Thursday 21 November 2019

The Second (And Final?) Crucifixion Of Winston Peters.

Stag At Bay: Twelve years ago, Winston Peters was still robust enough to come back from the political crucifixion which his political and media enemies had prepared for him. In his seventies now, the chances of a second resurrection are slim. We should, therefore, prepare for the last gasp of Old New Zealand’s very Kiwi corruption.

AND SO IT BEGINS. Once again, the enemies of Winston Peters are manoeuvring to eject him and his NZ First Party from Parliament. Once again the primary vector for their attack is the news media. And, once again, Peters is making it easy for them.

To understand what is happening and why requires (at least) two investigations. The first, into the chameleon-like character of NZ First and its leader. The second, into the uses to which New Zealand’s political journalists have allowed themselves – and are still allowing themselves – to be put.

NZ First, like its leader, has always had two faces. Outwardly, it is a conservative-nationalist party determined to preserve both the New Zealand character and the New Zealand economy from the cultural, political and financial impositions of foreign powers and peoples. Behind the scenes, however, Peters and his party have simultaneously positioned themselves as practiced and practical political enablers.

NZ First’s hidden face is a necessary adjunct to its public countenance. Throughout New Zealand’s brief history, conservative parties and crony capitalism have marched together in lock-step. In such a tiny society how could they not? Only the state has ever had access to the huge capital resources required to facilitate economic development. For capitalists, large and small, that meant securing their desired economic outcomes by cultivating mutually beneficial political relationships. Naturally, the individuals, businesses, and political parties involved in this activity were not at all keen to have their behaviour trumpeted from the roof-tops. If deals needed to be done, it was overwhelmingly in the interests of all parties that they be done in secret.

Up until the 1980s, National had been the go-to party for business leaders on the scrounge for government assistance. It would be wrong to brand what took place as “corruption”. (Although that is certainly what most Americans and Europeans would have called it!) Only on the very rarest of occasions were individuals quietly handed a brown paper envelope stuffed with banknotes. Not necessary. The rules of the game were clear. If a government minister intervened on a business’s behalf, then the very least it could do was make a generous contribution to the coffers of the governing party. And when the obliging politician retired, a seat on the assisted company’s board-of-directors. No brown paper envelopes required – only patience.

A very Kiwi kind of corruption.

Winston Peters learned how to play this game from one of its grand masters, Rob Muldoon. The expectation that helping businesses to flourish was one of the most important responsibilities of a conservative New Zealand politician was deeply ingrained in Peters’ generation. They neither understood nor approved the sudden economic shift from the local to the global. If the distribution of resources was no longer the function of those in control of the nation state, but of transnational corporations and financiers, then what, exactly, was the point of politicians?

When viewed from this perspective, Peters political practice makes perfect sense. If his party was to rescue New Zealand business from the clutches of international financiers, then Kiwi businessmen would have to help him do it. Quid pro quo. But never, ever, where anybody not familiar with the rules of the game might witness the quids pro-quoing! NZ First’s obsessive secrecy is simply the organisational refection of its rock-solid commitment to rescuing New Zealand Inc: one contribution at a time.

If this is errant political behaviour, then there is something quaintly patriotic about it. Those tempted to climb upon their high moral horses should first ask themselves which is worse: taking thoroughbred-breeders’ money to rescue the racing industry; or, taking money from the People’s Republic of China to ensure that New Zealand remains open to its investors? Because it would be a huge mistake to think that political corruption is a thing of the past. All that’s happened is that, just like the rest of the economy, the locus of corruption has shifted from the local to the global. And, as the stakes have grown higher, so have the pay-offs.

Where does the news media fit into all this? Essentially the role of the news media in dealing with political corruption hasn’t changed at all. In the past, the job of the press was to ensure that, even when they were looking directly at it, New Zealanders would fail to recognise corrupt behaviour. In a country as dependent upon crony capitalism as New Zealand, scorching media exposés of political and business venality could only undermine people’s faith in the system - maybe to the point where it collapsed completely. Best to turn a blind eye.

The advent of globalisation, along with the neoliberal revolutions it necessitated, only reinforced the news media’s role as the justifier of capitalism’s mysterious ways to the ordinary man and woman. In the new order, however, there was an additional duty. The final and furious destruction of any politician or party foolhardy enough to defend the way things were done in the bad old days – back when the country was run, you know, like a Polish shipyard.

Unsurprising, then, that Winston Peters and NZ First, from the moment they acquired independent political form, were targeted by the news media for termination with extreme prejudice. That Peters cemented his status as the people’s tribune by exposing the massive financial corruption scandal known as “The Winebox Affair” only made his political termination all the more urgent. The 25 years of unrelenting media hostility to which Peters has, accordingly, been subjected by this country’s political and business journalists is nowhere near as surprising as the fact he has survived it.

Just as they did in 2008, the present attacks will go on and on. Politicians will collude with press gallery journalists, and press gallery journalists will collude with politicians, both groups making sure that the grubby process of leaking information and priming the public for ever-more shocking revelations continues right up until the general election. Completely ignoring the decades-long enfeeblement of our electoral watchdogs, Peters and NZ First will be condemned for the gaming of a system which no government has ever bothered to make un-game-able. This time, however, the assistance rendered by right-wing bloggers and tweeters will be even more decisive.

