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.

Tuesday 28 November 2023

Who’s Driving The Right-Wing Bus?

Who’s At The Wheel? The electorate’s message, as aggregated in the polling booths on 14 October, turned out to be a conservative political agenda stronger than anything New Zealand has seen in five decades. In 1975, Bill Rowling was run over by just one bus, with Rob Muldoon at the wheel. In 2023, Labour was run over by a million busses – driven by ourselves.

BILL ROWLING told New Zealanders that he felt as though he had been run over by a bus. The metaphor was apt. Rob Muldoon’s 1975 electoral victory represented one of the great turnarounds in New Zealand political history. Three years earlier, Labour’s Norman Kirk had sent the National Government of Jack Marshall packing. But, just three years later, Muldoon, Marshall’s populist successor, exactly reversed Kirk’s landslide. National’s majority in the House of Representatives was identical to Labour’s – a whopping 23 seats. New Zealand had voted for the nation they wanted – and Muldoon was determined to give it to them.

It is nearly 50 years since Muldoon’s bus flattened poor Bill Rowling, but, for those with long political memories, the parallels with the election of 2023 are striking. The greatest of these is the profound sense of shock and disorientation among the activist supporters of the Left. Their discomfort is born not only of the brute facts of the election results, but also by the growing realisation that the incoming coalition government is determined to roll back practically all of the Left’s policy advances of the past six years.

Two generations have grown to adulthood since Muldoon’s reactionary political agenda was unleashed upon New Zealand. Young New Zealanders are not accustomed to governments committed to actually dismantling the changes of their predecessors, or, at least, not outside specialist areas such as workplace relations and educational assessment. For citizens under 50, the changes of the last few decades have all been in more-or-less the same direction. Economic policy has been neoliberal. Social policy has been “progressive”. Indigenous policy has been concessionary. Matters may have moved more swiftly under Labour, and slowed down a little under National, but, since 1984, the direction of travel has always been the same – onwards and upwards!

That’s what makes the experience so wrenching for the progressives of 2023. Especially with regard to the one, recurring issue which New Zealanders cannot escape: Race.

It was the National Government led by Jim Bolger that set in motion the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process – ably guided by his Treaty Settlements Minister, Doug Graham – in the early 1990s.

Not to be outdone, Labour, under the leadership of Helen Clark in the early 2000s, launched a policy effort dedicated to “closing the gaps” between Māori and Pakeha. The public backlash created by the policy was hugely strengthened by the Court of Appeal’s surprise affirmation of an enduring Māori proprietary interest in the foreshore and seabed. To keep Labour’s electoral prospects alive, Clark was forced to rein-in Māori expectations dramatically, a move which led to the creation of the Māori Party.

Don Brash, Leader of the Opposition in the run-up to the 2005 General Election, capitalised on the growing public disquiet over ethnic relations by throwing the National Party’s support behind calls for a comprehensive rolling-back of the state’s support for Māori sovereignty.

Brash lost the 2005 election, but only narrowly. “Progressive” New Zealand had been profoundly disturbed by the breadth of support for National’s reactionary policies. Brash, himself, was forced to endure what amounted to excommunication from “polite” political society. His fate was intended to serve as a warning to all serious politicians: mess with Māori (and Te Tiriti) at your peril.

Brash’s successor, National’s John Key, restored his party’s reputation (in the eyes of the political class) by sending the Māori Party’s co-leader, Pita Sharples, to New York to add New Zealand’s signature to the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People.

Labour’s next prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, went one better; commissioning a group of hand-picked “experts” to compile a secret report, He Puapua, setting forth a pathway to the UN Declaration’s full implementation by the 200th anniversary of the Treaty of Waitangi’s signing in 2040. Driven forward by Labour’s radical Māori caucus, Ardern and her Pakeha colleagues felt obligated to support their colleagues controversial, Te Tititi-driven constitutional innovation of “co-governance”.

As happened in 2004-05, these bold moves towards Māori sovereignty ignited a Pakeha backlash. In 2023, however, the Left lacked the collective political strength to head-off the forces of reaction.

Across a broad front of social issues, public hostility towards the scope and speed of proposed and/or actual changes neutralised almost entirely the massive support Labour had received in 2020 for its highly successful early handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Indeed, the psychological and material damage inflicted upon the population by the pandemic, and the measures adopted to contain it, after 2020, contributed significantly to what the Left only belatedly registered as an alarming swing to the Right.

