Chris Hipkins’ initial success as Labour’s fresh Messiah after Jacinda Ardern’s resignation in January has largely rested on the promise that his party’s focus henceforth would be on “bread-and-butter” issues such as the cost of living.
This recasting of a prominent member of Ardern’s close-knit kitchen Cabinet as a working-class hero (“I’m just Chippy from the Hutt”) was snappily summarised by the mainstream media as a shift from “woke” to “bloke”. But why journalists would promote that view is hard to understand given that even a cursory review of Hipkins’ role as Education minister makes it clear that Hipkins is an ideologue, of the intensely woke variety.
Of course, Hipkins’ attempt to rebrand himself as anti-woke could never have lasted very long. He has always been a progressive ideologue and his reflexes are woke. It was only ever going to be a question of time before his attempt to restyle the incompetent Ardern government as a fresh, down-to-earth, pragmatic administration fell apart. And it has.
His nemesis has been the British female-rights activist Posie Parker (real name: Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull), who campaigns for sex-based rights that she believes are being erased by transgender activists. She is firm in her view that it is impossible to change sex.
On Saturday, March 25, her planned speaking tour was shamefully derailed by an angry mob of transgender supporters at Albert Park in central Auckland before she could begin to speak. Her rally at Wellington the next day was cancelled.
If Hipkins’ instincts had really been those of the working-class “boy from the Hutt” as he likes to portray himself, he might have been more aware that the vast majority of New Zealanders outside the civil service, universities and the media would find the proposition that a biologically intact male is actually a woman completely preposterous. They would be surprised that anyone asked them to take the notion seriously.
If he had understood that — while not wanting to enrage civil servants, the media and university students and their lecturers — Hipkins wouldn’t have gone further than he did in acknowledging that free speech is an essential part of New Zealand society.
Unable to help himself, however, he also made it clear he didn’t approve of Parker’s planned rallies in Auckland and Wellington, saying he condemned people who abused their right to freedom of speech to “create division”. He later accused Parker of trying to “get a headline”. She was bemused that the Prime Minister was talking about her at all, describing it as “bizarre”.
With Hipkins having set the political tone, his senior ministers didn’t hold back — and completely destroyed any illusion that the Labour government in its 2023 incarnation had moved on from the culture wars.
In one short statement in advance of Parker’s arrival, the Minister of Finance, Grant Robertson, managed to mention Parker’s “bigotry” twice as well as describing her views as “hateful” and “abhorrent”, alleging that they included lies and misinformation and, of course, “transphobia”.
Astonishingly for a Minister of Justice, Kiri Allan egged on those planning to protest: “Let’s do what we do, Aotearoa — stand up, make some noise and support our trans whānau by showing up and drowning out any bigotry that seeks to divide and hurt our whānau.”
She also laid bare the government’s commitment to identity politics. As well as condemning Parker’s “bigotry”, she added: “Nope to any person that tries to censor anyone else’s identity — race, sexuality, class, gender — just nope.”
Identity politics is at the core of what is popularly (and pejoratively) known as wokeness. The state of being woke can be usefully — if roughly — defined as anyone who subscribes to the view that society is enmeshed in a hierarchy of oppression based on identity. This mostly centres on racial, religious, gender and sexual identity with the priests of woke using a mysterious calculation to assess where any group lies on the list. Generally, being brown and transgender will elevate someone above most others on the ladder of oppression. Hence the many media interviews giving trans activist Shaneel Lal the opportunity to condemn Parker’s visit.
Immigration Minister Michael Wood — notorious for having described the anti-mandate protesters in Wellington last year as floating on a “river of filth” — went even further than his Cabinet colleagues. He condemned Parker’s “inflammatory, vile and incorrect world views”.
His extraordinary implication there are “correct world views” exposed his own authoritarian ideological leanings for all the world to see. We can only assume Wood believes he holds “correct” views and anyone who doesn’t agree is mired in error, if not heresy.
The government seems to have not yet entirely realised how badly they have played this issue — or its likely electoral ramifications. It’s not a case so much of Hipkins and his ministers having blotted their copybook but, rather, of disastrously revealing the progressive hand they were trying to hide.
By Tuesday, it was evident that Hipkins had begun to sense that the issues raised by the mob violence on Saturday were not going to disappear as quickly as he had hoped. He told RNZ: “The polarised nature of the debate that we’ve been having in the last few days isn’t particularly helpful — it’s also not one of the major issues that people are raising.”
