Written By: - Date published: 5:32 pm, September 23rd, 2014 - 171 comments
Categories: assets, Deep stuff, democracy under attack, democratic participation, election 2014, labour, national, Politics, poverty - Tags:
No one should begrudge John Key and the National party the right to celebrate an impressive election victory. It is little consolation to those who opposed them that the win is very much a personal triumph for the Prime Minister rather than for the party and government he leads.
As the tumult and the shouting die away, however, and there is time for more mature reflection, we can register a number of reasons as to why even the victors might feel a sense of unease about the outcome.
The triumphalism in some parts of the media would have us believe that everybody loves John Key and that the country is united behind him. Let us simply observe, as an antidote to such an illusion, that only one in three of eligible voters actually voted National; more than 60% of us did not join the bandwagon.
John Key himself, in his warning to his colleagues that they are not to show any arrogance, seems to understand this very well.
It will quickly be observed that other parties, and particularly Labour, did much worse. Agreed – they certainly have their own problems, but that is not the particular point I am making.
A democratic political process in which nearly a third do not participate is not in good health – especially in a country with a traditionally enviable record in terms of voter turnout.
We need to know who the nearly one million eligible voters who did not vote are, and why they stayed at home on polling day. It is not good enough for the rest of us to say that it was up to them and that, if they couldn’t be bothered, they have only themselves to blame.
We know, of course, who did make it to the polls. They identified themselves as soon as the election result became clear. They certainly included those who – against the wishes of the majority of Kiwis – bought shares in the partly privatised electricity companies and who immediately celebrated a surge in the value of their shareholdings.
It is a reasonable assumption that it also included others who saw their other shareholdings and other financial assets elsewhere immediately rise in value after the election. And those who have seen the value of their houses go up week by week, especially in Auckland, by more than some of our fellow-citizens can earn in six months – and those with good jobs and incomes, able to afford foreign holidays and fees at private schools for their children – they will also have had good reason to get to vote in favour of continuing and extending the good times represented by the status quo.
They all knew very clearly what they were voting for and had good reason to do so. But why did the nearly one million non-voters stay at home? Did they not have an even stronger reason to vote?
We have a pretty good idea of who the non-voters were. They were poor, often unemployed, poorly educated, with worse health than the rest of us, often brown-skinned, living in sub-standard housing and bringing up their children in poverty.
Did they not have everything to gain from change – a change that would not leave them languishing and invisible and falling further behind while the triumphant one in three amongst us celebrated their victory?
Why did they not do at least something to ward off the changes promised by a re-elected National government? Are they really content with the prospect of a next three years that will see their rights at work severely curtailed, that will mean their being “moved off benefits”, that will produce further cuts in the public services on which they especially depend?
The answer to these questions is disarmingly simple – but should nonetheless be of fundamental concern to all those who care about our country. They did not vote because they did not see the point.
They had no confidence that the political process took any account of their interests. They had ceased to believe anything that politicians said. They felt disengaged and confused, and convinced that there was nothing they could do to improve matters.
They are the people who are powerless and literally without hope, to whom things are done by faceless forces who have little idea of how life is for them. People who are without hope do not vote. Hopelessness has, in practical terms, disenfranchised them.
The National party might, if they are unwise, treat this with equanimity. But the party with real questions to answer is the Labour party.
How is it that the Labour party has failed to engage with what many would see as their natural constituency? What has led the Labour party to let down a million people who in earlier times would have looked to Labour to defend their interests?
As the entrails of the election are picked over, these are the questions that, for their own sake – but even more for the sake of the disenfranchised and the country as a whole – Labour must now answer. Our country cannot afford to leave so many of our fellow-citizens behind.
24 September 2014