Separated by nearly 50 years from the strikingly similarly political derangement that followed the onset of the global oil crisis in October 1973, the sudden collapse of public trust and confidence in the Labour Government in 2022-23 was experienced by the Left as a Black Swan event of perplexing severity.

Young leftists had read about the swift succession of progressive moves undertaken by Norman Kirk’s Labour Government. The abolition of compulsory military training; the troop withdrawal from Vietnam, the recognition of “Red” China; the sending of a NZ frigate to protest French atmospheric nuclear testing at Mururoa; the cancellation of the 1973 Springbok Tour; the creation of ACC and the NZ Superannuation Fund. This is what Labour was capable of delivering – from the left.

Less well understood were the social dynamics which made it possible for a right-wing politician as shrewd and ruthless as Rob Muldoon to bring about an absolutely catastrophic change in the political climate. In the 15 months following Kirk’s sudden death in August 1974, New Zealanders egalitarian instincts were harnessed to an aggressively populist campaign directed against a Labour Party portrayed as having been taken over by intellectuals and radicals whose values were wildly at odds with those of “the ordinary bloke”. Not only was Muldoon able to present himself as the saviour of the country’s middle-class, but of its working-class as well. National’s slogan: “New Zealand the way YOU want it”, said it all.

Depressing though it is to admit, New Zealanders’ deeply ingrained social conservatism; their fury at any person, or group, who see themselves as being better than everybody else; their unwillingness to tolerate one rule for thee, and another for me; their impatience with intellectuals and artists; their wariness of difference; their hatred of privilege; and their comfort in conformity; remains as powerful today as it was 50 years ago.

Perhaps, not seeing a Muldoon figure looming over the electoral landscape, the Left felt itself to be safe. But, 50 years on from 1974-75, charismatic leadership is no longer strictly necessary. Fifty years on, we have the Internet, social-media, and algorithms. Today, we can manufacture a Muldoon for every taste. A protean Muldoon, who addresses tens-of-thousands of voters every day, with a message cleverly crafted for them alone, and delivered instantaneously through those magic rectangles of glass that never seem to leave the voters’ hands.

The sum total of these messages, as aggregated in the polling booths, is a conservative political agenda stronger than anything New Zealand has seen in five decades. In 1975, Bill Rowling was run over by just one bus, with Rob Muldoon at the wheel. In 2023 Labour was run over by a million busses – driven by ourselves.

This essay was originally posted on the website on Monday, 27 November 2023.

Saturday 25 November 2023

Cans of Worms.

“And there’ll be no shortage of ‘events’ to test Luxon’s political skills. David Seymour wants a referendum on the Treaty. Winston wants a Royal Commission of Inquiry into Labour’s handling of the Covid crisis. Talk about cans of worms!”

LAURIE AND LES were very fond of their local. It was nothing flash. Les liked to describe the decor as “Best Western Modern” – which wasn’t all that far off the mark. Lots of concrete, lots of plastic, carpets that hid the stains, windows that either let in too much light, or too little. Still, there was a corner of the bar, where the window-seat ran into the wall, that was Les’ and Laurie’s own.

On this particular day the sun was shining, doing its best to compete with the cold wind blowing in off the sea. A good day for shooting the breeze.

“I see the Labour caucus has re-elected Chippy as the Party’s leader.”

“Hoo-bloody-ray!” cheered Les, whose contempt for the Labour Party had been taken as read by Laurie since 1984. “You didn’t really expect that bunch of political sycophants to do anything other than reward the man responsible for conducting the worst election campaign since David Cunliffe apologised for being a man.”

“At least Cunliffe knew he wasn’t a woman.” Laurie muttered.

“Exactly. And therein lies the problem. Labour doesn’t know how relate to ordinary people anymore. If you don’t have a degree in the social sciences and work for the government, Labour’s MPs don’t know where to look – or what to say.”

“Hence the sausage rolls.” Laurie volunteered. “They had to stand-in for the ordinary joker that Hipkins so very obviously wasn’t.”

“You’re absolutely right,” Les snickered, “all that ‘boy from the Hutt’ malarkey. As if Chippy had grown up in working-class Naenae with his process-worker Dad and shop-assistant Mum. As if he’d been a union organiser instead of a bloody student politician. Sometimes I wonder if they appreciate how insulting it is to be fed this PR bullshit.”

