Sunday 31 July 2022

The Greens’ Unhappy Relationship With Power.

Rule-Breaker? It is easy to see why poor James Shaw found himself brutally deposed as the Greens’ co-leader. By seeking the responsibilities of leadership – and exercising them – he violated the first rule of Green Party governance. Then, by accepting the limitations of the Green Party’s electoral mandate (7.8 percent of the Party Vote) and practicing the art of the possible with Labour and National, he violated the second.

THE GREENS have a problem with power. The whole concept of leadership makes them uneasy. Who should have power? How should it be wielded? These are questions radical environmentalists have struggled with since the Values Party was formed 50 years ago. If nothing else, the peculiarly self-destructive actions of the Greens over the course of the past week have exposed how urgently the party needs to address and resolve the problems of political power.

Perhaps the first question that the Greens need to answer is: How much power do they want? This may sound like a silly question, but exactly how powerful the Greens see themselves becoming has never been all that clear. Unlike most parties, the Greens do not ask the electorate explicitly for a decisive parliamentary majority.

Now, you may say this reflects a commendable humility on the part of the Greens. By accepting that securing a parliamentary majority is beyond them, and that the best they can hope for is to partner a much larger party in a broad progressive coalition, they are, surely, acknowledging political reality? True, but they are also accepting that the amount of power they will ever be able to wield in their own right is limited.

Except, in the face of global warming and all the other environmental threats to the planet, isn’t the Greens’ acceptance of relative powerlessness a little self-defeating? Examining their manifesto, it is clear that unprecedented state power will be needed to achieve the goals the Greens have set themselves. Power that only a determined Green Prime Minister, Cabinet and Caucus, commanding a huge parliamentary majority, could hope to wield.

All of which confirms the Greens’ deeply contradictory relationship with power. Green Party members seem unusually diffident about exercising power in their own right, but are resentful of the power exercised by other party members over them. At the same time, the Greens aren’t the least bit fazed, collectively, by the idea of the entire population being required to submit to their party’s radical environmental remedies.

Blend these contradictions into a single Green political style and what do you get? A party deeply mistrustful of effective leadership. A party which gives more weight to the objections of minorities than it does to the affirmations of majorities. A party which compensates for its crippling internal contradictions by demanding unquestioning public compliance with Green Party policy. A party, moreover, which makes these demands fully aware that, on a good day, it represents barely a tenth of the electorate – and yet considers that enough.

With all this in mind, it is easy to see why poor James Shaw found himself brutally deposed as the Greens’ co-leader. By seeking the responsibilities of leadership – and exercising them – he violated the first rule of Green Party governance. Then, by accepting the limitations of the Green Party’s electoral mandate (7.8 percent of the Party Vote) and practicing the art of the possible with Labour and National, he violated the second.

Shaw’s first violation bespoke an unhealthy amount of un-Green ambition. His second dispelled the membership’s cherished illusion that maximum policy gains can be extracted, without compromise, on the basis of 10 out of 120 seats in the House of Representatives. His thumping victory notwithstanding (71 percent of the AGM’s voting delegates supported Shaw) the man obviously had to go!

It’s tempting to interpret Shaw’s landslide “victory” as evidence that the core of the Green Party membership retains a healthy measure of common-sense. Unfortunately, that same membership recently ratified a revised Green Party constitution that militates aggressively against common-sense. Only a party deeply ambivalent towards effective leadership, and deaf to the appeals of political realism, could endorse a process allowing 29 percent of voting delegates to declare an unopposed candidate with 71 percent support – not elected.

More to the point, the Greens’ constitution also attests to an ambivalent relationship with democracy itself. It takes a particularly virulent strain of individualism to construct a political ideology in which majorities are, at best, suspect, and, at worst, instruments of tyranny. Certainly, it places the Greens well outside the great movements for human liberation that have illuminated the past 250 years.

To save the world, you must be willing to lead it. If you would have us trust you to do that, then, for the planet’s sake, trust yourselves!

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 29 July 2022.

Friday 29 July 2022

Democracy And Daily Life.

Everybody Having A Say: Democracy commands us to look outward; it demands our trust; it tells us what is expected of our humanity; it elevates the collective above the self; it celebrates the things we have in common; it defines our morals and values; it calculates what we owe one another; it discovers life in solidarity; and it finds heaven in, and with, other people.

IS DEMOCRACY still the guiding political doctrine of New Zealand society? In how many institutions do democratic principles still inform decision-making? Do those who wield power in our society even believe in democracy anymore? What does it mean that, over the course of the last 40 years, democratic principles have largely ceased to inspire the conduct of public affairs? When even our political parties no longer take democracy seriously, can we really call ourselves a democratic nation state?

One approach to these questions is to ask ourselves to what extent we are invited to practice democracy in our daily lives. If we are workers, do we get to participate in the decisions of the organisations that employ us? If we are students, do we have any say in the content and structure of our courses? If we are unemployed, or beneficiaries, do we have any rights at all that we are able to enforce? And, if the answer to all these questions is an emphatic “No!”, then, once again, are we truly entitled to characterise the institutions in which we spend most of our waking hours, and/or upon which we rely for our daily bread – democratic?

These are very modern questions. True, participatory, democracy has not been a feature of human existence since the species ceased to operate in small groups of hunter-gatherers and allowed itself to be caught up in the hierarchies of “civilisation” – the city-based cultures made possible by the surpluses of the agricultural revolution.

Hunter-Gatherers - the first (and only true) democrats.
For most of the past 10,000 years the very idea of democracy – of everybody having a say in the running of things – would have been laughable. That was not the way the world worked. Slaves, peasant-farmers and women: the people who kept society going, had no say whatsoever. And even in those rare city-states where “freemen” managed to carve out a political role, democracy proved to be a fragile flower. For most of human history, tyrannies, monarchies and empires have been the norm.

The idea that all human-beings might have a role to play in the governing of a civilised society is only about 300 years old.

Ironically, democracy as a “modern” idea owes much to the encounters of European settlers with the indigenous hunter-gatherer and/or proto-agricultural peoples living in the lands they had “discovered”. The freedom enjoyed by the ordinary members of these societies contrasted sharply with the downtrodden condition of the ordinary people of Europe.

As the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) famously declared: “Man is born free, and everywhere [by which he meant Europe] he is in chains.” The Great Question was thus posed: Can human-beings be both “civilised” and “free”? Throughout the Nineteenth Century, the answer was a confident and optimistic “Yes.” The bloody Twentieth Century, however, vacillated crazily between “Yes” and “No”. So far, the Twenty-First Century’s response seems to be: “What do you mean by ‘civilised’?” and “What do you mean by ‘free’?”

We should not be deceived by this “post-modern” response to The Great Question. It is nothing more than ruling-class temporising. The infamous “One Percent” have already decided that freedom and civilisation are even less compatible today than in the past. They just don’t want to admit it to the Ninety-Nine Percent.

If you would see how free we are, go out into the streets and count the number of human-beings peering into tiny screens, ear-buds inserted, listening to their Master’s voice.

And what is their Master is saying? His message is a simple one: Look inwards for the truth. Trust only your own experience. Who you are cannot be defined by other people. Refuse to be distracted from the self you have made. There is nobody like you. Your morals and values are your own. You don’t owe anything to anyone. Solidarity is death. Hell is other people. (Hat-tip to Jean-Paul Sartre for that last one.)

Democracy contradicts every one of these propositions: it commands us to look outward; it demands our trust; it tells us what is expected of our humanity; it elevates the collective above the self; it celebrates the things we have in common; it defines our morals and values; it calculates what we owe one another; it discovers life in solidarity; and it finds heaven in, and with, other people.

Set forth in this fashion, the problems associated with democracy immediately become apparent. Who wants to be a democrat if it means giving up the self-absorbed existence which the material abundance of Twenty-First Century capitalism makes possible? And Leftists, don’t put too much faith in George Orwell’s plaintiff cry of: “If there is hope … it lies in the Proles”. They want the good life, too!

In a curious way, our self-centred, hyper-technologised, post-modern existence closes the circle on democracy. Originally, in our species’ hunter-gatherer mode, all discussion and debate was focused on the practicalities and purposes of survival. The business of being human was the business of staying alive for another day. Ten-thousand years later, it still is. The only difference, now, is that we believe we can do it on our own.

Democracy will flourish again only after we discover that we can’t.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 29 July 2022.

Thursday 28 July 2022

Tu Ingrate Vireta!* Stabbing The Green Caesar.

Struck Down: As James Shaw saved the pure Greens from themselves in 2017, they resented him. As he secured the Climate Change portfolio for his party, they suspected him. As he achieved cross-party support for crucial climate change legislation, they condemned him. And, as he was white, and male, and straight, and admired by a clear majority of Green Party members – as well, unforgivably, as the Prime Minister herself – they slew him with 29 daggers.

