Electoral reform in New Zealand

MMP Review – Zombie MPs

Legal Beagle

Graeme Edgeler has produced another of his review pieces about the MMP review. This time he talks about Zombie MPs, those that return off the list after being tossed out of their electorates. And again it seems he has had a change of heart:

But approaching this from the standpoint that I haven’t had a problem with back-door MPs, is a mistake. The question we need to address is whether there would be benefits.

During the referendum campaign, Jordan Williams of the anti-MMP group Vote for Change repeatedly argued that Supplementary Member was a compromise between fully proportional MMP, and the majoritarian, electorate-based, First Past the Post (FPP). The usual response to this argument is that it is in fact MMP which is the compromise: between a fully electorate-based system like FPP and a fully list-based system (such a system is used in most countries with proportional representation); we get a proportional result, but also get the strong local representation missing from systems that rely solely on lists.

That’s how the argument goes, anyway. But does our current form of MMP really allow for strong local representation? Jordan’s greatest complaint about MMP was that it was unfair that when a party lost an electorate it got an extra list seat (and sometimes even the very same MP). He argued that this meant that parties (and MPs) could ignore the wishes of the middle New Zealanders who make up the marginal electorates.

And I think he’s right. The tendency may not be great, but it is a factor. We’ve never had (under MMP or FPP) the Westminster tradition of crossing the floor (I don’t think government backbenchers in New Zealand have ever taken out newspaper advertisements opposing government policy, for example), so the effect might not be as great, but it could manifest itself in other ways. But maybe under first past the post – out of fear of losing their jobs, with no plan B – local MPs in marginal or somewhat marginal electorates were more likely to more forcefully put their constituents’ views in caucus, and were able to forestall unpopular changes, or obtain concessions. It certainly seems likely that an MP who, if they lost their electorate, would be out of a job, would take that part of the representative function more seriously.

Indeed, as Jordan argued, the very existence of a process of ranking MPs on a list, whereby the higher they are on the list, they more likely they are to keep their well-paying jobs, is an encouragement to not stand up to party bosses – even for MPs who represent electorates. While there are other ways to counter this effect – and I’ll discuss the possibility of “open lists” in a future post – it’s worth considering this on its own.

 

Quote of the Day

From Jim Hopkins:

Unless we vote for change, the politicians will decide how they are elected. They may tinker with MMP or change it radically. The choice will be theirs, not ours. A vote for change will ensure a second referendum, with MMP tested against one of the alternatives. It means we will control the evolution of our peaceful democracy. Let the politicians address the economy. But the elections belong to us!

Herald supports making National the Natural Party of Opposition

No longer can we say our media is non-partisan. This election the NZ Herald mainly through its sister publication the Herald on Sunday has had a shameful selection of coverage and blatant attempts to affect outcomes. Today the Herald’s editorial comes out supporting MMP. It also comes out to support the left’s dream scenario of minor parties having to get 5% to get list MPs.

This situation, unique to our form of MMP, could be solved in large part if parties always had to secure at least 5 per cent of the party vote – irrespective of any electorate wins – to gain list seats.

What this means, in really simple terms, is National will have no coalition partners after 2014 if MMP is retained. It will have independents like Peter Dunne and John Banks. Only the Greens have made the 5% threshold in the last two elections, and only the Greens will make the 5% threshold again. A review that makes this change means that 2014 National will be without coalition partners.

If MMP is retained National will have no coalitions partners and will become the Natural Party of Opposition. John Key needs to realise that this referendum is a partisan battle that he needs to win or he is screwed, and only he can alter the outcome.

If John Key wants to be Prime Minister after 2014 he needs to give the same kind of speech David Cameron gave.

David Cameron’s Strategic Nous

In May of this year Britain had a referendum on their electoral system. David Cameron took a very strong role in the referendum as he knew that under AV (the equivalent of PV), the Conservative Party would face a political environment that was dominated by Labour & Liberal Democrat coalitions.

Cameron made a very, very public plea for voters to reject AV.

John Key is more popular than David Cameron ever has been, and his intervention in this referendum will ensure a second referendum and a voting system that will not work against National. Cameron’s strategic nous meant that AV was defeated and Britain has an electoral system that the Conservatives can win under.

John Key should give a press conference doing what David Cameron did. Give voters clear reasons to reject MMP and vote for SM.

