Monday, September 8, 2014

The politics of hatred are not the politics of Jesus (Monday 8 September 2014)

I suggest we have never had an election with so much hatred involved. When the leading National supporting blogger in NZ uses the word 'scum' to describe not only opponents but also the citizens of Christchurch, or a publicly funded rapper composes a song which seeks our PM to be killed and his daughter raped, then we are a culture which tolerates the toxicity of hate as we seek to construct society via politics.

Yesterday's epistle, Romans 13:8-14 is both a powerful and a salutary reminder that to be Christian is to live in love and to bear witness to the God who is love. There is no 'liberal' v 'conservative' or 'high church' v 'low church' or 'Anglican v Presbyterian' option when we say we are to be a people for whom love is everything. Love is the way. It is not an option for Christians. So as we move on from this disastrous point in our political history, I suggest a great challenge for Christians and especially for leaders such as archbishops with a voice in the marketplace of ideas is to say, No more hate. The very least any body expressing an opinion in the political arena can do is respect the humanity of each New Zealander.

If we do not tackle the emerging culture of hatred we are on a pathway which will end in violence. Our number one priority as Christians on 21 September is to challenge both winners and losers in our election to speak and act differently. Love not hate builds society. Love not hate respects human dignity. The God who made each of us is the God of love not the god of hate. That god is at work all over the world currently and we do not need further manifestations here in these islands.

End of (a chunk of yesterday's) sermon!

It looks like a National-led government will be the winner of this election. I think it might be worth considering some aspects of why this will be so. (Only some aspects - a comprehensive account would include aspects such as how well or how poorly respective parties have conducted their campaigns etc).

As a preamble, I have been thinking about how, for Christians, there is something to celebrate in the foremost core value of each of the four parties which will be at the helm of either the government or the opposition: National, Labour, Greens and Maori.

In my humble opinion, and in no particular order of preference ...

National: personal responsibility

Labour: fairness

Greens: clean, sustainable environment

Maori: self-determination for Maori in accordance with Treaty of Waitangi.

It is not at all difficult to argue theologically for the importance of each of these core values.

If I had four votes, and my voting was determined solely by these core values, I would cast one vote for each party.

However all things are not equal between the parties in respect of both their policies for implementing their core values, and in respect of other values which they promote which are not necessarily causes for Christian celebration.

After that preamble, my curious mind is intrigued by two interconnected lines of inquiry. Why is National going to lead the next government and why is Labour polling so poorly as the party with the second largest support?

I have given this a lot of thought and the thinking has been done in a context of booming South Island economy in which, notwithstanding those living in poverty and those extremely frustrated by lack of action over their quake damaged properties, the vast majority of people are in work, enjoying life and generally feeling that they are getting ahead.

In that context I suggest National is polling high because people are making a connection (whether justified or not is not the point right now) between National's management of the economy and their materially happy lives. Conversely, Labour is not offering a credible alternative economic policy. In the circumstances of the day, a credible economic policy would need to tell a believable story that under a Labour led (let alone a Labour/Greens led government) life would be even better.

Now, Labour (and the Greens) have been trying to tell that story (e.g. by advancing possibilities for a better economy via new developments which lessen our dependency on selling milk powder to China), but it is not being believed. I suggest there are at least two reasons for that.

First, that story is connected integrally to another story of raising more taxes, some of which would be used by the government to advance the development of new industries. Here is a very simple point which strangely most politicians on the left seem impervious to receiving: the majority of NZers do not want to pay more taxes. (This, incidentally, is NOT because we universally subscribe to the notion that paying little or no tax is ideal, but because we think we pay enough tax already).*

Here is another point: whereas we once trusted the government to take the lead in planning economic development, we no longer do so. Despite railing against business from time to time (e.g. that it pays CEOs too much) we see with our own eyes, whether travelling around our cities, or past giant dairy factories in the countryside, that business begets business, not government. Why would we give money to the government to make money when business does it so much better?

Secondly, that story is connected integrally to another story of raising more taxes, some of which would be used by the government to fund a more generous welfare state. Here is a very simple point which strangely ... see above paragraph!

