12 February 2014

Len Brown toughs it out.

Auckland City aspires or pretends to be a "world class city", and there is one respect in which it seems to be part of a global phenonomen.  In Egypt, Turkey, Ukraine and Thailand popular movements have sprung with the object of forcing supposedly incompetent, corrupt or divisive elected officials out of office.  In Auckland, a group of councillors, a vocal section of the public, social conservative pressure groups, and the nation's largest newspaper, the New Zealand Herald, have demanded that the recently re-elected  Mayor Len Brown should resign as a consequence of his extra-marital affair with the political "groupie" Bevan Chuang.

The Herald's case has little to do with personal sexual morality.  It would be surprising indeed if a newspaper which implicitly supports no-fault divorce and state sponsored sodomy were to become precious about a sexual affair.  The Herald's only real concern was that the Brown's affair would result in democratic checks and balances being imposed upon him and his office by the Auckland Council.   In the Herald's words "The city's councillors are, naturally enough, disappointed at the mayor's behaviour. But their response is as short-sighted as it is ill-judged. They have chosen to mount an assault on his office. The real risk now is that some kind of oversight committee to control the mayor would drag Auckland back into ... the very state the Super City was designed to rectify. The absence of an independent mayor with strong powers would invite the left and right to revert to practices mercifully absent in the first Super City term...the next mayor must be able to lead assertively and independently."

In common with Egypt, Turkey, Ukraine and Thailand, the democratic election returned a politician who is, rightly or wrongly, perceived as representing the interests of the lower social classes, and the opposition is lead by those who advocate strong, centralised, and not necessarily democratic government.   But there the similarities end.   In Egypt, protesters were inspired and encouraged, perhaps even directed, by the military which, when the time was right, stepped in to oust the elected government and install its own regime.  In Turkey and Thailand the dissidents enjoy the tacit support of  military establishments which have a history of interference in civil politics, and in Egypt, Turkey, Ukraine and Thailand the opposition  on the streets is lead by a vociferous and militant middle class.

In Auckland, the opposition to and support for Mayor Brown has been shallow and tepid.   There have been editorials, radio and television commentary, blogs and public protests all calling on Brown to resign, but there have been no mass demonstrations, rock throwing, or barricades of burning tyres.   The  anti-democratic elite in New Zealand - those represented by the editor of the Herald - are unable to bring large numbers of  aggrieved and threatened middle class activists onto the streets, just as those on the left who favour a more palpably democratic process are incapable of mobilising their own base of working-class support to back the Mayor.

In contrast to Egypt, Turkey, Ukraine and Thailand, efforts to force Mayor Brown out of office in Auckland have turned out to be a damp squib.  There is not enough at stake for the advocates of "strong local government" to force the point with Brown, and therefore it makes sense for Brown to dig in and tough it out, as did his counterparts in Egypt, Turkey, Ukraine and Thailand, though with mixed results.

Politicians are not shrinking violents who resign office because they have lost favour with the public, or out of shame at their own improper behaviour, or just because their opponents insist that they should.   It was naive of the political right and the editor of the New Zealand Herald to suppose that Len Brown would resign in such circumstances, and they were mistaken in supposing that it was necessary for Brown to resign in order for their own programme to be implemented.    Brown is an absolutely typical liberal-left political personality.   His moral failure was typical of leftist politicians - think John F Kennedy, Bill Clinton or David Lange - but his political malleability and pragmatism is also typical of leftist politicians - again think Kennedy, Clinton and Lange.   Brown can do the business for the right just as well, and arguably better than, any other contender such as John Banks, Cameron Brewer or name who you will.  The move to oust Brown was a political misjudgment on the part of the right.  It was not necessary to their interests, and it was never likely to succeed.

But the failed "coup" should not be "end of story" for those on the left, because it reaffirms that in New Zealand at least, leftists are at greater risk of being exposed for their moral lapses.   There are a number of possible explanations and factors at work here.

The first is that most commonly proffered by the left, which is not to say the most convincing.  The left believe that their transgressions are more likely to be detected and exposed by hostile mass media organisations.   There may be something to this, but it will always be a difficult claim to substantiate because it is an empirical argument dependent upon generally non-existent evidence.

A second argument, rather more satisfying because it is rational rather than empirical and unsubstantiated, is that because are leftists are generally more liberal on moral issues than their right wing opponents, they are more likely to indulge in sexual pecadillos.  They realise that it is not a good look politically to be caught out watching pornographic movies, or sleeping with another woman (or man) but because there is no priest, minister or inner voice to tell them "This is not right", they are more prone to breach social convention.

The third explanation is more subtle, and of greater political import, than the first two.  Leftists make political capital out of professions of loyalty to the working man and woman, yet in order to gain and retain political power they must form alliances with the powers-that-be in the state and the economy, the managers of the Treasury, the bankers, the media moguls and the captains of industry.  Duplicity becomes a way of life for leftist politicians while those from the right enjoy the privilege of remaining faithful in word and deed to the institutions of capital.  Leftists deceive and dissemble because they must.  They have no alternative.  In the words of Oscar Amringer, left-wing politics "is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other". And having become practised in the arts of deceit, and once having enjoyed the fruits of their duplicity, it is only natural that they should extend that duplicity from their political to their private lives.  Hidden political alliances, and secret sexual dalliances are grist to the mill of the leftist politician.

Getting back to basic constitutional principles, criticism of an elected government or official is normal, proper and accepted.   Popular revolts and orchestrated demands for resignation on the other hand are improper ways of responding to unwanted outcomes of the democratic process, and would normally be justified only by the most extraordinary circumstances.  In jurisdictions where there are legal processes for indicting public officials for acts of malfeasance (New Zealand being one) there are legal processes by which corrupt officials may be removed from office, and that is the course which should be followed in the case of Mr Brown.

Having said that, the Brown affair, and the popular anti-democratic revolts in Egypt, Turkey, Ukraine and Thailand have exposed a fundamental weakness in the machinery of modern democracy, which is scarcely representative, and wholy unaccountable.   Generally speaking there is no constitutional process for the recall of elected officials and therefore the political right in particular chooses to adopt unconstitutional processes - ranging from orchestrated media pressure through public riots to full-blown military coups - to that end.

The "right of recall" would provide a constitutional alternative, but under the existing forms of democratic government it would not be an unmitigated good.   In the best case, the right of recall would cause governments to pause before going beyond the scope of their electoral mandate, but  it would be fiscally expensive and politically destabilizing in proportion to the frequency with which it was actually employed.

The political structure and processes of the Confederation of Peoples of Aotearoa are designed to resolve this conundrum, and  to address all the other demonstrable deficiencies of the modern mass mediated democracy, which are giving rise to disillusionment with and alienation from the democratic system on a global scale, and among all social classes.   To the extent that Len Brown's affair with Bevan Chuang has brought these issues to the fore, it could be considered a good thing.

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