Friday, 18 August 2017

Don't You Dare, Jacinda Ardern! Don't You Dare!

Oi! Jacinda! No!  If Jacinda Ardern follows the advice of her advisers to scale back voter expectations and re-commit to the Labour/Green "Budget Responsibility Rules", then she will endanger everything she has achieved to date.
 
“DON’T YOU DARE, Jacinda Ardern. Don’t you dare!” That’s what I shouted at the television screen as she started hosing-down the political prairie fire she’d so spectacularly ignited barely a fortnight before. Someone, somewhere, had impressed upon her the importance of walking-back the expectations that “Jacindamania” is raising – especially among the young.
 
Someone, somewhere, has drawn her attention to Labour’s longstanding commitment to fiscal rectitude. Rapidly rising voter expectations of increased government spending on education, health and welfare are threatening to make a bonfire of the party’s much-vaunted “Budget Responsibility Rules” and, clearly, her advisers are insisting that she dampen them down.
 
But, if she heeds this advice, Ardern will endanger everything she has achieved to date. Instead of being hailed as Labour’s political saviour: the woman whose sunny ways have thrown her four dismal predecessors into shadow; she will begin to look like a front-person. A phoney. A fake.
 
All that promise; all that thrilling sense of now, at last, Labour has a leader equal to the challenges New Zealand faces; will dissipate. The radiance of “The Jacinda Affect” will fade. And, in the ensuing gloom, we will see only a smiley-face puppet whose strings are being pulled by the same grey men who gave us Phil Goff, David Shearer, David Cunliffe and Andrew Little. Those “leaders” who failed us by making promises, and then, almost immediately, taking them back again.
 
According to her Wikipedia entry, Ardern has a BA in communications. So, I’m betting there’s a little voice telling her not to listen to her over-cautious advisers. A little voice demanding to know why she is putting her dream-run to the Ninth Floor of the Beehive at risk.
 
She should listen to that little voice, and ignore the voices of all those telling her that the sky will fall if an Ardern-led Labour Government deviates even a smidgen from the numbers set down in the Labour/Green Budget Responsibility Rules. Because it won’t.
 
No need to take my word for it, however. This is what Aussie economist, Professor Bill Mitchell, from the University of Newcastle, NSW, said when asked to comment on the rigid fiscal parameters set down in Labour’s and the Greens’ budget rules. He described them as “the height of economic irresponsibility”.
 
Responding to RNZ’s Wallace Chapman on the Sunday Morning programme of 30 July, Mitchell went on to argue that, since roughly 1 in 8 New Zealanders are either underemployed or unemployed; a third of our children live in poverty; and we have record levels of household debt – “so you’ve got consumption expenditure being driven by debt which is an unsustainable process” – and since we have an external sector that’s draining spending through current account deficits; the very idea of running a fiscal surplus is, in Mitchell’s own words, “irresponsible in the extreme.”
 
Of course all those grey men whispering in her ear will tell Ardern that Bill Mitchell is a crank whose views should, on no account, be heeded. But that is what the advisers to the British Labour Party’s tragic Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Snowden, said about John Maynard Keynes in 1929. And it is also, I’m guessing, what all the people she got to know in Tony Blair’s office said about Jeremy Corbyn’s “For the Many, Not the Few” manifesto. Grey, cautious men will always tender grey, cautious advice.
 
But if she really means to be New Zealand’s Justin Trudeau, then Ardern should follow his campaign strategy. Trudeau saw the New Democratic Party (Canada’s Labour Party) doing everything it could to be “responsible” – to the point where Canadians found it difficult to distinguish Thomas Mulcair’s NDP from Steven Harper’s Conservatives. Seeing the political opening before him Trudeau said something along the lines of “Let’s do this!” – and won.
 
Don’t hose down the expectations you have raised, Jacinda. Be guided, instead, by Bill Mitchell:
 
“[W]hat you’ve got in New Zealand is similar to many other countries in the advanced world. You’ve got the so-called “progressive parties” – the Greens and the Labour Party, who have abandoned [their traditional roles]. The Greens are sort of neoliberals on bikes. And the Labour Party are Neoliberal-Lite. They say, we’ll do austerity – but we’ll do it fairer.”
 
Except: “There’s no such thing as fair austerity when a third of your children are living in poverty.”
 
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, 18 August 2017.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Voter Motivators 2017: Water.

Worth Protecting? The threat to the nation’s water is real and it demands action. What’s more, the Water Issue comes with a whole cast of ready-made villains: someone to take the blame. Farmers.
 
