Wednesday 27 December 2023

What Would It Take For Labour To Win?

New Leadership For A Rejuvenated Party: Flexible thinking and political courage are the qualities most needed by the New Zealand Left as it campaigns to restrict the National-Act-NZ First Coalition to a single term. For better or for worse, it is the New Zealand Labour Party that will determine whether the Left is successful, or unsuccessful, in its endeavours.

SURVEYING LABOUR’S savagely diminished caucus, only two MPs stand out as credible future leaders: Kieran McAnulty and Ginny Andersen. Before such a combination could accede to the leadership, however, both the Labour caucus and the Labour Party would have to undergo a profound reconfiguration.

For a start, the party membership and a clear majority of the caucus would need to have rejected neoliberalism as Labour’s economic lodestar. The malign legacy of Michael Cullen – for thirty years the party’s ruthless enforcer of neoliberal dogma – needs to be scrubbed off Labour’s escutcheon. Meaning, of course, that Grant Robertson’s legacy (such as it is) would also need to be cleared away. Robertson’s almost childlike dependence on Cullen (especially in the Sixth Labour Government’s first year) meant that new economic thinking had almost no chance of emerging under either Jacinda Ardern or Chris Hipkins.

In the absence of an ideological break-out on a par with the Fourth Labour Government’s adoption of neoliberalism between 1984-1990, there can be no solidity to the radical programme Labour will need if it is to restore its level of voter support to at least 35 percent of the Party Vote. If Labour’s economic and fiscal policies are not being decried as dangerous lunacy by the Coalition Government (as were the First Labour Government’s) then the party and the caucus are not doing their job. Something along the lines of the US Democratic Party Left’s “Green New Deal” and/or the British Labour Party’s “For the Many, Not the Few” 2017 manifesto, would constitute a useful starting-point.

Just getting that far, however, presupposes an extraordinary amount of intra-party conflict. A substantial chunk of the New Zealand Council would need to be replaced. A new and charismatic party president would need to be elected, and a new General Secretary appointed. Only once these bridgeheads were seized could the necessary reforms of Labour’s constitution be implemented. These would restore full control to the party membership over both the choice of the party leader and the formulation of party policy. (No more Captain’s Calls!)

The only possible source for the political heft required to make any of this happen is the Labour Party’s affiliated trade unions – backed-up by the Council of Trade Unions. Something in the form of a manifesto for organised labour, perhaps? A radical document, pointing the way towards reclaiming the Treasury Benches for ordinary working people in three years or less, might be a useful way of mobilising those elements in Labour feeling let down by the party’s parliamentarians. Such a manifesto might also serve as a back-stiffening device for caucus members not willing to wait the six-to-nine years before it could, again, be “Labour’s turn” at the crease.

Fortunately for those who see democratic government as something more than a glorified game of parliamentary beach cricket, the Coalition Government and its policies are certain to drive its victims decisively towards the Left. Even the likes of Hipkins and Carmel Sepuloni will have to at least feign anger and a determination to offer New Zealanders something better than vicious austerity for the poor, and special favours for the Right’s most generous donors. What Hipkins and Sepuloni are likely to discover, however, is that, having climbed on the back of the left-wing tiger, getting off it, uneaten, can be a little tricky.

Certainly, it will not take very long for Labour’s leadership deficit to be cruelly exposed by the surfeit of political leadership to Labour’s left. Against the dynamism and inspiration on display from both the Greens and Te Pāti Māori, Hipkins and Sepuloni will need to be selling the working class and rangatahi something just a little more appetising than bread and butter. It is, arguably, the only good reason for keeping Hipkins and Sepuloni in place: to give them the time necessary to demonstrate their utter incapacity to front the sort of rejuvenated Labour Party that will be required to win in 2026.

Limiting the Coalition’s tenure to “Three Years – And Not One Day More!” is a campaign in which all three of the left-wing parties could participate eagerly. Anticipating the three-party coalitions which now, and for New Zealand’s immediate electoral future, appear unavoidable, Labour, the Greens and Te Pāti Māori could grow comfortable with each other, and gain confidence, by demonstrating their combined political effectiveness to a public growing increasingly impatient with the Right’s performance.

