Some would have us believe that political collaboration is a necessary foundation for dealing with a natural disaster but personally, I have grave doubts and concerns about the validity of a bipartisan approach.
Labour leader, Mr Shearer pledged that Labour would “… do everything in our power to bring the issues to the attention of Parliament. But I do believe we need to look at a way we can have a bipartisan approach on this. We do need a government/opposition united approach.” And “as a result of that, I think we do need to be sitting down with the Government and looking at a bipartisan approach to the rebuild in Christchurch and its recovery.” (See http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10779345).
What is a Bipartisan approach? Wikipedia defines it as “a political situation, usually in the context of a two party system, in which opposing political parties find common ground through compromise, in theory.” So in the context of the Christchurch earthquakes this would mean that Labour would essentially leave National to its decision making process in relation to matters appertaining to the recent earthquakes and the Christchurch ‘recovery’.
On the face of it, it is not hard to understand the appeal of bipartisanship. It sounds very mature and enlightened with a suggestion of the harmonious pursuit of quick and beneficial solutions to a set of difficult circumstances. It seems an obvious choice in the case of external threat, such as war, yet there is little evidence that solutions to big internal problems are to be found through bipartisanship, and there are plenty of examples throughout history that would suggest that they are not. When it comes to ‘crisis’ events, this is particularly so.
Democracy actually depends on partisanship – strong, critical advocacy that opens public debate- forcing the parties to explain their ideas which in turn clarifies choices for voters. Partisan causes are often bold ideas and though these ideas can be divisive, they can offer citizens a genuinely new path forward.
By contrast, bipartisanship has the ability to ‘cloak corruption, obscure chasms between politicians and the people they serve’, agree to invest single individuals with absurd powers (as in NZ), or simply indicate that the leadership of both parties has become a closed club, (usually with an agenda). In principle and in practice, a serious partisan political structure is fundamental to a healthy democracy and partisan ideas are crucial for liberty. Bipartisanship, by contrast, has enabled some of the most shameful episodes in history such as American slavery, the Iraq war, and others. I note with interest that in the USA there is also a bipartisan approach to ‘climate change’.
Yet is it not the case that a good political leader is not the individual who rises above partisan concerns, but the person who is able to clearly articulate and defend the interests of one party? Able to put forward another view point, propose other solutions – widen the choice spectrum for the affected population? People living in a democracy should get the government they choose based on clear choices. Clear choices produce better results. The recent decisions by the Labour party to ‘demote’ Lianne Dalziel and Ruth Dyson raise questions of ‘punishment for not towing the bipartisan line’. After all they pretty much represent the only two vocal political voices in an otherwise completely National landscape in respect of Canterbury issues. As one Cantabrian put it,
“A bad move by the leader of the Labour Party. Not necessarily in moving Lianne, as cabinet reshuffles will always create winners and losers, but in not acknowledging the importance of having a representative fight the corner for those who have been shafted in Christchurch. Nobody from the National’s is really doing that, and that alone may cause a few in this part of Canterbury to look to vote elsewhere…. Interesting times ahead, but I just feel it is another nail in the coffin for residents in Christchurch. It seems no leader is acknowledging they need to have a voice. Call me a cynic but I have said this before and will say it again – if this had happened in Wellington or Auckland …. I believe more would have been done to safeguard the interest of residents – and sooner. Let’s be honest. When was the last time, other than at an annual rememberance service where he could make the most of the media opportunity, did Mr. Key come down and show genuine interest in what is happening? Any takers?”, Davina Powell. (See http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/8348590/Dalziel-dropped-from-Labours-top-20).
I understand that disaster mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery are the end products of complex political and administrative interactions, and the results cannot be easily controlled or anticipated. But there have to be alternative solutions and those solutions should be presented by the other political voices. Bring on the end of this bipartisan approach and let’s see some real democracy in action and perhaps some assistance and answers for those in need – unless the agenda is actually the same for both political parties, of course……….. Even that bears some scrutiny in New Zealand.
If we do not like bipartisan approaches and can see the danger in their subtle application, we are going to need to say so!! Populations get the government they deserve. If you don’t speak up, then don’t complain when you don’t like the outcome, folks. And it’s not a very good one so far. Will Mr Shearer call an end to this bipartisan approach and get on with government, or will he accept that he also must bear responsibility for what National has failed to deliver…….? He can’t have it both ways.
~Future Proofing for a sustainable, participatory, democratic society.
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