Friday 29 June 2012

This Is New Zealand: Anna Stretton

Don't Let Them Eat Cake: After reading Fran O'Sullivan's summary of fashion designer, Annah Stretton's, thinking on New Zealand's social policies, I sincerely hope that she never becomes Prime Minister - not even for a day.

WHAT WAS FRAN O’SULLIVAN THINKING when she devoted her Weekend Herald column to the political thoughts of “fashion maven” Annah Stretton? Did she honestly believe she was doing the woman a favour by publicising her controversial opinions? Did Ms O’Sullivan really believe New Zealanders would be better off if the sharp-edged social policies promoted by this designer of expensive ladies’ frocks were given practical effect?

Personally, I was more disposed to believe that the veteran journalist had inwardly been so appalled by Ms Stretton’s comments that she decided to share them with an audience much larger than the Ernst & Young-sponsored “Dress For Success” event at which they were delivered.

“Oh, Christopher, you’re so naïve”, came the immediate response from a (now former) wearer of Stretton’s creations. “In the circles Fran O’Sullivan moves in nobody regards Stretton’s ideas as in any way odious or vicious. On the contrary, most of Fran’s friends probably subscribe wholeheartedly to Annah Stretton’s views.”

I thought about this for a moment and realised, with a sinking feeling, that she was right. You don’t have to look very long or listen very hard to discover Ms Stretton’s catch-phrases: “culture of entitlement”; “family unit of care”; the “absurdity” of universal, un-means-tested, superannuation; tripping merrily off the tongues of “successful” business-women all over New Zealand – especially in the provinces.

These ideas have been repeated so often by the solid citizens of Tauranga, Napier, Ashburton and, of course, in Ms Stretton’s home town of Morrinsville, that they’ve become a sort of right-wing catechism – something to be recited at the drop of a designer hat (or an Ernst & Young invitation). In such sealed social environments these proud adherents to the conservative faith will seldom, if ever, hear anything to contradict their prejudices.

Ms Stretton is fêted in the fashion magazines for her charity work. For example, the “Dress for Success” organisation, at whose fundraiser she was speaking, aims to help disadvantaged women back into the workforce by clothing them in “professional attire”. As if the solution to structural unemployment involved nothing more than offering these unfortunate proletarian frumps a good zooshing-up. While handing out their second-hand frocks and fashion tips, I wonder if Ms Stretton and her colleagues ever take a moment to listen to the young women they’re dressing-up. It would be nice to think that, just occasionally, social reality took a stroll down the catwalk.

Sadly, the maven’s manifesto suggests that, amongst all that frilly condescension, reality failed to secure a back-stage pass. To argue that the DPB should be capped at two children; that there be no automatic entitlement to National Super; that ACC should be privatised; and that no one under the age of 20 should be able to collect an unemployment benefit (sorry, “Job Seekers Allowance”);  is to identify oneself as someone without the faintest conception of what the consequences of such policies might look like.

The kindest excuse is that in promoting such hard-line measures, Ms Stretton was simply disbursing the ideological currency of her class. Readily exchangeable in provincial towns like Morrinsville and throughout our leafier city suburbs, but worthless on the mean streets of Otara and St Kilda.

Or, perhaps, I am once again displaying my naivety? Maybe Ms Stretton, Ms O’Sullivan, and their ilk know only too well what the effects of their “PM for a Day” prescriptions would be on those required to swallow them.

Of course there must be pain. How can these people be expected to learn if it doesn’t hurt? Tough love is what they need – not bleeding hearts!

Such is the language of social inequality: the merciless diction of those who have mastered the obscene stage directions of Neoliberalism’s theatre of cruelty.

The Weekend Herald is to be congratulated for publishing this snap-shot of the successful business entrepreneur’s world view. Now we know how the 1 percent think of, and speak about, the 99 percent of New Zealanders who could never afford (and after Ms O’Sullivan’s extraordinary column, probably shouldn’t be found dead wearing) an Annah Stretton creation.

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.


Olwyn said...

"Such is the language of social inequality: the merciless diction of those who have mastered the obscene stage directions of Neoliberalism’s theatre of cruelty."

