My childhood State house in Aorangi Road, Bryndwr, Christchurch.
Here it is: just like the one John Key grew up in and posed grinning in front of last year, as the sale of 2,500 of these homes was mooted. For me it was in the early 1950s, for him the 1960s – but it was still the same deal. Housing, recognised as a human right by the 1935 Labour government and provided at low rental costs for those citizens who needed it. For refugees too, like his mother.
We also got free education – for me, at Wairakei Road school just down the road; free health care (I broke both arms in the three years we lived there); and State Advances housing loans for those who wanted to buy a property. There was a Family Benefit for mothers to support each child, money that could be capitalised to create a deposit on a home. Socialism is so destructive, isn’t it: socialism at its best destroys hunger, ill health, ignorance and keeps us warm. It creates a more cohesive society and gives us all a leg up.
Some of those who benefited from this regime went on to enjoy the kind of success it was designed to promote; many remembered this largesse, funded by taxation; others forgot and set out to undermine egalitarianism and replace it with naked individualism, the exact laissez-faire dog-eat-dog culture, devil take the hindmost that the welfare state set out to eliminate.
Now the enemies of egalitarianism want to sell my house and John Key’s old place; they want to take these properties paid for by our taxes and pass them over to housing charities, private-public partnerships and even – yes – overseas providers. They want to disembowel the tradition of communal ownership and government responsibility for housing our lowest-earning, most vulnerable citizens.
These people are not governors, they are sales people: like Margaret Thatcher at her most crazed, they do not really believe there is such a thing a society – just competing interests, “consumers and taxpayers” – and their weirdest offshoot, the Act Party , with a naked self-regard, makes it clear they want to destroy “Big Government and the Nanny State”.
This is what it looks like next door to my place: a State house for rent, private agents.
Well, my Nanny actually was sheltered by the state and lived to the ripe old age of 89, cared for by good housing, adequate nutrition and social stability in her latter years. She survived two world wars and came from England in 1950 to live with us, in her seventies. Her first home in New Zealand was our first State house in Plymouth Crescent, Bayswater. If she arrived in Auckland today, she might have found her family sleeping in a car, or paying rack rents to local and overseas investors with little money left for life’s necessities.
That’s the choice I see in this election: “me, me, me – or us”, the primacy of the individual or the cohesion of the group that in its security, actually produces a better quality of life for all. I was at a candidate’s panel at the University of Canterbury yesterday, where I watched in disbelief as the National Party candidate, Nicky Wagner bobbed up and down behind her microphone, chanting, “Me, pick me, pick me!” Maybe she got carried away in the spirit of the moment, trying to upstage her Labour Party opponent, Duncan Webb, making his closing statement. It was a moment to conjure with. I wish I’d taken a video.