Janet McAllister: Sneetches deserve a dressing-down

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Dr Seuss' Star-Belly Sneetches.
Dr Seuss' Star-Belly Sneetches.

The attempted straitjacketing of Metiria Turei for dressing professionally while speaking up for poor people reminds me of Dr Seuss' tale of those fearful fashion fascists, the Star-Belly Sneetches.

The confused attitudes several Cabinet ministers revealed are fascinating. "'You can't care about inequality unless you dress poor," said the well-dressed National MPs who care deeply about ineq ... oh wait," was a nice-sum up by tweeter @farmgeek.

The other interpretation is that they have never pretended to care about inequality; they wage class warfare proudly without fig-leaf disguise. So the power-dressing warriors of the monied classes are incensed that the Green Party co-leader turns up "disguised" in what they think of as their own star uniform: the designer jacket. (It is the long-term singling-out of Turei for the accusation of hypocrisy which is dog-whistle racist. National never mentions the Pakeha fashion-caped crusaders in the social justice league.)

National is attempting to divide (and conquer) the aesthetics of left and right; this is their What Not To Wear diktat. You have a social conscience? You are forbidden any extravagance; haircloth, sacks and ashes go with your lentils, chipped plates, unframed posters, leaky shack and self-righteousness. Being a "trendy leftie" is impossible; you're not allowed to prioritise in your budget for even one "self-indulgence", you're not allowed to earn money. But if you want an expensive wardrobe, fine art, fine wine or even fluffy bath towels? Then you're no longer allowed to worry about inequality. You're either with us or your dress sense sucks.

This is nonsense, of course. How we dress, and decorate our homes, does not dictate how we vote. One can guess a person's income by their personal aesthetic, but neither their pay packet nor what they spend it on automatically determines their political views - as Turei illustrates, maddening her opponents. Turei is a threat to National because she upsets their self-image of having a monopoly on all luxury. Her jackets are an overt sign that - surprise - the Greens are not out to make us all paupers.

(Buying New Zealand fashion supports a national creative industry. It's Turei's buying of cheap clothes made overseas which is arguably problematic. Given she earns enough to make choices, has she confirmed that bargain supply chains are ethical?)

Unsurprisingly, Paula Bennett-wannabe Judith Collins has been the most hard-nosed Sneetch, sneering that Turei "could always sell a jacket and feed a child for a year". Collins' advocating for the private charity "solution" by talking callously about child poverty (not just inequality) shows Turei was right: her opponents are out of touch. On the other hand, Turei calls for the country to take collective responsibility, so that the 17 per cent of New Zealand's population in poverty - about 265,000 children and 500,000 adults - get the income they need.

We can easily afford it; poverty in New Zealand is politically generated. Merely reversing the 2010 tax cuts for the top 10 per cent of earners would free up $1.1 billion every year. And they could still afford a jacket or two.

- NZ Herald

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