Green co-leader Metiria Turei has accused National MP's Anne Tolley and Judith Collins of racism, claiming that they resent a working class Maori women successfully climbing the career ladder. But, says John Moore, Turei has simply thrown up a smokescreen to obscure the fact  that she has become  just  another member of the privileged and pampered political ruling class. She is now a fully-fledged, $2000-jacket-wearing member of the Establishment.  Despite this, many on the left have leaped to her defence. 

GEORGE ORWELL'S classic tale of one-time radical/revolutionary leaders being corrupted by political power and the wealth comes to mind here. In the final chapter of Orwell's Animal Farm, a description is given of a speech by the once anti-human/anti-capitalist leader, the lead pig Napoleon. From once being an anti-Establishment leader, Napoleon has now reconciled himself with the oppressive system he once set out to overthrow:

Like all of Napoleon's speeches, it was short and to the point. He too, he said, was happy that the period of misunderstanding was at an end. For a long time there had been rumours circulated...that there was something subversive and even revolutionary in the outlook of himself and his colleagues...Nothing could be further from the truth! Their sole wish, now and in the past, was to live at peace and in normal business relations with their neighbours.

Orwell ends his allegorical tale by showing the the former subversive leaders' transformation into a new elite when they take on the actual appearance of the Establishment figures they once rallied against:

 'The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.''


In the case of Metiria Turei, she has been able to deflect a critique of her own  'evolution' as a political player, by using the politics of identity to play the victim. According to the Green Co-leader, she is facing a vicious racist attack from National MPs Anne Tolley and Judith Collins who, according to Turei, resent seeing a Maori women from a working class background gaining success. However, the reality is that the National MPs were merely saying to Turei that she is now one of them, that is she is now part of the political ruling class. Therefore, according to Tolley and Collins, Turei should resist attacking Tory MPs as being disconnected from the general electorate, especially the poorest sections, when Turei herself is now a fully fledged, $2000-jacket-wearing, part of the Establishment.


Metiria Turei has acted to demean the very real experiences of racism many ordinary people face in New Zealand. This includes the everyday profiling by the police of Maori and Polynesians, growing levels of resentment felt towards new Asian immigrants, and the continued prevalence of poverty amongst certain minority groups due partly to the legacy of colonisation in New Zealand . For Turei to cynically make an accusation of racism, when her life on an MPs income has been highlighted, is to belittle others who have to put up with very real racism and discrimination. And unfortunately this is not the first and won't be the last that playing the victim is used by a member of the political elite.

Does not Metiria Turia's accusation of racism, and even sexism, when challenged over her privileged lifestyle, remind us of countless numbers of post-colonial political leaders who have used accusations of racism and 'imperialist arrogance' to deflect any criticism made of their opulent lifestyles and corrupt politics? An obscene example being Imelda Marcos' accusation of 'racism' against the Western Press for highlighting her corrupt lifestyle. So Turei's defense is hardly original. 

Here's the former Philippine's First Lady reaction against those who attacked her opulent dress sense:

 '[Imelda Marcos] blamed "a very racist and very prejudiced press" that was surprised when "a first lady of a third-world country comes in suddenly having shoes."

Such an example highlights how modern theories of racism, privilege, intersectionality, and post-colonialism are used to defend privilege amongst non-white elite-players and self-declared representatives of oppressed and marginalised groups. And universities have played a central role, such as with the development of post-colonial studies, in giving non-white political actors an ideological defense of their privilege. The radical philosopher, Slovoj Zizek, has this to say on the link between politically correct theories and the protection of privilege:

I really hate all of this politically correct, cultural studies bullshit. If you mention the phrase “postcolonialism,” I say, “Fuck it!” Postcolonialism is the invention of some rich guys from India who saw that they could make a good career in top Western universities by playing on the guilt of white liberals.

Almost no leftwingers have criticised Metiria Turei for playing the race card to defend her privilege, nor have they criticised her transformation into a regular Establishment politician. In fact, quite the opposite has occurred, with many a socialist, anti-capitalist and even Marxists rushing to Turei's defense. This leftist impulse to defend the Green co-leader partly comes from a belief that the Green Party is on 'our' side. That is, the Greens are still seen as an anti-Establishment party. However, this view amounts to a false conception of what role the Greens play in the wider scheme of capitalist politics in New Zealand.

Turei's lashing out at her Tory foes can be partially understood as coming from the unease felt within the Greens over the party's moves towards becoming increasing mainstream and respectable within the framework of New Zealand politics. Since the election of Russel Norman and Metiria Turei as joint leaders of the party, more 'wacky', radical and leftwing voices have been marginalised within the Greens.

