Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"I think, with that, Ron Mark became my favourite Member of Parliament."

See that? Look up. The title to this piece isn't mine. Instead, it's a quote from somebody on my wall. That was their reaction to news that NZ First MP Ron Mark told the Government (sotto voce) to "shut the fuck up" during Question Time.

And from everything I've seen thus far, they are not alone.

From right the way across the political spectrum - and, even more importantly, from beyond the spectrum entirely - Kiwis are lining up to express their amusement and support for Ron Mark's STFU-snafu.

Given the way this Government conducts itself - particularly in the House - it's not hard to see why.

If you're actively engaged in politics, or have a vested interest in this country having a future ... then Ron Mark's exasperated remark is *exactly* what many if not most of us have longed to be able to tell the Government to do for six and a half grueling years.

I'm sure I speak for many TDB readers when I state that being able to do so *in Parliament* and to their faces would be something of an exercise in wish-fulfillment.

But there's something far more important going on here. Something revolutionary.

You see, it isn't just the usual crew of hacktivists, beltway-grognards, and politically enthused party-followers that're queuing up in droves to express enthusiasm and support for his comment or to brand him a "legend". (one of the more printable positive epithets I've seen being applied in his direction on social media since Wednesday)

It's the less-engaged if not outright disengaged folk, too.

And that means something.

For four years now, some of the brightest (or, in the case of Labour, bluntest) political minds in the country have grappled with a simple question: How do we get the million-plus Kiwis who've stopped participating in politics to re-engage. What do we have to do to excite, inspire, and instill in these people a sense that we *can* actually meaningfully represent them.

I believe Ron Mark's cracked it.

One of the reasons so many New Zealanders have switched off establishment politics, is because they're disgusted or disillusioned by the way "business as usual" gets conducted in the House.

And it's not hard to see why.

Efforts by Opposition MPs to hold the Government to account during Question Time are glibly batted away by insouciantly arrogant ministers who give frivolous non-answers. Serious matters are treated by Government MPs as an excuse for supercilious if not outright super-silly-ous banter. Ministers of the Crown hound the leaders of Opposition parties over their fashion choicesThe Speaker plays along.

On the odd occasion Parliamentary proceedings make it into the 6 o'clock news, it's rarely if ever because there's some scintillating rhetoric or declamation of national importance being made (although both Winston Peters and Ron Mark have managed notable exceptions to this recently).

Instead, it's almost invariably because some MP's run their mouth off with a display of spurious invective that'd be on par or beneath the standard of debate exhibited behind the bike sheds in most intermediate schools immediately before the fisticuffs ensue.

Most of the rest of the time, Government MPs only seem to come to the general public's attention for the most unedifying of reasons. We all, for instance, now know who Aaron Gilmore is (or, rather, was). Many of us know who a Prominent New Zealander is. Some of us who've been around for awhile remember that Judith Collins wasn't the first Minister this government's had to let go for using their position to benefit their affiliated private business interests. Even if names like Richard Worth and Pansy Wong are these days mere historical footnotes ... the pattern - and the anti-politician prejudices it engenders in the public - are plain for all to see.

Meanwhile, policies proposed by parties other than the Government have not a hope in Hades of making it into law. If National's not shouting a bill downthey're voting it down. And on incredibly rare occasions when The Nats don't even have the numbers to do that (as with Labour's paid parental leave extension bill) ... they just step in and declare they'll block the legislation by veto regardless. How very democratic.

From the perspective of the layman, the entire Parliamentary process must come across as - in the words of Macbeth - "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing".

A colossal waste of time, energy, effort, attention spans, and taxpayer funding; whose narcissistic egomanic denizens incontrovertibly seem infinitely more interested in playing silly partisan power-games and stroking their own senses of self-importance rather than actually pulling finger and making the country a genuinely better place.

Into which stepped Ron Mark.

Armed with a precision F-Bomb.

And with it, the power to say what we're pretty much all thinking.

That's why what he said was ground-breaking, and grabbed our attention. Not because there was anything terribly scandalous or especially salacious in what was said. (In fact, I'd be enormously surprised if even the most cantankerously conservative curmudgeon couched amidst our Party ranks felt that the elected official in question's choice of words to be something seriously worth raising official or internal complaint about)

But rather because he had, in four simple words, perfectly captured the way tens of thousands of New Zealanders feel about both our Government - and the way we all too often seem to practice politics in general.

Many of these multitudes don't vote or actively participate in politics precisely because of this perception that the whole thing's childish and pointless. They're that Missing Million we keep talking about, whose non-appearance at each of the last two elections handed National victory on a silver-spooned-mouth platter.

Cutting National's share of the vote down to size in 2017 is going to require our political class and parties to come down off their many and various high horses in order to engage with and understand these ordinary Kiwi (non-) voters.

And why they're more thrilled and supportive of an "anti-politician" expressing his frustration with the Government using the regular Kiwi vernacular, than they are with Labour's continued quixotic drive at being the party of fiscal responsibility.

One of the things I like about Ron Mark is that he does this effortlessly.

The "shut the fuck up" comment was a gaffe. It wasn't planned, and had it not been for the eagle-eyed sign-language interpreter, it would never have come to the attention of the general public.

It was genuine - and people responded to it in no small part because it felt "real". And, just as importantly, anti-political.

It showed the public that there's at least one MP who's *just as fed up* with the endless silly-buggers done in our name and on our dime as they are. An MP they can support - because unlike the others, he's there to get something done. 

If parties are serious about increasing their share of the vote at the next Election, they would do well to learn from Ron Mark.

"Politics-as-usual", with all the petty Parliamentary point-scoring, procedural maneuvering and mock-indignation that entails is not the order of the day. "Speaking Truth to Power", with a veneer of anti-politics, is.

Ordinary people want to see themselves and their views represented in Parliament. Not endless streams of "Beltway bullshit".

By telling the Government to "shut the fuck up", Ron Mark has done exactly that.

Good on him.

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