Ngaro continues as National list MP while ‘talking’ about new party – farcical

It is really an extraordinary situation  now where Alfred Ngaro is still working as a National list MP, while talking to people about whether to set up a new party.  It’s surprising that Simon Bridges tolerates the situation.

Ngaro was interviewed on Newshub Nation, where he suggested that if he starts a party he would consider a coalition with the Tamaki/destiny party.

It is remarkable that he agreed to be interviewed when he would have known a possible party would be a major topic he would be questioned about (why else would Newshub invite him?)

So has Coalition New Zealand jumped in ahead of you? Have they stolen your limelight?

Look, I’m not about race. This is not a race, and I think people will know that any form of politics — it’s a long game not a short game.

An odd comment.

Although yesterday Hannah Tamaki said, ‘Alfred Ngaro, come and join us.’ They extended an olive branch. Do you want to join them??

Okay, well, will you rule that out then?

Well, the thing is that I’m focusing on those, and there will be opportunities where lots of people are coming to talk to me, and, like I said, people— I’ve got invitations now to talk. I’ve had no phone calls and that. That just happened yesterday, so for my mind, stick to the task. I’m performing my role as a National list MP and at the same time having lots of conversations.

They want you to come along and say that you’re looking for a home, but do you think there’s enough space for two faith-based parties in parliament — or even to run at the election?

Yeah, well, if you think about the history of New Zealand, as far as faith-based or values-based organisations or parties that have been there, they’ve often formed coalitions if they’re to make it there. You can think about in 1996 — you’ve got the Christian Democrats with Graeme Lee and then you also have Christian Heritage,—

But they’ve been—

…so the way forward is to— actually, you would have to form a form of a coalition collectively together.

Right, so that’s a possibility, say with the Coalition New Zealand, then? You’re not ruling that off the table?

Well, the only two parties that are here on the table that we know of is the New Conservatives and this now Coalition Party. I don’t have a party, as I said. Last Friday there were conversations, so hand on heart, I don’t have a constitution. I haven’t been planning a party. What I’ve been having is people coming to me, and I’ve been humbled, Simon, by the conversations that people have said. That actually this is something that maybe we should consider.

Yes. Well, obviously you have to be considering it, otherwise you wouldn’t be sitting here talking to me. You must be quite serious about this.

I’ve gone on the record, and I’ve said that I am considering it.

Yeah, so what’s the time frame?

Well, I think it’s something— I want to be really clear and careful that I don’t— I’m loyal to the party, and I think that’s really important. I don’t disrupt the direction of what they’re doing as well. So that time frame’s going to have to be fairly soon.

I think he has to decide very quickly. He can’t be talking with people about forming another party and remain loyal to National.

Unless National are supporting what he is doing – which would be another remarkable situation.

What makes you think that there’s a place for a faith-based party in government — where everything seems to be based on evidence, in terms of decision-making?

Well, faith is evidence as well. It’s the value system that people have, and so when people act out of it, you can’t say their faith doesn’t have evidence. It’s actually the evidence of the values that people have in the way they exercise them.

Faith is not evidence based.

But faith is belief. It’s not a scientific evidence.

That’s right. That’s right, and so you and I would say that, for instance, when we say that we show love, care and compassion — well, that’s faith that you and I have, right? We believe in each other. We believe in the people around us that they would act justly, kindly and caringly. Those things are really important.

So he has now contradicted himself on faith being evidence.

Well, that’s values-based decision-making, isn’t it?

But here’s the evidence, right? If you don’t have a principle to act on, then the actions that you take is the evidence of those beliefs. You and I know that when we see people who don’t act with kindness, who don’t act justly, then that’s the evidence that there’s a lack of principles. So you can’t divorce them. You can’t just say that, ‘Well, here’s evidence, and here’s faith or here’s some values.’ You and I act every day, in this nation, around this country, everybody acts with a set of principles. That’s what drives us.

Good grief. he doesn’t seem to have anything of substance to say.

