I realized something the other day. New Zealand First is basically the Kiwi Politics equivalent to Motorhead. And while I’d not be entirely surprised as to which of Winston or Lemmy would be more potentially insulted by a comparison to the other … even looking beyond the black-and-white colour-scheme, snaggly-toothed attitude, and frequent fan-base amongst West Auckland, there are some rather overt similarities.
Prime among these is that the stereotypical statement on Motorhead’s several decades of musical output which I’ve now heard from any number of musical critics – that they’ve basically released the same album over and over again for much of the last thirty years – also applies just as evenly to New Zealand First seemingly every electoral cycle.
Standing there on Sunday afternoon listening to the latest in a long line of Winston Convention-Campaign stump-speeches, this struck me as perhaps the best characterization for what I was witnessing.
Consider several of the key points of policy which he announced: a referendum on the Maori Seats, another referendum on the size of Parliament, and the movement away from Westpac to having KiwiBank as the Government’s official banker.
There are some tweaks inherent in each of them [for example, the referendum on the Maori Seats policy now makes no mention of it being a plebiscite only for Maori; and the commentary on reducing the size of Parliament has moved from attempting to uphold a previous referendum result that’s now nearly two decades old – and to seeking a new mandate for the policy entirely] … but I had heard it all before.
The pattern repeats with many of the other ‘big name’ bottom-line announcements we’ve seen from New Zealand First over the course of the most recent campaign cycle are similar re-rubs on old classics. The call to massively bolster our police numbers, for instance, is a fairly direct encore-reprise of something which NZ First both promised – and, more importantly, successfully delivered on – in 2005 immediately before entering into a C&S agreement with the Labour Party. [Which uh .. happened to shut out The Greens after quite a prolonged period of bad-blood and mutual bollocking between the parties. Which appears to be playing upon the mind of at least one of our organizations rather much this month]
And as applies the other substantive comments to be found in Winston’s speech yesterday, I literally found myself describing it to an associate who was also there as being a cursory play-through of “Winston’s Greatest Hits”. It was all there: forceful statements on immigration [although interestingly nuanced, perhaps in response to the Greens’ immanent critique. More on that later]; serious commitments to economic justice through opposing foreign ownership and corporate raids disguised as investment; anguished howls about unrepresentative bureaucrats and other (not always unelected) decision-makers being seriously out of touch with the opinion of the ordinary Kiwi; up-to-the-minute cutting references to his opponents; and an absolute, evangelist’s insistence upon rolling back both Rogernomics and Ruthanasia in order to institute a proper, post-Neoliberal economic paradigm.
Obviously, that last one was mostly phrased in words of not more than two syllables and bereft of such ‘technocratic’ jargon.
But lest my Kilmister comparison be received as an insult … that is not necessarily the spirit in which it was intended.
The plain fact about Motorhead’s discography – and why they continued to be such a powerful force for so many decades up until Lemmy’s untimely death as part of the huge wave of celebrity-mortalities around 2016 – is that nobody especially minded that they were doing the same thing over and over again every three years ago. Because they not only did it well [with enough subtle tweaks to ensure it wasn’t *literally* the same album being re-released over and over], but because too much ‘innovation’ would arguably have moved the band a little too far from what it actually *was* in the first place. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and all that. We *wanted* to hear Lemmy belt out his old classics in amidst ‘new’ material that could have been written the same decade or even the same day as the standards.
So it is with Winston.
In whose case, to be fair to him, he is arguably quite justified in re-hashing many of the same themes and talking points Election after Election … because in many cases, serious action hasn’t actually been undertaken by any other party to meaningfully address these issues.
In other words, ‘the repeats will continue, until circumstances improve’.
But having said that, there were some interesting differences between Winston Peters Circa 2017 and previous commentaries running right the way back to when I first heard him give a Convention Address what seems like half a lifetime ago in 2010.
Then, the clear vibe was that we were “the resistance”. And that, not to put too fine a point on it, the forces being “resisted” weren’t just economic or those of the political establishment [‘beltway’ or otherwise]. Instead, the very nature of causality – of political physics, and the received and applied common wisdom of just about every two-bit commentariat-hack in the land – was what we were seeking to struggle against. To create something unprecedented as a historico-political moment by getting back into Parliament from penury.
And, as it happened, we did. 2011-era Winston taking on the air of a triumphant pro-democracy rebel rolling into some Arab despot’s capital somewhere. That’s not mere illustrative hyperbole on my part – he literally got up at our 2011 Convention and promised a “Pacific Summer” to follow the “Arab Spring”, and doing to our Government in a matter of weeks what it had taken the people of Libya some months if not years to do.
Considering the oblique state of Libya today, wherein reasonably broad swathes of the country seem far worse off now than they ever were under Gaddaffi, it is perhaps for the best that nobody other than some of us grumbly old veterans remember such things.
But if 2009-2011 Winston thought of his political movement as being akin to a guerilla-insurgent band ‘off up in the hills’ [also a Winston quote – at that point he was comparing himself to Fidel Castro’s forces about to take on Batista]; then 2013-2014 Winston was putting on a rather different set of tropes. Here, it was the rallying-cry of a force which had made it back into the heart of Kiwi Politics – and which was absolutely adamant that our voice would be heard. The commentary at the time from those On High was based around the perceived probability of either being able to get an excellent deal by working with others … or standing strong – alone – and still finding our vocative exploration of principles decidedly hard to ignore.
2017 Winston, by contrast, is seriously different. It’s no longer a case of attempting to storm back into Parliament. And even if some might argue that the desire to ‘do the impossible’ [according to the previously received wisdom, anyway] is still at the heart of his Convention-Day Message … nowadays, when it comes to his stated desire for New Zealand First to *be* the Government rather than merely form a bolt-on part thereof … well, it’s not like these days anybody’s seriously ruling it out.
Will it happen? Who knows. But like I say – it was definitely an interesting change of vibe. [Also rather amusing for me personally, as I’ve been pushing the whole “New Zealand First Government” line internally for some years now, as a habitual response to the travails and serious risks of stuffing up the Party’s long-term prospects by entering into coalition with certain other [presently larger] groups. Not, of course, that I’m suggesting anybody seriously high-up listened…]
The mood on the Convention-Room Floor seemed to absolutely lap this up. And I can well understand it. Many of these people, these loyal and tireless campaigners par excellence, have been going to these things for years. Some of them, apparently, have been following Winston round the place since long before there even WAS a New Zealand First. [I’m not kidding – part-way through his speech, Winston paused to acknowledge a couple who’d apparently been on one of his first selection panels in 1978]
So it’s well appreciable that they’d today be relishing the thought of their electoral ‘moment in the sun’ – and the prospect of all of those other folk from all of those other parties who’ve spent a good portion of the last decade mocking and deriding New Zealand First … well, the shoe’ll certainly be on the other foot, won’t it.
That last remark presumably also helps to explain the near frenzied consternation which presently seems to be emitting from the Greens this past month. Other than some of my more .. twisty conspiracy theories about the Green Party almost seeking to intentionally throw the 2017 Election so as to try and overtake Labour for ‘lead left party’ status in 2020, I don’t think there’s a better explanation to be easily had.
They’re flailing around attempting to land rhetorical blows on New Zealand First in a manner that’s rather questionable for their overall electoral prospects … in part to attempt to assuage the opinions of a certain portion of their activist-base who evidently threatened to go limp [‘going rogue’ possibly being too strong of a word] if nothing was done, but also due to an increasing feeling of ‘desperation’ as to ‘what to do about Winston’ leading to political-rhetoric kitchen-sinkery as a cap-handed form of allegedly ‘finesse’ attack.
But what makes this interesting, however, is not the Green Party attempting a re-run of a previous tactic of theirs which has earlier backfired spectacularly [Rod Donald’s campaign of comparing Winston to Hitler in 2004-2005 was one of the factors cited in locking the Greens out of Government following that Election] – but instead, the remarkable restraint which Winston showed today in *not* biting back.
I went in there fully prepared for a boisterous bevvy of bruising remarks about dope-smoking radicals engaged in sociological treason. Some of them even directed towards the Greens rather than a past life of yours truly.
Instead, what we got was measured criticism of the Greens in the same sentence as rarking up of Labour and National; and generalized castigations directed at nobody-in-particular-but-you-know about how ‘the real racists’ in New Zealand Politics were presumably those who’d allowed in upwards of seventy thousand people per year without first ensuring there was adequate provision of housing, schools, healthcare, infrastructure, and other elements of state spending for them once they got here.
It was, I have to say, a pretty decent subversion of multiple expectations; as well as interestingly harmonizing Winston with the rhetorical position of the Greens on the issue – namely, that ‘scapegoating’ migrants is the wrong end of the problem to be blaming when it’s quite clearly a series of failures of political and economic management that have produced the deleterious circumstances we’re presently experiencing in correlation with the immigration boom.
Now having said that – words are pretty, and guitar solos are amazing … but what does it all mean?
There was a definite and pervasive ‘mood for change’ from many of the people I spoke to at Convention. A keen and keening awareness that the dominant politico-economic paradigm of New Zealand for some thirty three years now – and which has reached a recent apotheosis under National after several terms of moderation under Clark – just simply isn’t working and ought be disposed of forthwith.
No seriously detailed plan was presented for how this might yet occur; and in the post-meeting discussion I had with a comrade, it was suggested that to actually attempt doing so would require several terms uninterrupted of New Zealand First dominated [or, indeed, exclusive] Government.
The issue, then, is obvious. For all of the strident talk from Party Grandees about how New Zealand First will be able to extract an incredibly high price from either National or Labour should we go into coalition with one of them … I would find it frankly incredible if what Winston is proposing would be seriously deliverable in government with either. A coalition with National devoted to ending Neoliberalism would require the blue party to become so unrecognizable in comparison to its present (degenerated) state that it may as well become almost a new party. And whilst on paper the Labour Party is rather closer to this objective than the Nats, there are still somewhat strong reasons to outwardly suspect that this path, too, would lead to severely sub-optimal outcomes. One need look no further than the fiscal responsibility conditions which both Labour and the Greens signed up to as part of their Memorandum of Understanding to see that even the nominal ‘lefty’ option for Governing partners are pretty fundamentally wedded to the underlying strictures and politico-psychological terrain of neoliberalism.
Hence, presumably, the emphasis upon New Zealand First *being* the Government rather than merely supporting one through Confidence & Supply. That’s fine. Although the odds of New Zealand First hitting perhaps twenty five percent in this Election – whilst not totally implausible [which shows just how askew from conventional expectations even a year ago we’re at] – are still perhaps a bit of a long-shot.
Still, as the old saying goes – when shooting for the Moon, even if one misses, the arrow will still fall among the stars. [My inner cynic notes that, parabolistic trajectories being what they are, it’s more often a case of ‘what goes up, must come down’ … but I digress]
And so with that in mind, there remains a rather strong argument that a decently sized New Zealand First represents some ‘electoral insurance’ for the political situation post-2017.
This is because regardless of whether Labour-Greens-NZ First or NZ First-National eventuates, we wind up with a significant shift to the left from the Government we have in power presently.
Perhaps not the most convincing of arguments … but then, nobody ever said that slightly remixed reissues of releases from 21 years ago were guaranteed to be hits.
[Author’s note: For the last several years, my coverage of New Zealand First’s annual Conventions for The Daily Blog has been done in something of a dual-hatted manner – in that I was both there for the full weekend as a Delegate, as well as in my journalistic capacity for TDB. Due to factors beyond my control, this year I only attended a small portion of Sunday’s proceedings : and only with my “Journalistic’ cap on. I mention this not in the hopes of suggesting a lessened bias on my part, but rather as an explanation for why my coverage of Convention is perhaps less fulsome than usual].