Well said,Chris. We do not talk much about the increasingly delusional nature of the NZ grandee. The poor, if they can get the fare together, go to Australia in order to count as human rather than sub-human. Meanwhile, the better off stay on, where they can count as gentry rather than the common-garden citizens they would be elsewhere. Once you get to be among the 1% of a small, economically divided population, you can retreat into a fantasy world, with few contenders for your perch. This split between license and abjection is in my opinion dangerous to NZ on all fronts.

Anonymous said...

Oh God...

The woman is an idiot.

Stretton is nothing more than a manufacturer of pretty baubles. Her entire industry could vanish at little cost to human welfare (and a possible increase).

Why is it that the most vociferous NZ Tories are those who have contributed nothing of substance to humanity (financiers, inheritors of wealth, providers of superficial nonsense to the idiot bourgeoisie)? It's my experience that people who actually do useful things for the economy tend to be more reasonable.

Are we supposed to admire the fact that this woman and her peers have managed to convince stupid people to pay thousands of dollars to drape themselves in coloured cloth? She gets a public platform to air her ignorance because of THAT?

Savonarola wasn't all wrong.

guerilla surgeon said...

It's interesting to see how some of these people regard social welfare when it affects them. Either corporate welfare, or in the case of that awful Joanne black, the way her son was treated after an accident. She thought our socialised medicine as the Americans put it, was marvellous. Fascinating - there should be an anthropological paper on it :-).

Galeandra said...

Ignore the air-head fashionista, criticise the columnist who found a convenient sock-puppet to channel her own cherished values.

Robert Winter said...

My dear mother had a phrase for the Ms Strettons of this world: "a right piece of work"

Anonymous said...

Buggering off to Australia really is the only choice for many working class New Zealanders.

As a union organiser I come across the like of Stretton every day.

They preach the most vicious crap without the slightest bit of awareness of what they are doing.

And their views are so common they have become difficult for ordinary folk to challenge without sounding like an extremist.

Even their victims have learned to nod their heads and agree with them because the consequences are severe if they don't, and, at the end of the day, there really is nobody to protect them.

We have to come to terms with the fact that National genuinely represents a lot of people - close to a majority, and none of them are very nice.

There is no way out of this without finding a way to inflict some pain back on those who think its ok to dish it out to others. It is the only way they might begin to understand the effect of their actions on others.

As everybody with any spirit leaves we are left with a very servile population and opposition leaders like Shearer and Norman who are basically scared of their own shadows. The only people they are ever going to fight are those who can't fight back.

The poor will increasingly turn on each other and the chances of the likes of Stretton ever getting dealt to in the way they need if they are to change into responsible humans becomes less and less likely all the time.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Stretton is an almost someone and a nearly person full of unreflective cliché and cant. Bollocks to her.

Dismayed Migrant said...

I am plainly astounded by the one-sided views of yours and some of your commentators in outright denying the truth of some of the Anna Stretten's opinions.

What is wrong with discouraging dependency and entitlement which indiscriminate benefits inevitably lead to and promoting the spirit of heightened self-image and pride in oneself and one's achievements?

If we are really kind to the underprivileged and desirous to help, we should educate them and provide them the means to become better and more productive, purpose-driven people, not just by feeding and clothing them. This is the most unkind cut of all as we'll be perpetuating dependency.

Just look at the pathetic scenes on Friday nights in Queen Street: young wholesome people doing silly and dangerous things to themselves and others in the name of fun and entertainment and we don't think a thing about it - at least the mayor doesn't.

People here are not poor in material terms (go to Asia or Africa to see real poverty); they are poor in spirit and will and self-esteem. And so many others lack true compassion and common sense - it's perplexing.

peterpeasant said...

O'Sullivan is only goading the Nats to go even further right more ruthlessly.

Du Fresne was up to the similar goading recently in the Dompost.

Boag is at it every time she propagandises on Jim Moraghs "Panel".

Armstrong keeps writing "could do better" reports for his poster boy and National (standards?).

Anonymous said...

And young, and not so young, girls on the DPB should be encouraged to have as many children as possible. Oh, that's right, they already are. But they are entitled to that money so they should get it.

barry said...

The Dress for Success programme should be welcomed by all - to look at some of the way young people dress you would think that they really wanted to dress to abuse or insult. You men seem to want to look like bags of crap and have done this for ever it seems, but in the last 15 years young women seem to have taken the same approch to getting noticed.
Good clothing may not have too many answers in itself - but its the first step on a pathway up. The first thing you learn when you present yourself properly is to realise that people notice. If one can get this message then maybe the penny will drop that other improvements will even get more notice.

