Thursday 27 February 2020

Wake Up Call.

Will She, Or Won't She?  Jacinda’s white vestments may look impressive on the cover of the international edition of TIME magazine, but every day Labour’s relationship with Winston Peters and NZ First continues, her ability to go on wearing them back home in New Zealand – without exciting derision – diminishes.

IT WAS SUCH a comforting dream. The idea that Jacinda Ardern had somehow inspired a new and vigorously hybrid political faith contained so much hope. That, NZ First, a wholesome manifestation of New Zealand’s best conservative traditions, could reliably anchor a Labour-Green government determined to reanimate the reformist traditions of “King Dick” Seddon and Mickey Savage. As if, by some special historical dispensation, Jacinda and the rest of us – the “democratic public” of New Zealand – could enjoy the best of both worlds.

And then I woke up.

NZ First, as presented to the electorate by its redoubtable leader, Winston Peters, is, indeed, the embodiment of the best of this country’s conservative traditions. We are encouraged to believe that it will always be fiercely protective of New Zealand’s British inheritance: Representative Democracy and the Rule of Law. Equally, however, NZ First declares its unwavering allegiance to the achievements of New Zealanders themselves: the creation of a robust capitalist economy and, out of the wreckage of the Great Depression, a just and caring society.

If only.

Behind Peters’ masterfully patriotic sales-pitch, it would seem that there has always existed a hidden but unbreakable connection to a very different New Zealand. This New Zealand, the one in which NZ First conducts its practical political business, is the New Zealand of the quid pro quo. A nation of mutual back-scratchers. A country whose heraldic device depicts a golden coin encompassed by two open palms. A deeply corrupt New Zealand, which endures only because New Zealanders have trained themselves not to recognise corruption – not  even when it’s staring them in the face. (Which is, of course, why we’re known as the least corrupt nation on earth – because, so great is our discipline, that we report less corruption than any other nation on earth!)

That he has been able to operate so successfully and for so long in this other New Zealand strongly suggests that Peters is a politician without illusions. Over a parliamentary career spanning more than 40 years, he has come to see more clearly than most of his colleagues how the country really works. He understands that New Zealand capitalism has never been strong enough to function effectively without massive state support. That this dependence inevitably gave rise to a political culture of unabashed favour-seeking, cronyism and special pleading. That rampant corruption flourished in New Zealand because the country’s trade unions were willing to look the other way in return for state protection, and because its news media understood, without having to be told, what could be reported, and what could not. (Peters’ furious outbursts against the news media have generally been triggered by the latter’s refusal to stick to the agreed script in relation to himself and his party.)

Peters’ defection from National and his subsequent creation of NZ First was prompted by the massive disruption of “old” New Zealand’s deeply ingrained (if unacknowledged) culture of corruption by the neoliberal economic and social reforms of the 1980s and 90s. Peters was enraged by what he correctly perceived to be the cynical denunciation and deliberate destruction of the protected national economy by the local shills for global, free-market capitalism. He hated the way these “Quislings” sold their country off to the highest foreign bidder. His exposure of Neoliberalism’s new rules of engagement via the “Winebox Scandal” was motivated primarily by his determination to demonstrate the deeply compromised character of the new regime and its defenders – and they have never forgiven him for it.

The fatal flaw in Peters’ thinking – and therefore in the political conduct of NZ First – is that he has always sought to rescue his country’s fortunes by restoring the status quo ante. This meant re-creating a state-supported economy made up of importunate capitalist clients ready to offer Cabinet Ministers (and/or their parties) whatever it took to secure – and keep – their indispensable political patronage.

Peters and his colleagues perfected the art of appearing to be the foes of neoliberal capitalism while keeping hidden from the electorate their determination to restore the crony capitalism of the pre-Rogernomics era. His intention was always to attract the support of sufficient National Party and Labour Party politicians to secure his own, and his party’s, re-entry to the places where the deals – and the prices of the deals – were struck. He was convinced that New Zealand’s neoliberal revolution, like all revolutions, would ultimately prove unable to resist the tendency of fundamental economic and political realities to reassert themselves.

The fundamental fact remains: New Zealand capitalism cannot prosper without the active support of New Zealand’s politicians. Peters and NZ First have always been determined to prosper from that fact.

But, if NZ First sought to prosper from the re-establishment of crony capitalism, Labour and the Greens could hardly do so – not without fatally compromising their “transformative” ambitions. No matter how imminent a three-part rendition of the Hallelujah Song might appear, Jacinda’s broad new political faith has always been more apparent than real. The longer the present coalition government endures, the more opportunities for clientelism to become entrenched will present themselves. NZ First has never made a conspicuous display of resisting the temptation to exact a price for making things happen, or not happen. And with every stalled initiative and thwarted policy commitment, the Labour leader’s broad political faith takes on more and more of the appearance of a tawdry religious huckster’s travelling road-show.

Jacinda’s white vestments may look impressive on the cover of the international edition of Time magazine, but every day Labour’s relationship with Winston Peters and NZ First continues, her ability to go on wearing them back home in New Zealand – without exciting derision – diminishes.

It is time for the Prime Minister to wake up.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday 25 February 2020.


Jack Scrivano said...

I think that it's time to admit that the actual business of government is way beyond Ms Ardern's abilities. She's pretty good at the PR and photo op aspects of the job - especially when she's in another country - but the day-to-day business of leading and managing the country is beyond her.

