The Dim-Post

May 30, 2010

Two thoughts about Helen Clark

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 6:45 pm

1. DPF links to an SST article about Sir Ian McKellen:

“I find your society genuinely admirable in many ways. For example, I met Helen Clark while I was in Wellington. I was invited to her official residence, and waved in by a lone policeman who didn’t even check who I was, then I had a barbecue with her. I congratulated her on the public’s enlightened attitudes towards racial issues, but she disagreed. She said to me that New Zealand was really a very racist country, and she was determined to do everything she could as prime minister to change that. I thought that was a very bold, honest statement to make to a foreigner, and I really respected her for that.”

Would it be a cheap shot to suggest that Clark had just been reading the comments section on DPF’s blog before she met McKellen? I think it’s also the case that Clark had never lived or worked outside of New Zealand before she became Prime Minister. (I believe she was already an MP the first time she left the country.) You don’t get a very good sense of racial tensions as a tourist; I’m guessing visiting MPs get even less exposure to racism. But if you’ve spent time in Australia as an ‘ordinary person’ then chances are you’ve had your Aussie friends and workmates explain to you that it would be better for everyone if the aborigines were exterminated; if you’ve worked in Japan you’ve probably found yourself in arguments in the pub over whether Korean people are really human or not – and so it goes all around the world. It’s not that New Zealand has found racial harmony but I don’t think we’re what you’d call a ‘very racist country’. (There’s also a huge demographic element to our racism: older white men are often deeply racist; every other segment of society much less so.)

2. TVNZ has a new poll out: minor drop of support for National leading to an increase in support for the MP and the Greens. Nothing for Labour. Preferred PM has Key at 46%, Goff at 6%.

I think that when Labour MPs and staffers look at Goff’s numbers they reassure themselves that Helen Clark had low numbers when she took over as party leader and look at how well that turned out.

But this ignores the history around Clark’s assumption of the leadership. The 4th Labour government lied to its supporters to win the ’87 election and betrayed them immediately afterwards. They plunged the economy into a recession and they lied about the state of the crown accounts during the ’91 election. After their defeat the party was in tatters: Clark took control amidst bitter infighting. She was the first female party leader in our history. Jim Anderton had left the Labour Party in 89 and established New Labour: many left-wing voters supported Anderton over Clark.

Absolutely none of these conditions that handicapped Clark apply to Goff. The values and policies of the last Labour government were so popular the opposition had to adopt them. Goff took power in a bloodless and uncontested coup. There is no other viable opposition leader in national politics. Goff’ at 6% is a very different beast to the 6% Clark of the early 90s.

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48 Comments »

  1. Would it be a cheap shot to suggest that Clark had just been reading the comments section on DPF’s blog before she met McKellen?

    Not at all.

    Re the point about Clark not having worked in other countries: spot on. I recall while working in Germany I was told it was better to tell people “I’m not from here” than “I’m a foreigner.” Respectable people were horrified we lived in Altona, because it was full of Turks. In Kuwait, there was an unofficial heirarchy, in order of Kuwaitis, other Gulf Arabs, Westerners, other ex-pat Arabs, Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis – with Bangladeshis largely indistinguishable from slaves. Never quite figured out where Filipinos and Indonesians fit in, but it was low on the list. In relative terms, we have nothing to be ashamed about.

    Comment by Psycho Milt — May 30, 2010 @ 7:31 pm

  2. Remarkable then if Clark felt New Zealand was such a racist nation that under her leadership relations with Maori became more soured. Yes Brash and National played a huge part in that but one can’t deny that without the actions she herself took also factored into that equation. Therefore, she ultimately failed in doing everything to stop that.

    As for polls and Goff’s rating. Clark was allowed an electoral defeat and still managed to lead her party. Goff won’t get that chance. Still Labour’s problem isn’t leadership. The party’s numbers are reasonable. If they fight 2011 and don’t attempt a presidential type campaign they could do well. Though they won’t. Instead, they’ll still believe their best chance is try and knock John Key. How that helps Labour is rather beyond me.

    Comment by gingercrush — May 30, 2010 @ 8:04 pm

  3. new zealand is deeply racist. but… we’re such a small country that most racists learn to hide their prejudice. it’s what happens when you have to put up with darkies to ensure always winning at football.

    Comment by Che Tibby — May 30, 2010 @ 8:12 pm

  4. Polls are polls. Not very reliable. They can only (badly) reflect the
    environment in which they were taken. this is especially so this far out from an
    election.

    This govt has always been clear about what it would NOT do in its first term.

    Which , perhaps , suggests exactly what it will do in its second term.

