There’s no business…by Trevor Plumbly


Aha! Me proud beauty!

Pre-Internet, politics was generally left to trade unions and the privileged. Personally, I’ve always voted labour in the hope that someday the goodies of life might be shared around evenly, but age and cynicism reduced that to theatrical fantasy. All the world may well be a stage, but reality doesn’t sell tickets like razzle-dazzle. Down here in NZ, we mightn’t do the flashy Broadway stuff, but we can tap dance with the best of them when it comes to ‘who-done it?’ or, for those currently in power, ‘who should have done it’. Melodrama’s long dead; today when the show’s over it’s tough to pick the villain. They don’t leer over the trembling maiden anymore muttering ‘Aha! Me proud beauty!’ though sometimes I wish they would, to inject a bit of character identity. Political theatre used to be pretty formulaic: you had a script, a cast, a few bad guys, a hero and on occasions, a heroine. But as I’ve said before, people love to tinker with the simple things of life, and these days farce and tragedy could both be in the same script; thus adaptability and/or duplicity are more essential for players than credibility.

A star is born

Jacinda Ardern with her then deputy Winston Peters.

The female role in the NZ production called for Joan of Arc with a spot of Maggie Thatcher and a touch of Mother Theresa for those that like a bit of compassion. Our Gal practically waltzed into the part: young, sleeves rolled up, ready to tackle anything the previous mob hadn’t sorted. We were all jaded at the time, yearning for a new ‘Godzone’, but, like the prudent Kiwis we are, we took an each-way bet rather than getting totally seduced. As a result, the cast was expanded and previous extras took pivotal roles, one even rising to deputy hero. But an over fondness for centre stage and an inability to stay ‘on script’ resulted in him getting ‘killed off’ in the sequel. Initially, the togetherness gave a feeling of harmony, but it didn’t last; naked ambition and skulduggery added a bit of spice for a while, but the ‘new age’ production got too complicated, ticket sales dropped and it became obvious that a re-write would be needed for the show to go on.

A song and dance

Living on the street in NZ

The new look was a smash hit, waves of promises rained upon us with biblical sincerity. No more poverty, unemployment and homelessness, in fact no more of anything that stopped people being grateful. But as Mr Dylan said ‘Them ol’ dreams are only in your head’, and, as with most things, he was right. When the curtain fell we realised that not only did someone actually have to perform the social miracles, someone else had to pay for them. ‘Nothing ain’t worth nothing, but it’s free’ is a catchy little thought from Mr Kristofferson, but it doesn’t offer much in the way of comfort to the homeless and hungry waiting to be helped by a government whose existence was founded on solving those issues. They were given a huge mandate to deliver on social needs, but to date, even allowing for a crippled world, they’ve done little more than pay them lip service. Like most administrations these days, this government takes the ‘top up’ approach to social ills, watering the leaves, rather than addressing the more complicated root cause, rolling out the rhetoric and statistical wallpaper to assure us a fairer society waits in their next term of office, if we just give them another go.

In the bonds of love we meet

Food parcels ready to be distributed

Problem is we don’t anymore! The gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ continues to grow and apart from the old feel-good solution of chucking a few bob at poverty, those who lead us seem to lack the foresight to take a fresh approach. The recent increases in welfare benefits were all but swallowed by private landlords raising rents to meet ‘market demand’, whilst the chance of actually owning a home is ‘pie-in-the-sky’ stuff for middle and low income New Zealanders. The laid back approach by the Labour party doesn’t bode well for social growth: police, health workers and teachers are being forced to relocate to outer suburbs to cope with rising rental costs, demands on City Mission and Salvation Army food banks continue to grow and instead of treating that for what it is, a national disgrace, those with the power to make changes offer little more than useless assurances of ‘transitional’ policy and ‘aspirational’ objectives’, both of which of course are uninhabitable and inedible.

The lions they won’t bite and the tigers won’t roar (D & R Davies)

The Labour movement I grew up with may be a bit time-worn for today’s safety net approach but it did have the courage to make tough decisions; that’s how we got a free health service, state housing, welfare benefit and so on. If this government is so concerned with poverty, why don’t they attack it at its roots and start with the homeless? They didn’t have any trouble introducing the recent pay freeze; why not apply the same determination to the housing crisis? It’s all very well shunting the homeless into motels, but that’s a temporary fix at best; a braver government would have attacked the problem rather than try to negotiate their way round it. A capital gains tax is widely recognised as an effective means of harnessing property speculation, as would be a restricted rental formula, linking rents to inflation instead of landlords’ greed. Of course that would ruffle a few feathers, and who the hell wants to be unpopular with the money men when you can hide behind the centre left smugness and still get elected; but that’s politics, and of course showbiz. So after the chorus of hearty voices belting out ‘The Red Flag’ at the next Labour Party rally, perhaps Jacinda could close with ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’. Now that’d be a proper curtain call!

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