Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On David Shearer, and the Maori Party

November 30th, 2011

Of the three Davids contesting the Labour leadership, David Shearer’s main appeal is as the anti-candidate, the guy who aspires to the top job after a career of high achievement outside Parliament. He’s similar in that respect, to you-know-who. In 2009, I remember asking what had been the biggest culture shock between his new job as MP for Helen Clark’s former seat of Mt Albert and his old job as a senior administrator with UN humanitarian missions in Iraq, Jerusalem, Lebanon and Afghanistan. In reply, Shearer cited the taxi ride in from Wellington airport:

‘One thing that gob-smacked me had nothing to do with actual politics. I got in a taxi to come to Parliament from the airport for the first time, and he drove through the main gates, and dropped me right outside the steps.” Shearer was semi-incredulous. “Coming from where I’d been, there was no way a car could get anywhere close to a public building like that. On one hand, I love the fact that’s the case. [But] you’ve got to be a bit sensible. You could drive a truck full of fertilizer up to the front here, and more or less take out the entire Parliament.”

Hmm, now that’s an idea. It is that ingenuous quality to Shearer – not many MPs would voice such a possibility in public – that makes him both an attractive candidate and a risky prospect for the spin doctors and the image merchants. In the land of giant egos, Shearer comes across as guilelessly honest, and almost aggressively self effacing. Everyone else is so talented, they’re all doing such a great job, he’s got so much to learn about politics etc etc.

It’s a quality that could make him an interesting leadership bet for some of his colleagues because – surely – someone couldn’t run successful missions under fire in Iraq etc without having leadership qualities that go beyond a relentless tendency to pat your colleagues on the back. So far, he has been an extremely low-key presence in Parliament since winning the Mt Albert by election in mid 2009. All very well being a quiet achiever, but Shearer has been completely inaudible.

Still, at least Shearer can’t be blamed by the public for any of the deeply unpopular final spasms of the Clark government, because he wasn’t in New Zealand at the time. Instead, he was running aid and reconstruction efforts in some of the world’s most dangerous war zones, and trying to convince a deeply suspicious community that he was actually on their side, and could make a difference. By comparison, winning the hearts and minds of New Zealanders should be a breeze.


The Maori Party unlocks the henhouse

So the Maori Party oppose the asset sales programme because… you know, it would hurt their Maori constituents. However, they’re also happy to prop up in power the government that is going to sell those assets and… you know, hurt their Maori constituents. There are several terms for offering assistance to those engaged in hurting your people, and none of them are very nice.

As things stand, the Maori Party plans to sit on the sidelines and complain as the government conducts asset sales known to be strongly opposed by most Maori voters. It also knows that iwi such as Tainui and Ngai Tahu will be investing in those assets, boots and all. Not us, the Maori Party will say. That’s between those iwi and the government, who really shouldn’t be doing this. That same government we will continue to prop up.

Oddly enough. the current edition of Harpers magazine carries a transcript from a not entirely dissimilar situation, 70 years ago. During the early days of the Second World War, the British comic writer P.G. Wodehouse was picked up at his villa in France – his wife had been unwilling to abandon their dog, Wonder – and interned by the Germans. A bit later on, Wodehouse wrote some jolly sketches about life behind the wire, and happily complied with German requests to beam these talks to his faithful readership in the United States, a country then still not in the war.

Subsequently, Wodehouse was thunderstruck that anyone saw anything wrong with this. He thought he was serving his constituents with a bit of light relief in dark times, and wasn’t really co-operating with the people who were attacking his homeland, or condoning their actions. Later investigations deemed Wodehouse had been silly and naïve, but not treasonous. However, such was the hostility to him in Britain, Wodehouse never set foot in his homeland again.

I don’t want to stretch the analogy and am certainly not likening the Key government to the Nazis – but merely noting the perils of selective collusion. What the two situations tell us is that you can’t conveniently ignore the wider context for your decisions, and hope to escape blame if you lend assistance to those whom you acknowledge are hurting your people, no matter how loudly you deplore their actions in doing so. At some level you’re an enabler, you’re offering comfort and validation.

And if this stance on asset sales is to be justified by the worth of the parallel good things that Maori will derive from a selective engagement with the Key government, then perhaps Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples need to show us the spreadsheet on which they have tallied the net benefit to Maori. Because that would be a really interesting document to read.

What the Maori Party negotiators seem to be angling for is a confidence and supply agreement with the government that treats asset sales as not being a confidence and supply issue, for them anyway. Oh, but isn’t that against the law? No problem, they’ll just change the law. Thus, Prime Minister John Key has signalled that he will do the necessary changes to the SOE Act to allow that exception to be made.

Ultimately, Parliament will be put through whatever contortions are deemed necessary by Key, Turia and Sharples, for their mutual political advantage. And for the greater good of Maori, of course.


