Dreading another round of election exhaustion
OPINION: Running late for work last week, I rummaged through the freezer for some leftovers for lunch. I found some months-old gluggy pumpkin soup and the remains of a greyish beef stew. Not much of a choice. I really need to stop freezing leftovers solely because of waste-guilt.
I chucked the stew into my bag, wishing for the umpteenth time I was more organised. Maybe I could make it more appetising with a bit of grated cheese and chopped parsley? But I didn't have time for garnishes.
Ten minutes later, as I turned onto Saxton Rd, The Breeze's Breffni chirped that it was now "only 100 days to the election" and I realised that I felt as excited about the prospect of 100 days of electioneering as I did about my lumpy grey lunch.
I really wish that something more inspiring than the same old reheated promises and policies would emerge from our triennial political rigmarole.
When did maintaining New Zealand's democracy become such a tired and unattractive prospect? We're in for months of the kind of posturing, platitudes and positioning taking that afflicts politicians of all stripes in their culling season. It's boring, exhausting, disillusioning and often infuriating.
Sometimes, I think we're only a few steps behind the United States who last year elected Donald J Trump, the anti-politics president.
Ordinary Americans, it seems, got tired of empty rhetoric, promises it turned out could not be kept, and the antics of the established political elite.
The structure of the American electoral system and the naked venality of the Republicans, desperate to keep their grip on the nation's tiller, also helped Trump enter the White House. A risky strategy for the Republicans, given his erratic behaviour so far.
Following American politics at the moment is, I sometimes imagine, like watching the last stages of the fall of the Roman Empire. A long, drawn-out, agonising fall, involving unpredictable, hubristic emperors, infighting and corruption amongst the military and elite classes, the fall of the old gods and the rise of a new religion.
Rome split into shrinking eastern and western empires and, in the end, suffered from a lack of good men to hold things together. Finally, the Barbarian hordes moved in and the might of Rome sank into history.
It's not too big a stretch to imagine something similar happening to the US. The invaders will look and act differently but, like the Barbarians who delivered the coup de grace to Rome, they'll surely come riding in from northern continents.
Could New Zealand go the way of the USA? Here, we have a size advantage - it's good to be small.
Most New Zealanders are fewer than three degrees of separation from their politicians (do the exercise – you'll be surprised - I'm separated by only one degree from Bill English through my Southland relations) and this makes communities and politicians closely interlinked.
And we don't have any pretensions to the dangerous folly of "empire" unless you count Murray McCully's gift of pregnant sheep and a woolshed to a Saudi businessman as empire building. So I think New Zealand is safe-ish from a Trumpistic political fate, at least for the foreseeable future.
However, although too many disappointing electoral cycles have made me cynical, I still believe it's a citizen's duty to take part in democracy. I've always voted; I've delivered pamphlets for politicians in national and local elections and been to candidate meetings. At the very least, participation buys you the right to complain when the politicians get it wrong.
I'm confident that I, and many, many New Zealanders, would be more enthusiastic about elections if politicians would seriously address the tough issues we're facing. Firstly, growing inequality and its cruel results like child poverty, access to decent health, housing and education services and the embarrassingly large prison population, and secondly, the environment, specifically the toxic results of ill-planned and regulated land-use that are right now bubbling murkily up in our waterways.
And politicians must stop waving "the market" around as their backstop philosophy. There's ample evidence that "the market" does not and cannot deliver acceptable social or environmental outcomes.
Politicians never mention that successful market competition involves losers. When the "losers" include our children, the sick and our environment, we're looking at a failed philosophy. Leave the market where it works best: regulating supplies of pineapple lumps and luxury boats.
My plea is that we start dealing with the causes of our hard-basket issues and stop merely slapping cheap Band-Aids on the oozing, smelly wounds they're inflicting on society.
Politicians will need to prioritise the future wellbeing of New Zealand and work together in a time frame longer than the current electoral cycle.
They will need to take an entirely different approach to cost-benefit analysis for decision-making and rethink whether or not a mindless addiction to "economic growth" is the only possible path to a brighter future.
And sadly, these are big calls that I'm not confident our political leaders will make. I'm very much afraid that this election season more grey, freezer-burnt stew is coming our way.