Wednesday 31 January 2024

Intransigent Minorities.

No Compromise! The price of not keeping faith with the voters can be high. The Coalition Government would be wise to learn from the Left’s more recent mistakes. The most obvious of which is its truly bizarre belief that intransigent minorities will not be electorally punished for spitting in the face of the majority.

WHEN THE UNITED KINGDOM next goes to the polls, the Scottish National Party (SNP) will struggle to retain office. Currently, the Labour Party has a better-than-even chance of reclaiming its crown as Scotland’s electoral darling. After 17 years as the dominant force in Scottish politics, the SNP is running neck-and-neck with Labour. The reason: it allowed itself to get seriously out of step with Scotland’s voters.

The Scots are a well-educated and progressive people, but they drew the line at backing a premier, and a party, that saw nothing wrong with incarcerating a convicted rapist in Cornton Vale women’s prison on the grounds that she had subsequently self-identified as a woman.

Though the Premier, Nicola Sturgeon, responding to public outrage, removed the rapist, Isla Bryson, from Cornton Vale, the damage was done. According to The Guardian, Sturgeon’s predecessor (and political mentor) Alex Salmond accused her of “throwing away” the hope of Scottish independence (the SNP’s raison d’être) for the sake of controversial gender recognition reforms.

Things went from bad to worse for the SNP when, following Sturgeon’s resignation, she and her husband became the focus of a police investigation, and the SNP membership opted to reject the socially conservative candidate for Premier, Kate Forbes, in favour of the woke Humza Yousaf.

One instance of challenging the voters’ values might be forgiven – but two? It may, or may not, be relevant that the SNP’s fall from grace occurred while it was in coalition with the Scottish Greens.

Why allow a party currently polling at around 2-3 percent push you into backing reforms that most voters do not support? Why risk incurring the wrath of the electorate by allowing the perception to grow that the tail is wagging the dog? These questions are not restricted to the Scottish situation. There are people here in New Zealand asking very similar questions in relation to Act’s Treaty Principles Bill.

Not the least of these inquirers is Dame Anne Salmond who, in an uncharacteristically tetchy post for the Newsroom website, observes: “The process surrounding the Treaty Principles bill is a farce. With 8.6 percent of the vote at the last election, Act has no democratic mandate to advance a referendum on Te Tiriti.”

A perplexing observation which, on its face, suggests that even to “advance” the idea of a referendum (to resolve an otherwise irresolvable public issue) a political party must first secure 50 percent +1 of the Party Vote.

As National Party gadfly, Liam Hehir, observed on X (formerly Twitter) :

“Does Dame Anne Salmond have self-awareness enough to realise she is arguing against MMP and in favour of FPP? Is there an acknowledgement that you can’t construct a system where the Greens and TPM are allowed to ‘distort’ things but NZF and ACT are not?”

We shall come back to Hehir’s question presently. But, before we do, the pithy response of lawyer, and all round go-to guy on electoral matters, Graeme Edgeler, to Dame Anne’s commentary is worth citing:

“It seems like Anne Salmond is proposing a 15% threshold for MMP?”

Why 15 percent? Because, ever since the introduction of MMP 28 years ago, no minor party has ever secured more than 13.35 percent of the Party Vote (NZ First in 1996.) Hence Hehir’s quip about Dame Anne calling for the reintroduction of the First-Past-The-Post electoral system.

But, a return to the old system would not resolve the problem that lies at the heart of Dame Anne’s rather intemperate post. This, stripped of all its distracting rhetoric, boils down to one, key, question: how does one prevent the wrong sort of people, by which, presumably, Dame Anne means “right-wing” sort of people, from gaining access to the most important platform in the land – the House of Representatives?

The answer, as Hehir points out in his tweet, is that you can’t – not without abandoning democracy altogether. If left-wing voters, and Dames, are willing to accept the right of a party receiving 11.6 percent of the Party Vote, let alone one attracting just 3.08 percent, to materially shape the policy agenda of a Labour-led coalition government, then they must also accept the reality of Act and NZ First shaping the policy agenda of Christopher Luxon’s National Party-led coalition.

The problem is: “abandoning democracy” is exactly what a growing proportion of what passes for the Left in 2024 wants to do. Only by getting rid of democracy’s open-ended promises can the “correct” ideas be assured of winning through. Hence, the woke majority of the SNP’s membership’s refusal to acknowledge that the gender recognition reforms that they and the Scottish Greens were advancing would only end up sending a majority of Scottish voters in the direction of less radical electoral alternatives.

We see the same ideological intransigence at work within the American Left. The radical wing of the Democratic Party simply refuses to accept that a clear majority of Americans have grown alarmed and dismayed at the number of migrants making their way into the United States. No matter how damaging their opposition to closing the US-Mexican border might be to the Democratic Party’s electoral fortunes: no matter how many voters the Left’s uncompromising zealotry is driving into the wide-open arms of Donald Trump; their ideologically-driven position is correct – and must prevail.

