Please God, forgive us, because in anger we made it happen

The Dunedin rally in support of the Te Pāti Māori call to action. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
The Dunedin rally in support of the Te Pāti Māori call to action. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Laurie looked up for the umpteenth time from his newspaper.

It was 4.10 in the afternoon and he was wondering where his mate Les had got to. By and large, Les was a very punctual guy. If he told you he’d meet you at 4pm, then that’s when he’d appear.

But it was now 10 minutes after the hour and Laurie was reduced to doing the crossword puzzle. Four across, seven letters: A remedy for strife.

"Sorry I’m late, mate. Got held up."

"Not like you, Les. What? Did you get waylaid by one of those Māori Party protests?"

"Heh! I wish. But there are not too many of those this far south. A pity, because we could use some of that Māori Party moxie in these parts. At least they’re fighting back."

"I thought you were opposed to all that Treaty stuff? Didn’t you used to say that co-governance was undemocratic?"

Les took a long sip from his glass of pale ale, replacing it carefully on the circular coaster provided.

"Yes, I did, didn’t I. But since this new government got cracking, I’ve been having second thoughts. Serious second thoughts."

"Oh, come on, Les. You knew what you were doing. National, Act and NZ First hardly made a secret of their intentions. You knew what you were voting for."

"I’ve been thinking about that, too, Laurie. Wondering if all I really wanted was to put the boot into Labour and the Greens for making such a God Almighty mess of governing the country. All that woke nonsense."

"And it was nonsense, Les. They were holding up four fingers and demanding that we see five."

"Yeah, I know. And it made me so angry that I used my vote as a weapon, rather than as a shield, or, in the best way, as a tool. I swore to my late father I’d never, ever, do that — cast a vote in anger. But, dammit Laurie, that’s what I did."

"Well, you can take some comfort from the fact that you weren’t the only one."

"But, that’s the thing, mate, isn’t it? We showed ourselves to be nothing more useful than a bunch of angry old men, shaking our fists at the sky. Were we really that angry at Labour and the Greens? Or was it just the inescapable fact of our own growing irrelevancy to the country’s future that caused us to do it so much harm?"

"You really think that’s what we did, Les?"

"God forgive us, Laurie, yes, I think that’s exactly what we did. Just look at these Fair Pay Agreements. I mean they were a bloody good idea. They’d have made life easier for a whole lot of ordinary working people. We both knew they’d be gone before Christmas if we voted for the Nats and their mates, a reform you and I have been pushing for these past 40 years, and we helped to get rid of them, God forgive us Laurie, we made it happen."

Laurie, fiddled with his ballpoint pen.

"Four across. Seven letters. A remedy for strife? Any ideas?"

Les ignored the question.

"The Maori Party’s protests got me thinking, Laurie."

"They were pretty small, mate. Nothing like 1981."

"True enough, but I looked at the live broadcasts on Tuesday, and you know what I saw? I saw young people, Māori and Pakeha, standing together on that overbridge with their placards and their Tino Rangatiratanga flags, and you know what else I saw?"

"Yourself, 40 years ago?"

"Yeah, I saw that — of course I did. But, I saw something else, too, Laurie. I saw this country’s future, or, at least, a version of its future that offered up something better than greed and prejudice and keeping capitalism’s boot on the necks of the poor. I heard Rawiri Waititi talking about ‘Aotearoa Hou’ — which sounded to me a whole lot like Mickey Savage’s ‘Applied Christianity’. And, do you know what else I saw? I saw a version of democracy that was alive. A version that offered more that triennial polling-booths and oaths to a distant king."

"The rough and ready democracy of the picket-line?"

"Exactly, exactly. Let me get you another ale. Oh, and by the way, the solution to Four Across. Seven letters. A remedy for strife."

"Yeah? What is it?"

"Justice."

 - Chris Trotter is an Auckland writer and commentator.