Super Luminaries: Greens co-leader chats with Man Booker prize-winner Eleanor Catton who delivered a moving endorsement of "Love New Zealand - Party Vote Green" at the party's campaign launch on Sunday 17 August 2014. Photo by Peter Meecham.
NO ONE WAS QUITE SURE how he did it. Somehow Bob Harvey had persuaded the owners of the rights to Joe Cocker’s Up Where We Belong to authorize its use as the New Zealand Labour Party’s 1984 campaign anthem. The theme song from An Officer and a Gentleman had, of course, been enormously popular, so arranging for the David Lange-led Labour Party to make its pitch to the New Zealand electorate over its soaring melody and aspirational lyrics was a coup of no mean proportions.
But it was much more than that. Joe Cocker’s song perfectly matched the mood of the times. For nine long years, through Carless Days, Think Big, Olympic Boycotts, Springbok Tours and the Wage and Price Freeze the New Zealand people had borne both the curses and the blessings of Sir Robert Muldoon’s leadership with stoical endurance. But, by the winter of 1984, the patience of two-thirds of the population had been exhausted.
David Lange knew it and with oratory every bit as uplifting as Joe Cocker’s song he offered the voters the vision of a better New Zealand where consensus would replace confrontation and the cramped orthodoxies of a world that was fast disappearing would give way to new ideas, new opportunities and new freedoms. In the famous leaders’ debate, when, in the closing moments, Lange reached out to Sir Robert and assured him that any contribution he wished to make to this new New Zealand would not be scorned, it brought tears to the old tusker’s eyes and prompted his astonishing rejoinder: “I love you too, Mr Lange.”
Love lifts us up where we belong – and then some!
I’m wondering if we might not be heading into another election where Love lifts a new government into power. Rather appropriately, I suppose, the thought occurred to me at the campaign launch of the Greens.
Ever since the Green Party entered Parliament in 1999 it’s MPs have attempted to prove that politics does not need to be “dirty”. That it is possible to debate issues rationally – without rancour. And now, a month out from polling day, and with the National Party disintegrating before our eyes like a vampire in the sun, the Greens are asking us all to “Love New Zealand”.
This is not a mere feel-good exhortation, either, but an invitation to the 3 percent of New Zealanders who earn more than $140,000 to put their money where the hungry mouths of 200,000 children are. The Greens proposed new top tax-rate of 40 percent is to be devoted exclusively to the elimination of child poverty in New Zealand. A case of not only sharing the love, but the wealth as well.
It was a courageous speech that the Greens’ co-leader Metiria Turei gave. Indeed, it filled in the gaps that were so noticeable in David Cunliffe’s speech to the Labour Party faithful last weekend. Any words concerning the fate of the children of beneficiaries and what might be done for them were conspicuous by their absence at Labour’s campaign launch, so it was reassuring to hear them voiced loud and clear to the 300-400 people crammed into the auditorium at Auckland’s AUT campus.
Reassuring, also, to hear the words of endorsement penned by New Zealand’s award-winning young novelist, Eleanor Catton. Her speech was as moving and as evocative as any I have heard in 30 years of attending such occasions.
The sneak preview provided by the organisers of the Green Party’s opening political broadcast made it clear just how seriously the party is committed to remaining upbeat and positive. Russel Norman and Turei have both been used to good effect, delivering their party’s messages with energy and conviction.
The most telling moment in this broadcast – at least for me – came when Turei and her daughter, Piupiu, are walking along the beach at Piha and the proud mother talks about making sure that this simple pleasure remains for her children – and grandchildren – to enjoy. The look Piupiu shoots her mother will be familiar to all the parents of teenage daughters. The “Aw, Mum!” moment is so natural and so real that it steals your heart away completely.
If the revelations mounting up against the National Party continue into the election campaign proper, then the voters will very quickly become sick of the stench of “dirty politics”. Like people forced to spend too long in an abattoir, they will emerge into the daylight desperate to fill their lungs with clean, fresh air. And quite serendipitously, that’s exactly what the Greens’ “Love New Zealand” campaign (along with Labour’s “Vote Positive”) aims to provide: relief from the odours of what Nicky Hager calls “the pit”.
A nation grown weary of sleaze and tired of being manipulated may yet decide to award a decisive election victory to an Opposition coalition determined to prove how much better New Zealand could be with “cleaner, fairer and smarter” policies.
In the immortal words of The Beatles: “All you need is love.”
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 18 August 2014.