Jim Hopkins on current issues

Jim Hopkins is a Herald columnist

Jim Hopkins: Remember who owns the election

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Tomorrow we take part in a long and glorious tradition to determine the future

This much is certain; better ballots than bullets. We vote tomorrow because we can. It's the gift of our history. In Syria and Egypt, they will fight. Because they must. They are making their history now. While we are making our private choices, people will be shot on the streets and in the squares of Syria and in Egypt, fighting to get what we take for granted. Hobson brought the franchise with him. It was ours from the start.

When this country was born in 1840, it was already 3000 years old. Our history was here from the start. Strands from Egypt, Judea, Greece, Rome, Scandinavia and 2000 years of English history - faith, science, politics, law, engineering, philosophy, art, manners - we got the the lot, off-the-peg, a mansion of notions in which we could roam, redecorating here and modifying there but spared the need to build our place from scratch.

So, tomorrow, when you vote, spare a thought for the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the barons who forced King John to sign the Magna Carta and those long-ago Norsemen who took their proto-parliament to England and the Romans and Plato and the Chartists and Cromwell and Churchill and Thomas Payne and a million more besides. They gave us our social DNA. They're the architects of our attitudes. They fought our battles for us. They're the reason we're voting, not fighting.

We don't have to fight. Indeed, you could argue we don't even have to think. Borrowing $300 million a week for the last 24 months or thereabouts has insulated us from many of the world's ugly new realities.There've been no riots here, no fires, no flames, no battles in the streets. Our Government hasn't had to do what the Greeks and the Italians and Spanish are compelled to do. They've had to slash and burn, hack and chop, cut and cancel. We haven't. Not yet. A bit of trimming, some tightening of the belt, a little judicious pruning and that's it.

No-one's really worried. Not yet. Life goes on and little squabbles flare but, basically, we feel reasonably safe, secure and cosy. Thanks to all those cash cows out in our paddocks, we've been able to borrow and cope. If they (the cows) didn't moo what they do moo well, we wouldn't have scored all that dosh. But we have. And that's a very good thing. Make no mistake. The air bag of income has cushioned us. It's meant we've had a soft (or softish) landing, rather than the violent collision between the state and the people we've seen unfold in Athens.

But, wait. There's less. Coming soon to a budget near you. On this much, all the parties currently using our money to sell us their policies seem to agree. "This is the worst economic crisis in our lifetimes." Peter Dunne said that yesterday morning during a minor party leaders radio debate. And all the other leaders concurred. However different their solutions may be, they all identify the same problem.

So do Mr Key and Mr Goff. Both say the world is a gurgler down which we may yet go. Whichever wins the right to form a government may as well change their name to Jenny Craig because each in their own way is saying we'll be going on a very strict dollar diet in the next little while. One way or another, they'll be cutting our cash calories. That's how it is now; here, there and everywhere. Basically, every politician in the world has got the same job today. They're all burping the baby who's been gorging on debt and hoping like heck it won't throw up all over them.

Quite why anyone would want the job is a moot point. But someone will get it. And we will choose who that will be. Not as they are striving to do in Syria and Egypt but quietly, peacefully, with no tear gas or bullets being fired at us. There'll be no soldiers standing between us and the polling booth. The only impediment we'll encounter is our own indifference.

Our past has bequeathed us a franchise. Our future will be determined by it. And we have two choices tomorrow. We can choose who we vote for and also how we vote. There's a range of views on this matter. Mr Goff favours MMP, Mr Key prefers SM. Others want Preferential Voting. Some hanker for FPP. Putting aside the merits of each, there is another, even more important issue. Our control of the process.

Unless we vote for change, the politicians will decide how they are elected. They may tinker with MMP or change it radically. The choice will be theirs, not ours. A vote for change will ensure a second referendum, with MMP tested against one of the alternatives. It means we will control the evolution of our peaceful democracy. Let the politicians address the economy. But the elections belong to us!

- NZ Herald

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