It is even possible to contemplate the three left-wing parties, the trade unions, and Māori organisations coming together in a national hui dedicated to explaining the shape and purpose of the “New Aotearoa” that must now – in the face of the Right’s reactionary agenda – be the core objective of all progressive New Zealanders. Such a gathering would be a wasted exercise, however, if it was not also the opportunity for an open-ended and free-wheeling debate concerning the constitutional shape of the New Aotearoa. If Te Tiriti o Waitangi is to lie at the heart of that new nation, then its defenders must be brave enough to let it face and answer Pakeha fears, even as it carries Māori hopes aloft.

Rather than making a free discussion, even a referendum, about the principles of the Treaty something to be avoided at all costs – up to and including threats of violence if it is allowed to go ahead – wouldn’t the needs of Māori, and the Left, be best served by embracing the process and making it their own? Why not go to the country in 2026 with plans for a full constitutional convention? Why not promote the election of 120 constitutional delegates to draft Aotearoa’s first written constitution – with Te Tiriti at its heart? Where could the Right go then?

The sixth century BC Chinese military strategist-cum-philosopher, Sun Tzu, wrote: “Thus, what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy.” The Right has observed the unwillingness of Māori to engage in open debate about Te Tiriti, its principles, and the co-governance it more-or-less mandates, and they have made that unwillingness their strategic target. The harder Māori resist the call for a full debate on the Treaty, the harder the Right will push for that debate to be forced upon them. Their goal is to keep Māori on the defensive. Sun Tzu would say: “Stop doing what your enemy wants you to do. Do what he does not expect, and has not prepared for – embrace the debate, and win it.”

Flexible thinking and political courage are the qualities most needed by the New Zealand Left as it campaigns to restrict the National-Act-NZ First Coalition to a single term. For better or for worse, it is the New Zealand Labour Party that will determine whether the Left is successful, or unsuccessful, in its endeavours.

Paradoxically, the battle against the right-wing coalition can only be fought with any prospect of success after the battle against the right of the Labour Party has been successfully concluded. If Labour is not committed to progressive change, then it will not happen. But, against a united and progressive Labour Party: a Labour Party backed by its allies on the Left, the trade unions, and the rangatahi of Aotearoa; no combination of the Right has ever, or will ever, prevail.

This essay was originally posted on The Democracy Project website on Monday, 18 December 2023.

Monday 25 December 2023

Merry Christmas!

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. - St Luke 2:14

To all the readers of Bowalley Road I extend my thanks and best wishes. Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Chris Trotter

This posting is exclusive to Bowalley Road.

Friday 22 December 2023

The Intruder.

“They fell here, first.”

ARIEL LEANED AGAINST the broken gate of the kibbutz and sighed. Better here, he told himself for the umpteenth time, than across the border in Gaza. No more bullets would be fired here. Everywhere Ariel looked, the evidence of how many bullets had been fired already could hardly be missed. In the pock-marked stucco of the dining-hall walls. Around the gaping windows of the nearest house. On 7 October there had been bullets flying everywhere, and far too many of them had been stopped by Israeli flesh and Israeli bone.

Ariel hunched his shoulders automatically as a fighter-bomber roared overhead. They travelled so fast that the human eye could hardly track them – not when they flew so low. In a few seconds, somewhere across the fence, bombs would be tearing apart someone’s home. All of the occupants’ most cherished possessions; all their tangible links to people and places long since swallowed by the past; everything would be reduced to a heap of charred debris and dust.

His gaze travelled back to the charred remains of the kibbutz’s implement-shed: to the blackened stumps of melted machinery. Behind what had once been a tractor, the Special Forces had found the bodies of an entire family. Ariel looked away. He felt the thump of the bombs through the soles of his army boots.

“An eye for an eye”, he muttered to himself, as the sun descended towards the Mediterranean, and the darkness under the trees thickened.

“Will leave the whole world blind.”

“Who goes there! Identify yourself immediately! I am authorised to employ deadly force!”

Ariel swung his rifle from right to left, and back again, squinting down the barrel into the shadows under the trees.

“Shalom, my brother, Shalom. You have nothing to fear from me.”

The face that emerged from the gloom was an unnerving mixture of youth and age. It’s owner’s raised hands were empty.

“I am Jeshua – though others have called me differently.”

“Your ID Card, please ‘Jeshua’, said Ariel, his rifle levelled at the stranger’s chest, “and an explanation for why you are loitering here in the gloom, so close to the Border Fence.”