The Economist on the election, Ctd

The Economist has discovered National’s strategic stupidity:

Labour’s election campaign emphasises the likely pain ahead in a National Party second term. In September, two international ratings agencies downgraded New Zealand’s credit rating because of its high level of private-sector debt. Mr Key’s flippant response was widely criticised. A perception of a sluggish government reaction to the oil spill was also jumped upon by Labour.

On top of that, the prime minister’s coalition partners are in trouble, whereas a possible Labour partner, the Green Party, is enjoying increased support. An absolute majority for one party is unprecedented under the partly proportional electoral system New Zealand has used since 1996. So if Labour could cobble together a coalition, it could yet pull off a surprise. Like the All Blacks, Mr Key may find victory harder than expected.

It astounds me that National MPs and the Prime Minister remain silent on the referendum. If MMP is retained and Labour manages to cobble together a coalition of the disaffected then New Zealand and National will rue the day they quietly let the unions, Labour and Greens control the debate on the referendum.

Herald Editorial on MMP

The NZ Herald editorial is scathing of Judith Tizard, Labour and MMP.

The last thing the MMP electoral system needed this year was an episode to stir up discontent over list MPs. Yet that is exactly what is being provided by the posturing and prevaricating of Judith Tizard as she decides whether she will take the list seat vacated by Darren Hughes. The Labour Party hierarchy has made it clear it does not want the former minister back in Parliament.

But, as the unelected candidate highest on Labour’s 2008 party list, she is, by law, the first cab off the rank. With the retention of MMP the subject of a referendum at the time of the general election, this is far from a ringing endorsement of its merits.

Exactly, and bizarrely the vested interests of pro-MMP lobbyists seem tot hink that these same people rorting the list should also be the ones to reform MMP.

Labour has itself to blame for much of its embarrassment. Not only does it not want Judith Tizard back – and earlier went so far as to stop Phil Twyford standing in the Mt Albert byelection to prevent this – but it also does not want any of the next four candidates on its list, Mark Burton, Mahara Okeroa, Martin Gallagher and Dave Hereora. None are standing this year, so they would occupy the seat for just six months. Party president Andrew Little’s choice is Louisa Wall, who is next on the list after those fellow former MPs and has already been selected for the safe seat of Manurewa.

The editor is of course talking about the Tizard Effect or the Tizard Bomb. Labour are ardent supporters of MMP, yet they are quite willing to chuck the intent of the list system aside because it doesn’t suit them. That makes the MMP system highly suspect that it can be manipulated in such a manner.

It would be easy to say Labour should have seen this coming; that it erred badly in the drawing up of a list which saddled it with lacklustre choices in the event of incidents such as that allegedly involving Mr Hughes. But before the 2008 election, the party may have felt it would be wrong to demean and effectively disown sitting MPs by placing them far lower on its list. If the worst came to the worst, it could always appeal to them to stand aside for the good of the party.

Labour is not the first to seek to manipulate its party list this way. In mid-2008, the Greens tried to bring Russel Norman into Parliament by orchestrating the departure of MP Nandor Tanczos and asking Catherine Delahunty and Mike Ward, who were ahead of the co-leader on their party list, to stand aside. This came unstuck when Mr Ward stuck to his guns. Nonetheless, this blatant attempt at a rearrangement of convenience left a sickly taste, a state of affairs now rekindled by Labour.

Yes it does leave a sickly taste. We need to dump MMP, not reform it. If politicians can’t be trusted to stick to their lists then they can’t be trusted to reform MMP.

Issues surrounding list MPs, along with other aspects of MMP that have raised question-marks, will be examined by an Electoral Commission review if the public votes later this year to retain the electoral system. This would offer the chance to assess whether the situation in which Mr Little finds himself is reasonable.

On the one hand, the public votes for a party list, which, like policy, is announced before an election. It could be considered that a commitment has, therefore, been made to voters, and the list should be sacrosanct.

Yet is it fair that a party, and perhaps a new leader, should be shackled with unwanted people in what may be much-changed circumstances? Should, in fact, party lists be dispensed with after an election?

The common complaint about this would be that people could enter Parliament without any sort of public mandate. Party leaders would be free to exercise their whims. Equally, however, the present situation is unsatisfactory, and has blighted MMP at an inopportune time.

Louisa Wall is, clearly, the most suitable candidate to replace Mr Hughes. Something must change to ensure the country is spared a rerun of the current shenanigans.

That something is for us all to reject MMP.