Posted by Peter King at 11:45 AM
On the 29th of August 1981, at the age of 20, I was arrested for disorderly conduct in a public place. I was not alone. I was one of many thousands of people (my brother and father included) protesting against apartheid and the visit of the South African rugby team (the Springboks).
The 1981 Springbok tour was a crucial turning point in New Zealand politics and the more I look at political events in the United States recently, the more I am reminded of it. I am reminded of why the kind of divisive politics that has taken hold in the United States will not be a feature in my own country. It's not because New Zealanders are in any way superior to Americans. It's just we've been there, done it and have implemented systems to prevent that sort of crap happening again.
Posted by Peter King at 3:19 PM
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So the US election is over and in theory at least 'the people have spoken'. Strangely the people have spoken in the one poll that matters very, very differently to the polls that preceded them. Just like Brexit.
At the moment everyone is crapping themselves about the Donald. But what if the Donald is actually only a symptom of a deeper malaise. A malaise that takes reality and twists it beyond all recognition. What if manufacturing consent has become conjuring mandates out of thin air. What if the problem is Rupert Murdoch?
Look at it this way. Murdoch wanted a Liberal victory in his native Australia in 2013. There was a Liberal victory in Australia in 2013. Against the rational economic interests of the UK Murdoch wanted Brexit. Brexit (despite all the polls saying to the contrary) was the result of the referendum. Murdoch switched to Trump in May 2016 and again, against all the polls, Trump wins.
If Rupert Murdoch wasn't the owner of a huge media empire, which was caught in Britain using hacking techniques in order to gain leverage over politicians (in addition to the considerable media power his outlets already have), one might think this was simply coincidence. But Murdoch's whole business is peddling influence. Who does he influence? Voters and politicians.
Murdoch is big in Australia, the UK and the United States. Murdoch is not big in Canada, Ireland or New Zealand. You may have noticed the Canadians elected Justin Trudeau of the centrist Liberal party in October 2015. But you may not have noticed that Ireland elected the progressive centrist Fine Gael in February 2016. New Zealand's National Party is nominally right centrist but libertarian parties on its right have not thrived. While elections in Canada, Ireland and New Zealand are robust contests they are largely free of the xenophobia, division and conquest that has accompanied recent Australian, British and US experience.
In 2013 (from Wikipedia)"News Corp papers were accused of supporting the campaign of the Australian Liberal government and influencing public opinion during the 2013 federal election. Following the announcement of the Liberal Party victory at the polls, Murdoch tweeted 'Aust. election public sick of public sector workers and phony welfare scroungers sucking life out of economy. Other nations to follow in time.'"
Fast forward to the US in 2016. Trump didn't need to buy media. He got given it for free. Certainly he spouted headlines that would have not looked out of place in the Sun. With aggressive, unfair, dishonorable and unrelenting sound bites Trump muscled his way into the channels that fed working America's fear and resentment.The two worked together hand in glove.
Has Murdoch done anything illegal? Nobody has proved he had any direct knowledge of the phone hacking scandal in the UK but he has certainly stood by those staff who did time for it. Proving anything against a billionaire media tycoon takes some doing. Silvio Berlusconi's sole conviction was for tax fraud - he got off underage sex on appeal and his alleged links to the mafia are mere footnotes. Berlusconi conveniently remained in Italy while Murdoch's empire spans three seperate jurisdictions.
But illegality isn't the issue. Like the big banks who largely bypassed accountability because they were too large and too important to be interrupted with boring matters like prudence and fiduciary duty, (and lacking any direct evidence) it isn't the letter of the law that I raise here.
The simple fact is that Murdoch doesn't just own media like Michael Bloomberg. Murdoch weilds power. He isn't frightened to be completely partisan in distorting the public space with savage unrelenting media attacks to suit his own political ends. Like Bloomberg, Murdoch is a politician but unlike Bloomberg he's not elected nor has he ever been accountable to anyone. Indeed his method is to make the politicians accountable to him.
Obviously becoming the proxy for the people is not a new idea. Lenin as leader of the Bolsheviks was the first to act in the name of the people but without accountability to them. But it is Adolf Hitler who delighted in bitter divisions and emnity who became the manipulator of the people through vicious language and appeal to basest instincts that Murdoch most resembles. Like Hitler, Murdoch spawns hatred and remains gleefully unaccountable for his actions.