“Where else would you expect to find me? With fear singeing the evening air, and death so close at hand? Where else should I be, if not among the falling bombs, the shattered homes, the broken bodies? Among so many lives cut short?”

“They fell here, first.” Ariel muttered darkly.

“Yes, they did”, the stranger replied softly. “They fell here first.”

“If you were here to see them fall, ‘Jeshua’, then you can only be Hamas.”

“Oh, I can be many more things than that, Ariel!” The stranger’s voice cleaved the darkness like an axe. And, with a barely discernible flick of his fingers, the rifle twisted violently in Ariel’s hands and clattered to the ground.

“I stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and watched as the Crusader knights butchered Muslim, Christian and Jew without distinction. I cowered behind a garden wall at Deir Yassin when the Jewish militia opened fire with their machine-guns. And yes, I watched as Hamas crept through this very olive grove, their eyes alight with the lust for Jewish blood. There is no cruelty of human devising that I have not witnessed, Ariel. If you would learn my identity, then consult the Torah, open the Bible, read the Koran.”

“Who are you?”, whispered the Israeli soldier. “What are you?”

“I am why this land is called holy.”, the stranger replied. “In just a few days the Christians will celebrate my birth – back in the days when Gaza was a thriving port city and Herod was collecting its custom duties. In a few months from now they’ll remember my death – just another crucified rebel. One of many. And you, you stiff-necked Jews, you will remember the destruction of the Temple and the long separation of God’s chosen people from their promised land.”

“And the Arabs? The Muslims? They also count this place holy.”

“Indeed, they do, Ariel,” replied the stranger, dissolving back into the shadows, “and you Israelis are making it even holier to them with every renewed assault, with every stolen life.”

High above Ariel, the last rays of the sun flashed upon the stubby wings of an F-35 Lightning as it stooped towards Gaza City’s shattered streets.

This short story was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 22 December 2023.

Tuesday 19 December 2023

Nothing Left Without Labour.

The Bland Leading The Bland: That Labour’s much reduced caucus voted unanimously to keep “Chippie” on as leader says it all. Because, if there’s no alternative in the caucus, then there is also no alternative that matters in the party. Over 15 years, the Clarkists transformed Labour into a neoliberal monoculture. There’s no point looking for red-hot chilli-peppers in a paddock planted with potatoes.

EDITOR of “The Daily Blog”, Martyn Bradbury, has posted his thoughts on how the Left might best rebuild its strength. As one of the very few media personalities capable of organising a live political exchange between genuine ideological opponents that does not immediately degenerate into a pointless shouting match, Bradbury’s thoughts on this subject merit serious consideration. Having read his post, however, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the sheer scale of the Left’s problems has decisively defeated Bradbury’s analytical powers.

Certainly, to suggest – as Bradbury does – that any serious reconstruction of left-wing prospects is possible while the Labour Party continues to be led by Chris Hipkins strikes this observer as utterly fanciful. Hipkins nurtures a truly visceral dislike of those who see Labour as something more than an a straightforward electoral adjunct to the party’s parliamentary caucus. The idea that Labour should function as a sort of political Petrie-dish, producing all manner of new and interesting ideas, is not one with which Hipkins has ever conspicuously associated himself. In both Opposition and Government, he has ranged himself alongside Helen Clark’s legacy of realism and technocracy.

As Prime Minister, Hipkins’ instincts were those of someone wedded to the status quo. His point-blank refusal to even countenance fiscal reforms that already enjoyed significant voter support is what made a Labour win in 2023 impossible. While he remains at the wheel of its most important electoral vehicle, the Left is going nowhere.

In the immediate aftermath of Labour’s catastrophic electoral drubbing, Bradbury had no difficulty grasping the urgent necessity of Hipkins’ replacement. What has happened since to bring The Daily Blog to the point of backing Hipkins’ retention? The most likely explanation is that, within the Labour caucus, there is no coherent factional pressure for change. Kieran McAnulty may be lean, but he does not appear to be all that hungry. He says he’s not interested in the top job – and, for the time being at least, we must take him at his word.

But, if we would search in vain for a “Marshal’s Baton” in any of the Labour caucus members’ knapsacks, then evidence of any coherent movement for change across the party’s organisation will, almost certainly, also be lacking.

