Friday, August 14, 2009

Nor shall his sword sleep in his hand

Former prime minister Helen Clark pressured her former ministerial colleague Margaret Shields not to accept the title "Dame".

But the former MP for Kapiti did not buckle, and this afternoon she will be invested as a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

You have to admire her principle and strength of character, holding out against relentless pressure from the former Prime Minister (note capitals) in the name of self-interest. Her story should be an inspiration to all of us in Ambitious New Zealand. It's all about going the extra mile, keeping your eyes on the goal, reaching for success.

On the other hand, what could one expect from a story with the title Helen Clark loses: ex-Labour MP takes title? Behold, the Herald crows because a former Labour Minister has accepted a free upgrade to Dame Class. The phrase "sad gits" comes to mind. But then, is there any more to That Nice Mr Key's policy to bring back titular honours than a petty urge to reverse a decision made by Helen Clerk, just to show that she's not the boss of him? Yes, of course there is. Behind this decision is a rich pageant of parochialism, sentiment, vainglory and ambition. We can be sure that Mr Key wants a knighthood for himself (in due course, of course). We can be sure that titles will be made available for the use of National's financial backers. We can be sure that they will also be handed out to various sportspeople, light entertainers and sundry celebrities. It is all about celebrating success and elevating the national mood. It is all about distracting the electorate with shiny things.

But, you might say, this no time to be churlish; we should applaud these men and women. After all, it is not easy becoming a knight. Look what Sir Douglas Graham had to go through to get his:

I was elected to Parliament in 1984 and spent the first six years in Opposition. I was paid the independently set going rate which was less than half my previous earnings.

I was given an allowance towards the rent of a flat and lived alone in a number of rather run down flats the last of which was a garage in Wadestown infested with slaters.

The years of struggle; the sense of entitlement. Without his shiny bangle on its ribbon, Sir Douglas would have nothing but his pension and his free air travel.

As for the others, those who accepted the free upgrade, we can be sure they did not do it for themselves. Sir Colin "don't call me Sir Colin" Meades did it for Te Kiuti and for Rugby. Of course, he could have avoided being called Sir Colin by turning down the offer, but that would have let down the people.

And look, there is Sir Peter Snell, who has come all the way from Dallas (where he has lived for decades, thus showing his ambition for New Zealand) because he needs to be recognised. Now, we all know that sportspeople are needy, whiny, self-obsessed egoists at the best of times, but this is really rather sad. Whilst he is here, Sir Peter also will be unveiling a statue of himself.

Moving right along, here is pantomime Dame Jenny Shipley: "Role models are important in today's society and I hope that in some small way this honour creates that for other young women." Yes, girls; if you want to pauperise thousands of New Zealanders, cripple the health services and stab your party leader in the back, here is your role model.

The rest of them are hardly worth talking about. Of course there is a yachtsman, who showed his patriotism by scuttling off to a better-paying team. And of course there is a bunch of lawyers and businessmen, who served their own interests for years and now are being further rewarded for their efforts.

And there's nothing like a dame, nothing in this world, like an academic or an educationalist (count 'em) who accepts a shiny thing from a Prime Minister who is dismantling the public education system day by day.

In case you are wondering, the music for the knighting event included Jerusalem: "and did those feet in ancient times, walk upon England's mountains green", etc; just in case you were wondering what kind of a New Zealand it is for which Mr Key is ambitious.

Bunny rabbits, Satan, Cheese and Milk (explanation here; downloads here)


Blair said...

Geez, bitter much? Did National win an election, or did they rape and murder your Mum as well?

GZ said...

Blair, institutionalising markers of class doesn't bother you, apparently.

You must either be upper class, think that you will one day be upper class, think you are upper class, or be one of the sad pathetic people who gets hope and enjoyment from thinking that there are people better than yourself.

Peter in Dundee said...

Blair, perhaps you could explain to us how exactly some remnants of medieval European chivalry are relevant or appropriate to a multicultural country in the South Pacific in the 21st century?

Or maybe just why it is necessary for incoming governments to undo stuff the previous people did, just because? There were good, growing up and having our own nationhood, reasons for cutting that particular link in favour of a local one. I wonder, apart from naked personal ambition, is the principle behind the reintroduction?

And why stop there, we could have some Lords, lets make them hereditary and install them in an upper house. NZ used to have a bicameral legislature, let's bring it back!

Giovanni Tiso said...

I don't seem to manage to get exercised about the whole honours thing, but if I did I wish I could express it so eloquently.

Keri h said...

While I hate/loathe/despise etcetera "honours" that originate in a place faraway, and a time even further away - why cant we just rubbish the silly wee people who accept them?
O yes.
They think they've done great things.
Politicians also think they've done great things so - within a politician's gift they pass on silly baubles.
Doesnt stop the maggots gnawing their bones or the winds blwing their ashes away...
These are simply signifiers of a certain kind of regard.
Any of my peers who accept them instantly lose my respect.
As patron of the NZ Republican Movement, I look forward to the day when we have out own intrinsic way of honouring those who support, achieve, and advance the truly good things of & from this archipelago= npt just phuquing politicians' geegaws-

Lyndon said...

A. R. D. Fairburn: Roll Out the Knightcart