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Hanging out in Auckland while Winston decides

Can I hear the birds? Yes, I can hear the birds and the distant rumble of the traffic- cliché- roar, hiss – it’s there, like the homeless and the rich in the houses around me, swimming pools in every backyard. Who will Winston go with? Winston and his cabal of nonentities, that’s what the press call them. The press are pissed off, for Winston’s controlling the story. That’s what power’s about – who controls the story. I miss the mud and the kereru.

A restless night and still no Winston. I go for a bike ride, braving the traffic and motorway crossings to check out the worth of a classic Leica I bought in 1968 and which sits around in these digital times. Cosmetic damage makes it relatively worthless, so I’ll keep it. Classic has to look nice.

Later, I sit in a traffic jam in order to get to First Union’s offices in Onehunga for a commemoration of the centenary of the Russian Revolution with the union and the Philippine Solidarity Committee. A blast from the past as people discuss the shape of the world – doesn’t happen much anymore. Home to a programme on Aljizeera about the carbon market and the turning of nature into an investment- that being the only way to tackle climate change according to the money men. A few rough looking people disagree with the corporates who are controlling everything. Finally, a stand up transvestite comic takes the piss.

Still no news. Go into town to see the art gallery and the homeless. I realise this is a city of castes: the elite on their yachts, the middle class strutting around the inner city suburbs, the tourists arriving on cruise ships, all those working with their hands have brown faces and high viz jackets, and they are now joined by the new caste of the homeless with their sleeping bags, their scraps of cardboard, their scribbled signs and their op shop clothing worn by the weather. The art gallery has pompous captions but some original Blake, Rembrandt and Goya etchings – originals speak across the centuries.

Finally, the man speaks. There was talk beforehand of Winston wanting to leave a memorable legacy and that this was a key motivating factor. If so, he has succeeded, for in announcing his decision to go with Labour he stated clearly that the main reason was the fact that capitalism, as currently practised – that is, actual lived capitalism – is not serving the needs of the majority of people and that he wants to be part of a government that changes this. The new government is then, based on this ideological premise. Add the Labour/Greens judgement that capitalism is destroying the environment as well and it becomes a considerable intervention.

Winston’s legacy (hopefully) is to have been responsible for creating the fourth progressive government in post settler history, the first being the Liberal Government of 1894, the second being the 1935 Labour government, the third being the tragically short-lived Labour government of 1972. All shared that ideology. It is interesting that they seem to occur at 40-50 year intervals. But we also have to accept that this was a team decision by NZ First caucus and board, a variety of ordinary people rather than professional politicians.

And of course, this government will have a very strong Maori caucus. Thank you, Winston, for silencing, for a moment at least, the mantra that there is no alternative.

The next day a train trip to Manakau, uncovering those with the fixed look of the survivor, the overweight with bad complexions, the elderly woman talking about her husband with Alzheimers, the student trying to hope, past the suburbs with acres of warehousing, the tangle of motorways, the crowded housing of the poor and nevertheless, the good humour of Polynesia.

The new government is already getting buried in the digital noise. Politics takes place mainly in the media, who become an occupying army constructing games of winners and losers, the defeated Bill walking into the sunset hand in hand with his supportive spouse, the new leader on the front pages of the world’s press… The support team is joined by the makeup artist and ordinary people form the cast of extras. Like climate change it can seem unstoppable.

Today I fly south to the open spaces, to smaller local tasks, to walk in the beech forest, to try and negotiate with a council planner, to an environment where there is space, some gaps in the noise, where moments of silence are possible, to a place where the ancient patterns can still be detected.

Theatre of the absurd

 

The final leaders’ debate was a strange affair, dominated by the set, a monstrous rostrum affair, like something out of a theatre of the absurd play, perhaps symbolising how the importance of ‘the leader’ has grown out of all proportion. Suddenly, that’s all we have: leaders with a mass following. A dangerous syndrome.

Jacinda Adern, after promising relentless positivity, had a melancholic air. After all, National had waged a relentless campaign of lies: there was no fiscal hole, there was no raising of taxes, the tax on irrigation is token, the capital gains exploration is to find a best practice solution to a dire and complex problem (a population having a roof over its head), to deny foreigners the right to purchase property is common practice in many countries, especially small ones where the possibility of the nation’s fabric being sold is real. All these were lied about and a paranoia created. It was a move toward a US political culture with campaigns based on lies and invective. Camus wrote about the Spanish Civil War: It was in Spain that men learned that one can be right and still be beaten, that force can vanquish spirit, that there are times when courage is not its own reward. It is this, without doubt, which explains why so many men throughout the world regard the Spanish drama as a personal tragedy, (Preface to L’Espagne Libre, 1945). It is possible that this election could be a scaled down tragedy for this country.