WHAT ARE THE GREENS telling us when they allow 29 people to overrule the wishes of 71 people? In essence, they are telling us that, in their political party, minorities count for more than majorities. Or, to put it more bluntly, the Greens are telling us they do not believe in democracy.

For those who look back fondly on the co-leadership of Rod Donald and Jeanette Fitzsimons, the Greens’ antipathy to democracy will be hard to accept. The Green Party they remember seemed very much a party of human rights and freedom, and its consensus-based decision-making process struck many as the epitome of political inclusiveness. Masking the fact that making decisions this way  actually disempowers people, stands among Rod’s and Jeanette’s most important contributions to the Green Party’s electoral viability.

How much harder it would have been for their party to crest the 5 percent threshold if Rod and Jeanette had openly repudiated traditional democratic decision-making processes. “We believe in allowing minorities to overrule majorities” is hardly an election-winning slogan!

The Greens’ anti-democratic instincts constitute one of the more important reasons why they have never allowed themselves to become a mass party with tens-of-thousands of members. And it’s odd, isn’t it, that they haven’t? When you think of the huge numbers of young people eager to do all they can to rescue the planet from disaster; or the scientists desperate to make themselves heard; or the workers keen to stop contributing to the despoilation of the natural environment; it’s astonishing that the Greens are not, far-and-away, New Zealand’s largest political party.

What is it, then, that leads the Greens to believe – like Lenin’s Bolsheviks – that “fewer, but better” is the way to go? The answer is brutally simple: a mass party, in which everyone has an equal say, and policy reflects the will of the majority; is a party whose ideological purity will very soon be compromised, and its political priorities side-tracked, by people with “unacceptable” ideas. Bluntly, Ecologism and Populism do not mix.

Those who join the Greens do not enter an open party, with simple, practical structures, but a strangely opaque organisation whose rules and rulers are hard to find and difficult to understand. It is a party of initiates who assess, rather than welcome, newcomers. How likely are these newbies to measure-up to the ideological and procedural strictures of the Greens? Will they be disruptive? Will they challenge the party’s precepts? Are they racists, sexists, homophobes, transphobes, and/or Islamophobes? Do they know what it means to be te Tiriti centric? Are they familiar with the jargon and buzz-words of the contemporary Left? What are their pronouns?

How many meetings will an ordinary person, keen to fight climate change, attend before people of indeterminate gender, with purple hair, talking menacingly of heteronormative white privilege, convince them that it might be wiser, and more enjoyable, to be a Green Party member who “works from home”. One? Two? Assuming, of course, they don’t decide they’d be better off getting involved in some other – any other – political party?

Fewer, but better?

Even the saintly Jeanette Fitzsimons had her Leninist side. I well recall an old time ecologist, one of those who fought to “Save Manapouri”, approaching me with a bitter tale of intolerance and exclusion. Unconvinced by Catherine Delahunty’s interpretation of the te Tiriti o Waitangi and its meaning, this Green Party member had argued for a more nuanced Treaty policy. Fatal mistake. When he put his name forward for the Party List he was informed bluntly by Jeanette that his views on the Treaty made him unfit to carry the Green banner into an election. His name was not even allowed to go forward to be ranked by the members – lest a lifetime of contributions to environmental politics prompted too many of them to overlook his “racism”.

To be accepted into the body of the Green Church, one must be willing and able to recite its catechism word perfect – and without demur.

This is the critical political weakness of the Greens – their unwillingness to repose the ultimate determinative power of their movement in the collective judgement of their party’s members. In the inner sanctum of the Green temple burn four torches: Ecological Wisdom, Social Responsibility, Appropriate Decision-Making, and Non-Violence. Their sacred flames are tended by priests and priestesses whose manner of induction remains mysterious, but whose powers extend even to striking down a co-leader, should his dedication to the party’s guiding lights be deemed insufficient.

As James Shaw saved these pure Greens from themselves in 2017, they resented him. As he secured the Climate Change portfolio for his party, they suspected him. As he achieved cross-party support for crucial climate change legislation, they condemned him. And, as he was white, and male, and straight, and admired by a clear majority of Green Party members – as well, unforgivably, as the Prime Minister herself – they slew him with 29 daggers.

And the 71 daggers, whose owners supported this Green Caesar, were powerless to defend him.

Because, whatever else the Greens may be – they are not democrats.

* You ungrateful Greens!

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 28 July 2022.

Wednesday 27 July 2022

Fighting Inflation – What Would A Democratic-Socialist Government Do?

Think Big: A democratic-socialist government could remove GST from basic food items. It could re-nationalise and centralise the generation and distribution of electric power, and then retail it to citizens at an affordable price. A democratic-socialist government could nationalise the public transportation system and make it free for everyone. A democratic-socialist government could even impose a “Carbon Footprint Tax” on imports. Only among neoliberals are “subsidy”, “tax”, and “tariff” dirty words.

CONFRONTED WITH THE CHALLENGE of a worsening cost-of-living crisis, what would a democratic-socialist government do? Right now, answering that question coherently and believably is the Left’s most important assignment.

The Right’s response to this challenge is relatively clear: throw the economy into recession, maintain strong downward pressure on aggregate demand; reduce public spending. The Centre-Left’s approach to the crisis differs in no serious respect from the Right’s. It hopes to achieve the same goals, using the same methods, but in such a way that their inherent social violence is masked by the rhetoric of “kindness”.

Unfortunately for Jacinda Ardern and her Cabinet, there is no “kind” way of bringing inflation under control while remaining within the ideological parameters of neoliberalism. The classical definition of inflation: too much money chasing too few goods; more or less writes the neoliberal government’s policy for it.

The first and most important objective is to reduce the amount of money in circulation. Neoliberals achieve this key goal by raising the cost of borrowing money. Those with mortgages are required to pay more, leaving households with less to spend. The price of capital also rises, applying the brakes to business expansion and investment. In the face of these developments the labour market contracts: raising the level of unemployment, increasing workers’ fear of “the sack”, and setting off a steady decline in real wages.

In short order, the problem of too much money in too many people’s pockets simply disappears – along with their cash and credit. But wait, there’s more. If a farmer cannot make a dollar by supplying the market with one cabbage, then he will supply it with two. There will be more cabbages to buy, and at a lower price.

And there you have it! The cost of living falls. The inflationary tide recedes. The problems confronting neoliberal economists and politicians are solved.

All well and good for the neoliberal economists and politicians, but not in any way good for the human-beings on the receiving end of their decisions. The great virtue of these macroeconomic measures, from the neoliberals’ perspective, is that they save them from having to deal with the devastating micro effects of their policies.

They don’t have to witness the expression on workers’ faces when they’re told that their employer is “letting them go”. They don’t hear the sobs of the young couple leaving the house they struggled so hard to buy, but whose mortgage they can no longer afford. The small businessman who cannot make the numbers add-up, no matter how hard he tries, suffers alone – a casualty of capitalism’s “creative destruction”. The real-world effects of a neoliberal government’s economic policies occur in places where the politicians who set them in motion seldom visit.

In the long run, though, everyone is better-off for having helped to beat inflation and bring the cost-of-living under control. Such is the refrain of the neoliberal decision-makers. It is a bleak sort of consolation, akin to that of the General who praises the sacrifice of thousands of conscript soldiers – all of them killed by the murderous ineptitude of his military tactics. There are ways to win battles that do not necessitate slaughter. There are ways to beat inflation that do not depend on simultaneously beating-up the nation’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens.

But, what are these ways? How can inflation be beaten without inflicting economic pain on the weakest members of society?

For democratic-socialists, the answer lies in using the enormous power of the state to regulate the economy. Exactly the same power that neoliberalism currently uses to entrench the power and privilege of the capitalist elites.

Because the power of the state does not have to be used to keep the private sector profitable. The power of the state could just as easily be used to freeze mortgage rates, cap the prices of necessities, and control rents; to raise appreciably more revenue from its wealthiest citizens; and to levy “windfall” taxes on all those corporations guilty of racking-up excessive profits during the Covid-19 pandemic. (Even Boris Johnson’s Conservatives did that!)

At the same time, a democratic-socialist government could remove GST from basic food items. It could re-nationalise and centralise the generation and distribution of electric power, and then retail it to citizens at an affordable price. A democratic-socialist government could nationalise the public transportation system and make it free for everyone. A democratic-socialist government could even impose a “Carbon Footprint Tax” on imports. Only among neoliberals are “subsidy” “tax” and “tariff” dirty words.

To be fair to Jacinda and her Finance Minister, Grant Robertson, they have made a modest effort towards subsidising petroleum and public transport. They have also provided many New Zealanders with a “Winter Energy Payment”. These are good moves, but they are nowhere near enough.

