Tuesday 29 June 2021

Of Commoners And Kings: Steve Bannon’s New Traditionalism

Telling It Like It Was: In order to restore the natural balance of society, New Traditionalists like Steve Bannon (above) argue, it is necessary to look deep into the heart of the ordinary people whose daily labours keep society going. Only when guided by the simple but durable virtues of those at the bottom of society, they argue, will those positioned at the top re-discover the wisdom, strength and power required to restore their nation to greatness.

CONSERVATIVE POLITICS in New Zealand is running out of puff. Both National and Act are struggling to offer voters much in the way of new political insights. The radical right-wing ideas that swept all before them in the 1980s and 90s have solidified into a pallid orthodoxy: one increasingly at odds with observable reality. The Churches’ political influence in New Zealand has been in steady decline since the 1970s. Robust though it may be in caucus, National’s right-wing Christian faction merely testifies to the growing distance between their party and the electoral mainstream.

When a political party is fortunate enough to possess a charismatic leader, such ideological frailty counts for much less. Absent such a leader, however, philosophical cluelessness constitutes a formidable barrier to electoral success. Unfortunately for their respective parties, Judith Collins and David Seymour cannot be included in the same company as Sir John Key and Jacinda Ardern. It remains to be seen whether Winston Peters still possesses the power to harness the political zeitgeist to NZ First’s battered chariot.

If Peters has spent the last few months scouring the conservative landscape for an ideology to match the temper of the times, then it is likely he will already have encountered the most radical right-wing movement since the rise of fascism, almost exactly a century ago. Although “Traditionalism” predates fascism by at least two decades, it shares the latter’s comprehensive rejection of Enlightenment values, liberal capitalism, scientific rationalism and democratic politics. When one considers that the leading promoters of Traditionalism in the world today are Steve Bannon – formerly Chief Strategist to President Donald Trump – and Aleksandr Dugin – long-time behind-the-scenes adviser to the Kremlin – any temptation to dismiss the movement as something wacky from the fringe should be resisted.

Like so many of the reactionary creeds emanating from fin-de-siècle Europe, Traditionalism fetishized what it considered to be the core values of the pre-modern era: hierarchy, spirituality and the (now very rare) ability to live honourably in the moment, unburdened by the weight of material concerns. The two individuals most closely associated with the early Traditionalist doctrine were the Frenchman, René Guénon, and the Italian proto-fascist, Julius Evola. Their Traditionalist utopia combined theocratic government with what amounted to a socio-economic caste-system. Cloaked in this antique guise, the doctrine’s prospects of political success in the Twentieth Century were slim. As modified by Bannon, however, Traditionalism has the capacity to act as an extremely powerful solvent of the electoral status-quo all over the Western World.

Bannon’s Traditionalism imputes to what New Zealanders would call the “ordinary Kiwi bloke” (or, in colloquial American, “the average working stiff”) the core definitive values of the nation’s character. It is in such folk: most particularly in their faith, generosity and resilience; that the nation’s ability to endure and triumph over all manner of adversities is located. They are the bedrock: the best; the people without whose support nothing of any lasting worth can be accomplished.

In the unanticipated triumph of Brexit and Trump, the world witnessed the extraordinary political resonance of Bannon’s version of Traditionalism. It had the power to mobilise electorally groups which had, for decades, been disengaging from their traditional electoral champions – Labour in the UK, the Democratic Party in the USA. It was Bannon’s strategic, and Trump’s performative, genius that caused these disillusioned and disgruntled citizens to reassess, at a personal level, the costs and benefits of political engagement. Hillary Clinton may have dismissed them as “deplorables”, but Trump transformed her insult into a badge of honour: convincing them that they were the only people who could make America great again.

To be politically effective, however, Traditionalism needs a special kind of enemy. In this regard, an elite layer of effete professionals and managers, who look down with disdain upon “ordinary people” and their beliefs, and who react with abject horror at the very thought of these usually biddable yobbos intervening decisively in the political process, is exactly what Traditionalists are looking for.

In the eyes of the elites, this ignorant lumpen element presents itself as an army of terrifying zombies. Civilly dead, but now, by the power of Bannon’s weird political voodoo, electorally re-animated, they represent the very deepest fears of the people in charge. Shuffling menacingly towards them, their arms outstretched for ballot papers, these possessed political corpses must be cut down where they stand. Under no circumstances can general elections be turned into re-runs of The Night of the Living Dead.

A less tendentious presentation of Traditionalism may be found in the television series Yellowstone. In their sprawling ranch, “Yellowstone”, set in the rock-ribbed Republican stronghold of Montana, live the Duttons – a powerful family in whom the best constitutive elements of the American character are embodied.

On every side, however, a hostile world is pressing in upon them. From the adjoining Native American tribal reservation – in which an even older embodiment of America is stirring – to the avaricious development buccaneers poised to turn the Dutton patrimony into ski resorts and casinos. Interestingly, those “best constitutive elements” include a willingness to defend the family’s interests with deadly, and often illegal, force. (Which is, at least, an honest admission of core American values!)

In the lead character, John Dutton (played by Kevin Costner) the viewer is frequently presented with something approximating that Zen-like ability to live in the spiritual moment which the original Traditionalists prized so highly. The series’ general contempt for the democratic process, and its clear preference for maintaining the established hierarchy of ‘natural’ leaders, similarly echoes the ideas of Guénon and Evola.

New Zealand political leaders as different as Rob Muldoon and John Key have secured lengthy stints of political power on the strength of elevating ordinariness into something very special. Muldoon pitted his “ordinary blokes” (aka “Rob’s Mob”) against the hapless “Citizens For Rowling” – whom he successfully portrayed as an ineffectual collection of over-educated snobs who thought they were better than everybody else. Key’s trick was to convince nearly half the electorate that they were already the ones in charge; and all they had to do to prove it was make an ordinary millionaire their Prime Minister.

At the moment, few conservatively-minded New Zealanders would admit to feeling in charge of very much at all. Quite the reverse, in fact. In Traditionalist terms, all the worst elements of modernism are in the saddle and riding New Zealand hard. Even worse, no political party of the Right is currently willing (or, seemingly, able) to swing the axe in defence of the values of “Real New Zealanders”, or even explain, in simple terms, what those “real” values are. While this remains the case, the conservative cause will continue to languish.

What Bannon and his Russian equivalent, Dugin, understand is how quickly Democracy exhausts the ordinary man and woman. How ready they are to put their faith in those they recognise as belonging to the natural hierarchies of wisdom, strength and power. And how angry they become when those they trust to lead them prove unequal to the task.

In order to restore the natural balance of society, the Traditionalists argue, it is necessary to look deep into the heart of the ordinary people whose daily labours keep society going. Only when guided by the simple but durable virtues of those at the bottom of society, they argue, will those positioned at the top re-discover the wisdom, strength and power required to restore their nation to greatness.

This is, indeed, a step backward into pre-modernity. What Bannon and Dugin are describing is the enduring political alchemy of leaders and followers: that allegedly sacred bond between sovereign and subject which owes nothing to the intervention of elite interests, or, at least, not to those elite interests who refuse to make their first two priorities the protection of the leader and the welfare of the people. Bannon and Dugin may call this Traditionalism, but a better name for their system might be “Monarchical Socialism”.

Think, the King and the Commons, without the Barons and the Bishops: the doomed dream of the Peasants’ Revolt. Or, the Fuhrer and the Volk, without the Capitalists and the Jews: the murderous dream of Hitler’s stormtroopers.

An earlier version of this essay was posted on the Interest.co.nz website of Monday, 21 June 2021. This version was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 29 June 2021.

Monday 28 June 2021

Has Jacinda Ardern United The Country Behind Her Radical Agenda?

Follow Me: Could it be that Labour has found the same electoral sweet-spot that kept John Key’s National Party in the mid-to-high 40s for the best part of a decade? Is Labour now in the rare position of being able to satisfy “Middle New Zealand” that it possesses both a political leader, and a political programme, that meet the needs of the moment? What’s more, those “needs” may encompass ideas and issues which, hitherto, have been regarded as being far too radical for mainstream political parties to adopt.

IN THE SEASON of Matariki, it is fitting to look both backwards and forwards. Like the mid-winter festivals of the northern hemisphere, Matariki marks the pivot-point between death and re-birth. It is a time for taking stock and gathering strength before setting forth on the next stage of our human journey.

Something to take away from the twelve months just passed, is that this country has a huge capacity for solidarity and national unity. A recent survey conducted under the auspices of the World Health Organisation (WHO) found that 75 percent of New Zealanders considered their country to be more united as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic than it was before the virus struck. Those who described it as more divided represented just 23 percent. Only Singapore reported a more united population than New Zealand’s.

The comparison with other Western nations is stark. Only 10 percent of Americans believe their country has emerged more united as a result of Covid-19. Fully 88 percent of them believe the virus has left the United States more divided. In the United Kingdom the divided/united breakdown was 54:42. Considerably more positive were our Australian cousins. Across the Tasman, 59 percent felt more united, and 39 percent more divided. The median result of the nations polled was: More Divided, 61 percent; More United, 34 percent.

