I have decided to kick start this travel blog again. It’s been over three months since I returned home after two months travelling and I’m going to write briefly on some big themes in my life and thinking, and hopefully in yours too. I hope you’ll tune in.
This one’s about a political perspective I have not seen covered in the media that I read and hear. I believe NZ has just made a seismic change in it’s social landscape and there’s no turning back. It’s happened suddenly but it’s been brewing for years. It’s a change that many are only starting to recognise as a phenomena. I think it is, and I think historians will make much of it in time. It’s not based on any empirical evidence or even research – it’s just my gut feeling.
I have the good fortune of being in a profession that allows me to meet dozens of new people every month, I listen to daytime Radio NZ, read the Herald, and of course I scan social media. This is partly about the result of the recent election and that clever, so very clever, articulate and impressive young women, Jacinda Adern. It’s about the Labour, Green, First alliance –and it’s about a solid wave of progressive policy being heralded in as I write. And it all makes sense to me, at last, some intelligent action on poverty, housing, water, transport, education, climate change – it’s going to be all change.
Most of the people I meet are quietly breathing a sigh of relief. A hopeless, nasty, irresponsible, gutless, do-nothing government has gone – but it’s not just gone, it’s completely dead in the water, it’s agenda is now irrelevant, completely tired and out-of-date. Even the previous Clark Labour government followed a neo-liberal agenda. I think that approach has lost it’s momentum after 20 years. It has proven to be so wrong – and we want nothing more to do with it. National survived on a web of PR spin and alliances with the media for years – but they have been rumbled as they say, they’ve been found out. The change that will now occur in this country is the subject of this blog.
To bravely generalise, I suggest there has there has been four social groups in New Zealand history – in very broad terms: Maori, The Landowners, The Workers and The Poor: the criminals, drunks, disabled, and the wretched.
I believe New Zealand has finally broken that mould. From the time of the first mass European migration in the mid 1800s we have built an economy that maintained and consolidated those four groups. I would like to expand on this, but to summarise my main point: those four social divisions that supported the ruling families are now redundant. They held the country back and caused so much unfairness, misery and wasted energy, and it consolidated wealth in the hands of a few. With Maori, landowners, workers and the poor – this is what happened.
1. Maori are increasingly empowered and progressive Pakeha have finally managed to build a consensus and momentum that has allowed the adoption of Maori culture as a part of mainstream thinking.
2. The Landowners were always the ruling elite. They were the politicians, the councillors, the farmers and the employers. Soon they will be paying more in wages and taxes because the wealth of the nation is going to be increasingly shared. Social democracy is now firmly on the agenda and the old ruling elite are having their assumed privilege challenged.
3. The workers: the farm labourers, servants and dock-workers have stopped tugging on their cloth caps and many have moved into the middle class. They no longer want to be subserviant; they’re tradies with new utes, they’re merchants and entrepreneurs. It’s been slow and many have been left behind like care workers, cleaners and rural workers, but minimum wages have been increased and the Unions have been emboldened – and there’s even talk of a universal wage. In short, there’s a consensus now that everyone can and should live a good life, be educated, get free health care, and have a voice.
4. The poor, we’ve always had them and even accepted it as the price you pay for progress. A 5% unemployed threshold was once considered a part of good government. John Key once said, ‘People need to take responsibility for their choices in life.’ Meaning, if you’re poor, it’s your own fault. But now the miserable fringe of society have a big spot light on them and something is going to be done. Jacinda talks repeatedly about a nation that is kind and compassionate. The poor are not to be left on the margins, despised, feared and neglected and told to simply ‘go to WINZ’.
5. And lastly there’s a new category that barely existed 200 years ago: the other immigrants: Chinese, Korean, Taiwanese, Japanese, Indians, East Europeans and Mid Europeans. If they’re not educated and motivated, they’re enterprising and motivated. We are no longer a bi-cultural country, we are multi-cultural.
That’s it, my thought for today, I could expand on it, but that’s my gut feeling, the old New Zealand with its ruling elite and grateful workers has gone – we have made a big new step, a Michael Savage and a Norman Kirk step towards a country that is smarter, cleaner and fairer. I believe the rest of the world may be inspired by our example, if we follow through. But there’s work to be done because the decaying ideas of the wealthy and privileged, and the wanna-be’s to those ideas, are lurking, always lurking and grumbling in the wings – but I hope they’ll behave themselves for a while. Because now is a good time to be a New Zealander.