Vice-President Mike Pence is being sworn-in as the 46th President of the United States he suffers a massive heart attack and dies. His constitutionally designated successor is the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. By a strange twist of fate, the United States of America gets its first female president after all.

If we get lucky, then the House of Commons decisively rejects Theresa May’s Brexit Deal. Defeated and exhausted, the Prime Minister advises the Queen to dissolve Parliament and call an early General Election. May then resigns.

A Special Conference of the Labour Party votes decisively in favour of making a Second Brexit Referendum the centrepiece of its election manifesto.

With the Conservatives torn by all manner of political and personal conflicts, Labour cruises to a landslide victory. For the first time in forty years, the United Kingdom has a socialist prime minister and an unashamedly left-wing government. The Second Referendum records upwards of 60 percent of Britons opting to remain in the European Union.

If we get lucky, then the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, negotiates a general peace settlement and mutual defence pact involving Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran. The Kurds secure regional autonomy within the Syrian state, guaranteed by the Russian Federation.

If we get lucky, then the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party, fearful that President Xi Jinping is about to launch a massive purge of senior party cadres, deposes him. A hastily-summoned National People’s Congress, in a climate of unprecedented independence, elects a moderate reformer as Xi’s successor.

If we get lucky, then the National Party responds to a sharp decline in public support by jettisoning its current leader, Simon Bridges, and replacing him with Judith Collins. The choice of Collins is itself a reaction to the rapid rise of the right-wing populist New Conservative Party. Collins, it is hoped, will staunch the flow of National support to the NCP.

Appalled by this dramatic shift to the far-right, thousands of moderate National Party supporters swing in behind NZ First and Labour, lifting their combined support to nearly 60 percent of voters.

The Coalition Government, buoyed by this sudden shift in its fortunes, decides to reject the Tax Working Group’s recommendation favouring the imposition of a Capital Gains Tax. The Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is persuaded by Winston Peters that such a tax would turn every farmer, small business owner and landlord in the country into her personal enemy. Finance Minister, Grant Robertson, resigns in protest. Jacinda replaces him with David Parker.

If we get really lucky, then the leadership changes in the USA, the UK and China produce a sudden and radical shift in the global approach to anthropogenic global warming. Rather than relying on yet another international conference, the leaders of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council meet in secret and thrash out a concrete plan for keeping the planet’s remaining reserves of oil and gas in the ground while they co-ordinate a planet-wide “Green New Deal”.

According to the wise, the only sure thing about luck is that it changes.

I’m counting on that being true.

Happy 2019!

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 4 January 2019.