WHO CAN FORGET that magic childhood moment when you first opened your eyes underwater? I remember mine like it was yesterday. I was splashing about in the Waianakarua River in North Otago. The first thing I saw when I put my head under the water and opened my eyes was a red and green “Pure New Zealand Honey” tin. So clear was the water that I could easily make out the bees and clover-heads printed on its surface. (Quite why the tin was in the river, which was otherwise blissfully free of litter, I never discovered!)
 
We all have memories like this of New Zealand’s rivers and streams. Those deep, clear swimming holes that family and friends frequented during the long, hot days of summer. It may be years since we visited them, but they feature prominently in our mental and emotional landscapes. They are places of the heart.
 
Which is why, when we hear about the extent to which New Zealand’s rivers and streams have become unswimmable, the impact is devastating. Whatever it is that’s polluting and degrading our waterways, it is also befouling our memories.
 
Understandably, these sort of emotional connections are tremendously concerning to the politicians on whose watch our waterways are being polluted. Be they central, regional or local government representatives, all are acutely aware that the “Water Issue” is not only one of the big Voter Motivators of 2017, but that it has also become a symbol of New Zealand’s entire beleaguered environment.
 
The devastations of global warming loom ahead of humanity – and that’s the problem. As a species we are notoriously prone to ignoring all but the most immediate threats. All of the measures which New Zealand (and a great many other countries) refuse to countenance when it comes to mitigating the effects of climate change would be adopted in an instant if we found ourselves at war. Indeed, “Victory Gardens”, compulsory re-cycling, and the strict rationing of fossil fuels were an accepted part of people’s everyday lives during World War II.
 
The threat to the nation’s water, however, is very much in the here and now. It’s real and it demands action. What’s more, the Water Issue comes with a whole cast of ready-made villains: someone to take the blame. Farmers.
 
And don’t they know it! The dairy industry is spending millions of dollars on public relations and advertising in an attempt to repair the damage done to the reputation of New Zealand farmers by the Green Party. The latter’s “Dirty Dairying” campaign, spearheaded by Russel Norman in the run-up to the 2014 election, turned urban New Zealanders off farmers in droves. Justified or unjustified, the connection between the vast expansion of this country’s dairy herd and the degradation of its waterways has been made. And all the beautifully shot images of salt-of-the-earth farming families walking their cows to milking in the dawn’s early light are not going to break it.
 
It gets worse. The National Party, which Labour’s Michael Cullen once described as “Federated Farmers at prayer”, is increasingly being identified as Dirty Dairying’s prime protectors and enablers. More and more voters are noticing that while the Department of Conservation has been wantonly downsized and cruelly starved of funding, the National-led Government has lavished hundreds-of-millions of dollars on irrigation schemes designed to further expand New Zealand’s dairy industry.
 
Put all of the above together with National’s refusal to enlist farmers in the war against global warming and the picture that emerges is not a pretty one. Clearly, the befouled state of our rivers and streams is merely the most visible and shocking evidence of an industry which has for decades traded environmental degradation for profit. It is just the tip of New Zealand’s rapidly melting environmental iceberg.
 
The real wonder of this year’s election is that the Greens have not made more of their former leader’s extraordinary political gift. It’s almost as if the party’s new co-leader, James Shaw, is frightened by the sheer intensity of public feeling against the role played by farmers in the ruin of our waterways. (Not to mention the giving away of New Zealand’s pristine springwater to foreign bottling companies!)
 
If future generations of young New Zealanders are to experience the joy and wonder of their wild water heritage, then today’s voters need to open their eyes.
 
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, 30 June. 2017.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

“Let’s Tax This?” – “Hell, Yeah!”

"Hell, Yeah!" - Labour must not retreat before National’s “Let’s Tax This!” counter-attack. Not when a majority of New Zealanders are ready to rescue their ailing public services from further deterioration. When National hurls the “tax and spend” accusation at Labour candidates they should respond instantly with a hearty “Hell, yeah!”
 
‘LET’S TAX THIS!’ Looks like being the National Party’s strategic rejoinder to Jacinda Ardern’s “Let’s Do This!” campaign slogan. If it is, then it deserves to be as ineffective as it is unoriginal. National’s campaign manager, Steven Joyce, is experienced enough to know that making the Left’s alleged propensity to “tax and spend” the central feature of a National Party election campaign only works when Labour is in power.
 