That same unshakable conviction that they are right, and must prevail, is especially evident in the New Zealand Left’s insistence that the Treaty principles identified by Te Iwi Māori, the Waitangi Tribunal, the Judiciary, the Public Service and Academia are the only ones that count. That a majority of the population might feel uncomfortable with the current, “official”, interpretation of Te Tiriti simply does not signify. Under no circumstances can the ill-informed views of poorly-educated (deplorable?) New Zealanders be permitted to decide the issue.

Hence, the demands from left-wing (and even some right-wing) political commentators for Luxon and the National Party to put their feet down and insist that the Treaty Principles Bill not proceed. Presumably, they are of the view that Act’s David Seymour, and NZ First’s Winston Peters, lack the grit to challenge Luxon. Such people are guilty of, to paraphrase J.R.R. Tolkien, weighing all things to a nicety in the scales of their own malice. They forget that the Right, no less than the “Left”, can, at need, be impressively intransigent.

The opponents of the Treaty Principles Bill are also guilty of forgetting just how adroit a parliamentarian Seymour has already proved himself to be. His End of Life Choice legislation – the ultimate success of which few predicted at the time of the bill’s introduction – is now the law of the land.

Nor should it be assumed that it is only Act’s 8.6 percent of the electorate that are committed to seeing his bill proceed all the way to a referendum. In Saturday’s (27/1/24) edition of the NZ Herald a group calling itself “Democracy Action” inserted a full-page advertisement headed “We Stand With You”, which urged Luxon, Peters and Seymour to be steadfast in the defence of both their electoral mandate and the democratic process. Formed by Aucklanders Lee and Susan Short, Democracy Action has long had the official interpretation of Te Tiriti o Waitangi in its sights. The wealthy couple insist they are not alone.

Nicola Sturgeon and the SDP discovered, to their cost, just how high the price of not keeping faith with one’s voters can be. The Coalition Government would be wise to learn from the Left’s mistakes. The most obvious of which is its truly bizarre belief that intransigent minorities will not be electorally punished for spitting in the face of the majority.

This essay was originally posted on the website on Monday, 29 January 2024.

Monday 29 January 2024

The Cuckoo's Nest.

“Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” –  Harry Lime (played by Orson Welles) in The Third Man.

THEY SAY that the distance between the Government and Opposition benches in the old House of Commons was the length of two drawn swords. True or apocryphal, the story all-too-accurately conveys the truth that violence seldom strays far from power’s shadow. Democratically-elected legislatures, modern ones in particular, do their best to maintain the pretence that the raw calculations of power and the brutal efficacy of violence play no part in their deliberations. But, the less idealistic among our parliamentarians tip their hat to those who came up with the two-drawn-swords rule. It is a frank acknowledgement of what politics is all about.

Sadly, this is not an age that welcomes the frank acknowledgement of political truths. For nearly a decade now, parliamentarians and the parties they serve have been lamenting the “bullying culture” that is said to permeate the precincts of power. The young staffers assigned to assist individual Members of Parliament by Parliamentary Services are said to have borne the brunt of this misbehaviour. Some have felt themselves so beset that they have quit the political life altogether. Others have waged long and emotionally draining legal battles against their alleged persecutors, only to discover that even when a rare victory over the parliamentary power structure is won, it is almost always the victor that loses.

That is because the bullying isn’t a bug in the parliamentary power structure, it’s a feature. Not that anyone who hopes for a career in politics would ever own up to such a shocking admission. The whole proposition is too unfashionably Darwinian to be advanced publicly in 2024, but all the predatory animals who stalk the parliamentary corridors know it to be true. They make it their business to weed out all the little darlings who think that the political game has rules that must be followed, and that those who break them will be punished. That any staffer could subscribe to such nonsense is proof positive that they are manifestly unsuited to their jobs – of which the predators are only too happy to deprive them.

One of the reasons the idealists cling to the notion that the power game is governed by a set of benign rules is because the news media is so willing to congratulate itself on dealing with the rule-breakers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Parliamentary journalists are jackals: that is to say they feed off the carcasses left behind by more successful predators. Certainly, there are few more violent spectacles in Parliament than a pack of media bullies ripping to pieces some unfortunate legislator’s political carcass.

The question that must be asked, however, is: from whom does the Press Gallery get its stories? The answer, almost always, is from a politician and/or one of their staffers. Journalists pride themselves on keeping silent about how they know who has sinned. What they are even more careful to hide, even from themselves, is why they know. Whose power are they swelling?

