New Zealand Herald columnist Rachel Stewart declares that our representative democracy is neither representative or democratic and that voting is “ultimately quite meaningless, and changes nothing much in the overall scheme of things.”

 ALTHOUGH SHE writes a regular column for that most ‘mainstream’ of newspapers, the New Zealand Herald, Rachel Stewart could not be described as a card-carrying member of the mainstream media. She’s too much of an independent and critical thinker to ever make her peace with the political status quo.

This week she has written on a subject that I have traversed extensively on this blog over the years; the failure of representative democracy. In an excellent piece of writing that shames the dross being pumped out by most of The Commentariat, Rachel Stewart describes the crisis of our so-called democracy this way:

“Because democracy should mean elected people looking after people. Instead it has morphed into elected people looking after unelected corporate interests, and themselves. They have fallen for the neo-liberal neonicotinoid. If you think bees are in trouble maybe have a good look around at the current state of humanity.”

And, in a swipe at the recent cover of North and South magazine featuring various Green Party ‘celebrities’, Rachel says:

“So, democracy devotees, you can talk all you like about what your lot are going to do when they get elected but, frankly, talk is easy. You can dress up to the nines, all Soprano-esque, on the cover of a glossy magazine if you want. I won't be swimming with your fishes.”

What, of course, Rachel Stewart is criticising is three decades of this country existing under the iron heel of neoliberalism and the emergence of an ever more unresponsive and essentially collusive political system where all the political parties are implicated in defending and upholding  neoliberalism. Indeed the Labour Party and the Green’s recently formalised their support for the neoliberal status quo with their ‘Budget Responsibility Rules’.

I have made my position clear. Like some 750,000 other New Zealanders, I do not participate in the three yearly charade of the general election. I do not vote.

Rachel though says she’s not about to go “the full Russell Brand”. But I don’t think she has to look quite so far away as England for someone who doesn’t vote. I imagine there’s at least one person in her neighbourhood who won’t be going to the polling booth in September “because the bastards always win”.

But Rachel admits she won’t be skipping off to the polling booth with a happy heart, glad she is participating in the democratic process of her country:

“I also know, in the rational part of my brain, that voting is now about as pointless as rooting for your favourite rugby team to win. It's fleeting, ultimately quite meaningless, and changes nothing much in the overall scheme of things. It's essentially just tribalism.

If I thought that most politicians were serving the folks who put them there, and not the powerful money grubbers who both run the world while destroying it, I'd likely enjoy giving their box a tick. As it stands, I'm leaning more towards giving them all the great, big flick.’

Rachel is articulating a growing awareness among New Zealanders that their fate is being steered by a ruling elite whose principle pursuit is one of self-interest and the consolidation of power. This is what Bernie Sanders has popularised as the rule of ‘the one percent”.

Rachel concludes: “I hear the perennial cry. "But what would we replace our precious democracy with?" Look around. We haven't actually had it for a while.”

In 1990, nearly thirty years ago, a well known New Zealand politician shared his views on the state of our democracy. He said:

“Parliament is a cringing vassal of the executive wearing a cloak of democratic artifice. It is little more than a talk-shop, a gab-fest, where politicians lurch in and out of chamber, on their way to more exacting and important tasks. Not only does a routine parliamentary session resemble feeding time at the zoo, but Government Ministers contemptuously dismiss the legislature as an annoying irrelevance.

Winston Peters: "Parliament is a talk-shop."
"It is the arrogance of politicians which most infuriates the public. Not only are they excluded from decision-making but they are treated as infantile fledglings unable to make decisions for themselves. Democracy is a concept that finds little support among politicians, even though they are dependent on it, and they resist it between elections.

“Any solution to this crisis of public confidence involves politicians sharing their power with the people. Politicians have to divest themselves of their obsessive belief that only they have the combination of intellectual will, moral fibre and access to the facts to be able to make decisions,”

The politician who said that was Winston Peters, not a man known for his left wing views.

But while Peters might have identified symptoms of the same problem that Rachel Stewart is writing about today, his suggestion that politicians can be somehow persuaded to hand over political power to the politically powerless is nonsensical. Perhaps someone could point me in the direction of instances where the political elite have voluntarily handed over their power.

Much more radical solutions are required, solutions that don’t rely on the so-called ‘benevolence’ of the ruling class.

The great American historian Howard Zinn reminds us that democracy does not come from the top but from the bottom:

“If democracy were to be given any meaning, if it were to go beyond the limits of capitalism and nationalism, this would not come, if history were any guide, from the top. It would come through citizen's movements, educating, organising, agitating, striking, boycotting, demonstrating, threatening those in power with disruption of the stability they needed.”


  1. I would not say voting is entirely meaningless. The 19% votes for NZ First will modify the cynical and unprincipled Nat Government.

  2. All power to Rachel Stewart. Finally a columnist in the mainstream media speaking out about the sham that is our so-called 'democracy'. Well done. (h) (o)


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