• Disarmament or MAD?

    John Roughan has an extraordinary article in today’s Herald. He is normally a measured commentator on public affairs, but in this case, so anxious was he to attack the Prime Minister at any cost that he took aim at the speech she made at the UN on the subject of nuclear weapons and on the wisdom or otherwise of relying on the doctrine of mutually assured destruction (MAD) as the best way of avoiding nuclear disaster.

    In that speech, the Prime Minister pointed out that seeking protection from nuclear annihilation through mutually assured destruction left us all vulnerable to a madman like Putin who might see it as advantageous to threaten the whole globe with destruction in order to get his way. As a means of avoiding a nuclear catastrophe, therefore, mutually assured destruction, she concluded, suffered serious deficiencies; as a consequence, she thought, we would do better to seek different outcomes by facing up to what she called “the challenge” of achieving international disarmament.

    A reasonably intelligent listener to the speech would have been clear that Jacinda Ardern was not addressing the immediate battleground issue represented by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. She was looking further afield and further into the future; she was looking for an end result that did not leave all the options in the hands of a power-crazed dictator. Better to seek the elusive goal of disarmament, she thought, rather than delude ourselves that mutually assured destruction could guarantee our future safety.

    This was all a little too difficult for John Roughan. He chose to think that the Prime Minister’s talk of “disarmament” signalled her willingness to “turn the other cheek” and to accept Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Yet there is nothing in the Prime Minister’s speech to suggest that she is anything other than determined, along with other world leaders, to ensure that Putin fails in Ukraine.

    Roughan may have been surprised that a world leader like our Prime Minister would have taken the trouble to lift her gaze from the immediate battlefield and was able to take a longer-term and strategic approach to the life and death matters raised by Putin’s threats. Those who think more deeply and see a little further than Roughan does will immediately see, however, that Jacinda Ardern was correctly identifying the real choice that she says now faces us. Mutual threats of nuclear destruction? Or nuclear disarmament? I know where my vote goes.

  • An American Colony?

    The end of the Queen’s reign has provided us here in New Zealand with a powerful and prolonged reminder of the extent to which our heritage is bound up with that of the United Kingdom. It may, therefore, be an odd moment to register what is becoming a significant change in our national outlook.

    The introduction of a direct Air New Zealand flight to New York has immediately followed the cessation of flights to London. The change is somehow both real and symbolic. It is real in the sense that it presages the end of the “OE” – the rite of passage that took so many young Kiwis on an exploration of Britain and of their origins and that provided them with a different vantage point from which to assess our place in the world.

    It is symbolic in that it signifies the extent to which we are now beginning to be absorbed into a different – American – culture. The change has been a long time coming; American popular culture – films, pop music, fashions – have long been a major influence here, an influence only partially offset by the amazing vitality of British equivalents like the Beatles and Rolling Stones, and our own home-grown heritage.

    But the tide of American culture has continued to roll in remorselessly. We see it in all aspects of our lives; basketball is now more popular than rugby with the younger generation. Our favourite foods are Big Macs and KFC. Our principal sources of information are American-originated social media, with all the dangers that that entails.

    Our place in the world and our view of it are changing before our very eyes. The rise of China as a global power has emphasised to us that we are a Pacific country and that our backyard is an arena in which two rival global powers compete, so that we are, as a consequence, invited (or compelled) to choose between them – and most of us will prefer to throw in our lot with America, which, as a consequence, assumes a renewed strategic significance for us.

    Even our language is being taken over; Americanisms are not new, dating back at least to the Second World War, but other changes are less welcome and are in danger of impoverishing and distorting the way we speak.

    The American insistence that, when we recline, we “lay” down ( as opposed to “lie” down) adds an unnecessary confusion to the language, while their use of “alternate” as a synonym and substitute for “alternative” destroys the meaning of two perfectly good and useful words; our own culture has not been sufficiently robust to resist these infelicities.

    And the American spelling of words like “colour” and “favour” without the “u” is gaining ground, despite the fact that it has absolutely no etymological justification – its adoption here is simply testament to the attempt of the weak-minded to appear trendy and “with it”.

    It may be that my resistance to becoming just another part of an American cultural bloc is best regarded as a Canute-like refusal to accept the inevitable. “Lie back…” (or should that be “lay back?”) “and enjoy it” may be the correct response. But inevitability does not necessarily connote acceptance – and I have enough respect for our heritage to not give it up without a fight.

  • Don’t Let the Herald take You In

    The omens are not good for Christopher Luxon. The polls tell a story that – as interpreted by the Herald – suggest that his failure to improve his personal polling means that he could deny National an election victory in 2023; and the conclusion? That Luxon is therefore dragging National down rather than pulling them up, and must therefore go.

