Friday, 8 October 2010

Driving In Illiberal Circles

However did he win? Rob Muldoon addresses a National Party-organised campaign rally in the Upper Hutt Mall, 1981. Our eyes are drawn immediately to the placards carried by the Labour-supporting rubber workers, but it was the voting strength of all those undemonstrative electors listening attentively to "Mr Muldoon" which counted on election day. Disgraced Breakfast host, Paul Henry, may have many more supporters out there than Liberal New Zealand likes to think.

LIBERAL KIWIS said it so often that conservative comedians turned it into a joke: "I don’t know how Rob Muldoon got elected – nobody I know voted for him!"

You’d be surprised how many liberals struggled to see the humour in that sentence. Conservatives, on the other hand, got the joke straight-away.

They, at least, understood that liberal New Zealand constituted a small, self-referential elite that was ideologically, culturally and socially cut off from the overwhelming majority of the population.

And that, of course, was the whole point of the joke.

In the isolated liberal communities of academia, the artistic community, the news media and whatever passed for bohemia in the 1970s hardly anyone ever voted for the National Party.

Hence liberal New Zealand’s profound sense of shock and dislocation when the rest of the population turned away from Bill Rowling’s Labour Government in 1975.

I well recall the day, a few weeks before the 1975 General Election, when I found myself in a room chock-full of the Wellington cultural elite. In one corner sat the acting head of the Arts Council, a couple of nationally renowned poets occupied the sofa, and the rest of the space was filled up with writers, film-makers, academics and art students.

I had not long returned from a hitch-hiking tour of the South Island, during which I’d exchanged ideas with all sorts of New Zealanders. Mile after mile of these conversations had left me harbouring serious doubts about the longevity of Bill Rowling’s Labour Government.

Norman Kirk, it seemed, had been a man like themselves. But Bill Rowling? (Not to mention all those "intellectuals" surrounding him!) Well, he was a different matter.

Though they struggled to put it into words, many of the motorists who picked me up clearly believed the country was slowly slipping from their grasp. There were too many people like me, they said. Too many footloose, restless and unanchored youngsters. Too many long-haired hippies willing to challenge the ideas and institutions upon which they had built their lives.

"Rob Muldoon will sort your lot out", they would say, grinning widely. But I couldn’t help noticing that in their eyes there wasn’t the slightest trace of mirth.

Among the gaggle of liberal worthies I’d joined that day was the headmaster of my old secondary school – a wise, tolerant and generous man I greatly admired. I told him what I’d heard on my travels and asked for his thoughts on the imminent election.

"Don’t worry, Chris," he reassured me, "New Zealand will never vote for a man as far to the right as Muldoon."

Certainly, no one in that room did.

Thirty-five years later, with Breakfast host, Paul Henry, offering-up yet another gobbet of reactionary tripe to his television audience, I couldn’t help recalling those 1975 conversations.

They helped me resist the temptation to add yet another liberal voice to the cacophony of outraged protest.

That the redoubtable Joris de Bres, acting on behalf of left-thinking liberals everywhere, would bring to bear the full weight of the Race Relations Conciliator’s office, I hadn’t the slightest doubt. Just as I was certain that every left-wing blogger capable of spelling "bigot" and "redneck" would be reaching for the nearest keyboard.

Recalling those thirty-five-year-old conversations, I was equally certain that there wouldn’t be a single liberal commentator who didn’t consider Mr Henry’s comments regarding the identity of Governor-General Anand Satyanand to be both adolescent and unforgivable.

There’d be no votes for Mr Henry in liberal circles.

But what about out on the road?

What would New Zealanders living outside the charmed circles of Kiwi liberalism have to say about Mr Henry’s outburst?

"For crying out loud, mate, he was only saying what right-wing buggers like me are thinking. That Governor-Generals are supposed to be like everybody’s grand-dad – stuffed shirts with heads of white hair and plums in their mouths. At least they were when I was a kid.

"This guy we’ve got now, Satyanand or-whatever-his-name-is. Wasn’t he one of Aunty Helen’s appointments? Someone who ticked all the politically-correct boxes?

"That’s all Henry was trying to say for God’s sake. That Satyanand only got the job because the Labour Government needed to shore up its vote in the immigrant community. It’s hardly bloody rocket science – is it?"

To which I’d have to reply: "No, mate, it isn’t."

