Absolutely nothing, if even that.
Over the last week, I’ve been quizzing people left, right and centre (bias is bad) about politics in this fine country of ours, and the overwhelming majority have responded with disinterest and ambivalence. New Zealand politics is so deathly dull, Parliament TV has been successfully trialled as a sleeping aid for chronic suffers of insomnia. It’s deeply soporific, to a degree rivalled only by statistics lectures and watching grey paint dry in a room completely devoid of any other stimulus. It’s the only channel with negative viewers.
I have an opinion, however, as to how the machinations of the New Zealand government could better appeal to a generation brought up on a steady diet of explosions and instant gratification. For this, we look across the Pacific to the United States of America: the first thing you’ll notice, as you check out the political scene, is that everyone is angry. Foaming at the collective mouth. Politicians there are incredibly polarised, and compromise is a dirty word. Many take the phrase “Sticking to one’s guns” quite literally. Following the deplorable assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in January of this year (which I am, to be clear, not encouraging the imitation of—use your words), politicians and political talking heads alike leapt to declaim the violent and aggressive nature of American political discourse (in much the same way that media outlets are only now discovering the racist swamp that is a Youtube comment section). Here, we face the inverse problem – civility and politeness. While the harmless-looking Phil Goff “respectfully disagrees” and the bland, smiling John Key manages to choke out an “I believe the Opposition is misinformed” between photo opportunities, the various would-be Republican presidential candidates are positively crawling all over each other in their haste to declaim President Obama as the “antichrist” and the “most stupid/least capable president in the history of the United States”. It’s fascinating to watch.
I recognise that there are some strong reasons underlying the New Zealand political timidity—we have a lengthy tradition of politeness and respectfulness. Several Members of Parliament have ‘Honourable’ right before their names. We have few real left- or right-wing parties; the big two are within spitting distance of one another. Our unicameral system reduces the potential for factions to gain power and obstruct the legislative process. Almost all of the time this is great, even laudable, but some might consider the system even a little bit too streamlined in certain cases cough file sharing cough. Besides that, New Zealand’s relatively progressive and liberal national values (not to mention our cabinet-acknowledged “socialist streak”) cut off a whole broad avenue of minority-bashing and infringement on peoples rights. There might simply be less to be indignant and “over my dead body” unyielding about.
But enough of these perfectly reasonable excuses. I want to see Opposition party leaders elected on the basis of hating the Prime Minister so much more than the other candidates. I want highly-publicised hissy fits from both sides of the political spectrum, generalised gnashing of teeth. I’m convinced that a little more spectacle, a little more sound, fury and outright rhetorical viciousness would do wonders for the dismal youth voting enrolment rates we’ve been hearing so much of lately. Fuck arms, give politicians the right to bear grudges. Maybe then politics would be an effective tool to get youth into ballot booths, instead of into dreamland.