IN THE COMING YEAR New Zealand politics will be driven by two inter-related forces: brown poverty and white guilt. Jacinda Ardern’s government will not be given a choice on the issue of brown poverty. Dealing with white guilt, however, will be very much a matter of opting to behave wisely or foolishly. It remains to be seen whether Labour possesses the wisdom to not act like a fool.
The capital city rumour mills have recently been grinding out an intriguing story involving a head-on stoush between Grant Robertson and Willie Jackson. It seems that Robertson carelessly reassured a group of Treasury bureaucrats that spending across all portfolios would be strictly constrained for the foreseeable future. Grant’s big mistake was to say this in front of the Maori Development Minister.
As a general rule, ministers do not contradict each other in front of their departmental advisers. As Don Corleone admonished his eldest son, Sonny, in The Godfather, it is most unwise to display the slightest disunity in front of anybody other than “family” members. Apparently (and understandably) Willie called BS on that – openly contradicting Grant’s fiscal reassurances, at least as far as spending on Maori issues was concerned.
The ensuing barney was, reportedly, so intense that the whole dispute was handed-up to Jacinda for resolution. The fact that Willie is still in his post strongly suggests that if the rumour about this epic ministerial battle is true, then Grant did not win it.
What is indisputable about the current predicament of Maori New Zealanders is that if it is allowed to worsen, then some sort of explosion is likely to result. Poverty and homelessness are not improving with anything like the rapidity required to head-off major disturbances in the most deprived “brown” suburbs. One has only to read the Maori Party MP for Waiariki, Rawiri Waititi’s, maiden speech to appreciate how angry Maori are becoming:
I refuse to allow my tamariki or my mokopuna to one day sit in the same seat asking the same question. We will no longer accept this approach, as it allows the State to continue to feast on the dysfunction that it has created amongst our people. We will no longer accept that the State continues to fund itself every year to allow Oranga Tamariki to steal more of our babies, a justice system to lock up more of our people, a welfare system that keeps my people dependent and poor, an education system that keeps my people dumb, a health system that keeps my people sick, and a housing system that keeps my people homeless. This has to stop.
Willie Jackson, with his longstanding and very close ties to urban Maori, knows that if he and Labour’s Maori caucus do not produce meaningful progress on the failings enumerated by Waititi, then the Maori Party will be quick to exploit their failure. That’s why Jackson is unwilling to keep silent about the prospect of an austerity budget. If they are to make a real dent in poverty and homelessness, then he and his Maori colleagues are going to need money – lots and lots of money.
Almost against its will, Ardern’s government is going to have to engage in massive amounts of public spending. What’s more, it will not be politically acceptable for this mobilisation of state resources to be directed solely at Maori communities. Working-class Pakeha, Pasifika and other immigrant families will have to be offered the same fiscal support. Jacinda and her colleagues are going to have to become socialists in spite of themselves!
It is at this point that the so-called “woke” elements of the Professional & Managerial Class (PMC) will have to choose whether or not to make, or break, the Ardern government. This includes members of the PMC inside Labour’s caucus, as well as those outside it. If Labour MPs, under pressure from guilt-ridden white radicals, opt to offer legislative validation to the most divisive elements of the so-called “Culture Wars”, then the broad social unity needed to buttress a colour-blind programme of social uplift will be undermined. The war against poverty and homelessness will be fatally compromised by the war of the woke against the un-woke.
Sadly, there is a real possibility that the PMC will do exactly this. So great is its guilty sense of having been born with far too many advantages, and so certain is it that Pakeha workers, denied its guiding hand, will never be able to understand the true extent of their “privilege”, the PMC is perfectly capable of deciding that homelessness and poverty are second-order issues. Matters to be addressed only after the Pakeha working-class has proved itself worthy of enjoying the socially integrative benefits of warm, dry, affordable houses and well-paying jobs.
The woke are very big supporters of “intersectionality” – the concept of fighting all the ills of society simultaneously, rather than “privileging” one form of injustice over another. It’s a concept that conflicts fundamentally with the idea of politics being all about the ordering of priorities. What is often called “the art of the possible”. With Labour’s Maori caucus prioritising action on poverty, housing, education, justice and health, about the best thing the PMC’s woke intersectionalists could do to assist the Ardern government, and working-class people of all ethnicities and genders, is maintain a solidaristic silence.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 24 December 2020.