Sunday, July 22, 2012

We the people

Call me picky, but when John Key says 'We would utterly dispute that Maori own water,' I get an uneasy feeling. Not just because of the opinion expressed (that's another story) but because of the plural pronoun. Sure, we all talk about Maori and Pakeha, and the water-rights case before the Waitangi Tribunal is being brought by the Maori Council, but when the prime minister speaks he speaks for the government of the nation; he speaks for us all. Who exactly does he mean when he says 'we'? As prime minister he ought to mean all of us—Maori, Pakeha, whoever's a New Zealander. Yet the way he uses it suggests he's speaking for Pakeha as opposed to Maori. It is possible I am being insanely pedantic here. But something about that 'we' troubles me. Karl du Fresne says the big question raised by the claim is 'Are we one people, or are we not?' and although I'm not sure he means it in the sense I mean it, if we truly are one people, represented by one elected government, then the nation's leader must speak as if it is so. He must find a better way of expressing these things. Tricky call. Over to you, John.


Giovanni Tiso said...

I get the sense that he was speaking for his government at that time, but that if he hadn't he would still use "we", and knowingly. His strategy is always to either side with the majority of opinion or cast the majority of opinion as siding with his policies (see under asset sales). He's not the only one, really, that is common to most mainstream parties - I just received a flier from the Greens boasting that they stand up for "everyday New Zealanders" - but he takes it a little further: see for instance the time when his own attorney general suggested welfare reform was in breach of human rights and he shrugged if off because opinion polls showed people liked the reforms. "We" have spoken.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely. Time to play again and be inspired by "You Don't Speak for Me" a timeless folk anthem from Australia's Judy Small. Listen on