Welcome To Johnkeyistan! Don't Worry, She'll Be Right (In Every Sense Of The Word)
There was never any doubt that National was going to win the 2011 election; the only question was by how much. After all, that message was rammed down our throats morning, noon and night for the past three years by the Government’s spin doctors, the transnational corporate media and their resident “experts”. I have no doubt that this carefully manufactured air of inevitability was a major reason why the voter turnout was the lowest in decades. A lot of Labour supporters would have thought “if my vote’s not going to make any difference and my party’s going to get hammered anyway, why should I bother to waste my time voting?” And thus the carefully manufactured air of inevitability became a self-fulfilling prophecy. A low voter turnout is always bad news for Labour and the Left generally. And, speaking as someone who, for carefully considered political reasons (definitely not apathy), refused to enrol, let alone vote, for 21 years from the 1970s until the 90s, then who am I to criticise non-voters?
Now that elections are fought on the US Presidential model, it all comes down to the individual who is fronting the campaign. And National recognises that its’ greatest and, in many ways, only asset, is John Key. Its 2011 campaign was personalised to an unprecedented degree. We weren’t exhorted to vote for the National Party but for “John Key’s National Party”. No other Tory got a look in – which was probably a wise move. Because if the unthinkable happened and Key broke his neck from smiling too much, who would they have to replace him? His Cabinet is not exactly brimming with talent. The Deputy PM, Bill English, led National to its worst ever defeat in 2002 (yes, even worse than Labour’s in 2011) and ran the most appallingly inept election campaign I’ve ever seen from any party. Nobody else springs to mind as a winning leader. For instance, Steven Joyce is filling the same sort of Minister of Everything role that Bill Birch did in the 1990s’ National government but Joyce is only a pale shadow of the man who earned the nickname of the Prince of Darkness (Birch even had the king size nose suitable for sticking into everything). Can anybody honestly say that they see Gerry Brownlee as Prime Ministerial material? If you do, ask a Cantabrian for a reality check.
Both major parties play this game. When Helen Clark was elevated, first to Labour Leader and then to Prime Minister, she was glammed up beyond recognition and Labour’s campaigns were heavily reliant on her as its greatest asset. But she did have a genuine potential replacement working alongside her, namely her formidably talented Deputy and Minister of Finance, Michael Cullen. When they both abruptly resigned after Labour’s 2008 defeat, the party had to hurriedly find two replacements, and what they got was the shopsoiled pair of Phil Goff and Annette King. What National has learned is that to break the cycle of familiarity breeding voter contempt, you need to bring in a charismatic outsider, a gamebreaker. They tried it first with Don Brash and he came very close to winning the 2005 election. But then he proved himself to be a suicide bomber in the ranks of his own parties, firstly in National and now in Act. So the Tories’ Plan B to defeat Helen Clark was John Key and he was parachuted in to do the job. It’s the same stratagem Labour adopted when it recruited David Lange to beat Piggy Muldoon (both Clark and Muldoon were defeated at their third election as Prime Minister).
Who’s A Pretty Boy, Then?
Key is extremely popular personally and to all appearances he is an easygoing, nice bloke (or, at least, his carefully cultivated public persona is). Basically it is his popularity alone that won National 47% of the vote, the party’s highest tally since 1951 (but, crucially, not the 50% that it had been polling right up until the election and which would have enabled it to govern alone, something never achieved under MMP). I’ll never vote for Key but I’ll give the man credit for fronting up after Christchurch’s series of catastrophic earthquakes in 2010/11. Indeed, at one point, what with the quakes and the Pike River coal mine tragedy, Key was fronting up so frequently that he was in danger of being mistaken for a professional mourner. But the politics of perception are very important, particularly in a huge natural disaster (ask George Bush, who provided the opposite example after the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans). And that, plus the perception that the Government is “doing something” to help earthquake victims, paid big dividends at the election, with the previously Labour city of Christchurch giving its party vote to National (even in Wigram, which was Jim Anderton’s stronghold for 27 years), and the decades-long Labour seat of Christchurch Central going National for the first time ever (one of two very close results subject to judicial recount at the time of writing; the other one being Waitakere, which National’s Paula Bennett lost to Labour). That’s a great pity because Brendon Burns was one of the most progressive Labour MPs and deserved much better than a lowly list ranking which means he’s out of Parliament after one term.
