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Local Bodies: Politics, Sharks and Voter Apathy

Written By: - Date published: 7:00 am, June 23rd, 2014 - 8 comments
Categories: election 2014, greens, john key, labour, Minister for International Embarrassment, polls - Tags: , ,

Reposted from Local Bodies.

I had a conversation at our farmer’s market this morning about how my election campaign was going and the person I was speaking to had the view that all politicians don’t actually do much, apart from talking. I find that this thinking is actually fairly common, many people talk about the nonsense that goes on in Parliament and how all politicians are as bad as each other, “It doesn’t matter who you vote for, nothing really changes.”

I find this view really frustrating, but at the same time I can see why people may feel this way. The average New Zealander is too busy getting by, trying to earn a living and supporting their families with little time to analyze what is happening on the political scene. Their view of politics as seen through the mainstream media is a jaundiced one, it appears that ‘gotcha’ politics (as it has been recently called) is all dominating. The two larger parties are desperately throwing metaphorical daggers at each other and hoping that one of them draws blood and the media gather like sharks to pounce on the juicy bits as they emerge. Whether it is Judith Collins or David Cunliffe whose blood attracts the sharks, there is little real analysis regarding the extent of the wound (or whether it is self inflicted), blood is blood and the shark frenzy occurs regardless.

As each political poll is released commentators try to pinpoint which recent calamity contributed to any drop in support and who is leading in the leadership stakes. The margin of error is ignored, all the undecided are cast aside and either National has an unassailable lead and can govern alone or the Labour/Green block is in with a chance. Photographs of John Key being taken on a personal tour of the Whitehouse garden by the President himself hit the front pages and Cunliffe’s days as leader are apparently numbered because of an 11 year old letter of little real consequence.

There have been a number of major policy announcements from the Greens, Labour and National since the beginning of the year. The Greens have released education andtransport initiatives, Labour announced a substantial economic policy and National has released their massive $359 million Investment in Education Success. How much media analysis has there been of each? Policy is released, comment is sought from opposing parties and that appears to be it. The real interest is in whether Winston really does have new information on Judith Collins or perhaps Donghua Liu did donate money to the Labour Party.

Education Academic, Prof Martin Thrupp, is quite correct when he voices concern that National’s education plans are potentially going to result in the biggest changes to the system since Tomorrow’s Schools and yet no journalist has delved into the policy in any real detail nor sought a range of views. We have numerous crises that rarely feature on the front page of newspapers: growing child poverty, environmental collapse and Government debt that has risen to $60 billion or ($13,300 for every man, woman and child in the country).

Politicians aren’t just talk, they actually do things that have a huge effect on our day to day lives: the cost of power, the availability of a decent home to rent, and whether you can live on a minimum wage is down to them. The politicians (especially those in government) can decide if your local school will close or if a special needs child will get teacher aid support or not. Whether our rivers will ever be clean enough to swim in again or if Maui dolphins will still exist in five or ten years are dependent on decision being made by politicians at this very time.

For most voters dramatic change doesn’t appear to happen, the sun still comes up every morning, no matter who is in power, and daily routines continue. When September 20 comes around and pens are poised above the voting forms, what will really determine where the mark falls? Will it be the party that has the most logical strategies and the most progressive policies for the future of the country, or will it come down to the party that survives the campaign shark frenzy with the most limbs attached and their real agenda disguised by the slickest spin and the largest donors?


8 comments on “Local Bodies: Politics, Sharks and Voter Apathy”

  1. Rosie 1

    I’ve made it my mission to talk to my non voting family and friends, which there are many, and to encourage them to reconsider their position. It is a hugely difficult task for the reasons discussed in the post.

    In 2011 I got one young non voter one board. They just didn’t see how politicians made a difference in society prior to the 2011election but after casting their first vote, they became enthused by the part they played and understood the importance of what they were doing. That person now has a healthy interest in local and international politics.

    A bright spot in a depressing week of the relentless collaborative attack of the media against the Labour Party was the conversion of a person who hasn’t voted in the last four elections, to now declaring that they will vote. Her reasons were the usual “They’re all idiots”, is what I was told. She was definitely very hostile to the idea of voting for all that time.

    The trick is however to find what matters to them, and take it from there, speaking to their view rather than putting your own political and social views into the discussion. The last thing a non voter wants to experience is to be preached at, they already feel like they are in a powerless position and it’s our job to help them understand that by voting they are regaining their power, and that their vote is a precious right.

    In this the case the former non voter her soft spot is…………….dolphins……………! Knowing this and knowing she is from Tauranga I asked what her thoughts were on Simon Bridges. She said “he’s a fucktard”. (Couldn’t agree more), so we were off to a good start – she had an opinion. After a two hour text discussion she said “well you’ve convinced me”. She is going to look into voting either Internet Party or Green.