Just as he likes to pretend he wasn’t part of Ardern’s government, he is now pretending that his own statements before Parker’s visit and those by his ministers didn’t set the tone for the media pile-on that followed and the subsequent polarisation.
Chris Luxon and David Seymour, however, understand clearly the electoral advantage offered by the reactions to Parker’s visit — not least the statement made by Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson as she walked away after Saturday’s protest that identified “white cis men” as the main perpetrators of violence in the world. Luxon has asked for Davidson to apologise to white men.
So far Hipkins has only said his minister’s comments were “inappropriate” and “not helpful”.
The Prime Minister’s claims that Davidson was “entrapped” by the “right-wing conspiracy group” who questioned her about her views of the violence at the protest — and that it was unfair because she was in shock after being struck by a motorcycle on a pedestrian crossing — appear little short of desperate. As a wag on Twitter quipped: “First-aiders will tell you sudden racism is one of the best ways of checking if your patient is in shock.”
Anyone watching the clip would be very unlikely to conclude that Davidson was, indeed, in shock. In fact, she looked cock-a-hoop, declaring she was “so proud” of the protesters — and appeared just as joyful as she was when she delivered a rapturous speech from the Albert Park rotunda shortly after Parker had been forced to flee and some time after the motorbike incident.
Luxon and Seymour know full well that once the public becomes fully aware that Labour’s re-election depends heavily on Green Party support, the Prime Minister will be in serious trouble.
Davidson hasn’t helped Hipkins by refusing to specifically condemn the violence at Albert Park. And the irony of the Minister for the Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence cheerleading violent assaults on women for daring to advocate for their rights can’t have been lost on many. Seymour has demanded she be sacked from that role.
Unfortunately for Hipkins, Davidson’s responses have only reinforced the perception of the Greens’ commitment to woke dogma. Asked in Parliament on Tuesday whether she acknowledged that her statement about “cis white men” was factually incorrect, she avoided answering directly. Instead, she said violence was “enabled by socially accepted hierarchies of power, that include sexism, racism towards minority communities, colonisation, ableism, ageism, homophobia, transphobia, and classism — and I am really clear about those drivers of violence”.
The run-up to the violence in Albert Park and its fall-out have laid bare just how shockingly detached from reality Labour’s allies in the Green Party are — not to mention unforgivably careless of the truth, offensively racist, and hostile to the rights of women (that is, those “old-fashioned ones” who have wombs and not penises, as Ricky Gervais put it).
Davidson was not alone among her Green colleagues in tacitly supporting the violence at Albert Park. Shortly before Posie Parker was due to arrive there, Golriz Ghahraman tweeted a photo taken of herself near the park with the caption: “So ready to fight Nazis.”
Chloe Swarbrick later preposterously claimed that, “Revisionist history attempts are in overdrive as culture war vultures beat their social media drums. Thousands of Aucklanders, of all walks of life, know what they experienced yesterday [at Albert Park]. Overwhelmingly, that was love and affirmation.”
In a column despairing at the Greens’ stance towards women, TodayFM’s Rachel Smalley wrote: “Why should Labour and Chris Hipkins be worried about what played out at the weekend? Because the only way Labour can form a government in October is with the support of the Greens. If Labour gets into power, they will bring the Greens with them. They will have to, to get the numbers. And they'll have to work with Marama Davidson, who shut down the voice of women, and said white men are behind all of the violence in the world. How do you come back from that?
“If this is the level of damage the Greens can inflict on society and on women’s rights when they’re officially [a small part of the] government, imagine how much destruction they can do if they are entrenched fully within a Labour government?”
In short, Hipkins will be a hostage to the Greens. Voters can see clearly that Hipkins will have to indulge them, simply because he will need them. And what will be just as damaging will be the public’s growing awareness that many of his political instincts and policy positions are close to theirs. That includes such contentious topics as hate-speech laws and Māori nationalism, including continuing to insert Treaty obligations into all legislation and policy.
Despite Hipkins’ fervent wish that October’s election will be fought on the cost of living, Posie Parker’s brief visit has ensured it will also be fought on cultural ideology. And with Hipkins’ own record in education sitting there to be used against him — and with the Greens as his political allies — he’s highly vulnerable to Opposition attacks.
And they know it.
Graham Adams is an Auckland-based freelance editor, journalist and columnist. This article was originally published by ThePlatform.kiwi and is published here with kind permission.