“Like the West Coast”, Laurie chipped-in. “Have you ever noticed the way Labour is always claiming the Coast as the party’s birthplace? The Miners’ Hall at Blackball and all that? When what the Coast actually gave birth to was the ‘Red’ Federation of Labour – the most militant union outfit this country’s ever known.”

“You so right, mate!” Les agreed. “The Labour Party wasn’t founded in Blackball in 1908, it was founded in Wellington in 1916. A whole host of political groups: parties, unions, anti-conscription organisers got together and Labour was the result. A perfectly honourable origin story, but not one to set the heart racing like the two-gun Aussie agitators that led the Blackball Strike.”

“Story of Labour’s life, really, isn’t it.” Laurie added mournfully. “A moderate working-class party living off the legacy of the working-class militants it had self-consciously supplanted. Morphing, eventually, into a party of snotty-nosed middle-class professionals masquerading as beer-drinkers and sausage-roll aficionados.”

Les snorted derisively. “When everybody knows they prefer smashed avocados and a decent Cab-Sav.”

“Still, that’s who we’re stuck with for the next little while at least – Mr Sausage Roll. How do you think he’ll go against Luxon, Seymour and Peters?”

Les paused to take a deep swallow of his pale ale.

“That’s the worst of it. Luxon, as Prime Minister, could be a complete flop. He’s assuming leadership of the country when his political instincts are only half-formed. The penalty for allowing himself to promoted from rookie back-bencher, to party leader, to prime minister, all in the space of three years. I don’t care how fast a learner he is, that simply isn’t long enough to learn how to respond effectively to ‘events, dear boy, events’ – as Harold Macmillan is said to have remarked when a junior staffer asked what could possibly blow his government off-course. Hipkins could end up running rings around him – making him look completely idiotic.”

Laurie peered morosely into his empty glass. “And there’ll be no shortage of ‘events’ to test Luxon’s political skills. David Seymour wants a referendum on the Treaty. Winston wants a Royal Commission of Inquiry into Labour’s handling of the Covid crisis. Talk about cans of worms!”

“Cans of worms they may be,” Les replied, picking-up Laurie’s empty glass, “but they both need opening. The Covid Crisis has deranged a frighteningly large chunk of the population. A full-scale inquiry could go a long way to debunking desperate myths and conspiratorial fantasies. As for Seymour’s referendum. That will tell us who we really are – something I’m quite keen to find out. Another beer?”

This short story was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 10 November 2023.

Friday 24 November 2023

"Old Coat" by Peter, Paul & Mary.


THERE ARE SOME SONGS that seem to come from a place that is at once in and out of the world. Written by men and women who, for a brief moment, are granted access to that strange, collective compendium of human experience that comes from, and belongs to, all the ages. 

"Old Coat", written by Paul Stookey, Elaina Mezzetti and Mary Travers in 1963, was never a hit and is barely remembered now by anyone but old folkies like myself. A child when I first heard the song, I have never forgotten its bitter acuity and deep sadness concerning the "hard road" all of us are fated to travel from birth to death.

Video courtesy of YouTube

This posting is exclusive to Bowalley Road.

Passing Things Down.

Keeping The Past Alive: The durability of Commando comics testifies to the extended nature of the generational passing down of the images, music, and ideology of the Second World War. It has remained fixed in the Baby Boomers’ consciousness as “The Good War”: the conflict in which, to a far greater extent than any other, the stakes were as high as the morality was simple. 

WHEN “COMMANDO’ WAR COMICS first started appearing in the newsagents of New Zealand, the war depicted was just 16 years ago. Think about that for a moment. Cast your mind back to the events of 2007. Helen Clark was Prime Minister. George W. Bush was President. Tony Blair’s “New Labour” government was still ruling the United Kingdom. Our memories of these people (all of them still alive) and their deeds remain vivid.

Memories of “The War” – everybody knew which war you were referring to – remained equally vivid for the men and women who had lived through it. That their experiences would be passed down to their children – the “Baby Boomers” – was inevitable. Commando war comics were an important part of that passing down.