    Seeing that turn around was the highlight of the week. Thats only 2 people in 3 years though. A fairly poor success rate BUT if we are doing this all over the country, listening to our non voting friends, family and workmates if will make a difference.

    • karol 1.1

      Every voter counts!

      The trick is however to find what matters to them, and take it from there, speaking to their view rather than putting your own political and social views into the discussion.

      Excellent point, Rosie.

  2. greywarbler 2

    A good election slogan then would be –
    “Vote for…the Left.. and we will make a difference that will make you happy”.

  3. tired 3

    bsprout says he comes from “the deep south” and that kind of thinking is likely to be reflected in his blind-spot.

    “We have numerous crises that rarely feature on the front page of newspapers: growing child poverty, environmental collapse and Government debt that has risen to $60 billion or ($13,300 for every man, woman and child in the country).”

    It’s not so much that no one is addressing the above issues, or polluted waterways, or anything else. Apathy often arises from two further voters perspectives:

    No Party can offer to address why the above “social diseases” occur and continue to worsen, or what may be fuelling them. (Once I thought they knew, not so sure they know anymore. That, or they’ve found it politically unprofitable to remember.)

    No party offers a direction away from the causes of above social issues. They offer to alleviate the disease to varying degrees, eliminate the “waste”, but not address the cause. (Cue screams of outrage from our right-wing friends, and unfortunately, also from our comfortable leftie friends.)

    Haven’t been down South for a while, but last time I was there – before the quakes – not to be offensive about it, but the dominant mindset isn’t going to fix the above issues, especially if you transferred the bootstraps approach into a Northern city for example. There is no one size fits all for a country, including a small country like New Zealand. The South and the North are two different countries, two different perspectives, two different cultures. That’s why you could say that what bsprout says is true, but only for the South.

    Third reason for apathy is a secondary “disease” caused by the effect on the people of long term political blind spots. Once the people know the politicians don’t care to change the ultimate direction, once they know certain parts of society are “not required”, once they have to live what that means in real terms to their family and personally, for long enough, once enough people are born into that reality, motivating them to vote is an impossible game. The choice is fast or slow, no change of direction, nothing more. Progressively fast, progressively slow, same dead end.

    “Politicians aren’t just talk, they actually do things that have a huge effect on our day to day lives: the cost of power, the availability of a decent home to rent, and whether you can live on a minimum wage is down to them. The politicians (especially those in government) can decide if your local school will close or if a special needs child will get teacher aid support or not. Whether our rivers will ever be clean enough to swim in again or if Maui dolphins will still exist in five or ten years are dependent on decisions being made by politicians at this very time.”

    So here’s what’s on offer:

    The cost of power, to live within a working class system that offers no alternative than giving a working life for profit for the already rich. Stay warm, then go back to work until the resource runs out. Dead end. It’s not like history hasn’t shown us the end game already for godssake.

    Rent a decent home, handing over roughly half your income in you live in a city – income from an unsustainable economic system, unless you fancy going to war with Fiji or some other local Island resource – hand it over to the already rich. They’ll continue to increase the rent each year, based on imaginary ideas such as inflation, interest rates and “the cost of living”. That house has mold, that one doesn’t. Same Dead end.

    Minimum wage – the amount comfortable rich people think you can continue to eat enough to have the energy to make them more money by selling your labour at rock bottom prices. Vote for them, or you’ll die of starvation. Nice. And you wonder why people hate politicians? Dead end.

    Closing schools and leaving special needs kids to drift – the reality of your working class world, the world we want you stay in, the world we want you to vote for, doesn’t allow you time to tend to your special needs kid and still avoid starvation and poverty yourself. Don’t vote for us, we’ll even take the opportunity for education away from your kids, then you’ll have to homeschool them, in between working a full time job. Oh by the way, if you can’t get ahead under that reality, it must be you at fault. Vote for us, we set up game you can’t win. Dead end.

    I’m going to stop here before I get too worked up. Politicians say they’re concerned, but they aren’t. They’re like policemen for non-criminals: they enforce stereotypes via policy for their own gain.

    bsprout has been around long enough to know these things, but he doesn’t mention them in his post. In his defence, they wouldn’t sell down South, so he has to omit them. They are things no one can ignore, especially those of the imaginary left, if they dream of ever winning a landslide victory within the next century. Until the South announces independence and votes from there count only toward a Southern Presidency, there is no chance of cutting an Island or province loose, attitudes will have to change to compliment the overall reality. No more of this rural/city divide where one area is implied to be hardworking and the other decadent wastrels. North and south are interconnected, despite differences. North issues are South issues, can’t ignore them, can’t can fix them with brute force, because voters know it can’t be done that way. They’ll lose the urge to vote.

