Archive for ‘Social change’ Category

The class element in recent Middle Eastern elections.

datePosted on 10:17, June 30th, 2009 by Pablo

Lost in the chorus of outrage over the Iranian election results and subsequent repression of protest is the socio-economic cleavages evident in the polls. The same is true of the coverage of the Lebanese parliamentary elections held two weeks earlier.  It is therefore worthwhile to examine this dimension.

President Amadinijhad represents not only the militant Islamicist ideological wing embodied in the Revolutionary Guard and the paramilitary Basij, who are now purportedly in a power struggle with the clerics in the Guardian Council over the direction of the post-revolutionary leadership movement. Amadinijhad also represents, both in tone and demeanour, the urban working and rural classes. Against him are poised the supporters of Mir Hossein Mousani, a former Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs who his supporters and Western analysts see as a reformist. He is also a millionaire who receives his support from the urban bourgeousie, secularists, the better educated and university students. In most aspects he is not discernably different from Amadinijhad with regard to major policy issues (such as the civilian nuclear energy program), but he does represent a modernizing element within the revolution, one that is more secular, more technologically savvy and more attuned to Western mores than the mullahs and Revolutionary Guards (at the elite level) and the working classes (at the base) that see Amadinijhad as a bastion against corrosive secularisation of the revolutionary ethos.

The election was a referendum not on Iran’s foreign policy (which the West is obsessed about), but on Amadinijhad’s economic management, which by any measure is poor and which, like in any other country, occupies the attention of the mass electorate. Iran is a net oil importer that cannot feed itself in spite of its large land mass and variegated geography, access to the sea and ample fresh water. It was also a contest between the cell phone and twitter generation and the rest, since only 30 percent of Iranians have access to computer facilities and less than half have access to cell phones. Clearly, Amadinijhad and the mullahs underestimated the power of cellphone and computer access, particiularly when the regime itself is now dependent on computer services and cell phones in order to conduct its daily business (which practically speaking means that universal shut downs or denials of service are nigh impossible). 

My belief is that Amadinijhad won the election, but by a narrow margin that spooked him and his supporters who felt that a close vote would undermine the face of strength and unity they wish to present to the West with regards to the nuclear progam, support for Hamas and Hezbollah and foreign relations in general, to say nothing of their relationship with the Sunni Arab world. Unfamiliar with the subtleties of vote fraud so well refined in advanced democracies, the Amadinijhad government–which controlled the balloting–padded their lead too much and hand counted votes too quickly to be credible. Hence the uproar.

But the genie is out of the bottle no matter what happens. Amadinijhad is dead in the water as far as having influence and leverage at home and abroad. In terms of foreign policy, he cannot purport to be the representative of any consensus vis a vis relations with the West, which undermines any bargaining position he hopes to maintain on key foreign policy issues (simply due to the lack of acknowledged majority support for his views). Domestically, the Revolutionary Guard and Basij has been sent a clear message that their ideological project is not shared by a wide swathe of Iranians. Moreover, the class divisions that precipitated the election crisis will not go away just because the government quells the protests. Thus, whether or not the West would like to intervene in the post-election process (a move that has never been proven to be successful over the long-term), the class conflict underpinning the electoral dispute will continue so long as both sides play the dispute in zero-sum terms. In the measure they do, they risk the possibility of civil war, since significant elements in the conventional military (particularly in the more technologically or professionally oriented branches of the Air Force and Navy) will not follow Revolutionary Guard orders to kill their own people  (if nothing else because the officer corps and non-commisioned officers are part of the middle classes), and because the “real” military will be needed to quell any mass revolt. In the measure that the Amadinijhad and Mousavi factions cut a deal and marginalise the Revolutionary Guard and Basij pustchists, the clerics and conventional officer corps will back them. The question is, can they reconcile the class conflicts in a political compromise that is mutually binding, universally acceptable and stable over time?