Given New Zealand’s high degree of national unity, the Labour Party’s spectacular election victory in 2020 was entirely predictable. Clearly, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s “Team of Five Million” metaphor resonated loudly with an electorate that had, indeed, come together to fight a common foe. The WHO poll should also serve as a timely reminder to all those who sneered at the PM’s messages of kindness and unity that it is they who are out-of-step with the popular mood – radically out-of-step.

Placed alongside the Colmar Brunton and Reid Research poll results, the WHO survey’s numbers, might also be telling us something else. It is just possible that the resilience of Labour-Green support, and the Opposition parties’ failure to fire, is a reflection of just how good the experience of striving together collectively makes New Zealanders feel.

Good enough, apparently, for the many failures of the Sixth Labour Government to be forgiven. With tens-of-thousands on the waiting-list for a state house, and one-in-five Kiwi children being raised in poverty, many political observers were anticipating a steady decline in the Government’s poll numbers once the euphoria of the 2020 election began to wear off. In reality, Labour’s support is only marginally lower today than it was eight months ago. Nearly half of the electorate is not yet willing to shake off “Jacinda’s” political spell.

The implications of Labour’s unprecedented (at least under MMP) levels of popular support are intriguing. Could it be that Labour has found the same electoral sweet-spot that kept John Key’s National Party in the mid-to-high 40s for the best part of a decade? Not on the basis of the same policies, of course, but on the basis of Labour finding itself in the rare position of being able to satisfy “Middle New Zealand” that it possesses both a political leader, and a political programme, equal to the needs of the moment. What’s more, those “needs” may encompass ideas and issues which, hitherto, have been regarded as far too radical for mainstream political parties to adopt.

Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that the initial surge of national unity under Labour came, not with the onset of the pandemic, but earlier, in the wake of the Christchurch Mosque Shootings.

Let’s further say that Ardern’s handling of that tragedy – especially her inspired formulation “They Are Us” – had the effect of sensitising a majority of New Zealanders to the racially charged character of the “lone wolf” terrorist’s attacks; and to the need for New Zealanders to unite against the evils of racism and white supremacy.

Throw into the mix the extraordinary contrast (which did not go unnoticed by the rest of the world) between the conduct of the New Zealand Prime Minister, and the wink-wink, nudge-nudge tolerance displayed by the US President, Donald Trump, towards America’s racists and white supremacists. There’s nothing Kiwis enjoy more than looking down on Americans from the high moral ground.

If this is what happened, then Ardern’s formidable “Team of Five Million” was already gathering itself in 2019. Her subsequent handling of the Covid-19 crisis further knitted it together into an electorally unbeatable cultural and political force.

For conservative New Zealand politicians this bodes very ill indeed. Their assumption has been that the Labour Government’s moves towards a bi-cultural Aotearoa, and their willingness to introduce draconian “Hate Speech” legislation, will alarm the roughly 440,000 centrist voters who switched sides electorally in order to reward Jacinda and her government for keeping them safe from Covid. Slap these political errors hard up against Labour’s failures in the fields of housing affordability, homelessness, climate change and child poverty, the conservatives argue, and Labour’s chances of winning in 2023 are slim to nil.

But what if “Middle New Zealand” actually feels proud of the moves the Ardern Government is making in relation to Maori and te Tiriti? What if it is right behind curbing the ability of racists and white supremacists to inflict harm on vulnerable communities? What if Jacinda has entered the same magical zone that John Key occupied for nearly ten years? Where, no matter how bad things get, the electorate steadfastly refuses to blame her, or her party, and elects Labour over and over and over again?

That would mean that, instead of going up in the polls, National will continue (just like Labour between 2008 and 2017) to plumb new electoral depths. It would also mean that NZ First, far from riding back into power on a wave of public anxiety over Maori separatism and the antics of “Ngati Woke”, will remain well below the MMP threshold. Moreover, as National’s numbers dwindle, Act’s support (just like the Greens’ between 2008 and 2017) will continue to grow. Assuming David Seymour manages to avoid his own “Metiria Turei Moment”, and National fails to find its own “Jacinda”, life on the Right could get very interesting indeed.

The rising of the Matariki star-cluster should remind us all that life, like the Koru, is an expanding spiral. Though every year we pass the same point, we never return to the same place. In continuity there is also change. The heavens tell us where we are, but they cannot tell us what to do. The successes and failures of human-beings are their own to make. The National Party would be most unwise to assume that yesterday’s defeats and tomorrow’s victories are made of the same stuff.

This essay was originally posted on the Interest.co.nz website of Monday, 28 June 2021.

Sunday 27 June 2021

Democratic Socialism From The Ground Up? Not In Neale’s Backyard.

Of The State, By The State, For The State: CEO of Capital Government Relations, Neale Jones, appears to have updated Abraham Lincoln's famous definition of Democracy. If a movement of people acting by and for themselves shows signs of winning, then Neale's answer is for central government "to simply force" its preferred solutions upon them.

IF YOU WANT to understand what’s rotting the Labour Party’s political soul, read Neale Jones’ latest posting on The Spinoff. A really good novelist would struggle to create a more self-characterising narrator than Neale. With refreshing candour, he pours scorn on all the elements of participatory democracy and heaps praise upon the crushing power of the centralised state.

As Chief-of-Staff to both Andrew Little and Jacinda Ardern, we can only assume that Neale ticked all the boxes of the contemporary Labour Party apparatchik. As the current CEO of the PR/Lobbying firm, Capital Government Relations, it is equally safe to presume that he knows his way around the capital city’s power grid. In short, Jones is the very model of a modern Labour mover-and-shaker.

Which is why we should all be very worried.

Neale’s posting is all about the Wellington City Council’s spatial plan and to what degree it will clear the path for wealthy property developers to bulldoze the capital city’s architectural heritage into a pile of rubble. Not that he puts his case quite that bluntly. Rather than present himself as the friend of soulless high-rise property development, he has cast himself in the role of the poor and downtroddens’ fearless champion. The homeless must have homes, and Neale is adamant that the same beneficent state that gave us Kiwibuild, is going to provide them with shelter from the storm.

And who, do you suppose, is the villain in this local government morality play? That’s right! It is none other than our old friend “Nimby”. Those ageing, selfish, well-heeled, owners of Wellington’s architectural history, whose lovingly maintained homes make Wellington the finely-cut cultural gem New Zealanders so admire. It is these, the not-in-my-backyard Baby Boomer bastards, who have dared to object to the idea of replacing the city’s rich housing heritage with buildings that look like the boxes the buildings that should have been constructed came in.

Worst of all – from Neale’s perspective – Nimby is winning! All these devilish defenders of antique weatherboard and roofing iron; red-brick, stained-glass and ceramic tiles; are defeating the forces of concrete and steel by arming themselves with – of all things! – the instruments and processes of democracy. And, boy! does that make Neale mad.

This is how he describes the way the Wellington City Council’s planning process used to work:

It’s fair to say that until recently Wellington City Council planning processes had not been a subject of fierce public debate. The council would put out consultation documents, residents’ associations and a few local government anoraks would respond and nothing would ever change. Property values rose regularly, home owners’ views and amenity were protected. Capital gains were leveraged and property portfolios built. From the perspective of home owners, the system appeared to be working well.

Those “home owners” – just in case you were wondering – comprise the overwhelming majority of Wellington’s ratepayers. So, yeah, the system was working exactly the way democratic theory says it should work.

And, just in case you missed it, note the use of the word “anoraks”. Clearly, any citizen who takes an interest in the life of their city is some sort of sad obsessive; someone urgently in need of getting a life. Isn’t it great to know how Labour’s movers-and-shakers view the active citizen? Apparently, only the CEOs of PR/Lobbying firms are allowed to influence the outcomes of official decision-making processes. CEOs and Big Government. Because Neale was just getting warmed-up with his snide reference to anoraks.

Try this on for size:

The evidence around the world shows that local government is structurally unable to stand up to nimbyism. Low voter turnout heavily favours existing property owners, leaving councillors too exposed politically. Public consultations are dominated by vested interests: those who suffer the most from housing shortages are the most transient, the least engaged. The answer is for central government to simply force councils to allow more housing.

Hooo-weee! Ain’t that a doozy? The answer is for central government to simply force councils to allow more housing. Neale wants the full force of the state to be brought to bear against anyone – Nimbies, anoraks and city-councils alike – who dares to get in the way of “the most transient” and “the least engaged”. (Although, if you think about that for a minute, you’d have to question how, in the absence of full-on political organisation, the transient and the least engaged could ever get themselves in a position where anybody needed to get in their way.)

