Hat tipped to Paul McBeth for this one.
As one side engages in some tentative but hugely premature triumphalism, and the other side points the accusatory finger, a sleeping giant awakes. This man — our Nixon, in whom we apparently see ourselves as we really are — has rekindled the fire which once consumed the hearts and minds of the nation (and the knickers of untold women old enough to know better) and thrown himself with renewed fervour into the task of “getting his old job back”.
Thanks either to wicked humour or outright shamelessness on the part of Auckland University political science staff, Winston Peters has been granted the unlikeliest of springboards to launch his 2010 campaign to return to the Beehive in 2011: a lecture to (presumably first year) political science students on the MMP political system. Of course, if they’d wanted a serious lecture on the topic, any number of graduate (and even some of the more geeky undergraduate) students could have done it, but the choice of Winnie was inspired because, instead of just telling these young things the dry facts and functions of the system — let’s face it, they can learn that from a book or even wikipedia.* But here’s a chance for them to learn how the system works in actual fact, from someone who has used it to screw others and been screwed himself, and to learn all that from someone who, just coincidentally, is in a position to demonstrate that no matter how down and out a politician might seem, under MMP he’s only one voter in twenty away from the marble floors, dark wood and green leather benches which house our democratic institutions.
The speech itself is the saga of the heroic battlers who guided the noble, fragile MMP system through the minefields of bureaucracy, persevering despite the “inner cabal cherishing hidden agendas” intent upon bringing about its premature demise. Those heroic battlers were represented by New Zealand First, epitomising the “traditional values of New Zealand politics”; “capitalism with a kind, responsible face”; the “long established social contract of caring for the young and the old and those who were down on their luck through no fault of their own”; a strong, honest party which was forced into coalition with National, although even then the dirty hacks in the media failed to correctly report these facts.
It’s a wonderful story, a fabulous creation myth, and if you’ve listened to Winston’s speeches over the years, none of it will be foreign to you.
But the speech dwells upon the darker, more recent history of MMP, and particularly its perversion by the forces of separatism. This initially seems odd for a speech which praises MMP, but it makes perfect sense when you consider the wider narrative: you can’t rescue something which isn’t in trouble, and the wider narrative is, naturally enough, that Winston is here to rescue New Zealand from MMP and the separatists — blue and brown — who have overtaken it. This is done, in true Winstonian style, with a masterful play on words:
You’ve all heard or seen the British comedy TV show â€œthe two Ronniesâ€ – well we have our own comedy show starring the â€œtwo Honesâ€. Hone, of course, is Maori for John â€“ and the two â€œHonesâ€ donâ€™t give a â€œHekeâ€ about who they insult on Waitangi Day.
If you listen closely, you might almost be able to hear the sound of undergraduates giggling nervously, and more quietly but present nevertheless, the sound of confused and frustrated battlers who don’t see what they stand to gain out of any of the current political orthodoxy starting to think “you know, Winston wasn’t so bad after all.”
So, Winston is back. For the record, I still don’t think he’s got the winnings of an election in him without the endorsement of an existing player, and I think it’s better than even money that he would drag any endorser down with him. His credibility is shot to hell, and this is a naked attempt to reach out to a Labour party who have just begun to put a little historical distance between themselves and him, but it will be very tempting for a Labour party struggling to connect with the electorate. If we as a nation are very, very unfortunate, Labour’s failure to reinvent themselves and the illusory success among some of the usual suspects of the “blue collars, red necks” experiment last year — notably not repeated in this week’s speech — will cause them to reach out for the one thing they lack: a political leader who understands narrative, who possesses emotional intelligence and political cunning in spades, who knows how to let an audience know who he is and what he stands for, and make them trust him (sometimes despite all the facts), and who has a ready-made constituency of disgruntled battlers who feel (rightly or wrongly) that the system doesn’t work for them.
Please, let it not come to that.
* Incidentally, it may come as a surprise to some of you that these dry facts and procedural details were the reason I dropped out of PoliSci in my first year, and studied Film instead (before realising that it all came back to politics anyway).
