Electile Dysfunction and the Struggle to Get up to Vote

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I’m suffering from electile dysfunction. -The inability to be aroused by any of the candidates standing for election in the upcoming local government contest. That’s despite being a graduate of political studies, and a previous Councillor. I should know as well as any, how important it is to vote -politics has been in my blood longer than I can remember, but this year the blood has thickened and barely flows.

I know many of the current candidates, and they are good people. Incumbents are often genuine and hardworking, and many newcomer prospective candidates are idealistic and enthusiastic, just what I want a political representative.

But ‘progressive’ candidates become increasingly conservative through time – that’s what the political system does to good people, especially when party blocs cause group think and lock step. And despite the energy and enthusiasm of wannabes, the system is bigger and meaner than they are, and it will quickly chew them up and chain them to that conservative, bureaucratic agenda and the slow machine that’s behind it.

In my local government area of Rodney, one ticket almost monopolises the available seats. The candidates sign a pledge to vote in a bloc throughout the triennium. Our one Councillor has been elected unopposed but isn’t part of the Phil Goff ‘A Team’. Phil’s a decent guy – he visited before the last election and met with our community leaders, but we haven’t seen him since. Our presentations to the Council about diverse local concerns in the last three years have fallen on deaf ears. A huge part of the ratepayer’s budget is spent by Auckland Transport which we know as unaccountable, lacking in transparency, and anti-democratic.

There’s nothing very inspiring about any of them, or the system they support. And while my experience in politics and my community might explain my realpolitik view of the candidates and the power they don’t have, sadly, I’m not alone.

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Local government participation has declined in the last thirty years. In Auckland’s last local elections, voter turnout was only 38.5%. Voter participation is lowest among the already socially and economically disenfranchised – Māori, Pacific Island communities, recent migrants, those from rural areas, people from low income and educational backgrounds. The reasons for apathy are complex – Laura O’Connell-Rapira from the organisation Rock Enrol, designed to encourage voting, says low Māori voter turn-out reflects intergenerational distrust of the Crown and its agents due to our colonial history. Political scientists point to the First Past the Post electoral system which distorts voter preferences and fails to provide proportionality, while low voter turn-out favours incumbency and conservatism. Voting systems don’t reflect the technological dynamism of society – we’re supposed to post our votes – but moving them from the kitchen table takes an effort, when post boxes are disappearing from our communities. Candidates are mostly ‘male, stale and pale’, and reports are that there are more Councillors called John in New Zealand, than there are those born after 1980. In Auckland this year, the Mayoral choice has been framed between Phil Goff, who has been a politician since 1981 with only one three year break, and another John, Tamihere, Auckland’s answer to Donald Trump. It’s not really an inspiring race.

But around the world, there’s a crisis of democracy. According to Yascha Mounk from John Hopkins University, people don’t believe in democracy anymore. There’s a failure of the political system to deliver – not just in Auckland. Writing of the United States but with parallels around the world, Mounk points to the stagnation of living standards for ordinary people, the belief that people’s votes don’t make any difference, that elites and the system itself have failed. The influence of transnational agreements lock out personal and domestic political sovereignty, money is what shapes the political agenda, not citizens’ votes, the revolving door between politicians and lobbyists is where real power is vested, and the political class is out of touch with the bulk of the population. With the increase in the gap between the rich and the poor, a failure to deliver on promises of material improvements and a failure to create a unified and inclusive state, ambivalence toward democracy is on the rise.

Across the western world, there’s an erosion in civic faith in democracy. There’s a growing deficit of ‘outcome legitimacy’, ie the system’s appeal, based on what it delivers rather than on its ideological attachment. There’s a weariness with the system itself. Older people are horrified at democratic apathy. “People died for your right to vote, don’t you know”. It is argued that because current generations haven’t lived with authoritarian alternatives such as facism and communism they don’t value what we’ve got.

But in an article ‘Young People Don’t Believe in Politics Anymore…’, Alex Halford compared the real time, diverse insularity and granularity of information and political discourse available over the internet, with rigid, archaic, irrelevant and ineffective voting. It’s not that people don’t care about their futures, are ill-informed or ignorant, it’s that we don’t believe the simple act of voting is a viable way of making change when the system itself disempowers. Halford says there’s an ‘incompatibility between the way in which people wish to speak and the way in which establishment wishes to listen”. Millions of people taking to the streets in the youth-led global insurgency against climate change is a reflection of that different way of speaking. Unfortunately, so is suicide.