So you believe out there on issues like end of life, abortion law reform, maybe even cannabis, there is a wave to ride into power?

Well, Simon, I don’t need to believe that’s out there; it is out there.

There’s certainly opposition to those issues being reformed, but but it would take more than Ngaro’s vagueness to ride a wave to power. It will be difficult enough for Ngaro to win an electorate leading a new party, and very difficult to make the 5% threshold.

You say that you’ve got people approaching you, there’s all these issues that this is riding on, but is it more a political thing where Simon Bridges says he’s giving you space to consider your options — National didn’t have a coalition partner to get into power last time. Has that party, has National, asked you openly or quietly, to do this?

So the long answer is no.

That’s the short answer.

Well, the thing is that it is no. This has not come out of the National Party. There is no one in the leadership that’s turned around and said, ‘Hey, we should consider this.’

So they’re happy for you to do this though?

Well, put it this way — they’ve asked me, and— Look, I’m really thankful. I’m grateful for the fact that they’ve given me space, and I’ve been to Simon, and Simon — as he declared — that I went to see him. In fact, I went to go and see him two months ago, just to say to him, ‘Look, people are coming to see me and talk.’ I want to be respectful to his role of leadership—

Ngaro has been talking about the new party idea for two months, including talking with Bridges about it. And he is still being ‘given space’ to continue while still supposedly working as a National list MP.

If you do this, are you going to take other National MPs with you?

No.

Just going to be you?

Well, put it this way — I’m not going to go and actually take people away from what their roles are. People are free to choose, to make their choices. I’m not seeking to divide the party. I’m not seeking to distract from the party, and if it means that, for instance, even when I was speaking down at the LNI Conference last Sunday, I withdrew myself. Why? Because no one person is bigger than the party.

So it is affecting his job as a National list MP.

And while he says he is not going to poach other MPs from National he sees it as up to them to choose if they want to split with him.

Okay, well, let’s see if you own this. Will you confirm right now that at the next election you’re going to be leading a faith-based party?

I can’t confirm that.

Why can’t you do that? Now is the time to do that.

Well, Simon, when you say you’re considering, that’s what consideration means. If you say you’re planning, then that’s different.

So what are you doing here right now? If it wasn’t serious, you wouldn’t be sitting here talking to me.

I tell you what I’m serious about. I want to clarify things. Okay, that’s really important. I want to clarify the fact is that where my position is. Okay? People have been coming in, and I chose to come here, as opposed to some of the other programmes by the way, because I wanted to have a conversation like this, so we could actually talk through what those issues are. They’re coming to me and saying, ‘Where are we going to have a voice for our values in the House of Representatives?’

And when are you going to answer them?

Well, Simon, here’s the thing — I’ve got a political career that I’ve been a part of for eight years, I’ve got a family, also I’ve got a party that I’ve been hugely grateful and thankful for. That’s not something that you make lightly. I did not make that announcement last Friday, by the way. These were just conversations that people were having—

So the ball’s in your court now, and you’re not giving us an answer—

The ball is in my court. No, what I’m telling you is, ‘Watch this space.’ Rest assured, I’m not going to leave people hanging. I think that’s really important.

This is looking more and more like a farce. Ngaro looks to be way out of his depth. And this looks increasingly like it could be quite damaging for National.

I don’t see any chance that this Ngaro party will fly. It is barely flapping on the ground.

Politics is the art of the possible

I’ve heard “politics is the art of the possible’ a couple of times over the last few days. Ex Green MP @KevinHague (now chief executive of Forest & Bird) expanded on it:

I’ve been thinking about “politics is the art of the possible”. Part of the art is recognising possibilities. And part of it is creating them.

I talked about this with Kevin a few years ago, we were discussing an issue that was not possible to progress at the time, but is on the political table now, cannabis law reform (thanks to the Green party having their first stint in government).

The original quote is attributed to Otto von Bismarck: “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best”.

There is no point in putting too much time and effort into a cause that is hopeless at the time., It was hopeless trying to do anything about the growing cost of superannuation when National were in government. It remains hopeless with NZ First a deciding vote in the current government, and CGT also seems a hopeless cause now.

