Had a wee laugh listening to Helen Clark on RNZ National a few mornings ago. Her – and Judith Collins by the way – have blocked me on twitter. Those precious souls that can’t take a verbal hatcheting at 140 characters at a time don’t know what trolling is. They politicians and diplomats shelter behind a PR cordon sanitaire of a social media naughty list to preserve the echo chamber they claim reflects popular opinion. They say they are engaged. Engaged with whom? The chosen audience. Helen the Shrek-whisperer and her flock.
Anyway, blocker Clark was talking to Kathryn Ryan. Ryan was an ice bong of cool, treating old blocksie McBlocklady as coldly and politely as she would any politician on an ego-fueled power trip described typically as a candidacy. So neutral, so even. It could have been Phil Goff and the Auckland mayoralty, or a dog breeder entering Crufts, a dude wanting to be president of the darts club – Ryan gives no clue as to status when dealing with such vanity projects. Ryan was noticeably unaffected by the rarified air of what Helen has previously refered to as “the stratosphere” of the United Nations. Helen is way above the parochial micro-climate of New Zealand – she’s quick to cringe now she’s in New York. All the stratosphere seems to be causing a lot of condescension.
Helen’s candidacy was so long in being telegraphed – decades really – that it was barely news in New Zealand when she announced it. It wasn’t really news – it was an inevitability.
Helen turned on her heel the night of election defeat 2008 – giving the leadership hospital pass to Phil – and since that moment she was off to the UN and we all knew it. The UNDP gig fell into her lap. Who knows what GCSB/5 Eyes shenanigans went on in the background to secure this role as a convenient Western stooge, but it sent her orbital and her detached Non Regrette Rien valedictory to parliament signalled that the Elvis of the Labour Party had not just left the building she had left the planet.
The UN Secretary Generalship bid was welcomed with a flat acceptance. Of the 7pm current affairs shows only one bothered to note it – in about two minutes of sound bites. Any other nation – especially of New Zealand’s size – fielding a candidate for president of the world would get a bit more airtime than a couple of minutes on one network. The nation bored into indifference already. So too with the state’s Pakeha (European) radio network, RNZ: nothing beyond the expected formality of an interview. A courtesy call. And a courtesy response. The disdain was mutual.
Helen had returned to Helengrad the week previous. Pictures on social media had her looking 1945 shades of Frankenfürher as she stalked the parliamentary lobby. All she needed was greatcoat, an Alsatian and a bottle of cyanide pills to complete the scene. A grey, spooky, hood-eyed figure. A zombie. A political zombie and a political Frankenstein’s monster, parts feminist ideologue/neoliberal proclivities/confiscationist Pakeha/powermonger/academic/bureaucrat. For the remnant rump of Kiwi luvvies and labourites that she had not burnt off through her domestic career of cynical political manoeuvrings she still holds appeal. No doubt Aunty Helen’s seamless acclimatisation to stratospheric conditions have made her part of the furniture as far as the flea circus on the East River goes. She’s well respected say the jargonistas.
Some might see competence and experience in her bearing and background while others might be struck by the smugness trekking to the heights of sanctimony when it comes to anything she says on race relations. In interviews she is not shy to drape a korowai (Maori cloak) of platitudes and half truths around her shoulders in order to attempt to claim she has successfully managed diversity by virtue of managing the New Zealand entity. These claims flow so freely from the font of Pakeha mythology – self-serving disingenuous fiction. A whitewash. Just like the random Pasifika welcomes that pepper her introductory patter – brazen cultural appropriations by the master in the colonial relationship – another theft, another unauthorised use to disguise the real nature of the subject.
Helen’s colonial mentality of a straight-forward and uncontested notion of European supremacy is a typically white New Zealand combination of studied ignorance and hypocrisy. The plucky little nation, the Pacific nation.
She was the leader of a government who refused to sign the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People it must be remembered. Her government was only one of four who refused to sign. She was the Prime Minister who shut down a court case and confiscated the entire foreshore and seabed off the native owners while ensuring the private freeholders – ie. Pakeha – kept their rights. This was deeply conservative, and deeply racist – the UN special rapporteur who investigated said as much. She was the leader when her government’s knee-jerk anti-terrorism laws were used by police to invade a Maori village and put tribal leaders and others on a show trial in Auckland when the government was in Treaty of Waitangi negotiations with that tribe. She presided over a police force that started to prosecute dissidents for sedition. She was the leader of the government which signed a Free Trade Agreement with China that included a one-sided immigration clause. She filled the country with half a million foreigners in her nine years at the top, making New Zealand a more colonial demographic than it had been in half a century or more and causing an unsustainable property bubble in the process. That’s all part of the Helen Clark story too.
In an organisation that could install Kurt Waldheim – a German officer of the notorious Army Group E responsible for massacres in the Balkans – as Secretary General for ten years then a slightly racist white feminist shouldn’t have many problems.