As with the big banks the solution is obvious. The tendency toward monopoly that is innate to capitalism has been allowed to develop out of control. Where the banks have run away with the money supply media moguls like Murdoch have cornered the influence market. Like the big banks which have created an environment where intervention is almost impossible so too has Murdoch created a political niche that is almost unassailable.
Murdoch himself must die in the not so distant future. The man himself, while problematic, is not the issue. What matters is the systematic subversion of the public space he has been able to pursue. Unless this is structurally denied by new forms of regulation and democratic control the institutions of democracy will whither and die.
As in the 1930s I fear we live in an era where the idea of democracy must fight if it is to survive. If this is true let us, at least, be clear who democracy's most virulent enemies really are.
Posted by Peter King at 1:44 PM
The rise of right wing politics in the US and Britain has been greeted on the left with bewilderment, derision and despair. Left wing comedians have delighted in deriding the apparent hypocrisy, contradiction and ignorance of their foes while simultaneously reminding us that the right wing in the thirties did not look significantly different.
But while the left has been mocking this significant change in the political landscape it has been too insulated by it's own innate smugness to understand what it means. Yes, the connection between right wing values and working class fortunes has long been made, but that doesn't explain what the left is doing wrong, and why the left is actually the side with the problem.
In a word the problem is shame.
For the left shame is a key emotion. People who hate illegal migrants should be ashamed of their lack of empathy. People who burn down rainforests should be ashamed of destroying our children's future. People who mistreat workers should be ashamed of their bullying. People who are racist should be ashamed of their attitudes. People who are misogynistic should be ashamed of themselves. The boundaries of political correctness are high walls of shame.
Shaming is also a key part of the left's social control reinforcement mechanisms. In communist countries political weaknesses could be exploited by political shaming exercises. Once politically shamed an office holder was toast and their office was ripe for the picking. In the west shaming involves "hard hitting" documentaries but also comedy. The butt of left wing jokes is the person who brings shame on themselves. Pointing that out is just shooting fish in a barrel. It gets a laugh, it reinforces the core values.
What the right wing have done is thrown off shame.
It's not the first time they've done it either. The shame of poverty and defeat that followed World War One was a field of opportunity for the right in the Weimar years. While some wallowed in shame the Nazis rejected it. They were proud and anyone who didn't like it could be punched in the face.
Trump too rejects shame. He has shafted a lot of people in his business career. Is he ashamed? Fuck no. He's been appallingly misogynistic and his failure to distance himself from the KKK speaks volumes but is he ashamed? No, he isn't.
The Brexiteers (Johnson, Farage et al) similarly stood on a platform rejecting shame. Poor Syrians? Fair play with Europe? Fuck them! Let's make Britain great again! Subtext: "Let's make you great! We will take away your shame". The migrants in the UK who voted anti-immigration weren't really voting against their younger selves, they were voting against the fact that their lives were not as great as they expected them to be. The Brits who voted Brexit were voting against the shame they had been made to feel for being poorer, for the sense of self disappointment they secretly harboured.
The same goes in Germany with the AfD. Merkel says "Give us your poor, your huddled masses..." and the average Osti (Eastener) says fuck off. Like the Nazis before them they reject shame. Just as the Russia's Trump, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, already tried in Russia until Putin realised he could appropriate his political appeal by 'making Russia great again".
So here's the thing. Shame is not working for the left.
I'll say that again because it's a big deal: shame is not working for the left. Why not?
Because most of the people who could do with the kind of support the left is meant to bring are not alienated Bolsheviks. They are pissed off, certainly, but they don't see a conspiracy of nobles, millionaires and billionaires. It wasn't capitalism the Russian revolution fought, it was an entrenched monarchy which has almost vanished throughout the world (though ironically not in hardline communist nations). Most people know that many of today's billionaires didn't inherit their wealth. They fought for it themselves. That doesn't make poorer people feel better, though. It makes them feel worse. The system isn't against them, so it must be their own inadequacies that let them down. They are less alienated than they are ashamed.
Letting go of shame and shaming for the left is sort of like letting go of Catholicism. You think you've done it and then you find you haven't. It isn't about letting go of ideals of social justice, sustainability or anything else but it is about letting go of a form of communication about those things. It's about not shaming others. It's about accepting humanity and it's contradictory and even animalistic nature. It's about having a party not obeying the party. It's about a kinder, looser, more relaxed left wing who forgive each other the less than pristine parts of their hearts and minds. Who accept that, yeah, stock cars have a kind of grindhouse fun to them even if they aren't that great for the environment; that making good money honestly isn't a terrible thing; that males and females really are very different in terms of sexuality, social expectations of each other, and ways of operating etc etc.