The truth is, the “Clarkist Faction”, led, from the moment they all entered Parliament together in 2008, by Grant Robertson, Chris Hipkins and Jacinda Ardern, was simply too successful. Not only in the sense of producing two prime ministers and one finance minister, but also in wiping out every vestige of countervailing ideological and personal power. That Labour’s much reduced caucus voted unanimously to keep “Chippie” on as leader says it all. Because, if there’s no alternative in the caucus, then there is also no alternative that matters in the party. Over 15 years, the Clarkists transformed Labour into a neoliberal monoculture. There’s no point looking for red-hot chilli-peppers in a paddock planted with potatoes.

Unless they’re all hiding in Labour’s Māori caucus. As Tangata Whenua, Labour’s Māori MPs were not subjected to the same ruthless culling that befell the Clarkists’ Pakeha opponents. Moreover, with the return of Willie Jackson to Parliament (this time as a Labour MP) they acquired a mover-and-shaker of sufficient strength to persuade the Clarkists to keep out of their way. Certainly, it is no accident that the only genuinely radical policies to make tangible gains under the Sixth Labour Government, came out of the Māori caucus.

In the absence of those gains, the level of animus against the Labour Government would have been appreciably less intense. What both Ardern and Hipkins allowed to happen between 2020 and 2023 was something that, historically, successive “settler governments” – of both the Left and the Right – have always understood must never be allowed to happen. Namely, that Pakeha New Zealand becomes convinced that its power and status is under threat from a concerted and transformative assertion of indigenous rights. Left and Right can fight each other over many issues in New Zealand, but never over how far the accommodation of Māori needs and grievances should be allowed to proceed. On that question, the boundaries must be agreed – and enforced – by both sides.

Labour’s crucial blunder in this regard was allowing the He Puapua Report to be brought into the world. When its contents – which Labour did its best to keep secret – finally saw the light of day, and Pakeha New Zealand saw the plan to radically re-constitute their realm incrementally, but irreversibly, and without democratic validation, into a “Te Tiriti Centric” nation, the die was cast. Especially when Hipkins, declining to draw the lesson from Helen Clark’s unequivocal rejection of the Court of Appeal’s findings in relation to ownership of the seabed and foreshore, refused to engage in a similar auto da fé over co-governance.

And so New Zealand is now in the hands of a very similar set of cultural and political forces to those over which Don Brash would have presided had Clark not passed the Seabed & Foreshore Act, and (therefore) lost the 2005 General Election. The editor of The Daily Blog describes the National-Act-NZ First Coalition as “the most right Government ever elected” – an absurd claim, as anyone familiar with the governments of Bill Massey, Sid Holland and Rob Muldoon will attest – but it is a government that believes itself culturally and politically obligated to reaffirm that the winners of the Land Wars; the creators of modern New Zealand; are still the people calling the shots.

Racist? Indisputably. White Supremacist? Arguably. But the only way to make this Government’s response something other than a full-throated defence of colonisation is to encourage Christopher Luxon to take the lead in launching a genuine constitutional debate. Quite understandably, Māori are not that keen to put the Treaty and its core principles up for discussion. But, the time when these issues can be kept safely insulated from “the ravages of extreme opinion” has passed. By all means let us have a war – but let it be a war of words.

As always, when the great issues of the day are to be decided, the political fault line does not run between National and Labour, it runs between the conservative and unimaginative elements of the Labour Party and their more open-minded and adventurous comrades. If the next three years are to see something more than a closing of Pakeha ranks against the challenge of the new Aotearoa, then, somehow, the Left has to acquire the strength and sensitivity to rescue Labour from its conservative shadow. Only then will Labour, ably assisted by the Greens and Te Pāti Māori, be in a position to rescue Pakeha New Zealand from itself.

This essay was originally posted on the website on Monday, 18 December 2023.

Monday 18 December 2023

Voting On The Vibe: Hipkins Explains Labour’s Loss.

Beltway Boy: Chris Hipkins is a Wellingtonian: important because it not only explains his extraordinary tone-deafness as a politician, but also accounts for his talents as a plotter and schemer. “Chippie” has the mind and style of a bureaucrat. It’s why he was able to climb so high. Unfortunately, he also possesses the imagination of a bureaucrat, which is why he fell so low.