Research shows that widespread disenfranchisement with democratic processes is leading to more radical views of governance across the board. Surveys show people increasingly think military rule would be justified if democratic government was failing, there’s growing support for Socialism and for illiberal rule. Only about 30% of Americans born in the 1980s believe it’s essential to live in a democracy, compared with 75% of those born in the 1930s, and New Zealand and other liberal democracies showed the same trend according to the article ‘Are Millenials Giving up on Democracy’ by Neil Lowe in Forbes magazine.

Young people aren’t well represented by the presence of peers in establishment politics. Their voices aren’t being heard. With Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand we have seen the power of a young charismatic leader to mobilise a voting ‘youthquake’ but that creates expectations that are hard to deliver under business as usual, Budget Responsibility Rules, capitalist inertia, Transnational trade agreements like the CTPP / TPPA-11 and when real world politics like sexual harassment intervene.

Elsewhere, the world is led by fools who jeopardise our social and economic and environmental futures. It’s hard to be motivated to vote when the system is rotten and the whole future is at stake, and we can see that more than ever before.

Back at home with local elections, despite my ideological, in-principle support for democracy, finding a postbox might yet be easier than choosing a candidate and finding a compelling reason to get up to vote.

15 COMMENTS

  1. I hope you don’t vote in the colonial regime’s elections Christine. To do so would be irresponsible and immoral. It is wrong to impose your choice of leader upon the rest of the population, and particularly wrong to do so when you have no ability to control how your chosen candidate actually exercises power when in office.
    Instead, you could choose to participate in genuinely democratic institutions in which people are few to choose their own leaders, and in which leaders are accountable to their followers.

  2. In general I agree with this post, but I get tired of this woke authoritarian subjectivity on diversity… aka

    “Candidates are mostly ‘male, stale and pale’, and reports are that there are more Councillors called John in New Zealand, than there are those born after 1980. ”

    The reality we have a candidate in John Tamihere, who apparently loses woke points for the name John (sorry but that is as shallow as they come to nit pic about someone’s name) but possibly gains them for Maori, but unless the ‘diversity’ exactly fits some woke version, then still the woke complain even when they have a high powered ‘diversity’ candidate running as Mayor who has a small chance of winning too… and a large chance of winning had he not wanted to part privatise the water.

    If there was more discussion about candidates actual policy from the left, in the lead up to the election and their ethics and views on local issues, and less judgements about their ethnic appearances and nit picking on bizarre issues, aka being called John, then there might be more interest in politics beyond the surface… and bring more voters along with that…

    Kiwi’s voted Georgina Byers the world’s first openly transgender mayor and ex sex worker in a conservative city, I’m presuming not because of her identity but because they obviously thought she was the preferred candidate.

    Likewise two of the most arguably progressive leaders for the left in the world, Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders are ‘male, stale and pale and born before 1980’, so under the woke, tick box criteria are not worthy to be in office??

    Perhaps if the left ditched identity politics and were in general more welcoming to anybody based primarily on their policies and belief systems and more open to voters choices, then that could be the start of a better future in politics…

    instead we constantly hear complaining and trying to micro manage and nit pic a woke scenario and wanting what is not, which seems to be a modern day projection of what candidates should look like or act, it’s really just the same old, same old, and really a modern day version of the myth of the Nobel savage projected onto Maori under the banner of left…. therefore woke projections of who Maori should be, seem just as subjective and restrictive as they were circa 150 years ago.

    Politics seems to be increasingly attracting the power hungry and corrupt and shallow, I couldn’t care a less about a person’s appearance, I’m looking for policy and tired of their appearances being touted as a significant factor. Normal people don’t go to the polling booth and worry about whether they need a cool new ‘diversity’ name to bring diversity to the table…

    Look how ineffective the Green’s have become being focused on identity instead of just trying to get effective people who have a clue, instead the woke insisted on parachuting people high on the party list in on the basis of being young or adding diversity…

    Greens got in government but we have less discussion of real issues now and some of their decisions are bizarre from giving Natz their questions, to worrying about cunts, to giving away water rights to overseas plastic bottling plants, to thinking a wish list of rental requirements to talk fest about ad nausea that may not even work, is more important than actually having a roof over someones head and turning a blind eye to a 12,000 state house waiting list…

    Diversity is fine, but not if practicality goes out the window along with people’s brains and it gets to the point where having the name, John is a no no (because Maori in woke land are not called John) or being born in the wrong year counts against you.

