A debate hosted by the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago.  Labour Party politicians David Clark and Marion Hobbs spoke for the affirmative; university lecturers Richard Jackson and Bryce Edwards spoke for the negative.  The debate was chaired by Kevin Clements.

Politicians are in it for their own gain.  They become a political caste, serving their own interests.   They would tell us that our democracy is funded on raffles.  Voting is a civic sacrament and we should all worship it.

If voting mattered it would be illegal (I think that that is a quote from Mark Twain).  New Zealand has a democracy where real change is possible and voting matters.  We have healthcare, education, roads and the rule of law.

At the same time voting cannot meet the challenge of climate change and inequality.  Our electoral cycle is limited to three years, when we are offered the choice of accelerated neo-liberalism or neo-liberalism in soft focus: vote the bastards out or keep them in for another three years.  Until the option of voting the right lizard in is made to us again in the next electoral cycle we remain apathetic to what they do.  So long as we get some jam with our tea.  So the voter has no power, no option, except the status quo, and special interests have better access to our politicians than the average voter.  The politicians imagine that they have been given a mandate while the voters remain alienated.

Democratic institutions have lost control of neo-liberal capitalism.  Democracy is under threat to the oligarchy (the 1%ligarchy?).  It has become a celebrity contest, about personalities and not issues.

So we need to stay informed, to stay involved, to remain interested.  It’s up to you.  It’s your choice if you don’t vote.  The system is broken.  Say no to business as usual.  Don’t endorse what you don’t believe in.  Change will be made by politics on the street.  If you do vote then don’t complain; you voted them in!

Like the churches, and the sports clubs, and the voluntary organisations, the political parties are running on a smaller group of people.  We are not interested in joining up.  It’s a smaller group of people who are making policy for the rest of us.

Final questions:  Is the neo-liberal project over, like the politicians would tell us?  Is there an alternative to voting by taking the initiative, being involved and being informed?  What if voting impeeds progress?  What if we can’t move to a no-growth economic system?

Despite the argument a vote of hands made it clear that the majority of the audience intended to vote in the September election.  The chair declared that the ayes had it.  Questions from the floor made it clear that the audience wanted to hear more about the alternatives to voting:  Be involved; be engaged; be informed; be aware; learn about alternatives; question; create community.

I was glad to be part of this audience.  It was well attended and the lecture theatre was full.

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