The rise and rise of racist politics in New Zealand

Well, it took six years, but finally it happened. Finally, the fact that John Key is a former banker with Jewish ancestry has become a public issue. The issue has been bubbling quietly in youtube comments, but now it’s in the open.

And, sadly, it has to some extent come from the Left. A while back I said racism is a big stick that only the Right can wield. Apparently I was wrong. In a shoo-in for the inaugural Aaron Gilmore Award for Political Stupidity, Labour candidate for Rangitata Steve Gibson has forgotten #votepositive and called John Key a ‘Shylock‘. This is not a good look, especially when you have halfwits and fascists scrawling anti-semitic doodles on John Key’s face.

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The Left needs to unequivocally deplore anti-semitism, and this includes dropping candidates who think it’s ok to throw around ethnic slurs.

Labour must have known they were playing with fire when they started making race an issue in this election. They might claim they aren’t talking about race. But they need to take responsibility for the fact that some people are going to hear race and get riled up.

Here in New Zealand, the anti-immigrant sentiment hasn’t consolidated around a single party, despite the best efforts of Winston First and Labour. Dog whistles to xenophobes are the thin end of an ugly and dangerous wedge that ends with the National Front or a kiwi version of UKIP or Golden Dawn. The Left in New Zealand should have no part in it. 

Slavoj Zizek has some interesting thoughts on the rise of anti-immigrant politics. He claims a new polarity is emerging in western, particularly European, politics. Instead of centre-left forces fighting with centre-right forces, there is a capitalist force that is socially liberal/moderate fighting with a nationalist/anti-immigrant force (well, that’s sort of what he says. Zizek is always more accurate when misquoted). Nationalist/xenophobic parties are becoming increasingly popular and strident across the continent (the Hungarian case is particularly interesting), and there is a real danger that a party in New Zealand effectively seizes this sentiment. Let’s make sure it’s not a Left party.


Steve Gibson has to go.   

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Hannah Arendt: Power vs Violence

Here’s an Interesting article by Hannah Arendt from 1969 on the difference between violence and power. She makes some interesting points. It’s a long read, but a good one.

“Violence, we must remember, does not depend on numbers or opinion but on implements, and the implements of violence share with all other tools that they increase and multiply human strength. Those who oppose violence with mere power will soon find out that they are confronted not with men, but with men’s artifacts” (emphasis added).
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First as Tragedy, Then as Farce

Three years ago New Zealand had a referendum on whether or not to keep the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system. 57% voted to keep MMP, which was a win, but only just. If the referendum were held this year the result might be different.

Coat-tailing is eroding the public’s faith in MMP, and is a long term threat to the system. Look at the situation we are now in:
1- Some of the Right’s most prominent pundits (and Cameron Slater) are supporting a Labour candidate
2- John Key and Laila Harre are both voting for National candidate Paul Goldsmith (even though Key wants him to lose, and Harrè hates National).
3- A rich foreigner with ties to the far right has joined forces with a Māori nationalist to create IMP people.
4- Peter Dunne’s hair and bow-tie are allowed near a Ministerial portfolio.

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No, Peter. Just no.

Thanks to the coat-tailing rule, this all makes complete sense. The situation is so bizarre that one is tempted to suspect the whole thing is a conspiracy designed to discredit MMP. If it is, it’s working pretty well.

The problem for the Left is that coat-tailing puts us at a strategic disadvantage. We can’t exploit coat-tailing like the Right can because our parties are more principle-driven. What principles guide National? Common sense? Optimism? John Key? (ACT is the exception here, but their principles are widely discredited, and they haven’t been a real party for years).

Maybe this is merely a function of conservatism, which is, I think, more disposition than philosophy. A vanilla conservatism underpins a significant chunk of the kiwi Right, and as such, it’s not really ‘for’ anything other than the status quo.

The Left, however, values its principles. Seeing genuine Left parties like Mana go in for coat-tailing is unseemly. And watching Laila Harrè talk about internet speeds like she gives a shit is cringe-worthy.

Okay, maybe our first-past-the-post electorate seats are actually the problem. Maybe we should have STV instead -it might even bring a Kiwi Motorsport Enthusiast Party to parliament, like in Aussie. At least it would be entertaining. But convincing anyone to shift to STV is a challenge, to put it mildly. Removing the coat tails provision is not.

Frighteningly, an even easier option is to let this farce keep discrediting MMP until the next referendum, when more people are fed up with the system. And that’s the option that works well for the two big parties, especially National. If that happens, we are back to the system that brought us Muldoon and Rogernomics.

