Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Graham Adams: Hipkins adopts John Key’s ‘ordinary bloke’ schtick

John Key was one of New Zealand’s most capable political actors. He was a chameleon who would switch position at will, without any apparent embarrassment. If things didn’t entirely go his way, he’d shrug his shoulders, and say “at the end of the day” he was comfortable. For him, every new day presented a fresh stage to perform on.

His most audacious achievement as a consummate actor was to convince the electorate he was an ordinary bloke who the average voter would enjoy sharing a beer with. This despite the fact his career as a currency trader and investment banker in New York and London had earned him a fortune, with residences in London, Hawaii, Wellington and Auckland — and a multimillion-dollar getaway at Omaha — to show for it.

In the seven weeks since Chris Hipkins became Prime Minister he has switched positions with almost indecent haste. And he has been busy casting himself as the bloke next door who you might like to chat with at a barbeque. He has the advantage of being outdoorsy and capable at DIY, which Key manifestly wasn’t.

The foundation of Key’s rags-to-riches story was his state-house upbringing in Christchurch with his Austrian-Jewish refugee mother. His ordinary-bloke persona wouldn’t have worked for him without it.

In similar fashion, Hipkins has emphasised his purported humble origins. When it was announced in January that he was Ardern’s designated successor, he declared: “It’s a big day for a boy from the Hutt.” He repeated the sentiment in interviews, including with Newstalk ZB.

The reference is obviously intended to allude to a working-class background — with a hint of social disadvantage — when, in fact, his upbringing was solidly middle-class. His mother, Rosemary, was a science and biology teacher who moved into teacher education. She joined the New Zealand Council for Educational Research in 2001 and in 2019 was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to science education.

Like Key, who was not averse to planking or mincing along a catwalk, Hipkins presents himself as daggy if not bogan, including wearing a hoodie, faded cap and wraparound sunglasses to a media interview in January, presumably for that authentic “Hutt” vibe.

The suspicion it was a publicity stunt was confirmed when the Labour Party subsequently auctioned the cap and sunglasses as a fundraiser. The items were described on Trade Me as: “Black and wraparound, this Hutt-issue headgear gives you the cred to hustle a great price on new mags, audition for Westside season 7, or become Prime Minister.”

It was a pretty shameless gimmick for a Cabinet Minister who had been earning $296,000 a year for the past five years (and was soon to be getting a pay rise to $471,000 as Prime Minister — which, incidentally, is $150,000 more than Britain’s Prime Minister is paid).

While Key encouraged the average voter to forget he inhabited a world of stratospheric wealth, Hipkins is aiming to pull off an even more ambitious ploy. Against reason, he is hoping to convince the public not only that his accession to the prime ministership represents a shift from “woke” to “bloke” but that he was an innocent bystander in Jacinda Ardern’s government.

Hipkins taking the lead role as “The Man Who Wasn’t There” in Labour’s election script — hastily rewritten to accommodate Ardern’s resignation in January — is preposterous. It beggars belief that anyone would fall for his double act in posing as both a political innocent and a simple Westie (“I’m Just Chippy from the Hutt”) but our mainstream journalists appear to have. Certainly they do not seem keen to point out that Hipkins is an ideologue who has been radically reshaping New Zealand education policy alongside Ardern for years, without any explicit electoral mandate to do so.

Francesca Rudkin at Newstalk ZB summed up Hipkins’ appeal as Ardern’s successor on January 22 before he was sworn in as Prime Minister on January 25:
“Chris Hipkins can do the job, he can communicate, he can talk to people, he is relatable, and he can have a laugh at himself. He is the Mr-Fix-it Minister, the Minister for Everything, so can handle the work load. He comes across as down to earth, practical and a no-nonsense kind of guy, a nice antidote to the current perception Labour is too ‘woke’.”

On the same day, Luke Malpass, Stuff’s political editor, similarly opined:

“Sitting to the right of Ardern and many of his colleagues, Hipkins could have more of an appeal to the sorts of voters Labour will need to convince to stay with them. He is a knockaround bloke who likes to do DIY [and] is a bit of an amateur carpenter and likes to get on his bike when he can.

“He also doesn’t share some of the more ‘woke’ culture affectations that some of his colleagues do. He’s all about inclusion and diversity and that sort of thing, but it is clearly in a context of what he views as a fair society not some sort of social engineering agenda.”
Not some sort of social engineering agenda? Really? Malpass surely can’t have been referring to the same Chris Hipkins who was Minister of Education for five years from 2017 to January this year? Even Blind Freddie could see that Hipkins’ legacy in that portfolio represents social engineering and “woke” culture on a grand scale.

Let us count the ways.

As minister, Hipkins was responsible for the introduction of the compulsory radical (“decolonised”) school history curriculum that is infused with Critical Race Theory (CRT). It is a black armband account of Māori everywhere oppressed by Pakeha colonialism that fails to even mention the Musket Wars, despite those 30 years of intertribal slaughter wiping out at least 20 per cent of the Māori population. Without understanding the Musket Wars, it is simply impossible to understand why Māori signed the Treaty.

The curriculum also fails to mention James Cook and Abel Tasman. A more obvious attempt at engineering a one-eyed, ideological version of New Zealand’s history is very hard to imagine.

Then there is the insertion of mātauranga Māori into the NCEA science syllabus, which Richard Dawkins, the eminent evolutionary biologist and author, drew attention to on his recent Antipodean speaking tour.

Dawkins derided the “ludicrous policy, spawned by Chris Hipkins’ Ministry of Education before he became Prime Minister. Science classes are to be taught that Māori ‘ways of knowing’ (mātauranga Māori) have equal standing with ‘Western’ science.”

