• Welcome, Little Neve Te Aroha!

     

     

    Britain’s post-war Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, was reputedly “a modest little man” who, as Churchill’s famous jibe had it, “had a great deal to be modest about.”

    But, as the years have passed, his reputation has grown, and stories about his effectiveness and laid-back manner now abound.  One such concerns a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party at which a keen backbencher was haranguing the meeting with a full-blooded explanation as to why the government should take urgent action on what the speaker felt was a life-and-death issue.  He had spoken for half an hour and lunchtime was fast approaching; his audience was getting restive; but at last, to the general relief, he sat down.

    Attlee, as chair of the meeting and Prime Minister, rose to make a response.  “We’ll watch it,” the famously laconic ‘Clem’ said, “Lunch.”  The meeting trooped out in pursuit of something to eat.

    I was reminded of this episode when, some decades later, I was at another meeting of the PLP and another enthusiast, an older colleague of mine named Martin Flannery, was speaking in impassioned terms about an issue dear to his heart.  As he went on, at some length, it suddenly became clear to me that Martin had his own mental picture of politics; in his mind’s eye, it was like a never-ending battle between mass armies.  The battle raged back and forth over a constantly renewed series of contentious issues; in such a battle, there could be no bystanders – everyone was either “for us or agin us.”

    I had long ago realised that, while politics was intensely important to its practitioners, it impinged only now and then on the consciousness of most citizens.  It was, to them, less like a constant battle, and more like – as at election times – an occasional sideshow.   For politicians to hold a mistaken and inflated view of the importance and centrality of their concerns in the lives of their voters is not healthy for our public life.

    But the failure of understanding is not just one-way.  If politicians are prone to over-state their own importance, and to misread the voters’ views of politics, the voters themselves are all too likely to view politicians as a breed apart, operating according to imperatives that are quite different from those affecting ordinary citizens.  The reality is, of course, that – especially in a democracy – our political representatives are just a cross-section of society, usually distinguished only by a desire to create a better society and blessed (If that is the right word) with a temperament that allows them to withstand the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

    It is in everyone’s interests that these barriers to understanding between voters and politicians should be broken down – and that is the real value and significance in our public life of Jacinda’s baby.

    On one level, Jacinda and Clarke are just another celebrity couple – as worthy of a place on the cover of a women’s magazine as the most popular entertainers or most successful sportspeople.  And there will be many who will welcome the new arrival as further evidence and recognition, in the international sphere, of New Zealand’s reputation for progressive social attitudes and readiness to push back the boundaries.

    But the real reason for celebration is that bringing a new life into the world is a joyous occasion for the happy parents (as it is for everyone) and one that we in the general public can share.  We can all register that our political leaders are – at a moment like this – just like us; that how they feel and what they experience is something that links them to all of us, and us to them.  It is that sense of “we’re all in this together” that is the essence of a successful democracy.  So, a warm welcome to little Neve Te Aroha!

    Bryan Gould

    24 June 2018