Bill English, who can appear a likeable enough bloke in some settings, wore a strange, sickly, embarrassed smile, like a crim who’s got away with it. For if the Nats get away with it, it means the democratic right to govern is based on fraud and manipulation. It was, accordingly, a programme where the advertisements in the breaks seemed meaningful. Those absurd invitations and promises made by smiling idiots, that if we acquire some object or machine, we will enter nirvana, were the reality of the system we live under.

What are the options for the voter? To thoroughly research and fact check? Some manage that. Scoop for example, published research on the dairy-farm water question. Here are some facts. Dairy farms use as much water as 60 million people and have the environmental impact of 90 million people. There are 12000 dairy herds using 4.8 million cubic metres of water, but of those farms, 10,000 (80%) do not irrigate so would be unaffected by a water tax. Of the 20% who do irrigate they would be faced with an annual bill of $10-15000. And of those, there are a few mega farms run by corporate interests. They are the ones who would be hardest hit. And fair enough. This research is hardly front page news. It’s the truth but the truth is dangerous to the class interests that the Nats represent. So, what was going on in Morrinsville? More theatre of the absurd.

As a child, I could never figure out why my adopted father was so anti Labour, when his experience of the world as a working man aligned him with the party’s agenda, until I came across a 1935 election poster showing a red, communist monster clutching at the family home and the attached wife. Message: the reds will take not only your house but force your wife into becoming a slave to free love. Fred had bought into the message. As Chris Trotter pointed out in one of his better columns, nothing has changed. The Nats and the farmers and the business people believe they are born to rule and the rest of the population are a dangerous and recalcitrant rabble and don’t let them organise.  You can no longer beat them into submission but you can befuddle and scare them.

So, there was reason for Jacinda to feel melancholic. If you are created by the media as a necessary story for what was promising to be a dull election, then the next media story is your downfall.

Maybe she should have turned up to the debate with a balaclava and a bandoleer?

Zapatista

The daffodils appear

The daffodils appear, beautiful virginal children. There’s a patch on the museum site which never flower. Each year I avoid mowing them for a month, then run them over in frustration. Gaynor put me right. ‘Wait for them to wilt and turn brown before you mow them. You can hasten the process by gathering clumps of stalks together and tying a knot in them. Then, next season they’ll flower.’

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Some balmy days gladden the soul. The blossom trees are blossoming, the first shoots appear on the apple tree, the willows have budded, the chooks are laying and kereru flop heavily from a tree as I walk down the track to the creek.

As I watch the leaders’ debates I realise again that when both sides are managing within a neo-liberal capitalist framework, government is as much about spirit as about policy. National, as led by Bill, are mean-minded, punitive and puritan ‘realists’. Labour, as led by Jacinda, are youthful, warm and want to be generous. National increasingly micro-manages those at the bottom. In their view, the dysfunction is their own fault. It’s time to insist that such people haul themselves up by their bootstraps, to start having goals, to get their kids meeting national standards, to wipe out the gangs and let the riches trickle down. Labour sees that the stress of poverty causes dysfunction. Behind Labour is the old socialist slogan: A better world is possible. For National the better world is here, you just have to persuade everyone to get it together enough to clamber onto the first rung of the ladder.

National aren’t great on smiles and they give me the creeps. Who would want to be mothered by Paula Bennett or Judith Collins? Or fathered by Steven Joyce or Bill?

Somewhere, lurking in the shadows, is the monster of climate change, towering over this family argument. No one dare mention it. It certainly hasn’t come up in the debates so far. Bangladesh and parts of India are under water; Texas is flooded, California and Spain are burning up, the sea level rises, Hurricane Irma… in this context generous or mean spirits are a laughable matter. The poor old Greens would like to bring it up, but they don’t want to be seen as negative. Metiria touched on a negative reality and got burnt. Negativity doesn’t win votes. So let’s love New Zealand and hope to hold on.

Down by the creek I find the perfect rock on which to stand and do the exercises. It allows a renewal of technical energy.

You can’t mow down the recalcitrant daffodils. Let them fall and wait a season.

Finally, If you really want a spiritual uplift watch this video based on a song and photos from the Spanish Civil War. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXV2P5eeV5c

 

 

A week in politics

Andrew Little resigns. Must be tough to, in a sense, fail so publicly, for no real reason. He’s done a good job, stopped the infighting, been plausible, developed good policy… but failed to shift the polls. Lacked charisma, no star quality, no scandals, no media noise. How much do those polled know of policy? Probably not a lot. Teachers and nurses will know, farmers and business people likewise, but Jo Blog – not a lot.