The reason for this is obvious. One of the main reasons National governments fall is because they are ideologically allergic to both taxing and spending. As the years pass, and the necessary investments in health, education, housing and infrastructure are withheld, the public starts to notice a worrying decline in the quality and quantity of essential social services.
 
Urgent surgical operations are routinely deferred, or, worse still, declined. School classrooms become overcrowded. The recruitment and retention of qualified teachers becomes impossible. Demand for affordable housing outstrips supply. Homelessness reaches crisis levels. Rivers and streams become unswimmable. To all but the greedy and the cruel, the moral case for increased taxation, to enable long-deferred public expenditure, is irrefutable.
 
Where New Zealand now stands, the need of a “tax and spend” government is palpable. Voters convinced of this need are, therefore, unlikely to run screaming for the hills at the prospect of a Labour government taking office. That National is defaulting to such a tired old attack-line is a sign not of strategic confidence – it actually signals something pretty close to despair.
 
Why then is Mr Joyce rolling the dice so recklessly?
 
The most likely answer is that he believes Labour’s leaders – most particularly its finance spokesperson, Grant Robertson – are incorrigibly risk averse, and that they will recoil from National’s “Let’s Tax This!” counter-attack in confusion and dismay.
 
On the strength of Labour’s performance under Andrew Little, Mr Joyce’s gamble is not unreasonable. It was, after all, Mr Little who nixed Labour’s 2011-2014 policy of introducing a capital gains tax. Nor was he willing to countenance a sharp rise in the progressivity of the Income Tax. His preference for a “working group” of “experts” to write his party’s tax policies – but only after Labour has been safely elected – betrayed the Opposition’s extraordinary sensitivity towards these issues.
 
Mr Joyce is hoping that the more pressure the National Party is able to heap upon Labour in relation to tax, the more confused and equivocal its spokespeople will become. This would be of enormous assistance to National; not least because it would spike the Opposition’s rhetorical guns on at least two issues where the Government is acutely vulnerable: Auckland’s escalating traffic woes; and the appalling condition of New Zealand’s waterways.
 
Ms Ardern’s bold policy announcements on both of these issues have included unabashed references to such fiscal instruments as regional fuel taxes, resource-use royalties and irrigation levies. Had she not included these references, National’s charge would have been that Labour has no idea how its promises will be paid for. By anticipating this criticism, however, and countering it, Ms Ardern handed Mr Joyce the “Let’s Tax This!” attack-line he was looking for.
 
For a day or two, Mr Joyce’s strategy appeared to be working. Interviewed by Lisa Owen on the Three network’s current affairs programme, “The Nation”, Mr Robertson’s confidence visibly faded when asked whether or not Labour would be putting a capital gains tax back on the agenda. As his opponent floundered, the wolfish grin on Finance Minister Joyce’s face told the viewers everything they needed to know!
 
By the following day, however, Labour had developed an attack-line of its own. Interviewed on TVNZ’s “Q+A”, Labour’s environment spokesperson, David Parker, hit back against criticism of his party’s water policies by turning the disparagement back on its originators. Mr Parker simply demanded to know whether or not the Government, Federated Farmers, horticulturalists and vintners were suggesting that the biggest contributors to New Zealand’s water problems should be exempted entirely from making a reasonable contribution to their solution?
 
That Mr Parker rebuked his critics while wearing an expression that positively shouted: “You have got to be kidding me!”, made his challenge even more persuasive. Television is an ideal medium for this sort of non-verbal communication – As Mr Joyce had proved the day before.
 
Labour should not, therefore, retreat before National’s “Let’s Tax This!” counter-attack. Not when a majority of New Zealanders are ready to rescue their ailing public services from further deterioration. That “taxation is the price we pay for civilisation” has become increasingly clear over the nine years of Bill English’s undeclared, but unmistakeable, austerity campaign against the public sector. When National hurls the “tax and spend” accusation at Labour candidates they should respond instantly with a hearty “Hell, yeah!”
 
“Let’s Do This!” and “Let’s Tax This!” are simply different ways of saying the same thing.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 15 August 2017.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

The Greens' Campaign Reset: Normal Ideological Transmission Is Resumed.

Who Loves Ya Baby? “I didn’t come to Parliament to act like other political parties. But this week that’s where we ended up. We have not been our best selves, and for that I am sorry.” But who are your best selves? And why are they sorry?
 