So recognising when the time is right to promote a particular cause is important if you want to avoid total frustration.

Creating opportunities is trickier. Some opportunities are enabled by events, like firearm control in the wake of the Christchurch mosque massacres, but chances like that don’t happen very often.

The headline could be qualified, like ‘MMP politics in New Zealand is the art of the possible’, but under a quite different political system in the US the same applies. President Obama struggled to reform medical care in the US, and President Trump is struggling to get his wall built.

In some cases possibilities are fluffed. In the UK a possibility was created with the Brexit vote, but the governing politicians seem to be doing everything they can to make the democratic will of the people impossible.

There are legitimate concerns that’s where the current government here may be heading with the cannabis referendum.  On current plans they intent on making it possible for a future government to stuff around with the democratic will of the people.

What does “politics is the art of the possible” mean for a political forum like this? There is no point in moaning about a lack of opportunity to get what you want, or prevent what you don’t want.

It is pragmatic, and less stressful, looking for the political glass half full rather than getting frustrated and bothered over what isn’t in the current political glass, or class.

Paywalled political content and reaching an audience

When politicians use media to get their message out they generally want as big an audience as possible.  So if one media source puts most political content behind a paywall, who are politicians more likely to talk to?

If politicians think that a story has to be made public but they want as little exposure as possible perhaps the paywall approach helps them do this.

 

How do we decide what is right or wrong?

Jehan Casinader wrote this – As a Christian, Israel Folau’s searing sermons from cyberspace make me angry –  in relation to religion, but can also apply to politics.

Surrendering to a higher power doesn’t make you a saint. Those who believe in God, including me, are just as broken, flawed and selfish as everyone else.

That’s why Folau – and those who have vilified him – have lost sight of the bigger picture. Judging others is easier than engaging in deeper conversations about faith, truth and morality.

If there is a God, what is he or she really like?

Where do we find meaning?

And how do we decide what is right and wrong?

Many people seem to treat politics based on beliefs and faith similar to religious beliefs. They believe politicians from their chosen party and politicians, they support them unquestioningly.

And they seem to fear opposing parties and positions to the point of vilifying them no matter what the merits of what they propose, do or say.

For some, politics is an extension of their religion

For others, politics seems to have become their religion.

If there is a political ideal, what is it really like?

Where do we find meaning?

And how do we decide what is right and wrong?

 

Polarisation versus centrism (or can we have both?)

Is political polarisation increasing? Is ‘centrism’ fading away? Is centrism actually a thing?

From Reddit: With the decline of Centrism in global politics, do you see it happening in NZ?

There has a been a trend in the last 2 decade in global politics, in the US, UK Europe etc, we have seen the rise of centrism in politics, New Democrats with Clinton and Obama and New Labour with Tony Blair in UK. Nowadays politics is much more partisan with Democrats going further left and Labour also going left while at the same time the decline of moderates in US and Liberal Democrats decline.

Is politics becoming much more partisan? Or is partisan politics a minority thing that is getting more attention? Controversial politics makes for more dramatic headlines and is more click baity.

Donald Trump certainly drives division as a tactic, but how non-centrist is he?

While their is division in the UK over the Brexit debacle is that because of the strength of partisan politics? Both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn look like weak leaders. There is as much division within their parties as their is between them.  This is more poor politics and poor politicians on both sides rather than a rise in partisanship.

Could we see the same thing in NZ, where NZF along with United Future, both centrist parties decline, with Labour/Greens and National/ACT moving further apart?

IS NZ First really a ‘centrist’ party?  Aren’t they more populist? Their last election position on Immigration was right wing-ish, but what they have supported on immigration is the opposite of that, but very similar to what National did and what Labour are doing.

NZ First already declined, dropping out of Parliament in 2008, but came back in 2011 and rose to power in 2017. It is too soon to write them off.

