Bunji last night commented on National’s odd selection in Clutha Southland. This guest post from Ad investigates matters in some more detail.
What’s interesting about the Nat’s Clutha- Southland selection and some of the media it’s provoking is the way it presents a microcosm of the wider electoral contest, and the stark contrast emerging between a government deep in the pockets (or is that the pants) of dodgy capital, and an opposition ready to see the damage 30 years of neoliberalism has done, and step in to minimise and undo that harm, especially where it’s marginalised our most vulnerable people.
The Queenstown Mirror front page is calling it the Doctor vs the Tobacco Company Man. But The two candidates’ bios take you straight into the heart of Left and Right politics and the kinds of actors who have come to advance these causes.
Todd Barclay at 23 (apparently his age was misreported at first), in case you’ve missed it, is a young man whose work since leaving university consists almost entirely of working in cabinet minister’s offices and as a corporate lobbyist for Philip Morris, the big tobacco people. Factual experience and the effects of policy don’t matter in this world: what matters is the ability to access cabinet ministers and make sure policies don’t affect your corporate’s bottom line. At 23, Todd is already a mid-career insider in this game, personally well connected, increasingly versed in the arts of influence, and, no doubt, of corporate campaign contributions. As he himself put it yesterday, Todd “took the [Philip Morris lobbyist] job to give me the experience I needed to enter politics”. Indeed, says Todd, “It taught me some very valuable skills really, in the corporate sector and taught me about how corporates operate in New Zealand.” So, perhaps he won’t be funding his campaign with sausage sizzles. And he already seems a little confused by the experience, doublespeaking about questions (or not questions?) of ethics: “Obviously, fairly, there is a question around my ethics, with regards to working for a tobacco company [but]…I don’t believe it does call into question my ethics, my views are strong, and they’re against smoking. I don’t encourage people to smoke, but it is a job”. No doubt being a Nat MP, where those same skills will be handy, will also be ‘a job’, subject to similar ethical quandaries.
On the other hand, Labour’s candidate is Liz Craig, twenty five years working as a doctor and in public health, researching and addressing issues in New Zealand and Australia. She’s been a leader in the tracking the effects of child poverty, and in advocating for action to give kids a better start in life. Liz confesses that “Of all the child health issues I’ve reported on over the past 10 years, the one that saddens me the most (and there are many) is the 40-60 babies we are losing each year from Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI or cot death). Behind these deaths is the bigger puppeteer of nicotine addiction, and the role smoking in pregnancy plays in increasing the risk of SUDI. ” Liz with others kicked off the monitoring of child health in the early 2000s, going door to door to DHBs to sign them up for their own child health reports. Over the years she and her team have produced literally thousands of graphs and hundreds of reports pulling together data, showing how kids from the worst off neighbourhoods have worse health outcomes, worse educational outcomes, worse lifecourse outcomes across the board. Labour’s turn to addressing child poverty and giving kids a Best Start was built from the outset on this evidence, and on the policy necessities which flowed straight it. You’ll see Liz acknowledged in the front of all the major reports of the period, from the Public Health Advisory Committee’s 2010 report The Best Start in Life: Achieving effective action on child health and wellbeing, to the Children’s Commissioner’s 2008 report A Fair Go for All Children: Actions to Address Child Poverty in New Zealand.
The good people of Clutha-Southland know too well the harm bad substances and under-priced alcohol do in rural and small town New Zealand. Sad then that their 16,000 seat majority electorate turns out to be just the place to put a young Nat candidate who will be well placed to deliver, for years to come, to lobbyist interests with unprecedented access to levers of policy. And focussed, like English’s attention always was, in Wellington, not Dipton or Balclutha.
Cheering, then, that Labour are putting up someone who in her day job has been confronted daily with the harm caused New Zealand children by things this lobbyists’ government has long failed to rein in: problem gambling, supercheap alcohol, legal highs, and poverty. And with the gumption to organise, from a low base, to pull together evidence and policy which, to be sure, no corporates were lining up to pay for promoting.
Two candidates, two parties, two Kiwi futures. The next generation of a deepening relationship with dodgy corporate interests, vs a clear, experienced, evidence based commitment to improving Kiwi families’ futures, organised on the smell of a red rag.
Here’s to a serious upset in Clutha Southland. And, yes, beyond.
A link to a short Liz Craig bio can be found on her campaign site https://www.facebook.com/lizforcluthasouthland
Guest post by Ad