The Left might lose this election, or it might not. But regardless of what happens, we need to work to remove coat-tailing.

To paraphrase Karl Marx, coat-tailing in New Zealand repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. Welcome to farce.

Labour, it’s time to fall in line

3News’ Tova O’Brien ran a story last night on Kelvin Davis’ team soliciting donations from National supporters in a bid to defeat Hone Harawira. The story was based on leaked emails between the party’s head office and Davis’ team relating to a website that attacked Hone and the Internet-Mana Party (IMP) people. The most damaging (and honest) email was an admission from Davis’ campaign manager that their “opposition is not Keys and his party”, but Hone. 

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Email from Davis’ campaign manager Kaye Taylor

Aside from the fact that Taylor thinks the PM’s name is ‘Keys’, the obvious takeaway is that Davis and his team are being told to some extent to pull their punches against Hone and the IMP people. This screams ‘secret cup of tea’. 

You would think that would be the end of it, right? So far it seems like your basic ‘candidate thinks for himself, does something off message, is shunted back into line’ story. Well, not quite. As of last night, Davis was soliciting donations to fight Hone and Dotcom via his facebook. 

Kelvin Davis' facebook

Kelvin Davis’ facebook

As Tim Barnett pointed out, it’s hardly ‘Vote Positive’. And it’s just another faction distraction from within Labour. It seems many of its MPs and party members still have not grasped the basic fact of MMP – The party vote is what matters.

I’m almost sympathetic to the party apparatchiks in Wellington. I’m no fan of Labour, but even I’m reaching the point where I want all the little Labourlings to be good loyal soldiers. They may not have wanted Cunliffe to lead them (I know I didn’t), but he’s in charge now, and his people are setting the strategy.

So please, Kelvin Davis, Trevor Mallard, whoever, just fall into line. The Left needs Labour to get party votes, and the ongoing factional fumbling is killing us.   

Colin Craig – crazy like a fox?

Today Colin Craig and the Conservatives confirmed former WINZ boss Christine Rankin will stand for the party in Epsom. The move is another byproduct of MMP’s debauched and shoddy coat tails provision.

The importance of coat tail deals has placed disproportionate attention on a few key seats, none more so than Epsom. The Conservatives are sans-deal, so they are looking to put a tangle in the stitch-up and hopefully boost their vote.

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But could the entry of Rankin actually curdle Key and ACT’s cup of tea? The Cons have the potential to split the Right and, generally speaking, splitting the Right is a good thing. An angry and unincorporated right flank could be damaging to National and hopefully lead to a sizeable wasted vote on the Right.

If Craig and Rankin can syphon off enough votes, it could put Goldsmith reluctantly over the line. This would wipe out ACT, and potentially establish the Conservatives the only solid party on National’s right flank. The Cons might lose the battle, but with the demise of ACT and the increasing senility of Winston, they could win the war. And when National fall (and they will), the Right vote will splinter, like it did when Bill English led the party. And the Conservatives will gain, just like United Future and ACT did.

But one problem is that since John Key has ruled out a deal with the Conservatives, the party has effectively become a protest vote for the grumpy Right. It is not clear that the sort of voters who  hold their nose and vote for ACT are the sort that would vote Conservative.

If nothing else, the presence of the Conservatives will draw attention to the fissures in the Right. And no doubt Craig and co will be running an anti-deal campaign there, which will draw more attention to rottenness of the borough, and thus the rottenness of Key and ACT.

If the ploy splits the Right enough to knock out ACT, then perhaps we will all say that Colin Craig was in fact crazy. Crazy like a fox.

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Banks shows shows his tactical nous

John Banks was sentenced today, but you could hardly tell judging by the media. Instead, we’re talking about his claim that “fresh, new, unimpeachable, water-tight evidence has emerged”, and that this “evidence completely contradicts much of the evidence given in the court”. Controlling the release/tone of bad news is politics 101. Banks has thrown us a big fat red herring.

And we fell for it. Well, at least the media did, anyway. The story lead 3News, and smothered the details of his crime in the Herald today.
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I think this shows the political skill of Banks. When Banks releases the evidence it will no doubt underwhelm, but that’s not the point. He’s taken the sting out of the second biggest day of his trial. It’s widely known that Banks resents criminality, particularly his own. He’s managed to control the news on the day he was sentenced.

So well done, John. You fooled us. Treat yourself to some earwax.