All Honourable Men: Is Paul Holmes playing Mark Anthony to John Key's Julius Caesar? In response to Maoridom's attack on the Government's "partial" privatisation programme did he decide to let slip the dogs of Pakeha racism? Is it possible he wrote his grossly offensive Weekend Herald column not to praise, but bury, Clause 9 of the State Owned Enterprises Act?
“CRY ‘HAVOC!’ and let slip the dogs of war!” These are the incendiary words that Mark Anthony puts into the mouth of Julius Caesar’s ghost as he surveys the bloody work of his assassins. Though Mark Anthony insists he’s come “to bury Caesar – not to praise him”, his true purpose is to turn Rome’s citizens against the “honourable men” who have slain his – and Rome’s – best friend.
How would a modern Mark Anthony provoke revolution?
A few years ago, Wellington’s Circa Theatre staged a “modernised” version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in which Mark Anthony’s speech is beamed into a Roman pub. Its motley collection of patrons are at first barely interested in the live television broadcast from Caesar’s funeral, but gradually, word by word, they get drawn into Mark Anthony’s superbly constructed speech until, thoroughly “ruffled up”, they pour onto the streets in “rage and mutiny”.
Equally, a modern Mark Anthony might avail himself of talk-back radio, or the columns of a mass-circulation newspaper, to capture the attention of his countrymen, ruffle up their spirits, and “put a tongue” into every one of their wounds and grievances.
Were he in a position to do so, a modern Mark Anthony might cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war across the whole media: television, radio, Internet and press.
But to what purpose? Mark Anthony had two: to revenge Caesar death, and to deal a death-blow to the tottering Roman Republic. How better to achieve these aims than by setting the Roman mob against Brutus: Caesar’s assassin and the Republic’s staunchest defender?
If we translate the Shakespearian drama into a contemporary New Zealand context, who best fits the description of Mark Anthony? Who has stepped forward to defend Caesar and attack his enemies? Who took advantage of a solemn civic occasion to shout in the ears of the sleeping dogs of war? Who, with carefully chosen words, has ruffled up the spirits of his countrymen to rage and mutiny?
Who else but Mr Paul Holmes?
From the “bully pulpit” of his column in the weekend edition of the NZ Herald, was it not Mr Holmes who unleashed a storm of criticism against the whole of Maoridom? Did he not call for Waitangi Day – “a bullshit day”, “a day of lies” – to be abandoned, and for the Treaty itself to be cast aside? Was it not Mr Holmes who, in his rhetorical fury at Waitangi Day protest, suggested that every person of Maori descent was guilty of “bashing their babies”? Did he not say that if the ghosts of family members who fought and died at Gallipoli, El Alamein and Casino were somehow able to witness the event, none could be persuaded that Waitangi Day was “anything but filth”?
In unleashing this vicious and indiscriminate attack against Waitangi Day, the Treaty, and all things Maori, Mr Holmes must have known that he was striking at the very heart of the relationship which binds the Maori Party to the National Party. Nor would it have escaped him that, by rousing the sleeping dogs of Pakeha racism, he was putting that relationship in danger. Given the precarious balance of political forces in the House of Representatives, why would he want to do any of these things?
Unless, Mark Anthony-like, his purpose was to assist his beleaguered friend, the Prime Minister, by toppling something that, already fatally weakened, was about to fall?
The Maori Party’s concern at the damage even the partial sale of state assets could inflict upon the Treaty Partnership, and its threat to withdraw from its Confidence & Supply Agreement with the Government, have clearly been interpreted as an attack on John Key. A case of “E tu Tariana?” Has he voiced in private, what he cannot publicly declare: that the judicially-defined “Treaty Partnership” has outlived its usefulness?
Is that why Mr Holmes cried ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of Pakeha racism? Not to praise Clause 9 – but to bury it?
This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Otago Daily Times, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 17 February 2012.