However, the Greens, who will opportunistically swing between left and right positions, have recently taken up some of the concerns of those influenced by the politics of the recent Occupy movement. Inequality is a hot issue now, and so Norman and Turei have been adept at grabbing onto this issue and making it their own. Whereas up to recently the Greens seemed less and less interested in issues of social justice, concentrating increasingly on environmental concerns, the party has decided to take a step to the left in hope of reaping the electoral benefits. And this tactic is clearly working, with much of the left-leaning sector of the electorate seeing the Green Party as a better choice for challenging the inequities of society, as opposed to the lackluster Labour Party

The problem for the Greens though is that this current swing to the left conflicts with the leaderships' deliberate cultivating of a more mainstream and conservative image for the party. That Norman and Turei, for example, have taken to wearing expensive corporate attire, to mixing freely in elite circles, and that they have cultivated a moderate 'neither left or right' image, contrasts starkly with their current image as champions of the poor. Therefore, what really irked Metiria Turei was that her, and her party's, current electioneering on issues of inequality has been shown to be pure opportunism, when the party itself is now a fully fledged member of the elite political club that makes up parliament.

The attacks on Turei have nothing to do with racism. This should be obvious, especially for the left. But because of the continued dominance of identity politics over class politics in this country, leftwing commentators in New Zealand often fail to see the reality of growing class inequality within minority sectors of society. Instead New Zealand's social-liberal left often end up defending privilege, rather than challenging inequality and ruling class power, when it has a non-white face.

This article was originally published by Liberation.


  1. Moore has a point, but so does Morgan Godfery. Too bad that Moore's Stalinist tendencies led him to turn what might have been a legitimate criticism into attempting a Chris Trotter style white-blokes-know-best demolition job.

  2. Come on, Joe - I thought you were better than this. You say that John has a point - then you criticise him for 'a white guy knows best viewpoint.' This is the playing of the race card that John was criticising in the first place and doesn't address the legitimate points that John raises.

    Oh and, given John's politics, its frankly insulting to imply that he has 'Stalinist tendencies.' - and then never bother to expalin what the hell your talking about. Just a casul, throwaway line is it, Joe?

    Morgan Godfery is no recommendation either since his distinctly liberal and Labour-friendly views are largely devoid of any class-based analysis.

  3. Oh and, given John's politics, its frankly insulting to imply that he has 'Stalinist tendencies.' - and then never bother to expalin what the hell your talking about. Just a casul, throwaway line is it, Joe?

    Race certainly isn't the major issue here, but it seems more than a little presumptuous to state, from a position of presumed ideological privilege, that it has nothing to do with it. Whatever the sins of the Greens, the National Party's track record would indicate that it probably does. It's disappointing to see what started as a thoughtful analysis wind up in the cul-de-sac of quibbling over identity vs class politics, with the usual implications of historical inevitability and preening moral superiority. For me Moore overreaches himself when he appears to speak from the certainty of an ideology that holds all of the answers, even to claiming to know Turei's mind better than she does. Given this kind of Trotterite scolding I get the impression that there's a place reserved in his gulag for Turei, and quite possibly for me.

  4. The author argues that post modern theories on racism, sexism, intersectionality etc are used to defend privilege among non-white political elite. In doing so, he seems to suggest that it’s impossible to experience racism, sexism etc as a minority who is part of an elite class. I’m not convinced that only those who are part of the working class can claim to have legitimate experiences of racism, sexism etc. Marx recognised that there was not only inequality between classes, he also recognized inequality would exist within classes. This is true of our political elite – it is dominated by the rhetoric of ‘white, middle aged, males’, where minority groups are subordinate to that dominant group. Yes, those elite class minority groups have privileges absent in working class minority groups, but racism is experienced at both an individual and collective level.

    I don’t believe that I am defending Turei’s privilege in arguing that she was the subject of a racist attack. I do admit that Tolley probably was referring in part to Turei’s status but it was Tolley’s implication that Māori as a group live in poverty, that made her remark racist because it is a gross stereotype. In context, Tolley was not giving a speech about how Māori are disproportionately represented in poverty statistics, she intended to insult Turei, and in doing so invoked a gross stereotype to justify her insult.

  5. Wow, an old white dude telling a WOC what racism is, I've never seen that before. It nice of John to try and give us all an objective definition of racism, but maybe he should just crawl back into his irrelevant hole. Sad silly man with a chip on his shoulder


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