Bryce Edwards has posted this article suggesting that the country needs more working class in Parliament.
At one level I could not agree more.
There are far too many wealthy people in Parliament and most of them are interested only in maintaining and improving their and their fellow wealthy people’s plights.
But I had trouble with the article. Bryce extensively relied on an article posted by Josie Pagani. And she was the only commentator he referred to in his piece.
I must admit I have always had some concern at the choice of Pagani as spokesperson for the working class.
For a start Josie’s background appears to be rather middle class. From the Herald in 2012:
Josie Pagani was raised in a political family and her roots are in Labour but not blue collar Labour. She remembers as a girl meeting her great uncle, Rewi Alley, on one of his returns from China. Her mother, author Elspeth Sandys, was very active in the British Labour Party and Josie joined as a teenager.
“I got very involved in the miners’ strike in England on the picket line. Being radical when I was in my 20s meant having ‘Coal not Dole’ stickers and standing on the picket line. Nowadays … you’re standing outside the mines with a ‘Keep the Coal in the Hole’ sticker.”
Her parents are both New Zealanders but they split when she was aged 4. Her father headed to the US and her mother took her and her brother to a small village in the Cotswolds, Ascott-under-Wychwood.
New Zealand-born actor the late Bruce Purchase became her step-father and worked at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, in film and in television.
And her support for working class values is less than stellar.
For instance she said this about casualisation of labour contracts at Ports of Auckland during the time that work conditions were under threat:
“[t]alking about the ports. ‘Casualisation’ scares us because it sounds like short hand for bad hours, low pay and no annual leave. It sounds like life in the early industrial revolution pre-unions. In some jobs it is. The only reason we have a 40 hr week and weekends is because unions fought for us. But I’ve spent my political life as a working mum, calling for more flexibility. And flexibility has to work both ways.”
This was at a time when the Maritime Union was under siege. The principle of working class solidarity is a very strong one but one which Pagani clearly did not understand or ascribe to.
The interesting thing is that Bryce’s article had no links. What was his primary source?
A quick google found this website. It has an interesting array of contributors including:
There are a few others, some with a community background, but the overwhelming sense is that this is a website dominated by right wing thinking. You would think that a self respecting leftie would run a million miles from such a grouping.
Getting back to the essence of Bryce’s article, of course there should be more working class people in Parliament. Labour’s Pacifica caucus was an example of what can be achieved. At their height they had a number of people from ordinary backgrounds who were dedicated to serving their communities.
Pagani’s and Edwards’ comments hide the reality that there is a clear class distinction between Labour MPs and National MPs.
Edwards notes in his article:
Josie Pagani has recently pointed out that although only about nine per cent of the general public own more than one house, nearly two-thirds of Parliamentarians do. And while only one in four New Zealanders have a tertiary education degree, in Parliament it’s nine out of ten.
This means that our political system excludes most of the population – those who don’t have capital, great wealth, or aren’t highly educated. So, this large part of society is increasingly feeling disenfranchised. Pagani says: “If a group of people don’t see themselves – or their concerns – represented in their parliament, trust in government declines. Our country gets more divided.”
This crude analysis lacks finesse.
For instance based on information from the last Parliamentary register of pecuniary interests while Labour MPs have interests on average in 1.7 properties this includes interests for some in Maori Land which bolsters the numbers. About half own either one property only or no property.
The Greens own even fewer properties on average. The figure for their caucus is 1.2 properties per MP.
By comparison National MPs own an average of 3.4 properties each, double Labour’s number. Nine National MPs from the last Parliament had interests in five or more properties. And only six out of 34 of National’s MPs have interests in only one property.
As for Pagani’s comment about Kiwis having a tertiary education degree the figure quoted (90% of the population do not have a tertiary degree) only makes sense if you include everyone including children and the very old. In 2021 over 60% of kiwis aged between 25 and 64 had a tertiary certificate or diploma or bachelor’s degree or higher.
Her crude analysis suggests that the sons and daughters of the working class who manage to get a degree lack a moral mandate to being there. For me I would prefer that we have a Parliament with enough lawyers in it so that they can pass and vet coherent laws.
I look forward to the day where Edwards and Pagani say something nice about the Labour Party. I suspect I may be waiting for a while.