THE SO-CALLED “MILLENNIAL” GENERATION has been harshly criticised for its lack of political engagement. Clear away the red mist of Boomer rage, however, and the under-30s disinclination to participate in electoral politics takes on a very different aspect. Be it inspired by sophisticated political science, or simple gut instinct, the Millennials’ refusal to validate the politics of neoliberalism by joining in its electoral rituals is easily defended.
Sometimes, however, casting of a ballot can inflict a serious blow to the neoliberal order. The most obvious recent example is the British electorate’s decision to leave the European Union. A great many young Britons who hadn’t yet voted in a general election (because “politics” and “politicians” always win) voted for Brexit because they sensed that, if they did, politics and politicians would, for once, be the losers.
Chloe Swarbrick’s decision to run for Mayor of Auckland has given the city’s young voters a similar opportunity to make a real difference. With virtually no money, and in spite of being excluded (until very recently) from the mainstream news media’s coverage of the election, a recent poll showed Swarbrick in fourth place, after Phil Goff, Vic Crone and John Palino.
Essentially, only 15 percentage points separate this 23-year-old political prodigy from second place. A concerted effort by voters under 30 could easily see Swarbrick surging towards runner-up status in the 2016 Mayoral contest.
What good is coming in second? The answer is simple and important. By outperforming both Crone and Palino, Swarbrick will identify herself as a political phenomenon. She will be feted by the news media as the voice of her generation – proof of the Millennials’ potential to completely upset the calculations of “politics” and “politicians”.
More than a few political commentators have observed that the next centre-left prime-minister has yet to be elected to Parliament. If Swarbrick is propelled into second place in the Auckland Mayoral election, then Labour and the Greens will soon be competing fiercely to get her to accept a winnable position on their Party Lists.
I remember meeting Helen Clark for the first time when I was an undergraduate student at Otago. She was just six years older than me, but I could tell, even back then, in the early 1980s, that this junior political studies lecturer from Auckland was going to play a major role in New Zealand’s political history. I defy anyone to watch Swarbrick’s performance on last Sunday’s Q+A and not reach exactly the same conclusion.
The Millennial Generation’s progressives have their representative – now all they need to do is vote for her!