A recent survey showing politicians to be only slightly more trusted than telemarketers yet still behind sex workers reminded me that live in an age of political disconnection and dislocation. These two factors often lead to hatred of politicians and the political process, which in turn ensures only the toughest, least likable survive. Lewis Holden elaborates.
AS A RESULT democratic disconnection is growing. Granted, politicians often earn the reputation. But we've really got a problem when any association of public life with politics is seen in a negative light - an issue the Australian republicans are all to aware of. Apathy towards the political process is one of the most potent weapons for the monarchists. This is why the monarchists used "Vote No to the Politician's Republic" as their primary slogan for the 1999 republic referendum campaign, and argued that a President elected by Parliament would be a party hack - ironic, since that is often what happens with the Governor-General anyway. Yet, the monarchists willingly seek the support of many politicians, both on the left and right, for the monarchy. It seems that exploiting political antipathy does not extend to monarchy-supporting politicians.
Interestingly, most mainstream supporters of the monarchy - as opposed to monarchists - are not so hypocritical. The real and genuine dislike of politicians means that in the minds of many supporters of the monarchy, the primary argument against a republic is that it would lead to "more power for politicians". This seems to be the child of the argument that the monarch "denies power to the politicians". Exactly what power and when is never explained, because according to Bagehot the monarch cannot deny even her own death warrant. If anything, the monarchy hands power on a gold plate to the most cunning politicians, who understand that the monarchy allows them to get on with the "efficient secret" of government - making it appear as if the monarch still has enough political power to tell them to stop if they're doing something wrong.
19th Century English statesman, lawyer, journalist, essayist and philosopher, Walter Bagehot
Which raises the issue of a counter-argument to the claim that a republic leads to "more politicians and more election campaigns". It is not difficult to see that a democratic system where elected representatives and the means to elect them are shunned has an underlying problem. The classic argument against a republic - if it ain't broke, don't fix it - falls over in this regard. If under the monarchy our elected representatives are regarded so lowly, there is something wrong with the system. Our elections are focused solely on electing the legislature - Parliament - and not other, albeit symbolic, offices to hold the legislature to account. As elections for the president in the Republic of Ireland show, electing an office that does not have the power to direct policy leads to a national conversation about identity. That is a step towards creating real engagement with the political process, something that the status quo cannot offer.
The only sensible response to the hatred of politicians and the political process is to emphasise the failings of our political system are ours, and are within our power to change. If our elected head of state is found to be inadequate, we can elect a new one. Sure, it's not perfect, but it's certainly better than a genetic lottery. And more importantly, electing our head of state emphasises where power comes from - the people. All of the talk of "elite" or the "political class" dominating elections - aside from its fairly unsubtle colonial cringe - implicitly says that the Australian people are mindless automatons who'll vote for a big name. As a republican, I think we should demand more from our politicians and think more highly of ourselves.
(Lewis Holden is Chair of the Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand.)