Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Red Shift: Labour Reorients Itself Toward Small Business.

"Meet The New Boss - Same As The Old Boss" The key question of Grant Robertson's "Future of Work" inquiry has been: What must Labour do to guarantee employers a steady supply of productive workers as New Zealand and the rest of the world enters the so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution”? Rather than making his FoW project about empowerment, Robertson chose instead to make it about facilitation.
RICHARD HARMAN writes approvingly about Labour’s turn to the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector. His Politik Blog entry of 29/8/16 covers Labour’s second “Future of Work” conference, held in Wellington last Friday (26/8/16) which he sums up with the sentence: “Labour is beginning to sound like a more entrepreneurial small-business friendly party as it digests the results of its study into the future of work.”
The “Future of Work” (FoW) project has been Grant Robertson’s baby ever since Andrew Little pipped him at the post for the Labour leadership in 2014. As an idea, FoW promised much. Initiated with radical intent it could easily have grown into a broad investigation into what twenty-first century workers expect of their employers, their workplaces, and paid employment in general. Such an investigation could have identified both the good and bad of contemporary employment practice and provided a compelling snapshot of what working life is like, 25 years after the Employment Contracts Act, and what it could look like in the future.
But that is not the direction in which Robertson opted to steer the FoW project. Rather than focus on the work people do, the conditions under which they’re required to do it, and how much they’re getting paid for it: the details of working life in which the Labour Party has, for the best part of its 100 year history, been most interested; Robertson and his team opted to take the technocratic route.
Instead of asking: What are New Zealand workers experiencing now? And: What tools do New Zealand workers need to ensure that their future work experiences are better, not worse, than todays? The key question of Robertson’s FoW inquiry has been: What must Labour do to guarantee employers a steady supply of productive workers as New Zealand and the rest of the world enters the so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution”? Rather than making the FoW project about empowerment, Robertson chose instead to make it about facilitation.
Which is where Labour’s turn to the SME sector enters the picture. As Harman notes in his Politik article: “Though the fine print has still to be delivered, the general thrust of where the party is going marks a substantial break with its big-industry oriented past.” Or, to put it another way, the Labour Party which Robertson is shaping, rather than being a vehicle for the needs and aspirations of factory workers, construction workers, shop employees, office workers, hospitality staff, transport operators and general labourers, will instead become the party of highly-skilled STEM workers, creatives and professionals.
This represents a major shift in Labour’s class allegiance: one which can only lead to a radical re-ordering of the party’s priorities. SMEs are no less grasping than large enterprises when it comes to divvying up the fruits of their employees’ collective effort. Indeed, they are often much worse. About this aspect of small-scale capitalism, Robertson and his team have little to say.
They are considerably more voluble, however, on the subject of self-employment. As Harman puts it: “Perhaps the most radical impact of the study has been a recognition by Labour that particularly young people have a “tremendous desire” to be their own boss.” We are not told whether these young people’s aspiration to become their own boss is matched by an equally strong determination to become somebody else’s.
The power relationship between employers and employees is still the principal driver of capitalist social relations. It also supplies the underlying logic of capitalist politics. Labour’s core mission, as a political party, has been to reshape New Zealand society in ways which ensure that the power relationship between bosses and workers is as equitable as possible. Crucial to that mission has been the trade union. What Harman failed to notice (or perhaps he did notice, but considered it unimportant) is that in Robertson’s 3,431-word opening address to the second FoW conference there is not a single reference to the institutions out of which the Labour Party was born.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, at least as far as Grant Robertson is concerned, trade unions have nothing to contribute to the future of work – or workers – in twenty-first century New Zealand.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 29 August 2016.

The Future Of Workers.

Unions? - Please Explain: Grant Robertson subtitled his address to Labour's second "Future of Work" conference “Building Wealth from the Ground Up”. Any common sense reading of that title would predict a fulsome measure of worker participation in the exercise, which, to be effective, would have to involve the organisations dedicated to defining and articulating workers’ interests – the trade unions. Astonishingly, the term "trade union" did not appear anywhere in Robertson's 3,431-word speech.
WHAT SHOULD WE MAKE of the fact that Grant Robertson’s speech to Labour’s second “Future of Work” conference contains no reference to trade unions? Or that, in the entire 3,431-word text of the speech the word “union” appears only once? In a list of the groups involved in the “Commission External Reference Group” of Robertson’s Future of Work project. In addition to business people, academics and community representatives, Robertson admits to “union leaders” also being consulted.
