I think James has taught me two things about politics so far. One was about a decade ago when I was feeling depressed (for a change) about the planet and how we are all screwed and how there was no point in an individual doing anything. He said that the thing for individuals to do was change laws through the government. That point struck me because it is so obvious, and so correct. Changing to energy saving light bulbs, or going on a march are nice, but creating the leverage to change law… that’s where change happens. At a national level.
The other thing he taught me happened this week. He taught me how MMP can work. I think it was only this election where I realised, eventually, that we have a very unusual electoral system and that a lot of people outside New Zealand think it is bizarre. Also, though, they are wrong. The Australian went with the headline: Coalition of Losers. Except of course that any coalition would have been a coalition of losers in that no one had a majority. If Labour, NZF and the Greens have actually sussed things out properly, and act like adults, this could be a highly democratic government.
A third thing I learnt about politics recently was from Obama. He said: “people forget but better is good”. This is a very, very useful thing to remember and I now bore my students with it all the time. If you set out from situation A to get to position C, and only get to position B then you should keep in mind that “better is good”. Getting everything you want is very unlikely, but if things have improved? Well, isn’t that a win?
Reasons for optimism then? Well, Winston got my attention when he said this:
“Far too many New Zealanders have come to view today’s capitalism, not as their friend, but as their foe. And they are not all wrong. That is why we believe that capitalism must regain its responsible – its human face.”
While we have a bunch of people saying that the Greens got nothing, I think they’d be missing the news that the Greens are in government and not in opposition, and that they will be ministers in areas where it is hard to imagine having better people in charge. By “better people” I mean people who care about the best outcome for the area they are in charge of, not the best bottom line. The true bottom line is health and happiness and not cash.
I realise that for a whole bunch of men and women who like mountain-biking, craft beer, SUVs, international holidays and private schools things feel bad. I guess it’s how I felt for 9 years watching the friendly face of neo-liberalism stroll us further towards inequality, and environmental collapse so I sympathise. Democracy has those moments: parts of your life where you feel out of alignment with the power structure. For some, of course, that feeling is permanent. That would be something to fix. I wonder if we can?
For now though I feel a tremendous sense of opportunity and optimism. It doesn’t make me a nice person but while I was listening to Bill English’s media stand-up after Winston’s announcement (something he handled with real class) I was mentally thinking of all the politicians I don’t have to see so much anymore: Judith Collins, Paula Bennett, Steven Joyce, Gerry Brownlee, Maggie Barry, Chris Finlayson. It was quite a wonderful feeling. Like I said, it doesn’t make me a good person.
If we can usher out the era that Labour brought in after 1984 that would be a quite tremendous thing. If we can begin to shift the narrative to people and the planet and away from the damnable need to refer to everything in money that would be a step back towards sanity. If the left coalition gets this right they could be in power for a decade. I hope they are thinking in terms of a decade. A decade is long enough to move the narrative to a place where it can’t be changed back very easily, where even the opposition has to talk like you to appeal to people. Tear the authorship away from the banks and the economists and give it back to the poor, the disenfranchised, and the earth.
And if we don’t get there, remember that better is good.