Let's Do This! Back here in God’s Own Country, though, I’ll go on looking at the clips of Prime Minister Ardern being welcomed back from Government House by thousands of delighted New Zealanders. I’ll listen again, as she promises to lead “a government of kindness”, and I’ll wish her – and the 72-year-old patriot who gave progressive New Zealand the votes it needed to govern – all the success that “socialism and populism” can bring.
ZACH CASTLES is sitting, gutted, in a café overlooking the Thames. The former “National ministerial adviser”, no longer having any National ministers to advise, has clearly relocated himself to a more promising political marketplace. Even so, our brave young capitalist has taken the time to share his thoughts with The Spinoff. (Who else!) And, oh, comrades, what thoughts they are!
He begins by imploring National to defend capitalism from “the coalition of socialists and populists” who are attempting (apparently Jacinda hasn’t quite got the hang of this yet) to unleash class war across New Zealand’s green and pleasant land. Poor Zach, it’s the sheer ingratitude of the Left that upsets him the most. Don’t these ingrates realise that “nearly one billion people over the last 20 years [have] been lifted out of poverty because of it.”
Really, Zach? The dragooning of millions of subsistence farmers and their children into the factories, warehouses and shops of China, India and Brazil. The super-exploitation perpetrated by the burgeoning bourgeoisie of these countries. The impossible working conditions. The relentless speed-ups. The graft and corruption upon which so much of their “economic growth” depends. The unbelievable environmental despoliation left in its wake. This is what you call being “lifted out of poverty”? This is what you are asking National to defend?
It sure is. In fact, according to Zach: “the very ‘neoliberalism’ the incoming prime minister criticises, and yet refuses to define [Oh, for God’s sake, just look it up on Wikipedia, man!] has helped many Kiwis out of a life of welfare dependence and into the dignity of a job.”
Ah, but there’s a big difference, isn’t there, Zach, between the sort of job you’re heading for in London and the jobs which beneficiaries are forced to accept, or face being sanctioned into abject poverty. Pumping gas for the minimum wage. Or being paid $17.00 an hour to stand all day behind a till while your feet swell and your calves cramp-up. That’s not the sort of job you’re about to take up – is it Zach? And those are most certainly not the sort of wages you’re anticipating from whatever right-wing political party or think-tank you’re about to be snapped-up by. It just wouldn’t be dignified. Not for a man of your talents. Would it Zach?
But, then, Zach isn’t accustomed to thinking about such matters. If he was, then he simply couldn’t write a paragraph like this:
“The return of the left to government now means everything that makes New Zealand such a role model, at a time of supposed global despair, now hangs in the balance. We were meant to be the poster child for globalism, free trade and ambition; now we are being set up as the test flight for a return to the 1970s. A world Jacinda Ardern’s own voters have never actually known.”
“Never actually known”? Really, Zach? I’m well aware that most Kiwis over 55 voted for your lot, but most is not the same thing as all. (Just as receiving most of the votes cast is not the same as receiving a majority of the votes cast!) I was very much alive and kicking in the 1970s, and let me tell you, those were great years to be young.
There were jobs for everyone – at good, union-negotiated, wages. The state loaned young couples money, at 3 percent interest, to buy their own home. All mothers received a generous Family Benefit. Tertiary education was as close to free as makes no difference. Ah, Zach, the manifold evils of socialism and populism!
Zach claims the National Party subscribes to the ideas of Edmund Burke, but this attempt to drape the clothing of a respectable political philosophy over National’s naked worship of power, simply will not wash. Burke understood the critical importance of tradition, and the wisdom it was able to impart to generations raised in its embrace. But National has never been a respecter of tradition – at least not of the core New Zealand traditions of fairness and decency. Indeed, the party was founded with the express purpose of thwarting the organised political expression of fairness and decency.
Presumably, that is why Zach can hail the “radicalism” of Ruth Richardson; and why he speaks glowingly of his party’s role in “leading transformative social and economic change”. Transformative, eh? Well, yes, as someone who remembers a New Zealand in which everyone worked, was comfortably housed, and could look forward with confidence to their children living in a happier more prosperous world than the one in which they’d been raised, I’d have to say that “transformation” is exactly the right word. What I’m much less certain about, however, is whether Kiwis sleeping in cars, while their children go hungry, was the change most New Zealanders were looking for.
So, you go on looking out over the Thames, Zach. And, by all means, urge your National Party comrades to seize this wonderful opportunity to “make capitalism cool again”. Back here in God’s Own Country, though, I’ll go on looking at the clips of Prime Minister Ardern being welcomed back from Government House by thousands of delighted New Zealanders. I’ll listen again, as she promises to lead “a government of kindness”, and I’ll wish her – and the 72-year-old patriot who gave progressive New Zealand the votes it needed to govern – all the success that “socialism and populism” can bring.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Saturday, 28 October 2017.