    No wonder people are put off both running in politics and voting!

    • If you are unfortunate enough to have a plain sounding name, you do what Stephen O’reagan did and just change it to Tipene. It’s how you Create diversity.

  3. “With Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand we have seen the power of a young charismatic leader to mobilise a voting ‘youthquake’ but that creates expectations that are hard to deliver under business as usual…”

    Part of the difficulty is the time that’s available. Given time, all that’s needed can be delivered and be recognised for that. Three year terms may be too short a time?

    As one inspiring person once said, “The difficult we do immediately. The impossible takes a little longer.”

    And yes, “Elsewhere, the world is led by fools who jeopardise our social and economic and environmental futures.”

    Thank you for a timely article.

  4. Here in Taranaki some of our firebrand representatives are not hamstrung by bureaucracy but simply just dumb, greedy and/or racists. One councillor repeatedly uses social media to push his divisive agenda including making light of the Paris bombings and suggesting Te Reo is dying (Shaskey, 2017).
    This councillor was also recently caught in the bushes of a local primary school taking photographs (Keith, 2019).
    One of the region’s mayor’s signed off on a black face-themed parade float (Martin, 2019).
    Another huckster shat from the local council here was ex serial CEO and ugly hippo Roger Kerr-Newell, who went on to Rodney Council before being found guilty of serious misconduct overseas (Corlett, 2018), using the same playbook of greasy, entitled fraudster using communities to enhance their career and line their pockets. Good riddance.

    I’m not getting a bit precious, woke and virtuous here, these bloody people are meant to be leading our communities into the future. They also need our support. In recent years I have informed the council that: a map at a local park and landmark was unreadable (it was replaced after a year, while I as an information graduate sat unemployed during this time), and that some of pathways and city greenzones were becoming overgrown and dangerous (I was dismissed with a pffft and a there-there, while a few days later trees came down in high winds and took out our water supply pipeline for a week). We’re in this together.

    References

    Corlett, E. (2018). NZers behaviour the very embodiment of corruption. Retrieved from
    https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/365870/nzer-s-behaviour-the-very-embodiment-of-corruption

    Keith, L. (2019). Councillors crusade against illegal parking outside primary school sparks complaint. Retrieved from
    https://i.stuff.co.nz/taranaki-daily-news/news/114963521/councillors-crusade-against-illegal-parking-outside-primary-school-sparks-complaint

    Martin, R. (2019). Mayor voted for blackface. Retrieved from
    https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/376565/mayor-voted-for-blackface-float-i-stuffed-up

    Shaskey, T. (2017). Complaints laid against Murray Chong after another race related post. Retrieved from
    https://i.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/91707926/complaints-laid-against-murray-chong-after-another-race-related-post

    • @Jody, You should run for Mayor, I’m serious, here.

      You have nothing to lose, surely if that is the talent on offer, that might be a good way to help your community.

      From the media, you assume there is not one functioning person in the provinces that is not working, due the enormous demands of the agricultural industry desperate for workers (not drugged out, or lazy) so maybe they are also short on talent for local government too?

    • Jody, thanks for that – I had the misfortune of encountering Roger Kerr-Newell in his Rodney days. I couldn’t believe he was even hired, given a huge, unjustified golden handshake after the formation of the SuperCity, by a bunch of Rodney District Council cronies, and then rehired during the Supercity transition as I recall, then hired and found guilty of corrupt practices overseas as you state. Dross rises to the top in local government. Very distatestful.

  5. In Wellington we are lucky having one galvanising big issue, the development of lovely Shelley Bay with intensive Soviet style apartments and assumed seductive tack-on enticements. For the first time I am voting for councillor Andy Foster for mayor. He has a good record – but not as long as mine – on Town Belt issues. He has the backing of Peter Jackson , and that’s something that I can stomach for this purpose. Those acquainted with this unique little piece of paradise may understand how horrified we who love the land are at what is proposed.

    I am telling people vote for Andy Foster to save Shelly Bay. In fact it won’t be saved, but hopefully the dreadful desecration in the name of progress will be curtailed.