Commando’s impressive stable of graphic artists worked in black and white. This seemed fitting to their young readers, since the images vouchsafed to them of the War were similarly monochromatic. Indeed, as the comic’s readership aged – peaking in number during the 1970s – they found it difficult to conceive of the past as happening in anything other than black and white.

Perhaps that’s why the war films emerging from the studios of the United States and the United Kingdom in the postwar decades never seemed quite real to their Baby Boomer audiences. Too much colour. Many of them felt the same way about the “colourisation” of film footage shot during the First and Second World Wars. It seemed, somehow, a violation.

The founders of Commando were all veterans of the War, a fact which explains their insistence on accuracy, and their eye for anything that contradicted their own recollection. It mattered to them that their boy readers (not many girls read Commando comics!) imbibed as truthful a representation of their fathers’ and mothers’ experiences as was compatible with compassionate discretion and commercial success. By and large they succeeded – although it is most unlikely that the expletive phrases of the average German soldier under fire were limited to “Gott in Himmel!” and “Donner und Blitzen!”

The durability of Commando comics testifies to the extended nature of the generational passing down of the images, music, and ideology of the Second World War. It has remained fixed in the Boomers’ consciousness as “The Good War”: the conflict in which, to a far greater extent than any other, the stakes were as high as the morality was simple. Unlike Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, the war against the Axis Powers is still accepted as a straightforward battle between Good and Evil.

That so much of the History Channel’s schedule is devoted to programmes about World War II is proof that this colossal, world-shattering event’s absence of moral ambiguity is as much appreciated by Boomers in their old age as it was when they were twelve.

But, as the war-fighters’ children entered their late-teens and early-twenties, the black and white certainties upon which they’d been raised, the anti-fascist ideas they’d imbibed with their mother’s milk, appeared to have been rejected by the very same “good guys” who’d won the war.

When the blood, tears, toil and sweat of Vietnam were captured in all their true colours, and broadcast into the living-rooms of World War II veterans and their families, they arrived from a very different historical place. Everybody knew that these dreadful images no longer came from “then”. They depicted the horrifying realities of “now”. And all the Commando comics in the world could not dismantle the wall behind which the so-called “Greatest Generation” – the men and women who had defeated Hitler – had so irretrievably sundered the past from the present.

For better or worse, the Baby Boomers’ “passing down” has been a mighty warning about the ease with which heroic men and women can pass from the side of the “good guys” to side with the “bad guys”. When the Boomers saw what their parent’s generation was doing to the world they had won – and on whose behalf – they did everything within their power to persuade their own children to question the historical and ethical narratives passed down to them from the past – including those of their own parents.

This is why the comics of the post-Boomer generations are all about deception and betrayal. About superheroes who fail, and turn bad. About the world which the dead heroes of Commando comics could not save.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 24 November 2023.

Thursday 23 November 2023

The Right Move Against Hamas Was Not To Make One.

“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” - Sun Tzu (544 ─ 496BC)

ISRAEL’S LEGAL RIGHT to strike back at Hamas is unchallengeable. No nation, having suffered the sort of horrific attack unleashed upon Israel by Hamas terrorists on 7 October 2023, is ever going to be convicted in an international court of law for defending itself. It is the nature of Israel’s retaliation that is challengeable. In war, doing precisely what your enemy expects you to do is never a good idea. By responding to the 7 October attack in precisely the way Hamas anticipated, Israel has allowed the terrorists’ long-planned (and far more important) propaganda offensive to build and strengthen the pro-Palestinian Cause.

That Benjamin Netanyahu was Israel’s Prime Minister on 7 October was of enormous importance to the success of Hamas’ plans. With the survival of the Likud Party-led Israeli Government in the hands of its much smaller coalition partners – all of them murderously Zionistic – there was no way Netanyahu could have responded to Hamas with anything other than overwhelming military force. The only strategy acceptable to Netanyahu and his allies was the one which called for the utter annihilation of Hamas. If Israel had opted to do something else, then Hamas would have been bitterly disappointed – and thoroughly alarmed.

The massive propaganda effort which sprang into action the moment the Gaza fence came down and Israeli citizens began to die, depended absolutely on the screens of the world fast filling up with gruesome images of Palestinians (their children especially) being killed and maimed by Israeli shells, bombs and missiles. These would be the cue for Palestinian apologists all across the West to start talking about “disproportionate responses”, or, more simply, “genocide”.

