The Confessions of a Sunken Voter by Trevor Plumbly
I quite like Australians but they’ve got some strange habits. Like compulsory voting. Regardless of their sensitivities, Sheila, Bruce et al are required by law to endorse someone’s path to power. Things are a bit more considerate of human frailty here in the gentle green hills of NZ: we get to choose. We can either take a punt at whose particular brand of snake oil we want to try, or simply not bother to vote at all, which, on the face of it, is probably the best option. It avoids the pain of having your hopes and aspirations treated like human waste after the election whilst allowing you to adopt the lofty position of saying, ‘Well, I didn’t vote for them.’ I used to vote, but it was easier then: the trough was somewhat smaller and the feeders’ eating habits more easily identified. Pin-stripe suited Tories waffled on about industrial growth and the strength of the economy; Labour championed the workers in stentorian, less cultured tones, while the Liberals sort of buggered around in the middle. Politics at its basic best: if you had blue blood and a few bob you voted right, if you were skint and/or wore hobnail boots, you voted left. The middle ground or ‘fence’ was reserved for Liberals to sit on.
As governance got sophisticated to suit the modern age, the lines got blurred and in order to survive as a species, politicians were required to be more devious. The Right Honourables adopted a centre right position which caused the workers’ party to shift into centre left which in turn forced the Liberals into a sort of temporary redundancy. But politicians are nothing but inventive and after a short break they were reborn as ‘the Greens’ with the result that instead of having distinctive breeds, we ended up with a sort of mongrel mass to cope with, all with the same speech patterns and tailors. The new mob realised that, like toothpaste adverts, if the messenger looked good the actual message wasn’t all that important; the theory being that if you’re going to get screwed, it’s less traumatic if someone you approve of is doing it. We mattered, of course, but we lost our identity too, we became ‘the general public’ (insignificant), ‘the man in the street’ (sexist) or worse, ‘the ordinary New Zealander’ (insulting).
The pot was stirred to Machiavellian level with the introduction of MMP (Mixed Member Proportional). Put simply, this little gem was designed to give us broader representation by offering us a ‘party’ vote option in addition to the electorate one; a percentage of the party vote then determined how many extra or ‘list’ MPs each party could take into parliament. In its pure form, MMP isn’t a bad idea, but the problem is that purity doesn’t sit well with politicians; it’s too much of an absolute for their brains to cope with and so the tinkering began. Having been booted out of his blue ribbon National seat, the elderly member could be made a ‘list’ MP and enter parliament through the side door. At the same time, Labour could decide not to oppose a candidate from a friendly party in one electorate and concentrate its energy and funds on the party vote. Net result: you’ve got one old rejected fossil sitting back in the house, an MP who didn’t have to fight for his seat, along with a few odds and sods with no electorate loyalty or responsibility. The ‘first past the post’ wasn’t perfect by any means, but at least it restricted parliamentary seats to voters’ choice rather than party favour. So don’t bother looking for me in the run-up to the election amongst the general public, the men in the street or even the ordinary New Zealanders: I’ll be in strict hibernation ready to emerge and pounce at a later point to proclaim, ‘I DID NOT VOTE FOR THEM!’