    Sure the bus services have been mutilated, and the transport infrastructure is still hopeless, and we more or less learn to accommodate these sorts of inadequacies, but when they try to impose a permanent blight upon a thing of beauty then we have to do our best to save it – and young people are aboard on this one too – and they may even stay captured by local issues.

    The ex-TOP candidate running for mayor looks outstandingly good, but Foster’s out the front for Shelley Bay.

    • Good luck there Applewood, the relentless neoliberals are recreating Wellington in Auckland’s image and the rest of NZ is following too.

      However if you were in Auckland you would have the woke banging on your door, accusing you of being a selfish nimby refusing to provide deregulated housing and zoning changes for the poor (while the right wingers pull the strings and of course it is a lie, because the poor can’t even afford to live in the city anymore let alone buy the housing because it is designed to be expensive and to maximise profits, forget environmental controls, someone needs a cheap worker to open another Burger King franchise ASAP or their profits will slide or another fake degree is in danger).

      All this means, that unique pieces of paradise are up for the chop. Private profits are more important than the public having a place of beauty to share or ecological diversity in the city preserved.

      • saveNZ “ecological diversity in the city preserved” – it’s more than that, cities need their green lungs if people are not to live in the unhealthy squalor of the Industrial Revolution or Dickensian England. I think London has more green spaces than Wellington. When people have to fight the local councils to keep their green belts, we’re all in trouble.

        I look for another Norman Kirk or John A Lee in govt and hopefully he/she is gestating – except that Kirk died prematurely and Lee got booted out and expelled from the Labour Party. What has happened in housing in this country is unbelievably bad – and inexcusable.

        • What has happened with housing is deliberate, the housing shortages are demand driven and to help the neoliberal agenda of growth and profits, not actually preserve a decent way of life going forward for New Zealanders and enrich the country and future proof it going forward.

          The neo liberal immigration experiment has clearly lowered living standards for at least a third of the local population or more in the last 10 years so that 1% who probably don’t even live in NZ can make more profits off mostly polluting or trivial low wage industries which has become a visa Ponzi.

          And within that, the migrants are sold a falsehood coming here from the NZ visa scam given out by our government, no questions asked, aka circa $50,000+ per visa to middle men faking/peddling the paperwork and making millions per year off it with fake promises and getting people in, deeper and deeper.

          • saveNZ – Yes- the housing situation deliberate – partly why Nats had to stigmatise the homeless as authors of their own misfortune – but it goes deeper, and possibly part of English’s seeming disconnect from the poor as people,and seeing all as economic or uneconomic units.

  6. I saw a great quote on the fediverse today, attributed to an unnamed union organizer:
    “You aren’t working to elect an ally who will act in your favour. You are working to elect an enemy who is easier to fight”

    If you can’t bring yourself to identify any of the candidates as competent allies, identify the strongest opponents and figure out who you can vote for – and encourage others to vote for – to keep those opponents out of power as much as possible. I’d give the same advice when it comes to the general election next year. We’ve all seen 12 years of what happens when radicals don’t engaged strategically enough with elections and we can’t afford to let that keep happening.

    Of course, this requires getting to know who the candidates are, or least what their stated policy platforms are, although that tell you everything about how effective they are at getting policies enacted. The Spinoff are offering a guide to all the candidates and their policies in the local body elections this year:
    https://policylocal.thespinoff.co.nz/

    Hopefully other organizations will do this too, as they did in the general election in 2017, allowing people to cross-check in case any of those policy guides are biased (unconsciously or consciously).

    > Across the western world, there’s an erosion in civic faith in democracy

    As you note later in the article, it’s not faith in democracy itself, but in the effectiveness of elected governments as a means to practice it. Especially in countries like NZ whose populations are the size of a single, small Chinese city (the one I currently live in has a higher population than our whole country), and whose politics are unavoidably shaped by global influences, economic, military, technological etc. It just seems more and more naive to think that ticking a bit of paper a couple of times every three years makes any difference in the face of all that, even though I actually still believe it has more influence that you’d think, relative to how little effort it requires (see above).

    • I think youll find that MPs progressively get woke no matter where in the political spectrum they start at. It’s apart of appealing to the heart when appealing to the brain totally fails. Even your own Paula Benefit is saying me too.

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