That admission raises some pretty thorny problems of its own. If “union leaders” have indeed been involved in this flagship Labour Party exercise, then what do they make of Robertson’s very clear implication that their organisations, Labour’s founding fathers, will have no role to play in the future of work in New Zealand?
Robertson subtitled his speech “Building Wealth from the Ground Up”. Any common sense reading of that title would predict a fulsome measure of worker participation in the exercise, which, to be effective, would have to involve the organisations dedicated to defining and articulating workers’ interests – the trade unions.
But, if that is what Robertson and the union leaders advising him intend, then the absence of the slightest reference to organised labour helping to build New Zealand’s future wealth becomes even more puzzling. Either, New Zealand’s leading unionists all anticipate being made redundant in the near future; or, they do indeed see themselves playing a leading economic role, but have agreed, along with the party, to say nothing about it until Labour’s safely re-elected.
If it’s the latter, then the electorate will have every right to feel duped. Major changes – and a programme entitled “Building Wealth from the Ground Up” surely qualifies as such – should be signalled well in advance of a general election. Without prior notification, along with the discussion and debate such announcements inevitably provoke, political parties cannot claim a legitimate mandate for change. Lacking an electoral mandate, major policy reforms instantly become vulnerable to repeal by the Opposition. Refusing to share your plans with the voters isn’t just bad form, it’s bad politics.
So, why has Robertson been so careful to avoid referencing his party’s core constituency: the 300,000 New Zealanders who still belong to a trade union? The speech itself contains a number of hints.
The first of these is the warm welcome extended to David Coats, one of the Conference’s keynote speakers. Coats comes with an impressive CV, and is well-placed, as one of the UK’s leading commentators on trade union affairs, to assist Robertson in speaking out forthrightly on what organised labour must do to remain relevant to twenty-first century workers. Coats’ preference for a union movement that is focused on helping its members to “‘get on’, rather than ‘get even’” dovetails neatly with Robertson’s own ideas about employee aspiration. Sadly, any discussion of such matters appears to have remained strictly in-house.
Another pointer towards why Robertson kept the trade unions out of his speech was his reference to Jeremy Corbyn. In spite of the fact that Corbyn now stands at the heart of an intense political struggle to determine the future of the British Labour Party, and hence the future of work in the United Kingdom, Robertson mentioned his name only in relation to what was happening 18 months ago: “Jeremy Corbyn, UK Labour backbencher was preparing to defy his party whip for the 489th time”.
The remark is vintage Robertson. In dismissing Corbyn as a disloyal back-bench pest, the MP for Wellington Central reveals how little he thinks of the British Labour leader’s left-wing ideas, and how much he values strictly-enforced political discipline. One can only speculate as to what all those “union leaders” allegedly involved in Robertson’s “Future of Work” project made of the remark.
After all, Corbyn recently announced his determination to re-arm the British Labour Movement by repealing the multitude of anti-union laws which, between them, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair either added to, or kept on, the UK statute books. With less than 10 percent of New Zealand’s private sector workforce involved in a trade union, our own “union leaders” must be hoping for something similar should Andrew Little win the 2017 election.
That’s unlikely. Especially when Robertson’s speech describes only one personal encounter with a living, breathing worker:
“At a public meeting in Albany earlier in the year after my presentation a man who had sat attentively at the front came forward and asked, with tears in his eyes, if I could do anything to help him get a job.”
It is difficult to imagine a more poignant depiction of the powerlessness of so many unemployed and precariously employed New Zealanders. If Robertson can’t make the case for empowering these workers and their unions now, relying upon him to do so after the election seems foolhardy in the extreme.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 30 August 2016.

Monday, 29 August 2016

From Student Farce To American Tragedy.

The Governor: "With his wing-collars up and his undergrad gown on, he looks like a cross between Dracula and Batman". Paul Gourlie wasn’t interested in the votes of the student “activists” who wore badges and carried placards. The votes he was after were those of the students who didn’t protest. The “scarfies” who saw life at university as an opportunity to have fun. The ones who found student politics “boring”.
