Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Voter Motivators 2017: Immigration.

A Big Wide World Out There: Familiarity with “foreign” cultures has rendered “foreigners” a lot less frightening to young New Zealanders than old ones. New Zealanders raised entirely in the globalisation era know there’s a big wide world out there – a world which values highly the Kiwi’s celebrated ability to get along with just about anybody. Racism no longer pays.
 
IMMIGRATION has set the world on fire. The debt owed by both Brexit and Trump to the issue’s inflammatory power is huge. With record volumes of migrants pouring into New Zealand, immigration policy is widely expected to be among the biggest voter motivators of 2017.
 
But will New Zealanders react to these new arrivals in the same way as British and American voters? Or will the circumstances underpinning this country’s record migration flows smother the flames of racism and xenophobia before they take hold?
 
If New Zealand history is any guide, probably not. Net inward flows of migration have always been the signal of economic prosperity and growth. Just as net outward flows have been the surest sign that all is not well in God’s Own Country. There’s an ancestral voice in the racial memory of Pakeha New Zealanders which commands their attention during periods of rapid population growth. A voice which reminds them that, in these stolen islands, more non-indigenous people are always a good thing.
 
For Maori New Zealanders, the opposite is true. The more immigrants that arrive on these shores, the more the indigenous essence of Aotearoa-New Zealand is diluted. The Treaty the Maori chiefs signed with the British in 1840 seemed a wise and timely concession when barely 2,000 Pakeha were sprinkled lightly across their lands. Twenty years later, when the number of British settlers overtook the population of tangata whenua, the promises given at Waitangi proved to be as cynical as they were unenforceable.
 
What is it, then, which stops the latest population projections from Statistics New Zealand from setting the fern leaves of Kiwi nationalism alight? Released on 18 May 2017, these projections indicate that over the next 20 years the number of immigrants from East and South Asia will double. By 2038 the number of New Zealanders of “Asian” ethnicity will represent nearly a quarter of the country’s population. Maori, by contrast, will see their share of the population rise by just 2 percentage points – from 16 to 18 percent. “European” New Zealanders’ share of the overall population is projected to fall from roughly three-quarters to two-thirds.
 
In times past, projections such as these would have generated a massive public backlash against the political party, or parties, responsible for such a dramatic reconfiguration of the nation’s ethnic profile. Twenty years ago, media headlines decrying an “Asian Invasion” were exploited by Winston Peters’ to secure 13 percent of the Party Vote for his NZ First Party. Why, then, twenty years later, is NZ First not polling twice or three times that number?
 
The explanation is, almost entirely, economic.
 
Chinese immigration has encouraged Auckland property prices to soar – producing a “wealth effect” (courtesy of tax-free capital gains!) for which, justifiably or unjustifiably, Chinese investors are held responsible. Bolstering this shift in perception across the entire country has been the steady rise in China’s consumption of New Zealand’s exports. Rather than bite the hand which is, increasingly, feeding them, many Kiwis have considered it more prudent to retire the worst of their old prejudices.
 
In regional New Zealand, likewise, the sterling contribution of Filipino dairy farm workers is encouraging a hitherto undetected enthusiasm for multiculturalism.
 
Even in the working-class heartlands, the money to be made hiring-out the spare room to overseas students is often enough to defang traditional blue-collar hostility towards “low-wage workers” flooding “their” labour market.
 
The other factor which explains New Zealanders reluctance (so far!) to respond to nationalistic dog-whistles is the sheer number of Kiwis who have travelled overseas. Familiarity with “foreign” cultures has rendered “foreigners” a lot less frightening to young New Zealanders than old ones. New Zealanders raised entirely in the globalisation era know there’s a big wide world out there – a world which values highly the Kiwi’s celebrated ability to get along with just about anybody. Racism no longer pays.
 
None of which should be advanced as evidence that racism and xenophobia will find no purchase in the forthcoming general election. There are many thousands of New Zealanders who feel like strangers in their own land. Who miss the comforting homogeneity of the sleepy, white, British dominion in which they were raised. Such voters are, however, a dwindling asset for all but the NZ First Party. Only Winston can afford to make “A Whiter Shade of Pale” his theme song.
 
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, 9 June 2017.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Sins Of Admission: A Response To John Armstrong's Attack On Metiria Turei.

The Guilty Party: Metiria is guilty of a crime – but not the one John Armstrong rails against in his latest column. Her transgression was to break ranks with the socio-political formation that has kept Richardson’s and Shipley’s welfare cuts bleeding and raw for more than quarter-of-a-century.
 
JOHN ARMSTRONG rails against Metiria Turei’s admission that she lied to the welfare authorities. Like so many of the outbursts emanating from the Right on this subject, however, his words speak more eloquently of his own failings than Metiria’s.

Lacking the imagination for empathy, Armstrong and his ilk cling for comfort to the rules, all the rules, and nothing but the rules.
 
“She endeavoured to turn her breach of the law into a launching pad for her party’s welfare policy. That is audacious. It is also the height of arrogance. It is also to enter very dangerous territory. It implies you are above the law. It says it is okay to break the law in order to try and change it.”
 
Yes, John, that’s exactly what it implies. But, tell me, do you think that Mahatma Ghandi, Dr Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela would have any ethical difficulty dealing with those implications?
 
Metiria was required to raise her daughter in the years immediately following the Mother of All Budgets. You must remember that extraordinary act of social violence, John? When Ruth Richardson, with enthusiastic support from Jenny Shipley, slashed the already meagre incomes of New Zealand’s most vulnerable citizens by 25 percent? When the National Government of Jim Bolger did exactly what Metiria told her party a Green government would never do: Use poverty as a weapon against its own people?
 
Do you really expect us to believe, John, that you would have accepted the National Government’s vicious policies without protest or subterfuge – and watched your child go hungry? If that really is your position, then why did you write: “There is sympathy for her past plight and respect for her efforts in pulling herself out of it.”
 
Clearly, you understand that falling into the clutches of Work & Income was, and is, a predicament – a “plight” – and that getting out of it isn’t easy. It requires a working knowledge of every trick in the book. Some of those tricks are legal. Others are not. But, for their children, people do what they have to do. If you would rather they didn’t “steal” from the Government, John, then why not insist that the Government gives them enough to live on?
 
But you don’t want to do that, do you, John? No, you would rather use the poor against the poor. Like when you write: “Turei’s flouting of the law will further alienate low-income families in which both parents work long hours and who consequently cannot abide welfare cheats. Those voters are already deserting the centre-left. Turei’s holier-than-thou disposition is hardly going to attract them back.”
 
And how would you know what low-income families are thinking, John? Has it never occurred to you that those “welfare cheats” (what an odious gob of verbal spittle that is!) are the sons and daughters of the working poor? How many of them, do you suppose, have attempted to support their children at the local Work & Income office and experienced first-hand the icy condescension and bureaucratic cruelty of MSD employees?
 