So Key is perceived as that nice man who smiles and waves (hey, it works for the Queen), plus he must know how to run the economy because he made a lot of money as a foreign currency trader, right? Add a suitably meaningless campaign slogan such as “Building A Brighter Future” (politicians never promise jam today, it’s always jam tomorrow) and you’re home and hosed. Personalising National’s election campaign to saturation level with Key puts New Zealand on the same level as those scorned Third World countries that base everything on the cult of personality around the Great Leader. Perhaps we should make it official and rename the country Johnkeyistan.
So what can we expect from a further three years of a triumphalist National government? The election basically represented the victory of the rich over the poor, so National will prioritise bashing the poor, because beneficiaries are the Tories’ favourite scapegoat and easy to demonise in the cynical divide and conquer exercise of setting the working poor (the deserving poor) against the “bludgers” (the undeserving poor) who are below them in the pecking order. It’s no longer PC to stigmatise Pacific immigrants and “overstayers” as Muldoon so successfully did in the 70s (and which Brash attempted to replicate, also quite successfully, with “Maori privilege” when he was National’s Leader last decade). So beneficiaries have come to fill the vital role of the villain in the fairy story which Rightwing parties always use to frighten and distract the gullible. ”Don’t blame us rich people for the fact that you are struggling to get by; no, it’s all the fault of those bludgers”. Before the election result was finalised, Key had announced a previously undeclared policy on instituting charter schools run by private enterprises, including overseas ones. This was part of National’s coalition deal with Act; that one seat wonder personified in recycled National hack John Banks (who was also awarded a ridiculously disproportionate four portfolios).
From CAFCA’s point of view, the issues on which we campaign will be front and centre (or rather, front and Right). For example, the Government is in full lemming mode in hot pursuit of a free trade agreement with the US via the multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). It was given a major propaganda push at the APEC Leaders’ Summit in Hawaii just two weeks before the election (Key was too busy to go, so he sent Bill English as a booby prize). Check out www.nznotforsale.org, the Website of the New Zealand Not For Sale Campaign, a broadbased network of groups of which CAFCA is part. Another example is the fact that Rogernomics is far from dead; it just keeps crawling back out of its coffin and assuming new names. One of those is the Productivity Commission. Never heard of it? Don’t be embarrassed, you’re far from alone.
Selling To “Mum & Dad” What They Already Own: A Con Trick
Both the TPPA and outfits like the Productivity Commission fly beneath the radar (which is one of the problems in raising awareness of them, let alone organising opposition to them).The TPPA negotiations, of course, are deliberately shrouded in a quite extraordinary degree of secrecy, which is not surprising, because the negotiating parties have got a lot to hide. On the other hand, the policy of “partial” privatisation of State-owned assets (SOEs), specifically the power generators, Solid Energy and Air New Zealand, was very high profile from the time Key announced it nearly a year out from the election. Labour made “No Asset Sales” its central campaign plank – and, based on National’s victory, and Labour’s lowest share of the vote since MMP was introduced in 1996, Key is claiming a mandate to proceed. But, in fact, in every single poll on the subject, a clear majority has opposed flogging off those SOEs. So Key does not have a mandate on that particular policy.
Rather than go over, yet again, all the reasons why privatisation is a crap idea, I refer you to Bill Rosenberg’s wonderful Powerpoint presentation entitled “If privatisation is the answer, what was the question?” It’s at http://canterbury.cyberplace.co.nz/community/CAFCA/publications/Miscellaneous/Privatisation2Nov11.pdf. John Key has made a big song and dance about how private ownership will be restricted to 49% and he also promised that “Kiwi mums and dads” will be the target of the shares to be issued when these public assets will be floated. Neither of those promises stand up to any scrutiny - commentators, including Key, have admitted that even if these mythical “Kiwi mums and dads” do buy the shares, there is nothing to stop them promptly selling them to the first big corporate buyer that comes along, either from NZ Big Business or, much more likely, a transnational corporation. That is exactly what happened in the 1990s to community-owned local electricity network operators – shares were issued to their customers, who promptly became the target of offers they couldn’t refuse from corporate buyers. Nor does 49% private ownership provide any kind of protection. All you need to do is look at the Overseas Investment Act which, despite many amendments since it was first passed in 1973, still retains the same legal definition of a foreign company – one that is more than 24.9% foreign-owned. It doesn’t matter whether that percentage is held by one or many foreign owners; if it totals anything higher than 24.9%, it is recognised as a foreign company.
