Which political figure reads a chapter of the Bible every day, opens all his speeches by blessing people with the word of his god, supports a feudal tyrant and voted for hard labour and longer sentences for offenders? Sound like Graham Capill, leader of the Christian Heritage? Actually it’s the politician described in the Listener as “Graham Capill with dreadlocks” – the Green Party’s Rasta MP, Nandor Tanczos. [Below is a article I wrote about Nandor Tanczos in early 2000 – I’ll try and update sometime in the future]
As well as using cannabis to get closer to his ‘creator’, Tanczos does perhaps have a more colourful history than his soul-mate, Capill. While Graham was banging tambourines with the happy-clappies, Nandor had some kind of involvement won the fringes of the British miners’ strike in the mid-‘80s and joined a ‘peace-camp’ at the RAF Molesworth Cruise Missile Base in 1985. Later, while still in Britain, he joined up with the horse-and-buggy brigade, campaigning against the horrors of road building, and had some connection with the free rave scene.
Back in New Zealand, he was widely seen as the person behind the Luddite-style direct action carried out by the youth wing of the Greens who fearlessly uprooted genetically modified potatoes at the Lincoln Agriculture and Science Centre in early 1999.
Opposed to class politics
It was around this time that he jumped ship to the Green Party after being a key player and candidate in the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party. He claims that he “didn’t at the time identify [him]self as green” but saw the Green Party’s departure from the Alliance as a progressive move that would allow anti-establishment politics to move away from “old-school, left-wing politics”. He joined the Greens on the weekend that they left the Alliance, saying that the appeal of the Greens to him was “that they are beyond left and right”.
He’s not much interested in the class struggle, saying that “from an early age it became apparent to me that left and right-wing politics were irrelevant, because what I saw was extremes of opposition by both sides”
When asked by music mag Remix to sum up his politics by giving his view of the role of government, Tanczos gave a reply that could have come straight out of the mouth of Jenny Shipley:
My personal opinion is that what we need to do is build up our communities and that government is there to facilitate community development. I do think communities have to have more control over things that go on in the community. The trouble with government is that it can be very monolithic and sometimes the best response can’t be seen from that kind of distance
The policy goals of the activist-turned-MP don’t seem terribly radical. He lists them as an inquiry into the cannabis laws, the implementation of a restorative and marae-based justice pilot programme, and the promotion of organic farming. As a long-term goal, he wants to see New Zealand become an “eco-nation”.
Championing small business
Being an entrepreneur (he part-owns Auckland’s Hemp Story), Tanczos is also like every other politician at the moment – obsessed with the desire of promoting small business: “ I want to make it easier for small businesspeople to get going to encourage the entrepreneurial creative spirit of our people” Such an approach, Tanczos believes, is the only fix for the unemployment problem.
The Rastafarian MP says that he’s very cynical about parliamentary politics, but seems to be fitting into the role quite nicely. And rather than being a revolutionary, or even someone terribly interested in fostering non-parliamentary politics, Tanczos wants people to become more involved in the parliamentary process and other forms of establishment-oriented activism.
Revitalising the system
Rather than fostering any challenge to the system, Tanczos wants it modified “so our young people actually feel they can understand the system, and we can therefore influence it, play a part in it.”
Another goal is to get the subject of ‘civics’ introduced to the education system because he’s disappointed that few people understand the governmental and select committee process. “I think if more people knew about that they’d do it more and we would have better laws. So there are ways now that people can influence government, they just don’t know about them.”
He also wants the culture of Parliament to be humanised, and for the institution to “become reimpowered”. As can be imagined, he doesn’t like the confrontational aspect of parliament and thinks that governments like Labour-Alliance should look for more agreement with National and ACT. He hopes for a future where “its not just a case of the governing party or coalition saying to the opposition ‘we won, fuck you’, but actually looking for agreement.”
Of course, all of this amounts to an attempt to strengthen the capitalist system, by making it work better at the political level. So it is probably not surprising that he’s also enthusiastic about the new government, suggesting that they’re finally addressing the social breakdown, or that he’s full of praise for Helen Clark: “I do get a sense that she – despite whatever games she might’ve had to play to get where she is – is genuinely concerned about people. I think she’ll be a good Prime Minister.” Of course, among the ‘games’ she played to get where she is was participation in the last Labour government, one that carried through the most vicious attacks on workers since the Depression.
Tanczos’s moderation wouldn’t be so worthy of criticism if it weren’t for the fact that he is dressed up by the media and himself as some sort of radical who has slipped into parliament.
Moreover, not only is he actually quite moderate, but often his views are dangerously socially conservative and moralistic. The same Listener article that likened him to Capill also labelled him a “tut-tutter”. As well as voting, in last year’s referendum, for harsher penalties for offenders, including hard labour, even his approach to drug taking and its prohibition is surprisingly conservative.
As one article reported, “the real problem, he says, is that young people, especially young Maori, are arrested….and lose respect for the law, for the social fabric.” Despite being New Zealand’s most prominent cannabis user, he wants to discourage young people from using it. And surprisingly for someone who wants the government out of people’s lives, Tanczos wants some currently legal drugs made illegal.
As well as helping promote irrationalist religious mumbo-jumbo and opposition to more efficient food production and transportation, Tanczos is also partly responsible for his Green Party being elected to Parliament.
In an attempt to stop the Greens winning any seats in 1999, the National Party built Tanczos up as a bogeyman, painting him as a dangerous radical. The strategy backfired in the bland election campaign, with the consequence that people went out and voted Green thinking Tanczos and company would be something radical and fresh.
But, while the country’s first Rastafarian MP and supposed “sex-symbol of NZ politics” might have a good line in pithy media-friendly quotes and positively reek of earnestness, he’s also a good reminder that we shouldn’t judge a book by its ‘alternative’ cover.