WATCHING THE GREENS’ campaign re-set unfold, I couldn’t help but feel the absence of the pre-Dotcom Mana Party. Because sure as eggs-is-eggs, the Greens have put poverty behind them. Not rhetorically, of course, as James Shaw, now the party’s sole leader, made clear to the assembled journalists: “[W]e will continue to talk about poverty. That conversation makes a lot of people uncomfortable. I’m comfortable with that.” Except, of course, he isn’t. Not in the least. Not on your Nelly.
 
The Greens have no intention of avenging Metiria. In fact, Metiria is in the process of being air-brushed out of the Green Party’s political history in a way that would have made Joe Stalin proud.
 
As for the issue of poverty: well, the proof of the Greens’ commitment to keep this issue front and centre politically is, surely, to be found in the content of the party’s re-edited campaign advertisement. And it is – but only in the sense that poverty isn’t there. The very first promise we hear in the Greens’ re-edited 30-second spot is NOT that they will make poverty history, but that, under the Greens: “Aotearoa New Zealand can be a place where businesses are booming in a thriving green economy.” In the whole 30 seconds, the word “poverty” is never spoken.
 
Shaw may have taken the opportunity to announce Marama Davidson’s new role as the party’s spokesperson on Poverty, but I’d be very surprised if she harbours any illusions about the way she is – and is not – expected to advance Metiria’s adoption of “the preferential option for the poor.” *
 
The careful stage-management of the campaign re-set: from Shaw’s heroic entry, surrounded by his top 20 candidates; to the “up-cycling” of the Greens’ 2014 campaign slogan “Love New Zealand”; was intended to – and did – convey a single message. The feverish political distempers which have, for the past month, thrown the Green Party into such disorder, are now at an end.
 
Or, as Shaw put it: “Our slogan for this campaign was ‘Great Together’. But, to be frank, over the last couple of weeks we haven’t been all that together and it hasn’t been all that great.” For this lamentable lapse in political discipline, Shaw offered Green Party supporters an apology: “I didn’t come to Parliament to act like other political parties. But this week that’s where we ended up. We have not been our best selves, and for that I am sorry.”
 
Sorry for what, though? Toby Manhire may have voiced the question, but he was by no means the only journalist present who was wondering. Sorry for interrupting our relentless advance from the kooky margins to the sensible centre of parliamentary politics? Sorry for upsetting our core electoral base in the nation’s leafy suburbs? Sorry for not perceiving the acute political dangers associated with Metiria’s radical turn towards the poor?
 
Shaw didn’t say – but, then, he didn’t really have to. The empty space where Metiria used to stand was saying it for him.
 
* This central tenet of the Catholic Church’s social teachings became a focus of the World Synod of Catholic Bishops in 1971, which reaffirmed that: “Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation.”
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 15 August 2017.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Election 2017: No Country For Old Men.

A Big Ask: How are Bill English and Steven Joyce supposed to defeat a young woman who can set the cold, cold heart of Paddy Gower aflame? How do a couple of guys on the wrong side of 50 fight a social-media phenomenon? Sure, they can say that elections are about policies – not personalities – but, after ten years of relying on John Key’s winning personality, who’s going to believe them?
 
THE NATIONAL PARTY’S BIG PROBLEM in 2017 is that Jacinda Ardern cannot be relied upon to deliver it a fourth consecutive term in government. As anticipated, Phil Goff and David Cunliffe proved to be extremely reliable self-saboteurs – albeit for very different reasons. David Shearer’s challenge to National was real enough – that damn back-story! – but only for a while. The UN trouble-shooter realised pretty early on that he and the Labour Party were never going to be friends and wisely took himself out of play. Andrew Little desperately wanted to be Labour’s next PM, but didn’t know how. Confronted with a guy who couldn’t seem to get out of his own way, National must have thought its fourth consecutive term was in the bag.
 
Not anymore.
 
How are Bill English and Steven Joyce supposed to defeat a young woman who can set the cold, cold heart of Paddy Gower aflame? How do a couple of guys on the wrong side of 50 fight a social-media phenomenon? Sure, they can say that elections are about policies – not personalities – but, after ten years of relying on John Key’s winning personality, who’s going to believe them?
 
Besides, when it comes to policy, National’s bill-of-fare just isn’t that appetising. English’s great achievement, as John Key’s Finance Minister, was to impose an austerity regime upon New Zealand’s public sector without the voters noticing. Now that he’s Prime Minister, however, the consequences of nearly a decade of underfunded social services and insufficient infrastructural spending are hitting the electorate hard where it hurts. Promising to put right your own deliberate “mistakes” isn’t all that likely to make the voters feel forgiving.
 
