Don't Let Them Eat Cake: After reading Fran O'Sullivan's summary of fashion designer, Annah Stretton's, thinking on New Zealand's social policies, I sincerely hope that she never becomes Prime Minister - not even for a day.
WHAT WAS FRAN O’SULLIVAN THINKING when she devoted her Weekend Herald column to the political thoughts of “fashion maven” Annah Stretton? Did she honestly believe she was doing the woman a favour by publicising her controversial opinions? Did Ms O’Sullivan really believe New Zealanders would be better off if the sharp-edged social policies promoted by this designer of expensive ladies’ frocks were given practical effect?
Personally, I was more disposed to believe that the veteran journalist had inwardly been so appalled by Ms Stretton’s comments that she decided to share them with an audience much larger than the Ernst & Young-sponsored “Dress For Success” event at which they were delivered.
“Oh, Christopher, you’re so naïve”, came the immediate response from a (now former) wearer of Stretton’s creations. “In the circles Fran O’Sullivan moves in nobody regards Stretton’s ideas as in any way odious or vicious. On the contrary, most of Fran’s friends probably subscribe wholeheartedly to Annah Stretton’s views.”
I thought about this for a moment and realised, with a sinking feeling, that she was right. You don’t have to look very long or listen very hard to discover Ms Stretton’s catch-phrases: “culture of entitlement”; “family unit of care”; the “absurdity” of universal, un-means-tested, superannuation; tripping merrily off the tongues of “successful” business-women all over New Zealand – especially in the provinces.
These ideas have been repeated so often by the solid citizens of Tauranga, Napier, Ashburton and, of course, in Ms Stretton’s home town of Morrinsville, that they’ve become a sort of right-wing catechism – something to be recited at the drop of a designer hat (or an Ernst & Young invitation). In such sealed social environments these proud adherents to the conservative faith will seldom, if ever, hear anything to contradict their prejudices.
Ms Stretton is fêted in the fashion magazines for her charity work. For example, the “Dress for Success” organisation, at whose fundraiser she was speaking, aims to help disadvantaged women back into the workforce by clothing them in “professional attire”. As if the solution to structural unemployment involved nothing more than offering these unfortunate proletarian frumps a good zooshing-up. While handing out their second-hand frocks and fashion tips, I wonder if Ms Stretton and her colleagues ever take a moment to listen to the young women they’re dressing-up. It would be nice to think that, just occasionally, social reality took a stroll down the catwalk.
Sadly, the maven’s manifesto suggests that, amongst all that frilly condescension, reality failed to secure a back-stage pass. To argue that the DPB should be capped at two children; that there be no automatic entitlement to National Super; that ACC should be privatised; and that no one under the age of 20 should be able to collect an unemployment benefit (sorry, “Job Seekers Allowance”); is to identify oneself as someone without the faintest conception of what the consequences of such policies might look like.
The kindest excuse is that in promoting such hard-line measures, Ms Stretton was simply disbursing the ideological currency of her class. Readily exchangeable in provincial towns like Morrinsville and throughout our leafier city suburbs, but worthless on the mean streets of Otara and St Kilda.
Or, perhaps, I am once again displaying my naivety? Maybe Ms Stretton, Ms O’Sullivan, and their ilk know only too well what the effects of their “PM for a Day” prescriptions would be on those required to swallow them.
Of course there must be pain. How can these people be expected to learn if it doesn’t hurt? Tough love is what they need – not bleeding hearts!
Such is the language of social inequality: the merciless diction of those who have mastered the obscene stage directions of Neoliberalism’s theatre of cruelty.
The Weekend Herald is to be congratulated for publishing this snap-shot of the successful business entrepreneur’s world view. Now we know how the 1 percent think of, and speak about, the 99 percent of New Zealanders who could never afford (and after Ms O’Sullivan’s extraordinary column, probably shouldn’t be found dead wearing) an Annah Stretton creation.
This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.