What the appointment of a buffoon as U.K. Prime Minister means for New Zealand


Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges was right to do so when he called Boris Johnson, the new Prime Minister of the U.K., a buffoon. Despite Mr Bridges later backtracking and calling it an endearment it was – coming from a conservative New Zealand politician – a surprisingly appropriate estimate.

So, what does Mr Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and leader of an increasingly rabid Conservative Party, mean for New Zealand?

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern welcomed the appointment and noted that Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters has a warm relationship with him. Mr Peters, who was photographed last year with Mr Johnson trying out the phones at the War Rooms of war time Prime Minister Winston Churchill supports Mr Johnson’s pledge to exit the European Union with or without a deal on 31 October 2019.

But is Boris Johnson really the Prime Minister of the U.K. that New Zealand wants or needs to do business with? Granted that he might be forgiven for probably not having read the Defence Capability Plan that Minister of Defence Ron Mark released a couple of months ago, Mr Johnson’s knowledge of New Zealand government policy did not get off to a good start, suggesting that we might be about to purchase several naval frigates from the United Kingdom. Whilst eventual replacements for the frigates have been timetabled into the D.C.P., the timing is not until around 2028-2030, and no ideas about who might be given the contract have been mentioned as yet.

Mr Johnson’s promise of a Free Trade Agreement between the United Kingdom and New Zealand is another potential stumbling block. The trade deal can only happen if the United Kingdom exits the European Union. Whilst this is likely to happen, it is likely to be subject to significant delay as the U.K. Parliament refuses to allow a no-deal Brexit to happen. As chief proponent of no-deal Brexit Mr Johnson is therefore going to find himself and the idea of no-deal Brexit severely challenged in the next few months.

Resistance to the policy platform of Mr Johnson is likely to come from other places as well. An enigma on U.K government policy, he has shown himself to be more liberal on issues around taxation and gay marriage despite being conservative, but at the same time consistently voting against measures to contain and reduce the United Kingdom’s contribution to the worlds man made carbon equation. Mr Johnson has also supported selling arms to Saudi Arabia despite substantial evidence that they are being used to commit war crimes in Yemen.

As a politician who has supported the highly divisive anti-immigrant and anti-European Union, Nigel Farage and his United Kingdom Independence Party, Mr Johnson is not likely to win himself much support from the left – if any at all. As a politician seen to be cut from the same crude cloth of United States President Donald Trump, with a disregard for the establishment and the rule of law both domestically and internationally, Britain’s reputation as a leading light of the west could be in jeopardy if he swings too far to the right.

For a little country in the south Pacific that tries to comply with international law and maintain an emphasis on everyone having a fair go, Mr Johnson’s appointment might not be the most helpful thing the U.K. has done for New Zealand.

 

 

Cricket World Cup final one for the ages


Long after the last column is written about the 2019 Cricket World Cup Final, people will remember it for the drama. They will remember it for the extraordinary overtime – how one team came to be victors, and how the losers came to symbolise all that is good and great about the game: grace, composure, humanity. There may not be for a long time to come, such an epic Cricket World Cup Final as that which played out at the home of cricket over night 14-15 July 2019 NZT. It was truly one for the ages, irrespective of which team you were supporting.

Despite being massively disappointed with the outcome of this final, the fact that two nations who had never lifted it before the finalists, will make the time spent watching it despite knowing the outcome well worth the effort. The fact that they played scintillating cricket right throughout the match, driving it into the cricket equivalent of over time after managing to tie on the last ball of regular play and the fact that the Super Over has never had to be played before, makes it an utterly unforgettable match.

Could I be any prouder of New Zealand? Probably not. The boys gave it their absolute all. Stunned, shattered players who knew it could have gone either way, who could have never have anticipated having to play the Super Over, this will be one where they can say they left a bit on of themselves on the field. It will take awhile for them to get over this. And no one, absolutely no one, can blame them.

At one time or another a number of us have probably wondered what Martin Guptill was doing in the team. I confess to having doubts about his batting. His run out of M.S. Dhoni in the semi-final against India was brilliant, and gave people pause for thought. Unfortunately his batting woes were not so kind on him. But tonight can we just help the poor guy back on to his proverbial feet, and let him grieve the loss of what could so easily have been the greatest day in his career.
Spare a thought for Kane Williamson, the New Zealand captain and batting maestro. On his short frame, the weight of expectation must have seemed immense. Calm and collected despite probably having a hundred different problems bouncing around in his head, I never once saw him express frustration with his players. But having to watch the match he had every reason to believe his team could win, slip away before his very eyes as a result of some unlucky events, he must have wondered what side the cricket gods were on.
Ross Taylor might not get another chance to be on a winning team. At 36 years, one of the greatest batsmen New Zealand has ever had is getting on towards hanging up his gloves. Several of the others including the king of swing Trent Boult and the other half of the old Tim and Trent show – Tim Southee – will be in or approaching their mid 30’s by the time 2023 comes around.