You have to hand it to Key – he sure knew when to quit!
 
And this time National can’t even fight dirty. In 2014, Kim Dotcom and David Cunliffe may, between them, have rescued National from the consequences of its own spectacular political sinning. But, they can’t rely upon the “Moment of Truth” of an overweight deus ex machina to save them a second time. Jacinda Ardern sure as hell ain’t going to apologise for being a woman!
 
Not even the media is to be relied upon anymore. Oh sure, the dear old NZ Herald will continue to plod on ahead of the National Party, striking out predictably at all the usual left-wing suspects. In 2017, however, the Government must do without John Armstrong. Yes, Audrey Young and Claire Trevett are still there, but do either of these two women journalists any longer have a dog in National’s electoral fight? Does “More of the same” really beat “Let’s do this!”?
 
As for the rest of the news media: well, National can pretty much forget about it. With the obvious exceptions of Mike Hosking and Leighton Smith, the inhabitants of the news media’s Olympian heights are bored with the status quo. If “Jacindamania” didn’t already exist, they would have felt obliged to invent it. Moreover, thanks to Metiria Turei’s reckless gamble (heroic sacrifice?) the blood-lust of the press corps’ most ferocious predators has been pretty well satisfied. (Some of them, one suspects, may even be feeling a little guilty!) Destroying one young woman politician might be passed-off as an unfortunate necessity; but destroying two begins to look like sadistic misogyny.
 
And then there’s Winston. (There’s always Winston!) That old dog still has a good nose for what’s coming down the road – especially if that road’s in Northland. Like the hapless Green Party, he’s watching his supporters stream past him. He knows where they’re headed and what it means. Come election night, the winds of change will be blowing hard and he knows better than to steer NZ First’s ship into the teeth of a howling gale. Even if he was able to, somehow, reach the good ship National, Peters knows that all NZ First can look forward to in 2020 is being dragged under with it – along with his political legacy.
 
Winston understands that, in 2017, New Zealand is no country for old men who attempt to stand in the way of young women.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Saturday, 12 August 2017.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Tales From A Possible Future: Avenge Metiria!

Never forget, the best way to avenge the wrongs of the past is by seizing control of the future!
 
IT WAS SHORTLY AFTER MARAMA DAVIDSON’S impassioned appeal to Metiria Turei’s devastated supporters, that the “Avenge Metiria” meme made its first appearance. No one’s entirely sure who started it, but pretty soon it was all over social media. Then the ideas for action started pouring in to the Green Party HQ. Though expressed in a multitude of ways, the message was clear: “If Metiria is to be avenged, then we have to get her supporters to the polls!”
 
Over the next few days, dozens of IamMetiria volunteers began texting their friends and neighbours with news that “Avenge Metiria” meetings were being organised around the country. Posters featuring Metiria’s image started going up all over New Zealand saying, simply: “Don’t mourn – organise!”
 
The meetings attracted hundreds of people. Among their very first decisions was a vote to ban the mainstream news media from all further “Avenge Metiria” gatherings. Some wag even sent a message to the television networks: “Stay healthy, guys – stay away!” Gang members offered to provide “security” for the rapidly growing movement’s leading organisers.
 
When Marama Davidson announced that the Greens would accept an invitation to address the rally being organised by the South Auckland chapter of “Avenge Metiria”, it soon became clear that the turnout would be huge. And when word spread that Metiria, herself, would be speaking, the organisers were forced to secure a bigger venue – a much bigger venue.
 
Metiria’s speech, carried live on social media, was electrifying. Freed from the constraints of her co-leadership role and with nothing left to lose, she spoke from the heart about the need for those who had been silenced by poverty and bureaucratic oppression to find their voices. To take on the system with the objects it feared the most – their votes.
 
“Don’t do it to avenge me!”, she cried, “Do it to avenge yourselves! Do it to avenge all those New Zealanders whom the greedy and the cruel have driven into the shadow world of poverty and despair. For the ones still living in the dark. For these lost souls, I am asking every one of you here tonight to become a light-giver. Never forget, the best way to avenge the wrongs of the past is by seizing control of the future!”
 
On Election Night 2017, puzzled political scientists reported a huge increase in voter turnout. For the first time since 1984, more than 90 percent of registered voters had cast a ballot. Equally confounded were the mainstream news media’s leading political journalists. All of whom were at a loss to explain the unprecedented level of support for the Green Party.
 
“The polls gave us no inkling of this”, complained one baffled pundit. “We simply had no idea it was happening!”
 