Sadly, the full mobilisation of the state’s powers to bring down the cost-of-living, tax excess profit and  wealth out of circulation, and reconfigure the ownership of what are, in truth, “social” industries for the benefit of the many, not the few, is still beyond the range of this Government’s political imagination. Nearly 40 years of neoliberalism has robbed Labour of the courage and creativity that, in the 1930s and 40s, made New Zealand a model democratic-socialist state.

Conservatives reading this post will shriek “Muldoonism!” And, they will be right. But there is another way to look at Rob Muldoon’s economic management, apart from using it as shorthand for everything that was wrong with New Zealand in the 1970s and 80s.

It is possible to recast Muldoon’s policies as proof of how deeply ingrained the determination to look after the interests of ordinary people had become in the New Zealand political system. Muldoon subsidised and regulated and controlled because the alternative – letting “market forces” rip – would leave far too many casualties in its wake. When Rob Muldoon promised “New Zealand the way YOU want it” – he meant it.

That the Labour Party was willing to inflict those casualties; that to keep the good opinion of Treasury and The Business Roundtable it was willing to abandon its democratic-socialist principles; and that, to this very day, its political creativity remains stunted by the neoliberal dogma it cannot seem to abandon; strikes me as a far greater crime than any Rob Muldoon may have committed. In the end, even the Springbok Tour made New Zealand a stronger country.

But, neoliberalism has not made New Zealand a stronger country, it has made it weaker. When the instinct of both its major parties is to use the nation’s weakest citizens as economic cannon-fodder, then surely it is time New Zealanders made “neoliberalism” a dirty word? Imposing cruelty in the name of kindness has only ever left humanity with more that is cruel, and less that is kind. It is not what democratic-socialists do.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 22 July 2022.

Tuesday 26 July 2022

Conspiracies Against The Truth.

Pure Poison: It is when the fetid atmosphere created by the Right’s toxic accusations and denunciations is at its thickest, that comparisons with the Woke Left spring most easily to mind. If the level of emotion on display, and the strength of the invective used, is inversely related to the truth of the claims being advanced, then the veracity of a great deal of contemporary left-wing discourse must surely be called into question.

THE UNITED STATES OF CONSPIRACY is a Frontline documentary by Michael Kirk, Mike Wiser, Jim Gilmore and Philip Bennett. It examines the rise of conspiratorial politics in the United States from the early 1990s until the election of Donald Trump – paying particular attention to the role played by Alex Jones and his online vehicle, Infowars, in the weaponisation and normalisation of conspiracy theories. The influence of Jones’ falsehoods on the style and content of Trump’s campaigning was immense. The documentary makers’ claim that conspiracy theories now constitute an important component of mainstream political discourse is as troubling as it is true.

The assumption, after Trump and QAnon, is that the weaponisation of conspiracy theories is primarily (some would say exclusively) a strategic innovation of the Right. But, what if the counterfactual – that conspiracy theories have their origins on the Left – turned out to be true?

What if, ever since the triumph of neoliberalism in the 1980s and 90s, a consistent and increasingly complex web of left-wing conspiracy theories has been woven around that ideology’s success? Theories characterising the entire neoliberal project as the conscious product of a collection of right-wing individuals who, working largely in secret, had set out to undermine and dismantle the entire social-democratic post-war economic order. A cabal whose long-term objective was to make it impossible for social-democracy to ever again threaten the dominance of Capitalism’s economic and social elites.

To such a claim, the Left would immediately raise the objection that the above description of neoliberalism’s success is not a conspiracy theory, but the plain and simple truth. They would point to the very real Mt Pelerin Society, the notorious Powell Memorandum, the plethora of right-wing think-tanks, and such elite retreats as Bohemian Grove and Davos.

The Left’s claim would be that neoliberalism didn’t just happen, it was organised by flesh-and-blood human-beings. Conspiracies belong to the Right, they’d say, for the very simple reason that the outcomes intended by the conspirators inevitably involve impoverishing the many for the profit of the few.

The Left’s position on conspiracy theories is, therefore, relatively straightforward: it doesn’t need them. The Right, on the other hand, has no choice except to conspire behind an opaque curtain of lies. Bluntly, it cannot afford to tell the truth.

But if conspiracy theories are nothing more than politically-inspired deceptions, a definition which The United States of Conspiracy more than justifies, then where does that leave the claims of (for want of a better term) the “Woke Left”?

The quality that most distinguishes Alex Jones’ conspiracy theories is the heightened emotional state in which he communicates them. Jones rages, he weeps, he shouts at the camera and shakes his fists. Only very rarely does he communicate with his followers in a calm and reasoned fashion. It’s as if he is compensating for the lack of facts and evidence in his wild claims, by directing ever more extreme displays of anger and disgust towards the individuals and groups he is attacking.

It is when the fetid atmosphere created by the Right’s toxic accusations and denunciations is at its thickest, that comparisons with the Woke Left spring most easily to mind. If the level of emotion on display, and the strength of the invective used, is inversely related to the truth of the claims being advanced, then the veracity of a great deal of contemporary left-wing discourse must surely be called into question.

On the issues of race and gender particularly, the Woke Left’s almost instant recourse to accusation and denunciation is alarmingly reminiscent of Alex Jones and his imitators. There is the same determination to discipline, punish and suppress the perpetrators of willful falsehoods and the upholders of heretical doctrines. Most alarming of all is the shared proclivity of the Conspiratorial Right and the Woke Left to dehumanise their opponents. Alex Jones describes his enemies as “demons”, the Woke Left brands its enemies as racists, fascists and TERFs.

Naturally, these highly emotive defences of Woke political positions raise questions about whether or not they can be validated by more rational, evidence-based, discussion.

It has always been the Left’s mission to convince by means of reason and science: building toward a crushing demolition of its foes’ arguments by assembling a battering-ram of verifiable facts. This process cannot be successful if the right of those to whom the Left’s case is being made to interrogate its facts is denied. Facts cannot be asserted, facts can only be proved. Unfortunately, the Woke Left is not at all disposed to proving its facts in the cut and thrust of open political debate. It offers dogma. It punishes heresy. But it is only rarely willing to enter into open-ended discussion.

The lies of Alex Jones, his disgusting conspiracy theories, are, fortunately, easy to refute. The 9/11 attacks were perpetrated by Al Qaeda, not the US Government. The Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre was a devastating human tragedy, not a “false flag operation” performed by actors. The Queen of England is not a shape-shifting lizard. Hilary Clinton is not a demon from hell. The Comet Ping-Pong pizzeria is not the epicentre of a diabolical Democratic Party paedophile ring.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for the claims of the Woke Left. That the Māori chiefs at Waitangi never signed away their sovereignty; complainants of sexual assault never lie; biological sex is a social construct; may or may not be statements of fact, but they are beyond doubt claims of extraordinary political significance.

What The United States of Conspiracy revealed is what might be dubbed an “epistemological crisis”, i.e. the extreme danger posed to the coherence of contemporary societies by the unprecedented lack of a generally agreed means of determining what we know, and how we know it.

The most dangerous conspiracy theory of them all is the one that declares there’s a whole host of dangerous people out there who simply will not accept that ours is the only side that knows the truth.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of  Thursday, 21 July 2022.

The Greens’ Minority Rules.

Poll Axed: What happened to James Shaw on Saturday, 23 July 2022 exposed the Greens’ minoritarian political culture for all to see. Once voters grasp the enormity of 30 percent of Green delegates to the Green AGM being constitutionally empowered to overrule the wishes of the 70 percent of delegates backing Shaw – an overwhelming majority – the party faces electoral death.

PERHAPS THE GREATEST SERVICE Jeanette Fitzsimons and Rod Donald rendered the Greens was making New Zealanders believe they were democrats. Their engaging personalities and considerable political skills masked the fact that Green politics has never been (and likely never will be) democratic. The whole ethos of the Green movement, here and overseas, is minoritarian. By concealing that fact, Jeanette and Rod made the Greens electorally viable.

What happened to James Shaw on Saturday, 23 July 2022, however, has exposed the Greens’ minoritarian political culture for all to see. Once voters grasp the enormity of 30 percent of Green delegates to the Green AGM being constitutionally empowered to overrule the wishes of the 70 percent of delegates backing Shaw – an overwhelming majority – the party faces electoral death.

But, why minoritarianism? Partly, the Greens loathing of majorities is attributable to the social milieu out of which the green movement arose, but mostly it is based on their unshakeable conviction that their view of the world is the only correct view, and that, unfortunately, most of the human species are simply too stupid to recognise the fact. Greens are elitists – and proud of it.