As for England, they have as much reason to be absolutely delighted with the outcome. England went into this tournament as one of the favourites. They had been enjoying a revival in recent years that was enough to make any team pause and think about their approach. This was going to be a great day for cricket irrespective of who won because neither team had lifted the World Cup before. But in the end someone had to win and someone had to lose. England were playing before vociferous fans on the home ground of cricket. Whether it was Eoin Morgan or Johnny Bairstow with the bat propelling England on their way to the target of 241, or Jofra Archer with the ball this would be England’s day.

 

Legacy of the Maybot – and what it means for New Zealand


British Prime Minister Theresa May quit on Friday night New Zealand time. After two tumultuous years at No. 10 Downing Street, during which time in equal measure she earned ridicule and contempt but little praise. Mrs May announced she was standing down on 07 June 2019. As New Zealand and the world watch to see who will replace her, it is useful to have a look at the legacy of Mrs May – otherwise derisively known as the “Maybot”.

It will be defined in part by a burning tower on a beautiful summer evening in London in 2017. The Grenfell tower fire was a man made tragedy that in large part could have been avoided, and will be better remembered in four parts:

  • the robotically cold officialdom that utterly failed to show any humanity;
  • the fire fighters who had to fight the fire and will be forever haunted by what they saw (watching a Youtube clip of them remembering the dead was hard on the eyes);
  • very obviously from across the broad spectrum of backgrounds they came, the victims themselves and their families who are no closer to finding out how this happened;
  • the many people who saw it and wondered how this could be happening in 21st Century Britain

This was Mrs May’s first big test and a spectacular failing of her leadership, her compassion and her ability to make anything politically useful out of the fire. Disasters are not meant to be political capital making exercises, but a public figure who pulls all the right levers in the appropriate time – high visibility, seen to be caring about the victims, offering what relief might be possible – and it can become a significant unintentional exercise in exactly that.

In New Zealand the Grenfell fire caused a brief ripple of concern about high rises in New Zealand that might have the same or similarly flammable cladding on them. And then, just as quickly, perhaps overtaken by our looming election, it dropped out of sight and I am sure many New Zealanders will have completely forgotten about it. In London that is not so easy.

As an Amnesty International member and activist, the willingness of the British Government to sell armaments to Saudi Arabia as the latter comes under renewed fire for its alleged war crimes in Yemen, this is like a cheese grater on my conscience. I can’t ignore it and the idea that a western nation admired and respected by New Zealand thinks arming war criminals to commit more war crimes really does not sit comfortably. I have tried to start, as well as sign numerous acts of activism against this in the hope that Saudi Arabia will put the cluster bombs and the American and British combat jets that were used to drop them on Yemeni schools, hospitals and houses, away.

But it will be that awful mess on the common table shared with the European Union that will define Mrs May. Call Brexit what you will, but can anyone honestly say nearly 3 years after the referendum and over two years since the exit process was triggered, that they absolutely know what needs to happen and how? I certainly cannot. From a New Zealand stand point it is as clear as mud, just like it was on the day the two year Brexit process began.

Because of its muddy clear clarity, I can offer you the following assessment: I have no idea what is going on, except that Boris Johnson wants Mrs May’s job and has said Britain will be – deal or no deal – gone by the end of October 2019. But with possibly up to 20 people challenging or considering challenging for Mrs May’s job, Mr Johnson must first get the job.

So, when Mrs May departs, she will – despite being warm to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and showing respect for the Christchurch mosque attack victims – largely be remembered for being a Prime Minister who operated in a fog as impenetrable as the Brexit mess she was handed, and will hand on to her successor.

Lest we forget: A.N.Z.A.C. Day 2019


New Zealand graves at Polygon Wood, Belgium. R. GLENNIE

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Laurence Binyon

My visit to Belgium last year had three aims. See some of its rich history, test drive some of their superb craft beer and chocolate and visit some of the more notable war graves and memorials to the madness that was World War 1.

Polygon Wood war cemetery was basking in sunshine when I visited it in September 2018. A beautiful clear autumn day in a peaceful wooded setting with nicely maintained grounds, a far sight from the horribly mangled place that it would have been at the end of 1918 with nary a tree in sight, shell holes half full of ground water with rotting human bodies, bits of uniform, guns, unexploded ordnance and other detritus. So toxic I imagine, that it would not have been fit for even the hardiest biological organism.

When I remember those famous words from Binyon this year and in years coming, I will also remember them for the German soldiers who were just following orders just like ours. I will remember them because those Germans probably no more wanted to be in the war than I suspect any of the others – looking for ways to legitimately “catch a blighty” (be wounded enough to be sent home)was common. With little or no understanding of the horrendous mental toll that living in trenches with inches deep mud, being shelled incessant whilst dreading the whistle that would send everyone over the top in far too many cases for the final time, those who had gone mad were dispatched by a gun shot.

