• What Happened to the Team?

    Last year, in the early stages of the pandemic, the Prime Minister’s “team of five million” performed well; team discipline was maintained and we all worked well together.

    This year, however, has been a different story; team discipline has weakened, and many people have on numerous occasions behaved badly and irresponsibly. The reasons for this deterioration are not hard to identify.

    The first is straightforward enough – the delta variant is a different and more difficult beast. It poses a range of new and awkward problems which have required – if they are to be overcome – an even more disciplined team approach, and that has not been forthcoming.

    The second reason is, however, more interesting – and even more regrettable. Politics has reared its ugly head and has interceded in what needed to be, and was once, a largely unified approach.

    This political complication is not just a simple matter of “right-wing” hostility to a left-of-centre government. The “right” itself is now a more complex beast than it used to be and it takes a number of different and often competing forms.

    Even its principal manifestation – the National party – is now a splintered entity. There are now several competing National voices and interest; on the one hand, for example, Judith Collins and her supporters and, on the other, those who want to see a change of leadership, some of whom (such as Chris Bishop) fancy their own chances of becoming leader and all of these therefore speak with different and competing voices and see the possible advantage of being the first to land a blow or two on the government.

    And then there is another right-wing party, Act – which fancies its chances of becoming the principal right-wing voice but in the meantime has to try to make its voice heard by taking a different tack from its senior partner and by striking out on a “libertarian” path.

    And there is also, more significantly, a hitherto unidentified and unsuspected body of opinion which might accurately be described as “far right”. As has happened in many other countries, not least in Trump’s America, there is an underground upswing in those who believe in conspiracy theories, who are against the very concept of government, who distrust experts, and who resist any idea that they might be part of a “team”. The Brian Tamakis and Billy Te Kahikas have actively opposed any notion that we can, or should, look to government to help us out of our difficulties. To play as a team, they say, is to put our individual liberties at risk (as though the delta variant isn’t doing a pretty good job of that by itself).

    And then there are the politicians who are not, in the usual sense, right-wing but who pursue their own agendas in the sense of claiming that they represent various sectional interests that have been somehow overlooked, so that we are not all part of the whole and should not therefore be expected to play in the same team.

    This wide range of right-wing and hostile forces has done a huge amount to weaken the efficacy of the government’s efforts this time round. They have eroded the very idea that “we are all in this together”, with the result that the government’s efforts have thereby been crucially undermined.

    Sadly, the essential condition for overcoming the virus has been stymied, not only by the virus itself, but by competing forces who actively want the government to fail. It is hard to see how we can regain that essential team spirit when so many voices are calling for different things.

    And all of this is compounded by the right-wing media who constantly offer platforms to those who would – by undermining the government – weaken our national effort. Who would be in government!

    Bryan Gould
    15 October 2021