David George said...

Another Thomas Sowell quote (with apologies) seems appropriate:
“The problem isn’t that Jacinda can’t read. The problem isn’t even that Jacinda can’t think. The problem is that Jacinda doesn’t know what thinking is; she confuses it with feeling.”

Geoff said...

What an encouraging column! ( I do not mean this to seem patronising. I honestly mean it! )

Ardern increasingly looks to be a low IQ puppet. The fact that she,all of her caucus,and the spineless Greens can stand by when overt corruption is occurring is staggering . The more so because they all try to project the "holier than thou"/sanctimonious image so resplendent amongst the righteous/woke left.

So,I am delighted to see a respected voice of the left calling them out on their collective corruption. That they enjoy such uncritical acclaim too, from the likes of Audrey Young & her ilk is also depressingly telling :-(

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"I think that it's time to admit that the actual business of government is way beyond Ms Ardern's abilities. She's pretty good at the PR and photo op aspects of the job - especially when she's in another country - but the day-to-day business of leading and managing the country is beyond her."
Pretty much like John Key right?

Odysseus said...

Brilliant. One of your best Chris.

Kat said...

Jacinda will rise above the crap, just needs a mandate. September is coming. Or would rather a Bridges/Bennett quid pro quo on steroids didn't think so, although a few of the wacky 46% here might. GS excluded.

greywarbler said...

Well who would you measure her by Scrivano? John Key conniving, Helen Clark steering a gobsmacked party through some successful years that kept us on the status quo just? Unmemorable platitude spouting preachy Nats? You know so much, you are so certain, have a go yourself.

pat said...

Corruption?...yes but only in so much as those that make the coin have disproportionate influence, and that didnt change with the advent of neoliberalism (Douglas) merely the window dressing. The business of government is and always has been business.

Democracy? your dreams

David Stone said...

@ Jack Scrivano
But don't you think that what you approve of her performance is the actual job description? We have become accustomed since Piggy Muldoon of expecting the PM to be calling all he shots, but it's really supposed to be a team effort and the PM allocates responsibility to members of govt. where they have expertise . The problem for Jacinda is that she has no-one in her team with any expertise in anything. Winston was her only hope.
Cheers D J S

Anonymous said...

I have a much simpler interpretation. Winston is the archetypal politician in the worst sense of the word. Power and influence are what drives him and not a sense of duty, which I believe the majority of politicians do have - no matter their colour.

Attributing some sort of deeper motives to the Winston First party is inaccurate. Anything that gets him in power is what matters. Thus the difficulty in getting a picture of what Winston First truly represents.

sumsuch said...

Versus Jacinda's vestments for social democrats re her poverty bollocks. We despise her on that point but we don't matter politically. Glad I voted for Andrew Little as leader against her Grant, and glad I've never voted for Labour. Last chance for them re benefit increases next term if that happens.

I always thought Winston was a tiresome eejit but you, rightfully, thought him a useful one. Getting his funding from toilet-paper millionaires matters not a shit to his followers. You think this is an end to his pragmatic utility. Untouchable by the 'pure' story of Lab/Green. I don't think it matters, but you're better at these down-and-dirtyisms than me.

sumsuch said...

I forgot to say, beautiful as ever.

John Hurley said...

Contemporary Issues

The politicization of immigration in New Zealand has contributed to a growing public ambivalence about immigration and its contribution to the development of New Zealand's society and economy. Briefing papers prepared for the recently re-elected Labor government signal a number of concerns about current levels of immigration in general and the impact of immigration on Auckland's society and economy in particular. Minister of Immigration Lianne Dalziel has indicated that several aspects of the current policy, in addition to the level of English required by prospective residents, will be reviewed over the next few months.

Notwithstanding this ambivalence, there seems to be clear recognition and acceptance that New Zealand society is going to become more diverse in terms of ethnic and cultural groups over the next 20 years. Immigration will play a major part in this diversification of communities, especially immigration from countries in Asia. Fortunately, there seems to be a broad consensus among the main political parties as well as many of the minor ones that this is not something to be feared or resisted at all costs. In this regard, there appears to be some consensus of party view (excluding the position adopted by New Zealand First) that continued immigration at or above present levels will produce positive outcomes for the country's economy and society.

There has been an anti-racism taboo pummelled into the population which masquerades as a moral position. NZ First stood against that?

Jack Scrivano said...

@ Greywarbler

I didn’t say that I knew the answer, only that I thought I knew the question. Not knowing the answer is one of the things that keeps me awake at night.

greywarbler said...

I don't see how anyone who considers themself responsible as you appear to do John Hurley, can be happy with the present high level of immigration. It is unsustainable, is pushing our society and systems to the limit, and the ordinary person is being burdened with extraordinary costs and the degradation of lifestyle. This can be from the increased numbers using roads for one and also the use of our homes as money-makers and assets for overseas investors to drop their wealth The comfort that NZs took from buying a home around which they could build a stable life, has been deliberately whipped away. The people running NZ do not want us to be comfortable they want us to be the opposite,

The pressures from the high level of immigration will compete against and overcome every advantage that pertains to it, and the ordinary person will be in deficit at every level, while the profit will all flow to a certain class clutching their wallets. These moneyed people and their politicians might cause an uprising here similar to the Indian culture from the past and its Thugees. People here will become very angry and they won't take it out on the pollies or those in gated communities.