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    1. 22 Responses to “On David Shearer, and the Maori Party”

    2. By Idiot/Savant on Nov 30, 2011 | Reply

      What the Maori Party negotiators seem to be angling for is a confidence and supply agreement with the government that treats asset sales as not being a confidence and supply issue, for them anyway. Oh, but isn’t that against the law? No problem, they’ll just change the law.

      Its not against the law. Selling an SOE requires aending the SOE Act, but amending legislation is not the same thing as confidence and supply.

      So, the Maori Party are doing something we don’t like, and may eventually be judged by their voters to be quislings, but they’re not doing violence to our constitution in the process. National is quite capable of doing that all by itself.

    3. By Elyse on Nov 30, 2011 | Reply

      Thanks for the closer look at David Shearer, Gordon.
      Sounds like he could do with some media training and indoctrination into the current kiwi belief system, that bullies rule and nice guys finish last.
      I’ve heard him speak a couple of times and was impressed with his thinking, communication skills and best of all, his well-spokenness which does not leave one thinking “is that an accent or a speech impediment?” unlike you-know-who.

      Since Goldman Sachs have been in negotiations with John Key & Co for some time (maybe the past three years or, if you’re really cynical as I am, even before he made his triumphant return to NZ to rescue us from our dreadful socialist tendencies), I figure that Maori will be s— out of luck anyway.
      Can you really see GS wanting to buy into assets that are partially owned by tribes of indigenous people? The word in the USA is that NZ is a peculiar place which has undergone a tacit revolution. Treaty rights being upheld! Gasp!
      I figure that iwi will be offered, if anything, assets that Wall Street doesn’t want.

    4. By Draco T Bastard on Nov 30, 2011 | Reply

      “At some level you’re an enabler, you’re offering comfort and validation.”

      Now just need the Greens to realise the same thing.

    5. By Dee on Nov 30, 2011 | Reply

      I have had a long hard think about the Labour leadership. I think David Shearer as Leader with Shane Jones as his Deputy. Shane can give advise to David — and I have a feeling that David Shearer will grow majestically into his role — once he has the mandate. He is a man with wide appeal and that is exactly what Labour needs. My 2 cents worth today.

    6. By Elyse on Nov 30, 2011 | Reply

      Excellent idea. Agree agree. Shearer with Shane Jones.

      On Huff Post today, S&P downgrades of Goldman Sachs and others:

    7. By Leon Henderson on Nov 30, 2011 | Reply

      Dee: David Shearer is precisely the kind of Leader that this country desperately needs, but Dee, lucklessly for us all, it is doubtful if David has got enough “Personality Projection” to be able to, as it were, “Cut It” with the corporate mass-media.

      As Gordon Campbell and Elyse have been saying: politics in this country no longer have got anything to do with “Political Policy”.

      Instead, all that it now is about is a corporate mass-media image: a Wall-Street Puppet-Farce generated for indescribable Imbeciles to vote for.

    8. By Gordon Campbell on Nov 30, 2011 | Reply

      Thanks for correcting me on that point.I over-egged it. As you say, the amending of the SOE Act doesn’t have constitutional implications.

    9. By Joe Blow on Nov 30, 2011 | Reply

      Labour leadership

      I must admit I haven’t heard anything about David Shearer until now. Sounds like a good bet when the other contenders are considered…

      Maori Party

      I think you’re being a bit hard on the Maori Party. National can sell the assets with or without them. They are hardly representing the sales as something that they are not like Woodhouse’s jolly sketches. They are also going to go and consult with their people before they support the government anyway… time will tell whether they still have enough support for the okay on confidence and supply.

      I don’t know – if the power companies are going to be privatised, I’d prefer iwi to buy shares instead of the fat cats on Wall Street. At least more dividend streams would stay in the country. Those Whai Rawa distributions could be in for a boost! They need a boost anyway!

    10. By Andrew R on Nov 30, 2011 | Reply

      @Joe Blow
      If special votes result in National losing 2 seats won’t National-Banks-Dunne only add up to 60 votes out of 121? In which case the Maori Party could be in the box seat. Doesn’t seem sensible to me for the Maori Party to do any deal before the specials are counted then.

    11. By Dee on Nov 30, 2011 | Reply

      @ Leon and just to confirm our thoughts I saw on TV1 tonight a poll for the new leadership

      David Shearer 50%

      David Cunliffe 31%

      David Parker 19%


    12. By Dee on Nov 30, 2011 | Reply

      @Elyse, thanks for your comment.

    13. By Juan on Nov 30, 2011 | Reply

      I think the commentary on the Maori Party and its attitude to the asset sales is accurate, as is the analogy to Wodehouse – the excuses of both can only be described as disingenuous given that Wodehouse likely knew of the offence his actions would cause, and the Maori Party knowing full well that the majority of Maori constituents do not support the sales. The line that ‘we don’t support the sales’, but we still support you, cannot stand the ethics test, especially given the follow-up line of, ‘but we’d like you to consider iwi as a potential recipient’. The proposed sales are not a minor policy issue, they go, or should go, to the heart of what the Maori Party has stated it believes in, and they are abrogating those principles on this matter, and trying to have it both ways. On a related matter, when the Maori Party go out to consult with their constituency will they actually talk to all Maori, the majority of whom oppose the sales, or just those who support them, and likely to cow-tow to the wishes of the leadership?

