The Dim-Post

May 29, 2011

The usual suspects

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 7:08 am

The SST reports:

A group of National and Act Party activists is preparing to launch a campaign against MMP.

Details of the campaign, to be launched soon in the lead-up to the referendum on MMP on election day in November, have been leaked to the Sunday Star-Times.

Among the campaign’s key players is Simon Lusk, who played a major role in Don Brash’s leadership coup against Act leader Rodney Hide.

Jordan Williams, the young Wellington lawyer who accompanied Brash on the day he deposed Hide, is being considered for the role of frontman of the campaign.

David Farrar, National’s pollster and a well-known right-wing blogger and columnist, is providing strategic advice. Also involved is right-wing blogger Cameron Slater, known as Whale Oil.

Anthony Hubbard has more details here. If this is anything like the billboard campaign DPF, Slater et al ran against the Electoral Finance Act then MMP supporters have little to fear. At some point National is going to have to address the fact that a faction of its activists and staffers are ACT supporters who have latched onto National solely because it’s bigger and richer.

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38 Comments »

  1. In this case, I think the Nat people involved are probably just realists who know National isn’t going to be on 50% support forever. Replacing proportional representation with something that looks a little bit proportional but is actually FPP could see them back being able to rule alone on a minority of the vote again. I doubt Key or anyone else in National will be particularly annoyed with them for picking this up.

    Comment by Psycho Milt — May 29, 2011 @ 8:24 am

  2. ACT’s enthusiasm to get rid of MMP looks to me like strategic brilliance, given that its support hovers marginally above 1% at the moment.
    Turkeys, as the saying goes, voting for an early Christmas.

    Comment by Neil — May 29, 2011 @ 8:49 am

  3. “the elected dictatorship of First Past the Post,” wow what a brilliant line. Pity the journo ripped it off without crediting it, then again Lord Hailsham was a Conservative, and this is only the SST.

    Comment by gn — May 29, 2011 @ 9:23 am

  4. MMP is a fair, democratic, representative system. A National/Act campaign against it just shows how undemocratic and authoritarian our current government is.
    Why are they so afraid of representation and democracy? – I’m sure the voters will work it out soon enough…

    Comment by Murray — May 29, 2011 @ 9:34 am

  5. ACT’s enthusiasm to get rid of MMP looks to me like strategic brilliance, given that its support hovers marginally above 1% at the moment.

    ACT has historically done pretty well under first past the post. They were in government from 1984-1993 and got a large number of their policies through, many of which are still there after 9 years of social democrat rule.

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — May 29, 2011 @ 9:51 am

  6. Can anyone explain what on earth David Kirk is talking about when he says that FPP means you can govern with a mandate to do stuff? Is he confusing a mandate with the system gifting you carte blanche when 60% of voters didn’t support you?

    Comment by Guy Smiley — May 29, 2011 @ 10:33 am

  7. I think it’s hilarious that somebody “who’s great advantage is youth” happens to be some “young Wellington lawyer who squired Don Brash on the day he deposed Rodney Hide as Act leader.”

    Who else are these guys going to trot out to get youth to vote against MMP? Jami-lee Ross?

    Comment by Hobbes — May 29, 2011 @ 10:46 am

  8. Is he confusing a mandate with the system gifting you carte blanche when 60% of voters didn’t support you?

    No. A mandate is the authorisation given to a person to act as a representative of some people (in an election, the voters).

    If that comes at the end of a democratic process – which a first past the post (FPP) election likely to be conducted in New Zealand would be – then it is a mandate. If we have a first past the post election, and first past the post is adopted by a majority of people in a process that the large majority consider is fair (which this referendum seems likely to be), then the parliaments that result from them will have mandates.

    If New Zealanders vote for FPP, knowing that FPP means the person with the most votes wins, even if they lack a majority, and New Zealanders believe most people accept this because FPP was adopted fairly, then most voters – even those who vote for candidates who lose, will accept the results. This is a popular mandate whether the majority voted that way or not: the clear majority accept that that person “won”, and the person who wins has a mandate.