    Whether, or not, the electorate is awake to this remains to be seen.

    The previous Labour govt had managed to irritate several demographics (unnecessarily)
    many times. So much for focus groups.

    They pissed everyone off with the “chewing gum” tax cut.

    The current govt is in a very problematic area.

    It desperately needs to hold the alleged “centre” between “left” and “right”
    positions.

    Actually these so called “left” “right” positions are irrelevant at this historical point.

    I suggest that pragmatism, or even Benthamism as alternatives.

    National have always been brilliant at gaining “power at all costs”.

    Even alleged “right wing” bloggers are referring to JK as “smile and wave”.

    Polls closer to election time mightbe more discussable (to coin a word, maybe.)

    Comment by peterlepaysan — May 30, 2010 @ 8:16 pm

  5. che says “new zealand is deeply racist”

    Where do you get that line of thought Che? The NZ I know is fairly tolerant.

    Comment by Funny nose — May 30, 2010 @ 8:24 pm

  6. years of experience talking to kiwis of all walks of life.

    we can play the “nzl isn’t as bad as aussie” card yet again, but that merely detracts from the reality of anti-maori, anti-pasifika, anti-asian feeling.

    seabed and foreshore. dawn raids. asian invasion.

    Comment by Che Tibby — May 30, 2010 @ 8:43 pm

  7. You forgot the yellow stars and death camps.

    Comment by Funny nose — May 30, 2010 @ 8:53 pm

  8. yes. godwinning a thread makes us a racial paradise.

    you might want to google “parihaka + prisoners + cave”.

    Comment by Che Tibby — May 30, 2010 @ 8:59 pm

  9. As with so much else (economy, weather, creepy crawlies), New Zealand judges itself against Australia. And our settlers treated the natives bad, but not as bad. Ergo, we are ‘good’.

    The complacency is more disturbing than the racism.

    Comment by sammy — May 30, 2010 @ 9:01 pm

  10. I’ve always thought that Australians say what New Zealanders think. If you get out of the Wellington bien-pensant lefty bubble, there’s plenty of racism to go around. I think the experiences you attribute to travel are as much mixing with people outside your peer group as they are mixing with foreigners.

    At some point in the last couple of decades many white New Zealanders became inhibited about voicing prejudice in a crude way or openly, but I doubt very much that inner transformation took place. For example even now in the very civilised professional circles I move in, I see hiring decisions made on blatantly racist or xenophobic criteria (not at my current workplace though I should say).

    Comment by Stephen — May 30, 2010 @ 9:22 pm

  11. If you get out of the Wellington bien-pensant lefty bubble, there’s plenty of racism to go around.

    And in fairness I should add that a lot of those lefties have some funny ideas too.

    Comment by Stephen — May 30, 2010 @ 9:24 pm

  12. Oh do calm down Che. NZ is a mild mannered slightly inoffensive country and if you happen to think it is a hotbed of race hate then that’s your problem.

    And I wasn’t ‘godwinning’ a thread I was taking the piss out of your semi-hysterical race hate scaremongering.

    Parihaka was 130 years ago.

    Comment by Funny nose — May 30, 2010 @ 9:32 pm

  13. The values and policies of the last Labour government were so popular the opposition had to adopt them.

    The other guys stealing your values and policies seems like a pretty big handicap to me. That leaves you with moving away from those values and policies, or trying to show that the other lot are just faking. I’d say we’re seeing a bit of both at the moment — leftward movement and charges of self-serving hypocrisy — but neither option is easy or without risk.

    Comment by Stephen — May 30, 2010 @ 9:36 pm

  14. An interesting thought Stephen however I think that the values are societies not a political parties. Labour has lost leadership, find strong leadership and the rest follows however I suspect Labour has many hoops to jump through before they convince the main party factions to go with any new leadership. Will the teachers support the industrial unions? Will the academics support the rainbow? Will the incumbent (and some would say fading) stars bow out gracefully and allow a new leader segue into play for the good of the party? Is Andrew Little “the one”? Is a new younger more dynamic leader who makes Key look ‘old school’ the answer?

    Comment by Funny nose — May 30, 2010 @ 9:44 pm

  15. I do think it would help if the boomer contingent let go to some extent, yes. But perhaps that’s just the resentful Gen-Xer in me talking.

    Comment by Stephen — May 30, 2010 @ 9:52 pm

  16. . . . if you’ve spent time in Australia as an ‘ordinary person’ then chances are you’ve had your Aussie friends and workmates explain to you that it would be better for everyone if the aborigines were exterminated. . .

