NZ Herald business editor at large

Liam Dann: Great days not always good days

Winston Churchill had a keen sense of history and knew a thing or two about inspiring a nation in difficult times. Picture / Supplied
Winston Churchill had a keen sense of history and knew a thing or two about inspiring a nation in difficult times. Picture / Supplied

"Do not let us speak of darker days; let us rather speak of sterner days. These are not dark days: these are great days - the greatest our country has ever lived: and we must thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race."
Winston Churchill - October 29, 1941
(Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, second edition, 1953)

That's a quote worth reading aloud.

That's a 16-year-old special reserve Islay single-malt of a quote ... a bit leathery at the edges but worthy of rolling around the tongue.

Churchill dropped it into a speech he gave to the graduating boys of elite public school Harrow in 1941.

Given that he (and, by then, the boys too) must have known they were destined for the battlefield, he had to pull something stirring out of the bag.

It's not obvious that New Zealand has any politicians that can punctuate with such dexterity, let alone offer up the kind of words that might inspire a nation to overcome fear and hold on to optimism and self-belief when those qualities are running so low.

But that is the challenge facing John Key, Bill English and their Government in the coming year. The economy is not going to feel any better for most people and for a good many it will feel worse.

John and Bill know that and, by now, so do most New Zealanders - especially those brave souls who follow the business news.

Word from the Press Gallery Christmas function last week was that our leaders looked very tired. It has been a hell of a year for them. But then so has it been for all New Zealanders.

A good break for all at some point over this summer should be mandatory. Relax, it is your duty.

You will need your strength next year because even if it is better, and absent of disaster as befell Christchurch, 2012 will likely only be better by increment - a step or two forward on a path to somewhere we hope will be more prosperous.

The challenges and costs around rebuilding Christchurch remain largely before us. Even more so after Friday's fresh shocks. The shadow of European debt and American stagnation still looms over the economy.

It will no doubt be a year of conflict and protest as this Government moves to sell down holdings in state assets, attempts to cut spending and hit some very difficult targets for a return to surplus in 2014 or 2015.

We have a Government that professes to be pro-business and business is by and large supportive of it. So we should expect some strong leadership in return from our business community. With the support of the Government comes the responsibility of business to play its part in creating a strong and vibrant country.

If we are going to take a growth path underpinned by business philosophy and power of markets, then let it be the best that business has to offer. Let it be that positive power for wealth creation that markets still offer despite their recent failings.

Let us learn from the glaring mistakes of the past decade and focus our efforts on what business can achieve - the people it can employ and the products it can create.

It is foolish to reject, as some of those occupying town squares do, the whole machine because parts of it are broken.

But those who would stay silent and stare dumbfounded at a machine clearly in need of repair are equally foolish.

Churchill's brilliance in motivating stemmed from his deep understanding that history unfolds from the moment. We must act in the "now" if we are to have any control over our destiny but we must see the historical context of the moment we are living and let that context drive our actions.

For New Zealand 2011 was a historic year - perhaps the most momentous since World War II. Our second biggest city was laid to ruin in the midst of what was already the most challenging economic situation for a generation.

Where were you when the quake hit? How did you feel as you watched those images of destruction and horror beamed from the streets of the picturesque and genteel Garden City.

That's speaking of course for those who were not there in the thick of it. For those who were, who would presume to? My parents, sister and family - nephews, cousins, uncles and aunts - many of my oldest friends. For them and all the people of Christchurch, 2011 will be a year to divide their lives by. The old city is gone. May the new one grow into something unique and special in time. There is great opportunity and already it seems that some inner suburbs, such as Addington, are starting to shine. Christchurch could yet have a Ponsonby, which is the kind of inner-city township it has long needed.

But that's just one small example. For now any positive change is still mired in a frustrating, boring and potentially depressing daily grind for many citizens. Yesterday's jolts will no doubt prolong the worst of this.

We did win that cup. It was that other "where were you?" event of 2011 that, because this is New Zealand, will go down in our history.

That gritty win, not exactly against the odds, delivered a brief moment of contentment - like a nationally prescribed dose of morphine. It was fleeting. The election, European woes, the big hole in the government accounts and nwo the lastest after shocks have done their bit to smother the joy.

But we have made it to the end of the year. We should take time to reflect and feel some pride at having lived through it. Great days are not always good days but they are special and will stay with us. Merry Christmas and happy New Year.

- NZ Herald

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NZ Herald business editor at large

Liam Dann is business editor at large at the New Zealand Herald. He has been a journalist for 20 years, covering business for the last 14 of them. He has also worked in the banking sector in London and travelled extensively. His passion is for Markets and Economics, because they are the engine of the New Zealand economy. He hosts The Economy Hub video show every Thursday.

Read more by Liam Dann

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