Sheer, Red-Baiting Idiocy: Here, just five days out from a general election, was proof that, in this country, there are still places which remain entirely untouched by the sunlight of the twenty-first century.
ON THE EVE of Women’s Suffrage Day, a Waikato cow-cockie was photographed carrying a sign declaring Jacinda Ardern to be “a pretty communist”. In terms of reasons for feeling outraged and affronted, Labour supporters were spoiled for choice. Should they be outraged at the overt sexism of the “pretty”? Or affronted by the sheer, red-baiting idiocy of the “communist”? Then again, a compelling case could be made for being disturbed by the whole extraordinary image. Here, just five days out from a general election, was proof that, in this country, there are still places which remain entirely untouched by the sunlight of the twenty-first century.
So unenlightened are these ideological troglodytes that they have yet to grasp the fact that the milk from their cows; the liquid that gets processed into powder in Fonterra’s factories; the export product that gets loaded onto ships; is bound for a country ruled entirely and exclusively by members of the Communist Party of China. That’s right! The people who keep our cow cockies in their tractors and utes may not be all that pretty, but they are, most emphatically, communists!
Another fact these strange subterranean folks seem to have forgotten (assuming they ever knew it in the first place) is that the comprehensive free-trade agreement between New Zealand and the Peoples Republic of China – the first such document ever signed by the Chinese state and a democratic western nation – was negotiated by the Labour Government of Helen Clark. That’s right! The world’s largest market for milk powder; the market that kept New Zealand’s dairy industry afloat through the dark days of the Global Financial Crisis; had been opened up for them by a left-wing woman – from the Waikato.
Not that the New Zealand Right’s blind hatred of all things Left is anything new. Throughout this country’s history, conservative Kiwis have demonstrated an exaggerated fear – bordering on full-blown paranoia – of “the wrong sort of people” (i.e. those not farmers or businessmen) being able to exercise the slightest measure of control over their lives.
The Right’s fear of being governed by the Left is not born out of strong libertarian principle. It is not as though the very idea of one group of human-beings exercising control over another is anathema to right-wing politicians and their supporters. After all, the Right is only too happy to use the full panoply of state power against those whose economic and social subordination is deemed essential to securing their own social and economic ascendancy. Indeed, the history of New Zealand is little more than the record of the Right’s never-ending struggle to resist and reverse the egalitarian policies and achievements of the Left.
Even when those policies and achievements have been to the obvious benefit of the nation as a whole, the Right has not, for a single moment, relented. On the morning of the 1938 General Election, for example, after three years of extraordinary progress under the First Labour Government, and with the ground-breaking Social Security Act due to come into force on 1 April 1939, this was the editorial warning the capital city’s morning newspaper delivered to its readers:
“Today you will exercise a free vote because you are under this established British form of government. If the socialist government is returned to power, your vote today may be the last free individual vote you will ever be given the opportunity to exercise in New Zealand.”
Over the top? Not according to a 1938 National Party circular to its parliamentary candidates:
“Oppose! Oppose! Oppose! That is the essential duty of Nationalist speakers. Use every possible play of words, every fact you can advance to show that your opponents are fools, political hypocrites, opportunists, seekers of power, despots, traitors to their own class, to their country, or their Empire.”
It was curiously reassuring, following the recent National Party claim that there is an $11.7 billion “hole” in the Jacinda Ardern-led Labour Party’s fiscal plan, to discover how little the Right’s strategic approach to fighting general elections has changed.
Be it the democratic nightmares of conservative leader-writers, or the fever-dreams of red-baiting Waikato cow-cockies, the right-wing reflex to “Oppose! Oppose! Oppose!” remains as strong as ever.
What is it the French say? Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
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, 22 September 2017.