“TWEE.” That was the word my father used to describe the Wellingtonians of 54 years ago. It was, he said, a Wellington word, entirely unfamiliar to a person born and bred in the South Island. It’s novelty notwithstanding, my father was rather taken with the expression. It suited the professional public servants he rubbed shoulders with every day, capturing the lofty tone of their communications and the distance these opened up between themselves and ordinary mortals. Perhaps the best way to define “Twee” was by its antonyms: it wasn’t earthy, or direct, or coarse. Least of all, was “Twee” common. Coming from a farming background, the word’s connotations of high-falutin cliquishness did not sit well with my father’s egalitarian principles. There was, however, no denying its effectiveness as an adjective.

It would seem that Wellingtonians have not changed much these past 50 years. They are still defined by their conviction that, as citizens of the nation’s capital, the place where decisions are made, they inhabit an altogether superior social plane to the rest of the population. To be a Wellingtonian is to be well-connected and “in the know”. That deliberate distancing from the rest of the country, which my father noted with concern way back in the late-1960s, is still there.

Oh, and there’s one more important thing to note about Wellingtonians. They are not confined within the boundaries of Wellington City. To be a Wellingtonian means living anywhere south of the Remutaka Ranges. (Or, these days, maybe Waikanae and Martinborough?). In select niches of the Hutt Valley – Woburn, Heretaunga – one can still very easily run into senior public servants at the local dairy, or sit beside them on the electric “units” that still carry both the Twee and the un-Twee into the echoing spaces of Wellington Railway Station.

All of which contributes to the important political fact the Chris Hipkins is a Wellingtonian. Important because it not only explains his extraordinary tone-deafness as a politician, but also accounts for his talents as a plotter and schemer. “Chippie” has the mind and style of a bureaucrat. It’s why he was able to climb so high. Unfortunately, he also possesses the imagination of a bureaucrat, which is why he fell so low.

Just how low was made clear last week in a series of interviews with political journalists. It is highly unlikely that Hipkins understood how much he was giving away in these discussions. It is much more likely that he believed himself to be demonstrating his political reliability. And, to a lot of high-ranking, high-earning Wellingtonians, that’s probably how he came across. As someone who knows how the whole intricate mechanism of power operates. As a practical politician: someone not to be blown off-course by the fever-dreams of political extremism. As a safe pair of hands.

Unfortunately for Hipkins (and his Wellington apparatchik-dominated Labour Party), most New Zealanders do not live south of the Remutakas and north of Cook Strait. In the months leading up to the General Election, what they saw did not at all resemble the capital city cognoscenti’s’ solid political operator. The man they saw, his red hair notwithstanding, looked alarmingly like a grey and uninspiring Wellington bureaucrat. A Prime Minister already weary of the job which, in his heart-of-hearts, he had always known would be the death of his career.

To the people who live south of the Brynderwyn Ranges and north of the Bombay Hills, however, Chippie was the Minister who’d kept them locked-down for week after week after week, while their businesses faltered and the mental health of their family and friends deteriorated. When, almost overnight, Chippie’s predecessor ceased to be the pandemic-defying fairy princess, and became, instead, Covid’s wicked queen. As the handling of the pandemic shifted, without adequate explanation, from “elimination” to “vaccine mandates” to “let her rip”. While Chippie stood there, at “the podium of truth”, telling stir-crazy Aucklanders stories that kept changing.

Being a Wellingtonian made it harder for Hipkins to grasp just how hated the Sixth Labour Government’s post-2020 handling of the Covid Pandemic had made it in Auckland. Jacinda Ardern, who had represented the City as the MP for Mt Albert since March 2017, could not make that excuse. Although, remaining in Wellington for pretty much the entire Auckland Lockdown undoubtedly helped.

“I didn’t take the election result personally”, Hipkins told the NZ Herald’s Audrey Young, “I think it was a reflection of the fact New Zealanders have had a tough time with Covid and cost of living and a whole lot of other things and were just looking for something different.”

Something different? Yeah, that’s fair. Something very different from the Sixth Labour Government!

Hipkins disputes the suggestion that the emphatic nature of the country’s rejection of Labour was because he’d made it very clear that he and his government would not be following the Labour Party’s electoral base on its journey to the Left.

“People don’t vote on a left-right continuum”, says Hipkins. “They vote on the vibe of the campaign. I probably learned that a lot more in this campaign than I have before because leading it, you definitely get a much greater sense of the vibe of the campaign.”