PAUL GOURLIE broke all the rules of student politics. In pre-student loans New Zealand, when the universities were still capable of disgorging thousands of student protesters on to the streets, Paul re-defined what it meant to be a student politician.
Not for him the varsity student uniform of jeans and T-shirts. To the consternation of the Otago student body, “The Governor” (as Paul styled himself) sailed across their campus in a starched wing-collar and a flapping under-graduate gown.
His critics may have described him as “a cross between Dracula and Batman” – but Paul didn’t care. He wasn’t interested in the votes of the student “activists” who wore badges and carried placards. The votes he was after were those of the students who didn’t protest. The “scarfies” who saw life at university as an opportunity to have fun. The ones who found student politics “boring”.
Paul’s crucial political insight was that student activism was a minority sport, and that the left-wing rhetoric spouted by those activists left most students cold. What he offered the “great silent majority” of Otago students (who were neither active nor left-wing) was a wildly charismatic, fun-loving alternative to the stereotypical student politician. Paul’s flamboyant speeches were fast, furious, funny and almost completely devoid of content. Ordinary students cheered him to the echo.
The left-wingers on campus were completely flummoxed. No one had the slightest idea how to fight – let alone beat – a candidate who appeared to have escaped from the pages of Tom Brown’s Schooldays (or, for the benefit of younger readers, Hogwarts). The Left’s obvious discomfiture only increased Paul’s popularity: his merciless mocking of their candidates drawing wild applause. For a while, Paul Gourlie was invincible: one of only a handful of student presidents to serve two consecutive terms.
Though they unfolded nearly forty years ago, there is something disturbingly contemporary about “The Gourlie Years”. The US presidential election campaign of 2016 is stirring up old memories. Paul Gourlie, the student anti-politician, and Donald Trump, the populist anti-President, have more than a little in common.
Not the least of these commonalities is the challenge presented to the Left by right-wing candidates of such uninhibited flamboyance. And, if comparing Trump to Otago University’s student president of 1979-1980 seems just a little too weird, then think instead of Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi. He, too, built a political career on the insight that, eventually, a great many voters become tired – even resentful – of social-democracy’s high-minded expectations. Sometimes all the punters want is a little “bunga-bunga” – and lower taxes.
As the Democratic National Convention gets underway in Philadelphia, the world is about to discover how Hillary Clinton and her campaign team propose to counter Trump’s flamboyant contempt for the rules of conventional politics.
The first indication of how she intends to meet Trump’s challenge may be seen in her choice of Senator Tim Kaine as her Vice-Presidential running-mate. Kaine is a solid Democrat of quietly expressed liberal views, with a reputation for executive competence. In choosing the Senator from – and former Governor of – the state of Virginia, Clinton has opted for personal and political safety. Certainly, there is nothing remotely flamboyant about Tim Kaine.
Those on the left of the Democratic Party had been hoping that Clinton would nominate the Massachusetts Senator, Elizabeth Warren, as her running mate. Their argument was that, in a year when the “Establishment” and conventional politics were being rejected by an angry and disaffected electorate, the novelty and out-there-ness of two women on the ticket (one of whom, Warren, is an outspoken left-winger) would undercut the widespread characterisation of the Clinton Campaign as both uninspired and uninspiring.
The “Clinton-Kaine” ticket suggests that the Democratic Convention will be long on worthiness and short on spark. If this is the way it plays out, then the Clinton Campaign will find itself in serious bother. Conventional pundits may have slammed the chaos and confusion of the Republican Convention, but in doing so they entirely missed the point. Trump wasn’t interested in staging a well-run convention. What he wanted, and what he produced, was a riveting political mini-series; replete with heroes and heroines, hucksters and villains. For a whole week it was all anyone was talking about.
What distinguishes Trump’s campaigning from Gourlie’s and Berlusconi’s is the darkness and brutality of his rhetorical palette. The latter exploited voters grown weary of the Left’s moral exhortations. They ran on the alluring promise of exuberant amorality and laissez-faire administration. Trump’s voters, by contrast, are driven by a toxic mixture of moral indignation and the violent desire to discipline and punish an America they no longer recognise as their own.
Trump’s campaign blends flamboyance, demagoguery and recklessness in equal measure. My gut feeling is that the cautious Hillary Clinton will fare as badly against “The Donald” as I did against “The Governor”.
This essay was originally published in The Press of 26 July 2016.

