Saturday, 22 July 2017

China's Got Talent!

 
 
A truly splendid rendition of
The Internationale. Enjoy.
 
Video courtesy of YouTube
 
This posting is exclusive to Bowalley Road.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Nothing Fresh About Labour’s Approach.

Not-So-Subliminal Messages: Labour's first campaign video is a shocker. I wasn’t expecting much but, depressingly, Labour managed to deliver less. Yes, Andrew Little does promise us "A Fresh Approach", but there should be a better reason for voting Labour than the fact that National’s getting a bit stale.
 
LEFT-LEANING VOTERS looking for a good reason to vote Green should take a look at Labour’s latest campaign ad. When the video arrived in my Inbox, I was almost too scared to open it. I wasn’t expecting much but, depressingly, Labour managed to deliver less. If this is the best the party’s highfalutin Aussie ad agency can do, then the sooner they’re sent packing back across the Tasman the better!
 

 
A while back, someone let slip that Andrew Little had been taking acting lessons. Three words: Waste. Of. Money. To call Little’s performance wooden would be an insult to the vibrant living entities we call trees. Do Labour’s Aussie ad-men not know that the best way to make any human-being look awkward is to ask them to act natural?
 
Have they never seen the celebrated paid political broadcast produced for the British Conservative Party? The agency was asked to introduce John Major to the electorate. So, they put the Prime Minister in the back of a car, set the cameras rolling, and drove him past his childhood home. The look on Major’s face; his priceless emotional response; humanised Maggie Thatcher’s grey successor in one, perfect, cinematic moment. What made the sequence so compelling was its unscripted authenticity.
 
Unfortunately, authenticity is the quality Labour’s video most conspicuously lacks. It’s as though Labour’s Campaign Committee brainstormed for hours on Little’s positive qualities and then turned everything they’d scribbled on the whiteboard into his script. Whoever told Little to deliver the line, “as a former cancer patient”, should be told to seek alternative employment!
 
The most jarring aspect of the video, however, is the way it exploits poor Jacinda Ardern. Every few seconds she appears, without any discernible narrative purpose, smiling brightly at Little’s side. It’s as if, at some point during the final edit, the production team suddenly remembered that the video was supposed to promote the Little-Ardern partnership. “Quick! someone track down those Andrew and Jacinda smileathons we recorded!” If that’s not the explanation, then I shudder to think what is.
 
And then there’s the tag-line: “A Fresh Approach for New Zealand”.
 
Labour’s former Finance Minister, Michael Cullen, was fond of regaling audiences with what he liked to call Kiwis’ “beach cricket approach to politics”. As in: “Aw, come on Helen, you’ve had the bat for ages. Don’t you think it’s time to give someone else a go?” Labour’s 2017 slogan comes perilously close to validating Cullen’s insight. There should be a better reason for voting Labour than the fact that National’s getting a bit stale.
 
What a pity the New Zealand Labour Party hasn’t been able to snare an Aussie creative director like Paul Jones. His 1972 campaign ad for the Australian Labor Party, “It’s time!”, featured Alison McCallum belting out the party’s campaign song with what appeared to be the whole of Australia joining in. It was a classic of its kind – and well worth checking out on YouTube!
 
 
The problem, of course, is that to make an ad like that work, you have to have something – and someone – to sell. Jones had Gough Whitlam. And, if I may paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen’s famous put-down of Dan Quayle in the 1988 US Vice-Presidential Debate: “I remember Gough Whitlam. And, Mr Little, you’re no Gough Whitlam!” Or Norman Kirk, for that matter.
 
Someone should remind Little and his team of what happened to their Canadian equivalent, the New Democratic Party, in 2015. Its leader, Thomas Mulcair, was so determined to be a “strong and stable” alternative Prime Minister that he persuaded the NDP to jettison everything even remotely radical or inspiring from its manifesto. Justin Trudeau, whose Liberals had been counted out of the race, saw the opening and seized his chance.
 
Following the inspirational performance of Metiria Turei, at last weekend’s Green Party AGM, there is now a real risk that Labour’s putative junior coalition partner could steal a march very similar to Trudeau’s. Never has the New Zealand Left been in such a state of flux. Turei’s passionate declaration: “We will not be a government that uses poverty as a weapon against its own people” is the sort of statement that changes minds.
 