We’ll come back to this extraordinary invocation of New Age political science: to Hipkins’ lame explanation that Labour’s catastrophic defeat “wasn’t necessarily policy-driven”, but was “just how people were feeling.”

The precise nature of those “feelings” is entirely absent from Hipkins’ analysis. (As well, evidently, from the analysis of his caucus colleagues, since they opted to re-elect Hipkins as their leader unopposed – no one even daring to test the temperature of Labour’s ideological waters by offering the Caucus an alternative candidate.) That huge policy failures in some areas of government activity (housing), offset by frightening successes in others (co-governance), might have engendered a “feeling” that the contradictions within Labour’s programme had reached insuperable proportions, does not appear to have occurred to Hipkins, or his caucus.

That he was not required to face an alternative candidate raises the disturbing idea that within the Labour Caucus (and quite possibly across the entire party organisation) there are no alternative ideas or plans. Hipkins appeared to confirm this in the interview he gave to Newsroom journalist, Jo Moir, where he discounted the possibility of a recrudescence of Labour’s factional caucus infighting (which Hipkins led) between 2008 and 2017:

“I think some of the preconditions for that is having people with fundamental policy differences in your team, and we don’t really have that. There are some issues around tax that we’ll work through but it’s not fundamental – people might have a different view on wealth tax and a capital gains tax, but these aren’t major fundamental philosophical differences in approach.

“Then you also have to have burning ambition, people who are just willing to claw each other’s eyes out, and we don’t have that either.”

Nothing could signal a more comprehensive victory for the Wellingtonian mindset than this ideological and psychological retreat from politics as a contest of ideas and a battle to see whose ideas are implemented. Labour has ceased to be a political party by any definition that would have made sense to Mickey Savage or Norman Kirk. It represents no massive social surges (with the exception, perhaps, of Māori tribalism) or even thwarted provincial ambitions, being perfectly content in its role as the alternative executor of elite interests. Happy always to step back into office whenever the tide of public opinion turns. Whenever the vibe is right.

This essay was originally posted on the website on Monday, 11 December 2023.

Saturday 9 December 2023

Clued Up: Ageing Boomers, Laurie & Les, Talk Politics.

“But, that’s the thing, mate, isn’t it? We showed ourselves to be nothing more useful than a bunch of angry old men, shaking our fists at the sky. Were we really that angry at Labour and the Greens? Or was it just the inescapable fact of our own growing irrelevancy to the country’s future that caused us to do it so much harm?”

LAURIE LOOKED UP for the umpteenth time from his newspaper. It was 4:10 in the afternoon and he was wondering where his mate Les had got to. By and large, Les was a very punctual guy. If he told you he’d meet you at 4:00 pm, then that’s when he’d appear. But it was now ten minutes after the hour and Laurie was reduced to doing the crossword puzzle. Four across, seven letters: A remedy for strife.

“Sorry I’m late, mate! Got held up.”

“Not like you, Les. What? Did you get waylaid by one of those Māori Party protests?”

“Heh! I wish! But there are not too many of those this far south. A pity, because we could use some of that Māori Party moxie in these parts. At least they’re fighting back.”

“I thought you were opposed to all that Treaty stuff? Didn’t you used to say that co-governance was undemocratic?”

Les took a long sip from his glass of pale ale, replacing it carefully on the circular coaster provided.

“Yes, I did, didn’t I. But since this new government got cracking, I’ve been having second thoughts. Serious second thoughts.”

“Oh, come on, Les. You knew what you were doing. National, Act and NZ First hardly made a secret of their intentions. You knew what you were voting for.”

“I’ve been thinking about that, too, Laurie. Wondering if all I really wanted was to put the boot into Labour and the Greens for making such a God Almighty mess of governing the country. All that woke nonsense.”

“And it was nonsense, Les! They were holding up four fingers and demanding that we see five!”

“Yeah, I know. And it made me so angry that I used my vote as a weapon, rather than as a shield, or, in the best way, as a tool. I swore to my late father I’d never, ever, do that – cast a vote in anger. But, dammit Laurie, that’s what I did!”

“Well, you can take some comfort from the fact that you weren’t the only one.”