This essay was originally published in The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Evening Star of Friday, 8 October 2010.


Anonymous said...

What a strange way for Paul Henry to conveying Labours need to shore up the immigrant community vote... by labelling the immigrant community as not NZers?

Chris Trotter said...

Not at all, Anonymous. Conservative New Zealanders (a club of which Mr Henry is most certainly a member) take a more cynical view of Sir Anand Satyanand's appointment than do liberal New Zealanders.

Rather than see it as positive symbolic gesture towards multiculturalism, they interpret it as yet further proof that Labour's electoral constituency (unlike National's) is not composed of "real New Zealanders" (i.e. white, middle-class, Christian heterosexuals of British descent) being instead a motley "Rainbow Coalition" of various marginalised minorities.

Even more cynically, they may view his appointment as just one more entry in Helen Clark's application for the UN post she now occupies.

If you want to get a flavour of conservative thinking, consider this piece of dialogue from the movie "The Good Shepherd".

The mafioso, Joe Palami, asks the CIA chief, Edward Wilson, the $64,000 question about the nature of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant(WASP)Establishment:

JOE PALAMI: Let me ask you something... we Italians, we got our families, and we got the church; the Irish, they have the homeland, Jews their tradition; even the niggers, they got their music. What about you people, Mr. Wilson, what do you have?

EDWARD WILSON: The United States of America. The rest of you are just visiting.

Sanctuary said...

Ah yes, the myth of the classless, passionless people united in bland middle class mediocrity.

The election of Muldoon made inevitable the next round of the simmering civil war between labour and town and Massey's Cossack's/Holland's scabs in the country that we recall as the "Springbok Tour". Town won that round, and the country Confederates have been seething ever since.

Such a major social confrontation does seem to occur every 40 or so years in New Zealand (1913, 1951, 1981...) so maybe another one is due in the next decade.

Olwyn said...

There are two main problems I see with this picture. The first is that the debate seems reduced to an educated elite versus a moneyed elite (with a certain amount of overlap), while the majority of New Zealanders, with ever decreasing incomes and receding voices, are completely out of the frame. The other is the lack of respect this division engenders on both sides, which has its effects on those not included in the argument: if you eliminate the concept of respect, those who lack power are left completely at the mercy of those who have it. What I find horrible about Paul Henry's antics is a generalised contempt that goes far beyond prodding at sacred cows. And I find it alarming that a lot of people buy into this.

rosy rocket said...

As much as I hate to admit it exists in Aotearoa, I think what you're saying is true Chris.

I've been watching in some horror the comments online from my cousins and their friends in Hawkes Bay. Every one of them support Henry, can't see what the problem is with what he said, and concur with TVNZ's take on the matter that Henry simply voices that which most people are scared to say themselves.

At the same time, however, it is interesting to consider that all of these comments have come from Pakeha folk, and it would be interesting to hear opinions from folk who consider themselves New Zealanders but don't have Pakeha lineage. Because the number of New Zealanders who fit this category, even though they seem to be less represented in the public sphere, must surely be on track to outnumber Pakeha New Zealanders in the very near future.

I wonder how the demographic shift will alter the political playing field?

Victor said...

One of the truly worrying aspects of this affair is that on-line posters (not to mention John Campbell's texters) have been decidedly less critical of both Henry's bigotry and Key's pusillanimous response than have letter writers to the hard copy edition of the Herald.

If we assume that the young and middle-aged text or post stuff on websites and the more elderly write letters, this would suggest that we are becoming more stupid and bigoted as a nation, as well as more tolerant of licensed bullying.

I tremble for our future. In fact, if I was a few years younger, I'd be thinking of leaving the country. I don't want to grow old where verbal brutes are cheered-on as they put the boot in. It's just too disgusting!

Anonymous said...

Spin it up into some sort of folksy blue collar wisdom if you like Chris, but Henry is a racist and Key's no better.
That's the starting point, own that and then by all means have the fancy psyhc 101 dinner table philosophising.

Anonymous said...

While we're objecting to Henry's prejudice, let's not get caught in another stereotyping exercise.

With regard to the apparent relentlessness of illiberal provincial New Zealand views, I'd like to offer a counterfactual.

In 1999 and again in 2002 the people of the Wairarapa elected transsexual Georgina Beyer as its MP ... even more shockingly, they elected her as a Labour MP! No prejudice there, even in the anonymity of the voting booth.