    The loss of faith in Luxon on the part of the Herald may signal the end for the National leader. The Herald’s close coordination with the National party makes it virtually certain that they would not be talking Luxon down without the nod from National and their supporters.

    What is not clear is whether or not the Herald has a favoured successor in mind. If so, the options look pretty limited – could it be Nicola Willis or perhaps Chris Bishop? both of whom have received kind treatment from the Herald from time to time, but without ever suggesting that they would go down better with the public than Luxon has done.

    Or could the Herald be thinking of going the whole hog and backing Act and David Seymour? The Herald’s editorial line is certainly far enough to the right to make even that possible.

    Whatever their limited options on the right, no one can doubt the Herald’s continuing commitment to getting rid of the Labour government. We can see this repeatedly, not just in their constant anti-government reporting but also in the subtlety they use in their attempts to discredit the government.

    One tactic they use is worth remarking upon, because it illustrates the care they take to show the government in a bad light, even when there is nothing of substance to report upon. The online Herald is no doubt skim-read by many readers, who will pick up the general drift of the day’s news from the headlines they see.and the Herald has been quick to exploit that.

    The Herald has become adept at putting up headlines that suggest to the casual reader that the government has somehow failed on a particular issue, when the story that follows does nothing to bear this out. A classic example was a headline from a few days ago that highlighted a huge blunder by “the Government” – a blunder that had cost the country billions. It turned out that the story related to Muldoon’s failure to set up a pension fund forty years ago, but the skim-reader would never have got that far.

    And then there was the headline about our chances of avoiding a recession, when the story that followed had the economist Tony Alexander saying that we had a good chance of avoiding recession.

    My advice to Herald readers? Don’t let them take you in with misleading headlines.

  • King Charles

    With the accession of King Charles III to the throne, my mind goes back to a brief period when the then Prince Charles and I might have been described as friends.

    I was at the time a British MP. I received out of the blue a call from Prince Charles’ Private Secretary who said that the Prince wondered if he could meet with me briefly, since he had a number of political issues he would like to discuss.

    I readily agreed and found myself meeting the Prince a few days later. We had an enjoyable conversation about several political issues, and we parted with undertakings that we would repeat the experience from time to time.

    I have no idea why the Prince singled me out. I was a prominent Labour MP and it was widely known that I was a Kiwi; it may be that he thought he could kill two birds with one stone, gaining an insight into how things seemed from a left viewpoint and as seen from the southern hemisphere.

    At some point a little later, I recall a further call from the Private Secretary. “Why don’t you give Prince Charles a call from time to time?” he asked. “The Prince would like to have you as a friend.”

    I am sorry to say that I did not follow up on this invitation. It was, I felt, quite easy to respond to invitations from the Prince for a meeting for a defined purpose – less easy, to call him up out of the blue for a chat about nothing in particular.

    What I can say is that I reached some very clear conclusions about the Prince as a result of our meetings. He was, I thought, not only personable and courteous, as one would expect; but he was also intelligent, inquiring, well-informed and thoughtful. I recall thinking that we were very lucky in having him as the heir to the throne.

    Apart from a dinner which my wife and I attended and which Charles hosted, our “friendship” progressed no further, though my wife and I continued to receive Christmas cards signed “Charles and Diana” for some years. Some of those we have kept.

    I am sorry to say that my return to New Zealand brought an end to our contacts. On the strength of what I know of him, I am sure that he will succeed in following the example of his admired mother.

  • The Queen

    I had the good fortune to meet the Queen on a number of occasions when I was a British MP. The occasion that made the greatest impression on me, however, was one in which I was merely an observer.

    The hospital in my Southampton constituency had acquired an important new facility and a ceremony was arranged at which the Queen was to open it. I was among a considerable number guests who were invited to attend and who assembled in a small lecture theatre. The Queen had arrived and was welcomed. Shortly before the proceedings were to begin, a small middle-aged woman entered the room. She seemed somewhat flustered, since it was a cardinal rule that no one should arrive after the monarch, and she became even more flustered as she began to search for a space on the tiered benches where she could sit – but no such space could be found.

    Eventually, a couple of kind people shuffled along and she was able to find a seat. I was seated to one side and slightly above the room, and so had a good view of this proceeding and of the Queen’s reaction. As the woman settled with a sigh of relief into her seat, I saw the Queen deliberately catch her eye, and smile at her. The woman smiled back and relaxed.

    We no doubt expected many qualities from our sovereign – dignity, grace, charm, poise and composure. How fortunate we were to find kindness as well!