It’s hard to know where National will position themselves under Simon Bridges. Some of Bridges’ policy positions, like on drug law reform and abortion, may be right-ish, but they are unpopular.

Jacinda Ardern has talked up being a progressive and transformative government, but has not actually proven that much yet. Economically the government has been cautious, following much the same line of the last National government.

Proteus_Core:

Short answer…yes, I see growing polarization in NZ politics which I believe will only get worse in the future. I also could easily see the proposition you put forward happening and I actually believe its a probability at this stage and certainly at the next election.

Signs of polarization in social media does not mean that the general voting population is polarising. I think that most people are probably more disinterested than supporting strong positions either way.

Waterbogan:

Yes, in fact it is already happening. United Future has already declined into oblivion, and I see NZ First following them in short order as they have lost a bunch of supporters since the election and again more recently. I would say there is room for another party on the centre/right aiming at the market sector NZ First and the Conservatives formerly shared between them.

United Future faded away, but so is ACT, so did Jim Anderton’;s Progressive Party, so has the Mana Party, and the Conservative Party. Green support has over halved. All small parties have struggled to survive, no matter where they are in the political spectrum.

‘spoondooly’:

There will always be room for populism in NZ but the nature of our political system is that it drives centrism to a degree.

The reality is that parties (by and large) need the centre vote as that is largely where the swing vote occurs. It drives moderate politics to a degree and has brought both our centre left and centre right parties together.

Even populist parties such as NZ First have to largely ditch their manifesto when in power as the majority party would be severely damaged by any coalition arrangement if that manifesto was fully recognised.

So there will always be a degree of populism but by and large NZ is centrist and moderate and our politics recognise this.

This probably reflects two things.

Most Kiwis are fairly moderate (as opposed to centrist) in their political preferences. There are a number of bell curves like this:

And MMP tends to moderate more than polarise, with National and Labour fighting over a fairly large swing vote in the centre.

‘bogan_avant_garde’:

Wait until you hear about the policies of Michael Joseph Savage. Labour are struggling to return to the position on the political spectrum they held from 1916-1983.

Ardern has tried to present herself as a great shift leader, but she is yet to deliver.

The idea that neo-liberal market capitalism with low regulation and free movement of capital is centrism is laughable. What you are seeing when you see Labour ‘shifting to the left’ is in fact Labour shifting to the centre and providing an actual centrist alternative to right wing orthodoxy.

The small noisy left are growing in dismay at the lack of action from Labour and even the Greens. The small noisy right are probably always dismayed and always will be.

The extremes are minorities.

Image result for bell curve politics

(That’s from The Political Typologies of American Educators but is indicative of minority extremes).

One of New Zealand’s most polarising politicians has been Winston Peters, but that’s only when in Opposition. He is currently in Government, and is mostly quite non-controversial.

I don’t think we have much of a problem with polarisation here. We have a much bigger problem with political apathy (if that is actually a problem).

(This is not original) I tried to start up an Apathy Party, but no one was interested.

The feminisation of leadership and public discussion.

Over the last two decades New Zealand politics has had significant feminine influence.

Jenny Shipley became New Zealand’s first female Prime Minister, taking over (rather being elected) and being in charge from 1999 to 1999.

Helen Clark earned her way to the top of the Labour party and then helped Labour ‘win’ three successive elections, leading from 1999 to 2008.

John Key, Bill English and Steven Joyce brought back significant male influence in our politics for the next nine years. Key played on blokiness, quite successfully, a lot, but English moved a bit towards a more caring approach to finance.

Then in 2017 there was a major switch back to feminine influence when Jacinda Ardern turned around a flailing and failing Labour Party to take over the Prime Ministerial office – to an extent ironically thanks to the support of and baubles won by Winston Peters (NZ First does not appear to be a bastion of feminine influence).

Ardern’s takeover of power was sudden and a surprise, but her promise to put more kindness into Government has been largely accepted as a positive, even though she is yet to substantially live up to her PR.

So politics in New Zealand has had and still has a fairly ‘feminist’ influence leading into and for the duration so far of this century. It has been a largely uncontroversial transformation.

Alongside this, while women are still in a minority in some things, especially business management, some balance is apparent in notable or influential positions, with women becoming Governor General and Chief Justice – Dame Sian Elias was the first woman to hold the office, appointed on the advice of Jenny Shipley, and Helen Winkelman has just been announced as Elias’ successor.

This has been happening over several decades.

What has seemed to suddenly change this year is the attempted feminisation of public discussion. This has been brewing for some time, but was given impetus by high profile issues like the Harvey Weinstein fall and the resulting #metoo movement. Properly addressing male abuses of power was long overdue.

But this has led to boldness by some feminist types (there are varieties of feminism) to try not just claim a right to drive public discussions on issues, but some have attempted to discredit and diminish male influences in discussions.

John Roughan (a male!) discusses this in Despite Trump, politics is getting softer

It is not just that more women are coming to the fore in politics but the wider influence of that, in business, the media and the way people are now supposed to think, speak and behave. It has changed quite rapidly, mostly for the better, but I think it is getting excessive.

Some attempts to shut up male voices in discussions is excessive – addressing imbalances often involves some over compensating – but it isn’t really getting a lot of traction.

The gentrification of politics is not confined to women. Its ultimate expression came from a man I would have counted among the last converts, Trevor Mallard. As Speaker of the House he has commissioned an independent inquiry into bullying and sexual harassment at Parliament. National, meanwhile, commissioned a review of its own culture after complaints against its ejected MP Jami-Lee Ross.

But these excesses are a small price to pay for the civilising influence of women in politics and the professions, and the progress they are making against sexual harassment. Few large law firms would have read the report of the inquiry into Russell McVeagh without looking hard in a mirror and making changes. All over the Western world, men who take advantage of power and position are being forced to take another look at themselves.

This is a good thing. Men who have abused power and abused women are a small minority but they have done a lot of damage.

There is unfairness from ostracising all men, and dangers from trial by media/social media and also from mischaracterising discomfort from criticism or holding to account as bullying. Lumping trivial offences in with serious things like abuse and rape can detract from dealing with the serious properly.

But this is all just relatively minor imperfection in addressing problems that need to be addressed by making it clear that male abuses of power are unacceptable.

I’ve written a bit about attacks on free speech by some feminists who think that redressing an imbalance demands that males, particularly white middle aged and older males shut up and keep out of discussions.

I think that the best way of dealing with this is to continue to participate in and promote discussions – and address the imbalances by making it easier or more inviting for female input into discussions.

It is far better to improve forums for debate for everyone, and while feminists can and should advocate for their free speech, males can do similar rather than shrink away.

Feminisation doesn’t have to mean a takeover by a few extreme feminists. In public discussions it should aim at freedom of speech that is free from abuse.

An irreverent review of the 2018 political year

The year of 2018 welcomed a Prime Ministerial baby, the collapse of two Ministerial careers and a kamikaze takedown of the Opposition. Political reporter Craig McCulloch takes an irreverent (by RNZ standards) look back on the biggest stories of 2018.

Audio (RNZ) – Focus on Politics: 2018 in Review

Books and documentaries on NZ political and economic history

A 25 year old dude with an interest in New Zealand politics asked at Reddit – Can anyone suggest a book that discusses NZ politics and economics of the past ~70 years?

My issue is, there is very little information available to me that lays out our entire history.

I’ve looked everywhere I can think of and I haven’t been able to find any concise histories of what the hell happened in our country in the last 70 years from our free trade deal with the UK til how we got to where we are today.

If anyone could suggest a book, it’d be greatly appreciated.

Hearing the last generation making vague allusions to events that happened 30 years ago that shaped their political views that I have no understanding of really makes it hard to evaluate where we are today.

There are a lot of misleading (and false) claims and assertions about what happened here economically and politically through the 1980s and 1990s (the move to the much maligned and misrepresented ‘neoliberalism’).