No, John, you don’t anything about that world of hurt and anger. What you do know, however, is what they should be thinking - and you will not hesitate to tell them at every given opportunity. Because the Right is terrified – yes, terrified – that Metiria’s admission that she was willing to lie to keep food on her little family’s table might persuade a dangerously large number of those low-income families that at least some Green MPs know what their own children are going through. And that the prospect of MSD’s hated “sanctions” being abolished might even convince those families that, this time, it’s worth casting a vote.
 
Metiria is guilty of a crime – but not the one John Armstrong rails against. Her transgression was to break ranks with the socio-political formation that has kept Richardson’s and Shipley’s welfare cuts bleeding and raw for more than quarter-of-a-century.
 
When Metiria Turei told the Green AGM that: “We will not be a government that uses poverty as a weapon against its own people”,  she must have known that she was breaking the biggest rule of all.
 
And that the John Armstrongs of this world would never forgive her.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Saturday, 22 July 2017.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

China's Got Talent!

 
 
A truly splendid rendition of
The Internationale. Enjoy.
 
Video courtesy of YouTube
 
This posting is exclusive to Bowalley Road.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Nothing Fresh About Labour’s Approach.

Not-So-Subliminal Messages: Labour's first campaign video is a shocker. I wasn’t expecting much but, depressingly, Labour managed to deliver less. Yes, Andrew Little does promise us "A Fresh Approach", but there should be a better reason for voting Labour than the fact that National’s getting a bit stale.
 
LEFT-LEANING VOTERS looking for a good reason to vote Green should take a look at Labour’s latest campaign ad. When the video arrived in my Inbox, I was almost too scared to open it. I wasn’t expecting much but, depressingly, Labour managed to deliver less. If this is the best the party’s highfalutin Aussie ad agency can do, then the sooner they’re sent packing back across the Tasman the better!
 

 
A while back, someone let slip that Andrew Little had been taking acting lessons. Three words: Waste. Of. Money. To call Little’s performance wooden would be an insult to the vibrant living entities we call trees. Do Labour’s Aussie ad-men not know that the best way to make any human-being look awkward is to ask them to act natural?
 
Have they never seen the celebrated paid political broadcast produced for the British Conservative Party? The agency was asked to introduce John Major to the electorate. So, they put the Prime Minister in the back of a car, set the cameras rolling, and drove him past his childhood home. The look on Major’s face; his priceless emotional response; humanised Maggie Thatcher’s grey successor in one, perfect, cinematic moment. What made the sequence so compelling was its unscripted authenticity.
 
Unfortunately, authenticity is the quality Labour’s video most conspicuously lacks. It’s as though Labour’s Campaign Committee brainstormed for hours on Little’s positive qualities and then turned everything they’d scribbled on the whiteboard into his script. Whoever told Little to deliver the line, “as a former cancer patient”, should be told to seek alternative employment!
 
The most jarring aspect of the video, however, is the way it exploits poor Jacinda Ardern. Every few seconds she appears, without any discernible narrative purpose, smiling brightly at Little’s side. It’s as if, at some point during the final edit, the production team suddenly remembered that the video was supposed to promote the Little-Ardern partnership. “Quick! someone track down those Andrew and Jacinda smileathons we recorded!” If that’s not the explanation, then I shudder to think what is.
 
And then there’s the tag-line: “A Fresh Approach for New Zealand”.
 
Labour’s former Finance Minister, Michael Cullen, was fond of regaling audiences with what he liked to call Kiwis’ “beach cricket approach to politics”. As in: “Aw, come on Helen, you’ve had the bat for ages. Don’t you think it’s time to give someone else a go?” Labour’s 2017 slogan comes perilously close to validating Cullen’s insight. There should be a better reason for voting Labour than the fact that National’s getting a bit stale.
 
What a pity the New Zealand Labour Party hasn’t been able to snare an Aussie creative director like Paul Jones. His 1972 campaign ad for the Australian Labor Party, “It’s time!”, featured Alison McCallum belting out the party’s campaign song with what appeared to be the whole of Australia joining in. It was a classic of its kind – and well worth checking out on YouTube!
 
 
The problem, of course, is that to make an ad like that work, you have to have something – and someone – to sell. Jones had Gough Whitlam. And, if I may paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen’s famous put-down of Dan Quayle in the 1988 US Vice-Presidential Debate: “I remember Gough Whitlam. And, Mr Little, you’re no Gough Whitlam!” Or Norman Kirk, for that matter.
 
Someone should remind Little and his team of what happened to their Canadian equivalent, the New Democratic Party, in 2015. Its leader, Thomas Mulcair, was so determined to be a “strong and stable” alternative Prime Minister that he persuaded the NDP to jettison everything even remotely radical or inspiring from its manifesto. Justin Trudeau, whose Liberals had been counted out of the race, saw the opening and seized his chance.
 
Following the inspirational performance of Metiria Turei, at last weekend’s Green Party AGM, there is now a real risk that Labour’s putative junior coalition partner could steal a march very similar to Trudeau’s. Never has the New Zealand Left been in such a state of flux. Turei’s passionate declaration: “We will not be a government that uses poverty as a weapon against its own people” is the sort of statement that changes minds.
 
If Andrew Little’s Labour Party refuses to stand with the poor, the marginalised and the downtrodden, then what, exactly, is its “fresh approach” supposed to deliver?
 
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, 21 July 2017.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

A Cautionary Tale From Canada.

"Something In The Air": Whatever it was in his country’s political atmosphere in 2015, Justin Trudeau blew out enough of it to inflate the Liberals’ appeal to winning proportions. With Winston exhaling anger, and Metiria Turei breathing hope, Andrew Little and Labour need to offer the New Zealand electorate something more than a deflated ideological balloon.
 
THOMAS MULCAIR wanted to be Prime Minister – and he thought he knew how to make it happen. His New Democratic Party (NDP) was the leading Opposition contender in a Canada grown weary of Stephen Harper’s brutal Conservative Government. More importantly, the formerly dominant Liberal Party had been reduced to a risible rump of just 36 MPs in the Canadian House of Commons. Its leader, Justin Trudeau, may have been blessed with a famous political name, but was widely dismissed as a pretty playboy who knew a lot more about snowboarding that he did about grown-up politics. Thomas Mulcair was far from being the only Canadian convinced that the 2015 General Election was the NDP’s for the taking.
 