Okay, okay, I know what you’re thinking. Shouldn’t all good socialists be cheering Neale on at this point? Isn’t Labour supposed to be the party that brings the power of the state to the aid of the poor and needy? Well, yes, it surely is. Unfortunately, this Labour Government does not contain the modern day equivalent of John A. Lee, or Mickey Savage, or Peter Fraser. All we’ve got is Phil Twyford, “Jacinda” and Grant Robertson – which isn’t quite the same thing!

No. Neale’s solution has very little to do with the democratic socialism of the 1930s and 40s. The Labour Party of the Twenty-First century isn’t about organising the poor and the marginalised into a mass political movement capable of taking over city councils and winning majorities in Parliament. It’s about clearing the way for private enterprise to make its profits. And if that means clean-bowling people’s homes to make way for high-rise apartments: dwellings in which you may be very sure the “transient” and “least engaged” will never set foot; then so be it.

I’ll tell you what, though. I could be persuaded to change my mind. If Neale was to give up his CEO’s job at Capital Government Relations, and become a community organiser dedicated to seating the transient and the least engaged at those City Council planning hearings. If he could rope-in the country’s best and most progressive architects to work with the poor and downtrodden in designing the sort of housing they would like to live in. And, if those same poor and downtrodden – now with something to vote for – could be persuaded to cast their ballots for candidates pledged to building those houses. Well, then I would know that Labour’s soul has not rotted away, and that its movers-and-shakers are moving and shaking for somebody other than the rich and powerful.

Otherwise …..

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 25 June 2021.

Friday 25 June 2021

They Say We Want A Revolution – But Do We?

The Writing's On The Wall - But Who's Wielding The Spray Can?  There are those who, remembering the bitter political turmoil of the Rogernomics Era, have enquired, gently, of Labour’s apparatchiks as to whether they might be getting just a little too far ahead of the voters on the issues of bi-culturalism and climate change.

IF IT FEELS like a revolution is happening all around you, then you’re not far wrong. The New Zealand state is on the verge of unleashing profound and irreversible changes. The sort of lifestyles New Zealanders have grown accustomed to are themselves now living on borrowed time. Not that anyone in authority has thought to ask the New Zealand people if such stonking radicalism is what they want. It’s not that sort of revolution.

We’ve been here before, of course. Thirty-seven years ago New Zealand was subjected to “The Quiet Revolution” of “Rogernomics”. It, too, ushered-in a raft of profound and irreversible changes without so much as a constitutional by-your-leave. We were told that there was no alternative, that the Fourth Labour Government’s “reforms” could not be avoided. All would be well, however, Labour reassured New Zealanders. Out of all this short-term pain, the nation’s long-term gain was guaranteed.

Think about that promise the next time you step over a homeless rough-sleeper begging on the pavement, or pass by the fogged-up windows of a car in which one of your fellow citizens is trying to sleep. Ask yourself how far down the social pyramid the Quiet Revolution’s long-term gain ended up trickling. How keen are you, really, for another round of life-altering changes imposed upon the people living at the bottom, by the people living at the top?

Sometimes the way History unfolds makes you laugh out loud. As a “free-marketeer” of no mean ability (the man has a PhD from the prestigious Wharton School of Business) Rod Carr could contemplate the installation of cash registers in public hospitals without flinching. Thirty years later, an equally rigorous Rod Carr (having swapped his corporate tie for a finely carved piece of pounamu) is advising the Government to tackle the challenges of Climate Change by transforming New Zealand society from top to bottom. Once again were being told to suck-up the certainty of short-term pain – this time for the planet’s (theoretical) long-term gain.

Not that Dr Carr’s revolution is the only instance of transformational change in motion. Although no one in the Labour Government is yet willing to admit it, the process of reconfiguring New Zealand’s key institutions in conformity with the Maori self-government (rangatiratanga) promises enshrined in te Tiriti o Waitangi is already well advanced. Get ready for comprehensive cultural and constitutional upheavals.

Once bitten, twice shy, however. There are those who, remembering the bitter political turmoil of the Rogernomics Era, have enquired, gently, of Labour’s apparatchiks as to whether they might be getting just a little too far ahead of the voters on the issues of bi-culturalism and climate change.

Not a bit of it! Labour’s people are not only supremely confident that they are right, but also that they possess more than enough in the way of persuasive power to “sell” their revolution to their admittedly more hesitant compatriots. They will simply not be told that phasing out New Zealanders’ beloved utes and SUVs, and changing the country’s name to Aotearoa without bothering to hold a referendum (which John Key was careful enough to do in relation to the New Zealand flag) is not quite the same as “going hard and going early” on Covid-19. Kiwis rewarded Jacinda for keeping them safe. They may not be quite so inclined to vote for a party that makes them feel “deplorable” or, even worse, cancelled.

The Labour Government’s confidence is undoubtedly boosted by what might best be called the “awokening” of the mainstream New Zealand news media. Trapped in the coils of “confirmation bias”, Labour’s strategists are clearly finding it impossible to grasp how emotionally jarring much of the news media has become to New Zealanders who have yet to graduate with honours in Critical Race Theory, speak Te Reo with the insufferable fluency of Guyon Espiner, or learn to feel dutifully re-educated upon hearing Otepoti substituted for Dunedin, or Kirikiriroa for Hamilton.

Having the media so obviously “on side” isn’t always the advantage politicians believe it to be. Labour would be wise to remember the Trump rally where the audience were invited to turn and confront “the lying media”; the purveyors of “fake news”; the “enemies of the people”.

Revolutions from the top down have a nasty habit of inspiring insurrections from the bottom up – and they’re not always “progressive”.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 25 June 2021.

Thursday 24 June 2021

Skating On Thin Ice: Labour’s Support Is Not As Solid As It Looks.

Deceptively Solid Support: What Labour would like us to believe is that they are skating on a solid sheet of ideological ice, more that capable of carrying the weight of their cultural revolution. In reality, the ice now bearing their electoral weight is wafer thin. Sadly, Labour’s leaders remain utterly oblivious to the currents surging just below their party’s fragile crust of support. 

WITH LABOUR polling in the mid-to-high 40s, and the Greens around 10 percent, the Left dominates New Zealand politics. At least, that is what it would like us to believe. In fact, Labour’s current dominance of New Zealand politics is both highly unusual and extremely fragile. The party’s commanding lead in the polls is due almost entirely to the approximately 15 percent of the electorate (roughly 440,000 people) who rewarded “Jacinda” with a vote that, in the absence of the global pandemic, would have gone to somebody else. Yet to be given a good reason for abandoning their heroine, these voters remain in Labour’s camp. Truth to tell, it is this 10-15 percent of the electorate that is dominating New Zealand politics – not the Left.

Since the introduction of MMP in 1996, Labour has averaged approximately 36 percent of the popular vote. Putting the 2020 election to one side, the best results achieved were under Helen Clark in 2002 and 2005. Even then, however, the party only just made it into the 40s. Jacinda, herself, only managed to claim 36.89 percent of the Party Vote for Labour in 2017 – well short of the National Party’s 44.45 percent. That she became Prime Minister at all was due entirely to her poaching NZ First’s 7.20 percent of the Party Vote. (Winston’s tally was generally expected to be made available to National.) Jacinda repeated this trick (albeit with twice the percentage of conservative votes) in the Covid Election of 2020.

At 37 percent, National’s average vote in the MMP Era confirms the centrality of that fickle 10-15 percent of the electorate which slips and slides all over the middle regions of the political spectrum. Until 2020, however, these voters’ preferences tended to be more right-wing than left-wing. National certainly thought so – hence its fury at seeing Winston Peters crown Jacinda with votes it was convinced had been cast by people favouring a right-wing coalition government. (In this conviction, they were probably quite correct.)

All of which adds up to a very peculiar political situation. In the past two elections, the parties of the Left – whose combined support between 1996 and 2020 averaged just 43.65 percent of the Party Vote – have been able to form a government. Not because the country had just swung decisively to the Left, but because hundreds-of-thousands of moderately conservative New Zealanders had acquiesced in the right-wing parties they usually voted for being excluded from power. Justifiably in 2020, given Jacinda Ardern’s superb handling of the Covid-19 crisis, and National’s extraordinary political implosion. Judiciously in 2017, given National’s nine year legacy of procrastination and neglect. In both instances, the mandates handed to Labour were strictly limited.

All of which makes the behaviour of the present Labour Government and its Green Party allies extremely difficult to fathom. Rather than accept the utterly exceptional nature of the 2020 General Election, and acknowledge the strictly limited character of the electoral mandate it conferred, the Left appears to have convinced itself that the 440,000 New Zealanders whose support for Labour was simply their way of saying: “Thank you, Jacinda, for keeping me and my family safe”, were actually begging Labour and the Greens to turn their world upside down.

