Editorial: Taming the Tigress
Author: Fr Kevin Toomey, Editor
“The life and dignity of millions of men, women and children hang in the balance. Decisions must be judged in light of what they do for the poor, what they do to the poor, and what they enable the poor to do for themselves. The fundamental moral criterion for all economic decisions, policies and institutions is this: they must be at the service of all people, especially the poor. (American Bishops’ 1986 pastoral letter, Economic Justice for all, 24)
As I write on the day after Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, images of her in the aftermath of the Conservative Party Conference bombing in Brighton and her prayerfulness stay with me. She seemed at her most human and personal at that point in her public life — showing an endearing hint of uncertainty. As she said of herself, “There’s not much point in being a weak and floppy thing in the chair, is there?” What she achieved as Prime Minister of Great Britain, however, has brought both plaudits and brickbats. She was “a tigress surrounded by hamsters,” as John Biffen a former Cabinet colleague famously mused, a unique politician who changed things, and whom everyone followed — a game-changer and an earth-mover.
Many countries including New Zealand moved politically because she led the way. Indeed, Rogernomics is a fair imitation of what Baroness Thatcher achieved, sometimes even more far-reaching, in that our local political structure brooks no opposition.
And once in power, a New Zealand government of whatever stripe works without checks or balances. We lack a House of Lords or an Australian Senate, even with the strong benefit of mixed-member proportional representation (MMP).
Unfair consequences have followed. Presently they include: unprecedented levels of child poverty, unemployment with no possibility of a job to come, soaring rents, unaffordable housing, benefit cuts, and a government attitude of pushing ahead with ideological changes without worrying about the human consequences. This Aotearoan phenomenon is replicated in other parts of the world.
As an aside, neither the Baroness nor Roger Douglas would have withstood the scrutiny of the American Bishops’ statement quoted above.
Where then lies the hope for change from these unfair consequences? It nests in a number of places, expected and unexpected. In a letter to us covering the interviews that Cathy Harrison did with Te Whare Roimata and the Aranui Sisters (both in this issue) Cathy had this to say: “It was good to focus on community development in Christchurch during a similar time to the Aranui Sisters. While this community [Te Whare Roimata] may not have been driven by Vatican documents, they were and are women and men of God … their vision is truly beautiful responding so creatively and in such empowering ways. The humility and sensitivities to journey for so long speaks of the Life of God in abundance — the life that we know is encountered on the margins — in the cracks where the light gets in!” Just so.
Cathy has put a fine antipodean flavour to the opening quote from the American Bishops’ 1986 pastoral letter. These Bishops’ forthrightness is needed here to stimulate discussion and change in our country.
There is, in fact, a challenge to the NZ Churches collectively, and the Catholic Bishops in particular, to speak out even more clearly in the present situation. The figures are clear. Since 2008 the disparity within New Zealand has increased substantially, while Jacqui Ryan sensibly shows the global nature of this problem. We need policies to ensure affordable housing and to boost employment. Helping unemployed youth who lose hope when there are no jobs for them and who are intimidated by the bureaucracy of government departments is key; and keeping as many jobs as possible within Aotearoa rather than outsourcing them is a no-brainer. We need take only one example: NZ Rail’s debacle concerning the Hillside workshops, and the construction of rail wagons in Dunedin rather than in China.
The expected and fine work of such groups as Te Whare Roimata and the Aranui Sisters are beacons for the many groups whose quiet work to sustain the poor and marginalised and work for change is signalled here. We honour them all.
The unexpected also beckons: Paul Dalziel in his article gives hope that the New Zealand Treasury is beginning to import a new vision of what economics may mean. That augurs the possibility of policy change that will serve the needs of all New Zealanders. Do enjoy his article and take a Google peep at the Treasury material.
On another tack, we continue to focus on Pope Francis. Anna Holmes looks at the wounds of the Church. These inspire an evocative dream. Jim Consedine hones in on some “fault lines”, praying that the Holy Spirit will continue to free Francis to move in the ways he has already done. Finally, enjoy Kath Rushton’s focus on the background to our liturgical Holy Thursday rite of footwashing. It is a new take on this situation, and makes eminent sense.