New Zealand World
Posie Parker (Credit: Getty images)
27 March 2023
New Zealand has, until recently, dwelt in splendid isolation during the culture wars. Kiwis have typically been reluctant to discuss social issues, the raising of which usually causes a kind of social static and brings down the mood. The antipathy, tribalism and performative outrage of identity politics hasn’t been much of a problem Down Under.
But, in the last few years, things have changed. During the first Covid lockdown, when the country’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern was, in the eyes of the global media, an almost ethereal entity visited benevolently upon these shores, the country was united and sincerely committed to leading the way in the response. By the second Covid wave, however, something never seen before here, at least at nothing like a comparable scale, began to develop. An inchoate but loud libertarian crowd began to disrupt things, driving tractors en masse down the motorway, holding rallies, and protesting outside parliament. Anti-vaxxers, a Māori and Pasifika Evangelical church collective, and various other factions demonstrated that New Zealand could be as fractured, and fractious as anywhere else in the Western World.
We saw everything that is divisive, incoherent, even hypocritical about progressivism
And then Posie Parker, the British women’s rights campaigner, arrived on the last leg of her global tour. Parker thrives on controversy but she has good reason to complain about her treatment in New Zealand, given the spilt tomato juice and rough and tumble at her appearance. However, she opted to hold her rally in a public place – Auckland’s Albert Park, no less – a stone’s throw from the nation’s largest university campus, and a relatively short stroll from the most LGBT friendly urban stretch in the country. She was provoking opposition and stoking tensions, deliberately creating the circumstances for a social media farce and pantomime. On cue, she made global headlines, fuelling publicity, enhancing her fundraising and eliciting a supportive tweet or two from J.K Rowling.
On the other side, we saw everything that is divisive, incoherent, even hypocritical about progressivism. Demonstrators were strident, even belligerent in their condemnation, culminating in Parker being slathered with tomato juice and the police escorting her away, making the judgement that it was in the interests of her safety. There is something uneasily malign about such activists participating in, or breezily condoning such behaviour, and then, in the aftermath, celebrating a party atmosphere of visibility and moral assertion. More sinister is their assertion that she is a fascist and that her beliefs were such a danger to the public that she had to be banned from the country.
These activists must have known they were giving the previously-unknown visitor huge amounts of free publicity. But their view of New Zealand as broadly tolerant and progressive, and the sheer urgency of the way in which they dealt with Parker as an ideological threat entering the system, is hard to reconcile. These activists, who crowded around and shouted down Parker, then tweeted out and live-streamed to their thousands of followers and indulged themselves in front of the media cameras, exclaiming in a generous number of soundbites about how they will continue to resist being silenced.
Left and progressive politicians were dispiritingly strident in their language. Green MP Golriz Ghahraman tweeted on her way to the rally: ‘So ready to fight Nazis’. Greens co-leader and government minister Marama Davidson said she was ‘so proud’ of the protesters. As Minister for Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence she used the event to declare that: ‘I know who causes violence in the world, and it’s white cis men’. On the other extreme, the Destiny Church, the aforementioned quasi-activist cloistered community characterised by its own menswear collection, and penchant for sunglasses and motorcycles, also tried to get in on the action.
The Parker episode was an illustration of how quickly a cultural issue can now consume New Zealand. New Zealand’s election is only six months away – and the upcoming campaign is likely to involve less debate, given the relentless focus on addressing the cost-of-living crisis. As in America, and the UK, the normal alignment of working class voters to the left might undergo a shift, as people vote less on pocketbook issues, and rather on identity politics. The major parties of Labour and National, will try to avoid much of this. Labour, under new leader Chris Hipkins, is trying to divest itself off the flakier, woke associations the party accrued under Jacinda Ardern, who stepped down earlier this year. Likewise, National’s Christopher Luxon is trying to get rid of the crustier, reactionary image the party developed under his predecessor.
New Zealand couldn’t hold back the dam forever. Identity politics, virtue signalling, cancel culture, wokery, critical race theory, and gender politics are becoming infused into everyday life. Posey Parker was only here for a day or two, and hardly any of her adherents actually showed up. But her presence brought out the worst in New Zealand, across the board, and illustrated that, in terms of identity politics, the rainbow-flag-draped, blue haired, placard waving, rage-tweeting genie has definitely been let out of the bottle.