Many of these defenders of “Palestine” would be well aware that the charge of disproportionality, when used in such a context, does not mean that one side, having killed roughly as many people as the other, is legally obliged to cease and desist. What must be proportionate, under international law, is the nation state’s response to the initial attack. By this measure, Israel’s response to the horrors of 7 October was unquestionably proportionate.

Those who challenge the assertion, should ask themselves how the United Kingdom, Canada or Australia would respond if thousands of their citizens were raped, tortured, shot, stabbed, and burned alive by enemy forces located within the operational reach of their armed forces. Can there be any doubt that their armies, navies and air forces would have been unleashed upon these enemy forces?

And, if those same enemies attempted to avoid the just retribution that was heading their way by situating their military personnel and resources in or below civilian structures, and by using the bodies of their own citizens as human shields (a war crime, by the way) can there be any doubt that the British, Canadian and Australian forces would not have allowed themselves a moment's hesitation before sending their ordnance to blow every living thing within its range to Kingdom Come?

As it says in the Bible: “He who sows the wind, shall reap the whirlwind.”

But the “useful idiots” who fling a Keffiyeh around their shoulders and recite the annihilationist Palestinian mantra: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!”; are not influenced in the slightest by such counterfactuals. They are living proof of the saying that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing; and further, that a little historical knowledge can lead otherwise intelligent and progressive Members of Parliament into some very dark places.

Chloe Swarbrick is a walking testimonial to the extraordinary effectiveness of Palestinian propaganda. On the AM Show of Monday, 20 November 2023, she made reference to the “Nakba” – the catastrophic evacuation of Palestinian cities, towns, villages and farms that accompanied the war between the newborn Israeli state and the armies of the Arab League. (Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, “assisted” by sundry Palestinian militia.) To hear Chloe tell the story, 700,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes by evil Zionists hellbent on seizing their land and property. The Nakba was ethnic cleansing on a massive and brutal scale.

Except, it wasn’t.

What happened in 1948 was the culmination of nearly thirty years of unrelenting Palestinian resistance to Jewish settlement in Mandatory Palestine. Arabs had been bearing arms against the Jews, and the Jews had been defending themselves, since at least the 1920s. In 1947, organisations representative of the Palestinian Arabs had rejected the United Nations partition plan (which the Jews, albeit reluctantly, had accepted). By 1948, the Palestinian leadership were confident that their Arab brothers would rout the Jewish militias, and that “from the river to the sea” Palestine would be what the Nazis called Judenfrei – free of Jews.

A great many of the Palestinians who evacuated their homes and farms in 1948 did so at the urging of the Palestinian Arab leadership. Let the armies of the Arab League do their work, these leaders advised, claiming that their family’s return would only be a matter of days or weeks. Few of those who decamped on the basis of this advice had the slightest concern about the genocidal catastrophe which, for the second time in less than a decade, was about to overtake the Jewish people.

Chloe Swarbrick should know this, but since her knowledge of the Arab-Israeli conflict appears to have been gleaned from the tendentious accounts of Palestinian nationalists, Islamic fanatics and that great throng of usefully idiotic allies who retail “Free Palestine!” propaganda in the West’s universities and news media, the chances are depressingly high that she does not.

And this is the strategic problem confronting Israel. That the effectiveness of the disinformation from which Palestinian nationalism and religious fanaticism continue to draw their strength depends, almost entirely, on Israel’s willingness to confirm its emotional truth by blowing Palestinians and their defenceless communities to Kingdom Come.

The only winning move for Israel, when subjected to the atrocities of 7 October, was, paradoxically, not to make one. To do nothing. This necessitates imagining an Israel led by a Prime Minister of enormous courage and wisdom – enough to face her people with solemn determination and tell them that, this time, unlike all the other times, the Israeli people will not take the bloody bait laid before them by the jackals of Hamas and their Iranian backers. This time, not a single bullet will fly, not a single bomb will drop. This time the Palestinians of Gaza will be left in peace to contemplate the true nature of the organisation that governs their little strip of hell.

One can only imagine the dismay of Hamas, and all the “Hamas adjacent” politicians, journalists and students who have spent the past six weeks waving Palestinian flags, tearing down the posters of Hamas’ hostages, and telling us what a genocidal, colonialist, monstrosity Israel is, and has always been. Why? Because who, and what, would the world be looking at if there were no babies’ bodies to evoke our horror and disgust? Who would be caught in the media spotlight and forced to answer for their atrocities? Their war crimes? Their unrelenting antisemitism?

