There are many reasons why states may be said to go to war with one another.
Sometimes, it is to act on behalf of or in defence of a weaker power against a stronger and more aggressive neighbour. Great Britain's famous ultimatum to Nazi Germany of early September 1939, that a state of war would exist between them unless the latter withdrew from its illegal occupation of Poland springs immediately to mind as an example.
On other occasions, a country may go to war to protect or defend perceived international legal norms from violation by an aggressor - Great Britain, again, going to war with Imperial Germany over the violation of Belgian neutrality handily illustrates this principle.
A third head of action - and quite a relevant one for the modern day - is when one state impugns upon the sovereignty of another (an example of which may be the series of causations which lead up to the War of 1812 between Great Britain and the nascent United States of America).
It is to this third class of Cassus Belli that we now turn.
All of these things are not hypothetical. They are actual, factual historical elements of the sometimes-strained relationship between New Zealand and Israel.
Two out of three of these would form pretty viable justifications for some sort of armed-and-ready International Incident.
Except, tolerant people that we are, the Kiwi people haven't exactly insisted upon anything like that.
Even the fairly straight-up abhorrent (by standards of international law and dignity) Passport incident only put a relatively brief damper upon Israeli-NZ relations, and everything was relatively back to normal within the span of about a year.
But despite the fact that we're pretty easygoing down here, the Israelis aren't anything like so tolerant.
In recent days, we've seen them remove their ambassador from New Zealand, talk of imposing 'sanctions' upon us, and then bar our own ambassador to Israel (this last one not being the first time this has happened - on a previous occurrence, they did so because we *dared* to also engage in diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Authority in a way they disapproved of).
Now, we find out that they apparently communicated directly with our representatives to tell us that we have issued a tacit "Declaration of War" against them. This will perhaps be a move of supreme hot-aired bluster, of course - with the Netanyahu administration already seemingly seeking to downplay their leader's previous (alleged) slip of the tongue. But it nevertheless betrays a fundamental difference of essence - and a weak-spot, for that matter.
New Zealand has historically been quite (perhaps excessively) forgiving of Israeli transgressions upon both our soil and our sovereignty. The Israelis, by contrast, are so harshly vindictive and vituperative precisely because there is one commodity which they vitally depend upon, and which is becoming in increasingly short supply of late. That of international respect, recognition (in a diplomatic sense), and esteem. Just as with Apartheid South Africa (their allies, whom they assisted to attain Nuclear Weapons, let us remember), there is an awareness that diplomatic isolation will eventually, one day, lead to an enforced change of domestic policy at home. The old adage about bullies craving respect as their currency rings true, here, too.
So they rant and they bluster, and even relatively minor movements on the international scale - such as New Zealand using our all-too-brief position on the UN Security Council to endorse a resolution that was broadly in-line with our previously-existing position on an issue ... and which was so incredibly UNCONTROVERSIAL that even the United States refused to move to condemn it ... well, this apparently constitutes a declaration of war. Surely one of the most serious and somber articulations available in an international relations paradigm, or the illustrious field of statecraft.
Perhaps the Israelis are correct to view this as tantamount to a war-declaration. Maybe it really IS this incredibly significant and serious to them that countries up to and including their formerly omni-abjuring protector in the United States are now starting to rather publicly run out of patience with their occupationist shenanigans. I can certainly, I guess, see why they're evidently so scared. They might even see this as 'the beginning of the end', if we are to get wildly over-hopeful.
But looking at what the Israelis consider to be a 'legitimate' grounds for staging an international incident, I can't help but wonder whether we've previously been far too lenient with the Israelis for their own transgressions over the past decade and a half.
Certainly, as suggested via the slew of examples (a handful of which were invoked in the intro) drawn from the history of international engagement, there'd be no shortage of potential justification for New Zealand to enter into a state of confrontation with the state of Israel.
But we haven't done that.
In no small part because sometimes, that's what being a grown-up and mature state entails.
And yet, in the wake of a Russian diplomat being fairly pulverizingly pistol-mortem'd at a photography exhibition ... memes aside, I see nothing.
Why the difference? What's at odds here? Perhaps it's an artefact of power - a figure of state, rather than a comparatively minor magazine publisher. Maybe that's why there's a more overt lack the latter-day symbology of empathy here.
But I have another theory: it's that the usual sorts who'd be bending their brains to generating the relevant flag-filters or attempting to come up with semi-witty hashtags aren't doing so ... because they do not like Russians. Because they're implicitly on the side of anti-regime fighters in Aleppo (and therefore, as a side-point, implicitly on the 'side' of the off-duty policeman doing the shooting - although perhaps that isn't quite relevant to their thought-considerations).
Either way. It's time to stop pretending that the people coming up with these token gestures of social-media solidarity and popularizing them are doing so because they have an unbiased interest in "human life" or "anti-terror".
Instead, - it is as it's always been: just another way to show 'solidarity' with power, and the 'right' side of a narrative.
ADDENDUM: Since drafting this piece, I've become appraised of rather vitriolic commentary coming out of the United States about this incident. In specia, articles like this one which attempt to cast the shooter as a 'hero' (and, for that matter, the Russians as "Nazis").
If this is, indeed, the dominant lense through which liberals are now choosing to view both these sad events and the broader Russian role in the Middle East all up ... then it's presumably pretty easy to explain why we're not seeing the usual outpouring of social media sympathy nor solidarity for the aggrieved party.
It has long been said that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" (an aphorism which appears to have become daily, hourly reality when dealing with the well-armed implements of geopolitics in Syria).
My concern given the above-linked article is that a number of 'liberal' opinion-setters still annoyed about the combination of alleged Russian interference in the recent US Elections, and the ongoing 'usurpation' of the US's role as liberal-intergovernmental 'World Police ... may start to get increasingly cavalier in their cautious enthusiasm for just exactly this sort of political violence.
Provided that the targets and the victims are Russians, of course.
A year ago, the force that is Judith Collins was looming upon us like the sort of saw-toothed smile with a fin on top you might see in a crashing wave just before it breaks. She'd come howling back from the political wilderness to find herself once again promoted back to Cabinet. Two weeks ago, she was in (upset) contention for the National Party's top job - and the leadership of the nation.