Friday, 26 August 2016

A Political King.

Birds Of A Feather: If Edward VIII had been a less enamoured sex-slave to Wallis Simpson and a more convinced fascist, it is entirely possible that he could have completely upended the British constitution. Royal words, and deeds, still matter - as the political impact of the Maori King's, Tuheitia Paki's, intervention earlier this week attests.
IT’S AN INTRIGUING COUNTERFACTUAL to contemplate. What if Edward VIII had been a less enamoured sex-slave to Wallis Simpson and a more convinced fascist? It is entirely possible that a highly politicised King, ably assisted by Winston Churchill (who, in real life, fought right up until Edward’s abdication speech to keep him on the throne) David Lloyd-George (Britain’s Prime Minister during World War I) and Sir Oswald Mosley (leader of the British Union of Fascists) could have completely upended the British constitution.
Early in 1936 Edward had given hope to millions of unemployed workers, and heart palpitations to the Conservative Government of Stanley Baldwin, by declaring that “something must be done” about the appalling poverty he had just witnessed on a royal visit to South Wales.
British monarchs were not supposed to say such things. But, let us suppose that Edward had continued to speak out against poverty and mass unemployment. Let us further suppose that his younger brother, George, the Duke of Kent, had used his contacts with Nazi-sympathising German aristocrats to forge an alliance with like-minded members of the British upper-classes? With the additional assistance of the brilliant outcast politicians mentioned above – all of them desperate to restore their dwindling political fortunes – a more intelligent and dynamic Edward VIII would have had every chance of successfully carrying-off a royal coup d’├ętat.
Even today there are elements within the British establishment who dread the ascension of the Prince of Wales. Unlike his remarkable mother, who has maintained the constitutional proprieties impeccably for the whole of her 64-year reign, it is feared that King Charles III may not be content to remain above the political fray. Imagine a King who tweeted? A King who to read his own Speech from the Throne? In the throes of another economic crisis, and unwilling to be ‘rescued’ by a political class they both despise and distrust, what might Charles III’s subjects not do?
What has prompted these musings on the residual power of the monarchy? Obviously, it was the extraordinary, and apparently impromptu, political observations of Tuheitia Paki, the Maori King. The latter’s disparaging remarks about the Labour Party, coupled with his de facto endorsement of the Maori and Mana parties, have garnered the Kingitanga movement considerable media coverage. It is a matter of some significance that, to date, media coverage has offered little in the way of criticism of the King’s actions. Maori and Pakeha journalists, alike, have not thought it necessary to condemn Tuheitia for stepping into the fraught arena of electoral politics.
The NZ First Leader, Winston Peters, has had no such qualms. “It is disappointing the Maori King has been used in such a sad way,” said Mr Peters. “There is no way his predecessor, the Maori Queen, would ever have done that.”
Perhaps not. But was his predecessor’s reticence born of what she perceived to be her purely ceremonial status? Or, was her silence on electoral matters merely a concession to the prevailing political realities of her reign. For the past 153 years, the Kingitanga has maintained a respectful distance from the Settler State. This is hardly surprising: military invasion and land confiscation tends to dampen even the most courageous people’s political ardour.
The Kingitanga’s long-standing recognition of the Settler State’s power to do it harm, indicated by its dignified silence, has been misinterpreted by Pakeha politicians as indigenous acceptance of the rules of constitutional monarchy. Like his British counterpart’s, the Maori monarch’s status is regarded as purely symbolic and ceremonial. That he or she might aspire to being an independent political actor, wielding real political power, is not something Pakeha New Zealand has seriously contemplated since 1863.
Much has changed since that violent period of our history. The Settler State is no longer the predatory beast that assailed the earthworks at Rangiriri. The need for Kingitanga reticence is not so great now as it was during the reign of Dame Te Atairangikaahu, King Tuheitia’s predecessor. In his keynote speech to mark the tenth anniversary of his ascension, the Maori King spoke of Maori exercising dual sovereignty over Aotearoa-New Zealand by 2025. This is less constitutional monarchy than it is constitutional revolution.
Royal words matter. If you doubt it, then just imagine the effect on Jeremy Corbyn’s fortunes if Queen Elizabeth II declared herself a life-long Labour supporter.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 26 August 2016.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Sitting Down For Socialism: Jeremy Corbyn Infuriates The British Establishment - Again.