In Lebanon, Saad el-Hariri assumed the mantle of his assassinated father Rafic and gained a majority in the June 7 parliamentary elections, winning 71 of 128 seats . Hezbollah, led by Hassan Nasrallah, won 57 seats and accepted the outcome. Hezbollah represents the working class and Shiia vote in Lebanon; Hariri represents the Sunni, Christian, Druze, secularist and bourgeoise vote. The West applauded the result and urged Hariri to proceed with his father’s anti-Syrian and anti-Iranian project, which includes marginalising (and criminalising) Hezbollah. Understanding the realities on the ground, Saad el-Hariri has opted instead to form a  national unity government that includes Hezbollah because he apparently understands that class, not religious conflict, is what drives many to support the Shiia extremists (who deliver on their promises of social services far better than any of their pro-Western counterparts).

 What is remarkable is the unmentioned premise for Western political support in a Middle Eastern (or any other)  election: defense of upper class (read capitalist) interests at the expense of all others. To be sure, religious, ethnic and cultural conflicts are bound up in these electoral contests, but one thing remains clear: even in societies rendered by such superstructural forms of primary identification, it is class that drives the major political divisions, and it is class interest, capitalist class interests specifically, to which the West responds most favorably when it comes to electoral outcomes. All of this is obvious: for the West it seems electoral democracy is not so much about the freedom to choose but about the “freedom” to choose bourgeoise leaders who uphold the national capitalist class interest as well as an affinity for Western economic orientation and macroeconomic logics (in spite of the obvious debacles such orientation has produced in both the developed and developing world). The response to Hamas’s electoral victory is an indication of that view, above and beyond its problematic approach to violence, Iranian connections and  non-recognition of Israel. 

I should note that the current trend in both elections indicates a move away from religious militancy and towards moderate-secularism, which to my mind is a good thing. It also represents a specific repudiation of Shiia militancy, either in the form of the Revolutionary Guard ideology or the perspective of its Hezbollah and Hamas proxies in Lebanon and Palestine ( fully understanding the local conditions underpinning their respective support), something that will undoubtably comfort elites in the Sunni Arab world.

For the social democratic Left the elections pose a conundrum: who to support? The “bad guys” (at least in Western eyes) are supported by the working masses and rural poor; the “good guys” are supported by elites and other propertied groups as well as well-meaning sorts such as intellectuals and artists. The class line does not suffice to chart a course of response to such situations. For social democratic governments, this poses a major problem; for right wing governments such as that temporarily governing NZ, it does not. Thus the question begs: when confronted by this type of class conflict viewed through the prism of contested elections, does the democratic Left (in government or in opposition) choose democracy over class interest or vice versa? If so why, exactly? If not, why not?

On Thursday last week Brendon Burns, a Labour MP on the primary production select committee, posted on Red Alert about pig farming. More precisely he said he was horrified by sow crates, and he’d had a little dig at the Minister about MAF’s Chief Vet. So far so average, aware of issues, making political mileage, but there might be more… 

So we asked, a whole bunch of comments on Red Alert and a whole bunch on a related post on The Standard, we asked “What is Labour going to do?”

You see this is an area where Labour, although in opposition, could make a real difference right now. All they need to do is say with conviction “Within two months of Labour next winning an election and leading a government we will introduce the necessary small change in legislation, and big change in the animal welfare code to ban sow crates etc[1], we would have the changes in place in our first 12 months, they would come into force 2 years later”. So every single pig farmer in New Zealand, because they might not support Labour but they know Labour will lead a government again, will know when they plan a new piggery or do maintenance on an old one, that they should make the necessary changes now, because it’s cheaper to do it now that retrofit later. So if Labour stood and and said it with conviction, the conditions of pigs would start changing – not as fast as they should, but some pigs would live less horrible lives in 2010.

But anyway, back on with the story, commenters asked what Labour would do, suggested changes that could be made, and Rochelle even offered a private members bill she’s drafted.