Today, by contrast, she languishes (relatively speaking) in low-profile portfolios (although not quite out *just* yet); and with a hefty demotion to number 16 on her party's list. One of the highest-profile casualties of Bill English's first stamping of authority upon the National Government's Cabinet.
So what was her crime? It's too easy to say that, in the tradition of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, that it was simply because she was "ambitious". Jonathan Coleman (despite suffering a so-minor-as-to-be-almost-purely-cosmetic demotion) still has his Health and Sport and Recreation portfolios (although some might view the Health area as being a sort of shackled-punishment of responsibility and negative press, itself - it is, after all, an effective exercise in telling people the government's too miserly to bother properly helping them out). And in any case - what politician doesn't, on some level or other, harbour at least *some* pretensions to ambition and greater office. It would almost be a character flaw or personality defect if they didn't.
Instead, Collins' sin is a decidedly more intractable one. She has become a "problem".
And, (regrettably or otherwise) not one with an obvious, easy "solution".
She's far too popular for the National Party to just simply get rid of her - as they did with other figures who've caused issues (consider Katrina Shanks in Ohariu). And yet their previous efforts at marginalizing her through demotion to the back benches only caused further issues.
In specia, because she stubbornly refused to truly become "irrelevant", no matter what they did to her. Placed among what amounts to an "outgroup" inside National's Parliamentary Wing (i.e. the disgruntled-and-passed-over backbenchers who're often bored with rather little to do other than constituency work and putting forward bills to track down people's luggage), she found herself in a leadership position. The fear presumably was that she'd have turned that into some sort of simmering back-bench revolt against the leadership if left to fester there for too much longer. Further, she used the relative freedom a Backbencher has to speak their mind - to criticize (obliquely) her own Government. It may have won her few friends in the Upper Echelons, but her points found easy purchase amidst the lower-middle class voters whose prejudices and proclivities National had seemingly passed over in recent policy.
In short, the National Party found itself dealing with a dangerous outsider who appeared to be (rather successfully) building up a personal following both inside and outside the Party - done in no small measure using tools they themselves had given her. Neither politician will thank me for making this comparison, but one could almost say that this seemed a vaguely similar situation to that of Winston Peters in the early-1990s.
Faced with this challenge, the Nats did what they always do: they attempted to buy her off.
Shortly after her latest bout of media salience (triggered by criticizing her own Government's perceived enthusiasm for 'unelected Maori everything' in both local governance and resource management), she received news that she'd been once again elevated to Cabinet - and had even been given back pretty plum portfolios where she'd previously (somewhat) excelled, in the form of Policing and Corrections.
Collins thrives in a 'law and order' environment for a number of reasons - it plays into her 'strong' image, and the issues she can raise in these portfolios chime in most strongly with the fears and priorities of those aforementioned middle-class voters (once you've got a piece of prosperity, one of your first thoughts is often what to do about people nicking it off you). Given the fact that her promotion was obviously supposed to be anything but a negative thing, I can only surmise that the high-ups doing the allocating figured that if they gave her pretty much what she wanted, then she'd quieten down and be a team player.
This doesn't appear to have happened; and in addition to publicly attempting to disrupt with the specter of actual choice and democracy what was supposed to be an orderly and uncontroversial Leadership Transition inside National earlier this month, she also went out on a limb to once again criticize her own Government in the process. If there's one thing you're DEFINITELY not supposed to do while in Cabinet (as she still was during the leadership handover), then it's probably that. Particularly when the specific subjectmatter of the criticisms (the perceived wastefulness of 2017's targeted tax-cuts - and, more especially, the fact that the police being underresourced was actually National's fault due to financing constraints; both elements of the Finance portfolio) was ultimately aimed fairly directly at the guy "supposed" to be taking over as Prime Minister at the end of things.
It probably didn't help any that in the eyes of a good swathe of the electorate, she appeared to be largely "right" on all counts. I was quite interested to see the number of people around me who'd said things like "I don't like Judith Collins - but I agree with what she's saying she'd do differently if heading National" ... and that's among mostly non-National voters. No wonder her superiors are scared.
This brings us almost up to the present day.
It seems clear, now, that National's two thus-far deployed measures of attempted "Collins-control" (or, if you like, 'crushing') haven't worked. Putting her into exile only put her into a greater position to cause 'trouble'. Bringing her back and attempting to ply her with the baubles (and tasers, and prison-block fight clubs) of office didn't work, either - it simply added kerosene to the fire under the guise of manufacturing a more 'controlled blaze'.
So a third course has had to be struck.
They know they can't seriously demote her again - and they haven't. Instead, they've kept her in Cabinet (with all the prestige - but also weighty chains of responsibility and Collective Cabinet convention which that implies); while also lumbering her with heavy-workload, minimum-visibility portfolios. Clearly, the idea is that the demands of managing the tax system and our energy sector will swamp her in details rather than media-attention headlines; with the high level of community engagement and required public appearances associated with Ethnic Affairs keeping her further busy somewhere far away from the limelight.
Meanwhile, the choice of now-Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett is obviously intended to simultaneously demonstrate that Collins' raised-concerns in the portfolio are being taken seriously (by someone other than her, of course); and help to build up Bennett's own 'tough-on-things-disliked-by-the-aspirational-middle-class' credentials. In other words, the Nats want an 'anti-Collins' going forward - and as 'crushing' as the despair is for many on benefits post-Bennett, 'strong on law and order' sounds far better in concert with 'getting people off benefits' than does the latter purely by itself.
But this being National, there are always several more angles to the play than are immediately apparent.
The Government has recently announced a major push to combat foreign multinational corporate tax avoidance. Collins can certainly do well out of this provided it's executed properly (and her 'tough' persona will both play a role and benefit accordingly); or, if it all fails and falls over in a hum, then there's certainly no harm in her taking the hit. Picking up Simon Bridges' former Energy portfolio with its associated oil prospecting etc. issues will also give her ample opportunity to both annoy protesters, and potentially find herself covered in muck if something goes wrong there.
She thus has something of an opportunity for a long-term game of more fulsome redemption - as well as any number of (semi-deliberate) spiked pit-traps lining her way to get there. It will be interesting indeed to see in what shape she both sees out this Parliamentary Term, and positions herself toward the beginning of the next one. Particularly as I'm given to understand National folks in a position to be able to do so have straight-up told her that her continued open leadership ambitions will no longer be tolerated, and that she may be playing something of a dangerous game in continuing to bank upon her apparent 'too big to fail' status as protection against something similar to what happened to Sam Lotu-Iiga (or, for that matter, Winston) transpiring to her.