I remember them because as Paul Ham, in his book Passchendaele: A requiem for a doomed youth makes clear, the disgruntlement with a stupid war where no progress seemed to be getting made, by the end of 1917, both the German and British civil populations loathed the war. A war where the youngest British soldier was just 13 and the oldest was 68; where the first British soldier to die, died just 200 metres from where the last British soldier died. The French had nearly mutinied after the blood bath at Verdun the previous year, causing their commanders to effectively withdraw the French military from the war for a year.

What is not so well known is what caused the Germans to suddenly surrender. It was rumoured that after more than a year effectively in dock, the German high seas fleet was finally ready to put to sea again. Except that there was a problem. When the fatal Battle of Jutland occurred in 1916, the German navy had not seen much action and there was some excitement about the prospect of finally fighting. Fast forward two very bloody years on the Western Front, a civil population sick of the huge losses, the nearly universal shortages of just about everything and no end in sight, the German navy had lost the will to fight. Mutiny set in at the naval bases and spread like wildfire. On 8 November 1918, the Kaiser abdicated. Three days later in a train carriage at Compiegne an Armistice was signed.

Nearly 100 years later I visited a museum at Zonnebeke where we could see a collection of defused shells and it was explained to us what their individual purpose was – each colour marking meant a different use. Some were gas shells that would explode and release poison gas. Some were made for piercing the concrete of bunkers and still more were made as incendiary or high explosive shells. The range of uses that were found was impressively depressing. German, British and French shells were all well represented among them.

As I wandered among the many graves – New Zealand, Canadian, Australian, French, German, British, Belgian, South African, Indian and those of others – I thought about where the consequences of World War 1 have taken us in the 100 years since. I thought about the social cost, the several quantum leaps our ability to kill each other has taken, and about how much (or how little) our politicians seem to have learnt from it. When they advocate for war, I think of the millions of young men sent to their deaths all for a war that history is by no means certain about the purpose of.

Those young men never had a voice, but my generation and future generations hopefully do. Binyon’s words are for them too. As a reminder.

Brexit: Two weeks until…


On 29 March 2019, people the world over will watch the United Kingdom and European Union to see how Brexit unfolds. They will be watching something that British Prime Minsiter David Cameron, when he decided to put this to the vote in 2013, would have never envisaged happening. Mr Cameron would have been thinking no one will vote “LEAVE”. This was confirmed by his resignation from Parliament within a matter of weeks following the referendum.

Now, more than 2 years after that fateful day on which the vote to leave was held, Britain is teetering ever closer to the completely unknown. It has two weeks to figure out whether it wants a future, potentially crippled by E.U. restrictions; is going to call a hastily organized referendum on whether to continue or reverse course; or hastily rejoin. It has two weeks for Prime Minister Theresa May to salvage a deal from a field of wreckage from previous attempts at achieving a deal.

Two weeks.

But can it? Former Mayor of London, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and favourite of the British right wing, Boris Johnson has always been stridently in favour of just walking away from the European Union. The problem with this approach is aside from being criminally reckless, it is a major middle finger salute to the international and domestic laws, the treatises and other instruments of law that define the basis of the western legal system.

What does Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the U.K. Labour Party want? As a past Eurosceptic, Mr Corbyn has not always been warm to the idea of Britain continuing a leading role in the E.U. It was not until Mr Cameron put the issue of whether to stay or go to a vote that Mr Corbyn seriously swung in behind it. He has said that if Britain leaves the E.U. it cannot remain in the European Single Market. Mr Corbyn has stated many times that the E.U. imposes rules on British employers that would cramp their ability to trade. And despite protests from various members of his Labour caucus, Mr Corbyn has not seriously committed to a second referendum.

There is not much New Zealanders or anyone else in Europe living in the U.K. can do except watch the whole thing unravel and hope that cometh 29 March there are no major problems.

The only economic reassurance is that New Zealand would be high on the British list in terms of priority for a new trade deal should Brexit trigger.

Will Brexit be clean? If I had to guess, highly improbable if not outright impossible. There are simply too many unknowns in what looks like a horrendously complex calculus equation. The deal Mrs May is offering is quite shoddy, but now, short of a hard exit, the cold truth is that the U.K. Parliament and the European Union might have no choice but to accept it.

I have concerns. One of them is that the border between Ireland and the rest of the European Union will become a hard border with check points and guards, and that this might stoke any tensions still existing. What will it mean for other borders and the Chunnel (Channel Tunnel), the Schengen free travel zone and so forth? Good question.

With only two weeks until God knows what happens next, I am only confident that all of this must be starting to play on a fair few millions of peoples nerves both in New Zealand, in the U.K., in the E.U. and around the world.