Saturday 12 August 2017

The New Zealand Project by Max Harris   (Reviewed by STELLA}
At a time when we face unprecedented challenges - climate change, rising inequality, economic uncertainties, a rapidly changing concept of ‘work', just to mention a few - we are also seeing an increased disillusionment and more pointedly a dissociation with politics and a lack of discourse (even in an election year). Why is it that many don’t vote, and why is it that political conversation doesn’t happen around every dining room table? We have seen a gradual decline in involvement in politics on either a small, local scale or a grander scale in recent decades, particularly in the face of neoliberalism over the last 40 years or so, accelerated by the accusation of governments being more in cahoots with big business and their own social groupings than with people they claim to represent. There are exceptions, for instance Obama’s successful presidential campaign (yet once in ‘power’, it’s debatable whether much really changed) that harnessed swathes of America and gained the attention worldwide.The economic collapses of 2007-8 could have made a difference in the way that people viewed and made use of political tools, yet, despite the 1% movement and other similar protest movements, the banks were rescued, a few figureheads went to jail and the world carried on in that boom/crash manner of capitalism. The phenomena of Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK have given us a glimpse, though, of what might be achieved when people feel engaged with the political system. But sitting right along side this is Brexit (a vote which harnessed the will of disgruntled and disenfranchised) and likewise Trump for similar reasons. Max Harris’s book, The New Zealand Project, isn’t looking at what has been, so much as at what can be: an optimistic discussion about where we are, and a suggestion of new way forward. Harris is an Examination Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford, and this Project is part of his work on political systems and the need to change the principles at the core of these systems. In The New Zealand Project, Harris is interested in values, a ‘politics of love’, and how the ideas of community, care and creativity can make a difference in building a better society. These three elements are the anchor stones for talking about inequality, economic structures, foreign policy, decolonisation, social infrastructure (health, education and housing), climate change and a politics that engages people and their power to play a positive role in their political lives. Harris is unashamedly idealistic, something which I also noted in Chloe Swarbrick’s address at a recent event in Nelson, and this positivity has also grabbed the attention of the public in the rise of Jacinda Ardern. It’s refreshing and, while I probably fall into the cynic camp when it comes to politics, I can’t help but feel buoyed by the fact that there are new ideas and energy on the horizon, ideas that don’t necessarily come from traditional left/right paradigm. Talking in terms of positivity and values or 'love politics' might give you the wrong impression. The New Zealand Project is a serious, intelligent and thoughtful vision that challenges our preconceptions, tackles the tough questions, and gives us a framework on which to think about New Zealand’s political future and how changes in political concepts are vital to creating a better society for all. It is incredibly detailed, given the breadth of its content, and while reading it I wanted my post-it notes handy so I could come back to intriguing ideas, questions raised and thoughts triggered. Max Harris wants a discussion - he wants people to ask questions and debate concepts. This is a book that should be read, absorbed and discussed. And you can find out more from the author himself - Max will be in Nelson on Thursday 17th (see above). 

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