History made, history celebrated, history-in-the-making

History was made on Saturday (and not made on Sunday). History will be celebrated tomorrow. Today a speech will touch on history-in-the-making.

Winston Peters’ win on Saturday is not simply local. To turn a 5691 September election night candidate majority over Labour-plus-Greens (there was no New Zealand First candidate) into a 4012 New Zealand First majority over National six months from the general election that generated that majority, is big.

Look back to 1970, when National lost safe Marlborough three months after winning the 1969 election. The drop in National’s candidate percentage then was almost exactly the same as in Northland.

Two years later Sir Keith Holyoake (whom Peters said would not have got National into the position John Key has in Northland) was out of the prime ministership. National lost office nine months after Holyoake went.

Look ahead to 2017. Peters now holds a seat in his home territory — he lost the 1984 Kaipara National nomination to Lockwood Smith. If he holds Northland in 2017 New Zealand First will not need a 5 per cent party vote to stay in Parliament.

And that would likely give it the balance of power, requiring National to think about accommodation or at least rapprochement to cut out a Labour-Green government.

Well, while Peters’ party has shuffled nearer Labour, his original political home was National and he doesn’t like Greens.

Steven Joyce is already saying he will work to implement some of Peters’ by-election promises and acknowledges a wider regional message. If Key and Peters overcome their mutual personal distaste, watch Labour’s faces lengthen. Tactically, the by-election is a plus for Labour. Strategically, it looks right now to be a minus.

A question for National is whether Joyce’s comment presages it will succumb to third-term jitters and short-focus fixups and drop its post-election pitch of a strategic purpose and direction investing in longer-term social and economic results.

That “investment” word takes us to tomorrow’s celebration of history. GNS Science will mark the 150th anniversary of its ancestor, the Geological Survey, set up by James Hector where Otago Boys High School now is. Hector built what biographer Simon Nathan calls a “scientific empire”, including the Colonial Museum, the New Zealand Institute (now Royal Society), the Colonial (now Wellington) Botanic Garden and weather forecasting and time services.

That young-colony investment in science has a message for Joyce. So far, while last year he did set a conditional government investment target of 0.8 per cent of GDP, he has put more effort into restructuring and refocusing than long-term investment.

Right now there are reviews of contestable funding (which pits Crown research institutes against universities), of multitudinous reporting requirements which chew up money that could go into research and of the many “pots” of money. These reviews are supposed to lead to a “national statement on investment in science” but not, so far, to an actual investment boost.

There is also a review of international links, now often serving foreign policy motives rather than most apt science cooperation. GNS has a strong international reputation — greater New Zealand is geologically special — and is able to generate more income from offshore than most other agencies to supplement cabinet stringency.

That underlines that science is global. An idea, once out of a head, is global property. Unless, that is, a big company grabs it and hides or privatises it for profit and a big government backs that with law, as the United States government does with its law which it wants written into the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership “trade” deals — a type of protection at odds with notions of free trade that are supposed to drive such deals.

But that whole idea of “trade” is going out of date as global forces supersede international interaction. That is the history-in-the-making.

It is turning us into global citizens in addition to being local and national citizens, just as the first industrial revolution made us national as well as local.

Treasury Secretary Gabs Makhlouf will address this in a speech today. While he still uses the “international” terminology and talks of making much more of our “international connections” including those of immigrants with their own countries and emigrants with New Zealand, he will talk of the importance of the “other flows” besides those of goods and services: flows of capital and people and ideas.

Meanwhile, Northland has elected a man from history who has made history by accentuating the local.

Global does not obliterate local and national. But global forces are limiting the scope for the sort of national exclusionary rules Peters champions.

So, while he made history — and history lessons are important, as GNS is reminding us — he is not up with history in the making. But, then, history is peppered with ironies.