The chests of the Press gallery will, of course, swell with indignant rage at the suggestion they regularly allow themselves to be made the tools of political actors engaged in (unaccountably unreported) factional struggles on the Beehive’s upper-floors, or, in and out of the Opposition’s offices. These self-proclaimed speakers of truth to power would be more believable, however, if so many of them didn’t tread the well-worn path from gallery journalist to ministerial press secretary, and from there to the broad sunlit uplands of public relations and lobbying.

That’s the thing about politics, there is always so much to be gained and, inevitably, even more to lose. Frankness and honesty are all very well, but it is vital – if one means to succeed – to recognise those situations where it is better to remain silent, or suffer a temporary loss of memory. Telling the truth is admirable, but telling the whole truth is just bloody silly. Much of Jacinda Ardern’s seemingly effortless rise to power is attributable to her finely honed sense of political discretion. She is living proof of the adage “If you can’t say anything nice about someone, then don’t say anything at all.” Or, at least, not where the wrong sort of people might overhear the conversation!

Difficult though it is to admit, the bullying of politicians and their staffers is the most effective way of separating the innocently ambitious – those who just want to make the world a better place – from the ruthlessly ambitious – those who just want to get to the top of the greasy pole.

In the context of a democratic legislature, physical violence perforce gives way to emotional violence. In a kinder world such strategies would fail. In this one, however, emotional violence – like its physical counterpart – swiftly reveals those who possess the skills for turning such attacks aside. Wit, unrestrained verbal counter-aggression (just think of Malcolm Tucker in “The Thick Of It”), the ability to calm and smooth the feathers of the angry and offended, an astonishing ability to lie convincingly: these will all signal to those alert to such qualities – someone worth watching.

Six hundred years ago Baldasarre Castiglione catalogued these political skills in his celebrated “Book of the Courtier”. Where his contemporary, Niccolo Machiavelli, was all about painting the big picture of political power, Castiglione concentrated on describing how best to manoeuvre one’s way through its mazes. The quality he was looking for he called sprezzatura – an Italian word which largely defies translation, but which may be rendered, roughly, as “studied nonchalance”, or, “grace under pressure”. Someone who has sprezzatura, is someone who can keep her cool.

But, without pressure, the grace of the courtier (because, democracy notwithstanding, all centres of political power and influence still operate like the royal courts of yesteryear) is deprived of the opportunity to manifest itself. A Parliament bereft of bullies, where everyone is “nice”, and where nothing is ever thrown at anybody – especially not insulting language – is a Parliament that will manifest the strength and competence of a kindergarten.

As Harry Lime, the character played by Orson Welles, wryly observes in the classic movie “The Third Man”:

“Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

This essay was originally posted on The Democracy Project website on Monday, 22 January 2024.

Saturday 27 January 2024

By The Time We Got To Turangawaewae ...

... We Were Ten Thousand Strong: The activists know that for the next few weeks, at least, the advantage lies with te iwi Māori and their Pakeha allies. Their most effective tactic – at Ratana, the Waitangi Tribunal, and at Waitangi, itself, on 6 February – will be to up the pressure on the Coalition Government and the Prime Minister. After Saturday, 20 January, they’ll be confident that Christopher Luxon will blink first.

KING TUHEITIA’S HUI was an impressive demonstration of the power of te iwi Māori. The Kingitanga had planned for 3,000 attendees – 10,000 showed up. Since those present on the Turangawaewae Marae at Ngaruawahia on Saturday, 20 January 2024 were likely to be the most powerfully motivated defenders of te Ao Māori, it is reasonable to regard that number – 10,000 – as the core of Māori resistance to the Coalition Government’s policies.

Significantly, that number, 10,000, is greater than the active strength of the New Zealand Defence Force (currently around 9,000) and only slightly fewer than the current muster of sworn Police officers (10,549). Small wonder that veteran Māori nationalists Hone Harawira and Tame Iti, both present at Turangawaewae, invited the Coalition Government, via the news media, to “bring it on”.

The activists know that for the next few weeks, at least, the advantage lies with te iwi Māori and their Pakeha allies. Their most effective tactic – at Ratana, the Waitangi Tribunal, and at Waitangi, itself, on 6 February – will be to up the pressure on the Coalition Government and the Prime Minister. After Saturday, they’ll be confident that Christopher Luxon will blink first.

In the National Party, blinking may already be the preferred option. It is, after all, the party that kicked-off the Treaty settlement process more than 30 years ago. It was National’s John Key who brought the Māori Party into his coalition government (alongside Act!) in 2008. And it was Key who sent Pita Sharples to New York to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. National’s record, vis-à-vis Māori Sovereignty and te Tiriti o Waitangi, is more than competitive with Labour’s.

If Christopher Luxon, like Jacinda Ardern, had led his party to an absolute majority in the House of Representatives, then Kingi Tuheitia would never have had to hold his hui.

But, that is not what happened.

With its final Party Vote stalling at 38 percent, it was clear that those on the right of the political spectrum harboured significant doubts about National. The share of the vote secured by National’s rivals, Act (8 percent) and NZ First (6 percent) indicated that National’s MPs would not be permitted to simply shrug off all responsibility for giving voice to the political rage holding so many voters in its grip. The smaller right-wing parties were there to ride alongside National and make sure it didn’t veer-off to the left like John “Labour-Lite” Key. At the slightest sign that National was about welch on the Coalition Agreement, Act and NZ First were expected to shoot the Coalition Government in the head.

What’s more, if Act and NZ First succumb to the same political pressures currently spooking National’s MPs, and simply abandon the commitments made to their followers on Te Reo Māori, co-governance, and te Tiriti, then the rage that propelled them into the House of Representatives will be forced to construct a new vehicle in which to carry the defenders of “New Zealand – as opposed to “Aotearoa” – into battle.

This will not be pretty.

Far too few New Zealanders fully appreciate what it took for 10,000 Māori to answer King Tuheitia’s summons. Inculcating the confidence needed to openly defy the policies of an elected government has been the work of decades. Tireless advocates of Māori sovereignty like the late Moana Jackson understood that the ultimate reclamation of their people’s patrimony would only become possible when Māori developed a political narrative that a significant percentage of educated Pakeha could be persuaded to endorse.

At the heart of that process was a wholesale revision of the meaning of te Tiriti. So long as the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders looked upon the document signed at Waitangi on 6 February 1840 as a simple treaty of cession, te iwi Māori could not hope to treat with the Crown as “partners”. That could only happen if the entire notion of an historical cession of sovereignty was overturned. Only when the claim that Māori never ceded sovereignty to the British Crown was accepted by the New Zealand state and its key institutions could “indigenisation”, “decolonisation” and co-governance become realistic political propositions.

Among a great many young, tertiary-educated Māori and Pakeha, the claim that Māori never ceded sovereignty has become an article of cultural and political faith. If one believes that the indigenous people of New Zealand never ceded sovereignty to their colonisers, then a constitutional revolution becomes not only morally desirable but politically necessary. Moreover, if right-wing political parties convinced that sovereignty was ceded back in 1840 are elected on a platform hostile to Māori claims, then forces unsympathetic to the “cession myth” will feel justified in opposing that right-wing platform by any means necessary.

And, you get 10,000 people answering King Tuheitia’s summons.

But, if Act is prevailed upon by National to back away from its promise to let the voters revise the Māori revision of the Treaty of Waitangi; and if it then refuses to step away from the coalition and move to the cross-benches; then somewhere between a tenth and a fifth of the electorate – and possibly a lot more – will find themselves in the market for a political champion who rejects entirely the niceties of traditional Māori-Pakeha relations, in favour of a new and unabashed ethno-nationalist vocabulary and manifesto.

In exactly the same way as Māori intellectuals undermined the “cession myth”, this new political movement would aim to undermine the “sovereignty myth”, and, in a distressingly short period of time, the leader of this aggressive ethno-nationalist populist movement could well be in a position to successfully summon 10,000 followers to his own … rally.

Exactly how Christopher Luxon chooses to navigate his government’s passage through these treacherous waters remains to be seen. He may be tempted to tear up the Coalition Agreement, call a new election, and seek an unequivocal mandate in support of decency, racial peace, and economic common-sense. But that would only work in circumstances where the rage of “traditional” Kiwis, the very same anger that propelled him into the prime-ministership, was subsiding. An unlikely turn of events, it must be said, with Ratana, with the Waitangi Tribunal looming and, beyond them, Waitangi Day.

Then again, Luxon might decide to do what Slobodan Milosevic did as Yugoslavia started coming apart at its ethnic seams: make himself the leader of the biggest and meanest sonofabitch in the ethnic valley.

As the person calling himself “Ricardo” commented on the author’s “Bowalley Road” political blog recently:

Massey’s Cossacks could reappear in any number of forms. There are approximately 100,000 to 200,000 ex-territorial soldiers (of all ages going back to the 1970s) who can still field strip an M16, make a bivouac, put up with rain and place the correct side of a claymore towards the enemy. Last reports say up to a million firearms are still to be registered. A direct threat to home and hearth could release basic impulses among their owners.

When the drift of politics encourages this kind of speculation, it is difficult to feel optimistic about New Zealand’s – or Aotearoa’s – future.

This essay was originally posted on the on Monday, 22 January 2024.

Thursday 18 January 2024

When Push Comes To Shove.

Emerging From The Shadow Kingdom: So devastating was the British victory over the Kingitanga that the movement tacitly foreswore any further assertions of political will. Henceforth, the Kingitanga would represent a shadow kingdom. What also remained unspoken, however, was the Kingitanga’s understanding that if the settler state’s ability to enforce its dominance ever faltered, then the substance of Māori power would return, and the shadow kingdom would turn into something much more solid.

ONCE AGAIN, the New Zealand state must decide if it should answer a Māori push with a Pakeha shove. The Māori King, Tuheitia, has summoned the leaders of Maoridom to the Kingitanga marae at Turangawaewae to formulate a response to the Coalition Government’s “de-Maorification” agenda. It is doubtful whether most New Zealanders, back at work now and already missing the sunshine and surf, are at all aware of the potential for disaster inherent in the King’s hui of Saturday, 20 January 2024. Not since the early 1860s have Māori and Pakeha risked so much over the meaning and status of te Tiriti o Waitangi.

The big difference this time is that the New Zealand state cannot count on brute military force to enforce its will. In the original stand-off between Māori and the Crown, the settlers were supremely confident that if push came to shove, then they would have access to massive military force. Rather than see their new colony compromised by an indigenous rebellion, the British Government was willing to deploy considerable military resources. Indeed, it was the arrival of approximately 12,000 imperial troops under Lieutenant-General Duncan Cameron that kicked-off the Pakeha invasion of the Waikato in 1863.

So devastating was the British victory over the Kingitanga that the movement tacitly foreswore any further assertions of political will. Henceforth the Kingitanga would represent a shadow kingdom. The kingdom of what might have been if the Pakeha settler government had been willing to keep faith with the letter and spirit of Te Tiriti. What also remained unspoken, however, was the Kingitanga’s understanding that if the settler state’s ability to enforce its dominance ever faltered, then the substance of Māori power would return, and the shadow kingdom would turn into something much more solid.

Small wonder, then, that the Prime Minister, Christopher Luxon, is said to be seeking an urgent private audience with King Tuheitia. [It took place on Monday, 15 January 2024. - C.T.] The Coalition Government needs to know just how pushy the Kingitanga and its allies are prepared to get if the National-Act-NZ First de-Maorification agenda is not abandoned. If, as seems likely, the King replies “wait and see” , then Luxon’s and his cabinet’s next step will be to assess the New Zealand state’s current capacity to enforce its will. One thing’s for certain: In 2024 the British will not be sending the New Zealand Government 12,000 troops!

If Luxon hasn’t convened a meeting of the Officials Committee for Domestic and External Security (ODESC) in response to the Kingitanga’s ominous re-entry into New Zealand politics, then he’s not doing his job. Like the rest of the country, Māori leaders would have observed the enormous difficulties experienced by the New Zealand Police in assembling sufficient non-lethal force to clear Parliament Grounds of anti-government protesters in March 2022. Were such occupations and disruptions to be replicated all over the country, the ability of the Police to both keep the peace and enforce the law – without recourse to deadly force – would be seriously compromised.

According to Wikipedia, ODESC “comprises the chief executives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Defence Force, the Ministry of Defence, the Security Intelligence Service, the Government Communications Security Bureau, Police, the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management, the Treasury and others. The group is headed by the head of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, [Rebecca Kitteridge].”

On paper, at least, this group looks formidable. The presence of the security services and the Police should guarantee a continuous and accurate feed of political intelligence to the politicians. In reality, however, it is most unlikely that the SIS, the GCSB and Police Intelligence personnel have been monitoring the communications of the Māori king, other iwi leaders, Te Pāti Māori and/or Māori activists generally. The political fallout, should such interceptions be exposed, would be politically catastrophic.

Ever since the Christchurch Mosque Massacres of 2019, the eyes of the spies have been firmly fixed upon New Zealand’s tiny community of Far Right extremists. Spying on Muslims and/or Māori would be construed by a large number of New Zealanders as evidence of state-sponsored white supremacism. ODESC’s ability to predict with any confidence the tactics and strategies of the rapidly coalescing Māori resistance movement is, therefore, negligible.

It is also probable that New Zealand’s defence chiefs would urge caution when assessing the capacity of the Military to come to the aid the Civil Power. Morale in the NZDF is said to be at an all-time low. Intense dissatisfaction with successive government’s underfunding of the armed forces is reportedly running very high. Called onto the streets to reimpose civil order through the application of deadly force, the willingness of servicemen and women to open fire on their fellow citizens must be rated as exceedingly doubtful. The great danger would be the soldiers going over to the people – thereby transforming nationwide protests into a full-blown revolution.

The New Zealand state has been here before, of course, back in the 1980s and early-90s, when Māori nationalist activists were tootling off to Libya and Cuba to pick up the rudiments of “freedom-fighting”. Back then, however, there were still plenty of concessions in the state’s briefcase: action on Te Reo, forests and fisheries, Māori health and education, cultural production of all kinds and – most important of all – the Treaty Settlement Process.

Taken together, these concessions bought the state three more decades of peace between Tangata Whenua and Tangata Tiriti. When “indigenisation” and “decolonisation” became the order of the day, however, all bets were off. Should those two projects become entrenched Crown priorities, then the economic, institutional and cultural dividends flowing from the Pakeha victories of the 1860s will be threatened, and the ability of the state to concede its way out of trouble will diminish towards zero.

So, what will Messrs Luxon, Seymour and Peters do to placate the Kingitanga and settle down the angry rangatahi that are Te Pāti Māori’s nation? If they are wise, they will either defer, or scrap altogether, their de-Maorification agenda. Erect those bi-lingual road signs. Keep calling Hamilton “Kirikiriroa”. If necessary, retain the Māori Health Authority. Then, having secured the peace, spend the next five years pouring resources into the Police and the armed forces.

As the bicentenary of the signing of Te Tiriti looms ever nearer, the Pakeha settler state faces two, equally unpalatable choices. It will either have to accede to a Māori-led constitutional revolution, or find its own, twenty-first century equivalent of General Cameron. A Pakeha military leader prepared to shove back harder than the movement for tino rangatiratanga can push.

This essay was originally posted on The Democracy Project of Monday, 15 January 2024.

Hitting The Houthis.

Action Stations: The New Zealand Left has conflated the ten UN members condemning Houthi attacks on vessels transiting the Red Sea with the six states involved in the air and naval attacks on Houthi military targets. Veteran leftist Robert Reid, like most New Zealanders, knows full well that the RNZAF possesses no aircraft even remotely capable of participating in attacks of the sort launched by American and British forces. 

“SECOND NIGHT of NZ’s coalition bombing of Yemen!” This hair-raising statement, from veteran leftist Robert Reid, was followed by an even more jaw-dropping claim: “So NZ is at war without any debate, mandate, cabinet or parliamentary resolution and while its government is still on holiday!!”

While it is certainly the case that the New Zealand Left is currently in an excitable frame of mind, Reid’s posting on “X”, has taken that excitability to a whole new level.

To describe the countries involved in the air and naval strikes against the Houthi regime in Yemen as “New Zealand’s coalition” is merely the most egregious of the errors contained in Reid’s posting.

According to the statement released by the White House on 11 January, the strikes were launched at the initiative of the USA and the United Kingdom:

In response to continued illegal, dangerous, and destabilising Houthi attacks against vessels, including commercial shipping, transiting the Red Sea, the armed forces of the United States and United Kingdom, with support from the Netherlands, Canada, Bahrain, and Australia, conducted joint strikes in accordance with the inherent right of individual and collective self-defence, consistent with the UN Charter, against a number of targets in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.

Clearly, Reid has mistaken the ten UN members condemning Houthi attacks on vessels transiting the Red Sea with the six states involved in the air and naval attacks on Houthi military targets. Reid, like most New Zealanders, knows that the RNZAF possesses no aircraft even remotely capable of participating in attacks of the sort launched by American and British forces. Nor does New Zealand currently possess the necessary hardware and personnel to participate effectively in the US-led “Operation Prosperity Guardian”.

So, to be clear, New Zealand has not placed itself at the head of any military and/or diplomatic coalition. Nor has it participated in any military strikes against targets located in Houthi-controlled Yemini territory. The nation is not, therefore, at war with anyone. Hence the non-existence of any “cabinet or parliamentary resolution” authorising New Zealand’s participation in the escalating conflict.

Ever since he was a teenager, back in the 1970s, Reid has been involved in anti-militarism activism. A person of his vast experience knows full well that this country played no part in the US/UK airstrikes. Even assuming it wanted to, New Zealand couldn’t participate. Why? Because it is saddled with a defence force that is currently incapable of participating in anything more rigorous than disaster relief at home and, if it’s lucky, the South Pacific. Reid must also know that New Zealand’s adherence to the aims and objectives of Operation Prosperity Guardian is largely a symbolic gesture of support from the Coalition Government to its Five Eyes partners.

So, why the loud alarums and inflammatory claims from a man whose powers of political analysis were, for years, celebrated across the New Zealand Left? What is driving old lefties like Reid into the arms of an army of fanatical Shia fighters for whom the destruction of the “Great Satan”, America, and the utter elimination of the “Zionist Entity”, Israel, are goals for which they are only too willing to martyr themselves? Reid and his left-wing comrades used to be aggressively secular revolutionaries who dismissed religion as the “opium of the people”. What happened?

In a nutshell, the enemy of their Twentieth Century ideological mentors – some in Moscow, others in Beijing – became the Western Left’s enemy also. They may not have viewed the USA as the “Great Satan”, but they certainly saw it as the planet’s foremost imperialist power, as well as the world’s most aggressive promoter of globalised free-market capitalism. And, if the USA constituted the world’s greatest evil, then simple political logic dictated that the Soviet Union/Russian Federation, the Peoples Republic of China, North Korea, Cuba, and all the other dubious propositions of the “Third World” and “Global South” must be “lesser evils”. Anti-Americanism became a left-wing reflex – as strong today as it ever was.

Indisputably, the Americans made it easy for them. What was morally arguable in Korea swiftly became indefensible in Vietnam. And then there were the dictators Uncle Sam kept in power: the Shah of Iran, the Somoza family, Ferdinand Marcos, Augusto Pinochet, the list is as long as the historical record of those US-supported authoritarian regimes is bloody.

It never appeared to register with Western leftists, however, that they were able to condemn the USA’s actions because they could see them on their television screens and read about them in their newspapers. Moreover, those same left-wing activists could give vent to their moral outrage on the streets without being killed. Unlike the Peronist trade unionists, gunned-down by the Argentinian generals’ goons. Or the protesting students, slaughtered by the Peoples Liberation Army in Beijing’s Tienanmen Square. Hatred of US imperialism and the effects of global capitalism has blinded the Western Left to the much, much worse atrocities committed by the West’s alleged “victims”.

Nor was its moral clarity improved by the demise of the Soviet Union and the PRC’s embrace of capitalism with Chinese characteristics. With the great engines of proletarian liberation either shut down, or converted to less altruistic purposes, the Western Left was forced to cast about for an ideological substitute. In place of the now defunct doctrines of Marxism-Leninism and Maoism, Western leftists found themselves adopting the radically subjective nostrums of the so-called “New Social Movements” – better known today as “Identity Politics”.

Where Karl Marx had made the “proletarians of all lands” the heroes of his revolutionary drama, Identity Politics is driven by the horrendous depredations of its super-reactionary villain – the White Oppressor. All whites are complicit in the vast historical crimes – slavery, capitalism, imperialism – that have made the European peoples so rich and powerful, and the rest of humanity so weak and poor.

In this new ideological narrative, the pale, stale, former Marxists find themselves stripped of all positive agency. Immobilised by their “white guilt” and “white privilege”, Western leftists cannot hope to be the “good guys” of the ID-Pols’ emancipatory drama. Indeed, the only way they can avoid being lumped in with the “bad guys” is to back unreservedly the struggles of the non-white victims of Europe’s cultural cancer.

And so it is that we find Reid prophesying war with an almost reckless disregard for what is actually unfolding across the Middle East. A Left enthralled to the notion that the oppressed are always guiltless, and the oppressors guilty by definition, will not hesitate to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Houthis and Hamas.

As the British MP, Tom Tugendhat, lamented only yesterday on “X”: “It’s extraordinary to watch young men and women – who I’m sure would tell you they believe in freedom and equality – supporting groups like the Houthis who have reintroduced slavery, and systematically violate the rights of women and girls.”

Extraordinary, too, that the Palestinian poet, Mohammed El Kurd, can say “Our day will come. We must normalize massacres as the status quo”, and be cheered by his Western left-wing “allies” at a weekend pro-Palestinian rally in London.

It’s almost enough to make one wish that Robert Reid was right. That New Zealand was, indeed, unleashing war upon such reckless hate.

This essay was originally posted on the website on Monday, 15 January 2024.

Saturday 13 January 2024

Where The People Walk.

Walking Us Back:  It required no great brilliance on the part of National, Act and NZ First to grasp the enormous motivational power contained in the word “back”. They could see that a clear majority of the electorate were growing increasingly anxious about the way their country was being led. Voters wanted to go back the way they had come, to the beginning of the strange and unfamiliar footpaths they’d been asked to walk. 

WHAT PASSES for “Left” commentary these days insists that New Zealand is living under a “hard-right” government. Clearly, these commentators are unfamiliar with what constitutes a hard-right government. Equally clearly, they know next to nothing about New Zealand political history. Compared to the governments of Bill Massey, George Forbes, Sid Holland and Rob Muldoon, the coalition government of Christopher Luxon is a decidedly mild affair. The Left has mistaken a moderate and well-signalled political course-correction for a reactionary reversal of progressive fortunes.

What the Coalition Government is attempting to accomplish is the restoration of the state of affairs inherited by the coalition government of Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters in 2017. Ardern’s political rhetoric indicated a determination to “transform” New Zealand. Exactly what their country was to be transformed into was never made clear to New Zealanders. Indeed, it seemed that the Labour-led government was itself was uncertain of its ultimate purpose. Events – unforeseen and deeply disruptive of New Zealanders lives – turned out to be the driving force of the Sixth Labour Government.

Without the Christchurch Mosque Massacres and the Covid-19 Global Pandemic, the serious weaknesses in Ardern’s ministry would have come to light much sooner – and it may not have lasted longer than a single term. But, Ardern’s superlative handling of the Christchurch tragedy won her international acclaim, and her country was hailed as a bastion of progressivism. Her management of the first stages of the Covid crisis proved similarly inspirational – both domestically and internationally – delivering her the seemingly impossible, an absolute majority in New Zealand’s unicameral Parliament.

It was the possession of this unassailable majority that spurred Labour’s Māori Caucus into action, and encouraged Labour’s social liberals to proceed as if their radical ideas enjoyed wide popular support. These misapprehensions: that New Zealanders were ready to become a Te Tiriti-based nation; and that the peculiar notions of the educated urban middle-classes could be imposed upon the rest of the country without provoking passionate resistance; were what convinced Labour and the Greens that they could move sharply leftward without generating a significant conservative backlash.

The late Jim Anderton understood, as did his hero, Norman Kirk, that, at heart, New Zealand was a conservative country. That said, when confronted by profound economic and/or moral challenges New Zealand voters have demonstrated a willingness to embrace new and unorthodox policies: Savage’s Welfare State; Lange’s Nuclear-Free New Zealand. What is noteworthy about both of these historical examples, however, is that significant public support had been assembled for them patiently, over many years. They were unmistakably popular measures. This was the political point embedded in Anderton’s aphorism: “Always build your footpaths where the people walk.”

Initially, at least, the footpaths laid down by Jacinda Ardern were well-trodden. Her rapid outlawing of semi-automatic rifles and shotguns in the wake of the Christchurch massacres enjoyed broad support domestically, and won her the loud applause of tens-of-millions of American progressives. It was her appeal to the “Team of Five Million”, however, in the first months of Covid, that inspired the deep affection of the New Zealand people. It had been a long time since the collective welfare of the nation had been put ahead of the individual rights of entrepreneurs, consumers, and taxpayers. New Zealanders liked standing together, and they became confused and angry when the evolution of the Covid virus required the government to break them apart.

The footpaths laid down by Labour in the direction of co-governance, the curbing of free speech, and the erasure of biological sex differences were not, however, trod by the masses. Indeed, they appeared to most New Zealanders to be leading them into wild and unknown territory. Not only did they not want to go there, but they became increasingly suspicious of the motives of those who kept insisting that they should.

Had the economy been in tip-top condition and the citizens’ standard-of-living rising steadily, then perhaps these other initiatives could have been tolerated. Labour’s problem was that all these radical departures from familiar termini were being demanded by people who did not seem to be up to the job of running the country. Why go haring-off into the ideological Badlands at the behest of politicians who could not keep inflation under control – or bring just one major project to fruition on time and on budget?

What the Left still doesn’t seem to have got its head around is that the defeated Labour Party is not the innocent victim of “red-necks” and “cookers” – reactionaries determined to drag New Zealand kicking and screaming back to the “half-gallon, quarter acre, Pavlova paradise” of the 1960s and 70s. Labour lost because, after 2020, Jacinda’s political skills deserted her and, following her departure in January 2023, Chris Hipkins and his colleagues were exposed as a pretty hopeless bunch of politicians. What those Labour MPs celebrated as “progressive”, a great many voters considered either loopy, or dangerous, or a volatile mixture of the two.

It required no great brilliance on the part of National, Act and NZ First to grasp the enormous motivational power contained in the word “back”. They could see that a clear majority of the electorate were growing increasingly anxious about the way their country was being led. Voters wanted to go back the way they had come, to the beginning of the strange and unfamiliar footpaths they’d been asked to walk. At the very least this meant returning to 2020. Or, just to be on the safe side, 2017.

National, Act and NZ First did not need to keep their intentions secret – no He Puapua reports for them! Being parties of the Right, their preferences were all on the side of businesspeople, employers, landlords and farmers. It’s not that the electorate didn’t understand who they were voting for on 14 October 2023. It’s just that, from their perspective, there was more upside to a vote for the Right than the Left. They wanted rid of the Labour Government, and that meant voting for a party (or parties) of the Right.

Did that deliver New Zealand a “hard-right” government? Well, compared to the government of the Russian Federation, or even the governments of the US states of Texas and Florida – not hardly. Nor is it likely that Christopher Luxon will be signing-up Special Constables, or sending the unemployed to work camps in the countryside, or promulgating Emergency Regulations temporarily extinguishing democracy, or welcoming the sporting ambassadors of a viciously racist regime, any time soon. Not unless Te Pāti Māori and their Tangata Tiriti allies leave him no other choice.

For the moment, at least, New Zealanders seem happy to walk along National’s, Act’s, and NZ First’s footpaths. Not so much a “hard-right” government, as one committed to showing New Zealanders the “right” way home.

This essay was originally posted on The Democracy Project website on Monday, 8 January 2024.