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.

Answering questions about becoming a Republic


As I watched coverage of the Duke of Edinburgh’s car crash I was reminded that this is a man who is in his late 90’s. I was also reminded that his wife, and New Zealand’s head of state Queen Elizabeth II is also over 90. With their great and advancing age, one must assume that they will be starting to wind down their official engagements.

And as they contemplate whether to, or how to wind down their engagements, New Zealand needs to be stepping up its national conversation about our constitutional arrangements once they depart.

I have never seen the need for a foreigner as New Zealand’s head of state. As a grown up nation that has a degree of civility lacking in many others, I believe New Zealand is more than capable of having its own head of state. However I know many people who do not believe New Zealand is ready to become a Republic, or that it is not needed or welcome.

I have mentioned my reasoning for a Republic, the process I believe would be necessary to achieve it and what it might look like in past articles. This article is more about addressing public concerns about how a Republic might look and function. This is part of the debate that is necessary to have in order to inform public opinion prior to any attempt at changing how New Zealand determines its Head of State.

What will happen to the Treaty of Waitangi and the settlements reached under a Republic?

Under a Republic, New Zealand will transfer responsibility for the Treaty of Waitangi from the Crown to the Head of State. The Treaty itself and the settlements reached with Iwi will not be affected in any way by this change. This is commonly acknowledged by the Monarchist League as well as the Republican Movement.

Will New Zealand be made to leave the Commonwealth should it become a Republic?

No. Most nations in the British Commonwealth are already Republics – India, Pakistan, South Africa, Singapore, Malaysia, Nauru, to name just a few. There are 52 nations in the Commonwealth and 36 of them are Republics.

New Zealand’s heritage is British

This is a fortunately dying tunnel vision argument that ignores the fact that New Zealand is now a multicultural nation with large Pacific Island and Asian communities. Nothing about becoming a Republic will change our culture – we will still play cricket and aspire to one day win the Cricket World Cup; Queen’s English will still be the dominant language and New Zealanders will still be as welcome as they have ever been in the United Kingdom.

Should New Zealand become a Republic, what are the types of Republic?

There are several types of Republic. The one that New Zealand is physically closest to in terms of governance is the Parliamentary Republic. This type means that the President would largely be a figure head with mainly ceremonial but also constitutional powers – greeting Heads of Government and Heads of State, appointing and dismissing Cabinet members and – heaven forbid this happen – enact any necessary declaration of war on a foreign power.

A Presidential Republic is more like the United States, where the President has a large role in the day to day running of the Government and may make key foreign policy decisions. This is in addition to the ceremonial and constitutional roles as mentioned above.

There are other types of Republic including Semi-Presidential Republic, where the Head of State takes responsibility for foreign policy whilst the Head of Government looks after domestic policy. Examples include France and Taiwan.

Other types exist as well, but these are the three types New Zealand would be most likely to vote for a number of simple reasons. New Zealand is not Islamic so therefore we cannot have an Islamic Republic. The best known such example is the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Peoples Republic and Democratic Peoples Republic are typically aligned with Marxist-Leninist politics and with the exception of the Peoples Republic of China and Laos Peoples Democratic Republic, all have failed.

Republics are unstable, so why have one?

So are Monarch’s. Tonga, one of the worlds last Absolute Monarchy’s was plunged into devastating riots in 2006 as a result of widespread anger at the lack of democratic progress in the Government.

Swaziland (now Eswatini) is another. King Mswati III is well known for leading a luxurious lifestyle that is increasingly the cause of internal unrest, as well as international criticism. He holds all the powers of the state, as well as holding control over the legislature and the courts.

 

Questions face the West; the East is rising – and New Zealand looks on


Today, by the time you read this, British Prime Minister Theresa May will know whether she is staring down the barrel of electoral defeat or living, albeit badly wounded to fight another day. It is hardly inspiring to look at the fog of mystery enveloping the United Kingdom as it struggles with Brexit in all its uncertainty. Do the Conservatives or Labour know what they are doing or meant to be doing? Most likely no more than the shop keeper, the bus driver, the school teacher, or police officer doing their daily duties.

Will the U.K. be ready for Brexit on 29 March 2019 or will it have to delay?

But if we look across the English Channel to France, where the Yellow Vest revolt has entered its tenth week and has forced President Emmanuel Macron to have second thoughts about some of his more controversial policies, are things any better? France rejected the left and the right when it elected President Macron after a failed term of Francois Hollande on the left and Nicolas Sarkozy on the right, in the hope that a centrist might make more sense. Nearly two years on, it is hard to tell whether Mr Macron has had any success or not.

Will the Yellow vests become like the protesters of 1968, who ground France to a halt?