Labour’s and the Greens’ sharp swing to the left, in cultural terms, may be acceptable to New Zealanders in the professions, the public service, the universities and the communications industries. After all, these are the highly-educated elites who, in practically all the advanced economies of the West, are the most comfortable, temperamentally, with the politics of race and personal identity. It is not acceptable, however, to the culturally conservative 7-15 percent of the electorate which “switched sides” in 2017 and 2020. They are becoming increasingly alarmed and confused by the Labour Government’s unheralded direction of travel. Not so alarmed that they are willing to overlook the National Party’s all-too-evident disarray, and re-pledge their traditional allegiance to the Centre-Right. Not yet – but they’re close.

Not that you can tell Labour’s apparatchiks any of this. Their ears are blocked to any suggestion that the Government has advanced dangerously far ahead of public opinion. Nor can they be convinced that they have made themselves vulnerable to the sort of brutal, right-wing political attacks that Labour’s and the Greens’ radical policies on race, gender, culture and climate change are bound to attract. If there was still a functioning Fourth Estate, it’s just possible that these warnings might eventually penetrate the static of the Left’s confirmation biases. Unfortunately, the same ideological virus that has melted the brains of Labour and the Greens, has also melted the brains of the nation’s mainstream journalists.

What Labour would like us to believe is that they are skating on a solid sheet of ideological ice, more that capable of carrying the weight of their cultural revolution. In reality, the ice now bearing their electoral weight is wafer thin. Sadly, Labour’s leaders remain utterly oblivious to the currents surging just below their party’s fragile crust of support. They have no idea how very strong they are, nor how deathly cold.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 24 June 2021.

Tuesday 22 June 2021

Who Else Is There? Why the Right Needs Winston Peters.

Who Ya Gonna Call? Enlisting the unique skills of Winston Peters is now the Right’s key mission – if it is serious about bringing the drive towards a bi-cultural state to a halt. Conservatives must see that neither Judith Collins nor David Seymour have the chops for this critical historical task. Only with Peters’ help can Labour be defeated. 

IF WINSTON PETERS did not exist, the Right would have to invent him – and it can’t. Peters is a product of the assimilationist era of New Zealand’s social history. That period between the end of World War II and the 1970s when the central objective of race relations policy in New Zealand was to create “Brown Pakeha”. Citizens who were proud of their “Maori heritage”, but otherwise determined to make of themselves and their offspring well-educated and well-adjusted citizens of New Zealand.

A young Maori person emerging from the University of Auckland with a law degree in 2021 would be extremely unlikely to see themselves as a Brown Pakeha. In the nearly fifty years that have elapsed since Peters’ graduation, the assimilationist policies of the 1950s and 60s have become the focus of bitter criticism. It is difficult to see a contemporary Maori law graduate devoting their newly-acquired skills to derailing the bi-cultural project on behalf of the Pakeha Right.

That being the case, the Pakeha Right is stuck with Peters. Who else can be sure that his critique of “Maori separatism” will not be met with angry charges of racism and white supremacy? Peters’ Maori ancestry cloaks him like a political force-field, allowing him to speak out fearlessly where Pakeha right-wingers are tongue-tied by timidity.

In addition to his ancestry, Peters brings the invaluable gift of sincerity. He dubbed his party “NZ First” because he is fiercely and unquestionably loyal to the country that made his rise to power and influence possible. He refers often to his dual inheritance: of being a judicious blend of British and Maori cultural influences. The New Zealand he prioritises is a projection of his own experience – the best of both worlds.

Peters’ other big advantage is his age. Many commentators fail to grasp the importance of the fact that he has been a politician for more than forty years. That he entered Parliament in 1979 means that his career has spanned the whole of New Zealand’s recent political history: from the era of his mentor, Rob Muldoon, to that of his erstwhile protégé, Jacinda Ardern (who was not even born when Peters first became an MP). Along with the Baby Boomers and what remains of the Greatest Generation, Peters remembers the “old” New Zealand, and can justly claim to have resisted most of the worst aspects of the “new” New Zealand. Political longevity and consistency, properly presented, can be an attractive combination – as the career of Bernie Sanders attests.

Such is the scale of the problem facing the Right. The sheer impossibility of finding another politician with Peters’ extraordinary credentials. How can they not ask Peters to front the fightback against bi-culturalism and the forces which, in his speech to NZ First’s AGM on Sunday, 20 June 2021, he dubbed (with his trademark wicked accuracy) “Ngati Woke”? Who else is there who can pull the Right’s irons out of the fire?

But, if they can’t invent him, and they can’t do without him, then those committed to preserving the state bequeathed to New Zealanders by the imperialism and colonialism of the Nineteenth Century, and fine-tuned by the social-democratic nation-builders of the Twentieth, are going to have to protect him from the weaknesses that have plagued him from the very beginnings of his political career.

Peters is prone to the worst kind of cronyism: to building and maintaining tight little cliques of confidants and admirers who learn very quickly how to navigate their boss’s idiosyncrasies or find themselves ejected unceremoniously from his inner circle. The danger here for Peters is sycophancy: the absence of a warning hand upon the shoulder in precarious places.

How much more effective Peters might have been as a political leader if he’d been willing to take advice from someone other than himself? Certainly, he could have avoided the pitfalls (and enormous costs) arising out of his seemingly insatiable appetite for litigation. He might also have avoided the many errors arising from his aversion to individuals as talented and ambitious as himself. Those who are truly great recognise and welcome the greatness they see in others. They do not drive it away. To be the only big bullfrog in a tiny pond is no great achievement.

If the Right is serious about asking Peters to defeat Ngati Woke, then it must also, for once, make sure he has all the financial resources needed to do the job. Too often in the past, Peters has been forced into the orbit of interests in the market for a political fixer. If Peters has not learned by now that any attempt to draw a veil of secrecy across such negotiations is bound to end in disaster, then he never will. Under no circumstances should those keen to harness Peters’ talents leave the management of NZ First’s funds to its leader and/or his friends.

This, then, is the Right’s mission – if it is serious about bringing the drive towards a bi-cultural state to a halt. Conservatives must know by now that neither Judith Collins nor David Seymour have the chops for this critical historical task. Only with Peters’ help can Labour be defeated.

But, if the more conservative elements of the ruling-class are serious about bringing into play Peters’ unique strengths, then they must be equally committed to protecting him from his own worst weaknesses. He needs people around him who are not too proud to admit that there is no one else. Experts who know all the latest campaign tricks. A team willing and able to give this extraordinary performer the opportunity to do what he does best: be the Winston Peters that Winston Peters invented.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 22 June 2021.

No Questions Please – We’re Revolutionaries!

The Kids Were All Right: By stripping away all moral and practical grounds for unified struggle, Critical Race Theory can only strengthen the elites’ grip on contemporary society. The abdication of School Strike For Climate Auckland offers a textbook example of this phenomenon. The moral force of the nation’s secondary students in the fight against climate change has been significantly compromised. And through it all the mainstream news media has had nothing to say.

PERHAPS THE MOST ASTONISHING aspect of School Strike For Climate Auckland’s (SSFCA) spectacular self-cancellation was the media’s lack of interest. Oh sure, they picked up the group’s news release, and made its contents known to the public, but that was it. There appeared to be a general reluctance, extending across the whole of the mainstream news media, to investigate the story in any depth. No attempt was made to flesh-out and explain what, to most New Zealanders, was a jarring and baffling item of news. The same media which had welcomed the School Strike For Climate Movement, and praised its achievements, accepted the curious demise of its largest section without serious investigation or comment.

The only explanation for such an egregious dereliction of journalistic duty is that mainstream editors and reporters were fearful of the territory into which any serious investigation of the event was bound to lead them. They would have to explain why a group of young and idealistic secondary-school students, people they had written glowing stories about, had somehow been persuaded that they, and their organisation, were racist. They would have been required to question whether the Maori and Pasifika groups into whose hands SSFCA had vouchsafed the climate fight were capable of maintaining the political momentum generated by Greta Thunberg’s global movement.

Most of all, they would have had to help ordinary New Zealanders understand the extraordinary self-abasement contained in the group’s news release:

We apologise for the hurt, burnout, and trauma. We also apologise for the further trauma caused by our slow action to take responsibility. We recognise that this apology can never be enough to make up for our actions on top of years of systemic and systematic oppression, racism, and the silencing of those who are the most affected by climate change. This apology is just one of our steps in taking accountability for our actions.

What could possibly have made these young people say such extraordinary things about themselves, and about the movement they had worked so hard to build?

Unwilling to go there, a more politically savvy mainstream news media would simply have ignored the news release. Certainly, if your intention is to let a story die, then the last place you should put it is on RNZ’s “Morning Report” or the NZ Herald’s website. That, however, is where the statement ended up – in all its woke glory. Tens-of-thousands of astonished New Zealanders heard it, or read it, and said: “What on Earth?” But, from the editors and reporters who had salved what remained of their journalistic consciences by broadcasting and publishing SSFCA’s words, no answers came – just enthusiastic endorsements of the organisation’s actions from indigenous activists.