If challenged on this point, the Greens will point out that they were the ones who first recognised the existential threat posed by climate change – and that was long before the mainstream parties were even willing to fully acknowledge its reality. They will remind us that it was the Greens who first recognised how seriously corporate mendacity had compromised the fruits of genetic engineering. Who, they will demand, were the first to elect co-leaders and make their party te Tiriti centric? The list goes on and on. As Rod Donald was fond of reminding New Zealanders: The Greens are not on the Left, the Greens are not on the Right. The Greens are out in front.”

All very well and good – until the seers and prophets responsible for this farsighted vanguardism are presented with the practical difficulties of running a political party aspiring to electoral viability. At that point it becomes necessary to find a way to prevent the purity of the party’s principles and policies from being forced to endure the lowest-common-denominator arbitration inherent in the crude majoritarianism of democratic decision-making.

The Greens’ solution to this problem was the adoption of “consensus-based” decision-making. Superficially, this sounded super-democratic. Rather than allow 51 percent of the party to dominate the remaining 49 percent, the Greens would do all within their power to ensure that their principles and policies enjoyed the broadest possible agreement.

Few voters, however, bothered to follow the logic of the Greens’ argument right through. If they had, it would very soon have become obvious that “consensus-based” decision-making allows the faction composed of the party leadership and its hangers-on to exercise a veto over the party’s ultimate direction. Unwilling to embarrass or challenge the people in charge, party delegates could be prevailed upon to delay, postpone, or simply compromise out of all recognition, proposals supported by a clear majority of the membership.

Should the veto-wielding minority prove intransigent, however, constitutional provision was made for the blocking of consensus to be over-ridden by a supermajority vote of 75 percent + 1. Turn that around, of course, and you have conferred veto powers on 25 percent + 1 of the members and their delegates.

This is hardly a recipe for genuine consensus, more a guarantee of simmering resentments and ceaseless factional manoeuvring. It is also, presumably, the reason why the constitutional provision which laid James Shaw’s hopes low on Saturday was approved. If a minority leadership clique could exercise its veto over the wishes of the rank-and-file majority, then it was only fair that a rank-and-file minority of just 25 percent + 1 could negate the unopposed candidacy of an incumbent co-leader with upwards of 70 percent membership support.

That a constitution permitting such antics was entirely unsuited to a political party seeking genuine political influence – up to and including Cabinet positions – does not appear to have occurred to either the people who drafted it, or the members who voted for it.

What it does point to, however, is a party unwilling to embrace the brute realities of parliamentary politics. There is absolutely no point in making its MPs available for Cabinet posts, if a quarter of a party’s members are resolutely opposed to its MPs engaging in the delicate business of building cross-party support, accepting the compromises inherent in coalition politics, negotiating in good faith with those interest groups most directly affected by proposed policy changes, and otherwise engaging in the “art of the possible” that is democratic politics.

It is simply astonishing that James Shaw, who has demonstrated considerable political skill in securing the support of four out of the five parliamentary parties for the Government’s climate change legislation, could be treated so appallingly by an intransigent minority of the Greens’ membership for doing precisely what 70 percent of the party asked him to do.

Nor is it just the abusive conduct directed against Shaw personally that is astonishing. Even worse is the message sent by the 30 percent of delegates who voted to re-open his nomination. Clearly, they are not in the least bit concerned what the rest of the country makes of their actions. The single most important lesson of party politics: that disunity is death; has failed to sink in.

With most of Shaw’s opponents supposedly located in the “Youth Wing” of the Greens, it must be assumed that the example of the Alliance is too far in the past to offer these children any guide as to what happens to a small political party which very publicly attacks its leader and then proceeds to tear itself apart.

And it simply will not do to explain away the self-destructive character of their decision by referencing the anger and despair of the generations destined to endure the worst effects of global warming. If the urgency of the climate crisis has already passed beyond the capacity of parliamentary politics-as-usual, then come out honestly and say so. Let the Greens’ Youth Wing put it to their party membership that there must be no more coalitions, no more compromises, no more democracy. Let them ask the electorate instead for the equivalent of wartime powers to fight the greatest threat to human survival since the last Ice Age.

They should be prepared, however, for considerably more of the Greens’ membership than 25 percent to reject such a policy. More importantly, they should be prepared for something pretty close to 75 percent of the New Zealand electorate to signal their willingness to stand up and fight for democracy.

If the only reason “the Greens are out in front” is because nobody else is willing to go anywhere near them, then Rod Donald’s bold assertion is no longer a boast – it’s an epitaph.

This essay was originally posted on the website on Monday 25 July 2022.

Friday 22 July 2022

Poverty Is Indivisible, Ms Swarbrick.

Rights Of Passage: Very few would dispute Chloe Swarbrick’s contention that no citizen should be expected to suffer poverty – not even those who, in five to ten years’ time, will find themselves among the top 5 percent of income earners. Paying an exorbitant sum for the privilege of freezing in a leaky, moldy flat is not a “rite of passage” to be endured. It is exploitation pure and simple, and should not be permitted.

CHLOE SWARBRICK is a mystery. Whip smart and unafraid of courting controversy, she is also frustratingly conventional when it comes to solutions. Her latest cause, battling student poverty, illustrates the problem very neatly.

Very few would dispute Swarbrick’s contention that no citizen should be expected to suffer poverty – not even those who, in five to ten years’ time, will find themselves among the top 5 percent of income earners. Paying an exorbitant sum for the privilege of freezing in a leaky, moldy flat is not a “rite of passage” to be endured. It is exploitation pure and simple, and should not be permitted.

But why ring-fence these instances of exploitation with the term “student poverty”? Like the term “child poverty” it pretends that privation and exploitation can be situated in discrete categories and remediated piecemeal. As a political tactic, it is not only self-defeating, but also morally questionable. (And that is being kind!)

In what ethical universe is it acceptable to pour resources into the amelioration of “student” and “child” poverty, while those who are not students or children are permitted to slowly fade from the big poverty picture?

How could it possibly be okay to support university students with an allowance of $400 per week, while refusing to pay young unemployed individuals more than $200 per week? Why would you advocate for a rent cap on student accommodation, while doing nothing about the rack-renting of low-paid workers and their families?

Advocacy of this sort cannot help but convince those who find themselves outside the ranks of the “deserving poor” that they are socially worthless. Students need support because very soon they’ll be running the country. Today’s law students are tomorrow’s lawyers and judges. Today’s med students are tomorrow’s doctors. Today’s communications studies students are tomorrow’s prime ministers. But today’s functionally illiterate high-school drop-outs are tomorrow’s what? Drug addicts? Prostitutes? Gang members? Convicts? Who needs them?

Intended, or not, there is the unpleasant odour of class politics about Swarbrick’s attack on student poverty. Understandable, I suppose, after 40 years of neoliberalism. These days we look after our own.

Interviewed on RNZ’s “Morning Report”, Swarbrick lamented what she described as 40 years of deliberate disempowerment of university students as a force for political and social change. Although she is far too young to have any personal memories of the days when the nation’s campuses seethed with radical ideas, and student demonstrations against war and racial injustice numbered in the tens-of-thousands, Swarbrick was clearly aware how decidedly the times have changed. Particularly damaging, she suggested, was the abolition of compulsory student union membership. Its demise had fatally weakened the student movement.

“Bullshit!”, I shouted at the radio. Student unions, compulsory or voluntary, had little to do with the explosion of student radicalism in the 1970s and 80s. In fact, these student “associations” were inherently conservative institutions.

No, student radicalism arose from a heady brew of individual self-discovery, fearless teachers, and the challenging headlines of the era. It bubbled-up out of the vigorous, open-handed, social-democratic society post-war New Zealand had become. And, when neoliberalism buried that society in the late-1980s and 90s, student radicalism died with it.

Swarbrick’s demand for a top-down reinvigoration of the student movement is symbolic of a generation that has yet to experience the sheer joy of finding its own power. If she paused to reflect for a moment, Swarbrick would remember top-down is never the answer.

New Zealand’s universities are bursting at the seams with young people: scores-of-thousands of them concentrated in seven campuses – usually not that far from the heart of the cities in which they are located. What could these young people not achieve if they decided to shake off the ideological chains in which they have allowed themselves to become enmeshed? What concessions could they not extract from the Powers That Be when once they learned that what unites human-beings is infinitely more compelling than what divides them?

Perhaps Swarbrick and the Greens could begin by urging tomorrow’s lawyers, doctors and prime ministers to tackle poverty and injustice with the same selfless dedication as Christchurch’s “Student Army” tackled the aftermath of a killer earthquake.

Poverty – not “student poverty” – is the enemy. Fight it in unity. Historically-speaking, students’ power reaches its zenith, morally and politically, when they’re putting the needs of others ahead of their own.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday 22 July 2022.