    Funny, I’ve spent a total of nearly two decades living and working there, and I’ve never, repeat never, heard that sentiment expressed by anyone first hand, apart from a couple of elderly pig-ignorant Eastern Europeans.
    In my humble experience you’ll find pretty much the same proportion of (insert derogatory plural noun of choice) wherever you travel. Anyone who disagrees with that statement is a racist.

    Comment by joe W — May 30, 2010 @ 10:07 pm

  17. Would it be a cheap shot to suggest that Clark had just been reading the comments section on DPF’s blog before she met McKellen?

    Well, you could also draw that conclusion from her being very relaxed (to coin a phrase) about appointing a pathological immigrant-bashing bigot as Foreign Affairs Minister. But that would be a cheap shot, wouldn’t it? I also wonder if anyone drew to Ian McKellen’s attention that the day she was comparing Brian Tamaki’s (noxious) chums to “blackshirts”, she was having a photo-op with the trade representative of a theocratic regime that tortures and murders gays.

    Comment by Craig Ranapia — May 31, 2010 @ 7:26 am

  18. @joeW lol. that’s pretty much exactly it. new zealand is a deeply racist country, but so is *everywhere*. the difference is that people like funny nose like to convince themselves that we’re someohow different and special.

    but it seems that white new zealanders are the only ones who think that…

    Comment by che tibby — May 31, 2010 @ 7:47 am

  19. Yes I know Che, I am a white middle class racists in denial. Sigh.

    Comment by Funny nose — May 31, 2010 @ 7:50 am

  20. don’t feel bad man… just check your family history. there’s bound to be a Maori buried in their somewhere if you’ve lived here for more than a gen or two.

    we’ll have you in a massive pounamu singing pokarekare ana in no time.

    Comment by che tibby — May 31, 2010 @ 8:02 am

  21. I was taking the piss out of your semi-hysterical race hate scaremongering.

    Parihaka was 130 years ago.

    Yeah Parihaka seemed a long bow to draw. Using that as evidence of a racist New Zealand basically establishes that every country is and forever will be racist no matter what changes. People who lived in your country 150 years ago were racist, therefore your country is now racist seems a little, well, unfair.

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — May 31, 2010 @ 8:30 am

  22. Funny Nose,

    Somewhere between the extremes of ‘Racially Harmonious Paradise’ and ‘Final Solution’ there are a lot of grey spaces. Maybe people aren’t being murdered for their ethnicity, but they are being denigrated, abused and discriminated against. New Zealand is in one of those grey spaces. It is better than many other parts of the world, but it’s not ideal.

    I’m tipping from your comments that you’re of European extraction, and therefore don’t cop any of the “hori/coconut/gook/curry muncher” comments that liven up the lives of many New Zealanders.

    Comment by Tane W — May 31, 2010 @ 8:40 am

  23. People who lived in your country 150 years ago were racist, therefore your country is now racist seems a little, well, unfair.

    Ok then, how about the fact that the FSA was the ‘giving the beaches to IWI’ side of the IWI/KIWI billboard?

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — May 31, 2010 @ 8:43 am

  24. The Greens and MP up. Prior to the election I picked the MP going with National and I’ve recently bet my wife a bottle of Cristal that National will woo the Greens as well next time round.

    Slightly longer shot but it would make sense.

    Comment by Neil — May 31, 2010 @ 8:43 am

  25. The 4th Labour government lied to its supporters to win the ’87 election and betrayed them immediately afterwards

    *brain freeze* Arg. What was this lie?

    Comment by Stephen — May 31, 2010 @ 8:49 am

  26. I’ve recently bet my wife a bottle of Cristal that National will woo the Greens as well next time round.

    Slightly longer shot but it would make sense.

    They’re hardly on track?!

    Comment by Stephen — May 31, 2010 @ 8:51 am

  27. “People who lived in your country 150 years ago were racist, therefore your country is now racist seems a little, well, unfair.”

    dude… the holocaust started 70 years ago. germans are still copping shit for that clusterF.

    plus i’ve just finished reading “A Show of Justice”. the myth that new zealand has some benevolent settlement policies is both true, and patently untrue. the patterns outlined in that book weren’t stopped until the 1970s. end even then there’s a strong argument that the seabed and foreshore act was a continuation of similarly thought out colonial policies

    Comment by che tibby — May 31, 2010 @ 8:51 am

  28. I think we are not so much racist as xenophobic.. afterall, its considered cute we have a Kiwibank that sells itself as not Aussie, a former politician who got 13% of the vote on the back of an Asian invasion, and a former PM that told America to “get over itself” about 911.