It Certainly Is Jeremy! The image of Corbyn sitting on the floor of a railway carriage, alongside the many other passengers unable to find a seat, sends a powerful political message about how strongly he identifies with the frustrations of every citizen forced to depend upon sub-standard public transport. That he so unabashedly links their frustrations with his party’s determination to renationalise the service is taken as proof of Corbyn’s readiness to be guided, not by the demands  billionaires, but by the priorities of the long-suffering British people.
RICHARD BRANSON, the billionaire owner of the Virgin Group, paints himself as a progressive, twenty-first century capitalist. With his trademark long hair and beard, and his very public concern for the environment, he has created a brand which suggests to the world, especially its younger inhabitants, that you can be a friend of the planet, make a profit, and have a tremendous amount of fun in the process.
Beneath the hip-billionaire image, however, lurks what can only be described as an old-fashioned, Mr Moneybags loathing of socialism and all its works.
Confronted with a video produced by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign-team, in which the Labour leader is shown sitting on the floor of one of Virgin Trains’ ridiculously overcrowded passenger services, Branson saw red.
Stung by Corbyn’s criticism of Britain’s privatised railway system, and rattled by his plans to renationalise it, Branson released security-camera footage, purportedly showing Corbyn and his crew walking past multiple empty seats, to the media.
Predictably, the conservative British press have had a field day. Corbyn has been painted as a liar and a cheat, and his Blairite opponents in the Labour Party have lost little time putting the boot in.
Unfortunately for Corbyn’s critics, a number of people who were on the same train as the Labour leader have come forward to corroborate his version of events. The apparently empty seats had, according to these witnesses, been “reserved” by passengers placing bags and clothing upon them for their friends – something missed in the Virgin Trains’ video on account of the elevated positioning of its security cameras.
Corbyn’s team has not been unduly fazed by Branson’s tactics. Alluding to a letter released by Virgin Trains, in which an attempt is made to justify its overcrowded services, Sam Tarry, Corbyn’s campaign director, was reassuring. “Some of you might have seen on social media today there’s been a little bit of a spat,” he told an East London Corbyn rally. “Richard Branson has decided he’s very upset about our not particularly radical plans to renationalise our railways, so he’s having a little pop at us […] I’d just say that’s very, very indicative – the establishment is absolutely petrified about what this campaign is about, what this movement is about.”
Corbyn’s rival for the Labour leadership, Owen Smith, was careful to keep his own response light-hearted. “My campaign remains on track.”, he tweeted. “Proud to be genuinely standing up for ordinary people.”
The entire episode epitomises the way in which the British Establishment and its media attack-dogs have sought to deal with the Corbyn threat. Not even Branson was prepared to argue that the privatised railways aren’t an inefficient and unreliable mess. But if the message is irrefutable, the messenger is not. Every opportunity is, therefore, taken to discredit Corbyn as both a human-being and a political leader.
It remains to be seen just how successful Corbyn’s enemies have been in undermining his support among Labour Party members and the broader Labour-voting public. If the tens-of-thousands of Britons who have joined the Labour Party over the past few weeks are any indication (most of them with the express purpose of voting to keep Corbyn at Labour’s helm) one would have to say that the Establishment hasn’t been very successful at all.
The image of Corbyn sitting on the floor of a railway carriage, alongside the many other passengers unable to find a seat, sends a powerful political message about how strongly he identifies with the frustrations of every citizen forced to depend upon sub-standard public transport. That he so unabashedly links their frustrations with his party’s determination to renationalise the service is taken as proof of Corbyn’s readiness to be guided, not by the demands of Tony Blair’s billionaire buddy, Richard Branson, but by the priorities of the long-suffering British people.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 24 August 2016.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The Treaty Settlement Process: Neoliberalism With Maori Characteristics.

A Good Deal? By laying the foundations of “neo-tribal capitalism” the Treaty Settlement Process interposed a rapidly expanding Maori middle-class between an impoverished Maori working-class and the Settler State's elites. Without the TSP, the huge transfer of wealth and resources from ordinary New Zealanders to those privileged elites could not have been accomplished.
