by Phil Duncan
Late this afternoon Green MP and party co-leader Metiria Turei announced that she was stepping down from the co-leader post and would be resigning as an MP as of the end of the current parliamentary term in a few weeks.
She said that the media intrusion and, in effect, harassment of whanau members had become too much and, in order to protect them from further media harassment, she was resigning. She also said that the Greens’ campaign against poverty was being undermined by the focus on her and so she was taking herself out of the equation.
Middle class loathing of the poor
Turei has been the victim of a sustained campaign of what is essentially class loathing on the part of chunks of the middle class towards the poorest sections of the working class, especially the brown working class poor. There has been a sustained campaign in the media, engineered by middle class pundits and commentators, people who predominantly would see themselves as “liberals”.
And Turei’s great sin? At the Green Party AGM a couple of weeks ago, while unveiling the party’s very modest proposals to reduce poverty, she announced that over 20 years ago, as a solo parent on a welfare benefit, she hadn’t declared the full details of her living situation to Work and Income New Zealand. Namely, that she had lied to WINZ about the number of flatmates she had. This had been done because her already woefully-inadequate benefit would have been cut and affected her ability to provide for the needs of her child.
Keep in mind that this period was in the immediate aftermath of the ‘Mother of All Budgets’, when the fourth National government slashed already poor benefit levels by 20-25%.
The media-orchestrated campaign against Turei stands in stark contrast to the treatment of current National Party prime minister Bill English in 2009 over his defrauding parliamentary services of $32,000 which he claimed for the $1.2 million (in 2009 dollars) house that he and his well-heeled doctor wife, Mary English, lived in and which was owned by their family trust. Unlike Metiria Turei, English didn’t declare his transgression; it was discovered by the DominionPost newspaper in July 2009. English only owned up after he was ‘outed’ for getting tens of thousands of dollars he was not entitled to. At the time, his deputy prime ministerial salary was a couple hundred thousand dollars a year and Mary English was also earning a salary.
English was not hounded into resigning from anything and is today the country’s prime minister. His wife and other members of his extended family were not hounded either. And the morally self-righteous elements of the right, who have been keen to join their liberal pals in sticking the knife into Metiria, failed to get on their high horses and demand English go.
Among those happily attempting to destroy Turei and drive her out of politics have been Labourites, with a few notable exceptions. The little pakeha princess who now heads Labour, Jacinda Ardern, made it clear that what Turei had done to feed and cloth her child was morally unacceptable and she would not be fit for a position in cabinet in the event of a Labour-Greens government. This gave the green light to the nasty underbelly of bottom-feeder bigots that hide beneath this country’s veneer of liberal broadmindedness and political correctness.
Among them are ‘journalists’ like Barry Soper, Patrick Gower, Audrey Young and ACT leader David Seymour. The latter little prick is only an MP because of a typical bit of bourgeois parliamentary trickery perpetrated by him, his party and National. He’s enjoyed hundreds of thousands of dollars of “taxpayer money” as a result. But, you see, this sort of grubby activity, is legal because these are the kinds of people who set – and, when it suits them, bend – the rules
The ugly people have scored a tawdry victory not simply over Metiria Turei, but over beneficiaries struggling to survive on this country’s pathetic social welfare benefits. The message to beneficiaries is that that rich people can cheat and lie and defraud without consequence, and they can become MPs if that is their particular vanity project, but the poor who are driven to transgress by desperate circumstances cannot aspire to such lofty heights as becoming members of parliament and government. It’s a ruling class parliament and a ruling class government and any workers who are allowed in the doors, other than as cleaners and canteen staff, need to show their obsequiousness to the class that rules and that every day mangles the lives of the people whose labour actually makes the world go round.
If these fuckers are prepared to destroy a Metiria Turei, who represented an attempt to improve capitalism rather than get rid of it, imagine what they would be prepared to do to stop an anti-capitalist movement that managed to get through the hallowed doors.
At the same time, what are we to make of the role of the Greens themselves in all this?
I certainly have developed some respect for them for Metiria Turei speaking out in the first place and co-leader James Shaw for proving he has some spine and integrity in standing very much beside her, rather than throwing her under a bus like the odious Ardern who is motivated by her own career advancement at any cost.
However, and it is a big however, the Greens should have been prepared for the assault. And they should have been prepared for the response of Labour, whose managers saw this as a chance to undermine the Greens and grab some of their votes. Lord knows, the Greens have enough experience of being screwed over by Labour in the past.
And there’s the rub. No matter how much Labour and other liberal snobs and reactionaries screw them over, the Greens are completely ill-equipped to fight back. The reason is that they are in the game and this means they accept the rules of the game. They genuinely want to reform the rules, and improve the lot of the poorest sections of the population, but they are thoroughly committed to the game and the game having rules. And you simply can’t win in that game – the game itself is designed in such a way as to maintain the system and contain (and destroy) people who irritate those in charge.
While I happen to personally sympathise with her, the destruction of Metiria Turei is, at the end of the day, not so much about her. It is a message to the masses to obey the rules decided on by those who oppress and exploit us. It has been delivered by the messenger boys and girls, the grubby little cyphers, of the ruling class in the media and other institutions like the capitalist Labour Party.
What is to be done?
Well, the first thing is that this defeat needs to be learned from. Not in the meaningless way the left usually ‘learns’ stuff – like the goldfish that thirty seconds later has forgotten what they ‘learned’.
Conclusion 1: Parliament is useless in terms of any fundamental economic change that moves things in the direction of the working class.
Conclusion 2: Labour is an institution of the ruling class and will try to destroy even a moderately left force.
Practical consequence: Don’t vote Labour and don’t vote on September 23.
Instead, let’s start a whole other discussion. A discussion based on how we begin to cohere a current of people who are prepared, and others who can become prepared, to fight capitalism rather than humiliate themselves in front of it. A discussion based on how we begin to develop a political movement by, of and for workers against our exploiters and the array of institutions they have forged as buffers to protect – and hide – their class interests.
Further reading: Labour and the politics of bourgeois respectability & low horizons