Bernard Hickey writes of Bill English:
. . . He talked of his admiration for his father-in-law’s family ethos and hard work in raising a big family in Wellington, despite the struggles of arriving with little from Samoa in an unfamiliar city. He also talked about a quiet chat he had with a kaumatua on a marae about the problems of Māori youth, and the need for strong communities with their own resources. His point was that he admired the self-reliance and quiet conservatism of family and community life. He saw his role as helping those communities and pulling Government out of the way to let them get on with it. It wasn’t an ugly or dry form of libertarian scorched-earth politics. It was a deeply humane and thoughtful approach where Government was supposed to treat people with empathy and dignity and as individuals, rather than as just another beneficiary locked into welfare for life. His views on helping to lift people out of poverty were a precursor to his championing of the social investment approach, which he was only just starting to roll out through the Government as Labour returned to power in late October.
As he spoke about his in-laws and his wife and the dignity and self-reliance of those conservative Samoan and Māori communities, he stopped for a few moments. The tears rolled down his nose and splashed onto the lecturn. You could hear a pin drop. The audience was with him though. English’s story was utterly authentic and thoughtful and showed a depth of humility and humanity that struck a chord that night. He got a standing ovation when he finished.
Since then I’ve listened to English give countless speeches off the cuff that connect with audiences of all types up and down the land. Some thought he was a dry policy wonk who would struggle on the campaign trail, but I was sure he would connect if he was able to make his case on his feet in debates and in interviews, rather than in scripted speeches. . .
I have heard Bill speak like this countless times – from the heart, eloquently showing both compassion and intellect.
His essential conservativeness often shines through, particularly on macro-economic issues and in challenging the good intentions of public servants.
“Whatever the fashions, sound economics matter. They might be a bit boring, but if you stick to them that’s what works. People are always trying to find shortcuts and leapfrogs and I’ve seen most of them come to grief,” he said.
He said he had learned that the effects of the public sector on the economy and people’s lives were often under-estimated, and often negatively.
“Good intentions are not enough. They’re not even a start, because there’s been a lot of money wasted and lives wrecked on the basis of good intentions expressed through public services,” he said. . .
His work and policies showed the importance that more spending isn’t always better.
It’s not what you spend but how that matters, quality rather than quantity.
One of Bill’s legacies is proof that well thought-out policies, based on his compassionate conservatism, backed by effective spending, make a positive difference where good intentions don’t.