Monday 26 June 2023

Who’s Got The Mojo?

Frank Assessments: Listening to Christopher Luxon sledging New Zealand, the voters could be forgiven for thinking that, given the choice, the Leader of the Opposition would rather be the leader of Act.

PERHAPS THE MOST SURPRISING THING about Christopher Luxon’s unguarded and thoroughly negative appraisal of New Zealand has been the reaction. One week ago (12/6/23) forgetting that he was still wearing a “hot mike”, the Leader of the Opposition vouchsafed to a Helensville cocky that: “We have become very negative, wet, whiny, inward-looking country. And we have lost the plot. And we have to get our mojo back.”

Far from being inundated with the angry protests of an insulted electorate, Luxon’s people reported receiving strongly expressed concurrence from across the nation. Though by no means unanimous, the view that New Zealand has lost its mojo clearly has many supporters.

That these nay-sayers will be predominantly rural and provincial voters is a pretty safe bet. Country folk have a long-standing and decidedly jaundiced view of those inhabiting the Big Smoke. The idea that virtue increases in inverse proportion to the distance travelled from the vice-filled cities has a long pedigree in New Zealand.

The other stronghold of nay-saying is to be found in the glass towers and leafy suburbs of the big cities themselves. The idea of their taxes being lavished on the wet and whiny poor is a constant source of vexation to the wealthy. Political “tough love” should be the order of the day. Give the improvident and work-shy no choice but to harden-up and knuckle-down.

Luxon’s unguarded observations indicate a strong measure of agreement with these sentiments, even if they are hardly overflowing with empathy and the milk of human kindness. More a case of the willingness to be kind being inextricably bound up with the willingness to be cruel first. A political credo that is less “applied Christianity”, and more institutionalised political sadism.

That there’s a lot of it about became disturbingly clear during the Covid pandemic. From the very beginning of the public health crisis there were voices raised (almost all of them associated closely with the “Big End” of town) against heavy-handed state intervention and in favour of letting nature run its course. The economic consequences of empathy and social solidarity, they said, were too costly to be seriously considered. The ghosts of Darwin and Malthus haunted the op-ed pages. Terms like “herd immunity”, apart from their regrettable associations with cattle, recalled “the survival of the fittest” – and other upper-class explanations for why the poor should be allowed to go to hell.

When Jacinda Ardern’s lockdowns and Grant Robertson’s wage subsidies delivered, at least initially, extremely positive outcomes for the population – catapulting Ardern to rock-star status internationally – the rhetoric changed. Luxon’s mentor, John Key, talked about New Zealand having been reduced to “smug hermit kingdom” status. It’s an expression that bears close comparison with Luxon’s more recent “inward-looking” snipe. At the time Key coined the phrase, however, it was all of a piece with the vicious criticism routinely directed at New Zealand and its prime minister by that mouthpiece of nasty British Toryism – The Daily Telegraph.

There remains, however, something irremediably mealy-mouthed about National’s sledging of the New Zealand people – especially when considered alongside the no-holds-barred neoliberal policy-wrangling now on display from Act. When it comes to delivering his party’s package without so much as a modesty-preserving fig-leaf, David Seymour is truly a full-Monty man.

Perusing Act’s policy agenda, and translating its bold claims into the practical misery that massive shifts of wealth in favour of the rich, paid for out of ruthless spending-cuts, always bring to the poor, it very quickly becomes clear what is generally understood when the Right resorts to language like “wet” and “whiny” and “inward-looking”, and what they mean when they claim that their country has “lost the plot”.

At work here is a view of government that contains at its core the conviction that democracy is – and always has been – a mistake. A system of government which allows a feckless majority to award itself a living out of the surpluses piled-up by a hard-working minority, is regarded by many on the right as economically and sociologically insane. So mad is it that the minority is entirely justified in employing any and every means at its disposal to prevent itself being dominated and exploited by the majority. Setting one part of the majority against another by seizing every opportunity for creating discord is the tried and tested strategy for preventing said majority from cohering into a political/electoral force which the minority cannot defeat. Divide et impera, divide and conquer, is as old as Imperial Rome.

The key dividing line in the forthcoming election looks set to fall between those who are angry and those who are scared. On the right of New Zealand politics this divides the angry voters, keen to embrace Act’s uncompromising policy agenda, from the frightened voters, desperate for National to make them feel safe and secure again. Act’s job is the easier of the two. In electoral terms, feeding people’s anger has always paid higher dividends than fuelling people’s fears. National will struggle to compose a manifesto capable of allaying voters’ fears without appearing to endorse the Labour Government’s own efforts to calm and reassure the electorate. Such an outcome would only anger National Party voters – driving still more of them into the arms of Act. 

Quite the conundrum.

