Greed Is Not Good – But It Can Make Good Things Happen.

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“I STUFFED THEIR MOUTHS WITH GOLD.” So said the Labour politician responsible for creating Britain’s iconic National Health Service (NHS). Aneurin Bevan had been asked to explain how he had managed to silence the British Medical Association’s (BMA) fierce opposition to the keystone of the Labour Government’s socialist programme – and that was his reply. Jacinda Ardern and James Shaw could do a lot worse than be guided by Bevan’s example – especially since New Zealand’s farmers appear to value nothing so much as cash.

The great problem with New Zealand’s current crop of Labour leaders is that most of them would have no idea who Aneurin Bevan was – let alone what he said. Some of them might be able to quote Tony Blair and/or Peter Mandelson (Blair’s equivalent of Boris Johnson’s Dominic Cummings) but the exploits of Clem Attlee’s Labour Government (1945-1951) would likely be dismissed as the irrelevant echoes of the naïve “Clause 4” labourism that Blair’s New Labour replaced. It’s why they have so little to say about Jeremy Corbyn. Ardern and her closest allies, Grant Robertson and Chris Hipkins, regard the British Labour leader as a throwback to the failed left-wing politics of the past.

It’s a pity, because Labour politicians like Attlee and Bevan understood that implementing a “transformative” economic and social programme would require the kind of ruthless pragmatism that only the possession of deeply held beliefs can sanction. Bevan understood that if he insisted on getting everything that he wanted he would likely end up with nothing. To secure his beloved NHS he would have to compromise. When the BMA threatened strike action, he simply made it worth the doctors’ while to accept the NHS. He “stuffed their mouths with gold”.

A progressive New Zealand government determined to do its part in the global battle against Climate Change would have proceeded from the assumption that, unless they were generously rewarded for doing so, the farming community would strenuously resist any and all attempts to draw them into the fight. It has been a constant of New Zealand political history that resistance to progressive change has always been led by organisations composed of, or beholden to, farmers. Ardern and Shaw should have taken that as a given – and framed their policies accordingly. The historical precedent was right there before them in the guaranteed prices scheme that had bound the farming sector to the new social-democratic order set in place by New Zealand’s first Labour government (1935-1949).

The closer each farm comes to meeting the Government’s targets for greenhouse gas reduction, the more certain it should be of receiving financial rewards from the state. Think of it as an environmentally targeted variant of the US policy which artificially keeps agricultural prices high by paying farmers to keep some of their fields uncultivated. Cleaning up the nation’s waterways could be achieved by a similar policy of rewarding, rather than punishing, farmers for their behaviour. By stuffing their pockets with cash.

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As things now stand, the Coalition faces a simmering rural revolt. Farmers are convinced that they are being made the scapegoats for New Zealand’s failure to come to grips effectively with Climate Change. They are in no mood to co-operate with anyone except Federated Farmers and the National Party.

Labour’s coalition partner, NZ First is terrified of this incipient rebellion – rightly concluding that if the party is perceived to be siding with the Reds and the Greens, then it will be wiped out in next year’s general election. This fear predisposes them towards delaying, if not actively sabotaging, the already flawed policies cobbled together by Labour and The Greens. To make matters worse, both Federated Farmers and the National Party are well aware of NZ First’s rising political panic and are feeding it at every given opportunity. As a result, the Coalition’s policies on Climate Change are in danger of being reduced to incoherent and ineffectual nonsense. James Shaw is already being made to look like an inept fool, and Jacinda Ardern’s commitment to make Climate Change her generation’s nuclear-free moment is about to be tossed onto the growing pile of Labour’s broken promises.

It’s a sad end to what could have been a much happier story. New Zealand’s only hope of making any kind of difference to the unfolding horror story that is Climate Change lies in showing the rest of the world what can be done. Our 0.17 percent contribution to the global total of greenhouse gas emissions is much too small to attract the attention of those whose eyes remain fixed on the relentlessly rising contributions of the USA and China. But an unequivocal success story: the achievement of a small nation that found a way to rapidly and equitably reduce its carbon emissions and clean up its waterways; that just might inspire other nations to direct their gaze southward. And with Jacinda selling the story, in all the ways David Lange was prevented from selling New Zealand’s nuclear-free policy back in the 1980s, who knows how many nations might end up tagging along behind the Kiwi Pied-Piper?

