It has been some time since my last post to TDB. I was fortunate to recently come back to NZ briefly for a bit of a break from my work in Pakistan. While my visit was super short, I took the opportunity to read Dirty Politics.
Unfortunately, the book confirmed a number of themes that I have touched on in my previous posts: the devious control of the political narrative, the voracious hunger for those seeking political power for the pure purpose of having political power, a mainstream media bullied by constant deadlines resulting in superficial analysis, and a lack of accountability evident in an arrogant ruling class.
There is one other theme that I have raised on occasion – that it is in the interests of the privileged to not have an engaged body politic.
They don’t actually want you to vote.
This strategy is confirmed by Simon Lusk in the book and it is clear that it has been taken on board by the National Party through these scurrilous dealings ultimately leading to the Ninth Floor of the Beehive.
Remember, and as others have stated, this comes down to choice. Politics does not demand such behaviour. The excuse that this is mandated by the modern political world is not an absolution – it is a lean to mediocrity and a compromise on the values that we expect of our fellow citizens, let alone our leaders.
Through all this one particular response from the prime minister has fascinated me. His claim that really New Zealanders want to talk about policy has been both enlightening as it is misleading. It is enlightening in that yet again we see his strategy of telling New Zealanders what we should be thinking, and misleading in that he himself, as a New Zealander, doesn’t want to talk about policy.
For me, leadership is about having a vision. Leadership means brining people on board that vision and implementing it. This is not by force, or by stealth, but by giving people ownership of your vision meaning that it becomes collective.
Sometimes, as a leader, your vision changes as others help to improve it. But, ultimately, leadership and the power that governance provides, gives you both the privilege and responsibility to use that power to improve the lives of all New Zealanders.
But, when I look at our current government, I see no vision. I see no leadership.
This remains a government with no ideas. Bill English confirmed as much on The Nation when he was unable to point to any economic vision absent relying on the status quo.
Unfortunately, the status quo is not working for New Zealanders across the country as a whole. We have seen a stuttering, yet claimed, “rockstar economy” based on Christchurch and dairy prices. Neither of these was at the design of our macro-economic management, and both have short term legitimacy.
And, although unnecessary to say, I still struggle to see how the rebuild of Christchurch can be relied upon to point to “growth”. I understand this intellectually, but it belies the collective social reality of Christchurch. The trauma of that city and its people remain.
Meanwhile, we have sold off our dividend earning assets and stopped contributions to the performing Cullen Fund. We have made payouts to corporates while execs pay for personal attacks to undermine criminal investigations into the excesses of financial (mis)management.
Through these supposedly boom times, our debt has ballooned out past $60 billion, inequality remains a fundamental wedge across our society, children remain in poverty with unforgiveable health outcomes, and we remain in what is clearly a low-wage economy where families are genuinely struggling.
There is one thing that the National Party got right in its election advertising. We are sitting in a boat going backwards, while some folks are going in the other direction on a $78 million yacht that is invite only.
I am constantly asking myself what are the job options right now. What if you are a school leaver from, say, Huntly and you have no interest in further education? What jobs can you do? Apprenticeships are virtually non-existent (but you are forced into private job training). You may be able to get a job in a café working minimum wage?
What if you are a 30-something professional working in London, Australia or Hong Kong? What are your options back in New Zealand? Some sectors are great, but across the board the options are limited. You still have to work hard (sometimes harder), but wages are generally less and you are confronted with having to enter our over-priced and prohibitive housing market.
For me, what this speaks to what I call our “diluted economy”. We lack real diversity in our economy meaning that there is no range of options. Where there is potential – for example, in our primary industries – we are not doing enough to leverage those assets. Too much of the income earning potential flows overseas.
Job creation is difficult, almost impossible, unless we stimulate investment and innovation in developing new sectors. We need to promote the flow of money back into our economy to create the higher earning jobs.
A while ago I raised the following questions:
“Where do we sit on our government debt? What is happening with our housing crisis? Where is the investment in addressing child poverty? What strategies do we have for job creation? What about the quality of those jobs? How is the increasing amount of people exposed to precarious work beneficial for our country? What jobs are there for people in the regions? What options are there for school leavers? What are we doing to address our over-valued dollar? Do we have any strategy beyond primary industries? Are we going to have any discussion about our growing retirement liability? Did anyone actually read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report?”
These questions remain. Despite John Key’s call to talk policy, he and his cohorts are unable to answer these questions.
In contrast, Labour has a fully costed economic upgrade. The Greens outline a cohesive argument for an economy based on innovation and sustainability. I am attracted to these policy platforms as they actually outline a vision that is long-term in outlook, is dynamic, and creates in me an expectation of a better New Zealand for more of our people.
Ultimately, that is what I expect of our leadership. I expect an economic vision, rooted in the values of equity and fostering creativity.
Wouldn’t that be exciting? A New Zealand competing across different sectors, creating more wealth for more of us, while nurturing our greatest asset – our environment – for our future generations.
As a country, we should demand this of our leaders. Do not accept the status quo built on wealth and social division. Demand a future that is aspirational, yet tangible, and grounded in sound economic policy.
So, who has the vision?