Monday, September 22, 2014

Only remember the poor - the politics of Jesus - Monday 22 September 2014

For the first time ever under our MMP system, one party (on the count as I write) has achieved the hitherto thought impossible dream of governing alone. That the National Party has done so at the end of two terms, and in the face of the 'kitchen sink' of dirt being thrown at its leadership will go down in NZ history.

At the helm of this triumph is not a Prime Minister but a phenomenon, John Key. He is the rock star of NZ politics. Love him or hate him (and, believe me, any overseas readers reading here, some hate him with an intensity a decent family blog such as this cannot convey), John Key is not just a rock star. He is the rock face which any wannabe alternative has to climb.

Yesterday's result showed the rock face had no ropes. few toeholds, and just the odd crack to jam a finger into.

Let's leave John Key to present political scientists and future historians to analyse. We'll also by-pass the jeremiads which are now enveloping David Cunliffe's leadership of the Labour Party (suffice to say that, IMHO, he should stay. He can and will get better). A momentary linger at the fate of the Internet Mana movement is called for: I so wanted them to not win a seat but I didn't realise most of NZ shared my wish. Top quality sledge against IM from the winner of Te Tai Tokerau, Kelvin Davis, "all steam and no hangi."

No, what we need to quickly get to is the poor in our country. Their situation has not changed overnight. My general sense is that their situation has not become worse (because National will continue to preside over a strong economy which underpins current welfare arrangements and which continues to distribute money from the wealthy to the poor). But what could make it better?

If God has - as many theologians argue (including me) - a bias towards the poor, then what steps - politically - are the next steps in the light of yesterday's result?

1. National could do things differently. But the result places them under no pressure to do so.
2. Some new political movement could arise which would challenge the popularity of the National Party. See above re the rock face! See also the results and how leftwing parties fared badly. At best they achieved approximately 37% of the vote. There is no foreseeable traction ahead for a new leftwing movement.
3. Some attempt could be made to improve the electoral fortunes of the party of fairness, Labour.

I suggest (3) is worth working on. More knowledgeable people than me are already proposing remedies. Josie Pagani is worth a read, both here (written today) and there (written previously). Clayton Cosgrove, a local Labour MP has this to say:

""I visited a meat works recently and asked members on the line, actually what the boys and girls on the chain thought of us, and the key message reflected in the verdict of the people was that they don't have a lot in common with us," Cosgrove said.

"The message was: 'You guys just deal with minutiae and fringe issues, you should be articulating the needs and concerns that we have'. Those people who say the silly left, right thing, the truth is that thousands of Labour voters elected Mr Key and we need to reflect on that.
"The plumber, the freezing worker, the little guy who's now [got his] own carpenter shop, the SME (small business), these were all once Labour voters and if you don't progress with people as they evolve and change, people feel completely disengaged."

Rather than wax on about some of my own ideas for change in Labour, let's just say that Labour needs to rediscover its 'fairness' mojo.

Ditching the leader will not do that.

As Pagani notes, its about a deep change, very deep.

Cosgrove's point is that the change needs to know which direction it is going in: back towards the working person. Back towards understanding that jobs matter more than letting trees rot on the forest floor. Back towards understanding that tradies are more concerned about a vibrant economy wanting their skills than whether Labour is against using animals for testing. Back towards understanding that working people who are not rich 1 percenters aspire to own a rental property as an investment they can put sweat equity into and may not be enamoured about a Capital Gains Tax (i.e. introducing a CGT needs to be argued on the basis of fair taxes, not on the basis of envy).

A bit of blood on the floor through a hasty leadership change may see the blood dribbling across the floor in the wrong direction.

Only if the Labour can make that change will it re-find the political centre - the voters who, extraordinarily, especially in Auckland, voted in droves for Labour MPs to represent them and gave their party votes to National.

For those disappointed on behalf of the poor of NZ that a National government has not only been re-elected but given a huge vote of confidence, the next step is to reform the Labour Party.

Students of NZ political history might note that 'reform' is an ironic word in this context. One of the predecessors of the National Party was the Reform Party!