As it became clear that Labour and the Greens were racking-up an historic landslide victory, a new meme mysteriously appeared on social media – and almost instantly went viral.
 
“Metiria Is Avenged!”
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 10 August 2017.

You Can’t Turn A Green Party Red Overnight.

Red Or Green? Metiria Turei’s sudden and dramatic elevation of issues relating to the poor and marginalised shocked and surprised many of the Greens’ middle-class voters. That their own social class was being cast as the villains of her “I, Daniel Blake” drama did not make the acceptance of Ms Turei’s radical welfare policies any easier.
 
THE GREENS as a political party, a social movement, and an electoral block, constitute three very different groups. Metiria Turei, by failing to balance the respective claims of each group, has plunged all three into a potentially terminal political crisis – destroying her own parliamentary career in the process.
 
The Green Party defectors’ (David Clendon and Kennedy Graham) grasp of the moral expectations of actual Green voters has proved to be considerably stronger than their co-leader’s.
 
As numerous political scientists and journalists have pointed out over the 28 years of the Green Party’s existence, its electoral base is overwhelmingly middle-class. “The wives of doctors, lawyers and architects from Wadestown and Mt Eden”, as one Press Gallery pundit put it.
 
Putting to one side the sexist over-simplification, the raw electoral data shows him to be more right than wrong. Nandor Tanczos, Sue Bradford and Keith Locke – the so-called “Red Greens” – may have captured the headlines when the Green Party first squeaked into Parliament back in 1999. But, the MP who most resembled the typical Green voter was the very middle-class Sue Kedgely. Close behind her was the irrepressible Rod Donald. As the former manager of a small business, he, too, represented a good-sized chunk of the Greens’ electoral base.
 
If one listened only to the rhetorical sallies of Sue Bradford, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Green party was chock-full of eco-socialists. Well, it ain’t necessarily so. For the voters concerned about dangerous food additives, genetic engineering and climate change, the Greens were neither Left, nor Right – the Greens were in front!
 
Metiria Turei’s sudden and dramatic elevation of issues relating to the poor and marginalised shocked and surprised many of the Greens’ middle-class voters. Their astonishment turned to alarm as the political implications of her defiance of WINZ acquired greater clarity. The Greens’ co-leader obviously regarded the laws surrounding the administration of social welfare as unjust manifestations of one class’s determination to limit the life chances of another. That their own social class was being cast as the villains of this “I, Daniel Blake” drama did not make the acceptance of Ms Turei’s radical welfare policies any easier.
 
Given that this sort of class war rhetoric had not been deployed in mainstream New Zealand politics for many decades, the public’s (including 51 percent of Green Party voters’) largely negative reaction to Ms Turei’s intervention was hardly surprising.
 
That Labour voters had celebrated enthusiastically their early leaders’ run-ins with the law reflected the extent to which class-based political ideologies had seized the imagination of the New Zealand working-class. Labour’s formation in 1916 came barely three years after the Great Strike of 1913 – generally accepted by historians as the closest this country has ever come to open class warfare. As late as 1932, it was still possible for unemployed rioters to wield the Auckland Methodist Mission’s picket fence against the Police – and receive absolution.
 
“If what happened last night makes authority act to help desperate people obtain the justice they deserve,” said Colin Scrimgeour, in his guise as the broadcaster “Uncle Scrim”, “the pickets torn off the fence of the Methodist Mission in Airedale Street will have caused this church to give the people the most outstanding service of the church’s hundred years of history.”
 
By 1935, however, Labour’s new leader, the avuncular Mickey Savage, was dampening-down the fiery class rhetoric of his party. To extend the appeal of Labour beyond the militant trade union movement from which it sprang, Savage required his comrades to master a more inviting and inclusive political language.
 
Herein lay Ms Turei’s error. To ask a political party to embrace the uncompromising goals of a social movement, in defiance of the moral expectations of at least half of that party’s electoral base, and without the lengthy preparations necessary to modify those expectations, can only be described as the purest political folly. It is all very well to present yourself as the reincarnation of Victor Hugo’s Jean Valjean, the hero of Les Miserables, but only after a majority of your fellow New Zealanders have been made familiar with the plot – and only if your own and Jean Valjean’s poverty are genuinely comparable!
 
The tragedy is not only that Ms Turei’s unapologetic radicalism has terminated her political career, but that the Greens did so little to prepare their supporters for its sudden arrival.
 
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, 11 August 2017.