Brendon Burns and his Labour friends? Not a peep, not a word, not a comment. So on Saturday I bumped the post, and got a reply from Brendon Burns:

Might be that other Labour MPs are onto this but I am happy to receive suggestions on amending legislation and have a look.
And, btw, MPs are eating free range pork (and chicken.) I asked a question of Bellamys months ago and they have assured me, via their suppliers, that no sow-crate pork is used, none imported and all free range.

Yeah, that’s right, we’ve already offered a private members bill, and the best he can do is say Bellamies don’t use sow crated pork and chicken. 

But y’know he might just have forgotten to read any of the comments, so I posted another comment to check that he has actually got a copy of Rochelle’s bill and… silence.

Perhaps Labour has a Plan, and will be announcing their animal welfare policy any day now. Sadly, however, it appears that, for Labour, the suffering of pigs is nothing more than an opportunity for political point scoring.

How decidedly average.

 

[1] Where etc includes all the cruel things done to intensively farmed pigs and chooks.

How to guess the political will of the country

datePosted on 17:42, June 26th, 2009 by Anita

Logic says that the recent Key/National scandals and a week budget have got to be damaging National’s popularity, yet the polls are barely moving. l’ve been thinking about why this is and I have come up with three possibilities (others very welcome!)

  1. Outside the beltway no-one actually cares – none of the issues resonate with swing voters. Worth and Mt Albert were a side show for politics geeks, and no-one holds National responsible for the economy tanking.
  2. People are turning off National but they’re not turning to anything else. National may be losing its gloss, but Labour doesn’t look any more appetizing than it did in November last year.
  3. The election is a long way away and people will stick to their 2008 preference for a bit longer.it would seem fickle to switch allegiances so soon, and perhaps people feel they need to give Key a little longer to show his true mettle.

How, in the face of polls which simply ask how you would vote (a lagging indicator of mood), can we really judge the mood of the country?

Coddington makes sense on smacking

datePosted on 21:55, June 21st, 2009 by Lew

Words I never thought I’d write, but good grief, The Yes Vote has linked me to proof-positive that despite her previous crimes against logic and argumentation, not to mention evidence, Deborah Coddington can write wisdom from time to time. Her HoS column today makes a strong liberal* case against the S59 referendum by killing** the sacred cow that cries of “nanny state!” are pure and unassailable positions of principle, and arguing that when it comes to discipline there’s a gap between principle and implementation into which society must not permit children to fall.

Act’s John Boscawen has a bill to amend Section 59 – again – so it will be “no longer a crime to use reasonable force” if parents discipline a child.
Here we go, loop de loop. Boscawen says he’s sick of nine years of Labour’s nanny state telling parents what to do, but isn’t this more of the same? You can use a light smack, but not a hard smack? Why not a good, old-fashioned razor-stropping like my father used to give me, followed by Mum with the wooden spoon, and while you’re at it John, bring back six of the best in schools for bad girls like me – never did us any harm, did it?
Truth is, no matter how hard politicians try to flannel, they’re always telling us what to do. Paula Bennett said she didn’t think a smack as part of good parental correction should be a criminal offence and she didn’t want to go into homes and tell people how to parent.
Oh really? Not even when they’re disciplining with the jug cord or vacuum cleaner pipe?

But for the last sentence, this could pass for the usual sort of faux-outraged don’t-tread-on-me doggerel. But what’s remarkable about the last sentence is that it rejects the typical anti-statist line that all intrusions into private affairs are equal and equally meritless – it recognises that the state has a role to play in protecting children from the (however well-meaning) depredations of their parents and that there is a strong public good in the appropriate exercise of that role.

This is based on a deeper argument about the rights of the individual – and the assertion that children are individuals with rights of their own, not their parents’ belongings to be treated according to parents’ sovereign wishes.