The message delivered by her recent demotion must have been a clear one: that no matter if one is popular enough to be powerful, powerful enough to be threatening, and too threatening to just simply be obviated, executed or ignored ... this still does not protect one from one's cherished (and, arguably, well-fitting) porfolios from being stripped away as an attempted exercise in political castration.
The other message from all of this: as in leadership contests, life and casinos ... The House always wins.
The Left are a pretty optimistic bunch. And with good cause - after eight successive years of grueling hard-neoliberal governance, and having to watch National's number of seats only grow regardless, you pretty much have to be. It's either that, or give up in despair.
But while some might call this a virtue ... folks suffering from a delirium of hope are not best known for their astute and perspicacious political analysis. In situations like the one we find ourselves in at the moment where there appear to be a relative paucity of bright spots, we instead take it upon ourselves to manufacture things to make it seem like we're in with a chance.
Probably the best example of that at the moment, is the sort of breathless furor of amusement from any number of people about how the National Party have hand-picked to lead them into the next election ... a man whose previous attempt at a Prime Ministerial performance netted approximately 20.9% of the vote.
It's not hard to see why this comparatively minor piece of political arcana is suddenly on everybody's lips. Labourites can take some considerable reassurance that as bad as their poll-numbers are looking ... at least they're not down to *That* level. (Yet...) Meanwhile, other persons in favour of changing the government can relish the prospect that maybe, finally, we're in with a chance. Surely somebody who bombed out THAT badly can't continue to replicate the absolute implacable juggernaut electoral success of the Key years ... right?
But this ongoing obsession with but a single data-point misses two rather important considerations. First, the explanation for why National did so poorly in 2002 doesn't simply hinge around "Bill English is a bad leader" (in fact, I'd argue it's quite a bit more complex than that - and perhaps largely not poor old Bill's fault); and second, at almost a decade and a half on, we're in a seriously, SERIOUSLY different political environment now - rendering all past comparisons additionally flimsical.
To turn to the first point ... there are several reasons why National performed so poorly in 2002. Most of them are (one way or the other) holdovers from the Nineties. People were still rather annoyed about both National's own actions throughout the period (remembering that broadspanning anger with what they got up to in their first term of government that decade was significant enough to drive the populace at large to completely upend the nation's electoral system); as well as continuing to spit tacks about the collapse of the National-NZ First government and the resultant ensuing shenanigans. (So in a way, I guess you could say it was partially Winston's fault - in much the same way that just about everything in modern New Zealand Politics somehow is)
Now, it's always going to be tough for a Party which has just been turfed out after nine long years in office to do incredibly well at its first Election as an Opposition. They've been used to leaning rather heavily upon the resources of Government (in the form of fat Parliamentary and Ministerial Services staffing, easy media time with which to set and control the narrative, and all the rest of it); they're much more prepared to patsy-question their own achievements than they are to attack the steadily unfolding works and ethos of their newfound Treasury-bench replacements; and, as mentioned in the preceeding paragraph ... people, put quite simply, haven't had enough time to forget why they voted them out the last time in the first place.
But successful parties (like, for instance, New Zealand First between our ouster in 2008, and our meteoric re-entry to Parliament in 2011) take a step back, take stock, and start Doing Things Different in order to both attempt to overcome these 'de-institutionalized' disadvantages - and to convince the public that they're either 'Under New Management' (while perhaps not necessarily having to change over *too* many people), or have 'Seen The Light' and mended the previous Error Of Their Ways that was causing all the strife and discontentment out there in the electorate in the fist place.
National's trouble was that it did neither.
Instead, Jenny Shipley persisted on as Leader of the National Party (and therefore of the Opposition) for almost two years. To call her one of the most reviled PMs in recent NZ political history would, to my mind, be something of an understatement. And she probably would have made an effort to retain the leadership right up until the 2002 election, had Bill English not stepped in and deposed her in October of 2001. The trouble was - particularly with the early election which Helen Clark called for nine months later - there wasn't really sufficient time for National to seriously rebrand in a way that meaningfully helped voters to get over their anger, distrust, and gentle enthusiasm for hte new guys in Government.
Now had he been in place a term or two later, I don't think there's too much serious doubt that he would have started to do much better than his 2002 showing. But fate and fortune had other notions in mind, and so we saw the fairly meteoric (in the sense that it eventually burned up in the political atmosphere) rise of Don Brash to replace him in late 2003.
But if I've tried to sketch out that the 2002 defeat wasn't all English's fault - I should also probably point out that it wasn't all National's fault, either. Even leaving aside the fact that a first term government is usually quite popular out there with the Polis ... there were other parties out there who made great and capacious gains against the backdrop of National's ongoing electoral misery.
Foremost among these, of course, was New Zealand First - who, campaigning on a strong platform of law and order, immigration reform, and miscellaneous treaty bits and pieces (Gosh ... that sounds familiar! Perhaps it's not National whom people should be making 2002 allusions about this cycle...), managed a fairly impressive recovery from our 1999 nadir by adding eight seats and capturing 10.38% of the vote.
But there were, of course, others. In those days, each of ACT and United Future were acutally serious parties (it seems crazy now, doesn't it). ACT was still sitting strong on the gains it had previously made at National's fairly direct expense (nine seats, and 7.14% of the vote - somewhere between ten and a hundred times their present modern-day level of support); while United Future ballooned like Peter Dunne's bouffant - adding 7 seats and 5.04% of the vote, for a combined total of eight and 6.69%. [We can also presumably make the case that the occasionally small C's Christian Conservatism of the United Future lot might have fairly directly trod upon the toes of Bill English's personal brand]
Oh, and alongside this Labour was putting out a rather different set of signals as applies 'minor parties' than it is right now. Referring to the Greens as "anarcho-feminists and goths" is exactly the kind of derisive (if occasionally semi-grain-of-truth-bearing) electoral rhetoric which reassures the sort of voters who've decided to continue to back National (or NZ First) because they can't stand the Greens - but who were Labour voters once, even if the contemporary prospects for wooing them home appear somewhat irrevocably dim.