It's basically about recognising the truth that Trump and others are bringing: that political correctness is a burden to ourselves and others which is ultimately failing it's own objectives. Accept that and the right wing backlash can be abated. Ignore it and it will only get worse.
Posted by Peter King at 10:31 AM
The British Brexit referendum outcome was an enormous shock to the rest of the world, and the people of New Zealand in particular. Nobody outside Britain could understand why a people who had a comparatively cushy economic position inside a vast trading bloc would leap out into the cold world beyond its borders simply because there were immigration problems.
Because Britain's migration situation is not that bad. She has a population of 64.8 million. Of this 8.4 million were not born in the UK. Of these 5 million were born beyond the EU, including the former Commonwealth. The other 3 million were born in the EU. So 1:8 were born outside the UK. The NZ figure is 1:4. Britain accepted 14.5k asylum seekers in 2014 (latest figures) or 2.2 for every 1000 residents. Conservative politicians said Britain was being 'soft' on immigration. NZ is often criticised for only taking 750 per year or 1.6 per 1000 residents. NZ is now raising the intake to 1,000 which is the same as Britain's 14.5k on a per capita basis. On the face of it the UKs immigration situation was a perfectly reasonable part of EU membership. The problem really was voters had no idea what that was worth.
From outside the EU it was much easier to see. When Britain effectively abandoned its last vestages of Empire (the Commonwealth) to join the EEC in 1972 the impact on that Commonwealth was serious.In New Zealand half our trade had been based around the imperial model of selling commodities to Britain which sold processed goods back to the commonwealth. We sold meat, dairy and wool, apples and pears. The British owned the meat processing plants, the wool scours and merchant fleets. In 1960 New Zealand was on the pigs back. It was said the Kiwi Prime Minister knew the names of all the unemployed people in the country. Then Britain announced it was joining the EEC.
When Britain retreated into Festung Europa in 1973 and started raising the tariff drawbridge a lot of countries were forced to adapt. Australia, Malaysia, South Africa also faced problems but like Canada, India and Hong Kong they had close, rich neighbours and scale on their side. New Zealand was one of the smallest and it was the most vulnerable. New Zealand's initial response was a kind of collective political self deception. We kept up production subsisidies for farmers we could not afford, we tried to invest in energy assuming a continuation of OPEC prices and a global oil shortage, we simply buried our heads in the sand and tried to pretend nothing had changed. By 1984 the level of government control in the economy to maintain this self deception had reached outrageous levels. It couldn't last, and it didn't.
Remarkably it was a leftist Labour government (ushered in by a rich property developer who split the conservative vote) which enacted a right wing reform agenda (very like the rich property developers' agenda). The pain was vicious. Subsidies were stripped from farmers. Tariffs ripped away from manufacturing. Companies died left right and centre. It was even worse when the October 1986 crash smashed the overheated and over-leveraged property market. Unemployment peaked at 10% in 1992. Many Kiwis left for Australia, or the UK. Among my friends only about half of those who left ever came back.
New Zealand is one of the least protected, least distorted economies in the world. Australia has huge protections in place for its farmers (mostly against New Zealand), the US, far from being the home of a market economy subsidises farming, and uses its military as a defacto industrial policy. Where in 1960 Britain was 53% of our exports and 43% of our imports today it is less than 3% of either. Indeed New Zealand is so diversified that "other" is one of our largest categories both in terms of our exports and in terms of where they go.
New Zealand's experience of being outside Europe gave us enormous experience at negotiating entry into large protected markets. Despite being outside Europe we have fifty years experience in gaining entry to it. We are very good at it. Unlike Australia we don't bluster, unlike the US we can't strong arm, we are small and relatively insignificant so we don't annoy people. We just patiently work with trade partners to find a useful political solution for all concerned.
Britain will now find itself outside Europe and in a far worse position. First it has kicked Europe where it hurts: European unity, and the architects of European quasi federalism are mad as hell. They can't allow Britain to get away with that or there will be no EU. The British speak of 'negotiating an exit', but they can't. Under European law a Member has two years to leave and Members cannot negotiate trade on their own with the EU. If they did there wouldn't be an EU trade bloc to negotiate with. So Britain will be left with basic WTO access to all their nearest neighbours.
