Random DPF mentions

Three recent items.

First I’m quoted in a story this morning in the Dom Post on another You Tube bullying episode. Basically saying the school needs to be using groups such as Netsafe to know what to do is stuff like this happens.  Netsafe have an excellent helpline which schools or students or parents can use.

Secondly the Northern Advocate has published the results of a poll my company did for them on the Whangarei mayoralty race.

Thirdly my book review of Chris Trotter’s book was in the Dom Post, weekend before last.  Enough time has lapsed that I hope they don’t mind me now posting a copy of it here.  It is mostly after the break.

 Chris Trotter introduces his book “No Left Turn” with a comparison of New Zealand to the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, with the history of the last 150 years being a string of battles between Arthurs and Mordreds.

This illustrates very clearly the angle that Trotter takes.  There is no belief in the common view that most politicians are decent people wanting decent outcomes, who just disagree on how best to achieve those outcomes.  No, this is a battle of good vs evil.  The men and women labeled “New Zealand Mordreds” are responsible for “plots and schemes and violent interventions, like those of the original Arthur’s evil kinsman, have all too often perverted the leader’s quest for perfection into a sordid scramble for wealth and status or, even worse, the desire for social vengeance”. 

Trotter concludes his introduction be describing the forces of left and right as two dragons who are mortal enemies, whose battles hold the country back, and concludes “Until the red dragon subdues the white, and the good that is within our nation is liberated from the tutelage of the bad, the City of Emancipation, which so many New Zealanders have laboured to see surmount our clouded hills, is condemned to remain a work in progress.”

So this is no dispassionate scholarly book.  It is a call for arms.  Trotter identifies the enemy, and wants them defeated. All the woes of New Zealand over the last 150 years can be laid at the feed at these right wing Mordreds, and without them we would live happily in Avalon.  Well until the Saxons turned up anyway. 

But the passion and subjectivity of Trotter’s views do not detract from the book, they bring it to life.  It was one of those books which you find hard to put down, once you start.  Trotter manages to bring to life the conflicts of the past as he links them together as one great struggle. 

The early chapters I found especially illuminating as the competing interests of the British Government and the New Zealand company are revealed as to how much of a factor the commercial opportunities presented by New Zealand drove events.  Again Trotter makes no secret of his sympathies, such as in his description of the confrontation between Te Rauparaha and Arthur Wakefield, after the burning down of surveyor huts by Te Rauparaha.  The confrontation turned into a gun battle, and Wakefield’s forces were overcome.  The prisoners, including Captain Wakefield, were executed in revenge for the killing of Te Rauparaha’s daughter during the gun battle.  We are told Captain Wakefield died as a victim of capitalist greed.  Maybe, but I think the tomahawk that split his skull in two had something to do with it also.  A word of disapproval of killing unarmed prisoners would have been nice. 

But while I quibble over the details of emphasis, Trotter is correct that the actions of many settlers in the early days of colonization were disgraceful, and the desire for profit trampled over the rights of the existing occupants.  It’s a lesson we should not forget – property rights do matter.

The other fascinating era, for me, that Trotter deals with is the 1st Labour Government.  To most on the left Savage and Fraser are the pioneering heroes of a caring New Zealand.  But Trotter looks at their actual deeds in office compared to their rhetoric and asks “Why did Savage, Fraser and Nash demur [from true socialism]? Why did these three men, who for all their adult lives had preached socialism and even, in Fraser’s case, been willing to go to jail for it, upon attaining office decide to repudiate everything they stood for?”. 

John A Lee put it down to individual inadequacies – the vindictiveness of Savage, the timidity of Nash, and the ambition of Fraser.  Trotter  though blames the capitalist forces arrayed against them, and says they made a tactical decision to work within the capitalist system alleviating it effects, rather than confront it directly. 

This is Trotter’s great lament.  That the forces of the left have never given true socialism a chance, and have merely tinkered with the capitalist system.  Obviously the notion that a socialist economy with the Government owning all the means of production would fail in New Zealand as miserably as it has in every other country which has tried it, is not one that Trotter subscribes to. 

But this is what makes Trotter such a good writer and first class columnist.  He is not afraid to assail those on both the left and the right who don’t live up to his vision.  You might not agree with his conclusions, but you can not help but enjoy the story he tells.  And it is a story any student of politics or history should read.

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