John Roughan 's Opinion

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan: Oldies after the youth vote

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Harawira and Harre make Dotcom look positively young

Laila Harre, flanked by Hone Harawira and Kim Dotcom, aims to run a campaign appealing to the younger voter. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Laila Harre, flanked by Hone Harawira and Kim Dotcom, aims to run a campaign appealing to the younger voter. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Laila Harre is ageing well. She looked trim on television. The face we remember when she was last in Parliament 12 to 18 years ago is a little lined and the hair is greying and looks better for it.

But did she say she is going to be speaking for the young? She is 48, just four years younger than John Key. She was born right at the end of the baby boom and must share its ageless delusion. Even older boomers like me imagine we look younger than we do.

Her new political partner, Hone Harawira, and Annette Sykes, number three on the new "youth party" list, are of the same generation. The younger generation of Maori have been a disappointment to them. I've watched Sykes and others of the protest era trying to whip up a demonstration at Waitangi in latter years. The young listen politely and make their own decision.

They always have, just as Harre, Harawira and Sykes did at the same age. You'd think baby boomers, of all generations, would remember how ridiculous older people sound when they think they connect with the young. It is not only patronising, it is insulting to the intelligence of the young.

There is nothing more painful in politics than watching a panel of young people being asked why so many of their generation are not voting. The presumption of the questions put to them is always that government is going wrong and young people have a golden opportunity to change it.

That is probably the view of the volunteers in the voter participation drive who know it would be uncool for young people to declare contentment with the status quo.

So the youth feel obliged to mumble sentiments that make them sound alienated, confused, vaguely idealistic and a bit dumb. They are not. They know exactly why the turnout is lower among their peers: younger voters are less likely to make the effort when there is no reason to change.

They have grown up in a very settled political era. Helen Clark was the first Prime Minister they really knew and she was okay for three elections. Key is still okay. That's about it, really.

Laila Harre has taken the leadership of an Internet Party financed by a recent immigrant who is wanted in the United States on charges arising from an internet operation that has made him a fortune. He wants to stop law enforcement agencies using the internet as effectively as they could. This may be a viewpoint shared by many young people but just as many, I suspect, find Kim Dotcom a bumptious clown, if not a crook, who has been here about four years and assumes the right to change our government. Where does this guy get off?

Every time he purses his lips, blows out his cheeks and pronounces his intentions, I wonder what would happen if a resident American plutocrat was to fund a political party for the expressed purpose of removing a Labour government. John Campbell would be on his case.

Newcomers to a country are normally circumspect about its politics for good reason. They feel like somebody newly included in a family. You are very careful about taking sides in disputes, conscious that there will be a great deal you do not know.

When Dotcom announced he was going to change the government he clearly had no idea how our electoral system works. He formed a new party, apparently unaware that unless it won 5 per cent of all the votes cast, which was not likely, it would do the opposite, it would help the Government get re-elected.

Every vote it won would be taken out of the count, thereby increasing National's proportion of the votes that would be counted.

The Green Party tried to explain this publicly but their statements were interpreted simply as fear the new party would take votes from them. (The Greens' share of the counted votes would have increased too).

Russel Norman finally went to the Dotcom mansion to explain the intricacies of MMP in person to the maestro of mega uploads and the penny dropped. Dotcom realised he would need to hitch his Internet Party to an electorate MP if any votes that it won were to count.

Only one anti-Government MP outside the Labour Party has an electorate. Hone Harawira was his only option. Harawira is lonely in Parliament, he told Shane Jones he might get out. Now he is almost certain to have a companion in the House. The only question is whether Internet-Mana plunders a little of Labour's vote or attracts some of the last election's non-voters.

Dotcom says he will step back now, leave it to Harre to attract the internet generation. That's wise, though on television this week, standing beside the two politicians in his pocket, Dotcom has never looked younger.

- NZ Herald

John Roughan

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald. A graduate of Canterbury University with a degree in history and a diploma in journalism, he started his career on the Auckland Star, travelled and worked on newspapers in Japan and Britain before returning to New Zealand where he joined the Herald in 1981. He was posted to the Parliamentary Press Gallery in 1983, took a keen interest in the economic reform programme and has been a full time commentator for the Herald since 1986. He became the paper's senior editorial writer in 1988 and has been writing a weekly column under his own name since 1996. His interests range from the economy, public policy and politics to the more serious issues of life.

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