Dawkins’ objections to mātauranga Māori being included in a science curriculum centred on its “vitalism”.
“New Zealand children will be taught the true wonder of DNA, while being simultaneously confused by the doctrine that all life throbs with a vital force conferred by the Earth Mother and the Sky Father. Origin myths are haunting and poetic, but they belong elsewhere in the curriculum.”

Trying to equate mātauranga Māori — with its mix of animism, practical tips and cultural practices — with the achievements of science and awarding it equal standing strains credulity to breaking point. But Hipkins has done exactly that.

No account of Hipkins’ social engineering would be complete, however, without including the refreshed Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) guide introduced in 2020 when he was Minister of Education. It provides two sets of guidelines — one for school pupils in Years 1 to 8; the other for students in Years 9 to 13.

Extraordinarily, the guidelines for Years 1-8 — that is, for children from around 5-12 years of age — incorporates gender ideology. They recommend that class rolls should include each child’s pronouns; schools should encourage questioning of “sex norms, for example, the assumption that sex characteristics at birth are always male or female”; and that trans girls should be able to use the female bathrooms.

The science section in the same document recommends talking about how biological sex is ‘constructed’ and introducing information about hormone blockers.

Apart from the inappropriateness of teaching young children about gender ideology, why are teachers — with no medical training and qualifications — encouraged to discuss any kind of drug treatment with pupils?

Another stated aim of the RSE programme is — unsurprisingly given Hipkins’ ideological stance enshrined in the history curriculum — to “interrogate the ongoing effects of colonisation”.

The only plausible reason mainstream journalists are promoting the demonstrably false view of Hipkins as “non-woke” and not engaged in social engineering is that they are committed to ignoring anything that can be seen to be remotely critical of Māori culture or trans activism.

While journalists might be willing to criticise Hipkins’ manifest failures in the Education portfolio — which include the disastrous polytechnic merger; the first-year fees-free policy that has disproportionately benefited the wealthy and led to no significant increase in university admissions; and sky-rocketing truancy rates — they seem entirely unwilling to criticise what the nation’s children are being taught at school in history, science and sex education.

Labour’s strategists must be hoping fervently that the image of Hipkins as the man who has suddenly taken the party from woke to bloke can be maintained until the election. Unfortunately, that will depend on widespread amnesia — of the kind exhibited by journalists — persisting among voters for the next seven months.

The odds of their high-wire act succeeding probably aren’t as good as they hope. At some point, it will become evident that tinkering with speed limits, climate-change policy and benefit levels — as Hipkins announced on Monday — will leave untouched the radical changes that the Ardern-Hipkins government have made in so many areas of New Zealand life.

The most unpopular of these has been a pervasive push towards co-governance in areas including Three Waters, the Resource Management Act, education and health.

It was telling that when Jack Tame asked Hipkins on Q&A this weekend whether it is democratic to not grant Pakeha and Māori the “same level of representation” in Three Waters, Hipkins replied: “I believe there is nothing undemocratic about co-governance arrangements.”

In July last year, Tame asked Ardern a similar question: “Most people’s definition of democracy is ‘one person, one vote’. So what I want to know is, under those Regional Representative Groups [governing Three Waters], do you and I as Pakeha people have the same level of representation guaranteed as Māori people?”

Rather than admitting the undeniable fact that Māori will be given greater representation, and that the principle of “one person, one vote” has been abandoned in selecting the groups’ members, Ardern described Tame’s question as “overly simplistic”.

Hipkins may have changed tack to focus on quick salves for “bread-and-butter” issues in the run-up to the election, but it is clear the new Prime Minister is just as determined as the old one to overturn New Zealand’s proud record of equal suffrage that dates back to 1893 when women were first given the vote.

Hipkins — like Ardern — has no mandate for such a major constitutional change. And that’s a very big difference from Key, who was honourable enough to put changing the nation’s flag to two referendums.

Graham Adams is an Auckland-based freelance editor, journalist and columnist. This article was originally published by and is published here with kind permission.


Anonymous said...

Dead right Graham. Malpass (et al) more often the not avoids the sticky issue of co-governance and even Karl du Fresne (today's post below) suggests that Chippy may have changed his spots - perhaps? I agree far more with you; that his poor track record speaks volumes and Leopard's seldom change - especially ones as radical as him. But above all else, what he has done to Education is truly inexcusable and he should be gone from Government for that reason alone.

EP said...

Doubly damned in fact.

Anonymous said...

Yes this government is a goneburger in October. Chris Hipkins is very savvy but the NZ public are aware and cynical.
Thanks to all the writers here and Muriel Newman for supporting the awareness. It is very important work.

Flip said...

I definitely wouldn't bank on the ruling socialist party being gone at the next election though they should be but unfortunately most voters in this country are politically illiterate and they also have very short memories and to top that vast numbers of potential voters are so hard up they are very vulnerable to the election bribes from the socialist party which is starting now in the election runup. Unfortunately what's coming down the pike in the shape of the other socialist party is just as worrying. In my opinion the whole dodgy mess of them needs to be fired along with the public services and the corrupted main stream media. Thanking God for site's like this and the BFD etc.

Anonymous said...

Co governance is simply put dividing community leaders into elected and selected (unelected) officials. In my opinion it is a form of apartheid. This government has thrown democracy out the window!

One New Zealand Foundatuion Inc said...

Yes, John Key was a rag to riches sort of guy, he would sell his own grandmother to get what he wanted, like when he signed the Declaration on the rights of Indigenous People in secret, without a definition of the indeginous people of New zealand or a mandate from Parliament or the peope of New Zealand to remain in power.