The saddest aspect of the week just past is that Greta Thunberg’s incandescent address to the Climate Summit in New York was not seconded by New Zealand’s Prime Minister with a story of real and entirely imitable success. A Prime Minister who could respond to Greta’s righteous wrath with words of hope. Who could say to the youth of the world: “Do not despair, all is not lost, we have found a way. Come to our little country at the bottom of the world and we will show you how to dramatically reduce a country’s carbon emissions in record time. We will help you to become the global disciples of ‘enough’; youthful ambassadors for a world that only awaits those with the courage to make it.”

New Zealand was once known as the social laboratory of the world; why should it not turn itself into the planet’s climate laboratory? Directing our energy outward is the only viable survival strategy available to New Zealanders. There are no walls that we could possibly hope to build, high enough to keep us safe.

As for how best to deal with the enemies of a sustainable future: can we not be guided by Aneurin Bevan? If paying people to do the right thing prevents them from doing the wrong thing – then isn’t that money well spent?

 

12 COMMENTS

  1. “Money well spent?” except for the small point that many farmers are wallowing in cash already in comparison to the neo lib generated underclass and precariat! Financial reward for doing what they should do anyway would likely never be generous enough for them, particularly if the “Commie Princess” is involved!

    Farmers even fiddled and defied their own stock movement tracking system designed to keep their industry safer and M Bovus resulting spiked. I guess any number of placatory measures could be tried on the Nat knuckle draggers of self employment, SMEs and the provinces but it is better to keep them politely at arms length really.

    Chris’ point about Jacinda, Grant Robertson and Chris Hipkins lack of political understanding and the sweep of history is spot on though. Good grief, even the Reserve Bank is advising a stimulus package for a Govt. spend up on infrastructure!

    • Not all farmers are wallowing in cash. In fact most of the younger ones are up to their eye balls in debt and being screwed by the same land price increase that is stuffing things up for young townies.

      We on the left need to get away from the culture war with farmers. We’ve got 9 years to sort this out and to be honest we’re fucking it up. By going on a self righteous trip against the farming community we’re actually making it harder to prevent climate change.

      Imagine telling your great-grandchildren that you could have stopped runaway climate change but instead you just got in a fight with farmers. It sounds pretty idiotic but that’s exactly what we’re doing – and our hypocrisy, as we still drive cars and so all the things modern humans do, is there for everyone else to see.

    • Tiger Mountain, You seem to be verbally vomiting completely uneducated Dreamtime bullshit. I’m a retired sheep and beef farmer and I know very few wallowing in cash. Even Dairy farmers are for the most part indebted. There is no one who was consciously defying the stock movement scheme only those who couldn’t see the imminent risk of diseases like M Bovis because they didn’t think it would happen to them. Added to that was a completely inadequate government department that was supposed to monitor the program. Ever heard of the measles epidemic. Would you chastise those not inoculating their children in the same way. Your distain for farmers and National is obvious but misplaced. If you think your left thinking comrades are any less evil and more environmentally friendly Than anyone else you’re in denial and in my opinion delusional.

  2. Ever since I was a boy, Tiger, I have admired the wisdom of Aesop’s fable about the North Wind and the Sun.

    The two protagonists spy a man walking along the road on a chilly day and the North Wind proposes a test to see who is the stronger. The winner will be the one who forces the traveler to remove his cloak.

    The North Wind (remember this is a Northern Hemisphere fable) begins the contest. His icy breath beats against the traveler, forcing him to lean into the wind. The North Wind blows harder and harder, but with every freezing gust the traveler hugs his cloak more tightly around him.

    Then it is the Sun’s turn. He smiles down upon the traveler. His rays, full of warmth and light, heat the man’s body. Sweat breaks out on his brow. The Sun shines even more brightly. The traveler mops his brow and then, looking up with wonder at his bright benefactor, unfastens his cloak and throws it over his arm.

    Sunny ways, Tiger, sunny ways.

    • As a lifelong, joyous cynic I have received enormous rewards from ignoring the negative sides of my customers and concentrating on their positives. Brooding in the immense space for that in my job I came up with ‘NZers’ sympathy for others is only matched by their suspicion of others’. Or, good angels and bad devils. Why we haven’t gone on to the Scandinavian settlement. You’re right to concentrate on positives. Why we are all proud to be New Zealanders, rather than anyone else. And it was a choice back then.

      P.s. Attlee’s son was a Tory leader of the Lords. Where compromise queers.