Tuesday 19 July 2022

The Danish Solution: How Repudiating Co-Governance Could Be the Saving Of Labour.

Copenhagen Was Worth A Mass* The Danish Social-Democratic Party leader, Mette Frederiksen, greeted by supporters during her successful 2019 general election campaign.

THINK OF DENMARK – go on, think of Denmark. What springs to mind? Lego? The Little Mermaid? Squishy little segments of surprisingly tasty cheese? Bacon? Slaughtered Minks? How many of you are thinking of a social-democratic political party reversing its electoral decline by adopting the immensely popular immigration policies of insurgent right-wing populists? Not a lot. Hardly surprising. How often do New Zealand’s news editors think of Denmark?

“The Danish Solution” is worth considering, however, as our own General Election draws ever nearer. Since the political survival instinct is every bit as strong as any other, we should not be surprised when failing politicians and failing parties adopt policies that outrage their supporters. If their ideological heresy is rewarded by the voters, then it’s amazing how quickly that outrage fades. If the voters remain unimpressed? Well, then there will be blood.

Faced with impending electoral disaster, what might New Zealand’s social-democrats throw overboard?

If Denmark offers us any guide, then the choice will be driven by fear of the racial “other”. The right-wing populist Danish Peoples Party made huge electoral gains in 2015 by offering to protect their country from the problems Sweden had brought upon itself by opening its doors to refugees and immigrants from the ravaged countries of the Third World.

Over the course of five decades, Sweden went from being one of the most racially homogeneous societies on Earth, to a global poster-child for the virtues of multiculturalism. For Swedish social-democrats, this policy of welcoming the persecuted and the vulnerable was an article of left-wing faith: proof that their country, unlike so many of their European neighbours, was not irredeemably racist.

Except that large sections of Swedish society were deeply hostile to multiculturalism. Among the Swedish upper-classes, in particular, the ideology of 1930s fascism lingered on long after the end of the Second World War. As the number of immigrants grew, the Swedish far-right grew with them. Racist xenophobia and Islamophobia inspired racist assaults and arson attacks on refugee centres. Undaunted, the Swedish social-democrats held firm to their multicultural dream – and were voted out of power.

Determined not to lose again, the Danish social-democrats opted to bend to the will of the majority. The massive surge of support for the Peoples Party’s hardline anti-immigration policies convinced them that the Danes had no intention of going down the same road as the Swedes. Failure to respond to the clearly expressed preferences of the electorate threatened to condemn the Danish Social-Democratic Party to the status of an also-ran: politically correct, but reduced to making up the numbers for larger, more responsive and racially exclusive coalitions of political parties.

Among the Danish anti-racist Left, the social-democrats’ about-face on immigration represented a shameful capitulation to all that was rotten in the state of Denmark. Better, they said, to remain pure and powerless, than to compromise their foundational principles in the name of reclaiming the DSDP’s lost power.

But, as the Australian Labor leader, Gough Whitlam, told the ideologically obdurate and inflexible left-wing of the Victorian Labor Party in 1967, by advancing such an argument: “We construct a philosophy of failure, which finds in defeat a form of justification and a proof of the purity of our principles. Certainly, the impotent are pure.” Or, as the late Jim Anderton expressed it, rather less tartly: “One day in Government is worth a thousand days in Opposition.”

It may soon be the New Zealand Labour Party’s turn to make a similar choice between the impotence of morally unimpeachable Opposition, and the ethical compromises attendant upon winning, retaining and wielding political power. Just as Helen Clark was required to choose between capitulating to the Court of Appeal’s foreshore and seabed decision, and seeing Don Brash’s National Party ride to victory in the 2005 General Election; or retaining sufficient Pakeha support to remain in office, even at the cost of alienating enough of Labour’s Māori support to make the formation of an independent Māori Party a realistic proposition.

It would be fascinating to know just how far the electorate’s opposition to Labour’s policies of “co-governance” extends. Given the extent of its polling and focus-grouping, one can only assume that Labour’s strategists are well aware of the consequences of rolling out the policy as currently configured. Were it not for National’s and Act’s clear determination to exploit the Pakeha public’s fear of co-governance, it would be easy to assume that only a small minority of the population are sufficiently exercised by the ideas contained in the controversial He Puapua Report to make them the key determinants of their voting choices.

That National and Act are unwilling to give away the co-governance issue (as Key gave away National’s opposition to the anti-smacking legislation in 2008) strongly suggests that Labour’s policy is shaping-up to be one of the hottest “hot-button” issues of 2023.

The only explanation for the Labour Caucus’ Pakeha majority’s consistent refusal to jettison the party’s commitment to co-governance is its fear that such a decision would spark a full-scale revolt in Labour’s Māori caucus. A revolt so serious that a mass desertion of Māori MPs to the Māori Party could not be ruled out.

In such circumstances, neither the continued loyalty of the Greens, nor that of the entire Labour caucus, could be counted on by the Labour leadership. The resulting parliamentary crisis could only be resolved by calling a snap election.

Could the adoption of “The Danish Solution” rescue Labour? Much would depend on how effectively the Labour leadership presented the range of choices confronting the electorate. If National and Act could be presented as the radical right-wing alternative, whose extremist policies would almost certainly spark serious civil strife, Labour would be able to present itself as a moderate hand-brake on the equally radical co-governance ambitions of the Māori Party and the Greens. Adroitly handled, Labour could emerge from the crisis as the only party capable of keeping the peace. As such it could call upon the electorate to give it the numbers in Parliament to frustrate the reactionary plans of the Right and the revolutionary programme of the Left.

National and Act would gnash their teeth in fury. The Māori Party and the Greens would condemn Labour as sell-outs, moral cowards and traitors. But when the smoke cleared, Labour would find itself finally free of its historical ties and obligations to Maoridom – those would now belong to the Māori Party exclusively. From this position, Labour could advance itself as the only reliable defender of te Tiriti o Waitangi and the democratic and egalitarian principles it embodies.

An altogether preferable alternative to Labour fading into political irrelevance, as a triumphant Right lays waste to New Zealand’s three most precious taonga: Egalitarianism, Democracy – and the Treaty itself.

* Henry of Navarre, a protestant, by converting to Catholicism, made himself King Henri IV of France. When asked to justify his abandonment of Protestantism, Henry replied: “Paris is worth a mass”.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 19 July 2022.

Monday 18 July 2022

An Unvarnished, Straight-Talking Working-Class Man?

Unrepentant Scrapper: Any normal candidate would have run a mile from Guy Williams – rightly fearing the humiliation the comedian would be straining every muscle to inflict upon his hapless victim. But, Leo Molloy is not a normal candidate. The former jockey, qualified veterinarian, highly successful businessman, restauranteur and philanthropist backed himself to beat his woke young interlocutor into a soft-cocked hat.

SINCE NOVEMBER 2016, one of the big unknowns of New Zealand politics has been: Could Trumpism happen here? Over the past week in Auckland there have been strong indications that the answer is: Yes, it could. We even have a name. New Zealand’s Donald Trump may turn out to be the independent candidate for the Auckland mayoralty, Leo Molloy.

Molloy’s tactics on the hustings, and their similarity to those employed by Trump in his quest for the Republican nomination, have been commented upon since the mayoral campaign began to pick up speed. His most serious challenger from the right, former Heart of the City boss, Viv Beck, he has dismissed as “Vanilla Viv”. Former Far North District Council Mayor, Wayne Brown, now falling back in the Curia/Ratepayers Alliance poll, is dismissed by Molloy as “The Walking Dead” – subsequently amended to the even more insulting “Shuffling Dead”.

The problem for Molloy’s opponents, as it was for Trump’s, is that these jibes make audiences laugh. Political aspirants on the stump can survive many things, but the derisive laughter of those whose votes they are soliciting is, generally speaking, not one of them. Molloy’s wicked sense of humour and unrestrained tongue are dangerous weapons.

Until last week, however, Molloy’s Trumpian stump tactics have gone unnoticed by all but the most dedicated followers of local government politics. The latest Curia/Ratepayers Alliance poll showed the Labour/Green endorsed Efeso Collins edging ahead of Molloy – a trend which powerfully reinforced the argument of the Auckland Right that the only sensible strategy was for the unserious jokester, Molloy, to withdraw in favour of the moderate and exceedingly serious Viv Beck.

Efeso Collins could be defeated, the Auckland Right insisted, but only if the numerically superior mass of conservative voters were united behind a single viable candidate. Conservative pundits further suggested that nationwide success for the Right in 2023 was contingent upon it ripping Auckland from the Left’s grasp in 2022. The time had come for all those who, in this fatally overcrowded field, could not hope to defeat Collins, to swing their supporters behind Ms Beck – the candidate most favoured by the Communities and Residents group and the National Party.