Twelve years ago, Winston Peters was still robust enough to come back from the political crucifixion which his political and media enemies had prepared for him. In his seventies now, the chances of a second resurrection are slim. We should, therefore, prepare for the last gasp of Old New Zealand’s very Kiwi corruption.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 21 November 2019.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

Peters has been written off before. He is still here. I'm reminded of Ruth Bader Ginsberg's delight when asked about a particular senator who said she would be dead inside a few months. "He's dead, I'm still here." Or words to that effect.:) Winston might surprise you all.

pat said...

Cynical but accurate....listening to Peters breathing the other night youre also right about a lack of comeback this time

Trev1 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Hunter said...

I think you're over-rating the power and influence of the MSM here in NZ nowadays, and probably over the last twenty five years.

For a "termination" job they've not done too well, since Winston has been part of three coalition governments in that time and has been a factor in a number of governance decisions, from pushing back against Ruthanomics in the mid-1990's to the Gold Card and now the reversals of ideas like a CGT. Not to mention being a factor in almost every election except 2008, in the sense of being a politician who had to be watched for whatever hobbie horse he might ride.

In other words, his powers have not been diminished one iota by this supposed mass onslaught of the NZ MSM.

And of course you're ignoring the fact that Winston has exploited the MSM by appealing to their addiction to headline grabbing stories, nowadays referred to across the New Media as "click-bait". That was no where better shown than in the last election when - under the threat of being buried by the thunder of Jacindamania - he pulled the classic Winston trick of regaining attention by screaming about how his Super paymemt problems had been leaked by the evil National Party.

Brave Winston: once again, as always, the little victim struggling to not be wiped out by his mighty opponents. That's exactly what you're describing here, taking his message and broacasting it. And of course using those opponents as his pivot back to power. Some victim.

As far as crony capitalism is concerned, well the government as a source of capital in NZ was once very true. But by the 1970's and 1980's anybody who was working in NZ began to see that it just wasn't working, and was in fact producing an overall corruption of skills and nous in both government and business. Big Business and Big Government, who love eachother.

We've tried to move away from that: imperfectly as far as I'm concerned, but still an improvement on the days when every man and his dog maintained an office in Wellington to lobby goverment for little favours on tarriffs and import licenses and god knows what else. Not a world anybody should want to return to, as much as anything because it enables the likes of Winston Peters. Rio Tinto being the best-known current hangover from those times.

And in any case look at things like Elecktron Rockets. Their start-up funding came from venture capitalists in the USA, who could access money at cheaper rates than the NZ government. The same is true of countless other NZ businesses. The globalisation of financial markets has done that and there's no going back unless you want the NZ government to borrow and tax like it used to - or go the Social Credit route of using the Reserve Bank to create whatever investment money is required. And it's notable that the companies that do stick their hand out for government funding are the ones that have landed in trouble.

Finally a quick note on Muldoon: I hated his guts and voted against him the first chance I got, which just happened to be the last time he was around to be hit. But for all of his paternalistic approach to government helping NZ businesses, there was never a single indication that he expected to profit from that or that he did. Read Barry Gustafson's biography of Muldoon and it becomes crystal clear that Muldoon was death on business people who thought they could "buy" him. Much as I disliked the man I think your comment is a disservice to him on at least that front.

vortexx said...

Peters is clearly guilty of the worst crime possible in New Zealand and the punishment he deserves is being directed his way. He kept National out of Government.

Kat said...

The National party are currently being investigated by the SFO for alleged political donations corruption.

If the MSM coverage of political donations was in true high fidelity stereo one would expect an equalisation of speaker volume, alas the squawking about Winston Peters and NZ First coming from the right speaker is deafening, as usual.

Time the sheeple percentage of the electorate woke up to the biased political con that is played out on a daily basis in the sycophantic MSM.

GJE said...

Peters is now a man clearly out of his time....Curiously the whiff of Muldoon seems to get stronger...His media pronouncements are now shrill and nasty rather than strong and confident...he reminds me of Bob Tizard in his last years as a politician...Sadly the demise of NZ First will also fatally damage the Labour led government and its chances of re-election next year..

vortexx said...

Wow! Some outfit made a bid for some Provincial Growth Fund money and suddenly we have it that it didn't take much time for 'New Zealand to succumb to corruption on a globalized scale.'

That shows the level of political discourse and comment in the country. We don't need corruption on a global or any scale to signal the desperate state we're in.

aj said...

I agree with T Hunter and vortexx. For a man whose "coat may being held by the enternal footman" he does seem quite happy and that smile has often been present while dealing with the press in the last few days. I'd suggest he may be in his element, and the dirt being thrown around may end up sticking to some of the tossers.

Nick J said...

Winston leads the voters who want "old NZ" in more ways than just economics. The conservative working class that used to vote Labour, conservative middle class people who don't agree with leftist or rightist liberalism. Their vote will go somewhere, and I'd posit no current party regardless of media will get it. I'd also posit that both National and Labour are driving these voters adrift. They will be heard.

Charles E said...

Am I right in thinking Peters has never been in a Gov that has gone full term?
So maybe we are not far off him causing an early election to see if he can then be in the balance to form a new one. He could feel he is running out of time.