Well I am pretty happy today. This is indeed a historic election result. And I am feeling optimistic. It feels like it may have felt in 1935. Or 1938. At that time, a great Labour victory was tempered by the gathering storm clouds of war. This time it is the raging Covid, a pandemic that is unlikely to go away soon.
The rimu house I am sitting in is testimony that the first Labour government did not let war interfere with its core programme. Built in 1940, my dry, spacious home has four bedrooms and a large section. It was built by the state for working families, but also to improve the society as a whole.
I am not in the habit of picking apart speeches, especially delivered in the heat of election night. But I was very struck by one comment that Jacinda made: that Labour would be governing for all New Zealanders.
This comment can be read in so many ways, but I am choosing today to put it within the most optimistic framework of the first Labour government. Only better, because looked at from today’s perspective. that government did not hit the mark on racial and gender politics, nor on the Treaty. One nation does not, and should not, mean everybody is the same.
From that perspective, we will be looking for a ‘whole of nation’, not a ‘one nation’ response. The distinction is very important. Under 35 years of neo-liberalism we have been encouraged to believe that certain sectors of society must be privileged in order for the rest to prosper. We have practiced ‘trickle down’ economics.
Feed the horse (I don’t know why it is always a horse) lots of oats, and the horse benefits massively. And out the end comes out lots of waste, that is available for the sparrows to peck at.
The other thing you have to do is make the sparrows want to eat the poos. You thus cut off their other food sources (in practice slash benefits and allow wages to fall).
It is undeniable that we are still practicing trickle down economics in New Zealand, many years after the model has been discredited. The rich are still getting richer, the poor have stabilised their incomes only because of government intervention, ninety percent of NZers are worse off than 30 years ago (Max Rashbrooke has been running the figures on this for years), yadda yadda.
We need a better economic model, and that, in my mind, is the one nation model that Labour must adopt. Instead of being a mild departure from the norm, so that National can leap back to power under the old corporate model with Chris Luxton, this government needs an economic sea-change. If Labour in 1984 could introduce such an unpopular and destructive policy, then surely this Labour government can take the people with it to a neo-Keynesian model for the future.
This intellectual work needs to be done forthwith and rigorously. I have already seen numerous press releases from organisations demanding progress be made urgently on this and that. If we get the model right, so much else will follow.
It is a huge job, that will require the reformation of the state sector, including our guiding economic orthodoxies. There is plenty of evidence that the shape and structure of our government agencies (not to mention what goes on in some of them) is not fit for purpose.
We have lost, possibly forever, two huge income earners: export education and tourism. In my view there are myriad opportunities for alternative export industries. New Zealand has a fantastic name internationally at present which can be built on. I am looking for government led ideas industries, perhaps helping the development of thousands of smallish artisan industries using local products and local people in co-operative movements. Among other industrial models.
Having reformed the state and the private sector, society should partially heal itself. Nevertheless, we should not ignore the learnings from the mosque attacks, that there is a small minority (probably around 1%) of extreme right wing people in New Zealand who want to promote hatred and division. We need to promote strongly a society that is inclusive but rests upon specific values: resolve the inequities and wrongs of the past; care about the well-being of everyone, and in particular those who face barriers to full social and economic inclusion; shed our racist, sexist, class-riven past for a better future. This will require many changes, but above all a fit for purpose education system, which I do not think we have achieved as yet.
All of this within a framework of environmental sustainability, which all of these changes should promote. A better us, a better country, a better world. All is possible today. For those who share this vision, I refer to JFK’s inaugural speech: “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Tātou, tātou e.
Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society. She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.