But that’s not how the story ended. Determined to present both himself and the NDP as sensible and responsible, Mulcair prevailed upon his party colleagues to jettison any and all policies likely to scare the Canadian establishment’s horses. Canada’s equivalent of the NZ Labour Party promised “budget responsibility” – with bells on. Public spending would be kept in check and surpluses fattened. “Nothing to be frightened of here”, was Mulcair’s message to the people he thought he had to please to win. That was the point at which Justin Trudeau demonstrated that he was a great deal more than just a pretty face.
 
Mulcair’s decision to steer the NDP sharply to the right of its traditional position on the centre-left had opened up a dangerous amount of unoccupied ideological space. If Mulcair was willing to make his peace with neoliberalism, then Trudeau was prepared to lead his party into a passionate Keynesian embrace. With interest rates at record lows, Government borrowing would never be cheaper. The Liberals would give Canada’s economy the much-needed shot in the arm that Harper’s austerity programme had forsworn. Health, education and infrastructure would be the big winners. The Liberals, said Trudeau, were the only political party who understood that more of the same was unacceptable. Oh yeah – and they were ready to legalise marijuana!
 
Outflanked, out-argued and out-bid, Mulcair watched helplessly as the NDP’s poll-numbers dwindled and the Liberal Party’s popularity surged. Policy audacity was made palatable by Trudeau’s relentlessly sunny disposition. The clouds of gloom parted, and by the time the last ballot paper was counted the “pretty playboy” had rewritten Canada’s political rulebook. Not only had the Liberal’s driven the NDP into third place, they had won an absolute parliamentary majority. It was a comeback without precedent in Canadian history.
 
Trudeau’s historic 2015 election victory is a cautionary tale which New Zealand’s Labour leader would do well to study closely. There is still time for Andrew Little to halt his party’s relentless march towards the political centre. Still time to understand that the “something in the air” which Shane Jones talks about is the factor that will determine the outcome of this year’s election. Still time to realise that whatever it is in the political air, it is not a desperate public hunger for more of the same.
 
There is anger in the air – and that is the harvest which Winston Peters and NZ First are determined to gather in. But the air is also stirring with hope. That’s what the Greens have – at almost the last possible moment – understood. And, just like Justin Trudeau, they are preparing to ride the forgotten New Zealander’s hope for something better all the way to the biggest share of the Party Vote they have ever received.
 
Thomas Mulcair’s bid to become Canada’s Prime Minister foundered on his strategy of offering his opponents the smallest possible target to shoot at. All he succeeded in doing was reducing the NDP to something so dull and uninspiring that a crucial number of Canadians lost sight of it altogether.
 
Whatever it was in his country’s political atmosphere in 2015, Justin Trudeau blew out enough of it to inflate the Liberals’ appeal to winning proportions. With Winston exhaling anger, and Metiria Turei breathing hope, Andrew Little and Labour need to offer the New Zealand electorate something more than a deflated ideological balloon.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 19 July 2017.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Noticing Neoliberalism's Nakedness.

"But he hasn't got anything on!" - For 30 years New Zealand’s best and brightest business leaders, academics, journalists and politicians have been telling the rest of us that the only reason neoliberalism appears to be promoting a nakedly brutal and inequitable economic and social system is because we are too stupid to perceive the true beneficence of the free market. Painting by Thorarinn Liefsson.
 
IF THE 2017 GENERAL ELECTION turns into a messy boil-over, it will be the fault of New Zealand’s most successful people. For the best part of 30 years, the high achievers of New Zealand society have aligned themselves with an ideology that has produced consistently negative outcomes. Not for themselves. In fact, they have done extremely well out of the economic and social changes of the past 30 years. For the majority of their fellow citizens, however, the Neoliberal Revolution has been a disaster.
 
The real puzzle of the past 30 years is, therefore, why a political system intended to empower the majority has not consigned neoliberalism to the dustbin of history. Why have those on the receiving end of economic and social policies designed to benefit only a minority of the population not simply elected a party, or parties, committed to eliminating them?
 
A large part of the answer is supplied in Hans Christian Andersen’s famous fable, The Emperor’s New Clothes. Those who know the story will recall that the crucial element of the swindlers’ con was their insistence that the Emperor’s magnificent attire could only be seen by the wise. To “anyone who was unfit for his office, or who was unusually stupid”, the Emperor would appear to be wearing nothing at all.
 
The interesting thing about Andersen’s fable is that it’s actually supported by a critical element of scientific fact. If people whose judgement we have no reason to doubt inform us that black is white, most of us will, in an astonishingly short period of time, start disregarding the evidence of our own eyes. Even worse, if an authority figure instructs us to administer punishments to people “for their own good” most of us will do so. Even when the punishment appears to be causing the recipients intense, even fatal, pain, we will be continue flicking the switch for as long as the authority figure insists that the pain is necessary and that we have no alternative except to proceed. (If you doubt this, just google “Stanley Milgram”.)
 
For 30 years, then, New Zealand’s best and brightest business leaders, academics, journalists and politicians have been telling the rest of us that the only reason neoliberalism appears to be promoting a nakedly brutal and inequitable economic and social system is because we are too stupid to perceive the true beneficence of the free market. In language ominously reminiscent of Professor Milgram’s terrible experiment, we have been told by those in authority that there can be “no long-term gain without short-term pain”, and, God forgive us, we have believed them – and continued flicking the switch.
 
Nowhere has this readiness to discount the evidence before one’s own eyes been more pronounced than in our politicians. How many of them, when confronted with the social and environmental wreckage of neoliberalism, have responded like the “honest old minister” in Andersen’s fable, who, upon being ushered into the swindlers’ workshop, and seeing nothing, thought: “Heaven have mercy! Can it be that I’m a fool? I’d have never guessed it, and not a soul must know. Am I unfit to be the minister? It would never do to let on that I can’t see the cloth.”
 
How else are we to explain the unwillingness of the Labour Party and the Greens to break decisively with the neoliberal swindle? Or, the repeated declarations from National and Act praising the beauty and enchantment of its effects: “Such a pattern, what colours!”
 
Even as the evidence of its malignity mounted before them. Even as the numbers harmed by its poisonous remedies increased. The notion that the best and the brightest might perceive them as being unusually stupid and unfit for office led the opposition parties to concentrate all their criticism on the symptoms of neoliberalism. Or, in the spirit of Andersen’s tale, critiquing the cut of the Emperor’s new clothes instead of their non-existence.
 
Eventually, of course, the consequences of neoliberalism are felt by too many people to be ignored. Children who cannot afford to buy their own home. Grandchildren who cannot access mental health care. The spectacle of people living in their cars. Of homeless men freezing to death in the streets. Eventually someone – a politician unafraid of being thought unusually stupid, or unfit for office – breaks the swindlers’ spell.
 
“‘But he hasn’t got anything on,’ a little child said.
 
‘Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?’ said its father. And one person whispered to another what the child had said, ‘He hasn’t anything on. A child says he hasn’t anything on.’
 