Let me give you a hint: it wouldn’t be Israel.

This essay is exclusive to Bowalley Road.

Luxon And Leadership.

What Kind Of Leader? It’s the only definition of leadership that makes any sense in the world most people live in – which is not the corporate world. A leader has followers. If a person lacks followers, then they are not – by the reckoning of most human-beings – a leader. The other real world distinction between corporate and political leaders is that the former have power given to them, while the latter take it for themselves.

LEADERSHIP. The corporate world is obsessed by it. In the absence of strong corporate leadership an adequate return on the shareholders’ investment cannot be guaranteed. Poor corporate management can lead to poor dividends, lower share prices, disinvestment and, ultimately, disaster. That’s why corporate leadership matters. In theory, anyway.

Many critics of contemporary capitalism argue that corporate managers exercise excessive influence over the businesses they run. That neither the corporate board, nor the shareholders, any longer exert any real influence over the management – until it’s much too late. Poor corporate leadership can, indeed, lead to failure, but the price paid by bad leaders is often in inverse proportion to the size of the disasters for which they are responsible. When they leave the scene of their managerial crimes, it is only very rarely that they depart empty-handed.

Poor corporate leadership is seldom punished.

Poor political leadership, by contrast, is almost always rewarded with the Order of the Boot.

The reason lies in the very different kind of power that corporate leaders wield. Corporations are permanent hierarchies in which vacancies are filled from the top down. Political leadership works from the bottom-up. If corporate leaders are measured against the power and wealth of the corporations they command, then political leaders are judged by the number and enthusiasm of their followers.

It’s the only definition of leadership that makes any sense in the world most people live in – which is not the corporate world. A leader has followers. If a person lacks followers, then they are not – by the reckoning of most human-beings – a leader. The other real world distinction between corporate and political leaders is that the former have power given to them, while the latter take it for themselves.

It is why all the books written about corporate leadership ring so hollow. The behaviour prescribed for leaders in these breathless volumes is the behaviour of a successful courtier – and the only power successful courtiers wield is the power given to them by their sovereign. A courtier retains power by retaining the confidence of the person at the very summit of the hierarchy. Political chiefs stay at the top only for as long as those below them are willing to trust and follow “their” leader. Without the trust and confidence of their followers, political leaders are powerless.

Christopher Luxon has plenty of experience in the intricacies of corporate leadership. He knows what must be done to retain the support of those above him. His successful career as a corporate executive amply confirms that he has mastered the politics of hierarchy. But, New Zealanders are still awaiting confirmation that Luxon has successfully transitioned from the politics of the boardroom to the politics of the caucus-room. Does he fully grasp, even now, that it is only the support of National’s MPs – along with the more than a million party followers who elected them – that keeps him in the top job?

Luxon became the parliamentary leader of the National Party in November 2021. Not, it must be said, after a strong and successful demonstration of his political leadership skills – particularly those relating to the attraction and retention of followers – but because the National Caucus had run out of options.

Bill English, the man who had led them to a Party Vote of 44 percent in the 2017 General Election, while an excellent Finance Minister, and a deep political thinker, had never quite managed to convince himself that he had what it took to lead the NZ National Party. A great pity, because it is one of the ineluctable rules of democratic politics that politicians who doubt themselves find it extremely difficult to convince others.

English’s replacement, Simon Bridges, appeared equally plagued by doubts. At times he seemed like a nervous adolescent, heading-out with his stylish girlfriend for the end-of-year school ball, wearing his father’s suit. Leadership of the National Party never quite seemed to fit Bridges: it was always too big for him.

Bridges nemesis, Todd Muller turned out to be living proof of “Dirty Harry’s” warning that “A man’s got to know his limitations.” Like Labour’s disastrous leader, David Cunliffe, Muller proved himself to be much more adept at winning the leadership of his party than wielding it. The difference being, Muller took only a few weeks to realise that he was completely out of his depth. A conclusion not reached by Cunliffe, even after winning just 25 percent of the Party Vote!