Those astonished New Zealanders seeking an explanation for SSFCA’s actions need look no further than the American-born ideology known as “Critical Race Theory” (CRT). According to the University of California, Los Angeles, Luskin School of Public Affairs:

CRT recognises that racism is engrained in the fabric and system of American society. The individual racist need not exist to note that institutional racism is pervasive in the dominant culture. This is the analytical lens that CRT uses in examining existing power structures. CRT identifies that these power structures are based on white privilege and white supremacy, which perpetuates the marginalisation of people of colour. CRT also rejects the traditions of liberalism and meritocracy. Legal discourse says that the law is neutral and colour-blind, however, CRT challenges this legal “truth” by examining liberalism and meritocracy as a vehicle of self-interest, power and privilege.

Now, while you might need to be a professor to write the above definition of CRT, you most certainly do not need a PhD to grasp how CRT works in practice. In a nutshell, CRT operates according to the principle: “If you’re white, you cannot be right.”

Naturally, in the United States the historical force credited with creating white privilege and white supremacy is Slavery. In New Zealand, however, the place of Slavery has been taken by Colonisation. It is not to white slavers, but white settlers, that the followers of CRT look for the root of all Aotearoa’s evils.

Leftists who object that white workers will always have more in common with brown workers than they will with a white ruling-class that oppresses all workers, get no joy from the followers of CRT. White elites may derive material benefits from their dominant position, but working-class whites derive equally important psychological benefits from their position in the racial hierarchy. According to CRT, the existence of a whole category of human-beings deemed immutably inferior to the white race, makes it easier for white workers to accept their own socio-economic subordination. At a stroke, Marxism is reduced to just another prop for white supremacy!

By stripping away all moral and practical grounds for unified struggle, CRT can only strengthen the elites’ grip on contemporary society. The abdication of SSFCA offers a textbook example of this phenomenon. The moral force of the nation’s secondary students in the fight against climate change has been significantly compromised. Doubts and resentments will spread swiftly through the SSFC Movement, making it a pretty safe bet that the turnout for any future demonstrations will be only a fraction of its former efforts. If the oil companies had set out to sabotage the domestic movement against anthropogenic global warming they could hardly have done a better job than these local adherents of CRT.

Black American progressives have themselves noted the dangerous ironies inherent in CRT. As Mitchell Dean and Daniel Zamora note in their recent Guardian article “Today, the self is the battlefield of politics. Blame Michel Foucault”:

Despite the ever-growing presence of this politics, its shortcomings are growing clear. “White guilt and black outrage,” as Cedric Johnson, professor of African American studies, has recently pointed out, “have limited political currency, and neither has ever been a sustainable basis for building the kind of popular and legislative majorities needed to actually contest entrenched power in any meaningful way” ….. In fact, he added, this “militant expression of racial liberalism” will “continue to defer the kind of public goods that might actually help” all those who are “routinely surveilled, harassed, arrested, convicted, incarcerated and condemned as failures”. With material stakes of politics growing ever more urgent many in the liberal centre would much prefer us to busy ourselves with loud rituals announcing our inner battles.

It would be unfair, however, to heap too much blame upon the young students at the heart of this story. One can only imagine the emotional intensity of the “struggle sessions” required to induce the activist core of SSFCA’s abject capitulation. During the infamous “Cultural Revolution” of the 1960s, the brutality of similar sessions, at the hands of Mao Zedong’s fanatical “Red Guards”, was sufficient to break Communist Party veterans of the “Long March”. What chance had an well-meaning, idealistic bunch of middle-class Auckland kids against such tactics?

We conclude, therefore, where we began. In its coverage of the SSFCA’s self-immolation, the mainstream news media touched upon none of the issues featured in this post. Why? Because, bluntly, any such investigation would be severely career-limiting for the young (or old) mainstream journalist who undertook it. This is unfortunate, because arising out of this story are a number of important questions.

Does it mean, for example, that in spite of being disadvantaged and under-resourced by colonisation, and only responsible for a small part of the local climate problem (which tends to be correlated with income, as well as population) Maori and Pasifika will also now bear the burden of solving the whole of Aotearoa-New Zealand’s climate change problem? Does it mean that Pakeha climate change activists will no longer accept historical responsibility for persuading the country’s farmers – overwhelmingly Pakeha for obvious colonial reasons – to do their bit to reduce biogenic methane and plant more trees? (Hat-tip to Dr Chris Harris.)

Don’t hold your breath for the answers. Like it or not, the precepts of CRT are now accepted as holy writ in the newsrooms of the nation. Guilty white journalists may cheer-on the Revolution as loudly as they wish, but they must not, under any circumstances, interrogate it.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 18 June 2021.

Friday 18 June 2021

Losing The "Struggle-Session" Over Climate Change.

Blaming And Shaming: A "property owner" is humiliated before the masses during Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution. Critical Race Theory may substitute "White Privilege" for "Class Privilege", but the inescapability of the offending group's responsibility for "oppression" is exactly the same. The self-abasement of School Strike For Climate Auckland for its "racist" crimes against People of Colour is grimly reminiscent of Mao's Red Guards' "struggle sessions" against the enemies of the Revolution. 

THE GREAT WEAKNESS at the heart of Critical Race Theory (CRT) is its wilful ignorance of History and Anthropology. Its demonisation of “Whites”, along with the civilisations they created, owes more to religion than it does to science. A scientist would quietly explain to the adherents of CRT that the whole concept of race – especially when conflated with skin colour – is deeply flawed. That, genetically-speaking, the human species has always been one and indivisible. Culture may have elevated morphological differences into social, economic and political barriers, but such artificial barriers have always been the cause of racism – not the solution to it.

Just this week we have witnessed CRT in action in the “decision” of School Strike For Climate Auckland (SSFCA) to wind itself up. In spite of its obvious success in mobilising tens-of-thousands of mostly secondary-school students; and materially influencing the breadth and speed of the New Zealand Government’s response to the challenges of Anthropogenic Global Warming; SSFCA – “advised” by Maori and Pasifika groups also engaged in fighting Climate Change – declared themselves to be a racist organisation and handed over the entire cause to their slightly darker-skinned comrades.

The statement released by SSFCA was heart-breaking. To find an historical precedent for the document’s abject self-negation and unqualified acknowledgement of guilt it is necessary to go back to the “struggle sessions” of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution of the late-1960s. Or, even further back, to the “confessions” tremulously delivered by the broken victims of Joseph Stalin’s show trials in the 1930s. The shaming and vilification required to reduce these idealistic young people to a state of such utter intellectual prostration proves conclusively that human viciousness is not a trait peculiar to those whose skins are white.

The fate of the School Strike For Climate Movement in New Zealand must now be considered tenuous – at best. Across the country, activists will be struggling to come to terms with SSFCA’s decision. What should they do? Continue mobilising their generation against the greatest existential threat of our age? Do their best to fight off the CRT-based attacks on their alleged “white privilege” and racism? Or, should they, too, hand over the cause to Maori and Pasifika?

The temptation to adopt the latter course will be very strong. Although the School Strike For Climate Movement can put thousands of young people on the street, it is important to bear in mind that the organisational cores of such movements are actually quite small. Certainly, they are small enough to be intimidated and overwhelmed by CRT extremists ready, willing and able to wear them down in struggle-sessions of ever-increasing emotional intensity. If hardened Chinese Communists, veterans of Mao’s Long March, could be broken by such methods, it’s difficult to see Kiwi secondary-school kids resisting such unrelenting ideological pressures for very long.

The natural human response to such tactics is to say “F**k it!” and simply walk away. Sadly, it won’t just be the activists doing the walking. What’s the bet that a substantial number of those who formerly responded to the SSFC Movement’s calls will walk away with them? Word will spread about what happened in Auckland (and, other places) and a bright, sharp, sliver of iron will enter these young New Zealanders’ souls. They will struggle to resist the temptation to make a racist response, and yet, from somewhere deep inside them, the angry cry will rise: “Bastards!”

“You see?”, the CRT extremists will then respond. “We were right all along. The whole SSFC Movement is deeply and irretrievably racist.”

Not that CRT allows “White People” to be anything else. In essence, CRT is a Manichean system of thought. At its heart, an uncompromising struggle between Good and Evil; where Black, indigenous, people of colour – the righteous – are pitted against the incurably wicked White Supremacists. No room in CRT for the notion that what unites the human species is vastly more important than what divides it. Were Dr Martin Luther King still with us to share his dream that: “my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character”, the CRT extremists would shout him down.

To defeat global warming, humanity must be united. The zealotry of the Critical Race Theorists is making that much more difficult.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 18 June 2021.

Tuesday 15 June 2021

To Speak, Or Not To Speak? That Is The Question.

Speaking Rights: The spectacle of the nation’s prime minister being denied the right to speak to her fellow citizens, personally, on New Zealand’s national day would generate massive antagonism among Pakeha of both sexes. A refusal to be guided by the customs of Ngāpuhi, on the other hand, would be regarded as a slap in the face by the whole of Maoridom. It would be interpreted as proof of the fundamental insincerity that still bedevils the Pakeha world when it comes to accepting and respecting the values of New Zealand’s indigenous culture.