And then there is America, partially immobilized by a Trumpian shut down that shows no signs of ending and is now the longest on record. Hundreds of thousands of Federal workers who were furloughed got no pay last week. Thousands of them will be starting to seriously think about looking for alternative work in order to keep their household upright; others will be digging into their savings and wondering how long they can keep going like this before joining the thousands who will have already started looking for other work. It will not be the Democrats or the Republicans that decide this, but the thousand of furloughed workers.

The question facing America is how many vacancies in Federal jobs will have opened up due to furloughed workers quitting by the time this ends?

The dragon is rising. China is actively expanding its sphere of influence by building fake islands and then militarizing them. The old imperial vision of being a ruler of the high seas like Zheng He was in the age of imperial China is growing on President Xi Jinping, whose own ambitions are to create a dynasty not constrained by time limits rather than a President. As the dragon rises, so does the dystopian surveillance state that profiles hundreds of millions of Chinese using a vast array of computerized algorithms.

How much tighter can the Great Firewall of China get? Apparently the answer is quite a lot.

Nearer to home, one must wonder what will become of the Government of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Riddled by scandal, crippled in the House by infighting, petrified of Aboriginals, asylum seekers, environmentalists and the Labor Party, Mr Morrison’s Government is struggling to make it even to the last day that it can call a General Election, due this year. But even if Labor wins, it will have a huge job ahead rebuilding Australia’s reputation on the world stage, addressing the socio-economic circumstances that have made places like Sydney among the most expensive in the west.

But can it get rid of the following, whose departure is necessary for Australia to rehabilitate itself: former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, Minister for Environment Greg Hunt, current Prime Minister Scott Morrison, former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, among others?

Looking at all of this unfolding from afar it is easy to be smug in New Zealand. However we have little reason for smugness. We have far too many people dying on the roads; a weak justice system, education and social welfare reforms badly needed; stronger leadership on waste and other environmental issues and as the Queen and Prince Philip grow ever older, constitutional reform looms as an indecipherable shape on the horizon.

How will New Zealand address these many challenges? Will it continue looking on with a smug “she’ll be right attitude” or will we notice Godzone could do with a bit of work herself?

New Zealand should have a no deal Brexit plan ready


29 March 2019 is a day that many in Britain are probably looking at with increasing alarm/excitement/curiosity. It is a day that will potentially define the career of British Prime Minister Theresa May. It is a day that will be the culmination of nearly 3 years of roller coaster Brexit politics.

It will be – for better or for worse – the day Brexit happens.

It might also be a day that New Zealand businesses, politicians and diplomats are looking at with increasing interest/curiosity/excitement as well, albeit for different reasons. On that day or in the days following, New Zealand like the rest of the world will either see a peaceful transition to Brexit with politics, economics and society continuing about its business, or a messy one akin I am honestly not sure what New Zealand can do since I do not think British diplomats are any more informed than their political bosses as to the potential fall out should a no deal Brexit occur. But for the sake of this country we need to know what the likely scenarios are, draw up a list of potential sectors that might be subject to adverse effects and consider what support they might need.

Right now to me the metaphor about a canary down the mine shaft is hard to ignore. In this case Britain is like a canary that is going down a mine shaft which will shortly diverge in multiple directions and choosing the wrong one might result in Britain being in a shaft with carbon monoxide or methane.

But before Britain reaches the mine shaft junction, there are a few things that can potentially save them from a chaotic problem filled mess:

  1. Perhaps foremost is the ruling of the European Union court that Britain can exit the Brexit process unilaterally if so desires. That means provided enough politicians come together to make it possible, Brexit would be abolished and Britain remains in the European Union. The one very big catch here is that the hard line Brexiteers would fight tooth and nail to prevent something like this happening. Also Members of Parliament from electorates that voted to leave, but whom personally realize the need to stay would be in danger of being outed at the next election
  2. Whilst running out of time to make one happen, there seems to be considerable movement in support of a second referendum.
  3. Let us suppose just for a moment that British Prime Minister Theresa May does somehow manage to stumble, fumble and bumble her way to a deal that survives Parliament, would the voting public accept it or reject it

There are also Brexit deadlines that have to be met if none of the above can happen:

  1. UNKNOWN is the day for the rescheduled U.K. Parliamentary vote – it was meant to happen on 11 December 2018
  2. 21 JANUARY is the final day for Mrs May to send a deal to the U.K. Parliament
  3. 29 MARCH is the day that Britain formally exits the European Union

Mrs May has challenges. Can she muster 320 or more M.P.’s in the House of Parliament to get whatever deal is sent to Parliament for the vote, over the line? If she cannot and given that the U.K Parliament will probably rise soon for the Christmas break, how long will she have after it resumes and before the 29 January deadline to present something to Parliament does she have?

But back to New Zealand and our readiness for Brexit in whatever form it comes. Yes we should have a look at the potential flow on effects for New Zealand, especially if it cannot reach a deal with the European Union. Yes we should definitely expect turbulence in the days afterwards either way in the markets – the N.Z. Dollar might abruptly drop or rise.