Local Government Magazine
Local Democracy

Dressing up to be elected

Dressing up to be elected

By Elizabeth Hughes

In 2015 the internet broke when we all got divided into blue dress/gold dress people (for those who missed the moment – The Dress – has its own Wikipedia page).

It became a meme about how one thing can appear to be the complete opposite of another; and even the actual facts were not enough to change some people’s point of view. They saw what they saw (even when it was wrong) and nothing was going to change that.

Fast forward to 2022 and ‘The Dress’ is basically how we seem to be shaping our lives now. 

There is just an exhausting divisiveness and intense polarisation of attitudes to almost everything, and we all seem to be hung up in the present, not really able to look clearly into the future. There is a lack of balance on a great many issues and extreme views that pit neighbours and colleagues against one another.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the not-quite post Covid local government elections; particularly as, at this stage (early August), people are just not putting their hands up to be elected.

Maybe it is a lack of trust in any leadership opportunities (here’s looking at you ‘co-governance’) and the idolisation/hatred of our national leaders (including the All Blacks coach) it seems people have lost perspective and the art of being reasonable.

There is indeed very little going on in public narratives that present the many sides of an issue and encourage people to come to a considered and thoughtful resting place. Instead we are staying on the edges and proclaiming the only possible colour the dress could be is the one visible to me.

Maybe people have spent the last three years feeling like we have lost our autonomy and that the issues are too many, too big (climate change anyone?) and there is too much change (reforms).

Maybe the energy levels of potential candidates have been sapped and the usual local government energisers (parking, planning rules, roading woes, trees, consents, high-rises, bike lanes, dogs, 1080 and rates) just don’t cut it anymore. 

Even fluoridation is no longer a source of excitement.

But for those that did put their names in the hat – waimarie pai (good luck) – you could be rewarded with one of the best opportunities you’ll ever have – leading decision-making for a community you care about and setting the groundwork for future communities to be even better.

If you do get elected by your community and it’s your first time, here are some of the things that might be helpful.

  1. Maths matters (your vote only passes go if it is added to at least 50 percent of the other votes)
  2. Misinformation, mischievousness, and misunderstandings will fill your inbox – a coping strategy will be required
  3. It will take at least two election cycles before your ambitions can begin to be realised (and in that time you will need to have brought some of your colleagues along with you)
  4. You will meet a lot of single issue fanatics – and that’s even before you go to a public meeting
  5. You will also encounter a wide range of very interesting (and sometimes pedantic, annoying, and ignorant) characters in your community – they all deserve your time
  6. People and groups in your community who might have struggled to have been heard will ask for you to be their voice – this is a huge responsibility
  7. Over time, you will learn an incredible amount from the skilled and knowledgeable professionals who are there to support you in your job – ask for their help if you are struggling (they will not judge you for this)
  8. Local government is going to change (not sure how or when, but it is going to change) and you will not simply be a part of that change, but also help guide your communities through whatever ‘reforms’ come their way
  9. Democracy matters in both principle and practice – and you will be a living, breathing example of how local democracy is the one that matters the most
  10. You will get to contribute to the future shape of your community

Lastly, for all of you who have stepped forward, thank you for putting your hand up and for wanting to be a leader in your community. We need more people dressed like you.

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