Oh, and which National Party candidate did Beyer beat into second place in the 1999 election?

None other than Paul Henry.

Family in the region tell me that one reason they voted in Beyer was that Henry was making such an offensive jerk of himself in the campaign.

Maybe the experience of being a National candidate beaten in a safe National seat by a transsexual Labour candidate simply deepened Henry's loathing for minorities and women.

Anonymous said...

Sad, but true, Chris.

Forget the crap about how easy going Kiwis are, they can be just as nasty as any other culture, even more so at times. Turn on talkback and you'll see what I mean. Though I think the prejiduce is turning towards economic and class lines now. Especially with the wealthy Asian business owners trending to National.

As unacceptable I find Paul Henry's comments, (the comments about the GG falls into the nasty category, and the Dikshit comments are something you would expect from a 3rd former), I belive that out there in what the chattering classes would call 'redneckville', they would be quite receptive.

Finally, with regards to Muldoon, he may have been a nasty peice of work, especially in the eyes of the left, but from where I was sitting, he did a fair bit to preserve the economic and social security of every man, woman and child in this country.

Bruce Thorpe said...

Chris,you just might have ruined my sleep for a night or two.
I have similar memories of the years when nobody voted for Muldoon.
Even further back, I think it was Rex Fairburn who said "New Zealanders are not against crime, they are in favour of punishment."
Oh the bloody minded rural Kiwi.
But I cannot agree that these people would be happy to be called Pakeha. They are Kiwis and new Zealanders.
The Pakehas will line up again with the Maori and the whole urban mix.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Peter Quixote.

If you can string together a coherent and apposite response to my postings, Peter, rather than a string of insults, I'll be happy to include your comments.

If not, expect to have your comments deleted.

Olwyn said...

When we couch things in terms of racism, sexism, etc, or alternatively rail against such terms as "PC gone mad," we lose sight of what respect actually means. This is because opposition to racism, sexism, etc, can be understood as restraining expressions of contempt rather than upholding respect as universally applicable.

Some years ago I read a book by the man who established MOSSAD. He had fought in the war with a Polish division, and had been taken prisoner, with a British Sergeant Major being put in charge of his division. When the German CO asked the SM to separate out the Jews from his unit, the SM replied (and I am paraphrasing here),"I've no more time for kikes than you have, but you'll separate these men over my dead body." The CO chose to let this pass rather than bring about a potentially uncontrollable situation, and hence this guy was able to survive a German prison camp. He expressed high admiration for this British SM, explaining that we cannot help but have our little prejudices, but respect for our fellow humans demands that we transcend them.

Tiger Mountain said...

In 2008/9 people felt confident enough to brag about having voted for our current Mr Floppy PM. Fewer now do with a few cuts and redundancies under their belts. They are not criticising him or National much either though, but the beer can chatter in the North gets a little queasy about Nats being too close to ‘Maaris’. Also Muldoon’s reign was extended by at least a term if not two, by FPP voting.

While there may be a pretty constant 40% of basically dark sadistic kiwis, and 30% more enlightened, with another %30 that sloshes around, none should live in trepidation of the sheep shaggers, the smug urban actoids, or backyard BBQers. If something is straight out offensive it should be called so. Demographics are so finely tuned these days you almost have to go through returns booth by booth to get a handle on who supports what where, and that does not tell the whole story.

Paul Henry is an easy if despicable target during an Indian Commonwealth Games. As a previously unsucessful BSA complainant about PH I thought, well maybe not many people watch breakfast TV apart from me and the cardigan wearers of Morrinsville. But Henry often mocked small towns too. So who knows. This is my first blog comment on the matter, it seemed too easy, FaceBook groups appear all too easy.
A few older tory neighbours I asked just regard Henry as a “dickhead” and an embarrassment for Mr Key to sit next to, not viewing a duplicitious shifty PM as an embarrassment. My urban left friends are going ballistic. Really Henry should go, as a message to TVNZ, or ‘shock jockism’ will just ramp up to US levels (Fox etc.).

jh said...

I don't think Henry necessarily doesn't like Indians. As Chris says Henry is being reactionary. I think Henry is reacting to the liberal elites continual bashing of white New Zealanders.

Victor said...


I'm sure Henry loves Indians. He can take out his spleen on them to the applause of his audience.

