BRYCE EDWARDS, in this morning’s edition (10/3/22) of his excellent New Zealand Politics Dailywriting :
“There is still a chance the government will back down on Three Waters. If opinion polls continue to tighten between the left and right blocs, then Jacinda Ardern will begin to examine which areas of the government’s reform agenda are eroding public trust. Three Waters, or at least the co-governance model, is likely to be identified as a barrier to re-election in 2023.”
But, a rollback on Three Waters could only occur following a direct and successful attack on the largest and most powerful faction in the Labor Caucus – the Maori Caucus. However, given the political beliefs of most non-Maori members of the Labor caucus, is such an attack even conceivable? This would represent not only a rejection of the orthodox interpretation of te Tiriti o Waitangi, and the model of co-governance it is supposed to impose, but also the total rejection of the only political principles that the current generation of Labor MPs takes to heart. serious.
Now cynics might laugh and point out how many incumbent MPs stand to lose their seats if Labour’s rapidly declining level of electoral support is not halted. Barely entering parliament, are these politicians really ready to be swept away on the highly controversial proposition that co-governance really is the wave of the future?
Is it not more likely that these MPs will suddenly discover that co-governance was not part of Labour’s 2020 Election Manifesto? Or that co-governance is full of constitutional hooks that people like Nanaia Mahuta and Willie Jackson haven’t been quite candid about? Some may even decide to read Il Puapua from start to finish, and end up wondering how the Labor cabinet got it through.
On the other hand, no one has ever gone bankrupt betting on the propensity of white liberals to bend like tents when subjected to an uncompromising assault by people of color. Is the current crop of Labor luvvies really tough enough to deal with the bitter accusations of racism and colonialist betrayal that would no doubt be hurled at them by the most fervent Maori caucus spokespersons?
And is the non-Maori majority in the Labor Caucus really willing to call the Maori Caucus to a bluff if it threatens to refuse the whip? Could the Labor leadership be sure to keep at least three or four members of Willie Jackson’s team in the event of a walkout? (Still assuming the Greens do not walk away from their deal with the Labor government in solidarity with its Maori members.)
It is very difficult to see how the abandonment of co-governance and the walkout of the Maori caucus from Labor could happen without causing a snap election. With the Greens and the Maori Party tearing up Labour’s left flank, it is even harder to see any other outcome short of a resounding National/Act victory. Which would mean, of course, the removal of the Three Waters and co-governance.
Better, perhaps, to go down with the flag of Tino Rangatiratanga in the air? Paradoxically, going to the country on a platform of constitutional and cultural transformation – and getting beaten up – may well be the best way to keep Labor and the Greens in the political game for the long term.
Because, one thing is certain: the genius of co-governance is well and truly out of its bottle and it is doubtful that the New Zealand State has the strength or the will to put it back in the saddle. wing government mad enough to try, the resulting convulsions in the body politic would make the recent dyspepsia manifested in Parliament look like a delegation of Plunket mums.
This time, the miserable scum of the colonial capitalist economy would not attract the scorn of the bourgeois social-liberal Pakeha. This time they pitched their tents right next to them. This time, the New Zealand sign fluttering alongside the Tino Rangatiratanga flag would not be confusing at all. This time it would be: “A flag for tauiwi; a flag for tangata whenua; and you Tiriti above all. This time Labor and Greens would not despise the Occupy. This time they would take protesters’ demands directly to the floor of the House of Representatives. This time they would not speak on behalf of the state. This time they would speak for the future.
There was a time – not too long ago – when Bryce Edwards’ speculation about Labor’s departure from Three Waters and co-governance would have amounted to nothing more or less than conventional wisdom. But, times have changed. Aotearoa-New Zealand faces unprecedented challenges, and it is becoming increasingly clear with each passing year that our current constitutional arrangements are unlikely to be up to the task of meeting them.
As Bryce himself notes:
“The alternative is for the government to go out and actually sell the reforms to the public. This has been sorely lacking (beyond the infamous [Three Waters] propaganda advertising campaign). But that will take more than disparaging critics of co-governance whose arguments resonate widely with the public.
Indeed, it will. And, if Labor has retained even an ounce of historical awareness, it will go to the electorate with more than three waters on the bill. It should present voters with a bold and radical vision for the future of their country. A future based on a political economy of equity and justice. A future in which everyone can win and lose is not predetermined by the color of your skin. Labor and the Greens will lose, of course. But, with the economy collapsing and the international situation going from bad to worse, the general election of 2023 looks more and more like the election that the parties of the future must lose.
The essential objective must be to win the votes of young people. The challenges ahead will be theirs to meet and overcome. Above all, Labor must not be frightened by a solidification of frightened conservatism among the over-60s. Let the dead bury their dead.
The trick, in these circumstances, is to make sure you leave the office with a bang – not a moan. With great things yet to be done. In the immortal words of Scarlet O’Hara incarried away by the wind: “Tomorrow is another day.”
Let the right inherit the whirlwind that is coming.