Here is a new point for this part of my analysis: collectively we think in the majority that funding for welfare is okay because we get it that over generous funding destroys to will to secure employment for many people ... and we wonder how strong that will to work is when we see how many migrant labourers we draw into this country to milk our cows, prune our vines and drive our taxis. Again, in case the point is missed: we do not in our collective majority have any desire to see the welfare state dismantled. We get the need for a decent safety net, we like the possibility that if we cannot afford health insurance we have a good health system paid for by taxes and we happily pay taxes for schools. But collectively we are not convinced by the way some stories are told from statistics that we are in crisis re welfare, health or schooling.

Just before you write a heated comment, let me underscore what I am trying to say above by saying that what counts re polls now and on the election day itself is what people believe the case to be, not what the case may be. By all means argue here that in reality, in actuality, we are a nation in terrible trouble, but I am not arguing for or against that proposition. I am arguing that perceptions, collectively, belie any proposal that we need a Labour-led government (as, for example, was the case in 1999 when we turfed a National-led government out because we were a nation concerned about the extent of poverty across our islands). Do you disagree with my outline of the perceptions the voting majority holds?

If, for example, we are a nation in crisis over poverty, then the story has not gained sufficient converts to vote Labour or for the parties which support Labour leading the next government. It is - he writes, covering his punditry backside - possible that between now and 20 September, those converts will be won to the cause. It just does not look likely.

Incidentally, as Audrey Young notes here, the whole cause of Labour has been done no favours by Nick Hager's well meaning attempt to tell the voting public that National has indulged in Dirty Politics. That book has made it harder, not easier, for Labour to tell its story of our future.

There are lessons all around to be learned from this election. Labour has the most lessons to learn. The chief of which is that its great and mostly well received appeal to Kiwis' sense of fairness must be allied to  fiscal policy which tells us how fairness can be achieved by efficient use of the taxes we already pay and not by new taxes we do not want to pay.

PS Elsewhere, e.g. on Twitter, I have been arguing for the introduction of a Capital Gains Tax (a key Labour policy). To introduce that - as a matter of fairness across all means of taxing income- is not necessarily to impose a higher overall tax burden on the nation. When a new tax is introduced, another can be taken away! Or another existing tax rate can be reduced. UPDATE: As good an explanation of the fairness of CGT as any I have read is written here by Josie Pagani.

*ACT polls so poorly because the vast majority of NZers do not subscribe to its views on minimal government funded by minimal taxes.


Michael Reddell said...

I was interested that you chose not to mention the archbishops' statement last week on the election. In the issues they highlighted, they seemed to cast themselves - and the Anglican church by implication - as the "Green Party at prayer". One might easily regard each of the issues highlighted as important, and yet still wonder how these church leaders came out so close to the emphases of one particular party.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Michael
Deep within last Monday's post I did mention it and link to it. (Reference to it was also part of yesterday's sermon!)

I am interested in your analysis of what (so to speak) political colour it is. We were once the Tory Party at prayer, then the Labour Party at prayer. Now we may be the Green Party at prayer ...

Jean said...

I vote for just being at prayer : ) ...

I am glad we have a separation between State and Church because I think this allows the church to be an independent voice.

My regard for politician's isn't set by Party. For although I wouldn't vote national (sorry Peter) I have always found Chester Burrows to show particular integrity in his work.

Just maybe as you hint Peter the role of the church is to encourage a 'different way' to speak out against dirty laundry politics, encourage all those politicians who act with integrity and instigate good policies, and to lead by example (perhaps the hardest of all).

But surely you can't vote national : ) you know with asset sales, dubious international aid policies, encouraging mothers to return to work as early as possible.... : ) ...

Peter Carrell said...

I am not voting National and I am not going to say here who I am going to vote for!

I am prepared to say that I find much to admire in Labour this time round, but I don't think they are ready for government, either in terms of their leadership team or their policy mix.

I am also prepared to say that I will not vote for Internet Mana and go further and say I do not think anyone should vote for that combo as long as Kim Dotcom remained resident in our land.

Jean said...

My wrong Peter, apologies. And not saying who you vote for very wise...

Yes, I think I could clearly say Internet mana will not be on my list either.