It’s no wonder children are not valued as individuals in this country, but instead as some sort of chattel belonging to adults until they reach some magic age – 16 or 18 or 20. We do not own our children, a fact that has yet to be driven home to those selfish individuals who fight their way through the Family Court over who has the offspring, ensuring any remaining family happiness is destroyed forever.
Sadly, I don’t ever see a future in this country where all children are treasured, despite all the good work done by many organisations and individuals.
It’s not just about eliminating the beatings, it includes respecting young people’s presence. I hate it when parents don’t introduce their children to me, as if they don’t exist.

Because, in truth, nobody believes that parents have an unassailable right to treat their children as they please*** – it’s just that people of various political stripes like to be seen to support parental sovereignty without also being on the hook for the hard decisions such a position requires.

Policy is about value judgements, and if the AAS lobby were honest they’d be arguing the value of corporal punishment in parenting: arguing that it will strengthen families, grow good children and create a better society; and how it will do so. To an extent Larry Baldock has tried (33 minute audio), but only to an extent, because even those at the heart of the AAS lobby recognise the weakness of their position in strict analytical terms. So they fall back on symbolic arguments they don’t really believe in, but which are malleable enough to be twisted around to support their misguided cause.

People who claim pure and unassailable statements of principle in terms of policy implementation is usually selling you a bill of goods, but it’s nice for someone so strongly (shall we say) ideological to be pointing it out. More power to your typing fingers, Deborah.

L

* The classical kind, not the latte-sipping kind.
** Or at least beating it with a jug-cord.
*** Ok, some people seem to.

Putting the referendum in context

datePosted on 13:15, June 21st, 2009 by Anita
Firstly, a couple of facts:
  • This is Sheryl Savill’s petition not Larry Baldock’s. Savill, a staff member at Focus on the Family‘s New Zealand organisation put this forward before Baldock jumped on the referendum bandwagon.
  • MPs from a other parties, including National (Bob Simcock) and NZ First (Brian Donnelly and Barbara Stewart), had placed bills to either repeal or amend s59 in the ballot in the past, they were just less lucky than Sue Bradford.
  • The bill received support from both sides of the house throughout the debate.
  • The bill was eventually passed 113 to 8 – it was supported by a massive majority of MPs
  • The actual text of the new s59 can be found here – it does not actually ban smacking

Secondly, in case any of you are interested in a much more wordy context I have attached, below the fold, a slightly updated piece I wrote for a different purpose earlier this year. It was written to follow on from a summary of the international context, if anyone’s really keen I can post that too :)

Read the rest of this entry »

Smacked down

datePosted on 08:58, June 17th, 2009 by Lew

Sean Plunket delivered a stinging, if metaphorical, spank to Larry Baldock today on Morning Report (audio). Plunket challenged Baldock to demonstrate one case (just one) in which a parent was convicted of a criminal offence for smacking a child. He can’t, because there hasn’t been one. After several minutes of going around in circles arguing symbolic, rather than substantive matters and making excuses, he settles on the case of Jimmy Mason, which is explicitly not a s59 test case, since he denied striking his son at all.

What we have here is an apt and obvious demonstration that Larry Baldock doesn’t actually understand what the question means – and neither does John Boscawen. That, and the pro-smacking lobby is trying to use the referendum for symbolic purposes. They’re arguing that the question doesn’t mean what its words say it means – it means what its proponents say it means. If this was taken on by government it would be a subversion of the purpose of a CIR, which is to give the electorate a chance to answer a specific question which has clear and obvious policy implications – not to give people a chance to tick ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and then have the meaning of that response spun into whatever suits the referendum framers’ agenda. Because there is no possibility of gaining an understanding of what the electorate wants with this question there is no legitimate issue of representation, despite what anti-anti-smackers such as Dave think. John Key has seen this, and has wisely refused to allow his government to be hijacked by populist propagandists with an incomplete grasp of either the issues or the process; that is, people who figure that belief and ideology are all that matter.