In other words Key is talking about accepting a level of private, inevitably foreign, ownership which is double the legal definition of a foreign company. And there is an inherently absurd contradiction in this whole “Kiwi mums and dads” nonsense – they already own these assets, because that is what public ownership means. They have paid for them by their taxes, why should they be expected to pay for them again by buying a few shares in them and diluting their ownership to the status of a minority shareholder? What happens if one of these privatised companies goes bust? Mum and dad will go to the back of the queue as unsecured creditors, just as happened with the shonky finance companies that toppled like dominos. And mum and dad will be left with nothing. Isn’t that a great bargain!
It’s The Ideology, Stupid
Why does the Government want to privatise public assets? Key and English are trotting out the tired old lie that it is to reduce debt. This was used during the huge wave of State asset privatisations in the late 1980s and early 90s. It couldn’t be justified then and certainly can’t be justified now. At least Roger Douglas had the decency to tell the truth. In an early 90s’ book praising him and his cronies for the selloff of State forests, Douglas said: “I am not sure we were right to use the argument that we should privatise to quit debt. We knew it was a poor argument but we probably felt it was the easiest to use politically”. New Zealand does have high foreign debt at present but the great bulk of it is private debt, not public. Of that private foreign debt around 70% is bank debt, which is only a problem for the Australian owners of our major banks, not the New Zealand taxpayer. NZ‘s public debt is very low compared to other high income countries; it is certainly nothing like the public debt levels of countries such as Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain – countries with which the Government is now comparing New Zealand in a propaganda drive to panic Kiwis into accepting There Is No Alternative to privatisation. Our public debt levels provide no justification for flogging off those assets. The answer is, of course, that the Government wants to privatise public assets for ideological reasons.
The State-owned power companies, Solid Energy and Air New Zealand are only the beginning. There is a well advanced process of privatisation by stealth. Just to quickly summarise other affected sectors: there are public private partnerships (PPPs) being set up for infrastructure projects; the extremely lucrative workplace component of ACC is being “opened up to competition”; the first contract has been let for a private prison; (in the case of both ACC and prisons, these moves continue policies started by the 1990s’ National government and stopped by Labour); PPPs are being set up to run education sector infrastructure. Those are all privatisation moves underway right now. In the future there is the very real prospect of Kiwibank being flogged off – not only is it ideologically unacceptable to the Tory privatisers (and Labour’s leadership sneered at it when they were forced to establish it as part of the 1999-02 coalition deal with the Alliance) but it is also an extremely successful and innovative bank which is giving the big Aussie banks a run for their money at the lower end of the market. People ask: “Well what is left to sell?” because so much has already been flogged off. The answer is: plenty. Two huge sectors which the transnationals want to get their hooks into are water and local body services. What an indictment of New Zealand capitalism that it can’t create any wealth by itself; the best it can do is rely on the Government to steal things for it from the public.
There is no shortage of other issues. Yes, the Government is “doing something” about the Christchurch earthquakes (personally, we have no complaints about how we have been treated; our house, which is also the CAFCA office, was repaired last winter). But it is what it is not doing that is the problem. The rebuild has been ground to a halt by transnational insurance companies and their offshore reinsurers doing SFA. This is nothing less than a capital strike by corporations that have creamed it big time for as long as Cantabrians, whether homeowners or businesses, have been paying insurance. Imagine the uproar if this was a labour strike. When you get prominent business mouthpieces urging the Government to step in because the insurance market is broken, and accusing the insurance companies of holding the country to ransom, you know that those companies have achieved the difficult task of pissing off everyone. Imagine what the Government would be doing if it was unions “holding the country to ransom”. But the Government is doing nothing, preferring to leave it to “the market” – which means stalemate. The widely backed call is for the Government to get back into insurance, to deal with problems that the private insurers can’t or won’t handle. After all that’s why State Insurance was founded – and that’s another example of a former public asset that was stupidly privatised. And these are only some of the New Zealand issues facing National. Capitalism itself faces an extremely serious economic crisis; the species faces an existential crisis from self-inflicted global warming, to cite two of the biggies. There is no sign that National has any idea how to respond to those. Smile and wave, John, and it will all go away.
