Friday, 6 December 2013
|Nelson Mandela (Tata Madiba) outside St Matthews Church, Hobson St, Auckland, New Zealand, during CHOGM, in 1995. Photo by John Miller.|
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela
1918 - 2013
Father of Free South Africa
I Think Continually Of Those Who Were Truly Great
I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the Spirit clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the Spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.
What is precious is never to forget
The essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.
Never to deny its pleasure in the morning simple light
Nor its grave evening demand for love.
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog the flowering of the spirit.
Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields
See how these names are feted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life
Who wore at their hearts the fire’s centre.
Born of the sun they travelled a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honour.
This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.
Just Passing Through: But would the social and economic problems confronting contemporary New Zealand have reached their current levels of urgency if the country had retained its former intimate character? If we really were what Statistics New Zealand, in presenting the 2013 Census results, asks us to imagine: a village of 100 people?
MANY NEW ZEALANDERS JOKE about the size of their population. “Forget about six degrees of separation,” they chortle, “in this country you’re lucky to make it as far as two!” The general consensus seems to be that if the rest of the world is a collection of big cities, then New Zealand is a village – and a pretty small one at that!
But if New Zealand’s a village – what sort of village is it?
A curious question? Not if you’re Statistics New Zealand and you’re looking for a simple way to present the results of the 2013 Census. Visit their website and you’ll be asked to think of “New Zealand as a village of 100 people”.
The first thing you’ll notice about the village is how much it has grown. Thirty-two years ago there were just 74 inhabitants – most of them of European and Maori origin. It was also a much younger village. In 1981 half the population was under the age of 28. In 2013 the median age of the village has climbed to 38 years.
The other thing you’ll notice is how many people living in the village are now of Asian ancestry. Since 2001 the number of Asian inhabitants has doubled. Where once there were 5 there are now 11 villagers of Asian origin.
If the growth in the village’s Asian population is not slowed appreciably, then the 14 villagers identifying themselves as Maori will soon be displaced as the second-largest ethnic group. Already, in 2013, as many villagers speak Hindi as Samoan.
What really stands out about the village in 2013, however, is its seriously lopsided socio-economic structure. Only ten villagers of working age earn in excess of $70,000 per annum. There are 25 working-age villagers earning between $30,000 and $70,000, and 38 whose incomes are less than $30,000. Over half of the village’s workers earn less than $28,500 per annum.
The disparity between the earnings of male and female villagers is ever starker. Over half the working-men in the village earn more than $36,500, while half of its working-women earn less than $23,100.
The village’s poverty is also on display in the fact that only 2 out of every 3 inhabitants own their own home. In 2013, more than a third of the village’s residents live in rented accommodation. Thirty years ago nearly 3 out of 4 villagers owned their own home.
Of course, for the 10 percent of working New Zealanders earning a comfortable income it is extremely fortunate that they are not living cheek-by-jowl with the 50 percent earning less than $28,500 – and that the people renting their second, third or fourth property live 30 miles across town and not just across the village street. Social-economic disparities are a great deal easier to manage, and to bear, when the community’s social-geography encompasses more than the few square kilometres required to support 100 souls.
The 10 percent of the workforce categorised as “professionals” are only able to enjoy their well-remunerated and relatively untroubled lives because they do not have to eyeball on a daily basis the young women struggling in quiet desperation to raise families on less than $25,000 per annum. Would they really be able to pass them by on the other side of a village street? Would they really find it so easy to brand them the “undeserving” poor?
And would those struggling to survive on $25,000 really find it as easy to sink into apathy and anomie if those living in the big houses and earning the big bucks were to be found not in leafy suburbs they will never visit, but just a stone’s throw away at the top of the hill.
If, as Hannibal Lecter so chillingly explained, we covet what we see every day, then it would not be wise to be too wealthy in a village.
Maybe that’s why, for a long time in New Zealand, the distance between the rich and the poor remained so narrow.
This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 6 December 2013.