But the broadcast of TV3’s “New Zealand Tonight” on the evening of Thursday, 14 July 2022, threw all the sensible plans of the Auckland Right into the air. Comedian Guy Williams had persuaded Molloy to join him on one of his trademark forays into televised journalistic anarchy and questionable taste. The result is generally agreed to have been a gamechanger.

Any normal candidate would have run a mile from such a proposal – rightly fearing the ridicule and humiliation Williams would be straining every comedic muscle to inflict upon his hapless victim. But, Molloy is not a normal candidate. The former jockey, qualified veterinarian, highly successful businessman, restauranteur and philanthropist backed himself to beat his young woke interlocutor into a soft-cocked hat.

What unfolded was an magical moment of gonzo television. Using the sort of language generally confined to male locker-rooms, Molloy soon had Williams hanging on the ropes of his own boxing ring. It was vulgar, disreputable and extremely funny. Between them, Williams and Molloy carved out a decorum -free-zone that threw into sharp relief the po-faced puritanism of the contemporary mainstream news media. Within hours of being released by TV3, the Williams/Molloy encounter was all over social-media. The usual woke commissars were, unsurprisingly, outraged, but thousands more were delighted.

It was Oscar Wilde who quipped: “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” Molloy’s thinking clearly runs along similar lines. In a single stroke he had transformed an extremely dull mayoral contest into something everybody was talking about. And, as Molloy quipped to Williams: “As long as people are talking about me, I’m winning.”

What his opponents will be fearing is that the sort of bloke (Molloy’s pitch was unashamedly masculinist) who would normally not even bother to open his voting papers when they arrived in the mail, will now be sufficiently motivated to tear open the envelope and triumphantly place a tick beside Molloy’s name.

Will this bloke be highly educated? No. Will he be a member of the Professional-Managerial Class? No. Will he be culturally sensitive? No. Will he have anything much in common with the sort of people who run the Labour Party and the Greens? He will not.

Most likely the bloke who responds positively to the Williams/Molloy encounter will be one of the 63 percent of registered voters who declined to participate in the 2019 Auckland elections. A working-class man who long ago became convinced that the sort of people who control his city have absolutely no idea, and even less interest, in how he, and people like him, feel about the way their city is run. Someone who likes hearing a politician who swears like he does; despises the same people he does; and patently does not give a flying-fuck who knows it.

This bloke will cast a vote for Leo Molloy in the same spirit that so many disillusioned American workers cast a vote for Donald Trump: because, if it works, he will have delivered a very forceful one-fingered salute to the Powers That Be.

The $64,000 Question is, of course: “Will it work?” Much depends upon the size of that angry male vote. If the “New Zealand Tonight” segment induces even ten percent of those who abstained from voting in 2019 to back Molloy with their ballot-papers in 2022, then he will be Supercity Auckland’s Third mayor. More importantly, if the next Curia/Ratepayers Alliance poll shows him leaping into the lead, then Auckland’s committed right-wing voters will not need to be told to swing their votes in behind him. They will be well aware that if Labour loses Auckland, then its chances of holding the rest of New Zealand are wafer thin.

With that grim prospect in mind, Labour and the Greens must take great care to avoid giving the impression that they consider Molloy and his supporters to be “a basket of deplorables”. They need to understand that the more habitual Labour voters learn about Molloy and the causes he believes in – which will surprise many – the more their kneejerk loyalty to Collins will be tested.

It should not be forgotten that the reason Trump made it across the line in 2016 was because he embraced many of the policies that American workers had for decades been begging the Democratic Party to implement. Owing nothing to the Republican Party grandees, Trump possessed a political flexibility unmatched by former GOP nominees. It is worth recalling that it was not the American Left that nixed NAFTA, but the standard-bearer of the American Right.

Swearing like a trooper, and having no patience whatsoever for wokeness, does not ipso facto make you a fascist. On the contrary, it just might convince a winning number of currently disillusioned Labour voters that, like them, you are simply an unvarnished, straight-talking working-class man – someone worthy of their support.

This essay was originally posted on the website on Monday, 18 July 2022.

Friday 15 July 2022

Rumours of [Civil] War.

Point Of No Return: One minute the ordinary citizen is pausing amidst the familiar rush of daily chores to try and make sense of an alarming headline, and the next minute there’s the sound of machine-gun fire in the streets. Because most people simply cannot imagine the collapse of the political system they have believed and trusted in all their lives, they almost never see it coming, and are profoundly surprised when it arrives.

ACCORDING TO BARBARA WALTER author of How Civil Wars Start: And How To Stop Them, the most common reaction to the outbreak of serious civil strife is surprise.

One minute the ordinary citizen is pausing amidst the familiar rush of daily chores to try and make sense of an alarming headline, and the next minute there’s the sound of machine-gun fire in the streets. Because most people simply cannot imagine the collapse of the political system they have believed and trusted in all their lives, they almost never see it coming, and are profoundly surprised when it arrives.

Professor Walter’s research warns that the nations most at risk of politically inspired violence are not those where democratic institutions and, much more importantly, democratic values, are strong. Nor yet those states where the grip of authoritarianism remains unflinching. The danger comes when tyrannical regimes begin to loosen their grip, or, when democracies start to question the merits of freedom. It is in these “anocracies” (systems of power in transition) that the likelihood of civil strife is at its highest.

Having pursued her research in a host of nations afflicted by murderous civil strife, Professor Walter has learned something else: that the very worst civil wars are those driven by the politics of ethnic and religious identity. The other fatal driver of division is what she calls “downgrading”:

“People may tolerate years of poverty, unemployment and discrimination. They may accept shoddy schools, poor hospitals and neglected infrastructure. But there is one thing they will not tolerate: losing status in a place they believe is theirs. In the 21st century, the most dangerous factions are once-dominant groups facing decline.”

Her use of the word “faction” in the above quotation is significant. Part of the relentless progression towards civil war is the rise of factions within the population. The seriousness of this semantic shift: from the more familiar use of the word to describe antagonistic groups operating within a single organisation (usually a political party) to embrace whole sections of society; cannot be overstated.

The most dangerous manifestation of this growth of organised social-antagonisms is the rise of a “super-faction”. This is characterised by a critical mass of the population being enrolled in a single movement – usually guided by a single leader. The growth of a super-faction is a portent of imminent socio-political disaster.

By now, readers should be anxiously joining the dots between Professor Walter’s research into civil wars and the developing political situation within New Zealand. Certainly, the necessary ingredients for serious strife are all here: the drift towards anocracy; the stoking of ethnic antagonisms; and the perceived downgrading of once-dominant groups. The question now, is whether or not New Zealand has (or is fast acquiring) factions.

Some New Zealanders might argue that the last five years have witnessed the emergence of what might colloquially be described as the “Woke Faction”. Encompassing liberal-left politicians, the Judiciary, upper-echelons of the public service, most of academia, and powerful elements within “progressive” businesses and the news media, the Woke Faction is united primarily by its intention to make New Zealand – Aotearoa – confirm more strictly to te Tiriti o Waitangi. It intends to achieve this goal by actualising the idea of a “partnership” between Māori and Pakeha, and embedding the practice of co-governance in all state institutions.

In terms of institutional power and the influence it wields, the Woke Faction is fast approaching the status of a super-faction. While the conduct of free and fair elections remains a part of New Zealand political life, however, the potential for creating a super-faction immeasurably larger than the Woke Faction remains considerable. It would be composed of that part of the population (overwhelmingly Pakeha) who firmly believe that they are already in, or very soon will be, the process of downgrading.

Should the ultimate harbinger of national doom, that figure nominated by Professor Walter as the “Ethnic Entrepreneur”, appear upon the scene, the rents in the social fabric of New Zealand may become too wide to be stitched back together.

New Zealanders are far from unfamiliar with Ethnic Entrepreneurs: Winston Peters and Don Brash both fit Professor Walter’s description. Neither of them, however, created a super-faction powerful enough, or sufficiently driven, to unlock the Gates of Hell.

We should not be surprised, however, if/when someone arrives with the key.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 15 July 2022.

Thursday 14 July 2022

Performative Caring.

Political Sledging: On Sky News Australia, conservative columnist and commentator, Rita Panahi, coined the not-so-kind "Performative Caring" alternative to Jacinda Ardern's trade-mark promotion of "Kindness". There will be plenty of Kiwis on this side of the Tasman more than happy to repeat the Australian Right's all-too-accurate political sledge.

SKY NEWS AUSTRALIA has reformulated Jacinda Ardern’s championing of “kindness” as “performative caring”. While the network has long displayed a strong right-wing bias, its derogatory re-casting of the New Zealand Prime Minister’s “brand” may nevertheless strike a chord with the growing number of her detractors on this side of the Tasman.

Sky News’ owners have a very real interest in undermining Ardern’s support in New Zealand. While she remains the Shaky Isles’ prime minister she will continue to remind Australian voters of what they do not have – likeable politicians. It’s a comparison Australian conservatives could do without. Especially when it encourages Aussie voters to focus on the extraordinary unloveliness of the Liberal and National parties’ leadership.

Hence Sky News’ willingness to do all it can to aid their ideological soulmates in the New Zealand Parliament. The sooner Ardern’s Gospel of Kindness is laid to rest, the sooner Australians can be reconciled to the unchangeable nature of the monstrous regiment of boofheads that has dominated their politics for decades.

It will be interesting to see if National and Act make use of the rhetorical gift Sky News’ Rita Panahi has given them. Of Iranian extraction, Panahi won her spurs as a right-wing political commentator by heaping criticism on the Islamic radicalism her family had fled. Now firmly ensconced in Rupert Murdoch’s stable of conservative columnists, Panahi’s ability to deliver political invective is not to be sneezed at. That said, however, echoing the Aussie sledges of a Kiwi PM may not be the most sensible way to win the hearts and minds of New Zealand voters.

Even if National and Act decline Sky News’ hatchet, there can be little doubt that the “performative caring” slur will spread rapidly: mostly by social media, but also through plain, old-fashioned word-of-mouth. That it will damage Ardern’s “brand” is indisputable. How could it not, when the Ardern Government’s successful demonstrations of practical kindness are so very thin on the ground?

Perhaps aware that it is not generally regarded as either fair or sensible for journalists to slag-off the prime-minister of their country’s oldest ally, Sky News’ morning line-up were careful to back their “performative caring” jibe with corroborative evidence. Panahi, in particular, pointed to Labour’s dismal failure to keep its promises to the New Zealand electorate. Not surprisingly, she homed-in on the Ardern Government’s failure to build the tens-of-thousands of affordable houses it had promised to supply.

New Zealanders could supply many more examples.

Where was the kindness – the empathy – in Health Minister Andrew Little’s blank refusal to acknowledge the obvious crisis gripping New Zealand’s health service? Where was even the most basic manifestation of political common sense? How is any government served by its ministers refusing to acknowledge truths plainly visible to the entire country?

Every New Zealander acquainted with reality knows that what the doctors and nurses are telling the news media is true. If they haven’t witnessed personally the tragic overloading of the country’s primary and emergency health services, then their family and friends have filled them in.

The fraught experience of operating well below optimum staffing levels is relived every day in their own workplaces. Between them, the Omicron variant of Covid-19 and the winter flu are infecting New Zealanders by the tens-of-thousands. Owners and managers are at their wits’ end, trying to keep their farms, factories, shops and offices functioning. They can all-too-easily imagine the stress of doctors and nurses struggling to do the same – only with the lives of their patients potentially at risk if they make the wrong decision.

Little’s refusal to accept the term “crisis” is, of course, entirely rational from a cynically political point of view. Were he to recognise it, he would then be morally obliged to do something about it. And how could he possibly do that, when the entire health system is in the midst of a complex restructuring exercise which he, himself, initiated?

To remove the enormous pressure on medical personnel would require immediate and effective action from the Department of Immigration, and the full co-operation of the gate-keeping professional bodies who have for far too long lorded it over the nation’s health system. With a clear-sighted grasp of the crisis, coupled with an iron will to overcome it, both of these objectives could be achieved. Now, if we could only lay our hands on a clear-sighted health minister with an iron will!

In 2020, Kiwis were bowled over by a government that actually delivered on its promise to fight the global Covid-19 pandemic with kindness. Astonished, they watched it slap down a business community demanding profits before people. Deeply impressed and appreciative, New Zealanders rewarded “Jacinda” and her Labour Government with an extraordinary election victory. And why not? Their government had not only cared, it had performed.

That was the secret sauce; the cipher key; the magic formula: telling people what you were hoping to do – and then asking them to assist you in making it happen. So long as the people remain at the heart of a Government’s performance, it cannot fail. If objectives aren’t being met, then go out and ask citizens for their help, listen to their advice, and back their assistance with dollars. For a few months this is exactly what Ardern did. It worked. And the country loved her for it.

The problem, of course, is that listening to the people can get a government into all kinds of trouble. It is also extremely difficult to sustain. It requires a very special political talent to recognise the voting public as the country’s most important interest group, especially when everybody else in the circle of power is telling you that it’s the business community, Treasury, the Reserve Bank, academic experts, the news media.

Turned out Ardern simply didn’t have enough of that special talent. Turned out 2020 was a fluke. Six months of genuine kindness was the most “Jacinda” could summon forth. And when she could no longer make it, she faked it.

Sadly, “performative caring” sums up Jacinda Ardern and her Labour Government all too well.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 14 July 2022.

Wednesday 13 July 2022

The Strange Case Of The De-Selected Professor.

Insufficiently Woke? It is difficult to read the leaked review which sank Professor Richard Jackson's bid to become a co-director of the Centre for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism as anything other than evidence of the ongoing and destructive conflict between the Professor and the Tiriti-centred, iwi-directed, bi-culturally-driven commissars of the University of Otago.

DAVID FISHER’S EXCELLENT ARTICLE in the NZ Herald, “PM’s terrorism, extremism expert Prof Richard Jackson hired then dropped” raises a number of disturbing questions. Not the least of these is: Why did the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet (DPMC) allow its professional judgement to be overturned by a single leaked document, the contents of which damaged the reputation of the man it was on the point of appointing to a sensitive government position?

Professor Richard Jackson had led the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago, since 2017. In November 2021 he had applied for, and was on the point of being appointed, Co-Director of He Whenua Taurikura – the National Centre of Research Excellence for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (CPCVE). Jackson’s strong academic record in conflict research made him an excellent choice to lead the new centre, the establishment of which had been recommended by the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch Mosque Shootings.

It was not to be. On the 1 March 2022, just as Jackson’s contract was on the point of being signed, the content of a confidential internal review of the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies was leaked to The Otago Daily Times. The content of the leaked report was unsparing in its criticism of the Centre. What is most noteworthy about the criticisms quoted in the ODT, however, is that they appeared to be focused, almost exclusively, on its alleged failings to meet the University of Otago’s bi-cultural expectations.

The ODT reported that the review “recommended Māori staff be employed, but not until the Centre’s culture was ‘considerably improved’ because at present it would be a culturally unsafe environment for new Māori staff.’”

Some hint of the ideological leanings of the review’s author/s may be gleaned from the ODT’s reference to their remarks concerning the Centre’s interest in the histories of Parihaka and Rekohu (Chatham Islands):

“The centre was also criticised for a tokenistic commitment to biculturalism.

“While it received praise for its efforts in starting relationships with the Maori and Moriori communities of Parihaka and Rekohu, it was called out for the narrowness of its approach and for having a poor grasp of appropriate indigenous protocols.

“The strategic inclusion of indigenous groups was a ‘well-known divisive settler colonial practise’, which the centre needed to avoid.”

It is difficult to read such comments without concluding that the review was part of a much larger and even more destructive conflict between the Centre and those elements within the University of Otago charged with ensuring that there is no deviation from the te Tiriti-centred, iwi-directed, bi-culturally-driven partnership protocols mandated by the University authorities.

The bitterness of this conflict is made clear in the following excerpt from the ODT’s report:

“It said staff appeared to be of the view the Aotearoa New Zealand Peace and Conflict Studies Centre Trust ensured the continual financial viability of the centre, when in reality, the university was increasingly having to underwrite an operating deficit.

“Staff also believed they were heavily overworked, while by university standards their teaching workloads were light.

“The centre was ‘not as special or mistreated as it seems to assume,’ the review said.”

One can only speculate that the Centre, by virtue of its independent source of funding, the Aotearoa New Zealand Peace and Conflict Studies Centre Trust, believed it could hold out against the demands of the bi-culturalists in the University administration.

The fate of Professor Richard Jackson is, therefore, salutary. Clearly, the University of Otago feels obliged to shoot the occasional professor – pour encourage les autres.

Jackson’s rejection by DPMC is by no means the only peculiar aspect of the appointment of CPCVE’s foundational directors. Fisher’s article setting out the whole, extremely odd, story is here

Even more disturbing, however, is the idea that DPMC’s strategic coordinator for counter terrorism in the National Security Group, Andy George, and National Security senior policy adviser Julia Macdonald, who sat on the selection panel, appear to have allowed a document positively reeking of academic rancour to de-rail the appointment of Jackson.

