“Tired of being ignored” by politicians, a group of pensioners recently came together to form a new political party. The New Zealand Seniors Party intends to enter candidates in the 2017 election but is first focussed on getting the 500 members needed to register the party.
It made me think: do we need a New Zealand Youth Party?
The cool thing about the New Zealand political system is its accessibility to the general public. We are lucky to have a representative democracy, in which representativeness is achieved through general elections and voting for parties to speak on our behalf.
But problems arise when the candidates simply don’t inspire our enthusiasm. Many find it difficult to feel represented in a Parliament that is primarily constituted of white, middle-aged men. This rings truer still for young women, given the double whammy of the disproportional lack of representation both for women in general, and in particular for young ones.
The introduction of the mixed-member proportional (MMP) system in 1996 helped with accessibility. By making it easier for minor parties to earn seats, we saw increasing diversity in the makeup of our House of Representatives.
But how meaningful was that diversity?
Sure, we saw more minor parties come into the fold than under first past the post, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that New Zealand politics is still largely pale, male and stale. Doesn’t say much for representativeness does it?
What the seniors have picked up on, and what we should realise too, is that if the present system is failing to fulfil its duty to represent, then something must be done to make it more representative. Rather than having a giggle at the ‘disgruntled oldies’, we should commend them for making an effort to resolve their disenchantment with the system.
Because if there’s one thing we have in common with the older generation, it’s that. Disenchantment. We need only look at youth’s disproportionately low election turnout to realise how few of us feel connected with the system, how few of us feel well represented by the MPs that claim to speak on our behalf.
As Lorde (someone who is not male nor stale) explains, “sometimes politics can look like a bunch of old people talking about stuff that isn't relevant to us.” Lorde, however, embraces her right to vote. She believes political issues are too important for us not to have our voices properly heard. She believes that we must ensure that our perspectives aren’t being misrepresented by a demographic that doesn’t really understand us.
We need to remember that politics does affect us. Boring as it might be, inaccessible as it might seem, politics shapes our day-to-day lives. It determines what we can and can’t do, where our taxpayer money is spent, what social norms and values we promote in our society.
Politics decides how quickly you grow up – when you can drink, drive, have sex, get married.
It shapes society’s progression on acceptance of diversity – just look to the Marriage Amendment Act for evidence of its influence.
It determines the limits to personal suffering; our acceptance or rejection of issues like medical marijuana and euthanasia.
If we want our perspectives to be heard on these matters, we need to speak up and get involved. And perhaps the best way to do that is through an equivalent youth party.
We need our politicians to be representative, we need them to know what we mean, to understand our perspectives in such depth and to such a degree that they can speak confidently on our behalf. And who better to do that than our peers?
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks and maybe they were right – but that’s not the full picture. Through their innovative approach to democratic engagement, it’s the old dogs that are teaching us.
If you hate the system, if you’re sick of politicians pretending to be young and hip, of middle-aged men claiming to know how we feel and what we want, then speak up and tell them otherwise.
The ‘grumpy old fellas’ might just be onto something.