Monday, October 17, 2005

Cullen on history and the foreshore and seabed

Nga korero o te wa pointed me at Michael Cullen's Michael King Memorial Lecture, Two Ticks for Clio: Reflections on NZ Politics and History. The first part, on Michael King, history, social democracy, includes an interesting discussion on "vision" vs broader "values and principles" in politics. As a survivor of Rogernomics, Cullen is suspicious of "vision", noting that

Those who support the neo-classical laissez faire vision show both a contempt for facts (and, therefore, pragmatism) but also a lack of concern for the damage to many people’s lives the imposition of their theories cost. In New Zealand the cliché “no gain without pain” was but one of many trite phrases used to cover an unnecessary lack of humanity in the application of policies which were, in part, no doubt necessary.

Instead, Cullen prefers to be guided by broad "values and principles", combined with

[p]ragmatism, a sense of human fallibility, a knowledge of the historical difficulties of effecting improvements, [...] virtues inconsistent with the imposition of grand plans, whether it be for a thousand year Reich, the creation of a new Socialist utopia, or any of the other mass delusions of the twentieth century.

Which is all very sensible as far as it goes; we should be aware of how much is practically achievable in the short-term and how things can go wrong when we set out to change the world (and that is what advancing our values and principles is ultimately about). But in amongst the pragmatism and sensible progressiveness, something has got lost. Not necessarily the policies: Working For Families, the gradual re-universalisation of the health system, making tertiary education more accessible - these are all big steps. What's missing is any effort to bring us with them, to sell those values and principles to the wider public. I cannot remember hearing Helen Clark stand up and talk about equality, freedom, a "fair go" for all, and how such and such a policy specifically advances those values. And I don't think I've ever heard Michael Cullen talking, even in the broadest possible outline, about what sort of society he'd like to live in, and the (practical, achievable, concrete) steps we can take to get there. Maybe it's because they think its too close to having "vision" - but if they want their policies to stick around, it is not enough simply for them to be driven by certain values and principles; the rest of us have to share them. And that means convincing people, either of your values, or that your policies advance them.

Labour doesn't do nearly enough to do this. But if they want to maintain and grow a progressive majority in this country, they are going to have to. Their flavour of social democracy advances deeply-held New Zealand values such as egalitarianism and fairness. It wouldn't hurt if they reminded us of that every so often.

The latter part of Cullen's lecture (and the part noted by NKOTW) deals with the Foreshore and Seabed Act. Here Cullen says essentially that the Court of Appeal was correct in overturning 90 Mile Beach and ruling that Maori had the right to pursue claims before the court. But he goes on to say that the political realities meant that that right could not be respected, that given "the depth of pakeha anger and alarm", it was "not a real possibility". For those with a sense of history, "pakeha anger and alarm" is exactly what drove the raupatu in the Waikato - the difference being that now the government at least has the decency to show a little shame about it. And they should be ashamed, because our government abrogated its fundamental duty to protect the rights of all its citizens - instead of standing against the lynchmob, they acted as its agent. And that is not something I will ever be able to forgive them for.


The future will be about Free and AntiFree The old labels will be irrelevant.Those who want Freedom will win the struggle Those who are AntiFreedom currently called the Left or Centre Left will be defeated.Why Because most people want to be free Free from governments telling them what to think what to believe what to say what to do.Taking money from them and giving to those who dont deserve it whilst ignoring those who really need help.Telling lies and committing frauds.Acting without ethics and morals.Treating the citizerns as though they were idiots.Laughing at the citizerns behind their backs at how they have been conned.The struggle will continue but the battle will be won FREE will win

Posted by Anonymous : 10/17/2005 03:49:00 PM

gd writes about the left being ant-Free. This is a central myth of the neoliberal brigade. If only we left everything up to the markets and commonsense. The sad thing is that the marketplace is open to the highest bidder who then ensures their variety of "freedom" is the only one that matters. The reality is that the marketplace is where my freedom to associate in groups or communities or dare I say it trade unions is seen to encroach upon the need for the individual to maximise their dollar return. The Left understands how we are more than a collection of grasping self centred individuals - Keep Right Out. revalmac

Posted by Anonymous : 10/19/2005 02:13:00 PM

To take us back on topic a bit:

Cullen's remarks about security (provided by a govt safety net) leading to opportunity strike me as very apt. Safety nets are what permit risks.

But if Cullen takes seriously this view then his personal take on Tertiary Ed will be interesting. He's too good a party man for his personal views to always be clear.

But the key argument the tertiary students have advanced against fees and oppresive loans has continually been that the financial insecurity of personal debt is what removes opportunity. "Pay huge fees, the degree will be worth it" is less scary for those of means than for those without.

Posted by Icehawk : 10/20/2005 02:46:00 PM