It does, however, offer a convincing explanation for Luxon’s rather bitter assessment of his fellow New Zealanders – and why so many of them have given it the thumbs-up. National’s leader clearly feels uncomfortable at having to pander to a fearful country. He doesn’t want to lead a negative people, a wet people, a whiny people, or an inward-looking people. Least of all does he want to be the prime minister of a needy people in search of a government committed to kissing everything better. What’s more, he is very far from being the only person on the right of New Zealand politics who feels this way.

The plot which Luxon believes New Zealand has lost, is the plot originally devised and executed by Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson. The plot based upon the proposition that most people are simply incapable of discerning what is good for them, and that real leadership consists of telling people what is good for them, and then giving it to them good and hard. Unfortunately, leadership of that sort requires an awful lot of mojo and, for the moment, Act has cornered the mojo market.

Listening to Christopher Luxon, that Helensville cocky could be forgiven for thinking that, given the choice, the Leader of the Opposition would rather be the leader of Act.

This essay was originally posted on the website on Monday, 19 June 2023.


John Hurley said...

I see society as having gone through that period of heading West, now living in San Fransico
with it's very rich and very poor and for some we have ground to a halt.

That 3 houses on one section must have rung a bell; where is John Key's "Brighter Future" now?
Meanwhile explain Comrade Dutta to us

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Well – this is more like the Trotter I used to know. I don't know if it's worth repeating at all, but I'm going to do it anyway – there's always been a mean streak in New Zealand society, a division in many peoples minds between the deserving and undeserving poor. The idea that anyone with a bit of hard work and a smidgen of luck can become wealthy. But as Jim Anderton once said – "My cleaning lady works hard." Obviously she was shit out of actual luck or she'd be rich.
It's this underlying streak of puritanism that goes back to at least Elizabethan times, encapsulated by a comment on stuff the other day: "Why should I be punished for bettering my situation. If someone else can't be bothered to do the same it's their fault not mine." The right-wing equivalent of "I'm all right Jack" or a less crude version of "The working class can kiss my arse I've got the foreman's job at last."

I saw someone sitting on the street today while I was out shopping, asking for money. I wasn't even shocked as I was when I saw my 1st beggars in the US sometime in the 1980s and my 1st New Zealand beggar a year or so after I got back. I wouldn't expect Luxon or the Libertarian mob to give a toss, but Labour?. The last time I was canvassed by Labour, I told them it simply wasn't my Labour Party anymore and the guy seem to agree – in fact he seemed quite embarrassed – but they don't care about the working class any more. So why on earth should I care about them?

Anonymous said...

Even more frightening than wet and whiney is the reincarnations of former leader and deputy of the nats are rats into media personality.

Archduke Piccolo said...

I agree with Guerilla Surgeon' in that I believe the least endearing national characteristic of this country's people is meanspiritedness. That does not mean Kiwis can't and won't be generous in the event of urgent and acute need - at times of disaster, say. But even then you will find the grasping, puritanical types. Recall Christian Slater's sneer (endorsed by many at the right-hand end of the political spectrum) at the people of eastern Christchurch who endured earthquake damage to their homes (when they didn't lose them altogether) - people he never met and never knew.

These were the people who were well down the queue when it came to repair and restoration, and these were the people who, when help finally came, were the most eager to pitch in - something the helpers noted contrasted with the more opulent and less damaged areas of Christchurch.

If Mr Luxon wants to harp on about 'whiners' and 'whingers', methinks he ought to take a good, long, hard and honest look in the mirror, and at his side of the political spectrum. What was his rant but a public moaning and mewling? He'll find plenty of whingers and whiners there, don't kid yourself about that. What do you think were the generating circumstances of Rogernomics and Ruthanasia? Come to that, how did Robert Muldoon come to - and stay in - the Prime Minister's office?

Got it in one: the whingeing and whining of the rich. Arch-champion mewlers and moaners: the Business Roundtable. To this day, the Right W(h)ing(e) wailing and beating of chests was deafening. The economic jealousy the poor harbour for the rich is simply projection. It is as nothing compared with the jealousy the rich harbour against the poor. It was ever thus, as Naboth and Uriah the Hittite were to discover.
Ion A. Dowman

David Stone said...

If a prospective future leader feels that "We have become very negative, wet, whiny, inward-looking country. And we have lost the plot. And we have to get our mojo back.” . Identifying that situation and presumably intending to remedy it doesn't seem a bad idea to me.
If he doesn't intend to improve the outlook for those people the "we" represents, then why is he standing for election?

John Drinnan said...

Luxon's comments were obviously incautious - but there is a soli argument that we are past the point of kindness and goodness b - the traits that some will argue have taken us to the dier state we are at now, Trotter is overly caught un the rural city divide- since many urban dwellers will also the country has lost its resilianc and coinfidence. Call it abandoned mojo if you like. ironically Some of the respondents here take an even harsher and more entrenched view in the ugliness of the kiwi character - presumably with the solution that we must be regulated,l legislated against and have it beaten out of us.