‘But he hasn’t got anything on!’ the whole town cried out at last.”
 
Now, the whole New Zealand electorate may not be calling “Time!” on neoliberalism – and certainly not its best and its brightest – but Winston Peters is.
 
And the town is whispering.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 18 July 2017.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

For Metiria ...


“We will not be a government that uses poverty as a weapon against its own people.”
 
- Metiria Turei, Co-Leader of The Greens
 
Video courtesy of YouTube
 
This posting is exclusive to Bowalley Road.

The Bright Sunlit Uplands Of Radicalism: Metiria Turei And The Greens Set The 2017 Election On Fire.

Do You Hear The People Sing? Metiria Turei’s pledge that: We will not be a government that uses poverty as a weapon against its own people”, is nothing less than a call to arms. Requiring the MSD to stop treating its “clients” as second-class citizens: making a bonfire of work tests, drug tests, bedmate tests, and all the other oppressive means of “sanctioning” beneficiaries, will have the same electrifying effect as the cry which swept through Paris on 14 July 1789 – “To the Bastille!”
 
METIRIA TUREI has rescued the 2017 General Election from the timidity and moral squalor into which it was fast descending. In a speech that brought tears to her listeners’ eyes and cheers to their throats, the Greens’ co-leader carried her party out of the shadows of moderation and into the bright sunlit uplands of radicalism that have always been its natural habitat. The Green Party’s AGM of 15-16 July 2017 will go down in history as the moment when it repudiated the “Insider’s” devilish bargains – and reclaimed its soul.
 
Turei’s revolutionary plans for New Zealand’s social welfare system will be examined below, but first a word or two about her prescience in regard to Winston Peters and NZ First.
 
Clearly, there is now no disputing her warnings about the racist implications of NZ First policy. What looked like gratuitous and counter-productive name-calling a week ago has been vindicated emphatically by Winston Peters’ utterances of the weekend just past.
 
It’s one thing to allow race and immigration to become confused (NZ First is by no means unique in this regard!) but it is quite another to call for a binding referendum on the retention of the Maori Seats. The last senior politician to draw a bead on the Maori Seats was Don Brash – and New Zealand only dodged that bullet by the skin of its teeth!
 
So, let’s be clear: there is nothing democratic about demanding a binding referendum on this issue. On the contrary, it is a shameless appeal to the very worst majoritarian instincts of the New Zealand electorate. Allowing 85 percent of the population to determine the fate of a representative institution dedicated to protecting the rights of the country’s indigenous 15 percent is not only reactionary, it is a direct threat to the “public welfare, peace and tranquillity of New Zealand”.  In such circumstances, no progressive New Zealander could possibly consider voting for NZ First.
 
By the same token, The Greens’ revolutionary welfare policies make it difficult for any progressive New Zealander to vote for anybody else.
 
As anyone who has read the heartfelt postings of people living at the razor’s edge of our welfare system (the latest one is here) knows, the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) presides over an empire of cruelty with few precedents in New Zealand history. The National Government boasts about the numbers who have been removed from the welfare rolls since they assumed office. That this is due to the sheer awfulness of being caught up in the Work and Income mincing machine is an “achievement” they are much less keen to acknowledge.
 
Though most Kiwis remain oblivious to what is happening behind the security-guarded doors of their welfare system, there are tens-of-thousands of families with direct personal experience of what it’s like to be a beneficiary – or the loved one/s of a beneficiary. To these folk, Metiria’s pledge that: “We will not be a government that uses poverty as a weapon against its own people”, is nothing less than a call to arms. Requiring the MSD to stop treating its “clients” as second-class citizens: making a bonfire of work tests, drug tests, bedmate tests, and all the other oppressive means of “sanctioning” beneficiaries; will have the same electrifying effect as the cry which swept through Paris on 14 July 1789 – “To the Bastille!”
 
The question is: do the Greens possess the electoral infrastructure to spread the good news to the tens-of-thousands of disillusioned voters who stand to gain from their policies. These marginalised citizens (minimum wage workers as well as beneficiaries) now have a very good reason to enrol and vote. The Greens boast that, this election, they have more campaigning resources than ever before. Here is their chance to prove it.
 
One reason to be hopeful that beneficiaries will hear about the Greens’ revolutionary welfare policies is Metiria’s extraordinarily courageous decision to admit that when, as a solo mum, she was faced with the choice of lying to the welfare authorities, or letting her child go hungry, she lied. Except that the story does not end there. Like Jean Valjean, the hero of Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Miserables, Metiria made sure that the many opportunities which flowed from her transgression were turned towards making her society a better place.
 
Hugo wrote of his sprawling literary masterpiece that:
 
“So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age—the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night—are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.”
 
Any more than Metiria’s confession, or, the Greens transformative welfare policies, can be useless. They are the stuff out of which social justice is made. Meaning that, if Labour wishes to catch up with the only progressive coalition partner now available to them, then they had better start running hard – now.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 17 July 2017.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Voter Motivators 2017: Poverty.

Making Poverty History: Dorothea Lange's iconic portrait of a Depression Era mother and her children speaks of a time when poverty was a problem to be solved - not a condition to be sneered at.
 
WHEN ENOUGH PEOPLE ARE POOR, poverty changes. Instead of being seen as the outward manifestation of vice, poverty is transformed into the enabler of virtue. In communities where everyone is poor, the merits of compassion, solidarity and generosity are everywhere on display. Poor people support one another, take care of one another, defend one another.
 
In societies where wealth and resources are controlled by a tiny minority, it is the rich who find themselves stigmatised. Their greed, love of luxury and relentless selfishness are everywhere condemned. In the eyes of the poor, wealth and vice are indistinguishable.
 
Eighty-five years ago, at the height of the Great Depression, poverty stalked four out of every five New Zealand streets. More than one in four men of working age were unemployed, and those who still had jobs were forced to accept regular – often savage – reductions in their wages and salaries.
 
As the economic crisis deepened, the spectre of poverty crept out of the urban slums and into the leafy suburbs of the middle-class. Respectable men on respectable salaries found themselves “let go”. Poverty ceased to be something that affected the “lower orders”. Now ordinary “decent” people were staring it in the face.
 
In 2017, with a general election looming, the issue of poverty still ranks as one of New Zealand’s big voter motivators. People sleeping in their cars; children succumbing to Third World diseases; workers lining-up at food banks for assistance; whole families going hungry to pay the power bill and keep the landlord happy: those lucky enough to live in the three out of four streets where poverty does not intrude have been made to feel profoundly uneasy by its evident proximity.
 
In a society where only a quarter of children are being raised in poverty, however, the remedies for privation and despair are hotly contested. With security and comfort now the norm in New Zealand, the question a great many voters ask themselves is: “What is going on in these families which prevents them from living a happy and productive life like the rest of us?”
 