Scraping Bottom Of Barrel For Partners
Commentators have already pointed out, that National faces problems at the 2014 election, namely that it doesn’t have any Rightwing mates with which to form a coalition. Act was the creature of the transnational corporations, New Zealand Big Business and Rogernaut ideologues stuck in a 1980s’ time warp, aided and abetted at the outset by a supine corporate media. But the party has long since gone beyond being a joke, dependent upon a jack up with National in Epsom to retain any sort of presence in Parliament, to being a laughingstock, an afterthought, a footnote. Poor old Don Brash, everything he touches turns to shit. He has caused grave damage to both Rightwing parties that he has led in the past decade and he had the good sense to resign as Act Leader immediately after the election. Now he can concentrate on his real calling as a stand up comedian. As for Act, it got a lower party vote than Mana and is represented by one single solitary MP, namely John Banks a retread National Minister and moral conservative, an “interventionist” no less, a man who has been decisively rejected twice in recent years by Auckland voters as first Mayor and then as Mayoral candidate. There is speculation that Banks, a National MP in all but name, will do a deal with the Conservative Party which actually polled more than double Act’s party vote but got no seats. Any such alliance with the moral conservatives would be another nail in the coffin of the “rugged individualists” that Act espouses to represent. United Future is likewise a joke, representing nothing more than the bouffant-haired Peter Dunne who owes his continued survival as its solitary MP to another jack up with National.
That leaves just the Maori Party, which paid a heavy electoral price for its treacherous 2008 decision to go with National when the vast majority of Maori seat voters backed Labour with their party vote. So it lost two of the five seats that it held, one each to Labour and Mana and, just as in 2008, the party vote went heavily to Labour in all Maori seats. The Maori Party showed its true colours when it said that it opposed selling State assets – unless it is to iwi corporates, such as Tainui and Ngai Tahu. So the Maori Party has clearly identified itself as the voice of Maori Big Business, the Brown Table, as opposed to the great impoverished majority of “our people” that it falsely claims to represent. Co-Leader Tariana Turia, whose primary emotion seems to be resentment, spat the dummy about the Party having slogged its guts out in Christchurch’s poor, brown eastern suburbs after the earthquakes and the ungrateful sods hadn’t repaid the favour by voting for it. That sour comment went down a treat with Cantabrians brown and white but it was nice to have it so explicitly articulated what motivates politicians in the aftermath of a huge natural disaster (but who can blame her for being pissed off, as exactly the same thing paid handsome Christchurch electoral dividends for the Gruesome Twosome of John Key and Bob Parker?). And, no, selling State assets to Maori capitalists doesn’t make it any more acceptable than when the first generation of such assets were sold to Pakeha capitalists with wonderfully appropriate names like Richwhite. Privatisation per se is politically wrong, not to mention economically dumb, irrespective of the colour or nationality of the privateer. By throwing in its lot once again with National the Maori Party risks complete electoral oblivion in 2014.
And, viewed from that perspective, National has problems right now, let alone in 2014. Due to MMP (which the accompanying referendum overwhelmingly reaffirmed as New Zealanders’ electoral system of choice) its governing margin is actually only a tiny handful of seats, indeed it is the political equivalent of the All Blacks’ single point winning margin in the Rugby World Cup final. And also due to MMP, National’s election victory differs from the World Cup final in that the winner does not take all (on the subject of the World Cup final - if the All Blacks had lost that, the election result may have been the same as in 1999 when National PM Jenny Shipley blamed the “feel bad” factor of the All Blacks’ shock World Cup semi-final defeat for National’s electoral defeat shortly thereafter. Perhaps Key had better show his appreciation and appoint Graham Henry or Richie McCaw to Cabinet).
