Tuesday, March 29, 2016
The Power of Truth: a political renaissance imminent.
The election of Trudeau and rise of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders are challenging the domination of Neoliberalism within our Five Eyes allies. The cause of the downfall of economic liberalism is probably due to its success in shifting the world's wealth to a powerful few and alienating the middle class. The rise of socialist politics and the labour movements 100 years ago was driven by inequality and the blatant exploitation of working people and we are currently experiencing a similar scenario that is fueling another era of political change.
For a period after the great depression Labour Governments dominated and Roosevelt's New Deal created new hope. Savage's "applied Christianity" in New Zealand was a much needed shift to a more equitable sharing of New Zealand's resources. Good housing, fair pay and well resourced public education and health systems were seen as essential to building our social capital and lifting many families out of poverty.
Sadly the relatively egalitarian societies of the 1950's have been eroded over the last 60 years as the philosophy of free markets, deregulated financial systems and individualism have slowly taken hold again. The balance of power that was finally achieved between working people and employers has been eroded too and now only 20% of New Zealand workers are unionised and very few in the private sector. Income insecurity through greater casualisation and the growth of the working poor are the result of the industrial imbalance as successive governments (from both the left and the right) have been increasingly influenced by business interests. It became generally accepted, politically, that people exist to support the economy rather than the other way around as it surely should be.
For neoliberal governments to retain power, while increasing inequality, they have had to spend increasing amounts on PR and rely on the support and growing impotence of the Fourth Estate. To ensure that the true extent of increasing poverty and environmental degradation doesn't become widely known, pop culture and terrorism have provided useful distractions. The National Party have survived Nicky Hager's thorough exposés (The Hollow Men and Dirty Politics) largely because of National's skillful use of Crosby Textor strategies and the main stream media's reluctance to invest in further investigative journalism. Successful independent investigative journalists are generally attacked and discredited if they challenge the status quo. National also relies on influencing the main stream commentary of any damning exposé to diminish the impact as the general population is unlikely to read the originals (the 20-30,000 copies of Dirty Politics sold represents a small % of the voting public).
Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders have been successful despite the mainstream media largely dismissing them. Jeremy Corbyn's support as the leader of UK's Labour Party should no longer be in question, he won the leadership contest by a substantial margin (almost 60% of first preference votes) and is ahead of Cameron in leadership polls. However, constant media reports about his 'extreme' politics and the ongoing personal attacks have dogged his leadership. Even the BBC is being petitioned for biased reporting.
I have just returned from the UK where I witnessed first hand the reaction to the Conservative Government's cut to disability benefits. When the wealthiest in the UK have never had it better, the austerity measures directed at the most vulnerable are now being seen as cruel and unjustifiable. Like New Zealand food banks are becoming essential (largely unnecessary in the UK before 2004) for the survival of many families as wages and benefits no longer cover living costs and Corbyn's advocacy for the struggling is becoming harder to dismiss.
Bernie Sanders has run a strong campaign in the Democratic Presidential Primaries through principled messaging and refusing corporate support. Sanders, like Corbyn, has gained traction through the consistency and basic morality of his messages. Living wages, social justice and a clean environment should not be expensive luxuries that are unaffordable and are increasingly viewed as fair and essential for a secure future for ordinary people. US voters are seeing the evidence of what a low tax, small government approach does to essential services and infrastructure as third world conditions become commonplace for many. Arianna Huffington's Third World America is a revelation as the 1% suck the operational wealth out of the country.
Slick Crosby Textor PR and flag debates are beginning to wear thin in New Zealand as more and more New Zealanders wonder about our government's real priorities and increasing numbers of ordinary New Zealanders are experiencing economic hardship and suffering the results of a housing shortage and dairy crash. There is less tolerance for Ministry blowouts and management pay rises when many families struggle financially.
As Corbyn and Sanders have demonstrated, the popular shift of the political centre to the right has probably ended and it is time to return to earlier policies that support a fairer distribution of resources and wealth. Sander's claim that he is a "democratic socialist" would have meant instant death as a candidate even two years ago, but no longer. Taxing the rich more and actually expanding government (social services can't be delivered effectively without people) is again being acceptable as a rational approach. These ideas are no longer a political anathema as they once were because the trickle down never occurred and better government services haven't resulted from constant cuts.
Political change in New Zealand won't be led by media revelations of Government incompetence but by ordinary people seeing what is actually happening within their own families, those around them and to their immediate environment. John Key and his Government have been clever in their slow dismantling of state housing and privitising social services, much has occurred under the radar and hidden by constant distractions. However hospital waiting lists grow, the housing shortage reaches a crisis point, our prisons are bursting through a population growth and our education system is seen as increasingly inequitable.
There has been a lot of pressure in the past for the Green Party to focus on being an environmental party only and to leave social policy to the Labour Party. To some the Green's lack of success (our votes have actually increased every election since 2005) is due to poor messaging during election campaigns that hasn't attracted more conservative voters (environmental causes have support across the political spectrum). My own belief is that the political foundations of the Green Party (and Values before) are based on the conservative notion that we live on a finite planet and operating in a sustainable way is essential to our survival. However, we have a holistic approach to politics and also believe in social fairness, sound decision making (based on evidence and democratic processes) and nonviolence. Our philosophies and policies are very similar to those of Corbyn and Sanders and yet it took over thirty years of promoting the same thing before they were widely accepted. With patience the Greens should expect the same recognition.
Labour lost its way when it abandoned its socialist roots for neoliberal economics. It began the process of liberalising New Zealand's economy and shifting core services to the private sector. Helen Clark's government did not reverse many of the hardline changes to labour laws and benefit cuts brought by the previous National one. Labour has contributed to the current environmental and social crises and struggles against Key's claims that National has done more recently in these areas than Labour did in it's last term.
In New Zealand politics the only party to stay true to its policies and principles over the last 25 years is the Green Party. Act's attempt to be more green than the Greens is a joke, Winston is consistent in his pursuit of his own political survival, leaping on to anything that may provide populist attention from immigration to the Treaty. Like Corbyn and Sanders the Green Party's credibility comes from its principles and consistency. The truth is generally revealed eventually and when National is properly exposed for its mismanagement then voters will look for a trustworthy option to implement the necessary change. New Zealand's third largest party (Trudeau's Liberal Party was a distant third before the Canadian election) is poised and ready to lead the renaissance of social democracy with an environmental edge.