Some suggestions in comments at Reddit:

The documentary Revolution on NZ on Screen covers everything from postwar to post-Ruth Richardson era. It is very good.

Great series, I came across the book recently too. Adds some interesting detail.

Revolution (part one) – Fortress New Zealand

Documentary series Revolution mapped the social and economic changes in New Zealand society in the 1980s and early 1990s. This first episode focuses on NZ’s radical transformation from a heavily regulated welfare state to a petri dish for free market ideology. It includes interviews with key political and business figures of the day, who reveal how the dire economic situation by the end of Robert Muldoon’s reign made it relatively easy for Roger Douglas to implement extreme reform.

Revolution (part two) – The Grand Illusion

This second episode argues that in its first term in office, the Labour Government promoted neoliberal reform via illusory ideas of consensus and fairness, while PM David Lange mined goodwill from its indie anti-nuclear policy (famously in an Oxford Union debate, see third clip). The interviews include key figures in politics, the public service and business: an age of easy lending and yuppie excess is recalled, while those in rural areas recount the downside of job losses.

In a Land of Plenty (it’s on the youtube) is worth a couple of hours, focused more on our primary industries

New Zealand – In a Land of Plenty Full

2002 Documentary about economic changes in New Zealand during the 1980’s. Documentary by Alister Barry and narrated by Ian Johnstone.

Book suggestions:

by Raymond Miller covered enough of the basics to get through a 100 level Politics class, Miller was the lecturer though so of course he’d build the class content around his own book. “Democracy in New Zealand”

Raymond’s books are great. I’ve read a couple even though I only took a single politics gened. Recommend Party Politics in NZ too even though it’s moderately outdated now.

Can’t go wrong with Kings’ Penguin history of New Zealand for a great explanation of Maori colonisation to the present, and for the 20th century rudd & ropers’ the political economy of new Zealand is an excellent political & sociological analysis of our economy that doesn’t read like paint drying.

The Penguin History of New Zealand – tells that story in all its colour and drama. The narrative that emerges is an inclusive one about men and women, Maori and Pakeha. It shows that British motives in colonising New Zealand were essentially humane; and that Maori, far from being passive victims of a ‘fatal impact’, coped heroically with colonisation and survived by selectively accepting and adapting what Western technology and culture had to offer.

Perhaps: New Zealand Government and Politics

Sixth Edition Edited by Janine Hayward

New Zealand Government and Politics

  • Contemporary: updated following the September 2014 NZ election, makes this the most current text on the market
  • A truly introductory text the sixth edition has been carefully restructured and rewritten to suit the learning needs of first year students. Key introductory topics are covered early on, concepts have been simplified and there’s no assumed knowledge (as well as less specialised chapters).
  • Highlighting of Maori politics. NZ political science has taken a very long time to engage with this issue, and it is not only profiled right up front in Part 1, but also thematically woven through the other sections

I highly recommend Paradise Reforged by James Belich for his look at post-war economic and political history. His theories are entertaining AND enlightening. You’ll never guess how much of our history revolves around butter.

Paradise Reforged – A History of the New Zealanders, 1880-2000: The sequel to the best-selling Making Peoples, which was a bestseller and award-winner in New Zealand. It picks up where Making Peoples ended – at the beginning of the 20th century. The volume presents an account of a country which in 100 years undergone massive changes as a flood of “Pakeha” (European) immigrants built on the land opportunities opened by the ferocious British-Maori wars of the 19th century. Torn between British and Maori identities, New Zealanders have successfully created a new nation but one in which the tensiosn and injustices of its founding are never far from the surface.

If you’re looking for specific topics, the NZ Journal of History can be quite useful.

And Papers Past if you want to read what people were saying at the time (although it’s missing a lot of the more recent stuff).

 

Satire versus bullying

I hadn’t heard of Terry Pratchett until I saw this quote at The Standard:

There could be some truth in that.

