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.