The TV performance is then, everything. Those in government have an advantage; they’re seen opening schools and bridges, tending to disasters and meeting important people, whereas the opposition is mostly seen complaining. Andrew has the wrong shaped face for telly, is going bald, not quite at home in his body. As a director of actors I would suggest a tense jaw, which controls emotion and means a dull speech pattern. The stress of the constant public performance must be awful for a quiet sort of bloke.

Not only were the polls not moving, but suddenly the Greens hit a spot – both of scandal and of virtue, with Metiria’s announcing of a twenty percent increase for beneficiaries and of her own ‘cheating’ while on a benefit. A great Madonna/whore combination. For a moment, that tapped into the energy that lies in the electorate, the sub-neoliberal-conscious energy which can erupt, as Sanders and Corbyn found out. Everyone knows the neoliberal system has failed, but its controls are tight and the ‘there is no alternative’ mantra has penetrated deeply. To fight it is risking both irrelevance and the unleashing of a hatred from the power structure. Yet to take it on can energise some of the vast majority who it treats either indifferently or unjustly. A sort of hysterical energy occurs; ‘Bernie, Bernie, Bernie…’ And then the forces of reaction move in: the media, the political party systems, the investors, the conservative controllers, who attack viciously. But at that point, you at least know you’re fighting for something

Instead, Labour and the Greens signed up to the system, promising to be responsible, apart from some technical tinkering (and good tinkering), but it was not an energising stance. The Greens broke the contract and left Little in the lurch.

And Metiria’s ‘cheating’? What a joke. Everyone does the cash job. Everyone avoids taxes. The GFC was caused by con men who were bailed out and are still running the financial system, we’ve got the Trump family in power, the Russian mafia… The non declaration of a flatmate? Yet the boffin’s pontificate. It’s Alice in Wonderland.

Did Andrew do the right thing? It seems so, and for him, yes. You must say to yourself, Why bother with this shit. Why the sacrifice? Let me go to the beach and watch the waves come in. Let me turn off the phone and the twitter account and the email. Let me live again.

Into the breach walks Jacinda; a new performance: young, beautiful, of a generation for whom performance is second nature, a good name, welcomed by the media, for whom the election has been, so far, a dull event.

All this is taking place within the framework of ‘society as theatre’, first suggested by the German sociologist, Erving Goffman. It’s reasonably obvious: we play roles, we make our entrances and exits, wear our costumes, there are sets, scripts, scenes etc. Jacinda made her entry and delivered her first speech. The costume was carefully chosen. It was almost a ritual. The audience was watching, ready to be swayed one way or another. The media play a role which has been called that of SpectActor- both spectator and actor – as they ask questions and immediately take to the streets and interview people who also become SpectActors. In fact the SpectActor role, with social media, becomes almost universally available.

At the same time as being obviously true, this framework, as a theatre person, continues to bother me – in its banality. In the theatre situation, we rehearse, at great length, in the safety of the rehearsal room. We start with doubt, with nothingness; freely admitted. We are not playing ourselves, but another – and therein lies the creative truth; the I-I. In the theatre situation the self obsessed person (the drama queen) is a pain; the group is all; the ability to give and take is all. The content and the cast generate the form, over time. And then the silent dialogue with an audience, which alters the performance in a manner which is almost magical. And the beauty of there being no record afterward, except in the mind.

It seems to me, that if we could work toward a political system that was closer to this, rather than the current need for the most vulgar of melodrama, we would be getting somewhere.

The coming election – the real issue

NZEI meeting

Kate Fulton (Green Party), Michelle Lomax and Damien O’Connor (Labour) – photo Rory Paterson.

I attended the first candidates’ meeting, called by the local branch of the NZEI – the primary and preschool teachers and support staff union. The candidates were asked to present their relevant policy, followed by discussion. Only Labour and Greens were able or willing to attend, which made for a focused event.

Both parties have been listening to NZEI and they both promise a funding boost, are both against charter schools, are both keen to see support staff properly recompensed, are wary of the Community of Learning model (COLS), which could turn into managerial rather than board of trustee governance at the local level and were suspicious of COOLS (Communities Of Online Learning) as being a way of undermining the teaching profession. I would be paranoid about a Ministry that comes up with such dumb acronyms. Damien O’Connor, sharing that paranoia, saw National as being determined to break down the solidarity of the teachers union.

In the discussion, the teachers yearned for greater autonomy for schools to deal with the issues they are facing, rather than having to jump through the myriad hoops held up by agencies supposedly there to help. Often these agencies will simply restate what is obvious to the teachers, offer no solutions and instead make for further form filling for already hard-pressed teachers. They wanted smaller class sizes for obvious reasons. There were reports of having to deal with ever increasing numbers of special needs children and families in crisis – caused by increasing identification of special needs but also caused by poverty. Homelessness is not an issue on the Coast, but the meeting had to consider how a teacher deals with a student who has spent the night in a car.

