James Caygill


We were so astounded by James Caygill’s claim that he can cover off “The Birth of Progressive Politics” in 30 seconds flat that we had to offer him a speaking spot at TEDxChCh!

James likes to think he thinks a lot about politics. Sure, there might be people out there who think about it more, but James has yet to meet them. Some might call his obsession a sickness, but James doesn’t know any different, so he’s fine with it.

James is a Christchurch native, although he’s called other cities home from time to time. To pay the bills he works with local government coordinating the long-term growth and development of Greater Christchurch over the next 35 years. Urban environments are where most people around the world spend their lives, and James believes that New Zealand is young enough and flexible enough to create some fantastic cities to go with our outstanding natural beauty.

Prior to returning to Christchurch in 2008, James worked for Prime Minister Helen Clark as a political adviser in her personal office and also as an adviser to a number of Ministers in her administration.

Alongside his day job, James continues to work and think on progressive politics. Of most interest to James is the successful alignment of principle with pragmatic progress. His most recent thinking centres around the global challenges that Generation-X will inherit from the Baby Boomers, and how they might be solved.

James acquired a MA with Distinction in Political Science from the University of Canterbury; his thesis analysed US National Missile Defence (NMD) policy debate from the framework of Strategic Intelligence failure.

NMD was the name given during the Clinton administration to the US system designed to shoot down incoming nuclear missiles with other missiles. It doesn’t work, and has never worked, although it’s something the US has pursued and spent billions on since Nixon. You might remember Reagan’s system being referred to as “Star Wars”.

The policy debate occurred between the Clinton Administration and the post-1994 Republican controlled Congress – the Administration wanted to proceed slowly and cautiously. The Republicans wanted it ASAP. Clinton asserted that there was little reason to rush and the Republicans were hysterical because “everyone knew rogue states were all out to get the US!”

In terms of intelligence, the debate between the Administration and the Republicans centred around the capability of Iraq, Iran, North Korea and others to build missiles that could hit the US (they still can’t for what it’s worth). The CIA said they would not be ready for a while, the Republicans said the CIA were wrong and were being politically influenced (and to prove themselves right, when they next had a chance they went off and found all those pesky WMDs in Iraq, oh no wait…).

Knowing our weakness for all things Web 2.0, James sent us a word cloud to help us understand his thesis.