Transformation, by inclusion, out of collaboration


    Austerity – as in “difficult economic conditions created by government measures to reduce public expenditure” – arrived in New Zealand in the 1980s. It was cemented into our banking law in 1989 and almost immediately generated an atrocious spike in social inequality that has held an idolatrous death grip on New Zealand society and our political discourse for the intervening 30 years.

    After last weekend there can be no doubt that the brutal ideology of scarce resources, privilege for a few and tight belts for the many must now go.

    Leaders are the ones to climb a tree, spot the destination and signal direction to those chopping away in the bush below on which way to go. It’s pretty clear that Jacinda Ardern’s meteoric personal trajectory has mirrored – and driven – a shift in the tone of New Zealand politics, as David Shaw said in an op-ed published on The Conversation NZ website (which partners with six New Zealand universities to get academics’ points of view in front of the general public)  just before the election itself.

    “Transformation is probably too strong a word for it, but something is happening and it is reflected in Ardern’s approach to leadership,” he wrote.

    “The prime minister appeals less to conviction than to disposition. Her approach resonates with people for whom politics is fundamentally relational rather than ideological. Ardern is no ideologue. She gives people who don’t agree with her party’s policies permission to vote for her. It’s the kind of leadership that can change what counts as political common sense, and it appeals to a lot of people in times of stress and uncertainty.”

    Grant Robertson and then Jacinda Ardern’s victory promise on Saturday night of governing for every New Zealander has compelling simplicity. If every decision has that as its overarching goal, all of us will be engaged. Those who already have enough are always going to be OK.  Collectively coming up with enough health, wealth, housing and opportunity for everyone else (including the planet and future generations) will deliver unimaginable benefits.

    It was reassuring to see the sense of opportunity, unity and generosity that budded through the Covid lockdowns flowering so spectacularly to make political history at the weekend, even in farming heartlands.

    Creatures under constant stress and starved of necessities – bovine or otherwise – are never going to thrive or be profitable and, despite inherent conservatism, farmers know that. Nor will vital water quality and sound farming practice be improved by tinkering with the metrics and failing to define and unequivocally implement the right policy settings.

    In one of the many firsts under MMP, Labour won the party vote in every single South Island electorate.

    In Auckland Central we again have two MPs in the constituency: Labour’s Helen White, who was on her party’s list, and Chloe Swarbrick, who won only the second electorate seat ever for the Greens which emerged powerfully from the campaign and the past three years in parliament.

    In another recent Conversation analysis, Geoffrey Ford, Bronwyn Hayward and Kevin Watson, all of the University of Canterbury, dissected the language of economic growth in the period’s Parliamentary debates.

    On average, National MPs said “growth” once every four mentions of “economy”, Labour MPs said “growth” once every six mentions while Green MPs used “growth” once every 20 mentions of “economy”. “And when they did mention growth it was primarily to question the idea and to present alternative ideas about a sustainable economy.”

    They also concluded that  Green MPs mention “economy” primarily in relation to the environment, climate change, sustainability and people, rather than in relation to growth, with a distinct focus on the connections between the economic system and the environment.

    “Can this be transformation?” is the wrong question.  We voted for transformation and how far we get will depend on all of us being in action on the big and small opportunities for that. However far we get, we can grasp the opportunity to rethink a devastated world which will have twice the hunger (and far more debt than ours) at the end of the pandemic. Global money, despotic megalomaniacs and predatory megabusinesses have shown their colours and need to wither.

    Thatcherite economics has no place in this effervescent, and young, new world which will have to learn from the social capital and financial strategies that got us through the Great Depression.

    It’s coming up a new, grassroots rebuild and, as Irish “punk economist” David McWilliams said this week: “The most prudent thing to do now is spend”.

    Five million of us holding that faith for three years under collaborative leadership is an exciting prospect. • Liz Waters

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