Browns, reds, and rednecks: the real meaning of Ansell's new ad
Whilst it was predictable that the left and Maori nationalists would respond to Act's new ads with derision, the reaction from the right has been very interesting. For many National and Act supporters, Ansell's latest work seems to have created not enthusiasm but bewilderment.
Compared with the famous Kiwi/Iwi billboards Ansell created for National's 2005 election campaign, the new advertisement is extraordinarily turgid. The ad opens with the rhetorical question 'Fed up with pandering to Maori Radicals?', but the relationship between this portentous heading and the acres of small print beneath it is rather mysterious.
Ansell wants to convince us that radical Maori are about to destroy New Zealand, but the evidence he offers is underwhelming. It's hard to see how National's failure to abolish the Maori seats or the Geographical Board's decision that Wanganui should be spelt with an 'h' has brought this country to the brink of a race war. It is not surprising that even many Act supporters have suggested that Don Brash and his team would be better off junking the ad and focusing on more substantial issues, like the state of the economy and Labour's proposed Capital Gains Tax.
For his part, Ansell has been unable to understand the indifference of many in the Act Party party, let alone the rest of the country, to the message in his new ad. In a series of contributions to a comments thread at Kiwiblog, Ansell has complained that New Zealand is 'full of white cowards' who refuse to 'fight for civilisation' against 'the Maorification of everything'. Between them, Ansell says, brown fascism and white cowardice have made New Zealand 'a joke' and a 'Third World country'.
What Ansell's ad represents is not some audacious new marketing campaign, but the irruption into the political mainstream of a very involved conspiracy theory which has previously been quarantined in a peculiar cranny of the far right.
For decades now, a relatively small number of right-wingers have been warning that a shadowy and sinister alliance of Maori radicals, Marxists, United Nations technocrats, Wellington civil servants, feminists and 'politically correct' scholars is working to impose a sort of red-brown dictatorship over New Zealand. While the academics falsify the past, repressing a secret alternate version of the Treaty of Waitangi and covering up evidence of the pre-Maori white civilisation which supposedly existed in these islands, the radicals and feminists are busy undermining the patriotic feelings and patriarchal family structures that lie at the heart of Kiwi civilisation, and the technocrats are pushing through legislation which, little by little, makes a Maori-commie dictatorship inevitable. In books like Geoff MacDonald's Shadows Over New Zealand and Stuart Scott's Travesty of Waitangi and on websites like Trevor Loudon's New Zeal and Muriel Newman's NZCPR the conspiracy has been catalogued and denounced at extraordinary length.
If Ansell sees an obvious connection between his ad's apocalyptic heading and its ho-hum small print, it is because he sees the small print through the prism of conspiracy theory. For most Kiwis, even those with right-wing political opinions, the Geographical Board's decision that W(h)anganui ought to be spelt with an 'h' is a fairly trivial matter; for Ansell and other true believers in the brown-red threat, though, the Board is not a group of civil servants delivering an isolated decision on a scholarly matter, but a cabal of enemy agents launching the latest battle in a vicious but undeclared war. In much the same way, National's abandonment of its proposal to abolish the Maori seats was not the product of a pragmatic desire to woo the Maori Party after the 2008 election, but rather evidence that John Key, like so many of his predecessors, had been 'gotten to' by the shadowy forces which threaten the freedom of all white Kiwis.
John Ansell's recent comments on Kiwiblog make it clear how completely he has succumbed to the brand of conspiracy theory developed in recent decades by New Zealand's paranoid right. As well as making predictable complaints about the Maori seats, Ansell found the time to condemn 'feminazism' and the teaching of 'socialism' in New Zealand's schools, and then went on to claim that both the 'true' version of the Treaty of Waitangi and the 'true' story of the white 'tangata whenua' of New Zealand have been covered up by enemies of the white race.
Ansell has clearly been reading or conferring with Martin Doutre, the 'archaeo-astronomer', 9/11 Truther, and Holocaust denier who has emerged in recent years as the favourite pseudo-scholar of redneck conspiracy theorists. Doutre believes that a technologically advanced Celtic civilisation existed on these islands thousands of years ago, and is a champion the so-called 'Littlewood' version of the Treaty of Waitangi, which is actually a scrap of paper no Maori ever saw, let alone signed.
For reasons that are not entirely clear, Doutre believes that if the reality of 'ancient Celtic New Zealand' and the 'Littlewood Treaty' were ever accepted, then contemporary New Zealand politics would be turned upside down, and organisations like the Waitangi Tribunal would be out of business. Doutre is convinced that a politically motivated cabal of academics and museum curators is working constantly to discredit his views on New Zealand history.
The conspiracy theory I have been describing has enjoyed the odd prominent supporter in the past. In the late 1980s, for example, the police detective turned National MP Ross Meurant regularly warned that sinister Maori forces were preparing to seize power over New Zealand. Muriel Newman, who has enthused over Martin Doutre's strange ideas, was an Act MP between 1996 and 2005 and served for a time as the deputy leader of the party.
But neither the National Party in Meurant's day nor Act in the late '90s and early noughties ever endorsed the anti-Maori conspiracy theory. As the leader of the National Party in 2004-2005, Brash campaigned against Maori nationalism using a lightly revised version of the assimilationist ideology popular in Kiwi politics for most of the twentieth century, but he steered clear of conspiracy-mongering.
Act's recent decision to endorse what was for so long a fairly marginal conspiracy theory has to be understood in terms of the peculiar sociology and history of the party. Act was established by a clique of politicians and businesspeople who had benefitted from the 'reforms' to New Zealand's economy in the late '80s and early '90s. These well-heeled folk had liberal social views and an enthusiasm for the way that capitalism was obliterating the boundaries between national economies and cultures. Their leader and hero Roger Douglas roamed the world, preaching the gospel of the free market and dispensing advice in capital cities as distant as Moscow and Ulan Bator. Douglas expected the newly-formed Act to sweep all before it in New Zealand's first MMP election in 1996, but only a narrow section of the Kiwi population had been enriched by the reordering of the economy of the late '80s and early '90s, and Douglas' party only just struggled over the 5% barrier and into parliament.
In an effort to broaden its base, Act soon began to appeal to the politics of what sociologist Paul Spoonley has called 'the radical petty bourgeoisie'. Insular and socially conservative, suspicious of economic as well as cultural globalisation, and as hostile to bankers as to trade unionists, the small farmers and small business owners of the radical petty bourgeoisie had in the past supported organisations like the kooky Social Credit Party, the anti-semitic League of Rights and the obsessively anti-communist Zenith Applied Philosophy cult.
Act's willingness to make the right noises about bludging beneficiaries, dangerous Maori, and tidal waves of crime drew a layer of angry white folk into the party. In the fora of websites like Muriel Newman's NZCPR, the old anti-semitic and anti-communist conspiracy theories transmogrified into the red-brown conspiracy theory which is so enthusiastically upheld by John Ansell today.
Act has always struggled to balance the views of its radical petty bourgeois grassroots members with those of the Roger Douglas fans who have dominated its leadership and full-time staff. In recent years the radical petty bourgeois wing of the party has grown in influence, largely as a result of the departure of many of the true believers in neo-liberalism. The placement of the disaster-prone David Garrett high on Act's list before the last election symbolised the growing influence of the rednecks.
Now the rednecks seem to have won the ear of Don Brash, who is desperate to get Act's poll ratings out of margin of error territory. For the first time in many decades, an elaborate and bigoted conspiracy theory is being promoted by a mainstream New Zealand political party.
[Posted by Maps]