WAITANGI DAY is still more than half a year away: still plenty of time for Ngāpuhi to put things “right”. The promise made at Waitangi earlier this year: that from 2022 women politicians would be “allowed” to speak for themselves; will in all likelihood be honoured. The possibility exists, however, that Ngāpuhi will refuse to be dictated to by Pakeha feminists. A stiff-necked people, they may decide that their time-honoured tribal customs are not to be overturned at the behest of “White Privilege”. Requiring the Prime Minister to nominate a male colleague to speak on her behalf would, after all, be an interesting test of Labour’s commitment to honour the ways of te ao Māori – a very interesting test.

Certainly, such a requirement would place Jacinda Ardern in a very uncomfortable position. The spectacle of the nation’s prime minister being denied the right to speak to her fellow citizens, personally, on New Zealand’s national day would generate massive antagonism among Pakeha of both sexes. A refusal to be guided by the customs of Ngāpuhi, on the other hand, would be regarded as a slap in the face by the whole of Maoridom. It would be interpreted as proof of the fundamental insincerity that still bedevils the Pakeha world when it comes to accepting and respecting the values of New Zealand’s indigenous culture.

Given that there are a great many more Pakeha than Maori, simple political arithmetic suggests that the Prime Minister’s best course of action would be to politely decline the invitation to attend the Waitangi Day celebrations on 6 February 2022, and find a less contentious venue from which to deliver her speech. That course of action would not, however, be politically cost-free. It is easy to anticipate the Maori Party’s response to Jacinda’s “slighting” of Ngāpuhi. It would be presented as confirmation that for all their fine words about “partnership”, with Pakeha it is always “My way – or the highway.”

In left-wing circles the debate would be even more intense. Critical Race Theory would enjoin Whites to step away from their cultural and political privileges and accept the judgement of Ngāpuhi’s decision-makers. To do anything else, it would be argued (at least by some) requires the elevation of Pakeha notions of equality and liberty over Ngāpuhi’s understanding of women’s and men’s roles in the ceremonies of welcome and the processes of deliberation. Any assumption that the Western liberal tradition must take precedence over indigenous custom, these leftists would contend, is prima facie evidence of white supremacism. The Prime Minister would, in effect, be saying to Ngāpuhi: “My people’s values are superior to your people’s values.”

What’s more, that would remain the message, even if she chose to spend Waitangi Day somewhere else. Indeed, these leftists would argue that, in those circumstances, the message would be made much worse. By choosing to deliver her speech on the grounds of Government House – or somewhere like it – the Prime Minister would be guilty of “othering” Ngāpuhi. No matter what the text of her address might say, the sub-text would be crystal clear:

Isn’t it a pity that the sexism of Ngāpuhi is so deeply entrenched that civilised interaction between New Zealand’s two principal ethnicities has, for the moment, become impossible? We must earnestly hope that in time – and we hope that time is soon – they will decide to join us all in the modern world.

That was, after all, the essence of the message sent out by the last National Government when it decided to steer well clear of Waitangi until Ngāpuhi were prepared to meet the expectations of the New Zealand Government vis-à-vis the dignified celebration of Waitangi Day. To declare – albeit sub-texturally – that on the 6 February 1840, Ngāpuhi did, indeed, surrender their sovereignty to the British Crown.

Within Labour’s parliamentary caucus there are plenty of MPs – and not just those holding the Maori seats – who would be extraordinarily uncomfortable with such a message being sent out by a Labour Government. For them, the steady progress being made towards the bi-cultural nation envisaged in the He Puapua Report represents the biggest and most important project in which they are ever likely to participate. They believe in te Tiriti o Waitangi, they believe in the partnership model, and they believe that kawanatanga and rangatiratanga are two distinct political concepts. Co-governance will not, however, be possible without consistent and mutual respect for the customs, practices and values of the Pakeha world and te ao Māori.

Which is why, if Ngāpuhi insist that Jacinda accept the tradition that women do not speak on the paepae, then the Prime Minister will nominate a male colleague to speak on her behalf. Equally, however, Ngāpuhi is most unlikely to demand that of her. Stiff-necked Ngāpuhi may be – but no one has ever called them stupid.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 15 June 2021.

Monday 14 June 2021

Nobody Owns The Christchurch Tragedy.

Mass Outpourings Of Love And Solidarity: In excess of 20,000 Wellingtonians gathered at the basin Reserve in mid-March 2019 to reaffirm Prime Minister Ardern's "They are Us" response to the Christchurch Mosque Shootings. The opponents of the "They Are Us" movie project would rather the world was not reminded of the New Zealand people's inspirational reaction to Brenton Tarrant's terrorist crimes. Why? Because it contradicts fundamentally their "New Zealand is a colonialist, racist, white supremacist society" narrative.  

IT WOULD BE INTERESTING to know how most New Zealanders responded to the “They Are Us” movie project. The prospect of a movie recounting their country’s response to the Christchurch mosque attacks of 15 March 2019 would undoubtedly have evoked feelings of pride in a very large number of New Zealanders. That the central character of this historical drama was to be their own Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, would likewise have thrilled many Kiwis. Of equal interest, and perhaps more importance, however, would be some measure of New Zealanders’ reaction to the extraordinary hostility the “They Are Us” project has generated.

Over the space of just a few days, upwards of 55,000 signatures were gathered on-line for a petition opposing the film’s production. Within 48-hours of the project’s announcement, the Office of the Prime Minister felt obliged to issue a statement distancing Ardern from the production and making it clear that she’d had no warning of the film-makers’ intentions. The Mayor of Christchurch, Leanne Dalziel, publicly pilloried the project and curtly informed its promoters that they and their production crew would not be welcome in her city.

What motivated this astonishing outpouring of negativity and resistance? After all, the film’s promoters had made it clear from the get-go that the movie they hoped to make was not about the terrorist attack itself, or its victims, but about how a nation responded to an act of unprecedented savagery. Necessarily, the leader of that nation would be at the centre of the narrative because the New Zealand Prime Minister’s handling of the tragedy was a critical factor in shaping the overall response of her people.

It is important to pause here and acknowledge that Ardern’s reaction to the Christchurch shootings was as close to perfect as human-beings get. The world was by turns astonished and uplifted by her words and gestures. Ardern allowed humanity to rise above the evil of the terrorist’s actions. Few politicians are blessed with the skills to make such a contribution. So, why is it that so many have moved with such speed, and so much venom, to prevent this extraordinary story from being translated to the screen – and told again?

Superficially, the explanation is to be found in the film’s critics’ belief that the story of the Christchurch shootings belongs exclusively to its victims. That any work of art that fails to locate the terrorist’s, Brenton Tarrant’s, victims at its heart is not worth making. It is their story: not Jacinda Ardern’s story; not New Zealand’s story; not the World’s story; and no one has the right to make it anything else. As conceived, runs this argument, “They Are Us” reduces the attacks’ Muslim casualties to bit-players in their own tragedy. Tarrant treated them as objects to be used, and now the film’s promoters seem determined to do the same.

In one sense, those who make this argument are quite correct. Without the victims there is not only no story, but also no terror. Tarrant’s act has no meaning without the 51 defenceless Muslim worshippers who fell beneath his bullets. Likewise, without witnesses there can be no horror. Without families and friends left to grieve the dead, no pain. That’s how terrorism works. That’s why terrorism works.

Terrorism cannot be overcome, however, by fetishizing the horror and pain it causes and walling them in with its survivors. The act of terrorism is, by definition, a political act, and its intention is not only to shock, but to numb. The terrorist seeks to engender feelings of helplessness and, like all torturers, is hoping to extinguish hope itself. The evil of terrorism does not stop there, however, because the terrorist is also hoping to incite acts of political vengeance that will, in the long run, advance his cause.

When the followers of Osama Bin Laden flew jet airliners into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, they all knew that the resulting destruction of life and property would not materially weaken the United States. But, that was never the point. The purpose of the 9/11 attacks were to drive America mad: to set her on a course towards disaster and decline; to create a frenzied giant that would end up demolishing its own house. And, if we’re being truthful, they succeeded – beyond their wildest dreams.

Intentionally or inadvertently (it matters little) Tarrant’s terrorism has also successfully distorted the targeted country’s politics. Long before the Christchurch shooter pulled the trigger of his MSSA, there were individuals and groups on the left of New Zealand politics who characterised their country as a deeply immoral colonial state, founded upon and maintained by the principle of white supremacy. Its mostly European citizens, they alleged, were incurably racist, and their primary victims were the indigenous Maori. This systemic racism was not, however, confined to Maori. Xenophobia and Islamophobia were deeply ingrained in the White New Zealand population.