    14. By balance of power on Dec 1, 2011 | Reply

      It is possible National loses a seat in finals, and size of parliament growing to 122 seats as Maori Party share drops to 1.3 of total (meaning another overhang seat ironically to Maori Party, increasing its leverage). That would give National/Banks/Dunne 61 seats in a 122-seat parliament.

      Maori Party would be in very strong position to determine policy programme for next coalition government.

    15. By mickysavage on Dec 1, 2011 | Reply

      Interesting comment about Shearer being the “anti politician” candidate. But arn’t you falling in the same trap of judging his merits on perception rather than reality. Don’t get me wrong Shearer is a decent guy who will a very good senior minister but to rely on perception rather than reality is dangerous in the extreme.

    16. By Gran on Dec 1, 2011 | Reply

      In reference to your article on the Maori Party ie.The Maori Party unlocks the henhouse.
      Isn’t that called ‘running with the hares and hunting with the hounds’


    17. By Joe Blow on Dec 1, 2011 | Reply

      @ Andrew R

      Yeah, but the specials aren’t going to knock Dunne AND Banks off their seats…

    18. By Joe Blow on Dec 1, 2011 | Reply

      @ balance of power

      If ACT needed 1.2% of the vote to get 2 MPs in wouldn’t the Maori Party need under 1.2% to create an overhang of 2 seats with 3 Maori electorate seats? Is that still possible from their current 1.35%?

      I wish you were right… It would be a very different 3 years if they needed the Maori Party to form a government…

    19. By Joe Blow on Dec 1, 2011 | Reply

      @ Andrew R

      I see what you mean. Sorry miss read you first time around. If the National Party lost two seats as a result of the specials. I think there’s only hope of one seat being lost to the Greens at best.

      The house is currently at 121 seats because the Maori Party lost a seat so I’m sorry to say that 61 seats is still a majority… depressing isn’t it?

    20. By Norm M. on Dec 2, 2011 | Reply

      Hello there from Canada – this is the most literate media thread I’ve seen on politics, more thoughtful than what I read at here at home which are usually a series of insults. One question – do you have a speaker (debate referee) for the assembly, and would that mean if a governing party member became the speaker, the government would be a minority one?

    21. By Joe Blow on Dec 2, 2011 | Reply

      @ Norm M

      Na, as far as I understand it, the Speaker is supposed to remain impartial in relation to chairing meetings and keeping order of the House, but when it comes to voting on legislation, he or she is allowed to vote along party lines.

      We call our House (or Assembly) Parliament like you do in Canada. We only have one House…

      How is Ignatieff faring? He still in Parliament? We really need a guy like that in opposition over here. I guess Shearer has a little of Ignatieff’s ilk – well in a practical rather than a literary sense anyway.

    22. By Leon Henderson on Dec 2, 2011 | Reply

      Hi Dee: Well, that is a very interesting poll (I do not watch tv so did not see it) and so Labour really have to go with David Shearer, don’t they? What is absolutely imperative for Labour is that they not only completely change their leadership, but also they have got to get back to their original Socialist roots and become a real Left-Wing political party instead of an insipid, wishy-washing Right-Wing party that they are now.

      They also urgently need to get rid of all the “Deadwood” from their party and undertake a major reconstruction of their entire makeup.

      Also howdy Banjo: computer has been knocked out all day yet again, and only finally managed to finally crawl back online a couple of hours ago after yet another Operating-System reinstall. Connection speed is a miserable 21.1 kbps. Managed to get to talk to a “Woosh” Tech today, but he was completely mystified at what could be wrong. He suggested doing what you said, Banjo: trying different things as a process of elimination. Thank you very much again for your advice, it is very much appreciated.

      Am deeply suspecting though that it is a Virus from a Russian Hacker who calls himself “Igor

      Immediately before all the connection trouble started a programme mysteriously appeared in my Download Folder (and I did not download it!!!) by Igor! I deleted it, but from that moment onwards have been plagued with the computer trouble. AntiVirus scans and reinstalls of the OS do very little to improve anything.

      Probably going to have to send it to a computer shop to be examined.

    23. By zola on Dec 13, 2011 | Reply

      The Maori party have committed political suicide by walking side by side with national. National is for the individual not the collective. That is not whanau to me. I was critical of Turia and her ‘I know better than you’ attitude that her whanau ora is the establishment that is going to change negative Maori statistics. National do not support the Maori seats, without the Maori seats the Maori party would not exist – don’t they understand that? The whole capital ideology that they are supporting is not what the majority of Maori voted for. I voted for the Maori Party last election but switched my vote to Mana even Labour is looking far more attractive than the Maori Party. At least Hone stands for what he believes in and is not swayed by the glitter of portfolios.

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