  4. Lanthanide 4

    I’d say a good chunk of the apathy and belief that it doesn’t matter who is in, is that typically budgets from either party are fiddling with the 1-2% of spending around the edges. The spending that goes on health, education, welfare, defence, sciences etc are seen as being pretty much fixed (although not in Australia, as we’ve just found out).

    Of course the final 1-2% around the edges does make a difference, and even outside of direct spending there are obvious levers the government can pull such as Notional Standards, Roads of Notional Significance and snapper quota, but by and large these things are not seen as impacting on most people.

  5. Sable 5

    I think people have lost hope.They have been betrayed so many times by politicians they no longer see any value in trying to enact change through the vote. I do think they understand the importance and influence of government but feel dis empowered by it.

    This is a valid perspective given both of the main parties look increasingly like one another (I know many on this site won’t agree with this view) leaving people wondering if change has any value or if continuity may actually yield better results-“devil you know”.

    If you take Labour as a for instance, have they disagreed with the National policy of allowing oil to be taken from NZ. I believe the answer is “no” and in fact they endorse this policy in spite of the considerable risk. How about cleaning up NZ rivers, again “no”. Dismantling the spy apparatus or rejecting the TPPA? As far as I have heard they have been pretty silent on these important issues too.

    If you want someones vote, if you need to be able to actually offer them something. All the issues I have mentioned matter to me so I’m voting Green who have actually rejected the aforementioned. By rights I should be voting Labour, my family helped found this party but as I said where’s the incentive. I don’t see one personally…

  6. blue leopard 6

    Good article thanks this is a worthy subject I think this article largely hits the nail on the head, however a correction is in order.

    You need to take a look at the definition of ‘Gotcha politics’:



    Whilst the reference for Wikipedia is regarding journalist tactics I think it relays the gist of the type of behaviour that politicians would need to be conducting in order to come under the accusation of conducting Gotcha politics.

    Take a look at the sentence: “Techniques discussed here can be used to get a subject with something genuinely discreditable to hide to reveal wrongdoing; there can be a fine line between robust and gotcha journalism.

    Over previous weeks Labour were raising awareness on the matter of politicians having conflicting interests (vested interests) and also the way money influences National party politics.

    National’s message, however has been one of ‘well you do it to’

    The media’s role has been one of asking leading questions in order to ‘trap’ Cunliffe into looking dishonest prior to the release of a letter (note the word is ‘looking’, not that he has been dishonest at all)

    …and when released the letter supplied an example that is highly flimsy at best.

    Flimsy because if Labour are not aware of a donation how does this establish that donations are influencing outcomes with respect to Labour?

    And please do note there has been no vested interests issue raised with regard to Labour/Cunliffe – Labour have not been even accused of ‘you do it too’ so we can assume that despite scrabbling away behind the scenes National have not found any even tenuous examples of Labour MPs having ulterior motives.

    I put this more simply:

    Labour’s message has been “Money is influencing politics and this is wrong”

    Nationals message has been “This is not wrong – you do it too”.

    Taking the issue further, out of these two parties:

    Which party has policies, attitudes and principles that will discourage the corruption of democratic process in which private money influences politics?

    Which party is sending the message that this isn’t a problem and therefore this phenomena will go by unaddressed and continue?

    This entire issue actually touches on a very topical issue: wealth disparity. These events illustrate yet another reason why serious wealth disparities are bad for society and democracy.

    Some people have enough money to give donations of 10s, if not 1000s of dollars and this money influences how they are treated by our – OUR representatives. Whilst others in this country are not even receiving enough to cover their living costs. Is this fair?

    … and which parties have policies that address this issue? Conversely which party ignores the issue and speaks loudly and firmly deflecting this issue? i.e. That this problem isn’t existent in NZ – or isn’t ‘getting worse’ (so? even if that is so, it is already of a severe enough magnitude to be creating severe problems and needs addressing)

    I conclude: conveying as equivalent what Labour were pursuing a few weeks back re Williamson and Collins with what National and the media have conducted over the last week is a case of swallowing and propagating National’s spin on the matter.

    Please stop equating what Labour have pursued to what National are pursuing. Labour have been raising awareness on serious matters and National are simply muddying the waters.

    Labour have policies that address this matter.
    National don’t apart from watered down versions that originated from Labour.

    National and the media are playing Gotcha politics
    Labour are not.

  7. Whatever next? 7

    Tony Ben said the 2 things that stop people voting are fear(of falling out of line and losing job, position etc) and despondency.
    Good to see the above summary of the “business as usual” approach of elite and the masses accepting this position……and the overwhelming disconnect between reality and propoganda/spin, somehow it helps to see it in writing by someone else

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