Tarrant’s crime offered those who subscribed to these ideas an extraordinary opportunity to inject them into the bloodstream of the political mainstream. Almost immediately, the Christchurch shootings were represented as the inevitable outcome of New Zealand’s white supremacist culture. A political agenda began to be advanced, which, if implemented in full, will result in the criminalisation of all thought and speech deemed inimical to the extreme anti-racist ideology. Depressingly, a great deal of this extremist agenda ended up in the recommendations of the Royal Commission of Inquiry Into The Christchurch Mosque Shootings.

Over the past two years, much energy has been expended on the Left to mask the central fact of the Christchurch tragedy: that it was conceived and executed by a Australian who had been radicalised online and overseas and who chose New Zealand to carry out his attack precisely because it was the least likely location for an act of white supremacist terrorism to be contemplated.

The truth of the latter proposition was demonstrated immediately following the Christchurch attacks by the statements and gestures of Jacinda Ardern, and by the answering outpouring of love and solidarity from the tens-of-thousands of Kiwis who gathered in all the main centres to express their determination to prevent Tarrant’s evil act from defiling and defining their nation. The last thing New Zealand’s anti-racist extremists need now is a feature film which re-tells and re-animates those feelings of love and solidarity.

Those demanding the abandonment of the “They Are Us” project have accused its promoters of using the victims of the tragedy as props in an outrageous attempt to further entrench the white privilege of Prime Minister Ardern, and to marginalise still further the 1.2 percent of New Zealanders who are Muslims. It is, however, possible to turn that attack on its head by observing that these anti-racist extremists could just as easily be accused of using the victims of the Christchurch shootings as a means of shutting down a cultural project that would show the world just how decent a society New Zealand’s truly is.

It is, quite simply, wrong to insist that the tragic events of 15 March 2019 belong to anything, or anyone, but History itself. Nor should it be forgotten that History lives only in its re-telling. The truth of the events that shape a nation emerges from many voices, many perspectives. The tragedy that unfolded at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques no more belongs to its victims than it does to its perpetrator. It belongs to the whole world. It is us.

This essay was originally posted on the Interest.co.nz website on Monday, 14 June 2021.

Sunday 13 June 2021

Hoping For Divine Intervention.

By Any Chance, Are These Two Related? Climate Change Commission Chair, Rod Carr, and Michelangelo's Jehovah. Is that the message hidden in the CCC's report? That only divine intervention can save the planet from the effects of anthropogenic global warming?

ROD CARR reminds me of God. Seriously, that beard. From a distance, in poor light, the God of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling could easily be mistaken for the Chair of the Climate Change Commission (CCC). More to the point, Carr seems to believe he possesses at least some of the powers of the Almighty. How else to explain the “transformational” plans he has developed to meet the, frankly, unachievable goals this government has set itself vis-à-vis greenhouse gas emissions? Contrariwise, maybe that’s exactly the message Carr is trying to send: “From here on in, folks, only divine intervention can save us!”

That the CCC and the Government have got this far without encountering very much in the way of pushback from the public (farmers don’t count as the public) is because New Zealanders have no idea how much their day-to-day lives will be affected if Carr’s masterplan becomes Government policy. Everybody pays lip service to fighting global warming, but beyond occasionally catching a bus, or walking – instead of driving – to the chippie, it’s business as usual. Hardly anyone is prepared for the radical change of lifestyle which Carr’s recommendations would require. So, when the climate change penny finally drops, all hell is going to break loose.

In a country currently engaged in a such a passionate love affair with the SUV, does the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, and the Climate Change Minister, James Shaw, truly believe New Zealanders are going to embrace electric motor vehicles without a backward glance? Do they seriously expect their political opponents to rise selflessly above all the opportunities for inflicting mortal injuries upon them by telling the voters that although they may not wanna – they hafta?

Four words: Not. Going. To. Happen.

Act’s David Seymour has already indicated the Right’s general direction of travel. He has called for Carr’s report to be thrown into the rubbish bin. Picking apart his response, it’s not difficult to predict the core content of the emerging right-wing narrative.

Carr’s plans are typically elitist in their lofty disregard for the lives of ordinary New Zealanders. Indeed, the burden of this plan of his will fall most heavily upon those Kiwis least able to bear it. Is the cleaner living in South Auckland, who travels miles each day by car to reach her workplace, seriously being asked to buy an electric vehicle? And even if the government finances her into one, how is she supposed to power it up?

When the whole global warming schtick is about not being able to take for granted all the weather events that make it possible to rely on hydro-electric energy and those godawful windmill thingies, what makes Carr and his minions so sure there will be enough electrical energy to keep a vehicle fleet of millions powered up? What if the snows don’t come? What if there’s a prolonged drought? What if the winds fall away to nothing for weeks at a time? I mean, presumably, the scientists call it “climate change” for a reason!

Seymour is also pointing the way, right-wing wise, when he counsels against New Zealand attempting to lead the world in its response to climate change. Why would we want to do that, he asks? What’s wrong with being a “fast follower”? Let others invest the billions in research. Let others develop the technological fix. Why shouldn’t we just do the best we can and await developments?

The Taxpayers’ Union is running a very similar line. This is what Jordan Williams had to say in response to Carr’s recommendations:

You might read in the media that the Commission has softened the hard edges of some of its targets (like electric vehicles and renewable energy). But working through the detail I’m sad to report that the plan doubles down on its most egregious and costly elements. Let me be very clear: this plan will not improve our ability to fight climate change. It deliberately shuns the ‘least cost’ approach and the Emissions Trading Scheme in favour of a ‘transformation’ of the New Zealand economy. This isn’t me saying this. The Commission’s own experts say that the ETS would actually get us to our emissions targets without radical interventions.

You can see where this is going, can’t you? This is going straight to the Right’s happy place, where calm and reasonable folk can say: “Look, we don’t have to change our lives in the way the CCC and the Ardern Government are suggesting. There’s a perfectly sensible scheme already in place. What’s wrong with telling people that if they want to consume a more-than-sensible amount of fossil fuel, then they’ll have to pay for the privilege? What’s wrong with letting the market decide?”

Oh, sure, the likes of Shaw, Marama Davidson and Julie-Anne Genter will wax eloquent about Aotearoa’s responsibility to do all it can to meet its Paris (and, in a few months, Glasgow) targets. They will insist that we have a moral duty to save the planet for our mokopuna. But by then, nobody will be listening. Why? Because the Right will be beating on the deplorable drum.

The deplorable drum? WTF is the deplorable drum? Well, that’s the drum that beats out the message that undermines everything God – I mean Rod – Carr and the Labour Government are trying to do.

And what message is that? The Right’s deplorable – but irrefutable – message is this. Read it and weep.

“Don’t listen to all these greenie idiots. Don’t let all this nonsense about New Zealanders having to step up to the challenge of climate change fool you. To hear people like Carr and Shaw and Ardern tell it, if we sacrifice our way of life, if we pull on the hair shirt of social and economic decline, then somehow we’ll be saved. Somehow, all over these blessed islands of ours, the climate will return to the norms of the Holocene. All BS, of course, because Climate Change is a planetary problem. And do you know how much this country contributes to the emissions that are threatening Mother Earth? No? Well, let me tell you. In 2014, our contribution was just 0.17 percent. That’s right. If we stopped using fossil fuels altogether. If we took ourselves back to the stone age in the name of saving the planet – no one would even notice. The only people who can save the planet are China and the United States. Will they? Well, that’s the only question that really matters, isn’t it? And we can’t answer it.”

A bitter truth? Oh, yes. But prepare to hear it spoken more and more forcefully in the years ahead. As the sun goes down on humanity’s hopes, and not even Rod Carr’s godlike self-confidence can disperse the encroaching darkness, I can’t help recalling the words of Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower:

“No reason to get excited”,
The thief he kindly spoke,
“There are many here among us
Who feel that life is but a joke.
But you and I, we’ve been through that
And this is not our fate.
So let us not talk falsely now,
The hour is getting late.”

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 11 June 2021.

Re-Writing The Rules of the Game: Where Chile is Leading, Can Aotearoa-New Zealand Follow?

People Power: Ending neoliberalism requires massive and militant action on the ground. Between 2019 and 2020, the young and the poor made Chile ungovernable. Engaging in running battles with the Police and facing-down the army’s bullets, they rendered the political class and its mainstream media mouthpieces increasingly irrelevant to what was happening in the streets, offices, shops, factories, schools and universities of the nation. 

THE EYES OF THE LEFT, all around the world, should be on Chile. Over the next twelve months a Constituent Assembly, comprised of 155 elected Chilean citizens, will draft a new constitution  for their battered and abused country. New constitutions are not written very often. South Africa, post-apartheid, wrote one – to world acclaim. So did Venezuela – and the rest of the world ignored it. Undaunted, the left-wing Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, had the Constitution’s key provisions printed on milk cartons, so every citizen, even the poorest, could know their rights.