Another Pratchett quote on bullying (from Hogfather):

“A bully, thought Susan. A very small, weak, very dull bully, who doesn’t manage any real bullying because there’s hardly anyone smaller and weaker than him, so he just makes everyone’s lives just that little bit more difficult…”

He has a satirical record:  Terry Pratchett and the Art of Satire:

Under his hand, the entire concept of fantasy changed, and satire was put to better use than ever before; but just how did Pratchett combine both into such a phenomenally successful formula?

Pratchett also uses the medium of his Discworld novels to examine more serious issues concerning our society today: bribery and corruption are a major feature of his Discworld, especially amongst the ruling elite.

Human behaviour is examined in all of his novels – even his children’s books, such as The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, where the society of intelligent rats are made the heroes rather that of the townspeople who are trying to kill them. Comparing the two- with the implication that is it the rat that are the truly educated ones rather than the humans- allows Pratchett to make intellectual points in both a funny and parodic way that might not be possible in another setting.

Here, satire is not only a comedic device but also a way in which to examine our society.

Through his juxtaposition of the modern and the fantastic we can laugh, not only at the society he creates but also, obliquely, at ourselves. In Pratchett’s hands, the art of satire is a way in which we can examine ourselves more clearly.

Satire is a useful way of examining and exposing those in power, politicians.

But it can also be misused as a means of attacking politicians – and political supporters.

From Oxford:

satire
The use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

bully
A person who habitually seeks to harm or intimidate those whom they perceive as vulnerable.

Politicians (and political supporters) sometimes deserve ridicule, and satire is a fair and reasonable means of doing that.

But politicians are also vulnerable to being coerced, intimidated or harmed by unfair and untrue attack and ridicule.

‘Satire’ is sometimes used as an excuse for dirty politics.

Out of whack Mack on the ‘far right’

I don’t know who Ben Mack is, apart from ‘columnist for the New Zealand Herald and associate editor of Villainesse’ (Lizzie Marvelly’s  blog), but he seems seriously out of whack in a column that somehow got published by Washington Post – How the far right is poisoning New Zealand

But for all the excitement around Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her new government, the real power lies with the far right. And, more terrifying: The far right seized power by exploiting the very system meant to be a fairer version of democracy.

Led by veteran politician Winston Peters — who has made racist comments toward immigrants and people of Asian descent and Trumpian abuse of the press — New Zealand First has traditionally been an afterthought in New Zealand politics. That all changed this past September, when the two largest parties finished close enough in the general election that whichever party New Zealand First decided to enter a coalition with would control enough seats in New Zealand’s German-style MMP (mixed-member proportional) parliament to govern.

In other words, a far-right party that received just seven percent of the vote had the power to decide who would rule.

That’s nonsense on multiple counts. NZ First is faar from ‘far right’. They have some fairly rightish policies, but far from all. Winston Peters has been campaigning against capitalism and for far greater state intervention.

Greens and their leader James Shaw are regarded as fairly left wing generally, and in his opening speech in Parliament Shaw said “Our parties, as has been documented, do not agree on everything, but we do agree—as has not been documented—on far more than we disagree”. That is far from ‘far right’ agreement.

If that wasn’t appalling enough, Peters and New Zealand First held the country for ransom, repeatedly delaying the announcement of their decision for several weeks as they extracted more and more concessions from suitors.

There is little evidence of anything like that, and negotiations involving both national and Labour lasted less than two weeks.

When Peters finally declared on Oct. 19 that New Zealand First would go into a coalition with Ardern and her Labour Party, it was only because Ardern had kowtowed the most to his increasingly extreme demands.

There’s little evidence of that either. In fact Labour negotiated successfully against NZ First’s more extreme policies like ditching the Maori seats and the anti-smacking law and slashing immigration.

The effects of the far right’s influence are already being felt. Amid pressure from New Zealand First, the government has vowed to slash immigration by tens of thousands by making it harder to obtain visas and requiring employers to prove they cannot find a qualified New Zealand citizen before hiring a non-citizen.

Labour had already vowed to cut immigration a bit, they stated that their policy stood after negotiations, and have decided to act cautiously – Ardern: No cuts to immigration coming just yet:

Ardern said the minister for immigration is working through various proposals but she does not expect any announcement soon.

