Voting and the trouble at the top end of political parties

Credit: Original article can be found here

PM Chris Hipkins and Education Minister Jan Tinetti talk about plans to reduce class sizes.

David White/Stuff

PM Chris Hipkins and Education Minister Jan Tinetti talk about plans to reduce class sizes.

Jim Tucker is a writer and journalist based in New Plymouth

OPINION: Some of us are probably asking ourselves whether there’s much point voting in the upcoming general election.

I’m not casting aspersions on the two main candidates for New Plymouth, both of whom appeal in their different ways.

It’s the top end of political parties that worries me. Current leaders seem to lack a sound grasp on how to run a convincing campaign.

Take the new PM. He’s just announced what Labour thinks is a worthwhile step towards more manageable class sizes in schools – drop the teacher-to-student ratio by the commanding figure of one.

In some schools. Eventually.

* Can one less student make a difference? Teachers respond to smaller classes
* Class sizes to decrease by one for years 4 to 8, requiring an extra 320 teachers
* Smaller class sizes for years 4-8 to be announced

How can anyone think that laughable number has any value as an election-year proclamation? I’m putting money on Chris Hipkins one day regretting he went public with it.

I know a bit about class sizes. They were fundamental to any success I managed to eke out of 25 years as a journalism teacher.

I insisted on nine-to-one, and made it my job to get enough students enrolled to ensure we had the equivalent of three tutors to teach the wide range of skills our grads would need as the internet age took off.

Most of my polytech employers could see what we were trying to do and accommodated what today would be an outrageously small ratio.

But how can we expect anything other than a steep and continued decline in general literacy and numeracy while our schools are stuck with class sizes averaging 28 or more?

National is equally foolish in promising a back-to-basics approach to teaching those fundamentals of good education, the said ability to read, write and count. Who or what with, I’m asking myself.

National party leader Christopher Luxon.

Braden Fastier/Stuff

National party leader Christopher Luxon.

Christopher Luxon and his crew may be tempted to ridicule Labour over the ratio announcement, but what will they do if they win? Drop it by another one? How about 10? And pay teachers more.

Luxon has a bigger problem, though. He’s trying to dismiss something even less defensible – his party’s lack of judgement when taking on some of its candidates.

I’m not going to repeat what that fellow from the depths of the South Island farming world said about young women. If you follow politics – heaven help you – you’ll know how seriously bad it was.

Along with some of the other misfits National has taken into its fold at times, he represents something nasty about a party organisation that is seriously letting down the candidates who do seem acceptable.

Talking of class sizes, my head is full of a different kind of number after spending two months trying to convince a fascinating range of citizens why they should allow themselves to be counted in the five-yearly census.

Journalist Jim Tucker in his New Plymouth writing shed.


Journalist Jim Tucker in his New Plymouth writing shed.

Unless the big count achieves a total hit rate in the lower-to-middle 90 percentage points range, internationally it will be seen as another failure, like the 2018 one (83 percent).

Despite facing similar societal changes, Australia and Canada still manage to reach the mid-nineties. Anything less than 90 in New Zealand again won’t do, according to academics, commercial research companies, government departments and big business.

Yet it seems odd that while we demand a high success rate in the politicised arena of the census, we’re merely resigned to the likelihood of a far smaller proportion when it comes to voter turnout, something in the 40s. They’re surely equally important numbers in a modern democracy.

Has the behaviour of our leading politicians deteriorated to a point where more than half New Zealand’s eligible voters have given up caring?

Kiwi women, especially, have plenty of reasons to be disillusioned with politics.

Despite a couple of momentous waves of feminist pro-action sweeping the country in the last half century, average female employee pay rates still trail those for males by big margins.

Knowing that – and reading what a male politician thinks is an acceptable thing to say about women – you have to ask what remains that could be done to effect significant change?

Here’s an obvious suggestion, chaps: let’s try harder to rid ourselves of prejudices.

When I became editor of a major newspaper in the 1980s, one of my early moves was to remove the figurative glass ceiling.

Within a few months we had a 50-50 balance between male and female managers. I didn’t have to do anything other than appoint on merit.

Do you reckon our political leaders might try that one day – as well as properly check for chauvinistic tendencies among those pushing themselves forward to run for office?

Jim Tucker is a writer and journalist based in New Plymouth