Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has expressed concern about the low turnout in the local body elections and has suggested that a 'review' of the election process is in order. But the problem is not the election process but what is on offer to the potential voter, who doesn't believe voting makes any difference. The belief that the political system has been captured by vested interests will only have been further confirmed by the election of a corporate lobbyist as Mayor of Wellington.
THE LOW TURNOUT in this year's local body elections shouldn't surprise anyone. In 2019 the national turnout was just 42.9 percent and this year it has declined further to approximately 36 percent. We're getting to the point where the legitimacy of the elections themselves will begin to be questioned and little wonder that the Prime Minister has expressed her concern about the low turnout and says it might be time to look at what might be done to encourage people to vote:
'We want as many people as possible participating in their local democracy. I do think it's time for us to have to work with local government and say, from local government's perspective, 'What do you think will bring the greatest engagement with your voters?'
Local Government NZ president Stuart Crosby has backed Ardern and called for a 'review' of the voting process. Any review though is doomed to fail because it predictably won't recognise that the real reason ever larger numbers of people are not voting is simply because they don't like what's on offer. It's the same reason that over 600,000 people no longer vote in general elections - because it doesn't matter who they vote for, nothing ever changes.
There have been thirteen general elections since 1984 and, despite all the huffin' and puffin' by the aspiring parliamentarians, we still end up with government's that defend the neoliberal status quo. Getting the same market-led government every election might be viewed as totalitarian by some but this is, apparently, our 'representative democracy'. It's little wonder that people think that elections are rigged in favour of vested interests that benefit from the economic and political status quo.
As Bryce Edwards has observed: 'It seems that local government isn’t working for most people. And this is especially the case for the poor. Increasingly there is a feeling that local government – much like central government – has become dysfunctional and captured by vested interests and elites.'
The newly elected Mayor of Wellington, Tory Whanau, encapsulates this problem. While the media were happy to highlight her six year stint as the Green Party's chief of staff, less attention was paid to the job she took after leaving the Green Party - working for Wellington PR firm Capital Relations.
Headed by Neale Jones, former chief of staff in Ardern's office, Capital Relations is largely a home for ex-Labour Party functionaries. It includes Hayden Munro, Labour's Election Campaign Manager in 2020 and Mike Jasper, former Chief Press Secretary to Jacinda Ardern. It also includes Clint Smith, Senior Communications Strategist in Jacinda Ardern’s office in the lead up to the 2017 election. He also worked in Jacinda Ardern's office after the 2017 election.
Tory Whanau is described as a 'Strategic Partner' on the Capital Relations website and it boasts that 'Tory has deep contacts and connections across senior government ministers and advisers, and throughout New Zealand’s media and business sectors.'
Whanau makes no mention of her work for Capital Relations on her campaign website.
Not surprisingly her colleague at Capital Relations, Clint Smith, has tweeted that Whanau ran 'a stellar campaign' and she has 'a positive vision' for Wellington. Clint Smith and Capital Relations will no doubt be looking at the potential 'opportunities' that Tory Whanau's election victory opens up for them.
The election of a corporate lobbyist as Wellington mayor will do little to convince people that political process has not been captured by vested interests. Indeed corporate lobbying has become the embodiment of crony capitalism. Meanwhile, Tory Whanau is being depicted by the mainstream media as the 'outsider' who beat a Labour MP...
Note: Since writing this, Whanau has disappeared from the Capital Relations website.