In 1935, the answer to that question could be reduced to two words: “The Slump”. The effects of the Great Depression weighed upon the whole of New Zealand like a leaden overcoat. It made all the old explanations of poverty redundant. Whoever was to blame for the collapse of the capitalist economy – it wasn’t the poor.
 
And, for those who were hurting, the remedy was clear: vote for the party pledged to make poverty history. Let the state take the place of your family, friends and neighbours and become the collective deliverer of compassion, solidarity and generosity. All those things denied the poor: good jobs on good pay; free education and health care; a warm, dry house at an affordable rent; a measure of equality in the workplace; state assistance in old age, infirmity and economic adversity; these were the changes that Labour promised – and delivered.
 
Not only was poverty (in the sense of the harsh economic and social conditions experienced by a clear majority of the population in the early years of capitalism) reduced dramatically by the creation of the Welfare State, but in the decades that followed its moral character underwent an enormous revision.
 
No longer was poverty seen as the consequence of the viciously rich and their failed economic system. No longer was it celebrated as the creator of virtuous behaviour. Now it was regarded as the consequence of individual and familial inadequacy. Now it was the poor who exemplified vice. Laziness, drunkenness, violence, cruelty and crime: these became the new markers of Poverty.
 
The National Party’s twenty-first century response to this re-defined poverty is unequivocal: deal with the individual and familial inadequacies of the poor and the vicious circles of deprivation can be broken. They call it “Social Investment”.
 
Labour’s position is much more difficult. Gone are the days when an economically victimised majority saw themselves as the deserving beneficiaries of a long overdue and radical redistribution of society’s resources. In 2017, the no-longer-poor majority identify much more readily as taxpayers, and are much less certain that Labour’s (and the Greens’) compassion, solidarity and generosity are entitlements to which the “undeserving poor” have any claim.
 
Poverty will be motivating voters in 2017 – but in ways far removed from those of 1935.
 
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, 16 June 2017.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

The Boxer

"But The Fighter Still Remains": Bill English should be staggering across the electoral ring like a bloodied, punch-drunk boxer desperate for the salvation of the fight’s final bell. Instead he’s still up on his toes and trading punches with an opposition that seems incapable of laying a single glove on his up-tilted prime-ministerial chin.
 
JUST OVER NINE WEEKS to go before New Zealand votes – and what a mess! The National-led Government is an administrative disaster in which demonstrable incompetence strives against refined political cruelty for mastery. At this point in the electoral cycle, Bill English should be staggering across the ring like a bloodied, punch-drunk boxer desperate for the salvation of the fight’s final bell. Instead he’s still up on his toes and trading punches with an opposition that seems incapable of laying a single glove on his up-tilted prime-ministerial chin.
 
Labour’s performance is especially woeful. Andrew Little and Jacinda Ardern swing wildly and miss. That there are two other fighters in the ring with Labour should be imbuing the whole anti-government team with confidence. Except that, instead of taking turns to punch Bill English in the face, the Greens and NZ First are trading blows with each other. Hardly surprising, then, that Labour is losing focus!
 
This lack of focus, this weakness, lies at the heart of the Opposition’s difficulties. Labour should now be polling in the high 30s, with the Greens and NZ First struggling to stay above the 5 percent MMP threshold. Even when defeated by John Key in 2008, Helen Clark and Labour still managed to attract 34 percent of the Party Vote. The Greens were minor players, with a modest 6.7 percent, while NZ First, with just 4.7 percent support and no electorate seats, was driven out of Parliament altogether.
 
Labour’s repeated failure to produce a credible replacement for Clark has created a political vacuum into which both the Greens and NZ first have been only too happy to step. In doing so, however, they have contributed to the widespread public perception that the Opposition is a house divided, or, in the devastating visual language of the National Party’s 2014 campaign propaganda – a Ship of Fools.
 
The explanation for Labour’s failure is to be found in the arrogance and lack of imagination of its caucus. Though the party membership understood the need for a clear reaffirmation of Labour’s core principles, its MPs remained wedded to Clark’s cautious incrementalism. Without a Don Brash-like “defender of the faith” to re-energise Labour’s base and reassert its claim to leadership of the Left, the party’s share of the vote fell to 27 percent in 2011 and 25 percent in 2014. Four lacklustre leaders in nine years have not only sapped the morale of the party membership, they have also contributed to a pronounced loss of public confidence in the political competence of the Left as a whole.
 
As Labour has weakened, the Greens and NZ First have convinced themselves that the role of second party is theirs for the taking. In the case of NZ First, this is not an altogether fanciful ambition. Given the right set of circumstances: a cruel and incompetent National government; a fast declining Labour Party; an electorate looking to shake up the status quo; and it is possible to envisage Winston Peters breaking through. That the Greens will somehow exceed the 10-11 percent which, to date, has defined the outer limits of their support – that is much harder to see. Nonetheless, they will try. Labour’s failure being the precondition of their success.
 
So Bill English keeps dancing, jabbing and, occasionally, connecting. Watching him confront not one, but three, opponents, the punters may even start seeing the Prime Minister as the underdog in this fight. What should have been an execution – an act of euthanasia even – continues to be a contest.
 
And, so far, National isn’t losing.
 
UPDATE: 8:00am, Saturday, 15 July 2017 - The latest UMR polling data (UMR is the Labour Party's pollster) has been leaked to Newshub's Paddy Gower. It shows Labour plummeting from 34 percent in May to 26 percent in July. As Labour's vote collapses, however, the poll shows support for Winston Peters and NZ First surging to 14 percent. The Greens are close behind with 13 percent. Meanwhile, National boxes on with 42 percent.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 14 July 2017.

Friday, 14 July 2017

A Special Kind Of Prejudice.

Self Portrait Of A Sinophobic  Killer: Thankfully, New Zealand history boasts only one self-confessed homicdal racist - Lionel Terry. To ensure we never have another, the issues of race and immigration must be kept entirely separate.
 
LIONEL TERRY was waiting for Joe Kum Yung as he came limping up Haining Street on the evening of Sunday, 24 September 1905. The 70 year-old veteran of the Otago gold rush knew nothing of the 32 year-old English adventurer lurking in the shadows of Wellington’s notorious “Chinese Quarter”. As Joe shuffled past, Terry stepped forward, raised his revolver and fired. The elderly man collapsed in the street. Stunned neighbours rushed to render assistance but, by the time he arrived at the nearby hospital, Joe Kum Yung was dead. Terry, meanwhile, had disappeared into the Wellington night.
 
The next morning, however, Terry turned himself in to the authorities. “I have come to tell you that I am the man who shot the Chinaman in the Chinese quarters of the city last evening”, he explained. “I take an interest in alien immigration and I took this means of bringing it under the public notice.”
 