As for Strettonsother ideas - well they have some merit. Solo parents should be suported by their extended family - and only if their increased taxes dont do the job should us other taxpayers chip in - but then we should have first dibs on their estate when they die.

And Id stop any benefit if the children didnt attend the 20 free hours pre-school or normal school. Yes - I hear the screams - but youd only have to do it for a week or two. The alternate is to condemn the family and children to poverty for the rest of their life. I think a week or two of real suffering would be better than a life time of medium suffering.

Anonymous said...

Stretton is totally offensive, if she ever has a downfall I wonder how she will cope. She lacks empathy, compassion and kindness but then those emotional components rarely fit in the fashion industry - she should try to get her seams straight in future.

melissa said...

i like the idea of stretton's 'dress for success' programme but have big worries about her political ideas. i just really hope that her garments are made here and not in india or china! after all, we need jobs for all those lazy mums with more than 2 kids, who shouldn't be on the dpb, right?

Anonymous said...

Let's allow our rich to be even more outrageous, self-indulgent and careless. Let's allow them to get even more intoxicated on their culture of entitlement. Sorry 'culture of entitlement' is not fitting for the western bourgeosie. 'Doctrine of superiority' is better.
While the poor, who we once educated and provided with well paying jobs and adequate housing, well they can learn from the third world. These are not the values of a society founded on justice.

Anonymous said...

Fran O Sullivan and the Weekend Herald seem to be moving more right wing at the same time that Nationals policies seem to be increasing leading NZ into failure. I am a Retailer in the Waikato and BOP and I have never had a month as dead as June 2012. Also this week alone I know of 4 families that have decided to head to Aus, all self employed tradespeople, all struggling to find work. National is doing nothing to stimulate this economy, it is hard to believe that we have had 3 years of RECORD dairy payouts and all National can talk about is @#$&en Greece. I suspect that the rationale behind why Left leaning governments in NZ often promote growth and Right leaning governments don't is because Left governments redistribute from the rich to the poor, the poor spend it(because they dont have a choice) and the velocity of money increases = GROWTH. Right leaning governments redistribute from poor to the rich, and the rich simply dont spend. I suspect that this theory is behind why Nationals tax cut for the rich has been an absolute disaster for retailers and many other businesses. I would be very surprised if Annah Stretton's NZ revenue figures are higher under National than Labour...but like many business people she will blindly support National. As a business person I simply cannot understand why.
By the way Chris, Im from the Provinces and I and many people I know do not in any way agree with Annah Stretton's views.

Anonymous said...

Maybe all the Brendan's, the Strettons and O'Sullivans will finally get the nasty policies they ask for; the zero spending on job creation, the shaky welfare system, the letting loose of wealthy peoples ambitions, the dismally low income bottom 30%- pushed around from unsafe job to unhealthy home to criminal gangs and then to prison. Let's see what happens when then these policies are enacted. Haven't they learned from the history of revolutions? Haven't they learned that 'You and I know what all school children learn, those to whom evil is done do evil in return.' Then they will be begging for the tried and true policies of social peace if they are still sane. Or perhaps they will prefer the policeman's club and the military dictatorship? Then perhaps their pretensions to belief in equality of opportunity and human rights will be even more theoretical than they are today.

Anonymous said...

Ask Stretton about how she used her parents money to start her business.
Entrepreneur? My arse she is.

guerilla surgeon said...

Yes, I love those people who say they've been poor when they were young, yet it turns out there parents were lawyers or doctors or something or maybe farmers who every so often turned up with a side of beef for the freezer, or a house deposit, or gave them their 'old' car.

Coquecigrue said...

And could someone tell this Annah Stretton that her creations are an offense to good taste, by the way ?

Couldn't resist.

Anonymous said...

Haha yes exactly calling her a 'designer' is an offence to fashion. More like scraps of fabric from an odds n ends bin she stitched together. Don't stress re her cronies taking over the political spectrum, if they are prepared to cough up thousands for those shiny, sparkly scarecrow creations I'm not sure how capable they are of critical thinking.