Sunday 27 June 2021

Democratic Socialism From The Ground Up? Not In Neale’s Backyard.

Of The State, By The State, For The State: CEO of Capital Government Relations, Neale Jones, appears to have updated Abraham Lincoln's famous definition of Democracy. If a movement of people acting by and for themselves shows signs of winning, then Neale's answer is for central government "to simply force" its preferred solutions upon them.

IF YOU WANT to understand what’s rotting the Labour Party’s political soul, read Neale Jones’ latest posting on The Spinoff. A really good novelist would struggle to create a more self-characterising narrator than Neale. With refreshing candour, he pours scorn on all the elements of participatory democracy and heaps praise upon the crushing power of the centralised state.

As Chief-of-Staff to both Andrew Little and Jacinda Ardern, we can only assume that Neale ticked all the boxes of the contemporary Labour Party apparatchik. As the current CEO of the PR/Lobbying firm, Capital Government Relations, it is equally safe to presume that he knows his way around the capital city’s power grid. In short, Jones is the very model of a modern Labour mover-and-shaker.

Which is why we should all be very worried.

Neale’s posting is all about the Wellington City Council’s spatial plan and to what degree it will clear the path for wealthy property developers to bulldoze the capital city’s architectural heritage into a pile of rubble. Not that he puts his case quite that bluntly. Rather than present himself as the friend of soulless high-rise property development, he has cast himself in the role of the poor and downtroddens’ fearless champion. The homeless must have homes, and Neale is adamant that the same beneficent state that gave us Kiwibuild, is going to provide them with shelter from the storm.

And who, do you suppose, is the villain in this local government morality play? That’s right! It is none other than our old friend “Nimby”. Those ageing, selfish, well-heeled, owners of Wellington’s architectural history, whose lovingly maintained homes make Wellington the finely-cut cultural gem New Zealanders so admire. It is these, the not-in-my-backyard Baby Boomer bastards, who have dared to object to the idea of replacing the city’s rich housing heritage with buildings that look like the boxes the buildings that should have been constructed came in.

Worst of all – from Neale’s perspective – Nimby is winning! All these devilish defenders of antique weatherboard and roofing iron; red-brick, stained-glass and ceramic tiles; are defeating the forces of concrete and steel by arming themselves with – of all things! – the instruments and processes of democracy. And, boy! does that make Neale mad.

This is how he describes the way the Wellington City Council’s planning process used to work:

It’s fair to say that until recently Wellington City Council planning processes had not been a subject of fierce public debate. The council would put out consultation documents, residents’ associations and a few local government anoraks would respond and nothing would ever change. Property values rose regularly, home owners’ views and amenity were protected. Capital gains were leveraged and property portfolios built. From the perspective of home owners, the system appeared to be working well.

Those “home owners” – just in case you were wondering – comprise the overwhelming majority of Wellington’s ratepayers. So, yeah, the system was working exactly the way democratic theory says it should work.

And, just in case you missed it, note the use of the word “anoraks”. Clearly, any citizen who takes an interest in the life of their city is some sort of sad obsessive; someone urgently in need of getting a life. Isn’t it great to know how Labour’s movers-and-shakers view the active citizen? Apparently, only the CEOs of PR/Lobbying firms are allowed to influence the outcomes of official decision-making processes. CEOs and Big Government. Because Neale was just getting warmed-up with his snide reference to anoraks.

Try this on for size:

The evidence around the world shows that local government is structurally unable to stand up to nimbyism. Low voter turnout heavily favours existing property owners, leaving councillors too exposed politically. Public consultations are dominated by vested interests: those who suffer the most from housing shortages are the most transient, the least engaged. The answer is for central government to simply force councils to allow more housing.

Hooo-weee! Ain’t that a doozy? The answer is for central government to simply force councils to allow more housing. Neale wants the full force of the state to be brought to bear against anyone – Nimbies, anoraks and city-councils alike – who dares to get in the way of “the most transient” and “the least engaged”. (Although, if you think about that for a minute, you’d have to question how, in the absence of full-on political organisation, the transient and the least engaged could ever get themselves in a position where anybody needed to get in their way.)

Okay, okay, I know what you’re thinking. Shouldn’t all good socialists be cheering Neale on at this point? Isn’t Labour supposed to be the party that brings the power of the state to the aid of the poor and needy? Well, yes, it surely is. Unfortunately, this Labour Government does not contain the modern day equivalent of John A. Lee, or Mickey Savage, or Peter Fraser. All we’ve got is Phil Twyford, “Jacinda” and Grant Robertson – which isn’t quite the same thing!

No. Neale’s solution has very little to do with the democratic socialism of the 1930s and 40s. The Labour Party of the Twenty-First century isn’t about organising the poor and the marginalised into a mass political movement capable of taking over city councils and winning majorities in Parliament. It’s about clearing the way for private enterprise to make its profits. And if that means clean-bowling people’s homes to make way for high-rise apartments: dwellings in which you may be very sure the “transient” and “least engaged” will never set foot; then so be it.

I’ll tell you what, though. I could be persuaded to change my mind. If Neale was to give up his CEO’s job at Capital Government Relations, and become a community organiser dedicated to seating the transient and the least engaged at those City Council planning hearings. If he could rope-in the country’s best and most progressive architects to work with the poor and downtrodden in designing the sort of housing they would like to live in. And, if those same poor and downtrodden – now with something to vote for – could be persuaded to cast their ballots for candidates pledged to building those houses. Well, then I would know that Labour’s soul has not rotted away, and that its movers-and-shakers are moving and shaking for somebody other than the rich and powerful.

Otherwise …..

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 25 June 2021.


Geoff B said...

Great stuff Chris !
Thoroughly enjoying you (almost a lone voice in journalism) sticking it to these hypocritical /wideboy prats .
Please keep it up.

John Hurley said...

Immigration: "You don't do what the people want. You do what's right!"

Immigration: The fifth pillar of the open economy
[The system that created Brenton Tarrant]

Odysseus said...

Cardinal Muller has warned earlier this year that, "“profiteering capitalism, big-tech giants of Western countries” and the “communism of the People’s Republic of China” — are today “converging and merging into a unified capital-socialism,”. No more ground up socialism - that is long gone, but uniformity imposed by an unholy and essentially fascist alliance.

Simon Cohen said...

As a former member of the Green Party I am reluctantly thinking this government is probably the most dangerous I have experienced in NZ.
It is illustrative that dyed in the wool Labour Party supporters like Kat are notably silent at the moment.

DS said...

It used to be said that the three crucial bastions of Labour Party power in the UK were (1) the unions, (2) the civil service, and (3) local government.

Glenn Webster said...

Frank Lloyd Wright designed the answer to low-cost housing long ago.
Few have equalled it since then and none have surpassed it.

Jens Meder said...

The compassionate welfare capitalism initiated by Mickey Savage became impoverishing and self-destructive because it did not aim to complete the task of poverty elimination -

as instead of graduating the have-nots into their own wealth ownership creation and maintenance, it only succeeded in widening demands for welfare assistance.

Socialists apparently still don't understand, that only profitable capitalism can deliver prosperity and raise welfare potential, and that because private capital based enterprise cannot survive without profitability, it is safer for national prosperity and welfare than govt. monopoly capitalism that aims production "ACCORDING TO NEEDS" regardless of cost.

So, it inevitably ends up with lowering the consumption potential (i.e. consumable income) of workers, as its most readily available source tangible wealth.

Printing "debt free" money to the extent it loses its value, leads to a barter and black market economy, as was discovered by people of the Soviet Union, when they gave up on Socialism, even though they did not have visible inflation because their currency was regularly devalued and prices controlled - with a regular shortage of consumer goods right up to the end.

However - could someone perhaps explain how "Democratic Socialism" would work better than "Compassionate People's Capitalism" or the "Ownership Society"?

David George said...

Yes, indicative of a Hillaryesque view of we deplorables?
Last week Jacinda was signalling her support for trans "women" to compete against actual women. Does anyone really believe this is fair?
Is there some sort of plan to alienate as many people as possible: gun owners, farmers, car and ute owners, women, feminists, non Maori. Perhaps they see their core demographic as a carless, trans, Maori.

Don't get me started on this idiotic Let's Do This type "thinking", it seems to permeate everything; initiate major changes to complex social and economic structures with no proper study of the consequences or costs and no proper plan for their implementation.
It's been decided to eliminate gas (and fossil fuels generally) and switch to electricity for home (cooking, heating and hot water), transport, industry and commerce. Yes really. We will need to replace or re-fit our homes, factories and transport fleet and double electricity generation and distribution.
Never mind the costs for lines companies, transport companies, homeowners and industry, there isn't a single large generation proposal in the "plan". The 450 MW Clyde dam took twenty years planning and construction and the water from the massive catchments of lakes Hawea, Wanaka and Wakatipu. We're flat out burning Indonesian coal to keep the lights on even now; we will need the equivalent of another twenty Clyde dams to transition to 100% renewables.
God help us, get some adults in charge, Let's Do This!

Pat Martin said...

Neale Jones is part of a raucous rat pack of millenials who are so confused in their identity politics that they've become little Rogernomes, hounding opponents and city councillors on social media to de-regulate. They're putting their faith in private developers to deliver good quality housing. There's already a huge amount of infill housing and apartment building going on in the suburbs they're targeting, most of it just slums in waiting.

Nick J said...

Another example of how the major parties are totally captured by the PMC (professional middle class), the cult of "expertise" with their consequent contempt for the "deplorables" and lesser educated.

Nick J said...

Slums in waiting.
Interesting comment, I have often wondered at the longevity of todays new builds, but cannot comment. I do hope that they last as long as the houses I have lived in. My current is 100 years old and good for another century, when in UK I lived in a 300 year old house. It would be nice to think that our structures are built to last multiple generations.