The big election yawn
rationale for local government is, I also know what the reality is, and so too, we can be certain, do many other citizens. And that’s why they largely ignore the local polls.
In theory, parliamentarians are meant to be concentrating on the big picture, reviewing and passing laws, and tending to national business. Councillors, in theory, will tend to the local services like drain cleaning, road repair, garbage collection, and a multitude of other more parochial concerns.
In reality, this is not only far from what happens, but you could say that the theory and the reality have had a bitter and acrimonious divorce. MPs are intimately involved in the planning, monitoring and, sadly, all too often, the distribution of work and benefits.
As demand for welfare benefits has always outstripped supply, and likely always will, it’s a doomed formula. But they’re stuck. So they just continuously daydream of the paradise of a bigger Constituency Development Fund to satisfy the demands, and relish the little trough they do have, the weighty fulminations of The Gleaner notwithstanding.
And that’s even before looking at the continued demolition of the better parts of our political culture that this practice has actively encouraged or accelerated. For it engenders dependency, servility and, ultimately, disappointment, resentment and anger.
Please recall that quite early on, the newly minted parliamentarian Damion Crawford complained bitterly about realising his powerlessness as an MP. He was curtly reminded that this was the work for which he had been hired by constituents: to be a beggar-in-chief, rice bowl in hand to state bureaucrats. It is a known and conveniently celebrated feature of our system that the best MP is the MP who begs best.
So when McPherse asks us to “be mindful that members of parliament, including the prime minister, have been elected to make laws, rather than attending to the bread-and-butter political issues”, I respectfully acknowledge that as an expression of some kind of magnificent idealism. If that were true, perhaps we might live to witness a Parliament working hard to modernise our laws even when there isn’t an IMF whip cracking over their collective backs. But as of now, a man can withhold a gun wanted for a murder investigation on pain of a mere $1-million fine.
By the way, we’ve been hearing about ‘local government reform’ for so long, because it actually means nothing at this point. As MPs have injected themselves into the role of councillors, local functions have been largely swallowed up by national institutions. So the NSWMA deals with the garbage, the NWA deals with the roads, and the Ministry of Labour and Social Security has mostly overtaken poor relief.
I should add that I intend to vote, and encourage others to consider it seriously. But that is more out of stubbornness and as a result of habituation, not because of any conviction that local government will ever use its initiative to make any earth-shattering changes, or, really, even modest ones. We big kids can move past that particular conceit.