With the tax issue I think how public money already obtained is spent - not in terms of social services or general public servants but auditing on the higher echelon needs to be looked at. Recently I became aware of a person who for a year has been a consultant for a government department on $500 a day contract. This seems a little over the top.

Government v's business better at creating economic growth. I still believe there is a bit of partnership there. Government's input in the area of research and development and promotion definitely supports business growth and opportunities. Although some companies do R & D, University and government funding help greatly. The revolutionary ball-bearing foundation for earthquake proofing buildings was developed by a scientist at IRL (government institution), Comvita grew out of Waikato Uni etc etc And government promoting NZ through funding of public international events at home and abroad create opportunities for businesses to benefit and keep NZ on the map.

The Green's were advocating developing sustainable new initiatives/technology that could be a valuable commodity in the years to come is that right? Some merit there I guess a lot of countries are becoming more aware of sustainability and it is likely to be a growing market share in the future even if doesn't out milk the dairy industry : ) ....

Peter Carrell said...

No worries, Jean
Briefly: I think $500 per day is a bit of a standard rate everywhere!

I have no problems with government assistance for business, especially through research, particularly via the university system (think especially of Massey and Lincoln re farming; Otago/Auckland re medicine.

And the Greens are right to support 'new initiatives' but I wonder if they are overly optimistic about lead times for initiatives to generate decent cash returns. I also worry about govt trying to pick 'winners and losers' re business initiatives.

Jean said...

Oh yes for consultancy but hiring a consultant for a year?

Hmm cash returns definitely come after a lot of hard slog.

If a specific governments policies lead them to favour specific business interests I can see conflict of interest there. As when businesses try to influence politician's!

With a note of humour my brother when working for a gov't org (long time ago) did one job where he had to take the yellow (the only good part) out of butter in order for NZ to be able to export it the USA. Did you know their butter is white?

Anonymous said...

For sure the Greens have some great policies BUT my concern about the Greens is their plan to increase the age at which disabled babies can be aborted. This is the most horrifying policy I have ever seen proposed for NZ.

Lucy Eban

Jean said...

Hi Lucy

The Green's policy on abortion certainly does create concerns.

If current laws allow abortion up to 20 weeks there is hardly need for a law allowing any abortions except risk to mother and baby past this time. I didn't even realise it was up to 20 weeks - my cousins twins were born at 26 weeks!!

I am nuetral whether abortion comes under health or legal systems but advocating for choice without the need for counselling or appropriate medical 'sign off' is irresponsible. What other medical procedure is undertaken without appropriate information or professional opinions?

I think the Green's play on the word 'mental health' for when this is used in terms of having to qualify for an abortion for this reason - it is applied in the generic sense (e.g. the individuals do not feel able to cope with having a child in their particular circumstances) rather than they have a mental health disorder. Perhaps this is what needs clarifying.

There are already a number of free abortion advice centres that are 'nuetral' (if anyone can really be so) which counsel and provide all information and options, including having the baby and adoption. Although I do not support abortion I think for people who seriously consider this an option such support is a good thing.

To apply the use of rights to abortion is also off-track, woman have a right to choose? Actually in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which like human Rights Treaties refer to basic human needs rather than 'choices'; includes for children the Right to Life. In this situation what would apply to women is they have a Right to information and a Right to have their opinion heard as do potential Father's.

: ) Jean

Michael Reddell said...

Yes, the Greens' abortion policy should be deeply unsettling to any Christian considering voting for that party. It may not, in practice, lead to many more abortions than the 14000 per annum we have now, but symbols matter greatly, and the law is an important one.

The silence of the archbishops on the annual death toll of innocent babies disappoints me, even if it no longer really surprises me. Why is the hierarchy so reluctant to provide effective Christian moral leadership on this issue? To do so would no doubt invite controversy - but prophetic leadership often will.

Father Ron Smith said...

Sadly, the most vociferous about the problems associated with abortion are mostly Roman Catholic. What seemingly is not taken into account is that proper sex-education for young people can be positively helpful in this area - by the provision of efficient contraception.

Unfortunately, those who oppose this method if population control (and the sanctity of life) seem to continue scoring 'own goals'. You CAN'T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS!