Political Time Wasters

Politicians are wasting time; time that belongs to the public as their employersIn New Zealand, 2008, we have an national election coming sometime later this year. The politicians, the ultimate public servants, are doing the same thing they've done for years, but with more vigour than usual. What's that, you ask? Making decisions? Fostering coherent debate? Working towards the best possible solution to the issues of they day? I wish. No, they're doing what they've always done. Bickering amongst themselves, tearing apart the policies of the other parties, and wasting their paid time as public employees.

Like many other countries, New Zealand has a "Party" system. We use MMP, so there's a good handful of parties with more than negligible public support. Also like many other countries, there are two primary parties: Labour representing the traditional Left, and National the traditional Right, although both claim to be fairly "centric" in the spectrum, presumably to avoid scaring swing voters with tendencies to the other side of the spectrum. Our current government is a minority government (the ruling party has a minority of seats in Parliament), but has "Confidence and Supply" agreements with several of the smaller parties, giving it the ability to survive votes of no-confidence, and to pass budgets, thus to take care of day-to-day business. All other legislation is voted on by each party or representative on a case-by-case basis.

Traditionally, all those parties not part of the formal Government form the Opposition. And this Opposition is supposed to provide a check for the Government, performing Devils Advocate duties to provide some sanity.

But, what do we find them doing? Every time they comment, it's done not as constructive criticism, e.g.:"This policy is mostly ok, but we think it could be better in certain ways", followed by a clear, lucid explanation of the suggestions or points of difference. Rather, it's one of a few well-worn styles:
1) Policy BLAH is junk. When we get into power, we'll repeal it/modify it,
2) The current goverment sucks, elect us instead,
3) The government should have done this X years ago
plus various other variations on these themes.

Hardly ever do they offer a better solution; rather, they bang on about how the current government has dropped the ball, screwed up, all the while implying that they'd do better if they were in power.

It seems obvious to me that they're simply trying to get themselves elected, nothing more, nothing less. Not to find the best path through whatever issue is being dealt with. Oh no, that wouldn't bring down enough criticism on the current ruling party. No, they have to attempt to bring down the current party in the eyes of the people, so that at the next election, they'll be able to come to power.

The Governments usually aren't much better; when criticised in these ways, they usually reply by criticising what the other party did last time they were in power, pointing out how such-and-such is only broken because of the previous Government (which, incidentally, gets hard when it's been 9 years since then).

Both sides are doing this, touting for their next job, while on our dollar, being paid by the public to do the job of governing.

What should they be doing? Government should be dealing with day-to-day stuff: dealing with national level issues, foreign relations on our behalf, taxes to provide appropriate public services, and making sure the laws are up to date and dealing with the issues that need to be dealt with to keep society functioning cleanly and civilly. Opposition need to be checking everything the Government does; when something seems ill-advised, they need to suggest (calmly, and with a minimum of partisan rhetoric), the reasons why, and how they think it could be done better. They need to remember the basic psychology that when you come into a discussion "on-the-attack", the defensive party will immediately get their back up, and try to defend their position against the attack, no matter how reasonable your actual suggestion is. A calm, measured, suggestive approach is more likely to gain results. And for the public, this means that the final result is likely to be much more reasoned and productive.

They need to lay off each other for 5 minutes, and get on with leading the country, finding the best path through the thicket of issues that spring up in front of our country. They need to stop blaming each other for everything that happens ("OMG, the other party causes Global Warming"). They need to stop wasting the time we pay for.