Almost certainly if the article 50 jump is made Scotland will cede. The EU will be happy to welcome Scottish dissenters, and Irish ones too if it comes to that. Major British companies would doubtless relocate their headquarters in Edinburgh and slow start moving critical operations north. I suspect a lot of companies will find excuses to relocate within the two year time frame.
While England has always cosied up to the US the Americans have bigger fish to fry. They have the TPPA initiative (started by New Zealand) in the Pacific including Northern Asian nations like Japan, China and Korea to ratify. That is far more important to the USA than Britain. Then there is the European equivalent, the TPPI. This is the US's other major initiative. If England has hopped off the EU bus then its not included. The Americans have two major fronts and England simply isn't big enough.
What does that leave England? Of the white countries, weirdly enough Russia and the other members of the eastern bloc struggling outside the EU. If England was worried about an influx of Romanian gypsies it has now made itself less attractive than Romania. It's on par with Moldova and Byeloruss, and Russia. Even the Ukraine will be treated better by the EU.
England will also discover what Africa has had to deal with all these years. The natural trading partner for African nations is Europe, but because of French colonialism Africa suffers at the hands of the EUs Common Agricultural Policy. Africa should be rich. The only reason African nation's aren't is the collective racist policies of trade barriers by Europe.
But the most likely allies England will find are in South America and India. Watch for a diplomatic exit from the Malvinas/ Falklands islands in order to curry favour with Argentina. England will probably also make overtures to India and we are likely to see a kind of imperial reverse take over as India asserts more influence over England than vice versa. The Brexit voters may find the upshot is more Indians and Pakistanis running their nation than ever before.
What if the Brexit can be stopped? Many hopes are pinned to this ranging from legal challenges to the original referendum to petitions for a second referendum. It is probable, though that it will come down to a general election. The Conservative Party will go to the people seeking a Brexit mandate. The hope of remainers is that Jeremy Corbyn will be replaced and that the Labour Party will win the election with a mandate to remain. Realistically this, however is unlikely. First most of those who voted to leave are working class or living outside the cities that are doing OK. They feel threatened by European migration. Corbyn knows that to dedicate labour to remain will split the party and lose all the support he personally gained from the disenfranchised who rose up against the Party intelligentsia to elect him leader. Second the wealthy who knew what was good for them traditionally vote Conservative and don't want Brexit. They will be reluctant to vote Labour. In short the political machinery has short circuited and Brexit may be the only possible outcome.
But what, if anything, does this sorry mess teach the rest of the world?
What it should scream from the rooftops is that media ownership still matters. The Brexit campaign was not waged by Farage, Johnson and Grove (who like paid assassins have now all vanished from the political scene) but by the Daily Mail and the Sun. They were the ones exaggerating immigration issues and driving xenophobia. Why? Because under a British peerage system their influence was dominant. Under a EU federalist system it was diluted. The phone hacking scandal revealed only too clearly the unhealthy relationship between media barons and politicians and it is not over. The so called fourth estate of public discourse has become a fiefdom run by a few for their advantage. The same players are at work in the US with Rupert Murdoch endorsing Donald Trump's candidacy for US President.
The fact is media is not just a market for advertising. It is a means to shape attitudes, change public discourse and influence the political agenda. The fact that 17 million Britons were convinced to vote against their own best interests by a campaign of misinformation, ommission and outright deception largely led by unaccountable media owners should be proof enough that control of the means of public discourse is too dangerous to simply leave in the hands of market regulators.
For democracy to work the public must know what is going on. They need unbiased information and they need a full context. Organisations like Polifact and Snopes are important but they are not a sufficient counter to campaigns of misinformation and propaganda. While the state is itself a source of misinformation and political manipulation perversely state funded radio has often proved - in Britain and the US, and indeed New Zealand, to be the least politically influenced by external actors of all media.
As digital media diversifies there is a role for the state to both operate and regulate the media domain. This doesn't mean censorship but it does mean balance, and limits to control. Without this any nation runs the risk of following the example of a bread and circus plebescite which counters the best interest of the people themselves.
Posted by Peter King at 10:13 AM
|Peter King has been a journalist for 20 years. He has worked on National Business Review, the Dominion and published e.nz magazine for eight years. His particular interests are New Zealand's economic development, technology, film, and philosophy|