Local Government Needs Actors – Not Mirrors.

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OH DEAR, oh dear, oh dear! Why can’t voters do more to meet the expectations of local government bureaucrats, political scientists, sociologists, progressive activists and woke columnists? Their willingness to tick the boxes of “pale, stale, males” calls into question their fitness to hold the franchise at all. In fact, it makes you wonder whether that chain-smoking old Marxist, Bertolt Brecht, may have been on to something when he hinted (albeit ironically) in his poem “The Solution” that the political class might find it easier “to dissolve the people/and elect another”.

The problem, according to the academics, is that New Zealand’s local bodies are not “representative” of the communities that elect them. Putting to one side the alarming preponderance of the aforementioned “pale, stale, males”, there is a woeful deficiency of Maori, the disabled, young people, LGBTQI+ and, of course, women. Apparently, democracy can only be said to be working when all these groups are seated around the council table in numbers exactly proportionate to their presence in the relevant electorate.

This critique of democracy is, however, premised on a fundamental misreading of what it means to be a “representative” of the people. Everything turns on that little word “a”. Candidates are not included on the ballot paper because they are “representative” of the voting public. If they were, then voters would no longer be asked to cast their ballots in a single, all-purpose election, but in one of many elections. There would be an election for a statistically appropriate contingent of men, and another for the right number of women. The disabled, the young and the LGBTQI+ would, similarly, compete against one another to represent their respective communities at the table. Ditto for the tangata whenua. The result would be a “representative” local authority made up of “representatives” of all those groups lucky enough to be “represented”.

It is just possible that a system constructed along these lines might one day come into existence. Much less likely, however, is a system representative not only of the identity groups listed above, but also of the economic groups making up every community. How would wealthy men and women feel about having to make way for a statistically appropriate contingent of the working poor and beneficiaries? How would all those young idealists from the leafy suburbs feel about making room for residents from the city’s meanest streets? When it came to deciding who got what in the city’s budget, how likely is it that all the LGBTQI+ councillors would vote the same way?

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The thing to remember is that “to represent” is a verb: people are elected to public office to act and speak on behalf of others. Each councillor is expected to “re-present”, to their fellow councillors, the demands arising out of the multitude of competing ideas, interests and groups that make up the electorate. To represent someone is to make a case for action in their cause. Representatives are not elected to our deliberative bodies to besomething – but to do something.

What the electors are required to assess when casting their vote is not how like them the candidates are, but how effective they are likely to be when acting on their behalf. It is the skills of the advocate they are looking for: the ability to speak convincingly; the education and experience to comprehend and prioritise the many factors in play whenever a significant course of action is proposed; a reputation for honesty, discretion, and – most importantly – for getting things done.

To criticise the electorate for not returning a statistically perfect cross section of their community is to confuse the secondary meaning of “represent” –to constitute, to typify, to be present in something to a particular degree – for its primary, its political meaning.

It is, therefore, not simply a mistaken but a dangerous criticism. At its heart lies the creeping assumption that local democracy – or, as senior local government bureaucrats prefer to call it, “governance” – has no need of people who are able to act effectively on behalf of their fellow citizens. The preference, instead, is for councillors who are willing to be guided by their professional and technical advisers.

It is this entirely undemocratic expectation – one evinced by an alarming and ever-increasing number of New Zealand’s unelected local government bureaucrats – which explains their preoccupation with the secondary meaning of the word “represent”.

The last thing they’re hoping for from the electoral process are councillors who are ready, willing and able to do something; what they’re looking for are people who are content to merely be something: male, female, Pakeha, Maori, old, young, able, disabled, heteronormative, LGBTQI+. Not “a” representative, but someone who merely typifies a particular community. Not a councillor who works for the voter, but a councillor who looks like the voter.

Not an actor, but a mirror.

8 COMMENTS

  1. +100 – we need people to truely represent, not be narcissistic puppets in a Beneton add campaign with the right look and vocabulary, while behind the scenes unelected people have all the power. That is what is really being destroyed by the obsession with the looks of candidates….aka democracy and representation itself.

    “At its heart lies the creeping assumption that local democracy – or, as senior local government bureaucrats prefer to call it, “governance” – has no need of people who are able to act effectively on behalf of their fellow citizens. The preference, instead, is for councillors who are willing to be guided by their professional and technical advisers.

    It is this entirely undemocratic expectation – one evinced by an alarming and ever-increasing number of New Zealand’s unelected local government bureaucrats – which explains their preoccupation with the secondary meaning of the word “represent”.

    The last thing they’re hoping for from the electoral process are councillors who are ready, willing and able to do something; what they’re looking for are people who are content to merely be something: male, female, Pakeha, Maori, old, young, able, disabled, heteronormative, LGBTQI+. Not “a” representative, but someone who merely typifies a particular community. Not a councillor who works for the voter, but a councillor who looks like the voter.”

    Not an actor, but a mirror.”

  2. “Their willingness to tick the boxes of “pale, stale, males” calls into question their fitness to hold the franchise at all.”

    It’s only the SJWs and the woke left who are exercised by this at all. The rest of us voters couldn’t give a flying fig about it. We’ll carry right on electing candidates who are – or claim to be – able to do the job, and giving them the electoral boot if they turn out to be pants at it.

  3. What you say is true, Mr Trotter. The problem is that the “critics” would dismiss your argument on your gender and skin colour. Doesn’t make you wrong, though.

  4. It does not matter as long as the ‘people’ (mostly ignorant, brain-washed, corrupt and opportunistic themselves as individuals) put up with what we have, shrug their shoulders and fall for the bits of perks and advantages most of them may get, even if it means just low rates to pay.

    As long as the masses are fed the common consumerist and brainwashed BS we get, they will put up with it all, roll over and continue to slumber in ignorance and indifference.

    JAFAS (lazy as the most are mentally and physically) are prime examples of such specimen of ‘the people’ who could not care who rules over them.

  5. Great argument from a pale stale male. The attitude to diversity alluded to by the author now permeates everything, including corporations and universities etc. While addressing a meeting at my workplace, the boss observed that “we don’t look very diverse”. Never mind what we do, (s)he’s more worried about what we look like.

    • chruskl: “While addressing a meeting at my workplace, the boss observed that “we don’t look very diverse”. ”

      Here you have hit on the major problem with the issue of “diversity”. Those people who trumpet about it in NZ appear to be labouring under the delusion that it’s exhausted by skin colour and biological sex.

      That’s arrant nonsense and makes me bristle.

      Just because people have the same colour skin, or are of the same sex, it by no means follows that they aren’t a diverse group, with wildly varying perspectives.

      Culture is a marker of diverse worldviews, not skin colour or sex. I’ve challenged the annoying Mai Chen on this issue: what I’ve heard her say comes close to ethnic chauvinism. And we need that here like we need toothache.

      Those of us born and brought up here share the NZ culture. Immigrants – whether or not they’re white – will bring a perspective based on their own culture. That’s the way the world is.

  6. You are 100% correct Chris.

    For example this time the box I, a pale stale male, shall tick for Mayor will be that of a Maori because the pale stale male incumbent is as useless as tits on a bull. Ditto his male supporters, Darby & Hills. I’m voting for a women instead. Because the vast majority of us just want the job done.

    The irony here is that it was people such as yourself that originally led us down this path. It was your ilk that saw society divided into victims and oppressors with your 19th century Marxian class theory. All these latter day socialists have done is slice & dice us along different lines.

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