My Name’s Goff And I’m Off
What now for Labour which had its worst result for decades? Goff did the right thing and promptly resigned. But it will need more than David Shearer as new Leader to dig it out of the hole it’s currently in, mainly because it’s a self-dug hole (at least he is not personally tainted by participation in that toxic 1980s’ Rogernomics government). Realising that Goff couldn’t compete with Key in the personality stakes, Labour did something for which I give it credit – the party tried to campaign on actual policies. And a number of those are ones that CAFCA finds laudable, the most obvious being “No Asset Sales”. But it’s a sign of how far both major parties have lurched to the Right that Labour’s 2011 campaign policies could be presented as some sort of “Leftwing” platform. Goff kept reiterating that it is economically stupid to sell State-Owned Assets (SOEs), because Labour would keep them to retain the income flow from the profits.
That’s as “radical” as it got, though, because to go any further would mean renouncing a central plank of Rogernomics, and Labour is not prepared to do that, except in the most cosmetic of fashions. Labour started the whole process of creating SOEs as profit-driven businesses, and of privatising public assets to local and foreign Big Business. People say “who cares who owns the power companies? The State-owned ones behave like bastards anyway” (and don’t I know it, I’m a customer of one which gave us a $5 discount for five days without power after the February quake. I think we would have paid a little more than $5 for five days of power). True, but the solution is not to flog them off to a private owner but to enact a policy that SOEs supplying an essential service actually be a public service rather than profit-obsessed corporations, which are publicly-owned whilst exhibiting all the worst characteristics of privately owned Big Business corporations. That requires a political decision to change the business model of those and other SOEs from profit to service. Now there’s a radical concept – but it was the status quo in NZ until the 1980s and 90s. The country’s electricity system existed to ensure uninterrupted supply of an essential service, at cost. In other areas of interest to CAFCA (and plenty of other New Zealanders) Labour said little or nothing. Because of its wholehearted ideological commitment to “free trade” it supports the TPPA (indeed the whole process of a free trade agreement with the US started under the Clark/Goff government, and they were very proud of that). The most it is prepared to criticise about the TPPA is the threat to Pharmac, and some other details, such as “consulting” sector groups about it. It was ironic to hear Goff say that a Labour government would get NZ out of the war in Afghanistan that the last Labour government, in which he was a very senior figure, got us into. Read Nicky Hager’s “Other People’s Wars” for the facts of the 1999-08 Labour government’s military and intelligence relationship with the US in Afghanistan and Iraq. Uncle Sam could not have wished for a more devoted lapdog – just not in public. Let’s see how many of those 2011 policies survive the leadership change and are resurrected at the 2014 election. Or will Labour have more “moderate, business-friendly” ones (again)?
The outgoing Labour MP for whom I have most respect, and will miss, is Jim Anderton. Now, of course he was officially Leader of the Progressive Party (which has disappeared with his retirement) but Jim was always a Labour MP. He wasn’t joking when he said: “I didn’t leave the Labour Party, the Labour Party left me”. In his prime, which was some years ago, he truly did embody the social democrat ethos which was the best feature of the old Labour Party (but always within the timid boundaries required by a party eager to prove that it would be a trustworthy administrator of capitalism). Jim was a bloody good electorate MP for all of his 27 years in Parliament (I speak from the personal experience of the 15 years we were in his electorate, until the boundaries changed). Kiwibank is his greatest economic and social legacy; politically, his best and worst legacies are the creation and destruction of the Alliance (Jim never was a team player. I remember asking the late Rod Donald why the Greens had quit the Alliance and were going it alone, from the 1999 election. Rod replied: “Two words. Jim Anderton”). If it wasn’t for the September 2010 earthquake Jim would now be well into his term as Christchurch’s Mayor after the landslide victory he was on track for at the October 2010 local body elections. To add insult to injury the ongoing quakes forced him out of his electorate office amidst the wholesale destruction of our local suburban shopping centre. Characteristically he plunged into what he does best – representing the people of his electorate as they struggled with the aftermath of this huge natural disaster. Enjoy your retirement, Jim.