As the discussion continued, I realised that what educators are faced with, and what we are more generally faced with, are the results of the ideology of managerialism (the organisational model of neo-liberalism) being applied to the education system. It has been similarly applied to health and social services, including housing.

Managerialism was first practised by Nissan Car Manufacturing (it is sometimes called the Nissan Method) and involves stressing the production line (in car assembling that involves speeding up the line – that way you get greater output) until it breaks down. When it does so, you apply some further resources at that spot. It also involves just in time resourcing rather than having to warehouse raw materials. The focus is on outputs (that’s where you get your money and earn your profits) rather than inputs. In manufacturing it increases efficiency and therefore profit. Workers are stressed but expendable. The whole system runs on anxiety and greed.

When applied to education, health and social services, it sets up intolerable tensions. In the past, these systems have focused on inputs: What do you give a student? What does a family require? What makes for health? But suddenly it is about the numbers achieving a national standard, the number of operations, social housing as a precise output, number of social work cases processed…

In education, teachers and parents have resisted the methodology, but nevertheless, the attempts to impose it continue and produce stresses which can overwhelm – someone told me that at the moment, two principals resign every week. National Standards (measurable outputs), Charter Schools (let education become a market), under resourcing, imposing a managerial model, performance pay, bulk funding have all been imposed or attempted to be imposed by National. Mangerialism has now penetrated all areas of society as an ideology, including government departments. It has become the only game in town.

Of course, some technical adjustments within managerialism are useful, but the real issue is to get rid of the ideology and that now requires a revolution. Only when that revolution is proposed do people become energised electorally.

So far, that’s not happening and the election, while still important, is promising to be a relatively dull affair.

Betrayal?

It has been a strange week on the Coast as the possibility of the Council logging in the forests it owns has escalated into a replaying of the Timberland’s fiasco which took place in the 1990s. The same opportunism and muddled thinking has been present with the same tendency to subside into bitter victimhood.

It is timely then to do a quick survey of the economic facts behind the ‘betrayals’ of the Coast working class. Initial Pakeha economic life down here was a mix of opportunism and exploitation. The adventurer gold seeker occasionally made his nest egg but most did not. Settlements came and went but so quickly there was little grief. Meanwhile the service industry of hoteliers, saw millers, food suppliers and transporters did better, with some of them staying on to become local small capitalists.

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With coal mining a more robust conflict of interest between overseas business interests and local workers gave birth to a union movement. The Great Depression then enabled a combination of destitute workers, farmers and small business people, producing the social democratic welfare state. There followed a period of state ownership of major infrastructure and relative stability – the golden age for the Coast.

But the switch from coal to oil and electricity led to the first round of mine closures in the 1960s and a sense of betrayal as communities struggled to survive.

With Rogernomics, this downsizing continued with layoffs from the remaining state-owned mines, the closure of sewing factories, the disappearance of local potters, plus the downsizing of government departments like the Ministry of Works and Railways and the turning of them into State Owned Enterprises. Once again this put huge pressure on regional communities.

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And then in the late 1990s, the stopping of native logging in state owned forests and the rejection of Timberlands’s sustainable beech scheme was seen as yet another betrayal. A  surge in the price of coking coal saw a momentary boom in coal mining before the Global Financial Crisis caused a drop in production in China. As a result Solid Energy collapsed. Further betrayal. Neither Timberlands nor Solid Energy had played a good hand economically or politically.

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In the face of these crises, the tendency on the Coast has been to play the role of victim – and often the Greens are focused on as the persecutors. Whereas, in reality, capitalism, with its incessant technological change and its desire for growth as it pursues the single goal of shareholder profits, has caused these betrayals. The Greens have simply pushed for environmental care and sustainability in the face of capitalist-led pillaging of the planet. They can lack understanding and often come from another culture (urban, middle class, educated and privileged), but as conditions worsen with growing income inequality, precarious work and environmental crisis, the oppression begins to be shared. We are all in the same boat, like refugees heading across a dangerous sea to an unknown destination.

I remember a Mayday perhaps five years ago when we asked the Happy Valley protestors to debate with the miners. Both parties were anxious, the protestors because they knew they should have talked to the community, the miners because they thought they might punch the protestors. Instead, as the debate proceeded, both parties realised they shared a common enemy: global capitalism.

This revealing and resolving of contradiction is what is required in an election campaign, rather than branding exercises.

Unfortunately we will be stuck with the latter.

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