WILLIE JACKSON WINS OXFORD DEBATE: “I can smell the colonialism on your breath”


Sorry, what Winston?

Labour MP Willie Jackson at Oxford Union debate: ‘I can smell the colonialism on your breath’

Labour MP Willie Jackson has channelled the famous words of former Prime Minister David Lange in his historic – and victorious – appearance at the Oxford Union debate in Britain this morning (Friday NZT).

In an impassioned introductory speech for the debate, Jackson implored the British Museum to return seven mokomokai – preserved heads of Māori ancestors – to New Zealand.

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Jackson was arguing against the moot, “This house believes British museums are not very British” – he and his debating partner, American author Gary Vikan, were later adjudged the winners of the debate.

“As I speak to you now, I sense the presence of my ancestors who are trapped in your museum prison,” said Jackson.

“I stand before the brilliance and magnificent history of these most revered Oxford debates to tell the house that British museums are very British because it is very, very, very British to take from indigenous people and never hand it back!

“To paraphrase our great former Prime Minister David Lange’s famous quip during the nuclear weapons Oxford debate 39 years ago, “I can smell the colonialism on your breath from here”.

Jackson is the first Māori to speak at an Oxford Union debate, following in the footsteps of Lange.

In March 1985, Lange was arguing in the affirmative in the debate that “nuclear weapons are morally indefensible”. In one part of the debate, in response to a comment, he spoke the immortal line: “I’m going to give it [the answer] to you if you hold your breath just for a moment … I can smell the uranium on it as you lean towards me.”

Well done Willie. If this speech can move the British Museum to return Māori artefacts it will have been worth it!

He has done us proud in one of the greatest debate chambers in Western Democracy – we should all feel an immense pride in this moment as Kiwis.




Hon Willie Jackson

Debate motion: This House believes British Museums are not very


Side of debate: Opposition

For the proposition:

Bell Ribeiro-Abby MP

Rt Hon The Lord Vaizey of Didcot PC

In opposition:

Hon Willie Jackson

Mr Gary Vikan

Date: 23 May 2024, Oxford Union, UK.Mihi:

Tuatahi e tika

ki te mihi

ki to tatau matua i te rangi

nana nei nga mea katoa.

I tenei wa e tika ana

kia maumahara te wahine toa, rangatira Makereti Papakura

te Wahine Maori tuatahi i tae mai ki Oxford.

ka mihi matou ki a ia mo ana mahi whakamiharo

kia okioki i runga i te Rangimarie

Kia Koutou

tena koutoa mo tenei

whai wahi

ki te uru ki enei tautohtohe nui

ka nui te mihi kia koutou katoaKia Ora Mr President, I started in our Maori language, to

honour not just our people but the first Maori woman and in

fact, indigenous woman Makareti Papakura to attend Oxford.

She opened the door for indigenous people and I dedicate my

speech to her legacy the great Makareti Papakura.

Kia ora

I am Māori, and I cut my teeth politically as a union official on

the shop floor with the blood, sweat and tears of working


My tribes are Ngati Porou and Ngati Maniapoto but I have

been brought up in the city where I have proudly been part

of a Movement that has represented Urban Māori.

I was honoured to serve as a Minister in both Jacinda Ardern

and Chris Hipkins Labour government.

I have advocated and fought for workers rights, indigenous

rights, equal rights and human rights all my life and Im here

to do that again.

You might be slightly surprised that I am on the opposite side

of the moot to my parliamentary friends but I feel confident

that by the end of my speech they to will have no choice but

to agree with me that British Museums are without any

doubt very British.

As I speak to you now, I sense the presence of my ancestors

who are trapped in your Museum prison. Therefore, I

support what Former NZ National PM Jenny Shipley said inher 2021 Oxford debate speech where she asserted The

British Empire Is A National Disgrace.

She said that relics for Maori are human they are people they

are their whanau and family and they live in the basements

of museums neglected and listed as if they were an item of

irrelevance and that the right thing to do would be to return

them. She was right.