So straightaway, you can start to get a bit of a picture as to why National looked to poll so dismally in late July 2002. They hadn't meaningfully distinguished themselves from one of the worst governments in modern NZ history, people were still annoyed; they were up against a fairly competent and broadly popular first-term government; and their vote was hewed up with somewhere between 15-20% of what National now holds being divvied up amongst more 'minor' parties.
NONE of these factors really apply to the modern National party here, now, in 2016.
Instead, it's almost - curiously - exactly the inverse. National remains a strong and broadly popular (I can't quite bring myself to say 'competent') Government even this late in their third term. There are some rumblings of discontent and some minor-faux-pas-that-should-have-surely-been-major-ones here and there ... but vociferous suggestions that "third-term-itis" have set in are for the most part wildly overblown. John Key remains the most popular PM in recent memory (a stark contrast to Jenny Shipley) - and even though National looks set to take *a* hit as the result of the transition, I doubt it will be that major (not least because Key's personal popularity has for some time now been polling lower than National's party support - so his leaving may not affect it). So they're really in a position of strength. Even if something semi-unthinkable (at this stage, anyway) happened and they suddenly haemorrhaged something like ten percent of the vote ... they'd still be on or about 40% - and only one half-decent coalition partner away from forming the next Government. (Again)
Meanwhile, over on the Opposition benches ... Labour's facing almost exactly the same problem which National once did all those years ago back in 2002. Their vote's gone to the four winds, and they - as yet - appear to have precious little idea how to properly beg it to return. New Zealand First continues to go from strength to strength as the direct result & consequence of Labour's weakness (it is not accidental that Winston now rails very loudly against 'neoliberalism' - he's making a conscious play to be the core pillar of its opposition in territory where the left wing of Labour once sat) - with many, I have no doubt, of the tens of thousands of voters and 11 list seats we picked up on Election Night 2014 having come to us fairly directly from the former Red. And with NZ First continuing to rise, I don't see Labour's Sheolish turmoil coming to an end any time soon.
The Greens are in a similar position (albeit not rising as fast - or, according to some estimations, really at all - their share of the vote actually dropped in 2014, even if their seats didn't). They've increased in stature by a decent nine seats since Labour was last in Government in 2008 - and it seems fair to state that each of the three and five seats they picked up in 2008 and 2011 were largely at Labour's expense as the latter's vote continued to disintegrate before entering full-on free-fall.
Alongside this, there is also talk that some much-muttered about MANA-Maori Party alliance may yet 'deliver' more than a single one of the Maori Seats from Labour to other parties - further hewing into one of the only areas on our electoral landscape where it can still be feasibly said that Labour is relatively strong.
And turning to Labour itself - while Andrew Little appears to be a throughly decent figure, the continual polldrums (like doldrums, but with an excess of wind-flow due to hot-air of everybody talking about them) show no sign of abating in the near future - rendering Labour a substantial shoe-in to remain in the low-twenties from now until election day next year.
Indeed, you could almost say that Andrew Little represents something of a latter-day 2002-era Bill English...
So with all that in mind ... I get it, I really do, as to why people are laughing up a storm on social media as to Bill English's previous record as Leader of the National Party. It's certainly nice to pretend, for an all too brief moment, that National's somehow stuffed up its leadership selection - and that we'll all soon benefit fairly directly as a result with a Blue-vote collapse. But everybody's got a past - and that doesn't necessarily (especially when it's not actually their fault nor a substantive reflection upon them) determine their present nor future.
National is not phenomenally weak - and it will not become so just and purely because they've elected to go with a 'safe pair of hands' for next year's Election. (Indeed, given much of Middle New Zealand appears to vote largely on the basis of who makes them feel the most that the economy's being well-managed regardless of the actual truth ... one COULD say that National's in fact selected the ideal man for the job of keeping them in the Blue Tent).
So laugh at The Civilian piece on this theme all you want ... but remember: if we actually want to defeat National, it'll take an awful lot more than historical-factoid guffawing in order for us to get there.
Understandably, most of the New Zealand Left is giddily euphoric as the result of yesterday's bolt-from-the-blue-brigade news. Some of us have spent virtually the entirety of our adult lives awaiting this moment - so a certain level of enthusiasm is to be anticipated.
But once the initial shock and jubilation fades away, the canny political mind starts considering what happens next. And, for that matter, what's already perhaps been happening a little beyond the ken of the public eye.
We're likely to hear an array of different theories over the next few weeks as to just why Key chose to resign rather than seek a fourth term in office. Some of them are more plausible (and less interesting) than others.
It's in that spirit that I share the following:
A few months ago, I was told by persons in a position to know that the National Party was looking in to ways it could ensure a fourth term by stitching up a coalition arrangement with New Zealand First. The most obvious manifestation of this so far has been attempts to talk up the inclusion of Shane Jones on our 2017 List (the idea being that Jones, as a man of proven amenability to National, would form something of a 'bridge' into our Caucus for National were he successfully elected - and would be a counter-pole to Ron Mark; both of these factors making a Black-Blue coalition arguably more likely). But it was also noted that one of the key 'sticking points' between National and Winston Peterswhich would have to be excised in order for a coalition to take place ... would be John Key. There's so much 'bad blood' between between them that Key remaining leader of National and Prime Minister would form an insurmountable obstacle to a fruitful relationship with New Zealand First. So the 'idea' was to have John Key replaced by Bill English - on the assumption that the latter's more 'restrained' economic approach and considerably dialed down enthusiasm for social causes might make him a better (even 'Bolger-esque') working-mate for Peters. [with an implicit logic that even if National took a reasonably severe popularity hit from replacing Key of several percent and lost one or more support-parties [either due to Peter Dunne in Ohariu losing his seat, or the Maori Party finally siding with someone else], they'd still likely command more votes than Labour+Greens - albeit with newfound need of a new coalition partner to get htem back over 61 seats in the House - a situation for which a 'double-digit' New Zealand First would be the ideal remedy] At the time ... I dismissed it as a hypothetical strategic play somebody had concocted over too many whiskeys and perhaps a bit of NOS. But given yesterday afternoon's events (and a number of other things I'm aware of going on back there in the shadows) ... I'm no longer so sure. Certainly, some of the events required for such a previously unthinkable constellation of political forces to take place are now in motion. Much to my consternation, of course. In any case ... I think I know what I have to do. Work harder to support Ron, block Jones, and help keep New Zealand First from falling prey to National's nefarious clutches. Now, more than ever, a left-wing counterweight within NZF is *vitally* important.
There are two general schools of thought as to what Michael Wood's rather stunning victory in Mt Roskill over the weekend might mean. The first of these is the predictable National Party supporter (or, perhaps, anti-labour churl) who boldly proclaims that the result means nothing. That Mt Roskill was 'always' going to be won by Labour, on grounds that it's allegedly a Labourite "safe seat" - and that therefore, there is nothing serious to be gleaned from a 66%-25% crushing defeat for National.
The second group is made up of those individuals - myself included - who see it altogether the other way around. That what Wood has pulled off in Mt Roskill does, indeed, suggest a weakening (however slight) of National's overall stranglehold upon the hearts and minds of the broad mass of 'Middle New Zealand' voters - and that, if nothing else, the Labour Party's electoral appeal and party apparatus aren't quite terminal yet. If properly motivated and deployed - they're still evidently more than capable of propelling positive results.
But there is a third area to consider - that of the grander and macroscopic strategic import of what we've seen over the course of this campaign - which doesn't neatly fit into either interpretation above.
It is to there that we shall now turn.
Probably the most important revelation to be had from National's drubbing is that the "Ethnic Strategy" which the Blue party has pursued for quite some time now ... is rapidly reaching its limits.
The results from the aforementioned previous 2014 General Election outing of the "Ethnic Strategy" were ... not entirely unencouraging. True, in places like Mangere and Manukau East, National made gains - but at somewhere between one and three percent gains apiece against entrenched Labourites on severely high pluralities still hovering around the seventy percent mark, it would be a bit of a stretch to state that it produced "dividends".
A better test for the strategy's relative merits came earlier this year with the Auckland local body contest. Here, at the Council level we saw several defeats for National's ethnic candidates - with, for instance, the two Pasifika contenders put up in the Manukau ward by Auckland Future managing to come in at around two thousand votes between them fewer than former National MP Arthur Anae's 2013 run result. [5,550 and 5,304 as compared with 12,961 - for those of you playing at home]
The situation does not exactly improve when we consider the data to be gleaned from the Local Board contests, either. In each of Henderson-Massey, Waitemata, Whau, Puketapapa, Mangere-Otahuhu, Papatoetoe, and Otara, Auckland Future (or other National-controlled tickets) put up 'ethnic' candidates - and watched them lose. Now this doesn't necessarily mean that the constituencies in question are either passively or actively inimical to being represented by local politicians of Pasifika, Asian, or Indian extraction. In fact, the results in several of these seats would directly contravene such an inaccurate contention.
But what it DOES suggest is that National (and its allies) are going to face an ongoing difficult circumstance by persisting in attempting to sell their right-wing politics through faces not dissimilar from those out there suffering in the community.
And this handily brings us back to Mt. Roskill.
Right throughout the campaign, the National Party attempted to bank hard upon their candidate - Parmjeet Parmar's - ethnic background. A cynic might go so far as to suggest that this was at least partially because the candidate in question was perceived as having comparatively little to offer to the prospects of victory other than this (a background as a neuroscientist is certainly impressive ... but I'd be somewhat surprised if it were found to have motivated even a single pen upon a single ballot in her favour).
But there is one very good acid-test for any political strategy: whether it delivers the goods on polling-day.
By pretty much any rubric of success which you care to name, what National's attempted here hasn't worked.
Maybe they didn't have to 'win' in order to appear successful or credible. Maybe (as an astute mind from my own Party noted), all they had to do was not lose *too* badly to chalk up a (moral) victory.
They did neither. Parmar's votes are less than the margin of victory which Wood won by. As a proportion, she's gone markedly backwards from her previous 2014 showing in the same electorate.
All the talk from National-aligned folks (and a poking, prodding, probing, pustule-piercing media) that the seat being held by Labour at the last election was purely a function of Phil Goff's personal credibility, with National winning the Party Vote by more than two thousand indicating that it wasn't 'safe' and was, in point of fact, 'winnable' (perhaps with the 'right' candidate) ... has evaporated like shadows afore the sunlight or cobwebs in a whirlwind.
Earlier this week, the Prime Minister was peevishly proclaiming that a defeat in Mt. Roskill would be "Terminal" for Andrew Little.
I'm really not quite sure what to say about Fidel Castro's death. The man was an absolute titan of modern politics and the modern world. He not only comprehensively reshaped his home nation from Mafia-run, economically colonized backwater to a vanguard liberation state with enviable first-world healthcare (because to simply say that that's what he did would be almost to imply that it was done in a vacuum); but he also managed to do so despite the might of a superpower breathing both strenuously and semi-literally down his neck, and under the weight of a crippling international embargo. Before we had the jokes about the "Curse of Assad" (wherein pretty much every Western politician who's insisted "Assad must go" has, themselves, wound up deposed or otherwise dethroned) ... it was a running sport to tally up the number of US Presidents he'd outlasted (particularly those who'd attempted to have him assassinated - the CIA's Operation Mongoose racking up more than six hundred attempts against his life and featuring everything from exploding seashells to LSD-filled missiles). And regardless of how you might feel about the man .. that sort of tenacity and indefatigability is certainly worthy of respect. As are, to my mind, the results which Castro's regime achieved in comparison to many of its (still foreign-dominated) Carribean neighbours. Certainly, squaring up outcomes and quality of life for Cubans against the ordinary inhabitants of other (capitalist) countries of the Carribean does not necessarily cast Castroist Cuba in a particularly bad comparative light. (Although for reasons I'll never quite understand, the default point of comparison for many commentators is, instead, living-standards in the US - and never, for that matter, the impoverished parts like Detroit) But as with any 'great man', whatever he might have been and achieved in life, the serious intellectualizing of what he stood for almost inevitably comes predominantly after his death. This will be particularly the case with Castro, as there were simply so many sides to his political life - so many 'fingers in pies', if you will. I've already touched upon his specific role within the Cuban Revolution; and any serious student of the history of Latin America will also know of his incredibly broad-spanning role influencing and supporting the political developments of his neighbours (including considerable humanitarian assistance to Grenada, military aid to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, an attempt to help Salvador Allende in Chile, the ill-starred Cuban efforts in Bolivia which martyred Che Guevara, and longstanding and active comradeship and material support with the Bolivarians of Venezuela).
