Not Enough Mongrel: Don Brash lacks the aggressive personality required to successfully prosecute the cause which “Hobson’s Pledge” seeks to advance. He is a fundamentally decent and unfailingly polite individual, entirely lacking in the brutal instincts so essential to successful demagoguery. In the current political and media environments, Brash’s old world courtesy and his readiness to grant his opponents a fair hearing are interpreted as signs of weakness. And the weak are irrelevant.
THE FIRST THING to say about “Hobson’s Pledge” is that its message will resonate with hundreds-of-thousands of Pakeha New Zealanders. The second thing is that the organisation is likely to be both well-funded and well-resourced. There have always been plenty of donors ready to bankroll the proposition that there should be no “race-based privilege” in New Zealand. The third thing is that Dr Don Brash is the wrong man to lead it.
Brash lacks the aggressive personality required to successfully prosecute the cause which “Hobson’s Pledge” seeks to advance. He is a fundamentally decent and unfailingly polite individual, entirely lacking in the brutal instincts so essential to successful demagoguery. In the current political and media environments, Brash’s old world courtesy and his readiness to grant his opponents a fair hearing are interpreted as signs of weakness. And the weak are irrelevant.
Crucial to the success of similar political movements overseas has been their leaders’ open contempt for the beliefs and values of the political and media elites. They have no respect for either group, and delight in attacking and humiliating them in the most brutal public fashion. As a present member of New Zealand’s financial elite, and a former political leader, Brash is simply too enmeshed in “the system” to engage in such open warfare against it. Indeed, he would probably defend Hobson’s Pledge as an affirmation of the system’s core beliefs and values. It’s why he is so quick to deny the inevitable accusation of racism – a charge of which he honestly believes himself to be innocent. He simply doesn’t understand that his sensitivity on the issue is muddying the clarity and power of the Hobson’s Pledge message.
On Saturday’s edition of The Nation, for example, Brash allowed the programme’s presenter, Lisa Owen, and the Labour MP, Louisa Wall, to hector and talk over him in ways that made him appear vulnerable and weak. The sort of people attracted to Hobson’s Pledge are not interested in polite discussion and the scoring of debating points. They’re looking for someone to articulate their rage. Someone ready to challenge not only the elites’ interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi, but also to “take on” the media personalities who defend it. In short, they’re looking for a New Zealand version of Donald Trump.
Were such an individual to emerge, the political effect would likely be on a par with Brexit and the many other anti-immigrant eruptions across Europe. The elites’ defence of the Treaty and the complex legal, bureaucratic, academic and political consensus arising out of its re-emergence in the 1980s, is at serious odds with the prejudices and resentments of a very large number of Pakeha – especially those living in provincial New Zealand. One has only to recall the overwhelming rejection of the proposal to establish dedicated Maori seats on the New Plymouth City Council to appreciate just how large.
Audrey Young, writing in yesterday’s (1/10/16) NZ Herald argues that: “It is hard to see the new Brash vehicle getting anything like the traction he got in 2004. New Zealand has moved on from the bitter days of the foreshore and seabed. Maori are participating more actively in the economy. Genuine treaty settlements are being concluded with pace. Try-ons at the Waitangi Tribunal are seen for what they are.”
But it is precisely the elites’ arrogance: their airy confidence that, to quote Sir Geoffrey Palmer: “Insulation from the ravages of extreme opinion has been achieved. The settlements have become mainstream.”; that infuriates Pakeha opponents of the Treaty consensus.
It’s what lay behind the extraordinary response to Brash’s in/famous “Orewa Speech”. Not so much the rather mildly expressed content of the address itself, but the fact that it represented such a gaping breach in the formerly solid wall of elite opinion on how best to conduct race relations in New Zealand. That John Key has, over the past ten years, been able to repair the breach, largely through his relationship with the Maori Party, and the indefatigable efforts of his Treaty Settlements Minister, Chris Finlayson, in no way means that the desire to see it re-opened has gone away.
It is difficult, therefore, to avoid the conclusion that the instant and aggressive rejection of Hobson’s Pledge by virtually the entire political class, and the reinforcement of that rejection across the mainstream news media, constitutes some pretty loud whistling in the dark. Privately, they must be thanking their lucky stars that the people behind Hobson’s Pledge, unable to find their very own Donald Trump, have had to settle for Don Brash.
How long those stars will go on protecting the elites is another question altogether. Because he, or she, is out there, just waiting, in James K. Baxter’s prophetic words:
To overturn the cities and the rivers
And split the house like a rotten totara log.
Quite unconcerned he sets his traps for possums
And whistles to his dog.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Sunday, 3 October 2016.