    Another more critical example might be the fact that relative to much of the rest of the OECD exports have fallen as a proportion of GDP for many years.. and our panic at the thought that foreigners are buying up the country whilst at the same time so heavily indebted to same.

    JC

    Comment by JC — May 31, 2010 @ 9:07 am

  29. Che Tibby wrote: “dude… the holocaust started 70 years ago. germans are still copping shit for that clusterF.”

    and they shouldn’t be. Germany has completely repudiated the politics of the Nazi era. Austria, on the other hand…

    Comment by kahikatea — May 31, 2010 @ 9:22 am

  30. Maybe people aren’t being murdered for their ethnicity, but they are being denigrated, abused and discriminated against.

    There are also efforts to build understanding and trust between the races. In New Plymouth, for example, the museum has the Taranaki War exhibition (dated ‘1860-2010′) that’s exploring the region’s history of warfare from all angles and getting people to talk about a variety of socially taboo subjects, such as ‘What do Maori want? What are Pakeha afraid of?’ http://www.pukeariki.com/Exhibitions/TaranakiWar.aspx

    Yes there is racism here. There are also many people and organisations trying to improve internal relationships, and I think that should be acknowledged.

    Comment by Ataahua — May 31, 2010 @ 9:29 am

  31. They’re hardly on track?!

    If I was key that’s what I’d do. tricky but not impossible. The Conservative/Lib Dem coalltion had some significant green policies. And I’m betting the Greens will be wary of Labour.

    Comment by Neil — May 31, 2010 @ 9:34 am

  32. I agree that we are a little xenophobic, I think this is a tendency that come with the territory if your country is an island – if one thinks of xenophobes, one automatically thinks of the Brits and the the Japanese – both island nations. When the filthy johnny foreigner is “over there” beyond the cleansing oceans then xenophobia becomes a lot easier.

    Comment by Sanctuary — May 31, 2010 @ 9:36 am

  33. re Parihaka was 130 years ago.

    My father told me a story from the ’60s. He had a farm worker who wanted to buy a car and needed a bank loan to do it. The worker had a good, steady job, was sensible with his money etc and my father was willing to sign anything necessary to convince the bank of this. But the bank manager didn’t lend money to Maoris. End of story.

    Next story comes from early ’90s and I’m working with some bank managers on software to assist in deciding bank loans. One of the managers wanted to know if we could count the number of vowels in the name (a way of detecting Pasifica names). The answer was yes, but we wouldn’t do it. More recently (ie this century) an acquaintance of mine who also makes lending decisions stated that he didn’t lend to Maoris (though he was okay with Pasifica).

    These examples make me think institutional racism is still alive and well in this country.

    Comment by Roger Parkinson — May 31, 2010 @ 9:42 am

  34. there’s a strong argument that the seabed and foreshore act was a continuation of similarly thought out colonial policies

    Sure. I wasn’t wading into the ‘are we deeply racist’ argument. There are plenty of things you can point to around that. I was just disputing that Parihaka was evidence one way or the other. I don’t believe that the Holocaust shows us that Germany is a deeply anti-semitic country. It shows as that it was in the early 20th century. It’s not evidence one way or the other anymore.

    Parihaka would be evidence against the myth of an eternally-enlightened race relations in New Zealand. The failure of the population to know and understand about Parihaka may be evidence of something now, but Parihaka itself is not evidence of any relevance to anything in the present.

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — May 31, 2010 @ 9:47 am

  35. @Roger: “re Parihaka was 130 years ago. …”

    and your conclusion in relation to Parihaka is that it wasn’t 130 years ago? Or just that New Zealand is racist, but Parihaka is not evidence of this one way or the other?

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — May 31, 2010 @ 9:51 am

  36. And I’m betting the Greens will be wary of Labour.

    I was thinking not only of mining but also the failed agreement-thingy they had earlier in this term. Didn’t work out too well, though it was more of a disagreement than a bitter separation.

    Comment by Stephen — May 31, 2010 @ 9:51 am

  37. @ Roger:

    One of the managers… an acquaintance of mine… These examples make me think institutional racism is still alive and well in this country

    Going from two singular observations to an ‘institutional’ conclusion is a big step and one which, frankly, I find very hard to believe.

    As someone currently working in the banking industry, I can assure you that banks want to take every advantage to make a profit off you, regardless of the colour of your skin.

    Comment by Phil — May 31, 2010 @ 9:57 am

  38. From the post:

    It’s not that New Zealand has found racial harmony but I don’t think we’re what you’d call a ‘very racist country’.

    I don’t see anything to dispute there. If some are contending that we in fact are a very racist country, they need to account for that relative term “very” – ie, compared to which countries are we “very” racist?

