Friday, October 31, 2008

Isn't democracy grand?

(First published in the Curmudgeon column, Dominion Post, October 28.)

BEFORE you get giddy with power at the thought of exercising your ultimate right as a citizen on November 8, here’s a quick reality check.

The tick you place beside a name on the ballot paper may, in theory, have an infinitesimal influence on the immediate outcome of the election. But from that point on you will be powerless to shape events.

After the peculiar interlude known as the election campaign, during which the politicians uncharacteristically suck up to us, normal service will resume. We’ll go back to disliking and distrusting them, while they’ll abandon the pretence that we’re their masters (as if anyone was fooled anyway) and go back to telling us what to do.

Party leaders and their apparatchiks will disappear behind closed doors and start their horse-trading. At that point all bets will be off. Pledges and promises made earnestly on the campaign trail will be diluted or withdrawn as tradeoffs and compromises are negotiated.

Voters will have no influence whatsoever over these negotiations. The only virtually certain outcome is that one or more fringe parties, supported by a small and possibly demented minority of voters, will end up wielding disproportionate power.

And no matter which party commands the majority of the seats in Parliament, we can be certain of one thing. Government will continue to exert an intrusive and overbearing influence in people’s lives, even to the extent of threatening people with prosecution if they don’t co-operate with Statistics New Zealand, because the bullying state has taken on such a life of its own that even politicians who object to it are powerless to rein it in.

Isn’t democracy grand?

* * *

WAS THERE ever a more pathetic display of male infantilism than the TV series Top Gear?

It revolves around three grown men apparently trapped in a state of permanent adolescence. Week after week they drive fast cars around in circles, egging each other on and making “phwooar”-type noises at each other’s exploits. It’s like watching small boys throwing stones at bottles or daring each other to put double happies in pensioners’ letter boxes.

Some people – including women, whom you’d expect to know better – seem to find this enthralling. At the end of each programme the hosts – the supposedly cute midget presumably chosen for his resemblance to Davy Jones from the Monkees, the long-haired one who looks like he failed an audition for Pink Floyd and the big loud one who fancies himself as the master of the sardonic putdown and was probably a boarding school bully – are surrounded by a fawning audience of brain-dead drongos and drongo-esses whose eyes gleam with unabashed adoration.

Whenever I stumble on this ghastly show, I wonder anew how the Poms ever won the war.

* * *

OF COURSE we have our own examples of men who proceed through life determinedly behaving as if they’ve never emotionally progressed beyond the fourth form. A symptom of this is the fixation with juvenile nicknames. One radio station that I tune into from time to time has ageing hosts named Macca, Muzza and Blackie. Good grief.

I wonder, do they still live at home with their mums?

* * *

AN ITEM in my last column criticising celebrity endorsements of political parties prompted the inevitable letter to the editor asking why newspaper columnists should be allowed to tell people how to vote when actors and musicians are not. The answer is simple.

First, this columnist doesn’t recall ever presuming to tell anyone how to vote. Neither do most columnists align themselves with particular parties or interest groups. But more importantly, most columnists don’t trade on a reputation earned in some other, unrelated field. Most are not celebrities, so have no X-factor to misuse by trying to sway people politically. They stand or fall on their ability to comment entertainingly or insightfully on matters of public interest. A pretty obvious distinction, I would have thought.

* * *

IN ALL THE hysteria over National MP Lockwood Smith’s comments about Pacific Island vineyard workers having big hands and needing to be shown how to use toilets and showers, no one seems to have asked the most important question: is it true? Do vineyard owners really have to show Pacific Island workers how to use toilets and showers? Do they find Asians better suited to vineyard work? If so, Dr Smith has nothing to apologise for.

Dr Smith may come across as a bit of a twerp, but he’s entitled to pass on concerns raised with him by Marlborough vineyard employers on a matter of public policy without being howled down. Democracy is in real peril when the free flow of information and opinion is stifled for fear of upsetting someone.

1 comment:

Steve Withers said...

G'day Karl

Democracy is indeed grand....though barely recognisable from the seriously distorted picture you have conjured up.

I have no idea why the national party and its allies is so keen to deprive people of their votes. The sheer arrogance in such a position is breathtaking.

I have a chat this afternoon with a National party supporter. For some reason he brought up the Green Party and proceeded to explain why that party shouldn't be allowed to have seats at all why it's supporters weren't qualified to cast a meaningful vote.

Interestingly, the issues he raised were all erroneous. Clearly, where ever he was getting his information from, it was simply wrong or distorted beyond recognition.

I suggested to him that he might better served getting his information about the Green party from the Green Party itself rather than the National party or the NZ Herald....whose recent record on almost everything political should be cause for shame among its employees....particularly the editorial staff.

The point here is that the people "know better" clearly haven't got a blind clue....and our decmoracy IS at risk from the application of their gross ignorance and prejudice.

You appear to suffer from that yourself in so far as you sign up for the mythical "disproportionate power" tale.

Anyone who can count knows that a handful of MPs can't outvote the rest of the House.

If a majority oppose a measure, it rightly does not pass. That is democracy.....and it is wonderful.

Unfortunately, too many on the National side can't count....and it shows.

It would be a shame if their ignorance, apparent disrespect for the democratic rights of others and arrogance succeeded in undermining the real democracy this country managed to acheeve only recently.