Chile’s new constitution, however, is being written from scratch, an exercise that has not been attempted in a well-established nation state for more than twenty years. What’s more, with the Constituent Assembly dominated by the Left (in New Zealand, they’d be branded “Far Left”) the constitution which emerges from its deliberations will likely break new ground. Already, the members of the Constituent Assembly (MCA) are committed to ensuring that the rights of Chile’s indigenous people (roughly 10 percent of the population) are constitutionally protected.

The legislation establishing the Constituent Assembly mandated an equal number of male and female members. Interestingly, so radical was the popular mood that considerably more women ended up being elected to the Assembly than men – requiring the men’s numbers to be topped-up! Clearly the rights of women – in all political, economic, social and cultural spheres – will constitute a central pillar of the new constitution.

Given Chile’s tragic post-1973 history, it is also widely anticipated that the new constitution will explicitly repudiate the neoliberal tenets embedded in the constitution imposed upon the Chilean people from above by the military dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, in 1980. Chilean political commentators are predicting the inclusion of a slew of “social chapters” restoring to the state its key responsibility for maintaining the welfare of the people. The privatisation of key utilities – most particularly the water supply – may well be reversed as constitutionally untenable.

Essentially, Chile is engrossed in an extraordinary exercise aimed at reimposing the status-quo ante. Taking the nation back to the point it had reached under the socialist Popular Unity government of President Salvador Allende immediately prior to the military coup d’état of 11 September 1973. Allende died in that coup, and thousands more Chileans were murdered in the months and years that followed.

In the early 1970s, Allende’s government had been one of the most progressive in the world, making it that most dangerous of things – an example other peoples might feel inclined to follow. The USA, in particular, was terrified that Allende’s brand of democratic socialism might spread across Latin America. US President, Richard Nixon’s National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, summed-up the Administration’s position when he declared: “I don’t see why the United States should sit back and watch a country turn communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.”

With the Left crushed, Chile became the proving ground for the neoliberal theories of Professor Milton Friedman. All the measures with which the rest of the world would soon become agonizingly familiar: deregulation, privatisation, regressive fiscal policies, abandoning economic protectionism and opening the economy to foreign investors, dismantling the welfare state and destroying the trade unions; were tested out on the politically defenceless Chilean people.

Although a measure of democracy was restored to Chile in 1990, it was heavily circumscribed by the point-blank refusal of the political class in general (and the armed forces in particular) to countenance the slightest attempt to dismantle the neoliberal order Pinochet had so firmly established. It required nothing less than the global Covid-19 pandemic to generate the massive popular rising necessary to force the Chilean powers-that-be to sanction the calling together of a constituent assembly to re-write the rules of the political game.

There are a number of lessons here for Aotearoa-New Zealand – providing its progressive forces are ready and willing to learn from the Chilean example.

The first of these is that ending neoliberalism requires massive and militant action on the ground. Between 2019 and 2020, the young and the poor made Chile ungovernable. Engaging in running battles with the Police and facing-down the army’s bullets, they rendered the political class and its mainstream media mouthpieces increasingly irrelevant to what was happening in the streets, offices, shops, factories, schools and universities of the nation. In the course of making this uprising, the young and the poor learned “on the job” how to conduct their own politics – independent of the political parties which had traditionally represented their interests. (In the elections for the Constituent Assembly, the ruling right-wing party received fewer that 30 percent of the votes, and the equivalent of our Labour Party was outpolled by a combination of communists, anarchists, feminists, indigenous Chileans and environmentalists.)

The second lesson to be drawn from recent events in Chile, is that changing the rules of the game – i.e. drawing up a new constitution – is not something to be left to elite theorists meeting behind closed doors. New ideas, revolutionary ideas, cannot be imposed upon the population from above and remain progressive ideas. (Never forget that Rogernomics was a revolution imposed from above – with disastrous results for workers and beneficiaries.) If what the radicals and revolutionaries who pulled together the He Puapua Report are proposing is any good, then the young and the poor will make it their own. When that happens, all the rest will follow. Demand the election of a Constituent Assembly to write Aotearoa-New Zealand’s bi-cultural constitution. Let the young and the poor chose their own candidates. For the first time in decades give them the chance to cast a vote that matters. Throw an additional 700,000 votes onto the electoral scales – and see what happens.

There’s a third lesson to be drawn from Chile’s experience. Not, this time, from its recent experience, but from the experience of 1970-1973. And that lesson is: Make sure you have someone watching your back. Because who, in the end, can protect the work of Chile’s Constituent Assembly from the same forces that destroyed the work of Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity government? Who will stand between the people and the armed forces – guided and resourced by the United States? That’s not just a question for Chileans. Were the young and the poor of Aotearoa-New Zealand to successfully outmanoeuvre their own political class, where should they look for protection? Australia? The United States?

In the end, it’s the question that all revolutionaries must be ready to answer: “Having made the revolution, how do we keep it?”

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 10 June 2021.

Friday 11 June 2021

Hard Questions - Hard Answers.

Bodies On The Line: Unsurprisingly, in the aftermath of the 1981 Springbok Tour, Maori asked their Pakeha friends and comrades to explain why they were willing to get their heads broken for the rights of indigenous Africans, but had yet to put their bodies on the line for the rights of indigenous New Zealanders?

NATIONAL’S PAUL GOLDSMITH has become the target of considerable criticism for his stance on the impact of colonisation on Maori. Most particularly, he has been attacked for expressing the view that “on balance” the legacy of colonisation must be adjudged positive. Goldsmith’s explicitly historical perspective is, necessarily, a broad one. Politically-speaking, however, his opinions are downright incendiary. If he didn’t anticipate the fierce reaction his words were bound to provoke, then much of the National Party’s tone-deafness on Maori-Pakeha relations is explained.

Certainly, it is hard to fathom how National could have been part of the general political discourse in Aotearoa-New Zealand without grasping the centrality of colonisation to the current debate about the future shape of this country’s institutions. How could the party have missed the way in which the colonisation of Aotearoa-New Zealand has come to play the same role here as slavery plays in the race-driven ideological conflicts currently convulsing the United States?

Is National genuinely unaware of just how many of the ills currently afflicting Maori are attributed to the impact of colonisation? Every set of negative statistics: from consistently low levels of educational attainment, to the grossly disproportionate number of Maori in Aotearoa-New Zealand’s prisons; the whole sad saga of a people’s on-going under-performance has been laid unhesitatingly – and with undeniable justification – at the door of colonisation. How can the country’s largest political party not know this?

Part of the answer, perhaps, lies in the common misconception that “colonisation” is a word to be conjugated exclusively in the past tense. That it relates only to long-dead statesmen wearing wing-collars and staring out at us stiffly from the black-and-white plates reproduced in history books. Something that happened long ago. Something done and dusted. Something about which it is possible (and permissible) for Opposition National MPs to offer considered historical judgements.

Well, it’s not – and it really is astonishing that Paul Goldsmith and his colleagues could possibly believe that it is. The clearing of Bastion Point didn’t happen in the Nineteenth Century, it happened just 43 years ago, in 1978. That’s well within the lifetime of the Baby Boomers – and even of some Generation Xers. Paul Goldsmith, for example, would have been a 7-year-old the last time a pugnacious National Party prime minister staged a full-scale demonstration of the political, legal and military power of the New Zealand colonial state – for the benefit of tangata whenua.

It was that same prime minister, Rob Muldoon, who, just three years later, communicated an equally unmistakeable message to his core supporters – i.e. that the rights of people of colour counted for much less than the rights of White Rugby supporters living in Aotearoa-New Zealand and Apartheid-era South Africa. Unsurprisingly, in the aftermath of the 1981 Springbok Tour, Maori asked their Pakeha friends and comrades to explain why they were willing to get their heads broken for the rights of indigenous Africans, but had yet to put their bodies on the line for the rights of indigenous New Zealanders?

Could it be, they wondered, that fighting for South African Blacks cost them nothing, except a few bruises and a few nights in jail (for which they could claim bragging rights for the next 40 years!) while fighting for the lost lands, language and dignity of the original Maori inhabitants of Aotearoa could end up costing them everything that 140 years of colonisation had bequeathed Pakeha?

That was a hard question – and only a few of the Springbok Tour protesters were willing to give Maori an honest answer.

Forty years later, exactly the same question is being put to all Pakeha – with even greater force. More importantly, it is not just Maori doing the asking. Two generations after the Tour, the same challenges that were once laid at the feet of a relatively small group of left-wing activists are being laid down for the whole nation of Aotearoa-New Zealand to pick up. The children and grandchildren of those Springbok Tour protesters are looking at their elders with a steadfast gaze. As if to say: “It’s time.”

And still, apparently, Paul Goldsmith and his National Party colleagues, do not get it.

Perhaps Abraham Lincoln, who ended slavery in North America, can help them. These words are from his second inaugural address, delivered on 4 March 1865:

Fondly do we hope ─ fervently do we pray ─ that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether’.

Paul Goldsmith appears to believe Maori are in some way indebted to Pakeha. In truth, it’s the other way ‘round.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 11 June 2021.