    At the 1978 and 1981 elections, people accepted that Muldoon had a mandate because he went to the electorate and National MPs won a majority of the electorates. There was some disquiet, but that’s how the system worked. The mandate comes not just from the voters who supported you, but from the voters who supported someone else recognising and accepting that you won.

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — May 29, 2011 @ 10:50 am

  9. Thanks Graeme!

    Comment by Guy Smiley — May 29, 2011 @ 10:56 am

  10. They were in government from 1984-1993 and got a large number of their policies through, many of which are still there after 9 years of social democrat rule.

    Viciously funny and true.

    Comment by Stephen — May 29, 2011 @ 11:08 am

  11. Graeme, if the simple majority chose to disenfranchise a minority would that be legitimate? What about a majority? Is it legitimate if all of a minority plus a tiny fraction of the rest vote to disenfranchise the majority?
    Currently NZ allows anyone but children and insane adults to vote, and counts all the votes. I can’t wait until we see the former restriction the same way we see the “no women, no non-whites” restrictions that NZ used to favour.

    Comment by Moz — May 29, 2011 @ 12:14 pm

  12. Can we run the referendum under FPP?

    Comment by Dizzy — May 29, 2011 @ 12:36 pm

  13. Some time ago there was a discussion about National’s attitude toward democracy and their excessive use of urgency in Parliament. Even David Farrar criticized the Govt for this. But it’s just a symptom of a wider disregard for the underlying principles of democracy. The opposition to MMP is another manifestation of this disregard.

    Apparently the need to get things done is more important than weighing each person’s vote equally. Not that MMP actually prevents things from getting done. Doing nothing was not the basis of any criticism of Helen Clark’s government, just National’s response to the recession in this country.

    Comment by Nick — May 29, 2011 @ 1:06 pm

  14. Nick, I think the basis of objection to MMP is that parties like NZ First get disproportionate power, as we saw at the end of the Clark govt with Winston getting substantial donations from the racing industry and also securing favours for the racing industry that made no political sense at all other than the need to stay in power.

    Now, for me, I think that’s just the price of being more democratic – more of the fringe voices get heard. But it is also a legitimate disagreement with MMP. To paint all people who oppose MMP as somehow having malicious motives I think is a poor debating technique – there are many legitimate reasons to dislike it.

    Equally, there are many legitimate reasons to dislike FPP – in particular the fact that for most people, in most electorates, they may as well not turn up to vote since there is no chance their MP will change. And that a whole section of voices in our society are unlikely to ever get heard. Similarly with SM, you end up basically with all the objections of MMP combined with all the objections of FPP – it’s an uncomfortable halfway house to my mind.

    Comment by PaulL — May 29, 2011 @ 1:41 pm

  15. I have a hard time taking that article seriously, coloured as it is by threat-phrases (“shadowy figures”) and a quite bizarre interest in whether or not the planners enjoy a good hunt-’n-shoot now and again.

    Comment by Ataahua — May 29, 2011 @ 1:43 pm

  16. I lived for a few years during FPP and remember the futility of my vote counting for anything since the electorate was heavily loaded to the other side. 15,000 votes for the usual MP. 1 vote for the other canidate. Do I want to return to that? Never.

    Comment by ianmac — May 29, 2011 @ 1:48 pm

  17. I have no problem with a political party trying to campaign for or against a system that will help and hurt them.

    Comment by Brett Dale — May 29, 2011 @ 2:15 pm

  18. I have a hard time taking that article seriously because Cameron Slater is interviewed.

    Comment by Dizzy — May 29, 2011 @ 2:23 pm

  19. PaulL, the objections around small parties getting disproportionate power are specious – parties get seats proportional to their votes. If one party holds the “balance of power” it has more to do with the other parties not being able to work together than being caused by the electoral system. It seems to me that this has lessened as politicians have become used to dealing with minor parties.

    And it’s hypocritical to complain about this supposed fault while campaigning, or at least reminiscing, for a system that regularly delivers complete power to a party that gets less than 50% of the vote (FPP – if SM, then just disproportionately more power for big parties…).

