Between the Devil and the deep blue sea

(Image, “Road to Hell”, stolen from Alexander West.)

And I did not mean to shout, just drive
Just get us out, dead or alive
The road’s too long to mention, Lord, it’s something to see
Laid down by the Good Intentions Paving Company
(Joanna Newsom)

John Key’s government is starting to play for keeps after a year and a bit warming up. There have been a few clear examples of this, including the aggressive tax and service cuts in Budget 2010, and signs pointing to privatisation in the not-too-distant future. Less orthodox is the recent hardening of the government’s position on take Māori.

Key was not punished for his calculated snub of TÅ«hoe, and it seems the success has emboldened him to flip the bird to an even larger Māori audience, saying two things: that Māori can take or leave the government’s public domain proposal for the Foreshore and Seabed; and that by “Māori” he means “the māori party”. It’s these things I want to discuss, and they need a bit of unpacking.

Pragmatism and principle
Conventional wisdom on the Left is that Key’s blowing off Māori is (either) paying the red-neck piper, or a genuine manifestation of his (and the government’s) own racism. I think it’s neither and a bit of both. On the second bit, I accept that the National party’s history on Māori issues is broadly racist inasmuch as it hangs on a “one law for all” rhetorical hook whilst systematically opposing measures which safeguard the equal application of those laws to Māori, but I think this is down to the casual racism of privileged ignorance rather than the malicious anti-Māori sentiments of Orewa. Key’s politics, I am convinced, consist of a thick layer of pragmatism on a thin frame constructed of a few very strong principles. The principles are not the bulk of his politics, but they strictly delineate the extremes of what he will and won’t accept. Fundamentally on cultural issues he’s a pragmatist, and doesn’t much care either way as long as he’s getting his. But there is a solid core there which is only so flexible, and changing the ownership status of huge tracts of land (whether by Treaty settlement in the case of Te Urewera or by nationalisation in the case of the Iwi Leadership Group’s suggestion regarding privately-owned sections of the Foreshore and Seabed) is too much of a flex. There are good principled reasons for National to oppose such a scheme, and for this reason I don’t think he’s pandering to the redneck base so much as preserving what he perceives to be the National Party’s immortal soul: cultural conservatism and the maintenance of material property rights. Although I broadly disagree with the reasons, and the decisions, I wish that Labour had done as much to preserve its own immortal soul in 2004 and 2005.

“One law for all”
While I’m on record opposing a “public domain” resolution of the Foreshore and Seabed because it’s a solution of convenience rather than one born of any deep consideration of the issues in play, I have a little more time for Mark Solomon’s suggestion that if Māori are to give up nascent property rights to the takutai moana, those already holding such property rights ought to be obliged to do the same. I’m not convinced by arguments from PC and DPF to the contrary. PC’s argument, that iwi and hapÅ« ought to have full common-law recourse to test their claims as permitted by the Court of Appeal ruling in favour of Ngāti Apa has more merit than DPF’s, but I still consider it a poor option since there is a high likelihood of a culturally and politically repugnant outcome which would lack durability and further inflame racial hatred. Contrary to DPF’s claim that Solomon’s position is unprincipled, Tim Watkin argues that it’s actually a pretty good representation of “one law for all”. It would ensure that existing landowners — most of whom happen to be Pākehā — are not grandfathered into a new scheme simply by virtue of having bought land which may or may not have been legitimately acquired from whomever it was bought, while iwi and hapÅ« — who happen to be exclusively Māori — are forced to give up their rights. I argued much the same thing a few days ago, and I’m pleased to see someone else thinking along the same lines. While the whole Foreshore and Seabed going into public domain is worse than Hone Harawira’s proposal that the land be vested in customary title with ironclad caveats because it strips away rights rather than granting them, it does have the advantage of stripping those rights equally, rather than on the basis of largely racial discrimination.

There is another, economic, point in play: if land not presently in private ownership is placed in the public domain and declared inalienable, the increased value of those few freehold, fee-simple property rights which do exist at present will have a phenomenal distortive effect on the property market and on New Zealand’s social structure, with the inevitable result that almost every scrap of it will end up in foreign ownership. We will then have the perverse and incoherent result that most of the beaches will be owned in common — but those which aren’t will be the exclusive domains of ultra-wealthy foreigners. Whether this is a good or a bad thing is a fair point for debate, but I think this fact will grant Solomon’s proposal considerable appeal to the broader New Zealand public, especially among those who do not — and even at present prices, could never — own waterfront property.