Larry Baldock also reveals his larger purpose here, which is to establish himself and the Kiwi Party as NZ’s next populist vehicle, exploiting the vacuum left by Winston Peters’ absence. He started by talking about how both Phil Goff and John Key are “part of the problem” for supposedly ignoring the electorate, and finished this interview, in which he made no substantive points whatsoever in support of his case, with a petulant “the next-best referendum will be the elections in 2011”, a somewhat weak variation on “the eternal court of history will absolve me” which calls on people who believe that both Labour and National are the problem to vote for him.

Well, Larry, we’ll see. You’re no Winston. Perhaps you can sign Michael Laws up; you could use his political competence.

L

In the United States on Sunday George Tiller, a doctor, was shot and killed as he attended church. Tiller, who ran one of only three remaining clinics providing late term abortions in the US, had been shot in 1993, his name has been on anti-abortion assassination lists and his clinic was bombed in 1985.

In New Zealand we have never had an abortion doctor killed, but we have had doctors, nurses and clinic staff threatened, attacked and harassed. I pray that no further anti-abortion violence comes to New Zealand, and at the same time I pray that we will progress the issue to give women the right to control their own bodies and that we will find a social consensus for a woman’s right to choose.

But right now the cost seems very high, and all I can do is pray for the safety of everyone ensuring women continue to have access to the limited choices they are given. George Tiller was a great man whose personal actions gave more to women than I could ever hope to.

I try to not end too many posts with lyrics, but today I can’t help posting a section of Ani DiFranco’s Hello Birmingham. With an echo of Pablo’s recent posts, she is talking, at least in part, of the powerlessness of electors to make the changes that matter.

           now i’ve drawn closed the curtain 
in this little booth where the truth has no place 
to stand 
and i am feeling oh so powerless 
in this stupid booth with this useless 
little lever in my hand 
and outside, my city is bracing 
for the next killing thing 
standing by the bridge and praying 
for the next doctor 
martin 
luther 
king 
  

it was just one shot 
through the kitchen window 
it was just one or two miles from here 
if you fly like a crow 
a bullet came to visit a doctor 
in his one safe place 
a bullet insuring the right to life 
whizzed past his kid and his wife 
and knocked his glasses 
right off of his face 

and the blood poured off the pulpit 
the blood poured down the picket line 
yeah, the hatred was immediate 
and the vengance was devine 
so they went and stuffed god 
down the barrel of a gun 
and after him 
they stuffed his only son

Trotter: more on the h

datePosted on 00:03, April 7th, 2009 by Lew

This blog is almost becoming Kiwipoliticoh, since given my limited time at present I’m having to pick my battles.

I’m pleased Chris Trotter has come to terms with his inner racist. His characteristically torrid column is basically a rehash of the bogus arguments I discredited here, which Chris has apparently not bothered to read, much less answer the questions I pose in it. His latest column makes explicit what I wrote in the first post on the matter and discussed in more general terms in another post – that people pick an ideological side on matters like this and employ whatever post-hoc rationalisations they need to convince themselves of that position. I freely admit I’ve done the same in this h debate – to me, as to most, it just seems obvious which side is in the right, and that’s a sure sign of ideological knee-jerk. The difference is that my position has some weight of philosophical and legal precedent and linguistic and geographic fact behind it, not just settler ideology.

The column is not pure rehash, though – it’s got some new hash thrown in for good measure, and none of it any more useful than the first lot. It is the canard that by changing a European name back to a Māori name the former is somehow “obliterated” or “expunged” from history. The very examples Chris gives to support this absurd contention disproves it, and moreover it shows the naked settler racism of the position.

