21 August 2014
I have been amazed by the reaction to UnitedFuture’s release of an on-line election Manifesto, and our ongoing Policy of the Day announcements.
Reactions have ranged from the abysmally ignorant (“I didn’t realise UnitedFuture stood for anything and actually had any firm policies”) to the incredulous (“What are you doing releasing policies at this stage of the electoral cycle?”) and the cynical (“You’re only doing this to try to win votes”).
Funny, I know, but I thought elections were a time to focus on policy, what the various parties stand for, and how they can implement their plans. Voters then make a considered judgement on what they think is in theirs and the country’s best interests and vote accordingly. But that must just be the political scientist in me, focusing on the theory of electoral politics rather than its current practice.
At least, judging by the direction of our election campaign to date, one could be forgiven for concluding that election campaigns are no longer about policy, but who can throw the most and slimiest mud at their political opponents. It matters not whether we are talking about the highly dubious conduct of seedy right-wing bloggers, or populist politicians preaching a hateful message of racism and bigotry. The campaign has degenerated to sleaze over substance.
The media are caught up this swirl too – almost unwittingly. At one level, they have to report all this drivel because it is news, but, at another, they will be keeping a wary eye on where all this might be heading. We were aghast at the British phone-hacking revelations and the subsequent High Court trials of prominent editors and journalists. The upshot was the Leveson Inquiry and stricter rules for press regulation, which gnaw at the very notion of a free press, and an open society.
We could not have imagined this sort of happening here but recent events could lead to pressure for the same sort of over-reaction and for calls to regulate – somehow – the blogosphere. They certainly raise the vexed question of email security and the protection of the privacy of communications, which are much bigger and more international issues.
But, back on the election trail, voters are much more interested in policies and performance, the likely shape of governing arrangements, and what the parties have to offer. These after all, are the things that ensure jobs and opportunity, not the parade of salacious gossip.
So, UnitedFuture, at least, will continue to do the now apparently quaint thing of promoting policy, and focusing on the issues of concern to New Zealand families. That, after all, is what elections are really all about.