“But, that’s the thing, mate, isn’t it? We showed ourselves to be nothing more useful than a bunch of angry old men, shaking our fists at the sky. Were we really that angry at Labour and the Greens? Or was it just the inescapable fact of our own growing irrelevancy to the country’s future that caused us to do it so much harm?”

“You really think that’s what we did, Les?”

“God forgive us, Laurie, yes, I think that’s exactly what we did. Just look at these Fair Pay Agreements. I mean they were a bloody good idea. They’d have made life easier for a whole lot of ordinary working people. We both knew they’d be gone before Christmas if we voted for the Nats and their mates, a reform you and I have been pushing for these past 40 years, and we helped to get rid of them, God forgive us Laurie, we made it happen!”

Laurie, fiddled with his ballpoint pen.

“Four across. Seven letters. A remedy for strife? Any ideas?

Les ignored the question.

“The Maori Party’s protests got me thinking, Laurie.”

“They were pretty small, mate. Nothing like 1981.”

“True enough, but I looked at the live broadcasts on Tuesday, and you know what I saw? I saw young people, Māori and Pakeha, standing together on that overbridge with their placards and their Tino Rangatiratanga flags, and you know what else I saw?”

“Yourself, 40 years ago?”

“Yeah, I saw that – of course I did. But, I saw something else, too, Laurie. I saw this country’s future, or, at least, a version of its future that offered up something better than greed and prejudice and keeping capitalism’s boot on the necks of the poor. I heard Rawiri Waititi talking about ‘Aotearoa Hou!’ – which sounded to me a whole lot like Mickey Savage’s ‘Applied Christianity’. And, do you know what else I saw? I saw a version of democracy that was alive. A version that offered more that triennial polling-booths and oaths to a distant king.”

“The rough and ready democracy of the picket-line?”

“Exactly! Exactly! Let me get you another ale. Oh, and by the way, the solution to Four Across. Seven letters. A remedy for strife.”

“Yeah? What is it?”


This short story was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 8 December 2023.

Monday 4 December 2023

Bearing True Allegiance?

Strong Words: “We do not consent, we do not surrender, we do not cede, we do not submit; we, the indigenous, are rising. We do not buy into the colonial fictions this House is built upon. Te Pāti Māori pledges allegiance to our mokopuna, our whenua, and Te Tiriti o Waitangi.”  –  The Six Elected Representatives of Te Pāti Māori.

CHRISTMAS IS FAST APPROACHING, which, as it does every year, means gearing up for an abstruse general knowledge question. “Who was the first woman elected to the House of Commons?” My wife, an ardent Irish nationalist, enjoys trapping all those non-ardent Irish nationalists gathered around our Christmas dinner table into volunteering the name of Nancy Astor. Having fallen into the trap, they are then informed that the first woman elected to the House of Commons was the ardent Irish nationalist, Countess Constance Markievicz. As one, all the quizzers reach for their cellphones and Google “Nancy Astor”. Only after a gratifying amount (at least to my wife) of argy-bargy is the dispute settled.

Countess Markievicz was, indeed, the first woman elected to the House of Commons – as confirmed by Wikipedia, which states:

At the 1918 general election, Markievicz was elected for the constituency of Dublin St Patrick’s, beating her opponent William Field with 66% of the vote, as one of 73 Sinn Féin MPs. The results were called on 28 December 1918. This made her the first woman elected to the United Kingdom House of Commons. However, in line with Sinn Féin abstentionist policy, she did not take her seat in the House of Commons.

As is still the case today, Sinn Féin candidates, being good republicans, refused to swear allegiance to the British Crown, which meant that, although they had been elected, they could not be seated in the House of Commons – could not become a Member of Parliament.

That’s why my wife’s Christmas Dinner question is a trick question. If she had asked who was the first woman to be seated as a Member of the House of Commons, then all those who answered “Nancy Astor” would have been correct. Nancy Astor was elected to represent the constituency of Plymouth Sutton in 1919, duly swore allegiance to King George V, and thus became the first woman MP to be seated in the House of Commons.

The dubious pleasures of family parlour-games notwithstanding, there is a reason for raising the question of the Parliamentary Oath of Allegiance at this time. Tomorrow (5 December 2023) the 54th New Zealand Parliament will be sworn in. Before taking their seats, each and every one of the 123 members of the House of Representatives must, in English or in Māori, swear, or affirm that:

“I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty King Charles the Third, His heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.”

