Parting Shot: Lyal’s a headline writer’s dream

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Local body politics has an image problem. Setting rates, maintaining pipes and resurfacing roads isn’t that sexy.

When you’re faced with reading about the break-up of One Direction or who’s standing as a local councillor, most people vote with a swipe on their smart phone.

The data shows a steady decline in actual voting.

From the giddy heights of a 56 per cent turnout nationally in 1989 - during heightened interest because of a massive amalgamation of local bodies - the proportion of voters plummeted to just 41.3 per cent in 2013.

In Queenstown, 46 per cent of voters filled out their voting paper in 2013 - down 5 percentage points from three years earlier.

It seems most people were just too busy, have bad memories or just plain didn’t care.

Is it the downfall of democracy? Not necessarily.

Apparently there’s a similar trend in many mature democracies.

Maybe people don’t trust public bodies any more.

Another theory is that voting is too complex. Or maybe people really, really like their councils and feel they don’t need to vote.Yeah, right.

Some councils might think they need to “think big” to get people interested in what they’re doing. But the convention centre debate didn’t exactly cause a surge in voter turnout.

What to do? Perhaps elections are held too often - should we kick it out to every four years?

There’s a suggestion districts try online voting. It doesn’t seem a magic bullet.

I can’t see 18-year-olds at the skate park whipping their phones out for democracy’s sake.

Whatever way you slice it, the small group of people interested in local body politics is getting smaller, almost every election.

Enough people exercise their democratic right to ensure the fabric of society isn’t torn apart, but clearly there needs to be some fresh interest pumped into council elections.

Which is where Lyal Cocks comes in. The district’s deputy mayor in Mountain Scene on Thursday.

The pundits might argue the interest will swell because there’s never been a Wanaka-based mayor.

Politically-minded watchers might say he’s a steady-as-she-goes hand on the tiller but he might be tainted for a perceived closeness to outgoing mayor Vanessa van Uden (although he spoke out when Queenstown Airport’s chairman Mark Taylor was axed in 2011).

We think Cocks holds the key to a sudden uplift in interest in local body politics in the area.

Why? It’s the headlines.

Imagine if there’s a revealing article - you might read “Cocks unzipped”. The inevitable consequence of our man in chains taking a tough stance: “Cocks has balls”. Or even “Harden up: Cocks”.

If those headlines - which are unlikely to make a newspaper on decency grounds - got more people reading council stories, isn’t that a good thing?

Imagine if more people turned up to a ‘meet the candidates’ meeting.

OK, OK. Yes, we’re being childish.

And we hope Cocks - someone we like and respect - might agree any publicity is good publicity.

Local politics needs a shot in the arm, a little extra stimulation. Is this it?

The mere whiff of our deputy mayor being elected to the top job tickled us.

Laughter, as they say, is the best medicine.

So, online voting be damned. Infantile as it may be, it might be time to put Cocks in.

david@scene.co.nz