If Andrew Little’s Labour Party refuses to stand with the poor, the marginalised and the downtrodden, then what, exactly, is its “fresh approach” supposed to deliver?
 
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, 21 July 2017.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

A Cautionary Tale From Canada.

"Something In The Air": Whatever it was in his country’s political atmosphere in 2015, Justin Trudeau blew out enough of it to inflate the Liberals’ appeal to winning proportions. With Winston exhaling anger, and Metiria Turei breathing hope, Andrew Little and Labour need to offer the New Zealand electorate something more than a deflated ideological balloon.
 
THOMAS MULCAIR wanted to be Prime Minister – and he thought he knew how to make it happen. His New Democratic Party (NDP) was the leading Opposition contender in a Canada grown weary of Stephen Harper’s brutal Conservative Government. More importantly, the formerly dominant Liberal Party had been reduced to a risible rump of just 36 MPs in the Canadian House of Commons. Its leader, Justin Trudeau, may have been blessed with a famous political name, but was widely dismissed as a pretty playboy who knew a lot more about snowboarding that he did about grown-up politics. Thomas Mulcair was far from being the only Canadian convinced that the 2015 General Election was the NDP’s for the taking.
 
But that’s not how the story ended. Determined to present both himself and the NDP as sensible and responsible, Mulcair prevailed upon his party colleagues to jettison any and all policies likely to scare the Canadian establishment’s horses. Canada’s equivalent of the NZ Labour Party promised “budget responsibility” – with bells on. Public spending would be kept in check and surpluses fattened. “Nothing to be frightened of here”, was Mulcair’s message to the people he thought he had to please to win. That was the point at which Justin Trudeau demonstrated that he was a great deal more than just a pretty face.
 
Mulcair’s decision to steer the NDP sharply to the right of its traditional position on the centre-left had opened up a dangerous amount of unoccupied ideological space. If Mulcair was willing to make his peace with neoliberalism, then Trudeau was prepared to lead his party into a passionate Keynesian embrace. With interest rates at record lows, Government borrowing would never be cheaper. The Liberals would give Canada’s economy the much-needed shot in the arm that Harper’s austerity programme had forsworn. Health, education and infrastructure would be the big winners. The Liberals, said Trudeau, were the only political party who understood that more of the same was unacceptable. Oh yeah – and they were ready to legalise marijuana!
 
Outflanked, out-argued and out-bid, Mulcair watched helplessly as the NDP’s poll-numbers dwindled and the Liberal Party’s popularity surged. Policy audacity was made palatable by Trudeau’s relentlessly sunny disposition. The clouds of gloom parted, and by the time the last ballot paper was counted the “pretty playboy” had rewritten Canada’s political rulebook. Not only had the Liberal’s driven the NDP into third place, they had won an absolute parliamentary majority. It was a comeback without precedent in Canadian history.
 
Trudeau’s historic 2015 election victory is a cautionary tale which New Zealand’s Labour leader would do well to study closely. There is still time for Andrew Little to halt his party’s relentless march towards the political centre. Still time to understand that the “something in the air” which Shane Jones talks about is the factor that will determine the outcome of this year’s election. Still time to realise that whatever it is in the political air, it is not a desperate public hunger for more of the same.
 
There is anger in the air – and that is the harvest which Winston Peters and NZ First are determined to gather in. But the air is also stirring with hope. That’s what the Greens have – at almost the last possible moment – understood. And, just like Justin Trudeau, they are preparing to ride the forgotten New Zealander’s hope for something better all the way to the biggest share of the Party Vote they have ever received.
 
Thomas Mulcair’s bid to become Canada’s Prime Minister foundered on his strategy of offering his opponents the smallest possible target to shoot at. All he succeeded in doing was reducing the NDP to something so dull and uninspiring that a crucial number of Canadians lost sight of it altogether.
 
Whatever it was in his country’s political atmosphere in 2015, Justin Trudeau blew out enough of it to inflate the Liberals’ appeal to winning proportions. With Winston exhaling anger, and Metiria Turei breathing hope, Andrew Little and Labour need to offer the New Zealand electorate something more than a deflated ideological balloon.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 19 July 2017.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Noticing Neoliberalism's Nakedness.

"But he hasn't got anything on!" - For 30 years New Zealand’s best and brightest business leaders, academics, journalists and politicians have been telling the rest of us that the only reason neoliberalism appears to be promoting a nakedly brutal and inequitable economic and social system is because we are too stupid to perceive the true beneficence of the free market. Painting by Thorarinn Liefsson.
 
IF THE 2017 GENERAL ELECTION turns into a messy boil-over, it will be the fault of New Zealand’s most successful people. For the best part of 30 years, the high achievers of New Zealand society have aligned themselves with an ideology that has produced consistently negative outcomes. Not for themselves. In fact, they have done extremely well out of the economic and social changes of the past 30 years. For the majority of their fellow citizens, however, the Neoliberal Revolution has been a disaster.
 
The real puzzle of the past 30 years is, therefore, why a political system intended to empower the majority has not consigned neoliberalism to the dustbin of history. Why have those on the receiving end of economic and social policies designed to benefit only a minority of the population not simply elected a party, or parties, committed to eliminating them?
 
A large part of the answer is supplied in Hans Christian Andersen’s famous fable, The Emperor’s New Clothes. Those who know the story will recall that the crucial element of the swindlers’ con was their insistence that the Emperor’s magnificent attire could only be seen by the wise. To “anyone who was unfit for his office, or who was unusually stupid”, the Emperor would appear to be wearing nothing at all.
 
The interesting thing about Andersen’s fable is that it’s actually supported by a critical element of scientific fact. If people whose judgement we have no reason to doubt inform us that black is white, most of us will, in an astonishingly short period of time, start disregarding the evidence of our own eyes. Even worse, if an authority figure instructs us to administer punishments to people “for their own good” most of us will do so. Even when the punishment appears to be causing the recipients intense, even fatal, pain, we will be continue flicking the switch for as long as the authority figure insists that the pain is necessary and that we have no alternative except to proceed. (If you doubt this, just google “Stanley Milgram”.)
 
For 30 years, then, New Zealand’s best and brightest business leaders, academics, journalists and politicians have been telling the rest of us that the only reason neoliberalism appears to be promoting a nakedly brutal and inequitable economic and social system is because we are too stupid to perceive the true beneficence of the free market. In language ominously reminiscent of Professor Milgram’s terrible experiment, we have been told by those in authority that there can be “no long-term gain without short-term pain”, and, God forgive us, we have believed them – and continued flicking the switch.
 
Nowhere has this readiness to discount the evidence before one’s own eyes been more pronounced than in our politicians. How many of them, when confronted with the social and environmental wreckage of neoliberalism, have responded like the “honest old minister” in Andersen’s fable, who, upon being ushered into the swindlers’ workshop, and seeing nothing, thought: “Heaven have mercy! Can it be that I’m a fool? I’d have never guessed it, and not a soul must know. Am I unfit to be the minister? It would never do to let on that I can’t see the cloth.”
 
How else are we to explain the unwillingness of the Labour Party and the Greens to break decisively with the neoliberal swindle? Or, the repeated declarations from National and Act praising the beauty and enchantment of its effects: “Such a pattern, what colours!”
 
Even as the evidence of its malignity mounted before them. Even as the numbers harmed by its poisonous remedies increased. The notion that the best and the brightest might perceive them as being unusually stupid and unfit for office led the opposition parties to concentrate all their criticism on the symptoms of neoliberalism. Or, in the spirit of Andersen’s tale, critiquing the cut of the Emperor’s new clothes instead of their non-existence.
 
Eventually, of course, the consequences of neoliberalism are felt by too many people to be ignored. Children who cannot afford to buy their own home. Grandchildren who cannot access mental health care. The spectacle of people living in their cars. Of homeless men freezing to death in the streets. Eventually someone – a politician unafraid of being thought unusually stupid, or unfit for office – breaks the swindlers’ spell.
 
“‘But he hasn’t got anything on,’ a little child said.
 
‘Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?’ said its father. And one person whispered to another what the child had said, ‘He hasn’t anything on. A child says he hasn’t anything on.’
 
‘But he hasn’t got anything on!’ the whole town cried out at last.”
 
Now, the whole New Zealand electorate may not be calling “Time!” on neoliberalism – and certainly not its best and its brightest – but Winston Peters is.
 