Muller’s replacement, Judith Collins, had long been hungry for the leadership of her party – and her country. It was just that her preferred means of getting there, beneath the daunting mask of “Crusher”, put off a great many more voters than it attracted. The New Zealand electorate has, over the years, displayed a worrying willingness to elect frightening male leaders. Scary female leaders, with the obvious exception of Helen Clark, have enjoyed considerably less success. National’s terrible showing in the 2020 General Election (25 percent) dissolved what little was left of Collins’ political judgement – along with the confidence of her caucus colleagues.

And that just left the man acknowledged by all to be the preferred option of National’s most successful leader since Keith Holyoake – John Key. Never mind that Christopher Luxon had been a Member of Parliament for barely a year, his successful career as a corporate leader – as CEO of Air NZ – was deemed to be more than sufficient preparation for the job of Leader of the Opposition.

But was it, really? Luxon had been seized upon by his fellow Nats with the same desperation as the drowning man seizes upon a lifebuoy. He was new, he was fresh, he had a bright smile and he wore a suit like the boss he had been. But, unlike his patron, Luxon never quite understood that voters are not employees. You can’t just instruct them to vote for you and your party; you have got to give them a reason for voting that way. In a democracy, politicians cannot simply demand people’s votes, they have to earn them.

Yes, yes, yes: National won 1,085,016 Party Votes in 2023, which is a great deal more than Judith Collin’s 738,275 in 2020, but, Luxon’s 38.6 percent of the Party Vote falls a long way short of Key’s winning percentage of 44.6 in 2008.

That’s because Key, unlike Luxon, had spent two years giving New Zealanders a reason to vote for him. Speech by speech, stunt by stunt, goofy-grin by goofy-grin, Key had done what all political leaders do – he had gone out and got himself some followers. Key may have been a highly successful player in the grand financial casino, but he knew the difference between corporate and political leadership. The electorate doesn’t vote for designations, it votes for ideas. 38.6 percent is what Christopher Luxon got for not being Chris Hipkins. It isn’t enough.

And it’s not at all clear, yet, what Luxon’s ideas are. He had very little that was inspiring to say before the election, and he has had virtually nothing even interesting to say after it. The man doesn’t yet seem to understand that he hasn’t been appointed to lead New Zealand, he’s been elected. There’s a difference.

A political leader would have used the three weeks between Polling Day and the counting of the Special Votes to talk to New Zealanders. There were horrors in Israel and Gaza. There were things to say about Te Tiriti and Democracy. About economics and security. About a world gripped by multiple crises, and about the Prime-Minister-Elect’s confidence that New Zealand would get through them all. Because this, the country he has been given the extraordinary privilege to lead, is a remarkable place, filled with remarkable people.

He could then have strode into those coalition talks, and David Seymour and Winston Peters would have risen from their seats and applauded – their nation’s leader.

This essay was originally posted on the website on Monday, 20 November 2023.

Wednesday 15 November 2023

The Most Unlikely Trinity.

The Three Amigos (Pro Tem): Three politicians, one from National, one from Act, one from NZ First, walk into a bar. Sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn’t it? The punchline, however, is that all three politicians walk out of that bar as the leaders of New Zealand’s next government.

BY THE END of this week, or the next, New Zealand will have a government. It is unlikely to be a pleasant one. The three political leaders, and the three political parties they lead, comprise the most unlikely trinity. Whether they are able to work together constructively for more than a few months is a dubious proposition – at best. Such overarching visions of New Zealand’s future as exist among them are more likely to divide than unite the members of the coalition government. In a nation already polarised politically – and growing more so by the day – the new regime’s prospectus will struggle to find long-term investors.

National, the new coalition’s dominant partner, has become a party of echoes. Most obviously of the highly successful government of John Key. But, Christopher Luxon has very little in common with Key. Where his political mentor had a keen strategic sense and an instinctive feel for where the majority of his compatriots wanted to go, Luxon is utterly lost without his talking-points. In their absence he reaches for the most banal tropes of the suburban Tory. His ad-lib political observations are peppered with the commonplace insults of his class: “whiney” and “bottom-feeders” being the most memorable examples.

Ask this man for his vision of New Zealand and he will blather-on about building a future where hard-working New Zealanders can “get ahead”. While that is indisputably the baseline ambition of every sensible citizen – who would want themselves and their family to go backwards?! “Getting ahead” is not, however, a vision.

