Drain the swamp? Or clean it?

I bit my tongue and refrained from replying after reading Drain the Swamp (Nov 10) mainly because I couldn’t be bothered.  Lately I’ve become apathetic to the apathy.  I find myself rolling my eyes at the “calls to ditch the system” which all to often doesn’t provide a solution or realistic alternative.  I’d personally rather focus on empowering each and everyone in New Zealand to fix it by voting differently.  Maybe I’m holding onto an airy fairy idealist democratic dream – and maybe in a year or two I’ll see it as the wrong approach (I’m a pragmatist so am prone to change my mind), but for now I believe in a positive approach to positive change, not a negative one, so I believe the course of action should be cleaning the swamp not draining it.

We don’t need to fall into the trap that we watched (in horror) unfold with Brexit and Trump’s election this year.  We’re a small, tolerant and progressive nation who can act like adults and fix a broken toy without throwing it against the wall and blaming everyone else for the damage.

However, I’m not blind nor ignorant and I agree with you wholeheartedly that the current political system is screwed in it’s current form.  It’s level of screwedness can be measured by the lack of engagement, low voting and lack of trust in the process.  It’s not working the way that it is intended and hasn’t for a very long time – if ever.  But, it wouldn’t be so irrelevant if people were informed voters and if those inclined to do so stood up and fought politics with politics.

A very basic point that Max keeps missing (I say keeps because last week he gave us part two of “Drain the Swamp” with “Let’s start afresh, don’t vote for electoral mess” (Nov 25) is WHY we have an elected Council.  The Council is responsible for: Providing leadership to, and advocacy on behalf of, the people of Hamilton.  We elect a Mayor and 12 Councillors to act as representatives of our community (be it physically, socially, environmentally or economically etc).  They in turn steer the work that the Hamilton City Council with it’s 1000 odd employees does with our rates.  I think the real crisis lies with WHO is being elected.  Change that.

I believe that if  we can inform voters about what they are voting for; and about who they could be voting for that every Joe and Jane Citizen should be able to find candidates that resonate with them.  I get that at the moment this isn’t happening – but then THOSE factors should be addressed – not suddenly and radically removing the local layer of representative government.  It would be biting us in the foot – because what is the alternative?

If you remove democratic process or the local government you remove the ability to have your say about the city you live in.  It also removes the ability for funds to be raised via rates (or taxes) for public works.  You might think YAY, no annoying rates bill!  But, think about it.  If we don’t pay these – how are the things we take for granted going to be paid for?  It’ll be user pays for everything or we’ll go without. No buses, roads, water or waste management (and yes, you can expect a water meter being installed); no libraries – theatres – sports stadiums… no to everything.  Decisions would be sold off to corporates – who by nature work based on profit.  It would be the end to us having a say in how our city runs.  If you remove democratic process no-one will be there to listen to your complaints. Councillors HAVE to, and if they don’t… guess what?… you make them by voting for those that will listen – or holding them to account for decisions they make during the term.  It’s your right.

Unfortunately – because we have a large number of people who don’t understand the system and don’t vote we are prone an elected Council / government who is disconnected from the public; doesn’t always serve our best interests and doesn’t as individuals resonate with the general public.  This is creating the “us and them” mentality and the perceived elitism which so many of us are sick of.  Councillors are rarely called in to account for decisions that ignore the public; they hide away in their chamber and overall lack the ability to communicate and engage with their constituents but yet every triennial they manage to be re-elected.  That’s our fault.

While I personally don’t think (and it may be different if I was a citizen of those countries) I would have voted for Brexit or for Donald Trump – I do understand why they did.  We are at a bit of a turning point at the moment in the Western world where the political systems created post- WWII are failing us – and slowly but surely we’re realising it.  However in those instances they voted for alternatives which were not providing a solution to the problem, rather creating new ones.

In the 2016 local elections there were some outstanding candidates, who would genuinely have had the best interests of the city at heart.  People we can relate to.  The role of Councillor should absolutely be for community leaders, advocates and those who can provide a diverse perspective into decision making.  We need to lose the mentality that the council needs accountants, lawyers and business people.  It doesn’t. The role of Councillor is to represent the community.

So do we drain the swamp? or clean it?

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