Dealing with the ageing electorate in politics

windmills

How and when does the baton get passed to the younger generation?

It is well-known that the most committed voters in the New Zealand electorate are the older generation  baby boomers and older. We vote in larger numbers than any other age group. We tend to have definite views about things, and we are inclined to look out for what we think are our own interests. Accordingly, the electoral system usually produces a “grey power” friendly result.

However, there is an increasing gap between what we think is good for our older citizens and what we concede is probably better for New Zealand as a whole  particularly looking into the future. This is no better illustrated than by the superannuation debate. It is interesting that National have taken the first tentative step toward a policy designed for the future rather than the here and now and it will be interesting to see how they carry through with this.

The problem, of course, is that the generation that will constitute New Zealand in 50 years time (or less) is showing little interest in politics and they simply don’t vote in significant numbers too seriously influence policy. If this continues and the politicians keep responding to that signal (or the lack of a signal for any change) we will end up with a very skewed policy result which may well be unsustainable  and may be unacceptable to our grandchildren in all kinds of ways.

So what do we do about it?

It is arguable that the answer is nothing  the problem will take care of itself as the older generation disappears and the younger generation grows up and develops an interest in these things. However, I don’t think that is a starter this time around (I guess it is the way things have worked in the past) because the world is moving at too fast a pace  incremental/generational change will not be big enough or fast enough to solve major problems. Recent history has been punctuated with major events like wars and revolutions which have entirely changed political systems and norms for us but that is not a preferred way of making change in a civilised society  although we may not be given the choice given the antics of Donald Trump in the White House and the continuing rise of terrorism in Europe and the Middle East. If we are sensible we will elect politicians who are sensitive to the need for change and are prepared to start pushing the system in a different direction. The political parties have a big responsibility here because they control the MP lists. It would be relatively easy to start biasing the lists toward future sensitive candidates and to a degree that is starting to happen. The party that seems to have really gripped on to this is the Greens

If we are sensible we will elect politicians who are sensitive to the need for change and are prepared to start pushing the system in a different direction. The political parties have a big responsibility here because they control the MP lists. It would be relatively easy to start biasing the lists toward future sensitive candidates and to a degree that is starting to happen. The party that seems to have really gripped on to this is the Greens  but they are not a big voice in Parliament and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. And it some ways they have gone too far too quickly  too many young and inexperienced candidates.

The worst case scenario is one where the signs about the future are largely ignored and we continue to more or less do what we have always done. I am not sure that even my generation would be too happy with that but we would certainly keep getting well looked after. In this situation, there would be increasing pressure for change without any change actually occurring. Eventually, the pressure would become unsustainable. The worst case scenario is one where the signs about the future are largely ignored and we continue to more or less do what we have always done. I am not sure that even my generation would be too happy with that but we would certainly keep getting well looked after. In this situation, there would be increasing pressure for change without any change actually occurring. Eventually, the pressure would become unsustainable

Eventually, the pressure would become unsustainable  in economic and/or human terms  and mayhem would result. If we are lucky then it would be nonviolent mayhem  the younger part of the electorate simply start voting. They may also start forming their own political parties. But whichever way it goes the existing system continues to underpin whatever change occurs.

If we are unlucky then we may get a form of what is happening overseas at present  in Britain through the troubles Therese May is facing with a hung Parliament and the need to negotiate Brexit, in Europe through the rejection of the old establishment in France; and particularly in the US through the election of Donald Trump.

The change is more extreme but it is still occurring under the old system. But I doubt that it will stop there. What we have almost everywhere is still largely the old system hanging on to political power and trying to or aiming to deliver enough change to satisfy the populace so the system can survive. It is a half measure which may make some positive changes but stands a high risk of failure to deliver what people really want and will simply increase their anger when that becomes apparent. I think what we are more likely to get in the long run is a complete revision of what politics looks like and how the wishes of the people making up the country are articulated and argued, with the results then translated into action.

As a part of this, I would guess that the political agenda would get a complete “reset”. What this will look like in practice is anybody’s guess but it may well be a case of “stand by for the revolution”.

By Bas Walker

This is another of Bas Walker’s posts on GrownUps.  Please look out for his articles, containing his Beachside Ponderings.