Jurassic Park: The Sequel, Starring Winstonosaurus
But as one old dinosaur falls into the tar pit, another one, against all predictions, crawls out of it. Winston Peters the great survivor has done it again, and caused a satisfying amount of dismay among his former bedmates on both sides of the House (he’s been a senior Minister in both National and Labour governments and pissed them both off); not to mention the ideologues of neo-liberalism, who see him as an impediment to their plans. The media and pollsters at first ignored New Zealand First’s comeback campaign, which meant that it flew under the radar, and Peters, the master of old school politicking, did it the old fashioned way, namely by addressing well attended provincial meetings (exactly as his mentor, Piggy Muldoon, had done prior to coming to power in 1975). Since his surprise return to Parliament, along with seven other New Zealand First MPs, the Tories, the “experts” and the media have mocked him, the party and its “old” voters; such mockery is simply a mask for fear. Those very same forces invested an enormous effort in the 2008 election campaign to successfully stopping him winning back his Tauranga seat, and driving New Zealand First out of Parliament (which they assumed was for good).
Peters will especially savour the fate of Rodney Hide, the 2008 Act Leader who spearheaded that drive and whose party picked up several MPs and Ministerial jobs despite getting a lower party vote than NZ First at that 08 election (by virtue of Hide winning Epsom and NZ First not winning a seat or reaching the 5% party vote threshold). In 2011 Hide was overthrown as Act Leader in a coup by the lamentable Don Brash, who wasn’t even a party member at the time, and was ejected from Cabinet and Parliament by Act selecting John Banks instead of him as its Epsom candidate (and now its’ sole MP, Brash having led the party to electoral oblivion and promptly resigned).
CAFCA hasn’t changed our opinion of Peters – he is Old National (in exactly the same way Anderton is Old Labour) and a nationalist, but a reactionary nationalist, as was his mentor, Muldoon (by contrast we define ourselves as a progressive nationalist, not to mention Leftwing, organisation. Peters would eat his suit before allowing himself to be labelled Leftwing). To sum up, we wouldn’t trust him as far as we could throw him. I refer you to my cover story “Winston’s Petered Out” in Watchdog 84, May 1997, http://historicalwatchdog.blogspot.com/2009/12/foreign-control-watchdog-may-1997.html for a detailed critique of Peters after he opted to go with National at the first MMP election (having said the opposite throughout the campaign). Nothing has changed, in our view. The racing industry reckoned that Winston was the best ever Minister for Racing, so if Key has any brains, he’ll give him that portfolio to keep him happy and give him something to do.
We know nothing about any of his new MPs, except for Denis O’Rourke, who was a long serving, high profile Labour Christchurch City Councillor. O’Rourke featured in Watchdog at the end of last century (for example, see 92, December 1999, http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/92/2waste.htm; the relevant subheading is “Sconedoer Goes Berko”. Get the picture?). He was the champion of the abortive Darfield megadump (it’s now in North Canterbury) in partnership with a US garbage transnational, and called for the abolition of the Canterbury Regional Council (the latter took until 2010 for this National government to enact). So the omens are not good for any naïve souls expecting anything progressive from the latest incarnation of New Zealand First.
Respectable, Electable Green Capitalism
The Green Party was the big winner among the Opposition parties, with both its percentage of the party vote and its number of MPs getting into double figures, both for the first time. It has been a true MMP party, dependent entirely on the party vote ever since its founder Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons lost the Coromandel seat in 2002 after one term. CAFCA has had a productive working relationship with the Greens for the best part of 20 years, going back to the days of Jeanette and the late Rod Donald. In 2011, the Greens worked alongside CAFCA in campaigning against the proposed TPPA; helped to distribute Roger Award nomination forms in their Party newsletter; and played a big role in my April-June New Zealand Is Not For Sale national speaking tour, by organising my public meetings in various centres and Green activists (including one MP) hosting me in several cases. Of the new Green MPs, two (Eugenie Sage and Steffan Browning) are longstanding good friends – in Steffan’s case he has been the indispensable contact man in Blenheim for years for not only CAFCA, but the Anti-Bases Campaign and the Philippines Solidarity Network of Aotearoa (particularly for ABC’s long running campaign to close the Waihopai spybase). I pay heartfelt tribute to retiring Green MP, Keith Locke, also an old friend and an equally vital contact person for all three groups. Keith has been taking an active part at Waihopai protests and all other ABC activities dating back to when the Greens were part of the former Alliance in the 90s. I was honoured to be invited to speak at Keith’s Christchurch farewell, on behalf of all three groups, even though I’m not a member of the Greens (or any other party).