Middle NZ is where elections are won or lost. I do not think middle NZ is averse to Labour working as government for a fair society. But this election seems to be saying to Labour that middle NZ is averse to possibilities that  Labour might be part of an unstable government, that Labour might make life harder for small businesses (e.g. by abolishing the 90 day probation period for new employees), that Labour might be talking unachievable talk (e.g. building 10000 houses a year) and that Labour might be talking down the reality of life (in this election they talked down the obviously 'up' economy).

Middle NZ is smart, astute and discerning. Voters from that large bloc have clearly said on Saturday night that they do not believe or trust what Labour had on offer. Even less so the Greens.

The biggest mistake each party could make is to dismiss middle NZ as dupes who have (once again) voted for the 'smile and wave' style of John Key. If Labour wishes to lead a government again it must treat middle NZ with respect, understand its heartbeat and connect to its hopes and aspirations.

From a Christian perspective, our concern for the poor means we pray for and work with the appointed government for the betterment of society and we pray for and work with the opposition to both keep the government honest and to develop a better vision going forward into the 21st century.


Jean said...

Despite the overwhelming majority I think National will be naive if they take this too much as support for all they do. I know a lot of people were concerned there would be political mess if the minor parties which we shall not mention ended up in a coalition government.
I hope their will be more independent critiquing of their actions in this term in office than in the past terms.

I do think a re-grouping of labour, with the same leader for a longer period of time would help their cause. Alongside a re-evaluation of who and what they stand for. This has been a little unclear in past years as some of their policies closely reflect those of national.

"It is not the one who falls who is a failure. But the the one who falls and then gets up who learns and becomes a better person."

Janice said...

Who are "the poor"? And what is "fair"?

Father Ron Smith said...

Greetings from Honolulu News received with some relief from me. Also, that Scotland has decided to remain as part of G.B. - if no longer 'great'. Weather here 20 deg, Celcius. A wee bit on the warm side. wish you were all here. Agape

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Janice
'Poor' relative to NZ's situation could include people who with the best will in the world nevertheless struggle to provide a reasonable life for their children (e.g. perhaps they can feed them but cannot permit them to play sport because they cannot afford fees); it could also include those who struggle on low wages paid by an employer who could afford to pay more. (Some employers maybe even many are 'good' employers; but some are downright greedy).

'Fair' - that is, of course, a tricky question to answer, but, again, relative to NZ, I think we can ask whether it is fair that we are a prosperous country and yet some of our population are on struggle street and some are on easy street (acknowledging that most of us are somewhere in-between).

When God has blessed us, we can ask whether it is fair that some are denied the blessing.

carl jacobs said...


(e.g. perhaps they can feed them but cannot permit them to play sport because they cannot afford fees)

[Stares in disbelief ]

Seriously? You are defining poverty in terms of access to sports?


Peter Carrell said...

Yes, Carl!

Here in NZ there is plenty of food and sport is really important.

Few kids need go hungry but some kids stare enviously as their mates play sports on Saturdays.

I know that is not poverty by 'global standards' but we are a rich country and maybe we could make sport more accessible.

carl jacobs said...


So what is next on the poverty agenda? Addressing the serious gap in PS4 ownership? "There can be no justice so long as one child goes to bed at night without the opportunity to play 'Call of Duty.' " That's actually a serious question. I'm not just being flippant.

My daughter has an expression that seems relevant: "First world problems."


Peter Carrell said...

Could be, Carl! How will we develop future drone pilots without early schooling in such skills?

Yes, first world problems. But the gap between rich and poor in NZ (or the USA) is our (or your) problem. The gap is not bridged by saying it is not as big as the gap between (say) the poorest in Africa and the richest oligarch in Russia. Sure, it is hard to know when to draw the line between (say) government support for sports (which actually also helps the health of the nation) and some kind of subsidy of PS4, but I reckon it would be good to do the thinking about it.

Revolutions are spawned when resentment rises!

Teri said...

Perhaps we could define poor as children living in houses without adequate heating, clothing or bedding (or even beds). Several midwives I know who do home visits assure me that this is the reality for many in and around Wellington. Addressing this would be a good start...

Peter Carrell said...

Exactly, Teri!

