Aug 29 2014


Published by under Talks

Politics – Marjorie Spittle

I would never have thought that I would be speaking about politics at a Sea of Faith meeting. However, mindful of our promise that Sea of Faith is a “safe place to talk about unsafe things” here I go. I will not be delving into dirty politics except to quote from Colin James who wrote in his article earlier this week: “In a well-functioning democracy ends do not justify the means. The means are what defines a democracy. And good democratic practice is the foundation of good government.” I’m sure we all at times feel disenchanted, even disgusted with politics. We listen to the revelations of the last two weeks or maybe when parliament is in session we tune in to the debating chamber and think “there must be a better way than this”. Yet we are grateful that we live in a democracy, that we do have the right to vote and that the potential for bringing about change is there.

What I propose to do is to offer 3 questions that I hope will be relevant to our Sea of Faith group with a comment on each and hope that it will lead to some discussion.

Question number one: How will I decide to vote?

Sea of Faith members will no doubt have some common values they will draw on as they decide where to give their support.

We all believe that we need to do far more than look at which party will give us the best deal as an individual and be looking at the wider view of creating the best society we can. Many of us come from a Christian background or at least we have grown up in a society in which the Christian influence was strong. I personally come from a Methodist background that emphasised social responsibility. When I offered to do this one of our members suggested we could ask – What would Jesus do? That’s a good starting point I thought. After all I have always tried to follow the teachings in the Gospels as a sounding board for forming my opinions and setting values. Jesus’ examples of caring for the outcast, feeding the hungry, valuing children, his advice to the rich young man to “sell all you have and give to the poor” all resonate well. However while trying to follow Christian teachings may be helpful there are a growing number of new and complex issues we face today that hit the political arena where we have to think things through for ourselves and where there is no directive from biblical sources. Here are a few examples; Euthanasia. What would Jesus think about making it legal to take someone’s life when there is little quality left? In his day life expectancy was probably half what it is today and his society did not have the advantages of modern medicine. Again what would be Jesus’ view on legalising marijuana? We have a political party totally devoted to that cause. I’m sure there were herbal highs around in his day but no guidelines there. What would be his view on immigration? Should all be welcomed to enjoy the advantages and safety of living in New Zealand or are we putting too much stress on poor people in our largest city who cannot afford to put a roof over their heads. ? What would Jesus approach be to climate change and the preservation of the planet? Who would Jesus vote for? The very idea would be strange to a person living in an occupied country where universal suffrage would be at best a very distant prospect and probably not even dreamed of. Some of these questions we have debated in Sea of Faith and will continue to do so. It may be naïve but it has always surprised me, and still does, that people who would appear to have similar values and ideals can be so at variance in their political leanings.

Among my own close friends I have one who organised and hosted a Garden party for John Key in the Bay of Plenty and others at the other end of the spectrum. I look back with some fondness at the time when we were at school together and as teenagers had quite heated discussions about politics. Now we tread so much more carefully and keep to safe topics like grandchildren. No we will not find a common party that all caring people support. I will say no more on this as David is going to give us some insight into why this is the case.

What helps you in deciding how to vote?

. Question 2: What are the major issues to consider in this election?

A major issue that is continually in the forefront of Sea of Faith thinking is climate change, the preservation of planet earth and how we conserve life. The charge is ably led by Lloyd Geering who speaks with urgency of the need for action now if we are to ensure future life on planet earth for our not too distant descendants. We have had conferences devoted to this topic. Many will have this uppermost in their minds as election day approaches.

I do not in the least wish to undermine the importance of this issue. Yet I confess what I feel even more passionate about is the ever growing gap between rich and poor. Yes I want a planet earth for my descendants but I also want them to enjoy a quality of life that is denied to so many at the moment. It saddens me greatly that our own country has slipped so far away from an egalitarian society to the extent that we now come near the top of the pole for child poverty, domestic violence and diseases like rheumatic fever. From such inequality comes increased crime, violence, ill health, lack of self respect, jealousy and despair. I look back to the post war years in New Zealand. Following after a very lean period of depression and war, the late 40s and 50s were a time of optimism, hope and a building together of communities where people looked out for each other and by in large had a very similar standard of living. I grew up in a small town in a working class family. There were never luxuries but there was always enough food, a home, an annual holiday, and access to low cost health care and, if one aspired to it, tertiary education. We never locked our doors. Of course there have always been people who have found it hard to make ends meet but the big difference is that there were very few rich people. Now there are many more of both rich and poor.

It is easy to look back on the past with rose tinted glasses and we can never go back. Yet I can’t help but feel there were political things happening there that worked in establishing healthy communities where people had the dignity of work , the ability to feed and clothe their families and where a “man’s home was his castle”. Maybe we should be trying to reinvent that kind of society.

Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, authors of The Spirit Level recently spoke in Dunedin. They emphasise both sustainable living and closing the gap between rich and poor. They suggested this could be done either by raising taxes for the rich or by not having such a difference in income in the first place.

I am somewhat encouraged that some polices are now emerging that do touch on the issue of poverty and the growing gap between rich and poor.

What are the major issues for you?


Question 3: Do I vote for the party of my choice regardless of how it is likely to poll?

This may be a hypothetical question as the minor party I was attracted to seems to have dropped off the radar but I would like to hear what you think about it.

If I find a Party in my study of policies that I want to support but it does not look as if it will win an electorate seat or reach the 5% threshold do I still vote for it or do I go for the closest to it that is likely to be represented in parliament. I don’t want to waste my vote. I guess it is a question of should I vote for my preferred party or tactically?

In conclusion Geoffrey Palmer, speaking on the Nigel Latta show on alcoholism recently said that we needed a politician with the intestinal fortitude to challenge big international companies. He was addressing the issue of why the government had not followed the recommendations of the committee set up to curb the out of control drinking patterns in the country by taking measures to limit access to alcohol. In a recent Time magazine Barack Obama is quoted as saying: “ Around the world the old order isn’t holding and we’re not quite yet to where we need to be…. We need a new order that’s based on a different set of principles … on a sense of common humanity.” Great words but Obama has not found it possible to put what he sees is needed into reality.

I like those phrases “intestinal fortitude” and “new order.” They speak to me of courage to be different, to work for change. What I would really like to see is a true statesman or woman who will inspire and lead a party that is not afraid to really turn things around, who will not be influenced by the monied companies but will be concerned for the welfare of its citizens, even the weakest, who will speak up for justice and equality for all, who will take action to close the gap and will expect the rich to contribute more of their wealth so that others do not live in abject poverty. A party that demonstrates that it genuinely cares for all people and for the world we live in and will create in New Zealand a country that I would be happy to bequeath to my grandchildren.

I do not see any person or party offering real change but there are some signs of movement in that direction. It may take longer than this election but I am cautiously optimistic.

So just repeating the 3 questions:

  1. How do you decide to vote?
  2. What are the main issues for you this election?
  3. Should I vote for my preferred party regardless of whether it will have representation or tactically?

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