Tuesday, 3 December 2013
CHEERS! With Christchurch East in the bag, David Cunliffe needs to give increasing attention not only to winning in 2014, but also to how his government intends to establish a "Leftward and interventionist" administration in the teeth of extreme neoliberal opposition from an ideologically hostile civil service.
LABOUR PARTY MEMBERS and supporters are still celebrating Saturday’s decisive by-election victory in Christchurch East. With more than 60 percent of the votes cast, Poto Williams well-and-truly dispelled the nagging fear that National’s 2011 Party Vote advantage might preface a morale-sapping defeat.
For avoiding this outcome fulsome tribute must be paid to Ms William’s campaign manager, Jim Anderton. Few political operators can match Mr Anderton’s fighting skills in the trench warfare that is electorate politics. Among the most important of these is the ability to pre-identify your party’s supporters and make sure they cast a vote. Mr Anderton and his team did this with a thoroughness that National clearly could not match. Not even the low turnout (roughly 13,000 compared to 28,524 in 2011) could upset Mr Anderton’s calculations – indeed, the decisive result points to just how successfully his campaign team was able to mobilise the Labour vote.
If Labour is wise it will attempt to replicate Saturday’s mobilisation effort in Christchurch East across the entire country in 2014. In next year’s big battle, however, the prize will not be electorate seats (though they will be welcome!) but a clear plurality of the all-important Party Vote.
To that end, Labour’s leader, David Cunliffe, must assemble a policy package of sufficient power to dislodge the hundreds of thousands of disillusioned and/or despairing Non-Voters and propel them towards the polling booths. Psephological analysis of the 2011 General Election’s record-breaking abstention rate indicates that approximately 70 percent of the Non-Vote was drawn from demographic categories most likely to vote Labour.
To paraphrase Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams: “Build it [an authentic Labour manifesto] – and they will come [out and vote for it].”
And that, clearly, was the message Mr Cunliffe took from his party’s emphatic by-election victory. Ms Williams, he said, had formed “a genuine connection” with the electorate’s voters. But, there was something more: “Our grassroots campaign in Christchurch East was run and won on the issues facing the city. On housing, insurance and standing up for people in the rebuild.”
According to Fairfax Media’s political correspondent, Vernon Small: “It all suggests Labour under Cunliffe see the by-election as a sign the party should press on even more strongly in the Leftward and interventionist direction it has taken so far.”
Brave intentions! But one of the biggest challenges facing a political leader striving to make the transition from Opposition Leader to Prime Minister is not only to be thinking constantly about how to win power, but also about how he is going to wield it once victory is achieved.
Sixty or so MPs, seated in the House of Representatives, may have the power to change the laws of the land, but the drafting and execution of those laws falls to a vast and highly complex bureaucracy which has, for the past 30 years, administered the state, managed the economy and generally guided society according to the widely accepted principles and practices of neoliberalism.
Over-riding these, of course, is the convention that civil servants must carry out the instructions of their political masters to the very best of their ability. That is not to say, however, that they will (or should) meekly receive those instructions without venturing an opinion concerning the desirability of the course of action proposed. Civil servants have a duty to provide their ministers with “free and frank” advice. A Labour-led Government determined to radically redirect the New Zealand state along “Leftward and interventionist” lines would be wise to anticipate a fair amount of “free and frank” resistance.
Mr Cunliffe, rejoicing in the democratic wind filling his sails following Saturday’s bracing victory, should be asking himself how many of the men and women likely to form his Cabinet possess the ideological confidence to stare down officials whose unanimous advice will almost certainly be that their party’s policy amounts to the purest folly, which, if implemented, will lead ineluctably to economic, fiscal and/or social disaster.
It’s an important question. Mounting a confident defence of “Leftward and interventionist” policies in the face of voluminous and coherently argued objections from one’s most senior policy advisers is no easy task. Mr Cunliffe should know that only a handful of Labour and Green MPs are even remotely capable of out-arguing neoliberalism. In New Zealand, the number of left-wing politicians with the foresight to cultivate and maintain strong relationships with policy specialists external to and independent of our neoliberal civil service is depressingly small.