In addition to these, we also have his tireless advocacy for other marginalized and subaltern peoples (for example, with the ongoing crisis of third world foreign debt); and a broader military participation by Cuba in the overseas struggles of a bewildering array of other nations further afield.
This particular element of Castro's contribution has been overlooked by many of the media accounts of his life which I've read over the past 36 hours; but it is no exaggeration to say that the massive scale of Cuban military intervention in southern Africa (with, at its height, somewhere around 55,000 Cuban troops plus air assets and other military hardware deployed in Angola) contributed to the ending of Apartheid in South Africa. It also occurs, on that note, that this is another mark of the success of Castro's leadership - as over a three-decade period, Cuba had been transformed from a quasi-colonial island backwater 'playground for the American rich' into a regional powerhouse capable of projecting force to the other side of the world.
With all of those facets to consider, we shall no doubt be continuing to debate what Castro's contribution was to human history for many decades to come. (Indeed, the ripple-effects are such that one is put in the mind of Zhou Enlai's famous rejoinder to a question asked by Richard Nixon in 1972 about the impact of the French Revolution nearly two centuries earlier - "it's too soon to say") Many political traditions, groups and movements will seek to claim both Castro and his legacy. This is understandable. Any figure which exerts such an impressive weight upon both the popular imagination and the very fabric of our global politics will, of course, have an almost gravitic attraction for all manner of figures and currents out there in the firmament. But to my mind, the first and most enduring conceptualization of Castro's politics are those of a Nationalist. We often obscure this when we focus upon the Cuban Revolution's ensuing alliance with the Soviet Union, and attempts at 'exporting revolution' over the subsequent decades (although I'm not entirely sure why either of these factoids are thought to be in contravention of Nationalist proclivity - both are eminently defensible as the sustained participation in causes affiliated and acting in influence upon with national liberation struggles). But looking at what Castro said, did, and wrote in his early years, this Nationalist orientation is fairly incontrovertible (even down to his early attempts to seek peaceful coexistence with and work productively with the United States, until the latter made such a thing deliberately unworkable). Even looking ahead for the next thirty or so years, his record appears very much as a man interested in both Cuban and other nations' self-determination. In any case, I am not Castro. I cannot speak on his behalf. But if I were ... I have little doubt that that's what I'd wish for my legacy to be - acting as an ever-living and eternal (albeit supernal) beacon of both illumination and inspiration to those seeking to better the lot of their fellow man through national liberation struggles even far afield from Castro's own island homeland.
As we say here in New Zealand: "A Mighty Totara Has Fallen". The serious question now is what grows up in its former shade - and, for that matter, what form of canoe is adzed out of its fallen trunk. ^The image above is, of course, of Fidel's fallen comrade Hugo Chavez. But I do wonder if it also encapsulates the right feeling for the weekend's post-mortem as well.
Maybe it's an issue of our Government lacking the requisite willpower and vision to properly deal with corporates. Perhaps they just simply don't care.
In any case, if National WERE actually genuinely interested in getting foreign multinationals to pay their fair share of tax here, I'd be over the moon and singing their praises.
Except they're not.
You see, what actually happened over the weekend at APEC, was John Key took Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg aside and told him he had a "PR problem". Not, you understand, a legal problem. Not a fiscal/monetary problem. Not even, quelle surprised, an ETHICAL problem.
No, what the Government believes Facebook's ongoing flouting of our laws and our good natured hospitality is ... is a PR problem.
This is a distinction that's presumably quite instructive. When you have legal problems ... you sue (and, in the post-TPPA National Party, perhaps they've altogether forgotten that it's states who can sue corporations ... rather than exclusively the other way around thanks to ISDS). When you have fiscal/monetary problems, you regulate. And when you have ethical problems ... you intervene.
But when you have PR problems - well, that's different. That simply means you've been caught out via the spotlight of the public gaze. And, more importantly, that it's perfectly fine to keep doing whatever it is that you were snapped for - just make sure it's where the filthy proles can't see you doing it.
PR issues, in other words, are the sort of 'problems' which exist to be 'managed' and 'massaged', rather than actually 'solved'.
John Key, by talking to Zuckerberg one on one, can thus claim to actually be 'doing' something about this issue - while in actual fact doing precious little (other than flapping his lips and garnering another successful-person photo-op). It means he's worked out that his Government has started to look decidedly weak in this area.
Cooler heads like New Zealand First's Fletcher Tabuteau, meanwhile, have long been making the case for properly tightening up and toughening up our nation's taxation laws so that foreign corporates like Facebook can't continue to flagrantly get away with this kind of pernicious and parsimonious behavior.
If National genuinely want to see Facebook et co. start to pay their proper taxes (rather than just genuinely no longer wanting to be seen as on the back foot on this issue) ... perhaps they ought to hit Fletcher up, and see what the New Zealand First proposal to fairly tax foreign corporates looks like.
[Author's Note: This piece originally appeared in a September edition of my Sex, Drugs & Electoral Rolls column for Craccum Magazine. In light of the planned Protest Flotilla actions this week timed to coincide with the US Navy's ship-visit for our own Navy's anniversary celebrations, I've chosen to reprint it here for a broader audience]
In 1973, New Zealand Prime Minister Norman Kirk sent our frigate, the HMNZS Otago, to the French nuclear testing site of Mururoa Atoll. On board was the Kiwi Cabinet Minister Fraser Coleman. The stated - and, indeed, officially mandated - purpose of those two hundred and forty three men was to put themselves in the path of foreign military activity, on a ship, as a protest action.
This was a pretty proud moment in New Zealand history - a real David vs Goliath sort of sentiment pervaded domestic remembrance of that time a small group of Kiwis took on the military (and, earlier that year, legislative) might of an Old World nuclear-armed former colonial power.
I open this piece by referencing the exploits of the HMNZS Otago (and, immediately subsequent to this the HMNZS Canterbury) not simply because it is an incident worth remembering in these modern days of our Government tiptoeing around the internationally expressed wills of the Great Powers. But instead, because there is a clear, present, and utterly immense difference in terms of both principle and courage between what the Kirk Government sought to do 43 years ago, versus what the Key Government seeks to do today.