Just who are these “Māori”, anyway?
As I noted above, Key has been clear that he cares not a whit for the Iwi Leadership Group’s views on the matter: he considers that the māori party has a mandate to negotiate for all Māori and the decision is theirs. This is strictly almost correct: they do have a such a mandate, and whatever they decide will be broadly regarded as legitimately representing “Māori”, to the extent that the decision accords broadly with the views of Māori as expressed by their various civil society agencies. This proviso, missing from Key’s glib assessment of the political situation, is crucial. By omitting it, Key aims to drive a wedge between the party and those civil society agencies — chief among them the Iwi Leadership Group convened for this very purpose — from whom they ultimately derive their electoral mana. The māori party, frequent howls of “sellout!” from the Marxist left notwithstanding, do regularly test their policy positions against these stakeholder groups, at hui, and in their electorates. This makes them particularly secure in terms of their support, as long as they act in accordance with their supporters’ wishes. I have long criticised the howlers for misunderstanding just what it is that the māori party stands for, and their mischaracterisation of the party — plump buttocks in the plush leather seats of ministerial limousines, representing “big brown business” — is similarly a wedge, of a slightly different hue. But this issue is the test. Without the support of the Iwi Leadership Group, it’s hard to see how the māori party could maintain its claim to a mandate.

Which brings me to the verse at the top of this post. This issue has deteriorated to the point that the National government — like the Labour government before it — issuing public ultimatums to Māori and prejudging the case by claiming to speak for the māori party’s position. That is not mana-enhancing for a coalition partner which has showed enormous patience and swallowed almost innumerable dead rats in exchange for largely symbolic concessions. This breakdown of diplomacy on its own is not sufficient to call time on the coalition relationship — that comes down to the merits of the choices available, and the proposal simply isn’t enough. I have long defended this approach on the basis that the big issues were still to play out — but the loyalty and commitment shown by the māori party, in the teeth of furious criticism from enemies and allies alike, must be rewarded. A Whanau Ora pilot programme simply isn’t enough. This road was paved with good intentions, and there was a chance it would lead elsewhere than where it did — a chance which had to be taken but which, barring a swift change in the government’s position, seems to have proven unfounded.

If the government holds to its ultimatum, the māori party must turn around and walk back into the light. On this I agree with Rawiri Taonui (audio). The party will lose much more by abandoning its people and agreeing to a Faustian bargain than by simply failing to negotiate the repeal of the Foreshore and Seabed Act, which realistically was a nearly impossible task in any case. And even if the party did support the bill, it would not mean the end of the struggle. As Taonui says, although they might have the numbers to pass the legislation, the government’s solution will have no legitimacy or durability in practice without the support of the ILG and those it represents. Where there is injustice, resistance will seep out around the edges. If the issue of the takutai moana remains live, the party can continue to advocate for a just and enduring solution, and the ILG’s proposed solution opens a potential route for re-engagement with the Labour party. All is not lost.

The big question — as I asked in r0b’s excellent thread the other day is: what will Labour do?

They can sit back and say “I told you so” to the māori party, hoping they will fold, or they can make a better offer and hope the māori party will become more inclined to work with them. I can see how either would be a reasonable tactical position in terms of electoral numbers, even though the former course of action would continue the erosion of Labour’s historically liberal and Māori support. But there’s also a real danger the party will do neither, or will attempt to do both and fail at doing either, such as by arguing that the FSA was actually not that bad after all. That would be a tragedy.

The whole world’s watching. I have to say Shane Jones, who the party desperately needs if it is to have credibility on this issue, hasn’t helped dispel the predominant impression of Māori politicians held by the New Zealand public.


18 thoughts on “Between the Devil and the deep blue sea

  1. brilliant analysis lew – as I have mentioned elsewhere i cannot see how the maori party can not support the iwi leadership group and their rejection of the government preferred option re F&S. The alternative of supporting the government against the Iwi leadership Group is unpalatable.

    and shane jones is a gone-burger now – he can’t come back from perceived porn IMO.

  2. Another thought: if Turia and/or Sharples hold true to what the Marxist left reckons is their form and agree to the government proposal, it will surely see Hone Harawira and perhaps some of the others quit. Then we get Judean People’s Front/People’s Front of Judea Balkanisation.

    Hard to know whether that’s worse than all hanging together in government, or not.


  3. Lew

    I’ve heard this ‘surely Hone Harwira will quit’ song before. So far, he seems pretty tightly esconced.

