I would like to see a gen­uine con­test of val­ues-based ideas

The Timaru Herald - - Opinion - Grant Shim­min grant.shim­min@stuff.co.nz CON­TENT WARN­ING: This col­umn con­tains un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions.

The longer you vote, the more you re­alise there is no per­fect party, no per­fect politi­cian, no-one who will of­fer you every­thing you want as a voter. Noth­ing even comes close, to be hon­est.

I sup­pose that’s the point. If there was one, of ei­ther, we’d have done away with vot­ing by now. We’re hu­man; it’s never go­ing to hap­pen.

That state of af­fairs im­pacts, though, on how par­ties cam­paign, and, to be fair, on how their cam­paigns are cov­ered. At times it seems like ap­peal­ing to vot­ers can be far more about pulling the other par­ties down than pre­sent­ing a pow­er­ful, aspi­ra­tional vi­sion of one’s own. I’m talk­ing across the board here.

I saw some com­ments this week I thought wete re­mark­ably as­tute, while to a cer­tain ex­tent stat­ing the bleed­ing ob­vi­ous. Maybe be­cause it’s so clearly star­ing us in the face that we don’t even think to men­tion it. Both ma­jor par­ties are fo­cused around mid­dle in­come New Zealand, be­cause that’s the largest vot­ing bloc. I re­mem­ber when John Key led Na­tional back to power in 2008, the col­umns that were writ­ten about how Na­tional had suc­ceeded by be­com­ing Labourlite. It swings both ways.

So we truck on with two ma­jor par­ties, slightly Left and slightly Right of Cen­tre, and we re­turn first-, and usu­ally sec­ond-term gov­ern­ments, un­til we get to the point where it’s time for a change, essen­tially. That’s an over­sim­pli­fi­ca­tion, but, I think, broadly the case.

In 2005, af­ter his di­vi­sive Orewa speech, Don Brash ham­mered the con­cept of what ‘‘main­stream New Zealand’’ wanted. When He­len Clark stepped up to the podium af­ter it was con­firmed Labour had squeaked home on elec­tion night, her first words were: ‘‘Thank you, main­stream New Zealand’’. That was plainly a dig at Don, but nev­er­the­less re­flec­tive of elec­toral re­al­i­ties.

It’s all so ter­ri­bly pre­dictable. And I write this as some­one very much part of mid­dle in­come NZ.

So I started think­ing about an elec­toral wish­list. Hence the self-ex­plana­tory con­tent warn­ing. I’m not here to say how I’m go­ing to vote, or to en­dorse a party or a politi­cian, though I can’t stop you read­ing be­tween the lines.

What I would like to see, though, is a gen­uine con­test of ideas, but more im­por­tantly, of fun­da­men­tal val­ues. Yes, the lat­ter are there to be dis­cerned, to some ex­tent, from the per­for­mances we see on the cam­paign trail, from the tac­tics they’re will­ing to em­ploy to at­tract votes, but how many Ki­wis have time to study those, es­pe­cially in a year like 2020? As much as I would never vote for him or his party, or buy in to its val­ues, I have to ad­mire David Sey­mour for his clar­ity and con­sis­tency. Though Na­tional’s prob­lems will have played a part too, I sus­pect his ‘‘up­front­ness’’ is a fac­tor in ACT’s cur­rent polling.

In some ways I’d re­ally like elec­tions to con­sist purely of par­ties say­ing ‘‘these are our core val­ues, and you vote for us, or you don’t vote for us, based on them’’. Vot­ers would be able to as­sess the claims against par­ties’ past per­for­mances. Then for­get about all the other cam­paign rig­ma­role. I know it’s not re­al­is­tic. But hey, it’s a wish­list, wish­ful think­ing by def­i­ni­tion.

Re­lated to that, I’d like to have an elec­tion in which the term ‘‘lolly scram­ble’’ isn’t heard – from the me­dia – in re­la­tion to pol­icy; where we aren’t en­cour­aged to vote based purely on in­di­vid­ual self-in­ter­est, with­out re­gard for how the poli­cies we’re ef­fec­tively en­dors­ing af­fect New Zealan­ders across the so­cio-eco­nomic spec­trum. Elec­toral bribes are an ef­fec­tive tool or politi­cians wouldn’t con­tinue to roll them out. But we should think about what they don’t say, as well as what they do.

I’d like to vote know­ing that the term ‘‘hard-work­ing New Zealan­ders’’ refers to all those who work hard, rather than against the back­drop of pol­icy which sug­gests the term refers to

In some ways I’d re­ally like elec­tions to con­sist purely of par­ties say­ing ‘‘these are our core val­ues, and you vote for us, or you don’t vote for us, based on them’’.

mid­dle and high in­come earn­ers. Small busi­ness own­ers are, for the most part, in­cred­i­bly hard­work­ing, but so are clean­ers, car­ers, su­per­mar­ket check­out op­er­a­tors, teacher aides, and oth­ers earn­ing min­i­mum, or just above min­i­mum, wage, striv­ing to keep body and soul to­gether for them­selves and those who de­pend on them. Many hig­h­earn­ing hard-work­ing New Zealan­ders have got there with con­sid­er­able help from min­i­mum wage-earn­ing hard-work­ing New Zealan­ders.

More than any­thing, I want to vote as­pi­ra­tionally, for poli­cies that make ev­ery New Zealan­der feel val­ued, that they have a stake in mak­ing this a bet­ter so­ci­ety, re­gard­less of gen­der iden­tity, eth­nic­ity, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, age, re­li­gious af­fil­i­a­tion, ed­u­ca­tional qual­i­fi­ca­tion, job ti­tle, bank bal­ance etc. In short, poli­cies of rad­i­cal in­clu­sion, which of­fer us all the same op­por­tu­nity to con­trib­ute, to bet­ter our­selves and so­ci­ety. To adapt an old say­ing, a ris­ing tide lifts all boats, but a trickle is eas­ily dammed.

I told you, wish­ful think­ing. All I can do is pick the party that seems to me to come clos­est.

Oh, and I’d like to vote ev­ery four years. A three-year par­lia­men­tary term is just too short, and too much of it is taken up with the busi­ness of elec­tions. If your ar­gu­ment against that is that Aus­tralia has a three-year term too, we re­ally need to talk.

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