In case you missed it, the Nats are presently attempting to push through legislation which would criminalize protesting at sea. In fact, it's worse than that. With the bill as presently drafted, you would be liable to be labeled a "terrorist" if you disrupted the actions and activities of a foreign military vessel.
You know, like we used to rightly celebrate and lionize doing in both the 1970s and 80s.
Government MP David Bennett supplied the rationale for deeming maritime protesters to be terrorists:
"This is a foreign power's vessel - a military vessel. You're getting in the way of it - so it's a terrorist act on a foreign country, isn't it."
That's a pretty pithy piece of legal reasoning. In the botanical sense of the term 'pith', of course, wherein it refers to the significantly less desirable bit under the rind of a fruit which surrounds the morsels you actually want to eat. Sounds like David Bennett all up.
Now here in New Zealand, we know a thing or two about nautical acts of terrorism committed against foreign countries. 21 years ago, the French carried out exactly such an act in our waters against the Greenpeace flagship, the Rainbow Warrior. (As a point of historical trivia, it had been preparing to depart for Mururoa, to once again continue the mission of observation and disruption against illegal French nuclear testing begun twelve years before by our very own Navy)
What this bill therefore seeks to do, by apparent conscious design, is place legitimate protest actions such as those carried out in New Zealand waters against American naval vessels in the eighties upon the same opprobium-heaped pedestal that we customarily reserve for craven and cowardly acts of actual terrorism like the Rainbow Warrior bombing.
And while this is a singularly egregious situation, it's not entirely accurate to state that the criminalization of potentially significant dissent is an exclusively National-produced phenomenon. The Terrorism Suppression Act brought into force by Labour in 2002 also has some problematic provisions, including 5 (3) (d), which in concert with 5 (2) (b), could effectively have rendered something as innocuous as the anti-TPPA road and motorway blockade action which took place earlier this year an apparent act of terror.
Even though the Terrorism Suppression Act contains a dedicated subsection (5 (5)) which seeks to clarify that the mere fact of an action being protest-motivated is not, itself, grounds to call something a terrorist act ... the fact that such a clause was necessary in the first place goes some ways to illustrate just how problematic previous New Zealand Government efforts at legislating against terrorism (or, more accurately, to punish 'terrorism' post-facto) have been.
Some cynics might even conclude that exploitable 'flaws' in the legislation such as that outlined above would constitute, as an IT professional would say, "a feature, not a bug".
And lest we think that the New Zealand security apparatus, police, courts, and other arms of state are far too 'benevolent' or 'Kiwi-casual' to want to do dodgy things with the powers we give them ... consider the illegal spying which was carried out on Kim DotCom at the behest of what amounts to an ineluctable combination of a foreign government and big-name overseas corporate interests. We literally had our foreign intelligence service using military-grade hardware to stake out an eccentric German tech-magnate over a case of copyright infringement of all things.
The miscellaneous miscreantery of the NZ Deep State doesn't stop there, either.
I still vividly remember in 2013 getting a visit from the detective who'd been second in command of the Urewera Raids, accompanied by an intelligence service spook. Apparently, the fine boys down at the counter-terrorism unit of the New Zealand Police had had me under wiretap surveillance for the previous eighteen or so months. The reason why? We think they were trying to get Winston for something which they thought I was involved in (in connection to the 2011 Tea Tapes scandal) - and they thought that monitoring my communications would prove it. The *official* reason why? I was allegedly a "threat to national security".
My first thought afterwards was wondering whether there was supposed to be an apostraphe and an S after the word "National".
Followed swiftly after by a sense of mounting horror as I realized that pretty much everything I'd said over the last year and a half via facebook messenger, or through txt had quite possibly crossed the desk of at lest one nameless analyst somewhere in the New Zealand security apparatus and/or Police. An acrimonious breakup with a girlfriend (and the resultant emotional fallout), personal secrets confided in close mates ... all of it was now in the databanks of the state and subject to easy, at-will persual by those with the right security clearance.
And all because I just happened to be in the right place at the right time outside a cafe in late 2011.
(Also, if you're wondering just why I got a housecall - the previous relevant legislation governing search and surveillance mandated a duty to report to the target what had happened once the surveillance was lifted - something which is still somewhat present in the 2012 act which replaced it at 61 (1) (c).
This is apparently a check and/or balance for their power - knowing that some judge, somewhere, will force them to front up to explain to the person under surveillance that all their deep dark secret-communications are now Official Knowledge. I guess the idea is that the (potentially mutual) embarrassment of getting the wrong guy and then having to look them in the eye and TELL THEM that, is supposed to keep our security intelligence services in line. Riiiiight.)
The reason why I cite this incident is because it handily demonstrates that i) laws put in place to protect us from terrorism can and have been misused even very recently in the past; ii) that the specific forms of that misuse very quickly cross over into the realms of the political; and iii) that even seemingly innocuous or rather small-scale acts of potential dissent (like standing outside of a cafe in the presence of a few TV cameras) can quite quickly conjure the Heavy Hammer of the State coming down upon you.
When we talk about not just criminalizing - but 'terrorizing' - protests, we go rather beyond the simple maintenance of public order.
We instead send chilling messages with chilling effects upon certain aspects of public participation in the hallowed apparatus of our democracy.
As I've said earlier, these increasingly seem to be "a feature, not a bug", in the minds of many of our august policy-makers. With the Key Government preparing to lionize itself for effectively normalizing military relations with the US, sanctified by a potentially nuclear-armed ship-visit (you know ... EXACTLY the sort of thing we rose up in (maritime) protest against back in the '80s) - it's not hard to see just whom this new kind of "terrorism"-fighting legislation might be aimed at to please.
I'm now old enough to properly remember three Presidents (Bush, Obama, and Trump. I have vague, hazy memories of Bill Clinton - but that's mostly just bombing Yugoslavia and a sex scandal). And you know what I've realized? There's some remarkable consistencies in how EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM gets reacted to in office.