    I also think your view of the idea of more than one Maori Party reflecting ‘Balkanisation’ is pretty telling. I certainly intend to bring it up if it actually happens, since I suspect at the time your analysis will be more nuanced. Less flippantly, though, you’ve often said that disagreements over Maori policy need to be worked out within Maoridom, but now you seem to be against the idea that such disagreements exist, or at least exist substantially. The whole point of the overused Judean People’s Front meme was to criticise political groups that differ on personal/minor issues. Would such a projected split really be similarly trivial? It seems that, whatever you think of the merits of the two side’s arguments, you’d have to agree that it concerns a matter of substance and a genuine difference of opinion.

  4. Hugh, this is different. The takutai moana is the big deal.

    As for your comments about Balkanisation — I think you’re being a bit reductive. I’m not talking about a split due to legitimate differences within the party; that would certainly be possible. But I’ve argued that given the facts as they are, there isn’t really space for such a broad disagreement within the māori party’s kaupapa. That is to say, if the party splits into two factions, one of which considers the issue resolved, and one of which, with the backing of the ILG, forcefully does not, then by definition the latter faction is continuing the kaupapa, since the party’s goal was to broker an agreement broadly acceptable to Māoridom. By definition, without the support of the ILG, the former faction cannot claim that.

    This is only my own view, of course, but I reckon it would be angels dancing on pinheads to argue that a settlement rejected by the ILG has any legitimacy. It would be akin to a Workers’ Party formally going against the CTU and claiming it still has a mandate to represent the interests of unionised labour.

    You are right, though, that my take on things will likely be more nuanced if/when it does happen. At present it’s still crystal-ball gazing.


  5. They can sit back and say “I told you so” to the māori party, hoping they will fold, or they can make a better offer and hope the māori party will become more inclined to work with them.

    I don’t think Labour can ultimately come to an accommodation with the Maori Party that won’t eventually do violence to either party’s core principles. You can’t horse trade away your core principles, and a core principle of the left is that any special rights awarded to a group must be contingent. For the Maori Party such rights must be treated as necessary. Chris Trotter is more or less correct on this point.

    In addition, the sort of politics which involves groups committed to incommensurable paradigms (in a loose Kuhnian sense) will devolve into bargaining where evidence and reason is replaced by mere consent. That is playing into the hands of the right which has for 30 years been attempting to disarm any form of politics that is not based solely on consent (the market model). The left can’t do that because facts have to matter more than consent.

    This has actually been the primary error of the left. They have acquiesced to the fetishisation of consent, and wonder why they seem to be unable to achieve their political goals. A postmodern society is a form of market society.

    In the end, ideas matter to the left in a way that no amount of political bargaining can compensate for. Labour should aim to destroy or co-opt the Maori party. Bargaining with it is self defeating.

  6. While my disagreement with this course of action on the basis of principle is well-documented (and we’re not going to agree, so I won’t rehash it), there’s also a colossal practical problem. How do you propose to reform our political culture so that liberal notions of consent are not front-and-centre without being utterly ruined in the process?

    Liberalism of one flavour or another is the philosophical core of Western democracy. Even among those who call themselves conservatives. If the left (assuming that “the left” is even a very meaningful concept without liberalism, which I don’t think it is nowadays) comes out against liberal notions of consent, it immediately loses by being branded anti-freedom, anti-democracy, socialist-authoritarians-controlling-your-life, and so on. Irrespective of the merits of such attacks, they will bring even the most powerful political movement to its knees. So much more so if they are grounded in reality.

    On practical grounds, your programme of action seems like a one-way ticket to the ash-heap of history.


  7. While my disagreement with this course of action on the basis of principle is well-documented (and we’re not going to agree, so I won’t rehash it), there’s also a colossal practical problem. How do you propose to reform our political culture so that liberal notions of consent are not front-and-centre without being utterly ruined in the process?

    Let it follow its natural and self destructive course. Unlike most people, I don’t think that there is much that can be done in politics, and events force change more than people forcing change. It is one thing to have a well prepared socialist movement ready to step in once things turn pear shaped, and another to have nothing, whereupon our present lords and masters get their own way. The latter appears to be what is happening now.

    Democracy eats itself. It’s a shame, but it does.

  8. Well, there’s more on which we disagree: I believe politics does matter; and quite frankly I don’t think socialism is the key to any sort of better future. Past performance is certainly rather grim.

    But even those points aside, your programme of action resembles the Labour 2008 election plan: wait for the wheels to fall off the National campaign — because they’re so obviously incompetent and fake and evil and bad and they eat babies really, you know, it’s just a matter of waiting until everyone realises — and win on the rebound. This isn’t any sort of plan; or rather, it’s as much a plan as stockpiling tinned food, guns and bibles and waiting for the rapture. It misunderestimates this very resourceful political-economic system’s ability to adapt to suit the conditions and to ensure its survival.