This drives up ratings and secures the approval of his bosses.

Mind you, Henry would soon find a regiment of other victims if the Indians weren't around.

markus said...

@ Victor. Drives up ratings or rantings ? (or both ?).

I have a clear memory of election night 1975. I was 11. As the deeply depressing results came in, my father got drunk and went to bed early, swearing to himself loudly. Neither of my parents could quite believe a majority of voters would go for Muldoon.

We were liberal-Left, yes, but blue-collar liberal-Left.

jh said...

Victor Said:

"I'm sure Henry loves Indians. He can take out his spleen on them to the applause of his audience."
We don't know exactly where Henry is coming from his strength (and downfall) is that he free thinks and associates on national television and he has a sense of humor that works. But he does seem to have an acute sense of the difference in the values between the out of touch liberal elite and mainstream NZ.
I'm sure he is aware of the imbalance between the high praise for (e.g) "tangata whenua" and the "enrichment other cultures bring us" and the ordinary (mostly older) New Zealanders who in embracing their simple Kiwi culture (the vege garden, fishing hole, jug of beer) were seen as backward ("afraid of change") rather than settled and living a relatively sustainable lifestyle.
While the Boston Globe lamented Queenstowns rush to over development, Keith Locke (on the left) trumpets his parties policies as being "the opposite of Winston Peter's" giving no hint that he is aware of anything having been lost to mainstream NZ by a rush of migrants.
Philip Burdon (on the right) tells us in the Press recently that the demographic changes were the result of "change bought on by travel, globalisation and trans nationalism [and are ] both irreversible and inevitable, even in a country as remote as ours". In other words nobody needed to be asked and no group pulled rank motivated by the disequilibrium between NZ's and international property prices, but people down the bottom are aware enough to see the cost around them and who is making all the money.

Anonymous said...

Eagerly awaiting your thoughts on the local body results, Mr Trotter...


Victor said...


I'll tell you who's making the money. Paul Henry's National Party pals and all the other people he sucks up to.

It's absurd to paint that gilded, bullying, mummy's boy and serial persecutor of the vulnerable as a champion of the under-privileged. Frankly, you must be in an alternative universe.

And, by the way, there was nothing free about Henry's thinking (if you can dignify it with that word). He carried a hefty salary and has, I suspect, received ample compensation for resigning, now that his masters have finally recognised that he's stepped over the mark.

jh said...

"It's absurd to paint that gilded, bullying, mummy's boy and serial persecutor of the vulnerable as a champion of the under-privileged."
I wasn't, the topic was liberal elites being out of touch. I gave an example (Keith Locke's sloppy response to NZ First support) and threw in Burdons comments from fridays Press as an example of elites in general not needing to consult where they can get away with it.
What I'm saying is support for Paul Henry (in the case of the GG) may have nothing to do with the GG but a reaction to the constant knocking of white NZrs by (mainly) liberal elites.

Victor said...


You may be right. In which case it's a brutish, misguided, mis-directed and contorted response, of which those responsible should be deeply ashamed and for which the excesses or otherwise of 'liberal elites'provide no adequate excuse.

jh said...

Speaking for myself I quite like our Indians; working away studiously in their dairies day in, day out. Not only that but they have a realistic viewpoint of life under indigenous tribal power structures (unlike our Out of Touch Liberal Elite).

Olwyn said...

@ Victor: it is certainly true that the excesses of liberal elites provide no excuse for buying into Henry's brutishness, but it is also true that the PC versus not-PC debate can bypass the fundamentals of respect for your fellow humans. It can render contempt for others OK in some people's minds, so long as it is directed at those they see as their opponents. The imperative not to be racist etc, ought rightly to be founded on the notion of universal respect, not posited as an alternative.

jh said...

"catherine delahunty
Posted October 5, 2010 at 3:08 PM
I think Paul Henry was dogwhistling to other racists because its so damn easy. Some people don’t know that nationality is not ethnicity and that English looking and speaking people are not the norm. As a Pakeha I grew up in that world which actually assumed Pakeha/English superiority and normality. It is great that this paradigm has been challenged but TVNZ gets ratings from people who have never analysed our history let alone their own racism. The Peoples Choice expresses how easily some people are hypnotised by the train wreck journalism on Breakfast."

So what's wrong with a little group self esteem? Don't townies think there superior to country bumpkins (and vice versa?

Victor said...


You are quite right

It is always unacceptable to use a privileged position to bully people who cannot defend themselves. And it is also unacceptable to jeer or guffaw in support when this occurs.

The first point describes Henry's trade and the second describes the behaviour of his supporters.

I suspect that, from time to time, the jeerers may actually include many members of what might broadly be termed the liberal elite (e.g. a couple of years ago when NZ First's elderly voters were in the establishment's and hence Paul Henry's firing line).

At other times (as at present), the jeerers are those whom the liberal elites describe as rednecks.

In either event, there's no excuse for this behaviour. Moreover, shock jock broadcasters are dangerous. Think Goebbels. And think the guy who ignited the Rwanda genocide.

OK, these are extreme examples. But they should point a warning of where licensed, on air ridicule can lead.


You're not required to like Indians, merely to treat them, and everyone else, decently.

That means not being either a bully or a toady to bullies.

Charlie Brown said...

Who was it that said...
"Don’t worry, Chris," he reassured me, "New Zealand will never vote for a man as far to the right as Muldoon." Whoever said that was/is as sharp as a marble.

Muldoon was just about as left as you could get, he had more in common with Stalin than he did with the likes of Milton Friedman or any other "Right wing person". He was the person that made NZ the most regulated state in the world outside of the Soviet Union. Helen Clarke had more in common with him than any leader since Muldoon.

That is why the real liberals... the likes of Roger Douglas were so opposed to him. If you look in the dictionary you will find that Liberalism "is the belief in the importance of individual liberty and equal rights." Neither National, the greens and certainly not labour believe in individual liberty or equal rights.

jh said...

"You're not required to like Indians, merely to treat them, and everyone else, decently.

That means not being either a bully or a toady to bullies. "
Anyone who dares to suggest a white New Zealander is a typical New Zealander is on thin ice right? After all those folk in Mississippi who strung up "niggers" were white, as were the Nazis who gassed Jews and Gypsies and the people behind the apartheid state of South Africa?

Victor said...

No jh.

You just need to learn to deal with your self pity and sense of martyrdom. If you don't, it will warp your life.

If you had read many of my other comments on this site, you would know that I do not believe that the European races are uniquely bad or others uniquely good.

I also have no time for excesses of political correctness and have, for example, argued against both the reactionary neo-feudalism of 'Tino Rangatiratanga' and the tendency of our Chinese immigrant population to transform itself into a lobby for tyranny in its identification with Chinese foreign policy.

I'm not an important person. Certainly, I'm not a member of any elite. So there's no reason why you should have followed my views on these or any other subjects with any interest

But I've read a bit of history and I can see the warning signs when you license shock jocks to excite hatred and derision over the airwaves.

At the very least, it debases the currency of our public discourse and soils our social fabric. In all probability, it also fans antipathies, divides communities and leads to acts of racism, some of them violent.

It can, of course, lead to far worse, of which we're currently observing an example in the treatment of the Roma in France and Italy. And then you're on the path to far worse still, as the history of the twentieth century dolefully exemplifies.

And, jh, I don't greatly care whether its the non-PC bullying the PC or the PC bullying the non-PC or white persecuting brown or brown persecuting white.

It's all wrong and those who do it deserve condemnation. And wherever you find bullies, you find toadies. They too deserve condemnation.

If you get a thrill when an overpaid verbal thug uses his privileged position to lash out at any group of people, then you need to do more than examine your attitudes. You probably need to look quite deeply into your psyche.

And if considerations of morality and principle play no part in your scheme of things, you might at least reflect on you and your country's self-interest in an inter-connected age.

Henry, Laws and their Facebook and texting groupies have made headlines across the world in the last week. They have covered New Zealand with shame. And the saddest thing is that we can't claim they were misreported.

Anonymous said...

The Left's capacity for self delusion knows no bounds.

Henry wasn't disciplined for offending the great unwashed of the Labour electorate or the "intellectual liberal elite."

He was disciplined because Henry's comments offended the Establishment.

Sir Anand is extremely well connected and extremely well regarded by those in society who actually matter.

Offending the Labour electorate (which, let's face it, is comprised almost entirely of beneficiaries and criminals) necessitates no apology. Offending a plethora of diplomats, senior civil servants, high court judges, captains of industry et al., who collectively comprise Sir Anand's "crowd" does.