Dr Michael Bassett is a very well thought out writer, but concise he is not. Sometimes even he can be a wind-bag. This week however he delivered a speech at the Probus Club that I wish I had heard after reading it online.
It outlines, for him, what the key issues are for Election08. It is superb and not at all succinct as he explores change, labourism, the reforms of the 1980s and 1990s, waste, economic growth, me-tooism, taxation, employment law, middle class welfare, mushies, welfare, DPB and MMP.
Yes there is a lot to the speech but it is beautiful. I particularly liked this part;
This current government is at its most vulnerable when its social policies are examined. The leading lights in it are feminists trapped on a remote beach intellectually clutching their 1970s agendas. Many of their goals are laudable. Helping people in need; giving equal rights to women etc. But some of the policies used to reach those goals are destructive for the very women who are meant to be being assisted. The present cabinet is mired in agendas that are now outdated everywhere in the world. 25 years ago a friend of mine, a fellow historian, the late Jim Holt, analysed many people on what was Labour’s left at the time. He called them ‘mushies’:
“A typical mushy is of middle class origin who acquired an interest in left wing or liberal causes while studying history or politics or sociology at university. He or she (they are often shes) was drawn to the Labour Party because of its stand on issues like Vietnam or the Springbok tour, or because he wished to use the party to push such issues. Mushies are generally warm to environmentalism, feminism, ban the bomb causes, and any issue that has a high moral content and a slogan that can conveniently be placed on a lapel button. They are also concerned about underdogs and hostile to establishment forces in a general way, though they live rather well themselves and collect fine paintings and wines along with values’. Their mushiness lies in their approach to economic issues’. They are almost invariably protected personally from the sorts of life situations that teach people about economic realities. Usually they work in the public sector and have little fear of either unemployment or of a fall in real income. Although well educated, they know nothing about economics and indeed have studiously avoided studying it.”
Holt had Helen Clark in mind. Back in 1981 when he wrote that he dubbed her the ‘princess of the mushies’. Nothing has changed much, has it. She, like them, has never known a thing about economic realities. Neither have her ministers. If there’s a social problem then they’ll establish an agency to deal with it. The thought that there might be a wrong set of economic incentives at work that is creating the problem that their agencies have to deal to, doesn’t cross their minds.
His last point about MMP is wonderful;
On one point, however, I remain optimistic. If the government does change, and we get the promised referendum on MMP, it is possible that a system that constrains National from saying what it knows to be right could be thrown out. Proportional representation has lowered the quality of parliamentarians wherever it is tried, and it breeds corruption as we have seen with Winston and his big backers, especially within the racing industry, who have used him to extract big sums from us, the taxpayers. A referendum might see MMP thrown to the wolves? The prospect of being able to get rid of MMP could in the end be the greatest cause for celebration on election night.