    Liberalism and what you term the fetishisation of consent is, not coincidentally, the key to that adaptive ability, largely because it convinces people that maintaining the system is their own idea.


  9. Well, I guess the rapture will shortly arrive in Britain, once Cameron and company get started on their cuts, which will dwarf anything Thatcher ever managed, and all at the barrel of a ballot box. There has not been a credible opposition to neoliberalism in Britain for a long time, and now look at the place.

    I’m rather glad I chose to move back here instead of moving there.

  10. It is one thing to have a well prepared socialist movement ready to step in once things turn pear shaped,

    The case rests m’lord

  11. The Iwi Leader Group has changed position somewhat from that of last week it seems. So things may be getting even “slipperier”.

    To my anti communist friends that comment here: What the NZ marxist left can offer is an analysis based on a materialist philosophy, the world
    is knowable and fundamental societal relations can be changed. Others are reluctant to make this analysis, but it is one that completes the puzzle of what is really going on with foreshore and seabed machinations. It is about ownership and control not beach cricket. The nascent Maori capitalist layer was captured a while back and the rest of us have our consent now being sought one way or another.

    The Maori Party tries to portray itself as a non class or above class party. It also claims to represent all Maori, patently untrue, but kinda true in the branding and certain aspirations for the many that identify as Maori have. This is surely somewhat difficult to explain in an “atomised” society, are we all ‘competing individuals’ as Pablo has contended, commodity fetishists, or are there some commonalities of interest? Are Maori exempted? united by ethnicity and history alone.

    It would also be polite, at the very least, to apply a bit more accuracy to the general term marxist, used in my view by Lew as a repeated “put down” –all NZ marxists?, the two reasonably sized marxist parties?, the dozen or so small trotskyite/Maoist sects?, the several hundred currently non party aligned marxists? As far as I am aware all of the above have only ever made passing comments on the Maori Party. I suspect Lew is projecting rather than reflecting here. If the marxists are so ineffectual and irrelevant why even mention them?

    The vociferous “told you so, knew the Nats would do the dirty on MP” types are mainly Labour Party supporters who see it strictly in one dimensional parliamentary political terms. Our team verses their team. It is inaccurate to tag marxism generically as part of this trend. Most of the above have barely waved a leaflet in anger about the MP in recent months.

  12. To my anti communist friends that comment here: What the NZ marxist left can offer is an analysis based on a materialist philosophy, the world is knowable and fundamental societal relations can be changed.

    The “anti-communists” in my experience go further than mere anti-communism and want to rule out, a priori, any form of scientific expertise that could conceivably play a role in organising society. I’m not sure what else would explain their extremes of hysterical anti-rationalism.

    It’s an essentially religious hysteria, in my view, and rests on the deep connections between Christianity and radical capitalism, with the former’s dogmatic insistence that human behaviour cannot be the object of scientific knowledge, and the latter’s insistence that science stops at the boundaries of the human skull.

    The Maori Party does more or less the same by endorsing cultural relativism.

  13. Tiger Mountain, I apologise. We did have the “Marxist as a pejorative” discussion a while ago, and in that thread, I acknowledged the conceptual and philosophical debt owed to Marxism by critical thought and indeed by my own arguments. Here, as there, and quite a lot recently, I’m employing the term loosely as a shorthand for “a certain sort of Marxist”, not to demonise all Marxists or all Marxism. I write a lot and it’s cumbersome to explain it each time, but I’m sorry I haven’t been clearer. I need a new term, like “liberthoritarian”, which I coined a while ago to identify the sort of person who opposes all exercise of state power except against those s/he dislikes or feels threatened by, who get it full-noise.

    I mean the sort of Marxist who, because there are some material issues in play, considers that no other issues have any relevance; the sort who thinks Marxism applies universally and equally to diverse problem-sets without consideration for the viewpoints and value systems of those those problem-set it rightfully is; and the sort of Marxist who considers any views which differ from the above sorts of tenets to be a manifestation of false consciousness, to be “cured” or ridiculed.

    In short, how a lot of people on the left, some of whom have the best intentions, talk about indigenous issues in this country. Many of them probably aren’t even Marxists by a pure definition of the word, but they usually do a fair imitation. The usage to refer to them in this way is not in itself pejorative, but I tend to find those people miss the point a lot. I don’t think they’re so much ineffectual as trying to whack a screw with a hammer because it’s what they have in their philosophical toolbox.

    Ag, surely you can accept that there’s anti-communism which doesn’t border on religious hysteria? Not all those of us who want Marxism kept on a short leash by liberal democracy are gods-guns-and-no-government nutters.