Indeed, the whole structure of the National Party’s desideratum resonates with prejudice and resentment. Identifying only the “hard-working” for advancement presupposes a society containing more than its fair share of shirkers, grifters and malingerers. Luxon and his party see no reason why these sorts – these “bottom-feeders” – should get anywhere at all. Most certainly, they should not be allowed to get “ahead” of all those hard working Kiwis.

Mind you, those “hard workers” may not be the individuals ordinary working-class people think of when they hear the words tripping off Luxon’s tongue. When they hear someone described as a hard worker they may think of their neighbour who gets up when it’s still dark to clean offices in the central city, puts in a shift at the local supermarket, and then prepares the evening meal for her family. That’s a lot of work, and all of it is hard. She’s putting in 14-hour days, six days a week, for just enough to pay the bills. She’s a hard worker, but she’s not “getting ahead”.

In the mind of the National Party’s ideologues, however, “hard work” means something quite different. It refers to the mental agility and stamina required to manage people and resources. Only in the rarest of cases will those resources have been amassed by personal effort. In most cases they’ll belong to the shareholders of the corporation that hired its CEO. Making those resources grow is his job. It means reading reports, attending meetings, making decisions. Often in entails travelling to other cities, staying in hotels, eating out at restaurants. Putting in 14-16 hour days is not uncommon. Where the CEO’s job and the job of the working-class cleaner differ, however, is in how much they get paid for doing it.

For the CEO, earning well into six – sometimes seven – figures, “getting ahead” does not mean being able to put aside a few hundred dollars for family emergencies. No, the “getting ahead” he has in mind means arranging for his income tax to be slashed by tens-of-thousands of dollars. He resents his hard-earned money going to all those “whiney” “bottom-feeders” who haven’t so much lost their “mojo” as never possessed the faintest idea as to what it even means. All those shirkers, grifters and malingerers who have never done an honest day’s work in their lives. All those people without a clue about what people with “mojo” (which some of us refer to as ‘luck’) can do – or what they deserve for doing it.

For the most part, National’s politicians are too clever to say too much of this where anybody unsympathetic to the trials and tribulations of being “well off” might be listening. They expect their supporters (and in most cases these expectations are well-founded) to be able to read the sub-text of their otherwise anodyne political pronouncements. To be a National party member, a National Party voter, means not having, or even wanting, to have things spelt out too clearly. National’s politics is a bit like the hedges, fences and walls they erect around their properties. They are there to conceal what lies behind – lest the little people start getting big ideas about how much wealth is too much wealth.

The difference between National and Act is that the latter is seized by a curious determination to be honest about power and wealth. Raising hedges, fences and walls suggests an unwholesome pusillanimity when it comes to individual prowess. Let the little people see what “mojo” can achieve. Wealth and power is nothing to be ashamed of, indeed, the lack of it can be read as a confirmation of individual deficiency. Act members, Act voters, are comfortable with the idea that all human-beings are not born equal. Nor would they want them to be. Yes, they believe in democracy – but only because it is the best protection against aristocracy and oligarchy: the best political system for allowing the superior individual (rather than the “hard worker”) to “get ahead” without being held back by the leg-irons of class, race and/or gender privilege.

Which leaves us with the classic conservatives of NZ First. Winston Peters and his followers aren’t so much interested in changing the world – or even themselves – as they are in protecting the things they believe should not be changed. They are the sort of people who believe there is a place for everything, and everyone; and that everything, and everyone, should be made as comfortable and secure as possible in that place.

Peters and NZ First despise Act for many reasons, but primarily because, like Mark Zuckerberg, Act believes in moving fast and breaking things. As far as NZ First is concerned, societies cannot be made, societies can only be allowed to grow. And things that grow are not assisted by being hacked at, pruned or cut down. That’s why they’re suspicious of Labour and its recklessly ambitious plans to “build” a better world. But, it is also why they’re reluctant to trust National. Because all-too-often National smiles and smiles at the New Zealand people – and yet proves to be nothing but a villainous pander to the appetites of the ruling-class. The only justification for change, in the eyes of Peters and his people, is to make sure that everything remains the same.

Three politicians, one from National, one from Act, one from NZ First, walk into a bar. Sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn’t it? The punchline, however, is that all three politicians walk out of that bar as the leaders of New Zealand’s next government.

This essay was originally posted on The Democracy Project on Monday, 13 November 2023.