Convicted of Joe’s murder, Terry was sentenced to hang. But this was New Zealand in 1905 and English gentlemen did not die for killing elderly Chinese. Declared insane, the murderous white supremacist spent the rest of his life in psychiatric institutions where, in later years, he was allowed to paint and write poetry. With his long white hair and neatly trimmed beard he was treated as an eccentric minor celebrity.
 
It takes a special kind of prejudice to kill a man for the purposes of bringing an issue “under the public notice”. But the anti-Chinese feeling which Joe’s homicide highlighted was by no means exceptional. Nor was it a phenomenon restricted to the political right. Indeed, in the early years of the twentieth century, anti-Chinese agitation was associated much more closely with the political left. Terry himself was a staunch anti-capitalist who railed against employers who imported “coolie-slave labour” at the expense of honest Britons who expected a fair day’s work to be rewarded with a fair day’s pay.
 
For most of New Zealand’s history, racism and immigration have been inseparable. At issue, always, was not the number of immigrants arriving in New Zealand, but the extent to which the new arrivals either challenged, or conformed to, the expectations of the non-immigrant population.
 
Foremost among those expectations was the working-class prohibition against selling one’s labour for less than the going rate. This was an article of left-wing faith all around the Pacific Rim: adhered to with every bit as much fervour in New South Wales and California as New Zealand. That Chinese workers represented a deadly threat to “White Men’s” wages was part and parcel of the same working-class gospel, fuelling European workers’ racist antipathy towards the “Yellow Peril”.
 
For Chinese New Zealanders the consequences of this deeply-ingrained racial prejudice were severe. The legal barriers to their full acceptance as New Zealand citizens (poll taxes and administrative restrictions on travel) took a scandalously long time to dismantle, and the social barriers lasted even longer. It was only fifty years ago that Kiwi schoolchildren regaled each other with “Ching Chong Chinaman” rhymes and jokes.
 
In 2002 Helen Clark issued a Prime Ministerial apology to Chinese New Zealanders for the treatment meted out to them by the New Zealand state. Ten years later, however, a senior New Zealand politician was still willing to entertain his audiences with the jocular observation: “Two Wongs don’t make a White.”
 
There has been considerable consternation at the Green Party co-leader, Metiria Turei’s, uncompromising criticism of NZ First’s “racist” immigration policies. When placed in the shameful context of this country’s long history of anti-immigrant (especially anti-Chinese immigrant) prejudice, however, the Green Party’s progressive sensitivities on this issue are a lot less surprising.
 
Where they do lay themselves open to criticism, however, is in their refusal to cast an equally large accusatory stone at their preferred coalition partner, Labour. The latter’s willingness to mix race and immigration issues has a long history. Whether it be Bill Rowling’s backing of Rob Muldoon’s 1982 legislation stripping Samoans of their New Zealand citizenship, or the more recent “Chinese-sounding names” debacle, Labour’s record on this crucial progressive litmus test is, on the face of it, no less worthy of criticism than NZ First’s.
 
Thankfully, New Zealand history boasts only one Lionel Terry. To ensure we never have another, the issues of race and immigration must be kept entirely separate.
 
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, 14 July 2017.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Is Barry Coates Serious? Are The Greens Really Willing To Trigger A Second Election Before Christmas?

Christmas Cheer-Leader? According to Green MP, Barry Coates, if Labour attempts to form a minority coalition government with NZ First alone, then the Green Party will withhold the support it needs to withstand a Vote of No-Confidence from the National Party and its allies. In other words, if the Green Party is not included in a progressive coalition government, it will send New Zealanders back to the polling booths before Christmas for another go at electing a government.
 
HOW SERIOUSLY should New Zealanders take the words of Green MP Barry Coates? In a recent post to The Daily Blog he said: “The memorandum of understanding with Labour is the foundation for building the next government. However, if we were not part of the coalition, we would not accept a Labour-New Zealand First government and certainly not a National-New Zealand First government. Neither will be acceptable to the Greens.”
 
On its face, that statement suggests that if Labour attempts to form a minority coalition government with NZ First alone, then the Green Party will withhold the support it needs to withstand a Vote of No-Confidence from the National Party and its allies. In other words, if the Green Party is not included in a progressive coalition government, it will send New Zealanders back to the polling booths before Christmas for another go at electing a government.
 
How do James Shaw and Metiria Turei feel about this extraordinary statement? Do they endorse it? Or, have they been blindsided by their most junior Member of Parliament? [Barry entered Parliament off the Green Party List on 7 October 2016, following the resignation of Kevin Hague.]
 
Let’s assume, in the absence of any loud public denials and/or disciplinary action from James and Metiria, that Barry’s summation of the Greens’ position is accurate: what are its likely consequences?
 
Well, let’s just consider what the electorate will have witnessed between 23 September and whenever the newly-elected House of Representatives is dissolved by the Governor-General.
 
First, they will have watched in disbelief as the Greens allowed the proposed coalition government brought together by Andrew Little and Winston Peters to be voted down by National, the Maori Party and Act. Then they will have seen Labour, NZ First and the Greens vote down Bill English’s attempt to form a government of the Right. Just weeks after participating in one general election, the voters will be faced with the unwelcome prospect of participating in another.
 
But surely, some will object, if Winston is unable to govern alongside Andrew Little, then he will simply switch his allegiance to Bill English? That is certainly what an utterly cynical politician, quite unconcerned about the moral quality of his political legacy, would do. A more astute populist politician, however, would recognise in the extremity of the political crisis precipitated by the Greens a heaven-sent opportunity to improve not only his own party’s position, but also that of his preferred coalition partner.
 
Because there can be little doubt that the electorate would punish the Greens mercilessly for landing them with such an unwelcome Christmas present. The voters would reward the Green Party’s dog-in-the-manger irresponsibility by hurling it unceremoniously out of Parliament – a place to which it would struggle to return.
 
The Green Party vote would be swallowed by Labour, while NZ First would be rewarded for its principled decision to refuse the baubles of office by harvesting an even bigger crop of erstwhile National Party voters than they had already gathered-in on 23 September.
 
Paradoxically, the very thing the Greens had hoped to prevent by refusing to guarantee Confidence and Supply to Little and Peters will have come to pass: a Labour-NZ First Coalition Government. Except on this, the second time around, it will be a government over which the Greens are unable to exert any influence whatsoever.
 
If Barry misspoke, then surely it is long past time that James and Metiria said so.
 
UPDATE: 9:00am, Thursday, 13 July 2017 - Following yesterday's release of this story on The Daily Blog, it was picked up by both Newshub and Radio New Zealand (without attribution in the case of the latter). The sudden media attention forced James Shaw to publicly disavow Coates' statement. As an advertisement for the Greens readiness to govern, the past few days have not been a conspicuous success!
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 12 July 2017.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Damning The Dam.