But Keith was Old Green and I fear his departure may be the end of an era. I’m inclined to agree with Sue Bradford’s criticism of her former party that it has become like any other Green Party in the world, focusing almost exclusively on the environmental concerns that have become the status quo among the global middle classes. It would have won many voters from both Labour and National for precisely that reason. Not that there is anything wrong with such environmental concerns, I hasten to add – global warming is the sword of Damocles hanging over life on Earth – but the party grew out of a solid activist, campaigning tradition. My God, apologising to National because some party activists “defaced” the Tories’ billboards was a classic symptom of just far the party has gone in pursuit of respectability and electability. I fear that it is now in its “mature” phase, i.e. run by technocrats promoting a green capitalism that won’t alarm or threaten the all important middle class floating voters. It still espouses a laudable commitment to social justice but is not prepared to sacrifice its electoral prospects by actually confronting the causes of social and economic injustice.
Good Old Class Struggle
Which brings me to the new party which is prepared to do so, stridently in fact. Mana ran its campaign like it was one great big activist campaign and made no bones about what it was for and what it was against. For its pains, it only managed to get one MP, namely Hone Harawira (but he retained his seat in a genuine fight, not because of a jack up with another party, unlike Act’s and United Future’s single MPs). It was a pity that the likes of Annette Sykes, John Minto or Sue Bradford did not get in, but Mana did not get enough of the party vote (it can reverse the Occupy Wall Street movement’s slogan and proclaim “We are the 1%”. But it still got more votes than Act). By dint of its sole MP being Hone, it risks not just being branded a one man band but a Maori radical party. Whereas, in fact, Mana did a commendable job, with very limited resources of time, money and media coverage, to build progressive links between Maori and pakeha. Hone Harawira is inclined to be all over the place but nobody will die wondering what he thinks about any particular issue. To give one example, he is the one MP to have really put the boot into those transnational mass merchants of death and disease, the tobacco companies. He wants them out of business and their product extinct, not merely regulated or warned against. Mana is a party that unashamedly champions the poor, of whom there is an ever growing number in the “winners and losers” society fostered by both National and Labour. They paid the electoral price for that – too radical – but they are highlighting a fundamental issue of deliberately created poverty that won’t go away as long as the rich, and their mouthpiece parties, get richer at the expense of the poor.
Let’s Have Some Democracy & Justice At Home
To me, the most powerful thing in the media during the campaign wasn’t any of the self-promoting TV ads of any party (I muted those). No, it was Bryan Bruce’s hardhitting “Inside Child Poverty” documentary which screened on TV3 a few days before the election (and credit to foreign-owned TV3 for screening it in primetime). That made very clear that the cause of this rich country’s shameful record of child poverty can be sheeted home to the “free market, trickle down” policies of Rogernomics which have been assiduously practised by governments of both parties since the 80s. A generation of waging class warfare on the poor has produced entirely predictable results and it is the most vulnerable sector, namely the children of the poor, who are paying the highest price. Mana is dedicated to rectifying that but it only has one MP and is highly unlikely to be part of Government any time soon. Like all great social and political changes in this country’s history, the initiative will have to come from outside Parliament, traditional politics and “the right channels”. It will have to come from the streets. Such movements for change are applauded (and militarily assisted) when they happen in countries the West doesn’t like, such as Libya. The corporate media tells us all about “the Arab street” but, funnily enough, there’s never a word about “the New Zealand street”. Surely, real political and economic democracy and social justice are good enough to be applied at home. So let’s get on with it!