If they do not so swear, then they cannot take their seats, cast a vote, or be paid. The seats in question are not declared vacant, the people who won them continue to hold them until the House is dissolved. In the interim, they become ghosts in the parliamentary machine.

All of which adds up to a big problem for Te Pāti Māori. Why? Because TPM aren’t exactly the biggest fans of King Charles III and his constitutional monarchy. Indeed, in a media statement released on Friday, 1 December 2023, all six TPM representatives declare:

We do not consent, we do not surrender, we do not cede, we do not submit; we, the indigenous, are rising. We do not buy into the colonial fictions this House is built upon. Te Pāti Māori pledges allegiance to our mokopuna, our whenua, and Te Tiriti o Waitangi. We will continue to do our best by you, in accordance to our tikanga, amongst the monsters whose portraits still hang on the walls of Parliament.

Strong words! And there are plenty more.

Māori owe no allegiance to the genocidal legacy of the British Empire. There is no honour in the Crown. It is tainted with the blood of indigenous nations, and its throne sits at the apex of global white supremacy. To the sovereign of England, we say history will judge whether you have the moral capacity to shoulder responsibility for your family’s heinous legacy. It is beyond you to restore its honour - the harm caused by your Crown is now intergenerational and irreparable. Indigenous blood stains the throne you [sit] on.

Having eloquently and publicly repudiated everything the Monarch stands for, it is difficult to accept that any Parliamentary Oath of Allegiance subsequently spoken by any signatory to the Te Pāti Māori media statement of 1/12/23 could possibly be uttered in good faith. How could someone “be faithful and bear true allegiance” to what they had, only days before, described as the “genocidal legacy” of the British Crown?

What would happen if the bona fides of an oath offered pro forma and without sincerity was challenged? What if, more honourably, all six elected representatives of TPM simply refused to take the Parliamentary Oath of Allegiance?

Several things.

Arguably the most important consequence would be that the number of votes in the House of Representatives would be reduced by six, from 123 to 117. This would, in turn, mean that National and Act, with 60 seats between them, would no longer need the 8 votes of NZ First to secure a majority of the votes cast in the House of Representatives. With a winning margin of just one seat, however, that majority would be rather precarious. So the three-party coalition would, in all likelihood, remain in place – albeit with significantly altered power dynamics.

Another consequence would be the electorate’s radically changed perception of Te Pāti Māori. Like Sinn Féin in 1916, TPM would have proclaimed itself an implacable foe of the British Crown and the political system erected in its name. TPM would no longer be perceived as a “normal” political party committed to upholding the core democratic conventions of New Zealand’s constitutional monarchy.

Like the Irish nationalists of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century, TPM would be seen as actively promoting an independent Māori nation, with its own culture and language, and with its own ideas about how its affairs should be organised. Unlike Sinn Féin, however, TPM cannot simply withdraw to its own island territory, populated overwhelmingly by its own people. TPM represents only a minority of the indigenous minority required to share the same geographical space with the descendants of the “genocidal” colonisers they despise.

If TPM persisted in absenting itself from the House of Representatives (as even today the Northern Irish Sinn Féin representatives absent themselves from the House of Commons) there could be one more serious consequence. Conservative Pakeha, both inside and outside of Parliament, could pose the question: “If those elected to the Māori Seats refuse to take them, then what possible reason could this country have for retaining them?”

It is difficult to imagine Labour being willing to give up the seven Māori Seats without a fight. Rather, the party would condemn TPM for betraying the hopes and dreams of the Māori electors (especially the rangatahi) who voted for them. Or, Chris Hipkins might cut a deal with Christopher Luxon and David Seymour, whereby, if those on the Māori Roll confirmed TPM’s revolutionary nationalist programme at the next election (which could be called at any time) then Labour would raise no further objections to the abolition of the Māori Seats.

There is a great deal more to the Parliamentary Oath of Allegiance that confounding the family at Christmas Dinner. If contemporary Māori nationalism has reached the same rejectionist conclusions as Irish nationalism back in the time of Constance Markievicz, then the next step can only be towards violence, and we must prepare ourselves for the same transformation that inspired the Irish nationalist poet, William Butler Yeats, to declare in his poem “Easter 1916”:

All changed, changed utterly: 
A terrible beauty is born.

This essay was originally posted on the website on Monday, 4 December 2023.