Winnie kicked off as a tory, so his disgraceful betrayal of his own explicit promises in ’96 was no real surprise. But his rhetoric and policy since then indicates a genuine reversal – confirmed by the tory machine’s concerted “pack-rape” in 08 that delivered us Grinny-do-nothing (by a whisker, remember, despite the “landslide” bullshit they’ve fed us ever since).
You’re right, Lew. He’s a top player – one of the few that genuinely gets it. I wouldn’t condemn him for past sins (yellow peril) any more than I’d condemn the Keyster for comments like “DPB mums are breeding for a business”.
Absent some fresh Lab talent to phill the gravitas gap – and cognisant of the current race-angst – he’s as ripe as a luscious nectarine for a statesmanlike, “experienced”, “underdog” comeback.
As always, at the mercy of the media: one photo and a list of achievements and he’s an instant 6%. poll. And if those young Labistas don’t step up, I’ll vote for him.
The lecture is a regular feature of the stage one NZ politics paper overseen by Raymond Miller. It has featured politicians of all stripes over the years, including Rodney Hide, Helen Clark, Jonathan Hunt and various Nats. I have zero regard for Ray Miller (because he was instrumental in my dismissal and played very loose with the truth in that process) but it needs to be noted that a guest lecture by a well-known politician is a standard feature of that course (which allows Ray Miller to lighten his teaching load in the measure he fills up lecture time with guest speakers, This practice is also seen in the course titled “Diplomats in Action” run by another well-known Politics figure). The bottom line: guest speakers capture student and public attention while diminishing the workload of the ostensible lecturer. Win-win for those involved, perhaps not so much when the guest lecturer uses the forum to promote divisive views (most do not).
The thing I found most curious was that Winnie used this as a platform – when I hark back to my first year of pol sci at Vic (the dying throes of the last National-led government) I always remember every speaker stipulating the Chatham House rule for their speech with which they could relate amusing anecdotes about how much fun it can be in the halls of power.
The underlying theme of the speech – using MMP to unsettle his natural opponent for the middle ground in removing the Maori seats against the backdrop of the F&S legislation – is something I see as a pretty big stick that no-one currently in Parliament could use.
Winnie’s already cost be a bottle of bourbon (don’t get me started on the poor state of country’s Rogernomes), but by the end of this year I may be tempted to go double or nothing…..
I wouldn’t condemn him any more for that, either, if he weren’t still doing it. And, what’s more, I wouldn’t condemn him any less, which is what you seem to be proposing.
I’m pretty sure I’d rather have another term of National in government than nasty populism propping up Labour and postponing the deep reforms which the movement so desperately needs, and setting back progressive NZ politics decades by rotting it from within. That might change based on what the pre-election signals indicate National will do in a second term.
I think there’s a lot of value in actual politicians lecturing polisci students. I remember Richard Prebble’s lecture to the Victoria University POLS110 class after he won the 1996 Wellington Ce3ntral electorate fondly; it taught me the difference between an electorate vote and a party vote, among other things.
I’ll take that bet right now. It seems only fair, since I was the beneficiary of the last one.
I did Raymond Miller’s intro to Pols a number of years ago, and Helen Clark was a guest lecturer. She basically did nothing more than read out her diary. Guest lecturers run the spectrum however, and if the lecturer can’t do the work of contextualising what you’ve just heard, they’re often objectively harmful (as compared to a simple lecture). We had a prominent Australian politician give a lecture at the end of one of the courses I’ve tutored, and because the class knew the material so well he wasn’t able to get away with very much spin. If it had been earlier in the semester it wouldn’t have worked so well
On the subject of a Peters comeback, I’d think that he’d need the best part of a million dollars to get the kind of coverage and marketing he needs. And I can’t think of any donors who could do that for him. He simply isn’t reliable enough as someone who can get them the policy they want. His supporter base isn’t great, and they don’t have enough money as far as I can tell.
Yeah, there isn’t much evidence of significant change within Labour so far – in fact I’d go so far as to say that they’re much more sure of themselves than before the last election, and more resistant to hearing anything they’d rather not hear. But I don’t think that another 3 years of National would change that. I just think it would make them even more arrogant, as they see the damage National do and posit themselves as the saviours of all of us.