With Christchurch East behind him, it will be interesting to see how aggressively Mr Cunliffe sets about developing and releasing the core policies of the next Labour-led Government. It’s a task that brooks no delay because if Labour and the Greens do not set their own policies before the election, then, most assuredly, their officials will do it for them afterwards.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 3 December 2013.
Friday, 29 November 2013
David and Goliath Struggle: Critics of Greenpeace have condemned its latest protest against deep sea oil drilling as folly. But, in a world made miserable by the “wisdom” of our neoliberal masters, “folly” may be exactly what people are looking for.
BE CAREFUL what you wish for, Prime Minister. If the New Zealand electorate has shifted as far to the left as the polls show the British and American electorates shifting, a Labour Party committed to re-nationalising the partially-privatised energy SOEs and Air New Zealand may not be as unpopular as you think. By the same token, Mr Cunliffe: “Profligate Communist!” may not be the insult you assume it to be.
Across the world, but especially in the developed world, there is a growing sense of enough being enough. Enough inequality. Enough unemployment. Enough insecurity. Enough retrenchment. Enough austerity. Enough of swallowing the lie that all of these things are as immutable as the seasons. Unalterable. Just the way it is.
“Enough of that!” People are saying. “What was made by Man can be changed by Man.”
Enough is enough.
It’s been slow to arrive in New Zealand. Nearly three decades of bipartisan agreement on the essentials of neoliberal economic policy have seen to that. A whole generation has grown up believing that this is as good as it gets. That the Reserve Bank Act, the Public Finance Act, the State Sector Act and the Employment Contracts/Relations Act – like the stone tablets Moses brought down from Mt Sinai – are laws written by God.
But the problem with raising up a massive, all-embracing, hegemonic structure is that, eventually, it has to deliver. People will tolerate a slow start – especially if the system being replaced held sway for a long time and embedded its values deep in the national psyche. At some point, however, the new system has got to work. And by “work” the average person means “work for everyone – not just a privileged few”.
Thirty years has been more than enough time for the neoliberal system to have proved its worth. That it has delivered the world we live in today argues pretty decisively against it being much more than a mechanism for making the rich richer and the rest of us wretched.
The newspapers and the electronic media may tell us that things are not as bad as they seem, and that, really, our government’s “common-sense” policies are working splendidly; but their spin is counter-spun by our lived experience. The content of our day-to-day lives is constantly constructing a powerful “counter-hegemony”. We “just know” that things are not getting better.
And, knowing this, we are constantly bemused, amazed and (more recently) aggrieved that the political parties purporting to offer a challenge to the status-quo do not seem to be aware of it. Or, even if they are aware of it, remain steadfastly unwilling to embrace the sort of policies that might do something about it.
Mr Cunliffe’s unwillingness to be labelled a “Profligate Communist” reveals the power that neoliberalism still wields over New Zealand’s political class. Every editor, every political journalist and commentator in the country would declare his unequivocal pledge to renationalise the energy SOEs utter folly – and the Leader of the Labour Party has balked at the prospect.
But, in a world made miserable by the “wisdom” of our neoliberal masters, “folly” may be exactly what people are looking for in a Labour leader. The “holy folly” that inspired the Saints: that prompted Martin Luther to nail his manifesto of protest to the cathedral door; that kept Rosa Parks in her seat, immovable, on a Montgomery bus.
We New Zealanders have a soft spot for that sort of holy foolishness. It’s why we cheered when Norman Kirk dispatched a frigate to Mururoa. It’s why we applauded when hundreds of little boats sailed out to blockade the nuclear warships of the US Navy. It’s why, deep down, and in spite of all the sneers and jeers, we are willing Greenpeace’s little flotilla to stay the distance and succeed.
When we see the size of the drilling vessel: the way it dwarfs the little craft that have sailed into Anadarko’s forbidden zone to bear witness against the reckless gamble that is deep sea oil; something in us reaches out to them – law or no law.
“This will not stand”, whispers the voice of holy folly. And then, loud enough to disturb his whole Government, that same voice makes a second promise: one our Prime Minister was certain he would never hear – and now recoils from:
“They will not stand alone.”
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 29 November 2013.