As I write, I am listening to JK talk to JC [John Campbell!!] about tackling child poverty. He sounds like a Labour PM :)

Jean said...

Interestingly in talking to my brother and sister both of whom lie in the higher percentage of income stakes; they both expressed concern about the increasing polarity of rich and poor over the past years. And consequently, although Key's policies economically would benefit them personally, they indicated a degree of distaste towards attitudes of people who voted primarily for their own benefit not society as a whole.

Having spent the last three years on a sickness benefit I can testify that life for some is not easy and that it is not always due to bad decisions or attitudes. I have in this new 'normal' encountered others who through circumstance beyond their control are left in a tough space. It is an eye opener and especially a case of, "there but for the grace of God go I." Personally I have spent $25 000 of savings to supplement my 'existence' (thank God I had the means) and this has been with family support. Ironically with, illness or accidents, or other misfortunes your costs increase alongside a drop in income.

I have often wondered how those who have lacked the education or general awareness I have been blessed with manage to navigate some of the encounters I have had while dealing with the different health and welfare systems. Even harder to do while in a vulnerable position.

Am I poor Lucy. Well getting so more all the time : ) ... Is it fair I get a benefit while not working. Maybe not. But neither was becoming ill fair. Is it fair other peoples taxes are used - perhaps, I too paid taxes for many years and would gladly do so again to help someone in my position.

I think the readings from the church this week re the parable about all workers receiving the same wage regardless of how long they had worked for carries a message here. In this parable the owner of the vineyard (God) defends His right to be generous, rather than fair. It is easy to grumble when we think we see others getting away easy when we have had to put in a full days work, however, not everyone stands on equal ground. Rather should we be grateful we can work, and be willing to consider an attitude of benefit of the doubt towards those whom it is easy to make assumptions about and leave the judgement to God.

carl jacobs said...


But the gap between rich and poor in NZ (or the USA) is our (or your) problem.

That isn't poverty. That's envy. If Bob has sufficient for his needs, then what does it matter to Bob how much Bill has?

You can't define poverty in terms of relative purchasing power. You must define it in terms of absolute purchasing power.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl
Well, yes. We could talk in longer terms than 'poor/poverty' (albeit 'first world poverty') about the 'increasing gap between the most well off and the least well off'; whether that gap is 'just one of those things' or whether it is fuel for resentment and revolution.

We can also talk about whether people are living 'rich' (i.e. 'enriched') lives and whether - if they are not doing so - we can work as a whole society via government (as well as by normal commercial transactions in the marketplace) to offer enrichment.

These kinds of things are already done in our society via (e.g.) increased welfare benefits for larger families; targeted funding for schools in the 'least well off' areas, assistance with medical fees for children and dental treatment for under 18s; various mechanisms to help the lower paid (but who manage some savings) to purchase a (cheap-ish) home; and some scholarship possibilities (via an 'Aspire' programme) to enable even the poorest among us to attend private schools.

When questions remain about the enriching of life through (e.g.) uninsulated if not damp homes, lack of beds and bedding, it is worth asking whether these things need to be so.

Given the deep cultural value we attach to sport I think it worth asking whether we can enrich the least well off among us by finding ways to enable their children to engage in sport.

As a billboard says outside a town I used to live in, 'A kid in sport stays out of court'.

Jean said...

I think the debate centres around what is sufficient for Bob's needs, or if Bob does not have sufficient for his needs or for his family.

There are many aspects to poverty, money, access to services, participation in society, care and emotional supoprt...

Re the example Peter uses regarding sport. Is is a reasonable expectation in a developed nation that all children should be able to participate in sport? Or to attend their school camp? Or be given breakfast? Or have a jacket to wear in winter?

And the ultimate question if so does should it matter to Bob if Bill's children are not receiving these things?

Bryden Black said...

Getting to the root of your question, Peter, here are some most helpful recent links: [one hour's duration approx]

Household Incomes Report (MSD) report, Section E on poverty (pp. 111 – 117):

So; how do we appreciate the emotive yet also avoid the ideological due to clear sharp precision? For surely any theological clarity and/or "bias" towards the poor includes that profound fruit of Biblical Wisdom ... Here are some resources towards that.