It is one of the more important lessons of political life: stating the obvious can be a real game-changer. James Meager, the newly elected National MP for Rangitata, taught us the lesson all over again in his maiden speech when he informed the Opposition benches:

Members opposite do not own Maori. Members opposite do not own the poor. Members opposite do not own the workers. No party and no ideology has a right to claim ownership over anything or anyone.

This statement of the bleeding bloody obvious, so apposite and so overdue, was attested to by the left’s response to Meager’s words. The redoubtable Martyn Bradbury, editor of the Daily Blog, branded Meager a ‘settler’ – an insult calculated to the hundredth decimal place. Others described him as ‘part-Maori’ – an insult that merits much closer scrutiny.

Ever since the chilling revelations of World War II, scholars have ruthlessly deconstructed the fraught concept of ‘race’. Determined that its hateful effects be relegated to the dustbin of history, they have replaced the word itself with ‘ethnicity’. (Although the term ‘racism’ continues to enjoy rude good health!) Most particularly, the link between ‘blood’ and ‘race’ – as in the expression ‘full-blooded’ – has been rejected as both scientifically nonsensical and historically mendacious.

The idea is, however, taking an extraordinarily long time to die. Beginning with the transatlantic slave trade, which lasted from the 15th to the 19th century, ‘hypodescent’, the obsessive division of non-whites descended from Europeans into ‘Mulattoes’ (half-bloods), ‘Quadroons’ (quarter), ‘Octoroons’ (eighth) and ‘Quintroons’ (sixteenth), was to become an enduring feature of white supremacist governance. So rigid did this process of classification become that in many American states ‘one drop’ of non-white ‘blood’ was enough to invalidate its owner’s claim to ‘whiteness’.

Reliance upon ‘blood measurement’ remained a feature of New Zealand’s ethnic classification until 1975. Before then, ‘full-blooded’ Maori were legally required to enrol on the Maori roll. ‘Half-caste’ Maori could choose between enrolling on the Maori roll or the general roll. These requirements reflected classic hypodescent assumptions: one’s civic identity was determined by the fraction of Maori ‘blood’ in one’s veins.

The political objective of the post-1975 legislation seems to have been to enlarge the category of ‘Maori New Zealander’ as swiftly as possible. The new legislation left the matter of ethnic identification to each individual citizen. The precise number of ‘drops’ of ‘Maori blood’ in any given New Zealander’s veins became irrelevant. If you ‘identify’ as Maori, then as far as the authorities (if not all other Maori!) are concerned, you are Maori.

All of which makes the accusation hurled at James Meager – that he is ‘only part-Maori’ – so very, very disreputable. Pakeha activists, who pride themselves on their ‘progressive’ credentials, have arrogated to themselves the power to determine who is – and who is not – a ‘real’ Maori. ‘Hypodescents’ to a person, they have decided that even ‘one drop’ of Pakeha ‘blood’ is enough to disqualify a person from having anything meaningful to say on what it means to be Maori in 2023 New Zealand. While it is novel, historically, to see a person discriminated against for having an insufficient quantity of non-European ‘blood’, it does not make it one whit more acceptable.

What it does point to, however, is how profoundly self-loathing progressive Pakeha have become and how convinced they are that it is impossible for any ‘real’ Maori to have a good word to say about either their historical colonial oppressors or the regime dominated by the colonisers’ ‘privileged’ descendants.

Meager’s true crime is, therefore, only too clear. He has declared that it is possible to be Maori and not hate colonisation; to be poor and not hate the rich; to be working class and not hate capitalism; and, worst of all, to be ‘all of the above’ and not emerge from the experience in any way beholden – ideologically, politically and/or electorally – to the Labour Party, the Greens, or Te Pati Maori.

The left’s fury at Meager’s in-your-face challenge was not only born of its sharp reminder that the certainties of New Zealand’s past electoral behaviour are no longer to be trusted, but that the allegiances of hitherto welded-on demographics are fast rusting away – not just in New Zealand, but all over the world. This weakening of electoral ties is attributable in no small measure to ‘loyal’ ethnic groups, those enmeshed in poverty and those who identify as working-class, all realising that the parties of the ‘left’ have come to regard the votes of these groups as their private property.

Forgotten is Labour’s historical origins in the organised working-class. Forgotten, also, the fact that, until 1984, Labour’s electoral success had been greatest when led by working-class politicians. Working-class people voted for Labour because its leaders looked like them, talked like them and wanted the same things that they wanted. They went on voting for them because they delivered on their promise to build a society that cared for its citizens from the cradle to the grave. While that society endured, Maori, the poor and the working class had no good reason NOT to vote for them.

But when, between 1984 and 1990, Labour dismantled that society. When Rogernomics changed New Zealand irrevocably. When the parties of the left became playgrounds for politicians espousing new and alienating ideologies. When Maori, the poor and the working class became mere pieces on the professional-managerial class’s political chessboard – to be moved around and sacrificed at will. Well, that was the moment when more and more voters began looking outside the left-wing square.

In a world where collectivism has given way to individualism and where all that people can really rely upon is their own grit, determination and talent, who looks more like a striver, talks more like a striver and is willing to take the same chances that other strivers are willing to take: Chris Hipkins – or James Meager?

Which is why, the next time James is in a karaoke bar and all his mates are urging him to get up and belt one out, he should get his wing-man to record the performance for TikTok.

No prizes for guessing the song.

You Don’t Own Me.

Known principally for his political commentaries in The Dominion Post, The ODT, The Press and the late, lamented Independent, and for "No Left Turn", his 2007 history of the Left/Right struggle in New...