Tuesday, 26 November 2013
Me, Myself, I: If Colin Craig's Conservative Party was a book we'd call it a vanity publication. The question New Zealanders need to be asking the National Party is: "Why is this country's second oldest political party contemplating an alliance with the purpose-built political vehicle of a disturbingly reactionary millionaire?"
IF THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY was a book we’d call it a vanity publication. Born of successful Auckland businessman’s, Colin Craig’s, decision to enter politics, it was never meant to be anything more than a reliable vehicle for its creator’s messianic ambitions.
At the 2011 General Election Mr Craig’s Conservatives outspent the Labour Party by more than $100,000. In spite of this lavish expenditure ($1.8 million!) the party garnered just 59,237 votes (2.7 percent). Putting that another way: Mr Craig and his followers spent a staggering $13.71 for every Conservative Party vote!
Now, in normal circumstances, that information would probably have been filed under “A fool and his money are soon parted”. But in the political circumstances of 2013, Mr Craig’s 2.7 percent of the Party Vote is not so easily dismissed.
Not when the Prime Minister, John Key, fears losing the 2014 election because his government’s current support parties attract insufficient support to carry him across the finish line. What the Prime Minister needs is a new support party – one with considerably more electoral energy than the largely spent political forces currently keeping him in office.
Enter, Stage Right, the Conservative Party. If Mr Craig could somehow be assured of winning an electorate seat, he would, on current polling figures, bring with him up to four additional MPs. These would more than compensate for any decline in the parliamentary contingents of Act, United Future and the Maori Party.
Small wonder, then, that over the past week or so the Prime Minister has been doing his best to talk-up Mr Craig’s self-published electoral book. If enough “punters out there in Punterland” (as his predecessor, Dr Don Brash, dubbed the electorate) can be persuaded to vote Conservative, Mr Key’s electoral bacon may yet he saved.
This prime-ministerial promotion of Colin Craig raises a number of disturbing questions about the health of New Zealand’s democracy. Not the least of these is why a responsible Prime Minister, the leader of one of New Zealand’s oldest political parties, would make the slightest effort to encourage Mr Craig’s political ambitions?
The Conservative Party is Mr Craig’s personal creation, and like the creations of the Christian God he worships, it bears a more than passing resemblance to its maker. Now, were Mr Craig blessed with the wisdom of Jehovah that would be no bad thing, but, alas, Mr Craig is very far from being the fount of all wisdom. On the contrary, both he and his party present an amalgam of some of the least respectable political ideas on offer.
It is Mr Craig’s view that parents should be at liberty to assault their own children. That all citizens should possess firearms and be entitled to use them with deadly effect against intruders. That our daughters are the most promiscuous in the world. That anthropogenic global warming is neither a significant, nor even likely, cause of climate change. That homosexual attraction is a matter of personal choice. The list, lamentably, goes on and on. A noxious political potpourri uplifted from the more disreputable elements of the American Religious Right.
Why would a responsible, twenty-first century New Zealand prime minister have anything to do with a person whose political philosophy is so antiquated that calling it “medieval” would pay it an unwarranted compliment?
Were the Conservative Party the legitimate offspring of New Zealand’s long-standing conservative traditions; and were it peopled by ordinary, decent defenders of the values and institutions upon which New Zealand was founded and which have underpinned her prosperity, then the prospect of it entering into a workable political alliance with the National Party’s nascent liberalism would not be in the least bit daunting.
But the Prime Minister knows that Colin Craig’s Conservative Party is no such thing. Indeed, if Mr Craig is to be believed, his creation isn’t really intended to conduct itself as a political party at all. The Conservatives’ role, rather, is to facilitate government by binding citizens’ initiated referenda.
Can it really be the case that the National Party is contemplating an electoral alliance, and even entering into a governing coalition, with the vanity project of a man who is seriously advocating the abolition of our representative form of government and its replacement with the crudest form of plebiscitary democracy?
Has Mr Key not asked himself why Mr Craig favours government by referendum? Does he not see that it is by such means that the Conservative leader hopes to erect a system which renders impotent all the virtues of parliamentary discussion and debate; all the persuasive power of social and scientific research; all the sage advice and collective wisdom of the many interest groups and institutions that comprise our pluralistic society?
Mr Craig’s Conservatives intend to bring our representative democracy to book. The book which Mr Craig has written, unaided and alone.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 26 November 2013.
Friday, 22 November 2013
Public Service Notice: Across the Western World there is evidence that the political parties ostensibly standing for progressive change are being comprehensively outflanked by their own supporters - on the Left. Is it possible that the people are becoming more radical than the politicians "representing" them?
WITH LABOUR’S POLL NUMBERS FALTERING, there will undoubtedly be much agitated discussion in the Office of the Leader of the Opposition.
“What’s wrong with everybody?!” David Cunliffe’s advisers will wail. “Why didn’t anyone like KiwiAssure? What was not to like about a state-owned insurance company? What on earth do people want!?”
Well, if the news from abroad is anything to go by, they want a good deal more than the cautious gestures they’ve seen so far. Indeed, if the research published recently in both the United Kingdom and the United States is correct, a substantial chunk of the electorate is willing to embrace economic and social policies that are genuinely and unashamedly radical.
A YouGov survey for the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (Class) think tank, carried out at the end of last month, showed that UK voters “strongly supported support state-imposed price controls on the utilities, re-nationalisation of the railways and Royal Mail, an end to private cash in the public sector and even state power to regulate rents”.
Putting it bluntly: a solid majority of the UK electorate is well to the left of Ed Miliband’s Labour Party.
Nick Assinder, the political editor of the IBTimes, summed up the poll results rather incredulously with the observation: “[I]f the findings continue to be borne out as the general election campaign moves into top gear, and if Labour takes them to heart, it could spark the sort of ideological debate which Britain has not seen since the late 1970s and 1980s – for good or ill.”
Something similar would appear to happening on the other side of the Atlantic. New polling from Hart Research Associates, undertaken on behalf of Americans For Tax Fairness, indicates a strong, pundit-confounding, public appetite for imposing higher taxes on the rich.
On the liberal website, Campaign For America’s Future, blogger Richard Eskow writes: “As that covert recording of Mitt Romney showed last year, some of the ‘1 percent’ think other Americans aren’t pulling their own weight in this economy. As this new polling confirms, the feeling’s mutual. By a seventeen point margin (56 percent to 39 percent), the American people want the next budget agreement to include new tax revenues from corporations and the wealthy.”
One of the reasons David Cunliffe won the leadership of the Labour Party was the widely held view among the party’s rank-and-file that he – alone of all his rivals – “got” this. On the day he announced his candidacy, his “You betcha!” response to a question about raising taxes on the rich had thrilled not just his Labour Party followers, but a large portion of the wider electorate.
At Labour’s annual conference, held in Christchurch at the beginning of this month, considerable behind-the-scenes diplomacy went into blunting the sharper edges of policy proposals from branch members and union affiliates who had taken Mr Cunliffe’s radicalism at face value. For the most part, the radicals were happy to oblige – not wanting their man to be embarrassed in front of a sceptical news media.
But, if the trends from abroad are any guide, smoothing off the radical edges of Labour’s policy platform was exactly the wrong thing to do. If Mr Cunliffe would improve his political fortunes, he should think about sharpening – not blunting – his party’s attack on the status-quo.
The Labour Caucus, too, needs to summon up the courage to abandon what may turn out to have been its entirely unnecessary caution. It is one thing to protect the party leader from stepping beyond the limits of the electorate’s tolerance; quite another to stand between the voters and the radical policies they’re hungering for. Neoliberalism has been weighed in the balance and found wanting – Labour MPs should not attempt to second-guess the zeitgeist.
Bill Clinton’s campaign-team’s note-to-self: “It’s the economy, stupid!” has become the stuff of US political folklore – and a potent reminder to stay focused on voter priorities.
Perhaps Mr Cunliffe’s note-to-self should be: “Radical policies for a radicalised electorate!”
This essay was originally published by The Dominion Post, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 22 November 2013.