  3. I can totally see Labour targeting the farmers just like they joined the Natz in targeting specific groups that they feel did not vote for them, aka landlords in the blame game of immigration blow backs… look where that got them massive rental shortages, but hey, plenty of labour for car yards, cafes and fake businesses and the burgeoning social housing businesses like Compass and motels as emergency accomodation…

    Life continues as normal neoliberalism which in NZ has morphed into bowing to all foreign business and having mostly overseas business with overseas individuals turned NZ passport holders, running most of our services in NZ. A great outcry when it looks like something has gone wrong with that model, (aka student body not found for 8 weeks in NZ student halls) but that will presumably require a few apologies and reports and no deep examination of what happens when you give up control to businesses and profits in education.

    Meanwhile under that social engineering scenario, local society seems to be disintegrating fast in NZ, from a student body not being found for 8 weeks in a student hall run by an Aussie business, to a recent resident gunning down 51 people in a mass murder and regular hauls of financial, tax, labour, sexual assault, drug, immigration scams and money laundering is now so common here and seemingly encouraged based on the very low level of punishment given to those crimes, certainly not deportation! The government message is, we want those fuckers here!

    If Labour wanted to target climate change are Labour prepared to tax and limit airline and cruise travel? Limit the amount of new people living in NZ and using cars and the sewerage system? Not be jetting off to another international conference?

    NZ officials and government have already cherry picked many industries OUT of climate change emissions, like air travel… just like cruise ship passengers don’t have to pay the paltry tourism charges.

    Yep pretty unlikely Labour and Greens really want to examine and actually do something to limit tourist effects and not take that overseas trip.

    However to combat the environmental costs of travel, NZ neoliberals are even thinking of keeping the educational Ponzi of selling NZ residency on the back of a fake degree by having NZ institutions operating in foreign countries… well we can all see how that will end up with the Fonterra example and the overseas visa examples… pretty much NZ government stamped scams, using the NZ brand to scam people into thinking the goods and services are safe and being astonished when social harm from foreign scams are inflicted on others believing in the NZ brand.

    Sadly climate change which in itself has become a meaningless and overused word by the mainstream, and reduced to just emissions because so easy to put into a spread sheet for the paper pushers…. however along with climate change is the other big issue effecting the planet, which is environmental pollution and degradation and biodiversity loss which is seldom mentioned because polluters want to argue just about emissions not actually examine the entire eco system including air and water, seems to have turned to shit, in our dirty nests.

    NZ politicians and officials seemingly love the neoliberal aspect of cherry picking emissions but not that keen on examining how they can stop ocean, land and air pollution and NZ is one of the worst offenders per capita in the world with quite a few flora and fauna about to become extinct here… look at Maui dolphins which have only about 65 left now, the government is virtually doing nothing practical to save them, from allowing fishing in their habitat, to not installing cameras in fishing vessels to keep an eye on by catch, to consents for sand mining in the pipeline and the lack of interest in limiting ocean pollution in the first place, aka granting water bottling into plastic bottles to be shipped around the world, much of which ends up in the ocean and the polluting effects of shipping in the first place.

    Now they are taking about plastic recycling as a big scheme, hang on, we used to use glass bottles and recycled it 30 years ago, before consumers were forced by manufacturers under Rogernomics into plastic bottles for everything!

  4. Yes, a succinct take, a variation perhaps on “love thine enemy”, “unite all who can be united”, “be kind”, “work with and struggle against” etc. the dialectics of what you suggest for engaging farmers certainly appear in order. One of my personal blind spots unfortunately just happens to be… NZ F-a-r-m-e-r-s… particularly those whose activities involve animals.

  5. Just read your first few paras. That’s enough. Clause 4 is ‘socialisation …’ I take it. Silly folk who know everything about the present and nothing about the (near) future. Why I joined to vote for Cunliffe (still haven’t voted for modern Labour, proud to say).

  6. I’ve criticised your day by day political commentary but you know your stuff. ‘Roger’s Labour’ don’t know a thing. Shouldn’t be there.

  7. ‘stuffed their mouths with gold’ was re consultants, who simply would not have worked for the NHS without a very good deal.

    The BMA were the GPs trade union and they only dropped their opposition to the NHS when they belatedly realised that the majority of their members had either agreed, or were about to agree, to become NHS contractors.

    The establishment of the NHS was not the ‘the keystone of the Labour Government’s socialist programme’, but wartime coalition policy, for the end of hostilities, agreed across parties.

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