My learned and respected former colleague Gordon Campbell (blessings be upon him) writes in his Werewolf blog that “Voters gave Labour a mandate to deliver radical left-wing responses to social needs, and on the environment”. But did they?
I don’t think they did, and I suspect Jacinda Ardern doesn’t either.
Gordon’s unhappy that Labour hasn’t achieved more in the 10 weeks since the election, especially considering that it’s no longer encumbered by a socially conservative coalition partner. “Rather than barrelling along in the fast lane,” he writes, “the government has been driving ultra-carefully down the middle of the road at 40kph, with social needs banking up behind it. In 2021, Labour is really going to have to pick up the pace.”
Two things. The first is that the 2020 election result shouldn’t be seen as voter endorsement of a radical political agenda. For one thing, New Zealanders are wary of radicalism. For another, the result reflected the unusual circumstances of the time. The main opposition party was in abject disarray and voters were prepared to reward Ardern (as Gordon himself says) for her astute management of the Covid-19 pandemic. That doesn’t translate into a green light for the transformational change Gordon seems to want.
But more to the point, I’m sure Ardern senses that her stonking election triumph presented Labour with its best chance in a generation – possibly ever – to position itself as the natural party of government. She’s not likely to throw that away just to satisfy Labour’s far left.
Politics, after all, is ultimately about winning and holding onto power. Parties achieve little while languishing in opposition. National has always recognised that, which explains why it governed New Zealand for 47 of the past 70 years. It’s a party of pragmatists and compromisers, for which it has been rewarded by voters suspicious of fire-breathing ideologues. Left-wing zealots in the Labour Party, on the other hand, tend to frighten voters away.
With her pledge to govern for every New Zealander, Ardern signalled on election night that she wants to cement Labour in the political centre and thus pull the rug out from under National. Arguably the last Labour leader capable of doing that was Norman Kirk. I think Gordon may have to resign himself to three years of frustration.
■ Anjum Rahman from the Islamic Women’s Council has described the recent unpleasantness in the Rangiora branch of Farmers as an example of hate crime. I think we should be very wary of such hyperbole.
To recap: Aya Al-Umari was sampling lipstick with her mother and speaking in Arabic when she noticed another shopper, an older white woman, observing them.
The woman said to her husband: “She shouldn’t be doing that”. When Al-Umari challenged her, the woman pretended not to hear and said to her husband, “It’s okay, it won’t be long before they leave our country.”
In the subsequent exchange, which was captured on video, the woman asked Al-Umari whether she was born and bred in New Zealand. Another shopper intervened, telling the woman she should be ashamed of herself (good on her), and a staff member subsequently escorted the female Archie Bunker off the premises.
Bigotry? Yes. Ignorance? For sure. But “hate”? That’s implying a level of malevolence that wasn’t necessarily present. Shooting law-abiding people at prayer is a hate crime; making an idiot of yourself in a department store falls far short of that threshold.
Al-Umari (who has spent most of her life in New Zealand, although that should be irrelevant, and who lost a brother in the mosque massacres) is absolutely right to say that such people need to be challenged. Otherwise, she says, “hate escalates”.
But rhetoric escalates too, and the danger in labelling such incidents as “hate crimes” is that it creates a climate of moral panic and helps prepare the ground for laws that might unreasonably restrict what we can say – which I suspect is Anjum Rahman’s intention.