We noted that the simplest - totally partisan - way to look at the issue would be to go on a government's self-reported achievements, and the self-described competency of its ministe
rs and MPs.
This would be manifestly ridiculous.
According to this view, we are gently watched over by a competent managerial team led by a former finance sector wizard and a present-day economic savant who have responded to every challenge in a way we're all "comfortable" with, and created 170,000 jobs a year into the bargain.
A slightly more externally objective view - is that of its constituency considering voting for them (at this stage apparently almost half the nation) - who would perhaps consider such things as campaign promises delivered upon, crises handled competently (or at least, responded to adequately), the improvement of its own material circumstances, or the fulfilment & enactment of its 'narrative' for New Zealand. Do we feel safer today than we did three years ago? Are we finding it easier to get by now than we did three years ago. Have our power bills and our council rates and our weekly groceries come down? Are we earning more? Are we being taxed less?
Then we decided to think about it from the perspective of the country at large, using external, 'bigger picture', and general goals. Things that the OECD measures. Things like economic growth, unemployment, investment funding, wages, improvements in education, child poverty, an HDI.
Have the signs of our economic health and wealth improved over the last three years? How well was the global economic crisis handled? Are we laying the foundations for a prudent and prosperous future? How are we investing in making that happen? Are our people more educated now than they were three years ago? Has child poverty gotten better or worse? Has foreign ownership of our economy lessened? Are the profits and the graduates staying in New Zealand?
Ultimately, we began to think about this from the perspective of people like us. Young adults facing dismal employment prospects, probably with significant debt. We are not Waitakere Man, we're his grandkids. Do we feel as confident of getting a job when we leave school or when we graduate? If we'd been born 10 years earlier and entered the workforce when things were easy, would we have been better off? Are our meager service-industry paychecks enough for us to get by, fund study, or live independently? Are we going to inherit a country better than the way our parents' generation (0r, heaven forbid, our grandparents' generation) found it?
We're also relatively liberal in the old sense of the term. We believe in a private sphere. We believe in the importance of our legal rights - we believe we should enjoy the same rights to jury trial and legal aid that the generation before us did; and we're not amused by the Armed Offender Squad raiding harmless Kauri Snail environmentalists.
Are we as protected now as we were five years ago? When Martyn Bradbury is given a lifetime ban from a state broadcaster for criticising the Prime Minister ... is our press as free as it was less than two generations ago - before we allowed it to be sold offshore.
Is our foreign policy in alignment with the interests and opinion of New Zealanders?
Do we know what we're doing in Afghanistan?
Will I get a lawyer?
And we're Nationalists. We believe that, to (do the trite philosophy thing and) paraphrase Voltaire ... "if the Kiwi Nation doesn't already exist then it's necessary to create it."
Or, to paraphrase John Ralston Saul, "New Zealand is either an id
Now that might sound a bit arcane (and that part of the discussion was toward the more inebriated depths of the evening), but what we mean by this is that we're proud of being Kiwis and having a strong, distinctive shared identity as part of that. With this in mind, we got to asking questions as to whether the Treaty Partnership was working better for all New Zealanders now than it was three years ago. Whether the government was articulating our values. Whether traditional Kiwi beliefs about the "fair go", egalitarianism and equality, and our own gregarious sense of community were being furthered. Whether this was the kind of country we wished to raise our children in and leave to our grandkids.
Are We Better Off?
I think you'll agree that's quite a few questions.
But we feel that to most of them, there's one simple answer.