And the town is whispering.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 18 July 2017.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

For Metiria ...


“We will not be a government that uses poverty as a weapon against its own people.”
 
- Metiria Turei, Co-Leader of The Greens
 
Video courtesy of YouTube
 
This posting is exclusive to Bowalley Road.

The Bright Sunlit Uplands Of Radicalism: Metiria Turei And The Greens Set The 2017 Election On Fire.

Do You Hear The People Sing? Metiria Turei’s pledge that: We will not be a government that uses poverty as a weapon against its own people”, is nothing less than a call to arms. Requiring the MSD to stop treating its “clients” as second-class citizens: making a bonfire of work tests, drug tests, bedmate tests, and all the other oppressive means of “sanctioning” beneficiaries, will have the same electrifying effect as the cry which swept through Paris on 14 July 1789 – “To the Bastille!”
 
METIRIA TUREI has rescued the 2017 General Election from the timidity and moral squalor into which it was fast descending. In a speech that brought tears to her listeners’ eyes and cheers to their throats, the Greens’ co-leader carried her party out of the shadows of moderation and into the bright sunlit uplands of radicalism that have always been its natural habitat. The Green Party’s AGM of 15-16 July 2017 will go down in history as the moment when it repudiated the “Insider’s” devilish bargains – and reclaimed its soul.
 
Turei’s revolutionary plans for New Zealand’s social welfare system will be examined below, but first a word or two about her prescience in regard to Winston Peters and NZ First.
 
Clearly, there is now no disputing her warnings about the racist implications of NZ First policy. What looked like gratuitous and counter-productive name-calling a week ago has been vindicated emphatically by Winston Peters’ utterances of the weekend just past.
 
It’s one thing to allow race and immigration to become confused (NZ First is by no means unique in this regard!) but it is quite another to call for a binding referendum on the retention of the Maori Seats. The last senior politician to draw a bead on the Maori Seats was Don Brash – and New Zealand only dodged that bullet by the skin of its teeth!
 
So, let’s be clear: there is nothing democratic about demanding a binding referendum on this issue. On the contrary, it is a shameless appeal to the very worst majoritarian instincts of the New Zealand electorate. Allowing 85 percent of the population to determine the fate of a representative institution dedicated to protecting the rights of the country’s indigenous 15 percent is not only reactionary, it is a direct threat to the “public welfare, peace and tranquillity of New Zealand”.  In such circumstances, no progressive New Zealander could possibly consider voting for NZ First.
 
By the same token, The Greens’ revolutionary welfare policies make it difficult for any progressive New Zealander to vote for anybody else.
 
As anyone who has read the heartfelt postings of people living at the razor’s edge of our welfare system (the latest one is here) knows, the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) presides over an empire of cruelty with few precedents in New Zealand history. The National Government boasts about the numbers who have been removed from the welfare rolls since they assumed office. That this is due to the sheer awfulness of being caught up in the Work and Income mincing machine is an “achievement” they are much less keen to acknowledge.
 
Though most Kiwis remain oblivious to what is happening behind the security-guarded doors of their welfare system, there are tens-of-thousands of families with direct personal experience of what it’s like to be a beneficiary – or the loved one/s of a beneficiary. To these folk, Metiria’s pledge that: “We will not be a government that uses poverty as a weapon against its own people”, is nothing less than a call to arms. Requiring the MSD to stop treating its “clients” as second-class citizens: making a bonfire of work tests, drug tests, bedmate tests, and all the other oppressive means of “sanctioning” beneficiaries; will have the same electrifying effect as the cry which swept through Paris on 14 July 1789 – “To the Bastille!”
 
The question is: do the Greens possess the electoral infrastructure to spread the good news to the tens-of-thousands of disillusioned voters who stand to gain from their policies. These marginalised citizens (minimum wage workers as well as beneficiaries) now have a very good reason to enrol and vote. The Greens boast that, this election, they have more campaigning resources than ever before. Here is their chance to prove it.
 
One reason to be hopeful that beneficiaries will hear about the Greens’ revolutionary welfare policies is Metiria’s extraordinarily courageous decision to admit that when, as a solo mum, she was faced with the choice of lying to the welfare authorities, or letting her child go hungry, she lied. Except that the story does not end there. Like Jean Valjean, the hero of Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Miserables, Metiria made sure that the many opportunities which flowed from her transgression were turned towards making her society a better place.
 