Dam Democracy 1982:  Thirty-five years on, and the National Party has been making threatening noises about executing another constitutional outrage in support of another dam. With just a couple of statements the Prime Minister, Bill English, and his Conservation Minister, Maggie Barry, made it clear that more than three decades of profound political change have made not the slightest impression on the National Party’s understanding of New Zealand’s constitutional proprieties. If the Ruataniwha Dam cannot be secured by hook, then this government stands ready to secure it by crook.
 
ABOVE THE CHAINS looped through the handles of the Dunedin Courthouse, the protesters had affixed a sign. “This Court is now obsolete, irrelevant, and just a nuisance. Accordingly it is CLOSED until such time as people no longer expect the law to protect their rights.”
 
Identical “Dam Democracy” notices were affixed to the padlocked doors of the Court of Appeal in Wellington and the Christchurch High Court. All were inspired by the passage of the Clutha Development (Clyde Dam) Empowering Act 1982. Having proved their case to the satisfaction of the Court of Appeal, opponents of the Clyde Dam had been forced to endure the sordid spectacle of Rob Muldoon’s National Government dragooning Parliament into overturning the Court’s decision. Hence the protests.
 
Thirty-five years on, and the National Party has been making threatening noises about executing another constitutional outrage in support of another dam. With just a couple of statements the Prime Minister, Bill English, and his Conservation Minister, Maggie Barry, made it clear that more than three decades of profound political change have made not the slightest impression on the National Party’s understanding of New Zealand’s constitutional proprieties. If the Ruataniwha Dam cannot be secured by hook, then this government stands ready to secure it by crook.
 
The common thread linking these extraordinary events is the National Party’s peculiar fetish for state planning and control. Once convinced that New Zealand’s future prosperity requires the implementation of a specific set of economic initiatives, the Nats’ adherence to “The Plan” puts the programmatic rigidity of the old Soviet Union to shame.
 
In the days of Rob Muldoon, “The Plan” was known as “Think Big”. New Zealand was going to become self-sufficient in energy off the back of a number of huge development projects – of which the damming of the Clutha River at Clyde was the largest. “Think Big” did not stop at vast hydro-electric schemes and synthetic fuel plants, however. With the additional energy Muldoon proposed to power steel mills and a second aluminium smelter. The latter was to be built at Aramoana – at the mouth of Otago Harbour.
 
The environmental impact of “Think Big” was deemed to be catastrophic, but Muldoon’s National Government turned both a blind eye and a deaf ear to the consequences of “The Plan”.
 
Under John Key and Bill English, “The Plan” is all about the intensification of primary production – especially dairying. But, whereas Muldoon was following the economic policies of industrialisation and diversification promoted by, of all people, the left-wing economic nationalist, senior civil servant and historian, William B Sutch; the plan chosen by Key and English represents a reactionary, Federated Farmers-inspired retreat into the worst kind of price-dependent pastoralism.
 
Like “Think Big”, the Key-English Plan came with catastrophic environmental side-effects. The massive expansion of New Zealand’s dairy industry could only be accomplished by supplying transitioning farmers with huge quantities of heavily subsidised water. State-funded – and protected – irrigation schemes formed an integral part of the Key-English Plan.
 
The constitutional consequences of “The Plan” soon became apparent. When ECan – The Canterbury Regional Council – balked at signing-off on the all-too-obvious ecological devastation associated with implementing water policies aimed at increasing the number of dairy cows in the region from less than 50,000 to nearly half-a-million, the National Government simply dismissed the councillors and brought in commissioners. If the needs of Democracy and the needs of “The Plan” conflicted, then it would not be Democracy that prevailed.
 
For the ratepayers of the Hawkes Bay region the story was somewhat different. The balance of political forces on the Hawkes Bay Regional Council was (until very recently) narrowly, but firmly, in favour of constructing an irrigation storage dam at Ruataniwha. That the project would almost certainly end up poisoning the Tukituki River was not considered a sufficient reason to abandon the project. Indeed, an official report suggesting that the intensification of dairying which the Ruataniwha Dam would make possible represented a threat to the region’s ecosystem was recalled and rewritten.
 
In spite of the fact that the Hawkes Bay Regional Council had yet to secure possession of the land upon which the dam would be built, it is reported to have sanctioned the expenditure of approximately $20 million on ensuring that the project went ahead. Such was their faith in the Key-English Plan.
 
But, just like Rob Muldoon, they reckoned without the Courts. The Supreme Court’s decision striking down the Department of Conservation’s facilitation of the Ruataniwha project – like the Court of Appeal’s ruling against the Clyde Dam – leaves the National Government facing a hard choice: uphold the constitution, or, uphold “The Plan”.
 
It is unlikely that “The Plan” can be legislatively protected retrospectively before the General Election. New Zealanders are thus presented with an opportunity to deliver a judgement of their own. In 2017, Democracy can “Damn the Dam”.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 11 July 2017.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Neither Principled, Nor Pragmatic. What’s Eating The Greens?

Why, Metiria, Why? In light of the Greens’ recent ideological contortions on the subject of immigration, it is possible to interpret Metiria’s attack on NZ First as being driven by internal – not external – considerations. It is possible that the immigration issue has become a symbol of the increasingly bitter divisions that have opened up between idealists and pragmatists within the Green Party. If so, then NZ First has been made the whipping-boy for offences much closer to home.
 
PRINCIPLE AND PRAGMATISM are not, as Radio New Zealand’s Guyon Espiner attempted to assert on yesterday morning’s (10/7/17) Morning Report, incompatible. They are, however, obliged to get out of each other’s way. If the Greens’ Metiria Turei has a principled objection to aspects of NZ First’s immigration policies, then she needs to be careful about how those objections are expressed. Especially when she and her colleagues are also committed to the principled objective of bringing a progressive government into existence on 23 September.
 
Pragmatism is all about working out what you want most. This morning, Metiria informed New Zealand that her top priority is securing a change of government. Obviously, she would like to see her own party playing a major role in any new government. Furthermore and ideally, the progressive administration she’s after would include only the Greens and the Labour Party. There is, however, a very strong likelihood that the two left-leaning parties will not secure sufficient electoral support to govern on their own. Realistically, the support of Winston Peters’ NZ First Party will be required to drive the National Party from the Treasury Benches.
 
All of which raises the question of why, over the course of the weekend just past, Metiria felt moved to attack NZ First’s immigration policies in such uncompromising terms. Whether or not their policies are “racist” – a charge vehemently denied by NZ First – the question arises: what principle was served by levelling such an accusation?
 
