Whanganui mayor Michael Laws will always be the froth on top of the wave; bubbling, hissing and occasionally roaring but with little substance.
His claims of racism against the Geographical Board early in the week over the proposal to include the ‘h’ in Whanganui were matched later in the week with his foam-flecked ranting against groups calling for an increase in welfare benefits to ease the lives of families living on the breadline.
It’s populist politics with a dark steak of racism. Whether it’s Maori gang members wearing patches, Maori children writing to criticize his stance on the name of the city or ugly statistics of levels of child abuse in Maori families the Laws answer is the same. He says Maori are to blame and they should fix up their social problems before they dare venture into public debate.
It’s a venal attitude. He may as well blame Pakeha for Clayton Weatherston’s crime. Such intolerance and a ruthless refusal to engage in argument above self-righteous sloganeering are the hallmarks of the anti-PC brigade of which Laws is the unelected leader.
Being anti-PC is the current political fashion. It avoids taking responsibility for anything outside one’s immediate self and family. It says each individual is responsible for their actions and their circumstances and ignores the context within which social problems fester. It absolves the guilty and condemns the rest. It blames the victims for their predicament and pours abuse on anyone who points to the elephant in the room which is our economic policy.
The brigade has a stronghold in the Sensible Sentencing Trust which feeds cynically on public anger at appalling crimes and serves up various vengeance-focused policies which are as outrageously expensive as they are ineffective. Again there is no need for thinking; no point in looking for causes, reasons or explanations for crime. Crime is crime they say and we need more prisons and longer sentences. End of story. Compassion is the dirtiest word in their vocabulary.
Lots of good people have been drawn into supporting the brigade and as the social gradient continues to steepen it will thrive as fear increases among working New Zealanders that they could themselves slip down the economic ladder. At other times in history this fear has provided the foot-soldiers for fascism.
It’s a grim picture of poverty, struggle and strife in a land of plenty.
It’s ironic that the people Michael Laws rails against are the victims of policies he championed as a National MP and then New Zealand First politician. There’s no need to detail them here. Suffice to say they make the Sheriff of Nottingham look like a do-gooder.
Despite unemployment rising and poverty deepening for families the transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich continues and there is not a glimmer of hope for any significant change in direction. Take the debate about capital gains tax for example. It’s been directionless and hopeless. We are the only significant developed country which does not have such a tax. Australia, the US and UK which we like to compare ourselves with all have one but despite the fact we face economic problems from regular housing bubbles there is no political impetus for change. Even Treasury supports such a tax but John Key is unmoved. It seems we are paralyzed with political inertia because so many politicians are themselves property speculators who refuse to countenance a tax which would hit them in the pocket but help make homes more affordable.
The combination of leadership by the wealthy for the wealthy and the fear of working New Zealanders falling behind in the recession is fertile ground for the likes of the anti-PC brigade who have a ready-made group to blame for our growing social dysfunction.
Last week the New Zealand Christian Council for Social Services released a report revealing we have 219,000 children now living in poverty – up 20,000 in the last year. One in six children born in New Zealand this year will be born into poverty.
Executive officer for the NZCCSS Trevor McGlinchey says children whose parents or sole parent receive welfare assistance were far more likely to live in poverty.
“If you were not taking any notice you would think New Zealand was full of happy, healthy kids, wouldn’t you? But no, it’s not the case. There are a couple of hundred thousand kids in NZ whose next meal is not guaranteed.”
There was a time when New Zealanders led the world with policies which promoted dignity and respect for everyone. However to the extent it once existed the decent society is gone.