Opinion: It seems we are in full-on election mode already although the restrained government activity “pre-election period” is officially not underway until July 14. The Public Service Commission kindly still keeps me informed on such matters recognising how rigorously I like to adhere to such restraints and given its apparent difficulty in updating its distribution lists.
The fund-finding, policy-polishing, candidate-confirming, list-lobbying, poster-posing, and other ordinary onanism of a political campaign will pretty soon be in place. The exercise of having an election which in theory has the citizen voter in charge in practice is largely a “by politician, for politician” event. Prepare for a lot of people telling you “what you really, really want” (with apologies to the Spice Girls).
I do like elections, just as I like watching competitive professional sport. Both are seldom fair, very partisan, rule stretching, and often brutal. You get the feeling while watching that everyone is involved, but the truth is many do not that much care. You can bet on the outcomes. Elation and despair both beckon the spectator. There will be another contest soon. And the main beneficiaries are the players, their management and their sponsors.
I can’t pretend I don’t care about elections though, any more than I can stop myself each year thinking that this, indeed, is the Warriors’ year. I guess actively engaged citizens, which I turned out to be, are like that. We like to think we make a difference even when we suspect strongly that just as the media tell us we are the customers, in practice we are the product for sale. So it is for voters, our time as the main point of things is very fleeting, almost ephemeral. Bystanders in our own future.
There are many young people from wide social positions too who are simply “turned off” by the way politics is done
It is evident that less actively engaged citizens are many and growing. Many live their lives at or beyond the fringe of politics. Unaware of or even resistant to census filling, immunisation and similar campaigns, and enrolment for voting for example. These are most often the people in greatest need of government support but they experience government actions and inactions as distant, arrogant, coercive or simply “for others”. That should concern us all greatly, especially because it is not wrong as a perception or as reality. People engaging in “politics” seemingly can afford to ignore this because these people have no dollars to spend in the “political supermarket” of Parliament.
There are many young people from wide social positions too who are simply “turned off” by the way politics is done. They see their issues being sidelined by the theatre of an election run by and for others. One young, thoughtful activist I respect recently said to me: “Combative campaigning is not conducive to the wellbeing of our communities, and leading by example must underpin all activity this election year. I beg our leaders to adopt behaviours they would like to see from their voters in making NZ awesome or reassess why they are in leadership in the first place.” She called the behaviour “normalising chaos in community spaces” and making reasonable expression of different views hard.
It’s hard to disagree with that, even for someone like me whose approach to political issues has tended to be combative. The reaction is mainly about the point-scoring and derision that abounds regarding what are often side issues. I think there is little doubt about the “turn off”.
The really big issues we all face – inequality, climate crises, social services, housing and health – get turned into soundbites which suit the professionals not the people.
We really should be able to openly and staunchly share some core views as a “coalition of communities” which is after all what makes up our country. Our electoral process should embody these but more important than that is the exercise of democracy which has not been corporatised, streamlined and bureaucratised into feebleness.
The more I think about it, and how to engage the disengaged, the answers lie in decentralising decision making, by involving communities recognising their diversity, and by allowing those communities to define the issues as well as the solutions. This means taking power away from the professionals who compete for our votes like on Dancing with the Stars, selling us social programmes like TV infomercials, and managing verbal wrestling contests between themselves like a a WWE show.