“That was never within our 100 day plan, there were other priorities around housing, around health, around incomes that we were much more focused on,” she said.

The Prime Minister added that it absolutely bothers her that some have drawn parallels between her and US President Donald Trump, who came into office on a pledge to toughen immigration policies.

“For me, it’s a slight on New Zealand’s reputation to suggest that we are anything other than humanitarian, outwardly focused and built on the hard graft and work of migrants in New Zealand,” said Ardern.

That doesn’t sound anywhere near ‘far right’.

Like American white supremacists in the age of Trump, bigots in New Zealand have also been emboldened by New Zealand First’s success into taking action beyond ranting on Internet message boards and social media. In late October, clashes erupted when white supremacists rallied in front of Parliament.

From the link “Only a handful of members of the group, which preaches that diversity equals white genocide, showed up for a planned rally today.” No evidence the protest planned weeks in advance had any link to anything NZ First have done.

Threatening fliers have also appeared in public, calling on white people to “unify” in order to “preserve identity.”

Auckland University Students Association president (from the linked item): “Groups like that were gaining confidence and legitimacy after Donald Trump’s presidential win in the US”.

“It was the second similar controversy on the university’s campus, after another incident several weeks ago” – before the government was formed.

All this flies in the face of Ardern and her “more compassionate” government’s outward progressiveness. But Peters — who took the roles of deputy prime minister and foreign minister as a condition of working with Ardern — and New Zealand First can end the coalition agreement, which would trigger the need for new elections.

Put simply, while Ardern may be the public face, it’s the far right pulling the strings and continuing to hold the nation hostage.

Put simply, that’s nonsense, there’s no evidence of anything like that. There is evidence that Ardern is in charge and calling most of the shots.

What’s happened in New Zealand isn’t just horrifying because of the long-term implications of hate-mongers controlling the country, but also because it represents a blueprint that the far right can follow to seize power elsewhere.

New Zealand’s political situation under MMP and with long time politician  Peters leading a minor party in government for the third time in twenty years is a blueprint for nothing elsewhere.

Appealing to ethnically homogenous, overwhelmingly cisgender male voters with limited education and economic prospects who feel they’re being left behind in a changing world is nothing new for the far right.

The far right in New Zealand appeal to very few people. Peters is a populist politician who is adept at attracting minority votes but whose Opposition bark is far worse than his Government bite.

But what is new is its savvy at exploiting democracy by doubling down on these voters while mostly allowing larger political parties to attack each other on their own, thus positioning themselves as “kingmakers” who can demand concessions from those larger parties before carrying them into power.

New since we changed to MMP in 1996, when Peters chose to go into Government with National. I’m, not sure what Mack is getting at here – that smaller parties should have no say?

Then, they can rule from the shadows by threatening to leave the government at any time and plunge the country into chaos when things don’t go their way.

There is little to no risk of that. It hasn’t happened before and it is widely regarded as suicide option for a small party.

It’s a dangerous tactic that could prove brutally effective in other parliamentary systems like New Zealand’s if the far right is not confronted early for its bigotry, regardless of how marginal its support may seem.

The handful of people from the far right were confronted at their protest and shouted down and chased away by the left, who can be intolerant of different views as the right. But that had nothing to do with NZ First or the Government.

If she truly wants New Zealand to be a more tolerant place for all and to set a worldwide example that hate is not acceptable, it would be best for Ardern to end her unholy alliance with New Zealand First and the far right, even if it meant she might not return as prime minister. As long as the far right has power, bigotry and hate will continue to fester in Middle-earth.

This seems to be suggesting that Ardern plunge the country into chaos because things aren’t going Mack’s way.

The most likely outcome would be a genuine move to the (centre) right with a return to a national led government, quite possibly a single party government.

It’s embarrassing for New Zealand that Washington Post has published this out of whack Mack crap.

The column has been severely whacked on Twitter: