Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Local government - choosing your local petty fascists

It's a good sign that I am paying next to no attention to the NZ local government elections (a good sign that I have better things to think about in the UK). Last time I was IN NZ and I could vote.
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What is remarkable is the contrast between how enthused some people are for local government and what almost everyone else thinks about it. Even postal voting has made little difference, and what I find even more remarkable is how so many in local government DON'T understand.
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The point is simple - for most people the best they can say about local government is that it is unobtrusive and boring - you don't give a damn about what happens with most things councils do as long as the roads aren't potholed, the rubbish is collected, the water/sewers work and there isn't flooding due to incompetent management of waterways/floodbanks. Choosing people to be what are effectively board members for utility administration is uninspiring.
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Unfortunately, the worst that can be said about local government is what I see in almost all candidates for these roles. Yes, most who stand for councils are well-meaning, but they tend to hold one of two sets of political philosophies:
- Ambitious, change the world (and you) leftwing ideologues who think they can make things better (from their perspective) by force using your money, telling you what to do with your land, your business, and generally being busybodies; or
- Philosophy-less benevolent do-gooders who have a few views of how to make things better, but basically just want to "make a difference". Blank slates who don't care how big or small council is, just that it can do some good.
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In other words, hopeless. Local government is loved by the left - Labour, the Greens and the Alliance passed the current legislation governing local government, which removed almost all of the restrictions on councils that had built up over the years - you see Sandra Lee, as local government Minister, had great visions of councils enabling the welfare of communities - this was strongly supported by the Labour left, including Judith Tizard (a former petty fascist herself) and the PM. You see to the left, local government is just another level of the state - it gives a chance to develop strategies, redistribute (steal and spend) money from ratepayers, and regulate and control people at the local level. It is also a chance (when the inevitable change in central government occurs) for local government to pursue leftwing policies to counter what central government does. Plenty of those in central government cut their teeth at local government, they just about wet themselves with enthusiasm to push people about.
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You see, why would most people enter into local government if they didn't want to push people around? It pays poorly, it is interminably bureaucratic, is proscribed by government to perform a range of far reaching and intrusive activities (RMA for example), and has very little prestige outside the big city mayoralties (no this doesn't include Waitakere or Hamilton).
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So I have some advice for the local body elections where you are. Since you get a little voting guide this should help you a lot, but here are some very important points:
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1. The Mayor matters less than the media or the candidates claim. Mayors have no power beyond chairing the council, and having a casting vote in councils when they are hung. They have little budget, do not decide what roads are upgraded. Figurehead and promoter, but that is about it.
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2. Most candidates use catchphrases to attract voters. Most of these are code for "I want to tell you what to do, use more ratepayers' money, ban activities, compel activities and tinker with activities that people don't actually want to pay for". Here they are:
- Sustainability (in other words, make you pay for uneconomic recycling, projects that look environmentally friendly but have had no objective appraisal, road transport is bad, public transport is good, protect trees, tell you what to do with your land, your house, your business, all because if you don't you're contributing to armageddon, by implication);
- Communities (in other words, thinks collectively. Doesn't respect private property rights, listens to busybody groups of activists, prepared to believe in groups above individuals, tribalist. Community making decisions about your business, home, how you play, travel - great!);
- Renewable, climate change, peak oil (Green party supporter, believes in armageddon and taxing/regulating subsidising anything that environmentalists think is good for the world - regardless of the evidence, in fact resists cost/benefit analysis)
- Free (you'll be forced to pay for it, rather than pay for it if you want to use it. Anyone suggesting anything that someone has to pay for must be free, is an advocate of socialism);
- Partnership (council will get together with other councils, central government or a corrupt symbiotic relationship with businesses that want favours to disadvantage you. You are excluded from any partnerships by definition);
- Accessibility (you'll be forced to pay to make it easier for people to work with the council or move about);
- Foreign (nobody standing for local government likes foreigners or money from overseas - anyone raising this is another isolationist luddite who thinks you can keep your head in the sand and make you pay for it. Should like North Korea);
- Public ownership (you bear the costs of poor decisions through rates, the councillors who make the decisions bear none of them.).
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In essence, avoid anyone saying these things - they're after your money. When was the last time you saw a council candidate who said that if elected LESS would be done?
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Simply - Bernard Darnton for Wellington Regional Council. If elected two things would be sure, he'd oppose rates increases and any growth in council activity, and he'd be mighty pissed off that he has to do it. What could be better than someone in council who is suspicious of councils, who wishes they would disappear and wants them to do less? Remember, HE was the one who took Labour to court over spending YOUR money on the pledge card campaign out of government funds for administration.
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Besides Bernard, see if anyone else challenges the size of councils to be smaller - if so, a vote might be earned - as far as the rest? Ignore them, and think about what parties NEXT year want for local government. I wouldn't be enthused about the Nats though, Mark Blumsky is giving up, he doesn't know WHAT he could be doing - in which case we'd all be happier if he went back to shoes.

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