Names are important, and to his credit Chris does not succumb to the smug `haven’t those maaris got more important things to worry about’ rhetoric, hoever he over-eggs his pudding a bit here. If, on its own, changing a name genuinely did obliterate and expunge it from history and this was a necessarily bad thing, then Chris ought for consistency’s sake to form a club to protect Beaulieu, Bewley and Baldie Roads, in danger of being so obliterated and expunged by the nefarious newcomer Bowalley Road. The fact is that those names have not been lost – they have faded from common usage but remain a part of the fabric of local culture, to be remembered and celebrated, as they are. If the change goes ahead, nobody except the fearmongers such as Trotter and Laws are suggesting that all historical references to Wanganui be struck from the records, or that a great terminology purge be conducted. The name and the fact of its usage for a century and a half will stand in the documentary record, as it ought to. The generations currently living here will mostly go on using Wanganui, and even many businesses will not bother to change their stationery, out of a dogged loyalty to the identity or out of simple inertia.*

Instead of mourning the loss of Beaulieu, Bewley and Baldie, Chris lionises the upstart Bowalley Road in the very name of his blog. This reveals that Chris accepts that some names have more intrinsic value than others, and on this point I agree with him. Where we disagree is on the basis by which we determine which of an exclusive pair of names should take precedence over the other, a simple matter of logic which I covered in the first post.

Now for the racism: having accepted that some names have more value than others, and having chosen to privilege the colonial name over the traditional name, Chris and others like him essentially say “the settler tradition is more valuable and important than the Māori tradition”. If the case were a marginal one, or if there were two equal competing claims, this would be fair enough – I’m not suggesting that all or even most names ought to be Māori names by right – but in a case where there is a clearly and obviously correct name which isn’t being used in preference to a clearly and obviously incorrect name, the implied statement changes from “the settler tradition is more important than the Māori tradition” to become “settler mistakes are more important than the Māori tradition”, which is much more pejorative. It essentially says “our ignorance is worth more than your identity”, and that, right there, is colonialism in a nutshell.

The battle will be an fierce one, and the troops are massing. The NZGB has signalled that numerical advantage – `preponderance of community views’ – isn’t enough to prevent the change, but it also grants significant weight to those views. In a bald attempt to strengthen their crude majoritarian argument before the NZGB, the Wanganui District Council (which, oddly, will not have to change its name even if the city name changes) has decided to seek a legal opinion on the NZGB’s decision, and to hold another referendum on the spelling of the name. As if there is such a thing, they plan to “conduct a neutral information campaign” on the matter beforehand, though it isn’t clear how they plan on ensuring even a fig-leaf of neutrality – will the council (who voted against the change) argue the sans-h case while Te Runanga o Tupoho (who brought the petition to the NZGB) argues the h case? Will the council pretend it can be neutral on this matter? And what is the purpose of an information campaign anyway, when they, better than anyone else, know that this isn’t a matter of logical, dispassionate assessment of facts and history – it’s a matter of picking sides. I watch the carrion birds circling with interest.

L

* Incidentally, the Wanganui Chronicle had a good laugh at itself and its readership on April 1 with a front-page story announcing that the name would be changed to the Whanganui Chronicle. Good on them! A few days later the editorial apologised to all those who had been taken in, saying that they’d thought the story too absurd to be believable.

NZGB to settlers:

datePosted on 14:28, March 31st, 2009 by Lew

Matters of linguistic and geographic fact are determined by meritorious debate, not majoritarian opinion.

Yesterday the New Zealand Geographic Board announced that there is a valid case for the name of the city of Wanganui to be spelt in its correct rendition of Whanganui. (I posted on this issue twice recently.)

The NZGB explicitly rejected the majoritarian argument, stating that the debate was important, not just the show of hands:

The Board noted the results of a referendum held in 2006, when a considerable number of Wanganui residents indicated their preference to retain the current spelling. However, the Board was conscious that declining the proposal at this point would not allow views both for and against to be expressed

Michael Laws has predictably come out calling this an attack on democracy. Unfortunately for demagogues like Laws (fortunately for the rest of us) facts are not democratically determined. Facts are defined by their relationship to reality, not by their relationship to majority opinion. Democracy is good for a very large number of things, but it’s very poor indeed for determining matters of actual factual observable and demonstrable reality.

But the really important aspect of the NZGB’s release are the implications of the following two statements:

“Wanganui, the name given to the town to reflect its position near the mouth of the Whanganui River, was spelt incorrectly and has never been formally gazetted by this Board or its predecessors. It is therefore not currently an official New Zealand place name.”

