I am a huge fan of Chris Trotter’s writing- and it’s not just the fluidity and beauty of his proses that attract me- Chris’s writings always include something new: an unknown piece of history or some gems from the Greek mythology.
But, at times, Chris can come across as a man with a hammer who sees everything and everyone as a nail.
Take, for instance, his recent blog on Gareth Morgan: “Once Was Enough, Gareth.” – Why I won’t be voting for TOP.
In this blog, Chris basically argues that Gareth’s policies are neo-liberalism cloaked in a language of compassion. He then offers a 22-year-old quote from an Australian essayist to prove it.
Well, I was not convinced.
Just as I was not convinced that Gareth’s advocacy for a more “deliberative democracy” meant he wanted to be in charge of designing a new system that removed the ability of ordinary people “to give practical expression to their socio-economic interests”.
Where is the evidence for that?
It seems to me that Chris took his well-crafted words and planted them firmly in Gareth’s mouth.
Then came his predictions about the outcome of Gareth’s policies. Here is what he wrote:
“TOP’s tax policies would strip homeowners of their capital gains; his superannuation policies would lead to the steady impoverishment of retirees; his so-called “Universal Basic Income” would reduce 90 percent of the population to powerless “gig workers”; and his constitutional reforms would gut New Zealand’s parliamentary democracy of its power to implement the popular will.”
I have read all of TOP’s policies and I am not sure how Chris could arrive at any of the above conclusions.
What we know is TOP’s policies are the result of years of research conducted by the Morgan Foundation.
We can look at TOP’s evidence and research methodology and decide whether we agree with them or not- but we must also ask where Chris’ evidence for his predictions of doom and gloom come from?
I do agree that TOP’s proposal to operate within the existing economic structure means that their policies could never be as reformist as Gareth claims them to be.
If Gareth wants to “light a fuse under Parliament”, he needs to come up with stable macroeconomic models that don’t rely on constant economic growth.
In fact, this is the sort of research that, not only the Morgan Foundation but also every economics department at our universities should be engaged in.
But until then, we need to deal with what’s in front us.
I’ve not made up my mind about who I will vote for in the upcoming election but my question for Chris is this: If not TOP, who else?
Many people’s rejection of TOP reminds me of a Tony Fomison’s painting titled No! It’s a great image that is basically about outright rejection and refusal to listen. It says: talk to the hand cause I ain’t interested.
Right from the beginning, Gareth said he was aware there were many New Zealanders who would not be prepared to listen to him and whom he could never convert regardless of how much evidence he put in front of them.
I think TOP is worth paying attention to and here are my main reasons:
Putting evidence at the heart of policy
We hear so much these days about the importance of connecting with the voters through their heart.
Thomas Friedman in his column for The New York Times writes: “Most voters do not listen through their ears. They listen through their stomachs. If a leader can connect with them on a gut level, their response is: Don’t bother me with the details. I trust your instincts.”
But the triumph of Trump in the US, success of Brexit in the UK, and longevity of John Key here in New Zealand, highlights the importance of discouraging voters from this sort of gut-feeling politics.
TOP’s plea to voters to use their heads, I believe, appeals to many New Zealanders who understand that the major parties are driven mainly by their hunger for votes, not by the long-term benefits to New Zealand.
Influencing policy direction of the main parties
I have to admit that I was puzzled by the formation of the Women Equality Party (WE) in the UK even though I consider myself a feminist.
My first thought about WE was that they would help the Tories by taking votes away from the Labour.
But then I noticed how the popularity of WE has forced other political parties to push the women equality issues up the political agenda, in the same way (be it negatively this time) that the popularity of the right-wing UKip gave prominence to the immigration issue.
Support for TOP will force other parties to show more courage and offer more radical policies to address pressing issues such as housing affordability, poverty and environmental degradation.
Let a thousand tall poppies blossom
If only I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say they didn’t support TOP because they didn’t like Gareth Morgan.
And why don’t they like him?
For some, it is Gareth’s past association with neo-liberalism, even though, he has gone to great pains to make it clear that he sees himself as a liberalist and not a neo-liberalist.
But for many others, it is the fact that Gareth is seen as a tall poppy and many New Zealanders, as we know, dislike tall poppies.
I am a firm believer in letting poppies grow tall and cross-pollinate.
Without the courage to hold our heads up when everyone else has theirs down, we would not have made much progress in improving human lives.
I hope to see a great deal of cross-pollination in action if TOP makes it to the Parliament. After all, isn’t that the very essence of our representative democracy?