A lot. So much. We all know it. We have raving despots, and that’s just the neighbours. We have climate problems – whatever the cause is, you can’t deny things are awry in the atmosphere. It seems obvious, but anything we do to help the climate situation will help no matter the cause. We have intractable problems to the right and to the left, and even in the middle, these days. As the middle classes collapse, so must capitalism – at least as we’ve known it.
New Zealand is distant from so much, but it’s a country distant enough to make its own future, unlike many. New Zealand has done this before, but not for many decades, unfortunately. When the whole world was going mad, and almost universally more right wing (including many of the nations that would end up fighting against the Fascist powers) in the 1930s, the New Zealand Labour Party finally took power, helping New Zealand emerge from the Great Depression under left-wing governance. This was under revered Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage. The transition helped prepare New Zealand for the terrible war that followed, but that war in turn led to a strengthening of the dichotomy between town-and-country New Zealand. As far as the farmers felt, they generated the wealth the townsfolk profited from. If townsfolk weren’t profiting, they were perceived as actively obstructing the profit process with their troublesome unions and demands for more equity. The National Party was the natural champion of the conservatives in the rural heartlands, and Labour the natural champion of the workers in the cities.
You may have heard that the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ barely have any relevance these days, and maybe that is so. I personally don’t believe so – the different positions are so clear, I believe they’re still relevant.
To boil it down, the right needs failures in society or it can’t have successes, and it likes to propagate human successes despite the human costs this requires. The right actively promotes fear in society to help differentiate class and societal differences, and champions personal greed as a motivational force, lionising the wealthy as forces to the good. The right prefers to punish, rather than to reform, those who might commit crimes. The right reckons that if you can afford something, you ‘deserve’ to have it – even if it’s education and medical care. This all allows for charges of ‘uncaring’, ‘greedy’ and even ‘evil’ from the left.
The left prefers to think about society as a more amorphous structure, so tends to implement policy for the general good. Instead of punishment, the left tries reform. The left tries to create better access to health and educational services for those who otherwise could not afford it. Of course, this allows for the catcalls of ‘nanny state’ from the right, as these measures are almost always impediments to personal wealth creation and accretion since they often concentrate on enforced redistribution. This is hated and despised by the wealthy and aspirational.
So where is Aotearoa New Zealand right now? At the beginning of 2020, we have a fractious Labour Party in power with two fractious partners, all containing lots of stroppy, intelligent people all trying to assert themselves or hold their ground. This is partly for idealogical reasons and partly because they have, let’s face it, relatively easy and very well-paid jobs compared to tens of thousands of the people they govern. (Let me reassure you categorically, from someone who has done both, that putting in long hours sitting on your arse is a damn sight easier than putting in long hours of active work.)
This slightly-left-wing governing mess is all ‘headed’ (not really the right term) by the personable and popular Jacinda Adern.
Opposed to this slightly-left-leaning mess with its whip-smart and engaging leader, we have a well-organised National Party that almost always demonstrates a united front, even when led by that unpopular churl of a man, Simon Bridges. Even his own party doesn’t like him: it’s a testament to National’s unity that he’s still there, but this suits the situation while the party attempts to transmute something into a more acceptable human face to replace him with. Meanwhile, National follows its time-worn policy of chipping away at everything possible that Labour does, trying to make Labour act reactively so that people miss all the proactive things it’s doing. Unfortunately, and as usual, this is working, leading potential voters to add to a pile of growing doubt about Labour’s ability to govern. So despite Adern’s popularity, both here and overseas, Labour might lose the next election.
I have a proposal. And that’s to start almost from scratch. Despite the clear differences between the rural and urban sectors; between those who always want more personal wealth and those who prefer to share; between those who feel they should be able to achieve whatever they want and between those who feel they don’t deserve to; between all those positions and all those entrenched beliefs, there are always things we all can agree on. I believe that’s where we should start.
I believe the current government could consider calling for discussion on those things we can all agree on as a way of going forward. And to be fair, Labour has made some steps in this direction. But I propose this gets tailored into a more essential and guiding ethos that the whole country takes part in.
For example, why don’t we all admit that farming does form the backbone of the economy? How then would we move forward, as a nation? What do farmers really think will benefit New Zealand? What does the government want to do with this?
Let’s all admit that clean waterways benefit all of us. Even farmers like to drink water, and swim in it. Let’s admit that better equality for everyone in this country is better for everyone in this country. The better fed we are, cared-for we are and better-educated we are, the better New Zealand is and the more able New Zealand is to compete, and sell, in world markets. Let’s all just remember that when New Zealand was at its wealthiest during the ’50s and ’60s, education was free for all.
I believe that Labour should start this process within its own ranks, following up with its coalition partners. Build a mission that everyone can agree on and then, very importantly, enunciate. And then go out to the public of New Zealand, and do the same thing, while extending the initiative to the National Party.
Let’s create a country that’s good for all of us, that we all feel good about, that creates first class products for its own citizens and can market these to the world at large, that acts as a beacon to world citizens as an example, and that also benefits the original discoverers of this land and its exclusive flora and fauna.
This process might help to diffuse the fractious partisanship that’s rising all over the world.
New Zealand is an amazing country, we can all agree. But it’s operating well below its potential. Something better change.