Every Leader of the Opposition in a parliamentary democracy should keep a copy of The Serenity Prayer on their desk:
“Grant me –
- Serenity, to accept the things I cannot change;
- Courage, to change the things I can; and
- Wisdom, to know the difference.”
The past is one thing none of us can change: it’s happened. Of course, politicians are adept at re-writing history and blaming the other lot for much of it.
The present is where governments spend most of their time. They like to give the appearance of building a great future, but usually the minefield of daily issues and new crises swamps them, and they have little time for future thinking or strategy development. They need to do that before they get into government.
Oppositions don’t have much ability to change the present, however much they may snipe at Government decisions and tell us what should be happening. But they do have time to consider the future.
Right now, New Zealand, like most countries, is looking into an uncertain future: many businesses have been crippled after closing for two months; thousands are unemployed; and for some sectors even the medium-term prospects are bleak. But, if we have the courage, we have an opportunity to make some decisions about how we might come out of the Covid-19 crisis and build the New Zealand we want … the New Zealand I chose to move to as a young adult:
- Capitalising on our global reputation for quality and integrity, should we make New Zealand the organic delicatessen to the world’s worried wealthy, who will happily pay top dollar for premium brands they trust?
- It’s ironic that, when our borders are closed, physical distance and geographic isolation become irrelevant for many industries. How can we take advantage of our seven-week crash course in Zoom and Skype, when it’s now as easy to do business in Toronto or Taipei as in Tauranga or Timaru?
- We urgently need to re-invent our tourism industry – not bringing back the swarms that have destroyed the charm of our greatest attractions, overloading their infrastructure and fouling the footpaths, while spending as little money as possible. How instead do we attract the high-end traveller, who will pay for what New Zealand uniquely offers – wide empty spaces, a pure, clean and sustainable environment, and that warm personal welcome that draws people back time and again?
Underlying all these is the need to re-direct New Zealand towards becoming a high value export-based economy, rather than racing to the bottom competing to be the lowest cost producer – a race in which there are no winners.
New Zealanders are looking for someone to paint a believable picture of a brighter, healthier, wealthier future and to give us confidence in how to get there. So far, we’ve seen little beyond messages of doom and short-term remedies, most of them requiring billions of dollars from the Government. This is never a recipe for long term success.
The Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges, has the best opportunity of all to shape this vision and convince us that he’s the person to guide us there. He has the luxury of being able to generate the thinking and lead the debate, without the distraction of running a country.
He’d serve us all well by asking some of these bigger questions, and proposing some fresh answers, rather than wasting breath over whether we should have gone from Level-3 to Level-2 a week earlier. That’s irrelevant detail: the Prime Minister made her decision and nothing the Opposition said was going to change it. Consequently, we ignored him.
If Mr Bridges has the wisdom and courage to seize this moment, to capture New Zealanders’ attention and ignite our dreams for this country’s future, he may just find he’s given the opportunity after September’s election to make it happen.