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Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: But who is watching Winston

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Winston Peters, an 'Orwellian' at heart. Photo / Dean Purcell
Winston Peters, an 'Orwellian' at heart. Photo / Dean Purcell

Among his other enthusiasms, George Orwell was passionate about the English language being used correctly, and the right way to make a nice cup of tea. Those topics inspired some of his best essays.

However, it is clear New Zealand First leader Winston Peters is referring to other matters when he suggests that we are becoming an Orwellian society.

The claim came in "a speech to Grey Power members in Te Kuiti" - and that alone probably tells you how seriously you need to take his latest round of anti-Asian blather.

Peters quoted Orwell's 1984, the book in which "Big Brother is watching you", at length in his speech. But quoting and understanding are two different things.

Peters pitted himself in the speech against: "the professionally-outraged white liberals and cultural fellow travellers who pollute the landscape and demand the rest of the country pay for their civic amenities".

Count me in. But if anyone has more right to be outraged at Peters' dribbling than Asians and wimpy white liberals, it's George Orwell.

Orwell loathed, among other things, the sort of nationalism contained in a phrase like "New Zealand First" and any corruption of language, but most especially language distorted to serve political ends.

Peters' speech was distinguished by the ways in which it misused language and distorted Orwell's messages. In the sentence quoted above, for instance, the 20 words following "white liberals" are completely free of content.

The more closely you look at them, the harder it is to see anything there.

He spoke also of "insidious censorship under the guise of the race relations industry [that] has to be stopped in its tracks".

If I can borrow from the Peters' phrase book - I challenge you to produce one shred of evidence that anyone has ever attempted to censor him.

His party, he claimed, had a "long history of being attacked by those who don't like our message" and "when people seek to curtail free speech, alarm bells should start ringing".

See what he did there? An "attack" - ie, criticism - becomes an attempt to "curtail free speech".

The society of 1984 worked on slogans in which words mean their opposite: "War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength."

Peters uses words in this way. The "attack", the words that provoked it and his response are, in fact, all examples of freedom of speech at work.

Another of Big Brother's strategies in 1984 was to focus the population's attention on groups of outsiders in a daily "two minutes' hate". The nearest Asian can probably explain to you how, in this respect, Peters is the greatest Orwellian of them all.

Fortunately, in a society that is not Orwellian, Peters will be free to continue to gush torrents of drivel, and commentators will be free to point this out.

And to point out that he will be contributing to the most pernicious form of Orwellian totalitarianism - the scrutiny of citizens by their government - if he votes for the GCSB bill. But, in the Orwellian world of Winston Peters, inconsistency is consistency.

The Australian Labor Party has exchanged a lame duck for a strutting goose, but the plight of the country's indigenous people - and the rest of the population's ignorance about it - are unlikely to be affected. In a discussion about changing embarrassing place names this week, an official said: "We had a problem with a place called Waterloo Creek, which was named after a very one-sided massacre of Aboriginal people at the site." Some consolation for Aboriginals to learn that mostly, when they were massacred, things were more even-handed than they were at Waterloo Creek.

- Herald on Sunday

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