Democracy Not His Cup of Tea: "It is time to change the system. It is time to get rid of voting for health boards. It is time to vastly reduce council sizes. It’s time for more appointments, less democracy, given that we’ve rejected democracy as a mechanism." - Mike Hosking.
SOMETIMES, even the most staunch defenders of the system slip up. It doesn’t happen all that often, but, very occasionally, they say things that they shouldn’t. Take Mike Hosking’s recent rant about the failings of democracy. He really, really, shouldn’t have said what he said. It’s just not smart to let ordinary people hear what those at the top of the social pyramid think about the way society should be run.
What did Hosking say? Well, he was giving us the benefit of his deep insight and wisdom concerning the recent local government elections. This is what he said:
“No one cares. Turnout yet again was down. The vast majority of us couldn’t be bothered voting. Not interested this time, not interested last time; haven’t been interested for decades. The elected representatives concerned have failed for a generation to engage us. They’ve failed to convince us that what they do is relevant. It is time to change the system. It is time to get rid of voting for health boards. It is time to vastly reduce council sizes. It’s time for more appointments, less democracy, given that we’ve rejected democracy as a mechanism. We need to stop the moaning about the fact it doesn’t work, and actually start changing it”
Obviously, Mike has never heard the old saying about “the only cure for poor democracy is more democracy”. Indeed, his cure for our poorly performing democracy is to give us less of it. Never mind that the ratio of Auckland city councillors to electors is already 1:70,000! The solution, obviously, is to “vastly reduce council sizes”.
We can only speculate about what Mike would consider an appropriate ratio. One councillor for every 150,000 residents perhaps? That would halve the size of the Auckland Council from 20 to 10. Never mind that this ratio would allocate cities the size of Dunedin, Hamilton and Tauranga just one councillor apiece. After all, as Mike says: “We need to stop the moaning about the fact it doesn’t work, and actually start changing it.”
And when Mike talks about change, he’s not kidding. What’s needed, he says, are “more appointments” and “less democracy”.
Just who will make these appointments, and on whose authority, Mike doesn’t say. Clearly, Thomas Jefferson’s argument that governments derive their “just powers” from the “consent of the governed” forms no part of Mike’s new constitution. But, that’s okay, because according to Mike “we” have “rejected democracy as a mechanism”.
Now, given how closely I pay attention to politics, I’m simply stunned that I missed the nationwide referendum on the future of “democracy as a mechanism”. But “stunned” isn’t a strong enough word to describe my reaction to what I can only assume is the fact (Mike Hosking is, after all, one of this country’s most trusted broadcasters) that a majority of New Zealanders voted to put an end to their democracy.
It truly is astonishing, because, to the best of my knowledge, no people on earth has ever done such a thing before. Plenty of peoples – the Greeks, the French, the Americans, the South Africans – have fought and died for a system of government based upon the freely given consent of the governed. But a people voting to reject democracy as a mechanism? Wow! – That’s new!
Speaking of the Greeks, it is interesting to note that in Ancient Athens – the birthplace of democracy – it was considered the height of irresponsibility not to “care” about the processes of self-government. In fact, the Athenians had a word for the sort of citizen who wasn’t interested in the affairs of the “polis” (the Greek word for the body of the citizens making up a city-state – from which we get the word “politics”). The people who declared “not interested this time, not interested last time; haven’t been interested for decades”; the ones who simply “couldn’t be bothered”; they went by the name of “idiotes”.
The word still survives. We use it every time we watch, listen to, or read the words of – an idiot.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 12 October 2016.