    Regarding the māori party’s decision to accept the National party’s offer — TM, I agree that calling “limousines!” is lazy. But I’m genuinely puzzled and very disappointed about it. I have a post on the topic coming up.


  14. Ag, surely you can accept that there’s anti-communism which doesn’t border on religious hysteria? Not all those of us who want Marxism kept on a short leash by liberal democracy are gods-guns-and-no-government nutters.

    Hence my scare quotes.

    I’m talking about Marxism as one representation of an approach to theory that suggests there is a science of human affairs, not as a practical political program. Many who accept the idea of a science of human affairs do not accept that it should be immediately enacted as a political program for various reasons (some of which are good, some bad, some incomprehensible). The best reasons for such a position would be that any science of human affairs is at present in a very crude state, or that the technical ability to implement its program does not yet exist.

    The people I am talking about oppose a science of human affairs on principle.

    For example, Christians oppose the notion that human behaviour can be the object of science because they espouse a form of substance dualism. Capitalists oppose it because it renders markets superfluous. Postmodern cultural relativists oppose it because it would undermine their position.

    The left need it. You can’t really be a left winger without believing it in some form or other (I think Nozick made this point quite well, even though he was a rightie). Those who try to inevitably end up (wittingly or no) supporting neoliberal policies or outcomes. Exhibit A for the prosecution: parental meddling in education.

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  16. [Observed this rather unusual web contribution – Nigel]


    Many are still unaware of the eccentric, 180-year-old British theory underlying the politics of American evangelicals and Christian Zionists.
    Journalist and historian Dave MacPherson has spent more than 40 years focusing on the origin and spread of what is known as the apocalyptic “pretribulation rapture” – the inspiration behind Hal Lindsey’s bestsellers of the 1970s and Tim LaHaye’s today.
    Although promoters of this endtime evacuation from earth constantly repeat their slogan that “it’s imminent and always has been” (which critics view more as a sales pitch than a scriptural statement), it was unknown in all official theology and organized religion before 1830.
    And MacPherson’s research also reveals how hostile the pretrib rapture view has been to other faiths:
    It is anti-Islam. TV preacher John Hagee has been advocating “a pre-emptive military strike against Iran.” (Google “Roots of Warlike Christian Zionism.”)
    It is anti-Jewish. MacPherson’s book “The Rapture Plot” (see Armageddon Books etc.) exposes hypocritical anti-Jewishness in even the theory’s foundation.
    It is anti-Catholic. Lindsey and C. I. Scofield are two of many leaders who claim that the final Antichrist will be a Roman Catholic. (Google “Pretrib Hypocrisy.”)
    It is anti-Protestant. For this reason no major Protestant denomination has ever adopted this escapist view.
    It even has some anti-evangelical aspects. The first publication promoting this novel endtime view spoke degradingly of “the name by which the mixed multitude of modern Moabites love to be distinguished, – the Evangelical World.” (MacPherson’s “Plot,” p. 85)
    Despite the above, MacPherson proves that the “glue” that holds constantly in-fighting evangelicals together long enough to be victorious voting blocs in elections is the same “fly away” view. He notes that Jerry Falwell, when giving political speeches just before an election, would unfailingly state: “We believe in the pretribulational rapture!”
    In addition to “The Rapture Plot,” MacPherson’s many internet articles include “Famous Rapture Watchers,” “Pretrib Rapture Diehards,” “Edward Irving is Unnerving,” “America’s Pretrib Rapture Traffickers,” “Thomas Ice (Bloopers),” “Pretrib Rapture Secrecy” and “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty” (massive plagiarism, phony doctorates, changing of early “rapture” documents in order to falsely credit John Darby with this view, etc.!).
    Because of his devastating discoveries, MacPherson is now No. 1 on the “hate” list of pretrib rapture leaders who love to ban or muddy up his uber-accurate findings in sources like Wikipedia – which they’ve almost turned into Wicked-pedia!
    There’s no question that the leading promoters of this bizarre 19th century end-of-the-world doctrine are solidly pro-Israel and necessarily anti-Palestinian. In light of recently uncovered facts about this fringe-British-invented belief which has always been riddled with dishonesty, many are wondering why it should ever have any influence on Middle East affairs.
    This Johnny-come-lately view raises millions of dollars for political agendas. Only when scholars of all faiths begin to look deeply at it and widely air its “dirty linen” will it cease to be a power. It is the one theological view no one needs!
    With apologies to Winston Churchill – never has so much deception been foisted on so many by so few!

    [I agree with the above. And pretribulation raptiles hate MacPherson’s “The Rapture Plot” – which I bought at Armageddon Books online – more than any other book! Into 2012ism? Google “The Newest Pretrib Calendar.”]

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