As you enter the British Museum you are greeted by a dome

of architectural conceit designed by a Knighted Smirke as the

Empire hides its theft deep in the bowels of institution.

I stand before the brilliance and magnificent history of these

most revered Oxford Debates to tell the house that British

Museums ARE VERY British because it is very, very, very

British to take from indigenous people and never hand it


To paraphrase our great former Prime Minister David Lange’s

famous quip during the Nuclear weapons Oxford debate 39

years ago, “I can smell the Colonialism on your breath from


The British Museum is without question a bastion and symbol

of Imperial privilege and cultural condescension, and what I

ask ladies and gentlemen of this great debating tradition is

what is more British than Imperial privilege, and cultural


That’s very British!

These are difficult times for the British at the moment, Prime

Minister Sunak knows this very well, and dominant whitecultures in general. They are constantly criticised by activists

online for cultural appropriation.

I say it’s difficult because that’s what British and dominant

white cultures do, take other peoples culture and proclaim it

as their own!

The British steal indigenous culture – because they care. I get

it. I think?

The entire cultural history of the British is stealing good ideas

and culture from everyone they encountered!

Isaac Newton’s work on Gravity was based on a Muslim text

556 years before his apple fell!

The British stole from the Greeks, Indigenous peoples and

Muslim scientists and when they don’t like something – they

try to pack it off to Rwanda.

Who else has the audacity to arrive on distant shores, and

declare that they now own everything in the name of their

God, their King and their country no matter who was

originally living there!

The British, that’s who.

The mindset that Britain must hold on to 2000 year old relics

because the silly people they stole these treasures from

won’t be able to look after them properly, is so British it may

as well be having a cup of tea, draped in the Union Jack doing

the Monty Python Ministry of Silly Walks skit routine.

Where on earth do you get off telling us we can’t have our

treasures back?That’s very British.

Last year it was revealed the British Museum lost 2000 items

from its priceless collection and couldn’t remember where

they had misplaced them.

Imagine having so many treasures plundered from around

the planet that you lose 2000 of them and can’t find the

paper work?

That’s very British.

The British Museum holds the largest Māori collections

outside New Zealand, including items of major artistic and

cultural significance.

Māori view these artefacts as our ancestors.

The British Museum has collected our ancestors together as

curiosities, divorced from the culture that produced them – a

little bit like a Chicken tikka masala is to the British.

That’s very British.

Lord Elgin insisted he had permission to remove the Elgin

Marbles from the Ottoman Empire, but conveniently the

original letter giving him permission has been lost and the

wording of what remains is disputed.

That’s very British.

In 2022, the Greek culture minister accused Lord Elgin of “a

blatant act of serial theft”.

A Greek accusing a Brit of stealing?Wait until they hear what Locke and Hobbes stole from Plato

and Socrates.

At least Robin Hood stole from the rich and gave to the poor,

the British Museum stole from the indigenous and gave to

scores of bored touring school students.

That’s very British!

To defend themselves from revisionist accusations of global

theft, the British Museum has done that most British of

things, claim a voice that speaks for the entire species!

They now claim to not just be the British Museum, they are in

fact the WORLD Museum.

How convenient!

That’s Donald Trump level narcissism, only the British could

have the presumptuousness to speak on behalf of the entire

civilization to justify retaining ownership of everyone else’s

plundered cultural treasures!

Rule, Britannia! Britannia, misbehaves

Britons never, never, never will pay for robbing graves?

That’s not the defence of global culture, that’s the argument

of a deflated quartermaster from a broken empire that hasn’t

realized it’s just a Kingdom with a Scotland wanting to leave.

At this stage I need to confess I have English ancestry on both

my mother and fathers side. My great grandfather Fred

Jackson came from Leicester and was a great rugby player. In

1908 he came to NZ with a team that was seen as the firstBritish Lions side to tour NZ the Anglo Welsh team who

played our mighty All Blacks.

I’m declaring this because I want to be clear that while I am

proudly indigenous, I also have the same DNA as most

students here at Oxford which surely makes me completely

unbiased, fair and uniquely qualified to comment on this

issue given the history that the English have in terms of

colonising indigenous peoples.

I am your prodigal son returning Britain, even if you didn’t

know I existed!

For us, the most important treasure that are sitting in foreign

museums are the mokomokai – the preserved heads of

Māori, adorned with moko.

From Cook’s first visit, Europeans were fascinated by the

heads, which had traditionally been preserved to remember

honoured ancestors (and enemies). Such was the level of

European demand to take mokomokai back home as curios,

and such was the need of iwi to barter for muskets to defend

themselves during the musket wars, that an awful trade in

the mokomokai of slaves grew up until it was banned by

Māori and British leaders.

For 200 years, the remains of our ancestors have lain in

distant lands, in the archives of museums and other

collections. Many have been returned but the British

Museum still holds seven mokomokai

Many of our people believe those seven mokomokai speak to

us and call out to us to come home.I implore you, on behalf of my people, to honour the

partnership agreement between Maori and the British

Crown, that is the Treaty of Waitangi, and let our ancestors

come home.

What is also very British, is the burning desire by each

passing generation to do better than their previous

generations attempts.

The British traditions of debate, democracy, will of the

people and the entrenchment of human rights that respect

the dignity of the individual makes the British people open to

progress the visions of their Churchill’s and Queen Elizabeth’s

and their heros with the language of Shakespeare.

They are a people willing to engage with reason and passion

in equal measure and some would say they have been

worthy guardians of our treasures.

I thank this historic space and powerful debating chamber for

the privilege of allowing a working class son from the bottom

of the planet to stand amongst you and remind you all of

how awful you’ve been to us first nation peoples.

As you pass through those doors to vote, I implore you to

acknowledge who you are as Britons and more importantly

who you want to be as Britons.

Vote against this motion and accept British Museums ARE

VERY British and we hope your British tradition of justice

brings my ancestors home.

I thank the House.


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  1. Oratory is a skill many Maori have .The items in question should be returned to their rightful owners.

  2. Well said Willy, the only reason that the Great Pyramids of Giza are not in the British Museum is their sheer size.

  3. Well done Willy. I wonder why he does not debate as well in the house. Probably held back by his colleagues.

  4. Go Willie. He always says it like it is and what you see with Willie is exactly what you get and this is what he’s done at the Oxford Union. Well done.

    I hope I am able to see him as PM of NZ before I turn my toes up.

  5. Come on Mary ..Willy as PM won’t happen. To many mis placed egos in the Labor party.

    • I hope it happens too. They need reinvigoration.
      That speech was so clear, no waffle.

      Winston seems envious but he’d still be waffling now, when everyone else had gone home.
      And we’d still be none the wiser.

  6. Good speech in parts by Willie.
    Chinese call the British museum chaak day (thieves den in Cantonese), given the huge amount of plundered Chinese artifacts in that place.
    Ironically many may have been saved from destruction during the Cultural Revolution. But then I suppose it is the right of any people to destroy their own cultural treasures in the name of progress, but not the right for another people to steal them.

    The British did many bad things, but to deny their contribution to the world is simply engaging in cultural nihilism.

    • A friend of mine inherited a couple of Chinese vases – the family legend was that they came from the sack of the royal palace at Peking by the British army. It turned out they were just cheap as chips rubbish.

    • Yes they brought civilisation to many countries who had barely advanced to the Stone Age.

      • They brought raping and pillaging Bob, you forgot that part in your idiotic post.

  7. Many right wing commentators hate the fact that Willy was chosen to speak Liam Hare has been particularly mean spirited. Any good publicity overseas is good publicity for all of Aotearoa right

    • I don’t think we should stress too much about what Tim Jago’s associates think, their moral compasses are a bit skew-whiff.

  8. I dont think Labour can do any worse than Willie Jackson as leader. Maybe its time for an older hand to take the reins for a while at least, given that all these young people are flaming out. Look at Jacinda, Marin, etc. Out once they were barely in their 40’s. Even David Lange. He became PM at 42, and look how his career panned out. Swarbrick will probably end up doing the same thing if she doesnt pace herself.

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