Hugo wrote of his sprawling literary masterpiece that:
 
“So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age—the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night—are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.”
 
Any more than Metiria’s confession, or, the Greens transformative welfare policies, can be useless. They are the stuff out of which social justice is made. Meaning that, if Labour wishes to catch up with the only progressive coalition partner now available to them, then they had better start running hard – now.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 17 July 2017.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Voter Motivators 2017: Poverty.

Making Poverty History: Dorothea Lange's iconic portrait of a Depression Era mother and her children speaks of a time when poverty was a problem to be solved - not a condition to be sneered at.
 
WHEN ENOUGH PEOPLE ARE POOR, poverty changes. Instead of being seen as the outward manifestation of vice, poverty is transformed into the enabler of virtue. In communities where everyone is poor, the merits of compassion, solidarity and generosity are everywhere on display. Poor people support one another, take care of one another, defend one another.
 
In societies where wealth and resources are controlled by a tiny minority, it is the rich who find themselves stigmatised. Their greed, love of luxury and relentless selfishness are everywhere condemned. In the eyes of the poor, wealth and vice are indistinguishable.
 
Eighty-five years ago, at the height of the Great Depression, poverty stalked four out of every five New Zealand streets. More than one in four men of working age were unemployed, and those who still had jobs were forced to accept regular – often savage – reductions in their wages and salaries.
 
As the economic crisis deepened, the spectre of poverty crept out of the urban slums and into the leafy suburbs of the middle-class. Respectable men on respectable salaries found themselves “let go”. Poverty ceased to be something that affected the “lower orders”. Now ordinary “decent” people were staring it in the face.
 
In 2017, with a general election looming, the issue of poverty still ranks as one of New Zealand’s big voter motivators. People sleeping in their cars; children succumbing to Third World diseases; workers lining-up at food banks for assistance; whole families going hungry to pay the power bill and keep the landlord happy: those lucky enough to live in the three out of four streets where poverty does not intrude have been made to feel profoundly uneasy by its evident proximity.
 
In a society where only a quarter of children are being raised in poverty, however, the remedies for privation and despair are hotly contested. With security and comfort now the norm in New Zealand, the question a great many voters ask themselves is: “What is going on in these families which prevents them from living a happy and productive life like the rest of us?”
 
In 1935, the answer to that question could be reduced to two words: “The Slump”. The effects of the Great Depression weighed upon the whole of New Zealand like a leaden overcoat. It made all the old explanations of poverty redundant. Whoever was to blame for the collapse of the capitalist economy – it wasn’t the poor.
 
And, for those who were hurting, the remedy was clear: vote for the party pledged to make poverty history. Let the state take the place of your family, friends and neighbours and become the collective deliverer of compassion, solidarity and generosity. All those things denied the poor: good jobs on good pay; free education and health care; a warm, dry house at an affordable rent; a measure of equality in the workplace; state assistance in old age, infirmity and economic adversity; these were the changes that Labour promised – and delivered.
 
Not only was poverty (in the sense of the harsh economic and social conditions experienced by a clear majority of the population in the early years of capitalism) reduced dramatically by the creation of the Welfare State, but in the decades that followed its moral character underwent an enormous revision.
 
No longer was poverty seen as the consequence of the viciously rich and their failed economic system. No longer was it celebrated as the creator of virtuous behaviour. Now it was regarded as the consequence of individual and familial inadequacy. Now it was the poor who exemplified vice. Laziness, drunkenness, violence, cruelty and crime: these became the new markers of Poverty.
 
The National Party’s twenty-first century response to this re-defined poverty is unequivocal: deal with the individual and familial inadequacies of the poor and the vicious circles of deprivation can be broken. They call it “Social Investment”.
 
Labour’s position is much more difficult. Gone are the days when an economically victimised majority saw themselves as the deserving beneficiaries of a long overdue and radical redistribution of society’s resources. In 2017, the no-longer-poor majority identify much more readily as taxpayers, and are much less certain that Labour’s (and the Greens’) compassion, solidarity and generosity are entitlements to which the “undeserving poor” have any claim.
 
Poverty will be motivating voters in 2017 – but in ways far removed from those of 1935.
 
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, 16 June 2017.