    Comment by Psycho Milt — May 31, 2010 @ 10:01 am

  39. The Conservative/Lib Dem coalltion had some significant green policies.
    I suspect it’s the social justice policies that will be an issue, more so than any green ones.

    Comment by garethw — May 31, 2010 @ 10:50 am

  40. Does anyone know how big the support for the Do not know” party is?

    National won the election on the promise of not being National – as Labour lite, as a party led by someone carefully crafted and packaged with breathtaking cynicism to be as reassuringly tasteless as the average voter – the triumph of the banal. Westfields man in ascendance, as it were. But the minute they attempt to wheel out polciy with teeth, something beyond the bumptious illegality of the arrogant of Paula Bennett, beyond the policy by sound bite of Judith Collins, something with real neo-liberal teeth, they get hammered. I wonder when their patience with the unreasonable opposition of the public to their back to the future agenda will wear out? An election fought on privatisation would be a disaster for National, but someone is inevitably going to demand a straight yes or no answer from Key and English.

    Finally, the fact that National dropped 5% after a budget lauded as popular by the generally pro-National media is a damning indictment of how out touch most of them are. They all pronounced the budget as popular, presumably based on a echo chamber of untypically wealthy New Zealanders. How wrong they got it illustrates in the starkest terms what side of the divide in our two step economy they are.

    Comment by Sanctuary — May 31, 2010 @ 10:52 am

  41. I don’t think the budget is factored into the polls yet. Espiner and Garner always jump the gun on declaring that recent events – the budget was probably released half way through their polling window – have impacted in the polls. I think the drop in popularity is down to public reaction against mining.

    Comment by danylmc — May 31, 2010 @ 11:14 am

  42. Che, if I do find *gasp* Maori ancestors in the family past I’m kinda curious regarding the protocol for making cheeky darkie comments a la Messrs Holmes and Hayden?

    ;)

    Comment by Funny nose — May 31, 2010 @ 11:51 am

  43. As with so much else (economy, weather, creepy crawlies), New Zealand judges itself against Australia. And our settlers treated the natives bad, but not as bad. Ergo, we are ‘good’.

    The complacency is more disturbing than the racism.

    As an occasional break from his regular gig writing about footy for the Sydney Morning Herald, former Muldoon biographer Spiro Zavos would occasionally do an opinion piece for that organ where he’d extol the virtues of what he saw as NZ’s relatively enlightened race relations. While he’s generally a damned good sportswriter, on such occasions he came across as a smug prick ignorant of his country’s history.

    Comment by joe W — May 31, 2010 @ 12:08 pm

  44. “I’m kinda curious regarding the protocol for making cheeky darkie comments a la Messrs Holmes and Hayden?”

    the trick is that you can no longer preface statements with “i’m not a racist, but…” or “my friend is a Maori, and…”

    you have to switch to properly pronouncing te reo and making sweeping statements about “speaking from my whakapapa”. i recommend reading “maori sovereignty” and becoming angry.

    Comment by che tibby — May 31, 2010 @ 12:18 pm

  45. Ka pai Che, ka pai.

    Comment by Funny nose — May 31, 2010 @ 12:26 pm

  46. Sanctuary: Lyndon Hood kindly directed me to TV3’s last poll, which does give don’t know/undecided/would not vote counts. In April, it was 10.9% don’t know/undecided and 1.7% would not vote. There’s a pretty clear trend from Feb 09 through till now of “don’t know” increasing as National drops. Double whammy: in Feb 09, 60% of those who knew were National, and 4% of the total group were don’t knows. In April, 52.1% of those who knew were National, and 10.9% were don’t knows. But that means that as a percentage of the whole group polled, National went from 56.9% (60% of 949 people, 1000 polled) to 45% (52.1% of 874 people, 1000 polled). That’s a huge drop in people identifying as National.

    Now that I’ve worked that out, I’m unhappy at the way polling data is reported in the press. Leaving out the “don’t knows” gives a radically distorted view of support.

    Comment by Stephen — May 31, 2010 @ 12:27 pm

  47. Danyl, the poll was done immediately after the Budget between the 22nd and 26th of May. I believe TVNZ has a follow-up tonight on how it was viewed by voters

    Comment by Felix Marwick — May 31, 2010 @ 2:41 pm

  48. the poll was done immediately after the Budget between the 22nd and 26th of May.

    Well, I’m certainly able to review an entire budget and make a political voting assessment all in the space of an afternoon or two.

    It would be positively lazy to take longer than that.
    :|

    Comment by Phil — May 31, 2010 @ 5:15 pm


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