It certainly wasn’t the principle of doing everything within one’s power as a co-leader of the Green Party to put an end to the cruelty and incompetence being meted out by the present National-led Government. Nor was it the principle of collegiality: of doing everything possible to ensure that the inevitable differences between the members of a Red-Green-Black coalition can be resolved amicably and in the spirit of generous compromise. Even the principle of racial equality was ill-served by Metiria’s intemperate accusations. Dismissing people and parties as “racists” not only discourages dialogue, it also generates hostility and a hardening of attitudes. In this context, Metiria’s charge that NZ First is a “divisive” political force takes on a grimly ironic aspect.
 
Simply put, Metiria’s claim that she takes a pragmatic approach to the political exigencies of coalition government cannot be sustained. A pragmatic politician would not have drawn public attention to matters about which there remain serious disagreements between the Greens and NZ First. Ideally, she wouldn’t have mentioned NZ First at all – preferring instead to promote her own party’s policies. If asked to comment on potential areas of difficulty between the Greens and NZ First, she would have highlighted those areas where the two parties are in agreement. At all times, her objective would be to demonstrate how easily and how well the two parties could work together. In relation to NZ First, nothing Metiria did over the weekend, or on Morning Report, could be considered pragmatic – or principled.
 
Which leaves a great many progressive voters asking themselves: “Why did she do it? What’s eating the Greens?”
 
In light of the Greens’ recent ideological contortions on the subject of immigration, it is possible to interpret Metiria’s attack on NZ First as being driven by internal – not external – considerations. It is possible that the immigration issue has become a symbol of the increasingly bitter divisions that have opened up between idealists and pragmatists within the Green Party. If so, then NZ First has been made the whipping-boy for offences much closer to home.
 
Given that the Greens long ago left behind their original mission of bearing witness to the need for fundamental environmental, economic and societal change, this sort of internecine bickering is unforgiveable. Accepting the need for pragmatism means accepting the definition of politics as the art of the possible. It also means accepting that morality is not indivisible. That for good people to have a chance of achieving anything at all, a lot of bad people must remain unpunished.
 
If the sixteenth century Protestant leader, Henry of Navarre (later to become the very Catholic Henry IV of France) was willing to concede that “Paris is worth a mass”, then Metiria Turei should be willing to concede that the Ninth Floor of the Beehive is worth biting her tongue over Winston’s shortcomings.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 10 July 2017.

Monday, 10 July 2017

No Jeremy Corbyn

Few So Beloved By The Many: Jeremy Corbyn addresses the Glastonbury crowd. The British Labour Party looms so much larger now than it did just two months ago when the British commentariat was predicting electoral catastrophe on a scale not seen since the 1930s. Were an election to be held in Britain tomorrow a sweeping Labour victory is the most likely result.
 
"OH, JEREMY CORBYN! Oh Jeremy Corbyn!" The half-chant, half-song rose out of the Glastonbury crowd like the roaring of the sea borne on a rising wind. The slightly built 68-year-old received it all with the aplomb of a veteran rock-star. Microphone in one hand, a sheaf of speech notes in the other, he delivered an address that mixed soap-box oratory with the poetry of Shelly: "Rise like Lions after slumber/In unvanquishable number/Shake your chains to earth like dew/Which in sleep had fallen on you/Ye are many - they are few." How the young lions roared!
 
Now, delivering a speech is not the same as delivering a government, and Glastonbury is not Britain, but there there's no disputing that Jeremy Corbyn has redrawn his country's political map. Labour looms so much larger now than it did just two months ago when the British commentariat was predicting electoral catastrophe on a scale not seen since the 1930s. Were an election to be held in Britain tomorrow a sweeping Labour victory is the most likely result.
 
In New Zealand, however, it's a very different story. Here, with a general election less than three months away, Labour is languishing in the political doldrums. When Kiwis mutter "Oh, Andrew Little!", it is with a mixture of exasperation and despair. If we had a Glastonbury, it's hard to imagine our own Labour leader receiving the same rapturous reception as the Brits'. Hard because the voters' ability to imagine a better tomorrow is critically dependent on their political leaders' ability to describe a future worth living in.
 
That was Corbyn's most important achievement: to infuse the future with a sense of hope and promise; to re-cast the lives of ordinary Britons as something more than a grim struggle to pay the rent; to envision a world in which poetry had as valid a claim to their attention as the company's spreadsheets. As one young festival attendee at Glastonbury remarked when asked for an explanation for Corbyn's extraordinary popularity: "He's brought Labour back to its old self again."
 
And that, of course, is precisely what Labour in New Zealand hasn't done. Whether it be the party's pledge to uphold a self-imposed set of Budget Responsibility Guidelines, or, it's latest promise to excuse the farming community from its responsibility to protect the natural environment, the NZ Labour Party's key political strategy appears to involve anticipating how high the bosses will expect them to jump - and then training hard for the event. Corbyn's immensely popular election manifesto was entitled (with a nod to Shelly!) "For the Many - Not the Few". In fine antipodean style, Little has turned Corbyn's winning formula on its head!
 
The question that arises whenever three or more Kiwi leftists gather together in the name of social-democracy is: Why? What is it that holds Little back from making the same sort of unequivocal, old-fashioned Labour promises as Corbyn? What does he think he has to lose - apart from an election which nearly all the polls say he cannot possibly win? The American political writer, Thomas Frank, asked the same question of the US Democratic Party, and the answer he came up with was brutally simple. Today's social-democratic politicians are middle-class professionals who are, by-and-large, as disdainful of the electorate as they are uninterested in its inner emotional life. Not only have they forgotten how to dream dreams and see visions - they don't see the point.
 
Labour’s campaign to turn out the chimerical “missing million” courtesy of the unpaid efforts of several dozen young American interns is an embarrassing case in point. No one involved in this exercise seemed to understand that to replicate the outpouring of youthful energy that characterised the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Corbyn one first has to lay one’s hands on candidates capable of inspiring such unstinting effort.
 
Corbyn’s magic cannot be summoned-up out of a phone-bank staffed by well-meaning foreigners. Young volunteers will pour in to staff a Corbyn or Sanders-style political crusade – but only after they have themselves been mobilised by the fiery rhetoric of such political crusaders. There is no algorithm for passion, no playbook for inspiration.
 
Labour in New Zealand - like the Democrats in America and the New Labour Party of Tony Blair - are locked into the politics of subtraction. All their energy is devoted to shifting voters from the Government's column to the Opposition's. They have forgotten that the parties of the Left have always and only been about the politics of addition: of bringing new social classes and forces into the electoral equation; of adding new and exciting possibilities to the lives of ordinary citizens.
 
Politics isn't a profession - it's a calling. And when a political leader answers that call with sincerity and love - oh how the people respond!
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 4 July 2017.