Gordon McLauchlan: All you can vote for is the status quo

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The incentive to exercise a democratic right at the polls lessens when it seems politics is all about money.

A record 25 per cent enrolled but didn't vote at the last general election.
A record 25 per cent enrolled but didn't vote at the last general election.

When the issue of non-voting in general elections was raised by Britain's Russell Brand I was amused, but not convinced, by his quick intelligence and clever dissidence.

When I read Richard Jackson's case in the Herald against voting I thought it interesting and provocative, but I remained unpersuaded that it was a valid option in a democracy as historically successful as ours.

It was only when I read Mike Williams' addled rebuttal of Jackson's case that I began to think seriously of not voting.

A record 25 per cent enrolled but didn't vote at the last general election. Williams' answer to this disenchantment is to get them more "engaged". How? Public relations backed by a hefty advertising campaign would be consistent with trends.

The "significant recent reforms" he thinks should have engaged them include paid parental leave, an extra week's holiday, tightened health and safety regulations and even the vastly increased tax on tobacco.

(My italics.) There were also Working for Families and interest-free student loans. Does Labour seriously believe that any of those contributions to middle-class welfare helped the unemployed and the low-paid impoverished?

He further cites the tightening of health and safety regulations but doesn't mention these were responding to earlier business-prompted government decisions to deregulate. Pike River? Building industry deregulation has cost us billions.

The economy (should I genuflect here?) has become markedly more efficient since the reforms of the 1980s because technological advances have cut back the need for once costly labour. The fruits have gone to the directors, senior executives and shareholders of corporations and the professionals who help them avoid tax.

The narcissism of the wealthy and their helpmates is astonishing. Once on radio I referred to GST as a tax that penalises poor people. A wealthy tax expert snorted that it impacted more on the wealthy than the poor, demonstrating he doesn't know the difference between the desire for a Mercedes and the need for a loaf of bread.

Meanwhile, beneficiaries are demonised because governments need enemies to blame for any social unrest. Poorly paid schoolteachers, most of whom do their best for children, are now enemies because they oppose the fragmentation and privatisation of education. Labour man Williams dismisses them with "unionists and community do-gooders".

Unions were once crucial to New Zealand's social progress but, after World War II, collective hubris saw them self-destruct. Warning: collective hubris now belongs to business and its economic Pharisees.

I was once a centrist but seem a Lefty now. I haven't changed.

Political pundits, embedded in the Establishment, prattle on about Labour moving to the " far left", as do-nothing John Key puts it. If they want to understand the shift in the political spectrum, they should read the 1949 election speeches of the (then) reactionary, Sid Holland, as he outbid Labour's welfare; and also the report of the royal commission into welfare in the 1970s. They should note that 40 years ago, Republican Tricky Dickie Nixon signed the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act and raised Social Security and Medicare to new highs.

Every era seems to have its settled truth. When I was a boy it was undiluted socialism. Like all rigid ideologies, it was eventually found out. Now the settled truth is the untrammelled market driving an insane urge for infinite economic growth, with its hallowed belief that money is the essence of the virtuous life. It is failing internationally, but settled truths take a lot of shifting and what worries me is that, historically, social calamity is often required.

Inevitably, I will be accused of envy and excessive nostalgia (the usual way of dismissing aged opinion).

But I was brought up to believe that everyone is entitled to enough income to live with dignity and to have a real chance to improve themselves and their families.

What distresses me about today's politics is simple really. We are holding the future hostage, and we are depriving many decent people, young and old, of a decent life while the wealthy reward themselves with absurd opulence. MPs income soars higher and higher above the median wage and they've secured superannuation beyond the dreams of those they are supposed to serve.

Politics is all about money now. Colin Craig would have remained a nonentity but for his money. Dotcom, here for 10 minutes, wants to run the country simply because he has money. Yes, perhaps we only encourage this rubbish by voting.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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