WHEN THE NATIONAL GOVERNMENT OF 1990-99 came up with the “Treaty Settlement Process” (TSP) it created a winning strategy. No single state initiative has done more to pacify the principal casualties of the economic and social changes of the past 30 years. By laying the foundations of what Dr Elizabeth Rata calls “neo-tribal capitalism”, the TSP interposed a rapidly expanding Maori middle-class between an impoverished Maori working-class and the Settler State elites. Without the TSP, the huge transfer of wealth and resources from ordinary New Zealanders to those privileged elites could not have been accomplished.
By the time the Fourth Labour Government was voted out of office at the end of 1990, its neoliberal policies had laid to waste huge swathes of Maoridom. Whole communities had been devastated by mass lay-offs in the state-owned forests, Post Office and railways, as well as the privately owned freezing-works and car assembly plants. A disproportionately large number of these displaced workers were Maori.
The Treasury’s preferred method of dealing with mass unemployment was to let the jobless rot on a benefit. Retraining and re-employing redundant workers was deemed to be both cost ineffective and ideologically unsound.
The results were entirely predictable. In a frighteningly short period of time all the familiar social pathologies of poverty: drug addiction, child abuse, domestic violence, marriage breakdown and gang-related crime; began to unravel the working-class Maori suburbs of Auckland and Wellington. While dealing with these pathologies imposed a massive fiscal burden on the state, the alternative – an activist government intervening to create jobs and strengthen communities – was dismissed as unacceptable. The whole point of the Douglas-Richardson Revolution was to put an end to state interventionism.
The skewed ethnicity of this new “underclass” (as journalists were beginning to call it) did, however, present the new National Government with a problem. Maori nationalist sentiment had grown rapidly in the 1980s – most particularly in the agitation for tino rangatiratanga – Maori Sovereignty. The possibility that these radical ideas might be transmitted to and taken up by unemployed Maori was a source of considerable concern among Pakeha elites. A mass Maori uprising, inspired by tino rangatiratanga, could only be contained by the use of deadly force – a course of action that would almost certainly spark a civil war.
The TSP, by contrast, could serve as an effective diversion from the misery and anger gripping urban Maori. By nominating traditional iwi as the Crown’s key negotiating partners the Settler State offered a sense of historical continuity and by enlisting the talents and shifting the focus of Maori nationalist leaders it deprived the Maori underclass of the tino rangatiratanga firebrands who might otherwise have set it alight.
Even so, it was a near-run thing. The occupation of Moutoa Gardens in Whanganui in early-1995 balanced on a taiaha-edge between peaceful protest and violent insurrection. The Government of Jim Bolger and Douglas Graham (the minister responsible for the TSP) held their hand and the occupiers refused to be provoked. The Whanganui confrontation, which could so easily have ended in disaster, caused the Crown’s negotiators to redouble their efforts.
By the end of the decade the TSP was well entrenched. The multi-million dollar Ngai Tahu and Tainui settlements had demonstrated the awesome commercial potential of the neo-tribal capitalist model. The tribes’ corporate structures were offering employment to Maori graduates, and tribal scholarships were supplying the Settler State with the highly-educated Maori personnel it needed to give bureaucratic expression to the “Treaty partnership” which the New Zealand Court of Appeal deemed to have existed between Maori and the Crown since 1840.
The creation and consolidation of the Maori middle-class which the TSP and the partnership model facilitated has proved to be a shrewd investment on the part of the Settler State. It has been achieved at a fraction of the cost of effectively educating and gainfully employing the tens-of-thousands of untrained and unemployed rangatahi. Indeed, the transfer of wealth (in the form of Crown cash and resources) from the poorest Maori communities to wealthy tribal elites (the Iwi Leadership Group) mirrors neatly the transfer of wealth from the 99 percent to the top 1 percent of income earners that is the hallmark of neoliberalism globally.
The cost – a large urban Maori underclass in the grip of all the evils to which poverty gives rise – has not yet risen to the point where the Pakeha elites feel compelled to do more than refine and expand their techniques for social control. That the new Ministry for Vulnerable Children will feature a large number of middle-class Maori professionals, appointed to ensure that the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi are upheld, even as the children of Maori poverty are made the guinea-pigs of National’s “social investment” ideology, merely reinforces what an extraordinary success the TSP has become.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 23 August 2016.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Let Sleeping Ghosts Lie.