Did it not occur to these public servants that somebody, somewhere, might have it in for the man they were about to appoint, and that the leaking of the “confidential” internal review might have been intended to bring the appointment process to a shuddering halt? As persons closely bound up with this nation’s security, did they not feel obliged to dig deeper into the whole affair? Were they not struck by the near perfect timing of the leak? Were they not in the least bit curious about how the leaker knew when to make the document public? Wouldn’t they like to know who passed-on that presumably confidential information?

After all, the direction taken by CPCVE in its mission to prevent and counter violent extremism in New Zealand is a matter of no small importance. Indeed, our national security may well hinge upon the direction in which the new directors – Professors Dr Joanna Kidman and Paul Spoonley – choose to look for those most likely to launch terroristic violence against their fellow New Zealanders. If, for example, the Co-Directors decide to focus on white supremacist groups and Islamophobes, is it possible they might miss the emergence of other potentially violent extremists?

In the event that a National/Act Government emerges from the 2023 General Election, and within the first 100 days of coming to office abolishes the Three Waters Reform and the Māori Health Authority, is it not likely that the country’s political temperature will rise? And if David Seymour’s proposal to enshrine the meaning of the Treaty of Waitangi in law becomes law, and then progresses towards a national referendum, would not the nation’s fever rise even higher? Can the National Security Group, in need of all the help it can get to prevent and counter violent extremist acts, have confidence that CPCVE will be bringing its attention to bear equally on furious groups of Māori ethno-nationalists?

It would be comforting to believe that the identification of potential violent extremists by CPCVE will in no way be influenced by ideological factors, and that the New Zealand taxpayers who are footing the bill for its investigations can be absolutely certain that the people charged with preventing and countering extremism are not themselves extremists. Surely, that would have constituted a key aspect of the National Security Group’s brief from DPMC?

And yet, the disturbing question remains: Was the person, or persons, responsible for leaking the “confidential” internal review of the Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies worried that if Professor Richard Jackson became Co-Director of CPCVE, he might feel obligated to investigate all potential threats to the peace and tranquillity of New Zealand?

Is that why it was so vitally important that his appointment should not proceed?

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 12 July 2022.

Tuesday 12 July 2022

David Seymour Enlists History In Act’s Struggle For Power.

History Man: Does David Seymour have a case? Does history confirm that National campaigns from the right when it’s in opposition, only to govern from the left when it’s in government? The answer to this question is ….. complicated.

DAVID SEYMOUR is on to something with History. Shrewd use of the past can enhance the political campaigns of politicians battling in the here and now. Knowing this, the Leader of the Act Party is seeding the idea that the National Party has a history of “campaigning from the right, and then governing from the left”. On the five occasions the National Party has defeated and replaced a Labour Government, Seymour alleges, it has failed to scrap its predecessor’s socialist reforms.

It isn’t difficult to discern why Seymour is advancing this line of argument. One of the abiding features of New Zealand’s MMP electoral system is its propensity to pile up seats for the parties of the centre, National and Labour, while denying the more overtly ideological (that is to say, policy-driven) parties the parliamentary seats required for anything more than a supporting role. The long-term effect of MMP has been to condition the voting public into looking upon the smaller parties as “also rans”. Useful for applying pressure on the major parties when they are failing to perform in opposition, but best left to the tender mercies of the ideologically-driven at election time.

From an historical perspective, the voting public can hardly be blamed for declining to reward the also-ran parties with too many seats. The first MMP election (1996) allocated 44 seats to the National Party and 17 seats to NZ First. In other words, nearly a third of the resulting coalition government was made up of NZ First MPs. This made for a particularly fractious partnership, the longevity of which was, from the get-go, extremely doubtful. As the Lakota Native Americans used to say: “Too few to win, too many to die.” No one was surprised when the coalition broke apart well short of the 1999 election.

And yet, a replication of those 1996 coalition percentages would appear to be exactly what Seymour and his team are seeking in 2023. He is asking conservative New Zealanders to vote sufficient Act members into Parliament to ensure that National cannot simply brush aside their policy priorities. To convince them of the need to do this, he is reaching back into New Zealand’s political history.

But, does he have a case? Does history confirm that National campaigns from the right when it’s in opposition, only to govern from the left when its in government? The answer to this question is ….. complicated.

Certainly, one could make the case that the National Party leader, Sid Holland, was only able to defeat the First Labour Government, in 1949, by first promising to leave the essentials of Labour’s welfare state in place. In saying that, however, it is important to note that National’s pledge to undo Labour’s reforms, which had formed a crucial part of its appeal to the electorate in 1938, 1943 and 1946, had also been a crucial factor in its succession of electoral defeats.

Seymour needs to accept that if National had continued to refuse to accept that New Zealanders had no intention of losing their welfare state, then his party would likely have ended up in the same position as the conservative parties of Sweden: political losers for decade after decade.

What National did with the power in won in 1949, by accepting the welfare state, was to make damn sure it was not further extended. The fight Holland picked with the Watersiders Union, and the successful struggle he waged against the most militant elements of the trade union movement, shoved “Overton’s Window” sharply to the right. Holland’s and National’s vindication in the snap election of 1951, in which National won 54 percent of the popular vote, intimidated the Labour Party to such an extent that it would not be in a position to hold power for more than three years until the general election of 1984.

The other thing National did between 1949 and 1957 was make damn sure that Auckland became a city of cars, motorways and dormitory suburbs on the American model. The plans presented to Labour by the radical planners of the Ministry of Works in 1946 would have transformed Auckland into a city on the Scandinavian model: a state-designed and constructed network of public apartment complexes, connected by a comprehensive public transport system featuring light-rail and cycleways. If capitalists drive cars, and socialists ride trains, then National’s 1949 win proved to be an unequivocal capitalist victory!

Seymour is on firmer ground when he castigates National for perpetuating Labour policies following the defeat of the 1957-1960 government of Walter Nash. Between them, Labour’s Finance Minister, Arnold Nordmeyer, and its Trade & Industry Minister, Phil Holloway, set forth an ambitious plan to diversify and modernise the New Zealand economy. National’s Prime Minister, Keith Holyoake, saw no good reason to abandon Labour’s plan. Although the machinations of a young back-bencher, Robert Muldoon, did force him to tear up the already-signed contract for a massive cotton-mill in Nelson.

That same Robert Muldoon also gives the lie to Seymour’s claims about National governing from the left in the aftermath of its stunning landslide victory over Labour in 1975. It was, after all, Muldoon who scrapped the scheme that was set to become one of the greatest socialist achievements in this country’s history – the Third Labour Government’s New Zealand Superannuation Scheme. Had the scheme proceeded as planned, New Zealand’s current appalling infrastructure deficit would not exist. Nearly 50 years after he killed the scheme, Muldoon’s ruinously expensive pay-as-you-go replacement scheme still hangs like an albatross around the necks of young New Zealanders.

No doubt Seymour would counter that Muldoon ended up running New Zealand “like a Polish shipyard”, making him “the best leader Labour never had”. But Muldoon was never a socialist, he was only ever an idiosyncratic Keynesian who had somehow failed to receive the memo explaining the international conservative movement’s decisive break with the Keynesian post-war consensus. (Maybe that’s because the memo somehow fell into Labour’s hands!)

Labour’s adoption of neoliberalism via “Rogernomics” renders what remains of Seymour’s historical schema nonsensical. Since 1990, New Zealand’s economic, social and political settings have been robustly bi-partisan. Such reforms as have been passed never posed the slightest threat to the neoliberal status-quo. Paid Parental Leave, Working For Families, the re-creation of a state-owned bank, and minor tinkerings in the workplace-relations space, were measures that could just as easily have emerged from a shrewdly-led liberal/conservative government. That’s because they tend to make capitalism work more, not less, efficiently. They’re good for business.

Sadly for Seymour, History is not on his, or Act’s, side. National has dominated post-war New Zealand politics not by governing from the left, but by positioning itself in such a way as to render any argument for a radical left alternative to the status-quo vaguely ridiculous. National’s second victory, like Labour’s, was its defining moment. 1951, and all that, destroyed Labour as a driving and decisive working-class-based force in New Zealand society. And, National’s car-centric Auckland was just the oily icing on New Zealand capitalism’s cake.

Paradoxically, about the only eventuality that could reconstitute a genuine left-wing movement in New Zealand would be the election of a National-Act government pledged to implement David Seymour’s reactionary agenda of gutting the welfare state, further engorging the rich, upping the exploitation of the wage-earning workforce and igniting a race-war.

What History really tells us about New Zealand politics is that Kiwis will only vote for radical change in the direst of circumstances. And that the politicians who most often win our elections, are the ones who promise voters to keep as much as possible about their country exactly the same.

This essay was originally posted on the website on Monday, 11 July 2022.