[…]

“While the Board acknowledges the historical transcription was based on the local pronunciation, the mechanics of standardising a previous unwritten language, together with its full meaning/translation, signal that the name was intended to be ‘Whanganui’. This is about correcting a mistake made more than 150 years ago.”

In these statements Dr Don Grant suggests that a local council may not by simple fiat enshrine an error as a norm – the origin of that error matters, and if its correctness is disputed then the intention of those who originated it becomes relevant. This implies a burden of proof on those wanting to retain the current no-h spelling to demonstrate that those who originally spelt the name that way intended to do so – thereby coining a new word. That is an untenable position held only by those with no genuine arguments of merit, whose leader Laws stated that people who didn’t like the current spelling could go to `Fuckatanay’ (as he pronounced it), neatly highlighting the crass idiocy of the position.

It is also an important matter of precedence. My arguments have been based on the idea that the current spelling of `Wanganui’ is the correct spelling in law, while Dr Grant made quite clear that it has no legitimacy, having never been formally recognised by the body properly constituted to do so, which is not the Wanganui District Council. Because of this, the decision the NZGB needs to make is not whether to confirm the de jure status quo spelling as the settlers suggest, but whether to give the de facto spelling precedence over the de jure status quo, which (since no alternative spelling has been approved by the properly-constituted body) can only be Whanganui. The core of the settler position is this claim to the status quo, that possession is nine tenths of the law and that since the name is currently in settler possession it is theirs to define and use as they wish without consideration to others or to the historical, linguistic and geographic facts of the matter. The status quo in this case is clearly on the side of the h: if the settlers cannot convince the board of their claim it will not remain as Wanganui but will revert to the correct spelling. That’s a huge difference.

Submissions open in mid-May. If you have an argument you want heard on this, make a submission. The debate matters.

L

Family values: a code for anti-welfare rhetoric?

datePosted on 20:15, February 23rd, 2009 by Anita

I have recently been reading about the rhetoric of family values, starting with the assumption that it is simply a dogwhistle for conservative Christians. Yet the more I read about the origin of the phrase in US politics the more I saw analysis saying it was initially a neo-liberal anti-welfare construction. It’s original intent was to aid the transfer of responsibility for poverty from the state to the the poor (Dana Cloud’s article is quite a good read, but there are lots of others out there).

Marion Maddox’ analysis of John Howard’s Australia is very similar; family values provided both a call to arms for the Christian right, and a rhetorical device to soften the fear-inspiring free market:

[The Market God] has proved too dynamic and unsettling. It sabotages family and community life and tears away safety nets. It has had to make Olympian room for another deity, one would brings “Us” a renewed sense of the security the Market God took away. They repressive God of racism, authoritarian “family values” and  exclusion tries to make “Us” feel secure by turning our anxieties upon “Them”, corralling Australian tolerance and generosity behind an unbreachable white picket fence.

So, what’s the story in New Zealand, is it also the bridging point of the neo-liberalism and conservative Christianity? The original users of “family values” in recent NZ politics were United Future which was formed from the neoliberal refugees of the fourth Labour government and quickly joined by the evangelical and conservative Christian right.

Nowadays “family values” is most often heard from Family First, an organisation which uses classic anti-welfare rhetoric like:

  • welfare should not reward dysfunction or be a motivation for dysfunctional behaviour
  • long-term welfare dependency can be demoralising and is linked with poverty. Work can bring dignity and a level of independence

The Sensible Sentencing Trust, another “family values” organisation holds welfare provision like the DPB responsible for having

destroyed the tried-and-proven values of accountability, responsibility, respect and discipline from young peoples lives; the result a catastrophic disastrous escalation in violent crime and prison population

So it appears that family values, like private schooling, is a carefully crafted concept providing a common cause for both the neoliberal economic right, and the morally conservative Christian Right.

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