Each one of these men has been called Hitler. Every one of them's been talked about as some sort of irascible warmonger who's inching us closer to the broad-spanning extinction of the Human Race. They were all #NotMyPresident. All of these Presidencies either have or will preside over a fundamentally racist justice system, and repugnant foreign & trade policies. The only main difference between Trump advocating for targeted killings of terrorists' families ... and Obama's drone-strike program, or Bush's invade-an-entire-country program, is that Trump was straight-up and honest about what he was trying to achieve (and also isn't talking about 'regime change' enforced at bayonet-point) - a theme which presumably applies to pretty much every other area of core contention that most people have against a Trump Presidency based upon what he's said on the campaign trail.
Hell, even the broad, sweeping reactions to a President people don't like are overtly similar. For the last few days, we've had Californians talking about secession from the Union - and, more darkly, outraged arch-liberals suggesting somebody ought to go John Hinckley and assassinate Trump (apparently heedless of the fact that the man who'd replace him as President - Mike Pence - is inarguably worse on EVERY front, being an anti-gay and pro-TPPA classic modern Republican). This is nothing new. Under Obama, it was Texas that was allegedly going to secede, and Tea Partiers and militiamen talking about assassination. Under Bush ... well, it was the "People's Republic of Vermont" [maybe THEY'D have had the good sense to make Bernie Sanders President], and any number of fantasizing books, comics, movies and polemic pieces arguing that the world'd be better off with one less President Bush.
So what's changed? What's actually different here?
Well, for one thing, this much outrage, this quickly is pretty striking. I don't even think after Bush Jr. got re-elected in 2004 (amidst allegations of *actual stealing of the election* via rigged e-voting machines, systematic disenfranchisement etc.) that there was seemingly this much heat on the street. We're less than FOUR DAYS into President-Elect Donald Trump, and it already looks from afar as if America's starting to unravel (it isn't - starting, that is - but these things often look so much more dramatic from far away).
There's also probably an easy distinction to be made between that outrage and this. In the former case, there was something really big, really abhorrent and really reified which that President had *already* done (namely, invading a foreign country under a false pretext while top officials *lied* about it) to galvanize public support for his popular opposition.
In this case, nothing like that has yet eventuated.
The only thing people can seem to object to is the mere fact of his election itself. (something which, to be honest - albeit from entirely different reasons - was pretty much what the Tea Party people were doing in 2008 with Obama)
There is, of course, a counter-argument - that this Presidential outcome is so singularly sui-generis in sadness and in suicidality that some radical actions are more called for now than they were previously. In that light, I don't think I've ever before seen outright demands for the Electoral College *not* to represent the votes of the people of the states before in order to pick and anoint a preferred candidate.
But in any case, I can't help but wonder whether the scale and the vitriol of the liberal/leftist/democratic-malcontent response to the looming and increasingly corporeal specter of President Trump is actually motivated by this.
Or, instead, whether so many are so bitter precisely because this is a decidedly unexpected turn of events; and because they were all geared up to think that they, Clinton, "had it in the bag" - and that we'd all be ganging up to ridicule and vituperate those silly Trump supporters with their Orange-Meme Nominee for being stupid enough to lose.
Well, we sure aren't laughing now.
And because we can't deal with it - whether rightly or wrongly - we're lashing out in anger and in protest (at just about anybody who fits the bill of "might have helped Trump get elected", into the bargain).
It will certainly be interesting to see whether this wave of semi-popular discontent simmers down or sizzles up with increasing verbosity over the coming days and weeks.
But one thing's for sure: no matter whom the next President is - and whether we see them first in 2020 or 2024 ... they'll presumably face EXACTLY the same wave of Reductio-Ad-Godwinning, street-protests, and pre-emptive criticisms as the last one.
Truly, as that Bible verse goes, "there is nothing new under the sun".
It's been interesting watching the shift in discourse about Bernie Sanders from some of the local #ImWithHer crowd (and, presumably, those further afield/closer to the action).
Immediately after the loss, a lot of them were (partially, at least) blaming him for Hillary Clinton's defeat. Because apparently, the idea that your candidate can be seriously derailed by a septuagenarian 'Socialist' is his fault for being too er .. electable, rather than your anointed one's error for being a seriously flawed candidate.
But now, something different is happening. I've seen a number of pro-Clinton people make the case that "we need to stop talking about Sanders".
And, to be fair, one of the cornerstones of this analysis - that just because we had quite a run of (older) polls suggesting that Sanders would absolutely crush Donald Trump in the actual Election, doesn't necessarily mean that he would have won - is actually pretty accurate. We genuinely don't know whether Trump's style of campaigning would have found similar purchase upon the scandal-free and principled Senator Sanders; or, for that matter, whether Sanders' message of economic fairness, anti-corruption, and fundamentally fixing the US 'system' to give ordinary working people a fair go ... would have resonated with the less-well-off voters in key battleground states who actually handed Trump the election.
But these are interesting questions to consider.
So when centrist types insist that "we've got to stop talking about Bernie" because, it appears, they want to work out how they could have made Hillary - *their* preferred brand of warmed-over neoliberal-in-more-egalitarian-language politics - "win", when it comes to the fight for the future ... it tells me something important.
Namely, that a not insignificant number of folks out there in the wider political sphere haven't actually learned the lesson from Nov. 8 and actually fundamentally think that 'business as usual', sufficiently tweaked, poked and prodded (but only rhetorically and in the packaging, of course) ... can actually be meaningfully useful in service of the pursuit of power for the next few elections to come.
They are, in other words, eagerly anxious to shut down dialogue about the alternative path which Sanders might have represented (now that they've worked out that simply, insipidly blaming him for their own failures) ... because they don't really *want* thinking from 'outside the paradigm' which they, personally, represent.
It's not even about admitting (or covering up for) failure anymore.
It's their hack-futures on the line, and they'd rather quite desperately cling to the idea that they can just keep doing what they've always done rather than actually recognize that the neoliberal consensus for which they stand is dying ... and that we're right now in a "go under the tracks or get outta the way!" phase of political-economic-history as applies that doctrine.
So don't do what they tell ya.
Keep positing left-wing alternatives that aren't simply (queasily) crushed by 'orthodox-establishment' politicians and politicos insisting that they 'know better' and are 'more electable' precisely because they dare to refuse to dream.
And remember: they're now only trying to stifle left-wing dissent ... because they're afraid we'll start to work out that we don't actually need them to win :P