Fighting For A Principle? At the Battle of Rangiriri, 1863, General Duncan Cameron's invasion force overcame the Maori King's defences at Rangiriri. It marked the beginning of the end of Maori sovereignty in New Zealand. In proposing to commemorate the New Zealand Wars, what does the Government hope Maori and Pakeha will remember? The "principles" their ancestors died for? We must hope not - lest the war begins again.
IT HAD TO COME, this official recognition of the dead of the New Zealand Wars. After four decades of constant revision, our nation’s story has reached the point where even those who fell in the battles that made it are summoned forth from the shadows. In recognising these ghosts, however, we must not deceive ourselves that the causes for which they fought and died will somehow remain unrecognised.
In announcing the Government’s intention to set aside a day to commemorate those who fell in the battles of one-and-a-half centuries ago, The Deputy-Prime Minister, Bill English declared that the time had come “to recognise our own conflict, our own war, our own fallen, because there is no doubt at Rangiriri ordinary people lost their lives fighting for principle in just the same way as New Zealand soldiers who lost their lives fighting on battlefields on the other side of the world”.
And what principle would that be, Mr English? The principle of dual sovereignty? – because that was what the Kingitanga represented. The principle of tino rangatiratanga? – in recognition of which the sovereign rights of Maori chiefs had been deemed inviolate under the Treaty of Waitangi? Or, was it the more general principle, recognised then, as it is now, that the military invasion and seizure of territory occupied by people who have not struck a blow against you is an international crime?
When teachers are asked to explain why 12,000 Imperial troops invaded the Waikato and the Bay of Plenty in 1863-64, how would Mr English have them reply? Should they tell their pupils that the Maori fighting force, against which this massive army advanced, struggled to maintain a muster of four-figures? And what should they say about the million Maori acres confiscated by the Settler Parliament? How should that be justified?
Perhaps these questions should be left for the Minister of Arts Culture and Heritage, Maggie Barry, to answer. She was, after all, the person who described the invasion of the Waikato, and the Battle of Rangiriri, as: “a deeply regrettable time in our history”. Speaking to those gathered to witness the repatriation of the Rangiriri battle-site to the Kingitanga on Friday, 19 August, she emphasised the significance of commemorating the New Zealand Wars: “It is important to us as a nation. At least as important as our World War I commemorations, if not more so.”
Much more so, Ms Barry. The formation of the New Zealand State was predicated on the full and final subjection of its indigenous people. In the two decades separating the signing of the Treaty, in 1840, and the invasion of the Waikato, in 1863, tens of thousands of mostly British immigrants had poured into New Zealand. In 1852, the British Foreign and Colonial Office responded to this influx by granting a large measure of self-government to the burgeoning settler population. The Maori tribes of the North Island interior countered by establishing the Kingitanga. While the Maori King’s writ ran, no more land would be sold to the Pakeha. To the London investors and Auckland land speculators who were chafing at the bit to turn this British “possession” into a paying proposition, such defiance was intolerable. New Zealand’s restless natives needed to be taught a lesson. General Duncan Cameron and his 12,000-strong army would be the teachers.
So what, exactly does Ms Barry find “regrettable” about the New Zealand Wars? That the Pakeha won them? That the confiscated lands of the Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Taranaki tribes went on to form the foundation of New Zealand’s economic prosperity? That the victory of the colonial forces, by removing the risk of further warfare, prepared the way for the breakneck development of the colony in the half-century that followed? Are these the consequences of the New Zealand Wars that the Minister of Arts Culture and Heritage regrets? Probably not.
So what, exactly, will Maori and Pakeha talk about on this yet-to-be-announced day of commemoration? Will the victors tell the vanquished how damned decent it was of their ancestors to let their ancestors kill so many warriors and steal so much land? Will the vanquished shrug their shoulders and say, “No worries, Bro, it was a long time ago”? And will the victors smile indulgently, slap the vanquished on the back, and say: “Quite right, Mate, it was, and we’re all New Zealanders now.”
We shall see. Of one thing we can be certain, however: the dead who have slept for one-and-a-half centuries beneath the disputed soil of Aotearoa will have a very different story to tell.
There is a reason why so many of the signposts to old battle sites are weathered and overgrown; why lichen has been allowed to obliterate the names of those who fell.
Sleeping ghosts, like sleeping dogs, should never be needlessly awakened.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 23 August 2016.