    Comment by Nick — May 29, 2011 @ 2:58 pm

  20. I don’t think they are specious, and to dismiss them as such is to ignore the concerns of a significant number of people. Prior to MMP, this didn’t happen. Ipso facto, the introduction of MMP caused it. The ability to have a discussion about pros and cons is substantially reduced if you choose to ignore some of the cons, or pretend that they aren’t a consequence of the system.

    Sure, you could postulate a world in which Labour and National chose to go into coalition together instead of giving power to Winston Peters, but since that world is unlikely to exist, it’s hardly useful in this discussion.

    Comment by PaulL — May 29, 2011 @ 3:22 pm

  21. Currently NZ allows anyone but children and insane adults to vote, and counts all the votes.

    Except for those detained following a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity, we allow the insane to vote.

    We also deny the vote to those who are imprisoned following a conviction.

    Can we run the referendum under FPP?

    We are.

    Graeme, if the simple majority chose to disenfranchise a minority would that be legitimate? What about a majority? Is it legitimate if all of a minority plus a tiny fraction of the rest vote to disenfranchise the majority?

    A democracy is legitimate, and governments elected under them have mandates, if the substantial majority consider it so, and accept the results of elections as proper.

    For most of the history of elections in New Zealand before the enfranchisement of women, everyone, including most women, accepted the system as proper, and those elected under it as properly so.

    The vast majority of children today consider that New Zealand is a democracy, properly so, despite their not having the vote.

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — May 29, 2011 @ 4:14 pm

  22. People say that minor parties have had disproportionate power under MMP because they get ticked off seeing someone they don’t like in.
    Perhaps one way to partly measure influence would be to do a graph on how much govt spending minor parties have had in past budgets.
    The Greens were never in govt but used to get a package out of Labour for confidence and supply, Jeanette Fitzsimmons would stand up on budget day and after critiquing it would talk about a few million here and there out of a spend of tens of billions.

    Comment by Michael — May 29, 2011 @ 4:15 pm

  23. I think for any anti-MMP campaign to work, you would really need the support of a major media organisation- and not just the usual suspects (NBR opposing MMP is for better or worse editorial consistency). The two main political journalists in the NZ Herald seem broadly in favour of MMP, albeit with caveats, as do the Sunday Star Times. In 1992-93 the vote FPP not only had the financial muscle of Peter Shirtcliffe and his crew, but also the fact that nearly all of the major media publications (save for the Listener) ran against MMP.

    In contrast, what made the MMP campaign work so well was a general air of disatisfaction/disillusionment to the two major parties (borne out in the 1996 general election results), a gradual desire for change, and in the great Rod Donald, arguably the best and most honest campaigner that the country has ever seen. Also, for all the complaints about MMP being “complicated”, if anything, it’s even simpler to understand than FPP, provided you get to grips with the “Party vote matters most” concept. SM, on the other hand, takes the most confusing aspects of MMP and FPP and as someone else has pointed out, is a halfway house that pleases no one: as witnessed in the recent electoral referendum in the UK. I mean it didn’t help that the Yes2AV campaign was insular, self-congratulatory and poorly run, the actual voting system is a bugger to explain to the neophyte.

    As an aside, I seem to remember that Murray Ball ran a series of pro-MMP Footrot Flats commercials/cartoons during the referendum, am I correct in this memory, or was it during the 1996 election?

    Comment by Matthew Littlewood — May 29, 2011 @ 4:36 pm

  24. People say that minor parties have had disproportionate power under MMP because they get ticked off seeing someone they don’t like in.”
    Perhaps Michael, Parties should declare who their partners will be before the Election.

    Comment by ianmac — May 29, 2011 @ 4:39 pm

  25. Matthew: My recollection was that the Footrot Flats cartoons were educational – used by Elections NZ (or whoever it was at the time) to tell people about how MMP was going to work.

    Comment by Simon Poole — May 29, 2011 @ 4:44 pm

  26. SM, on the other hand, takes the most confusing aspects of MMP and FPP and as someone else has pointed out, is a halfway house that pleases no one: as witnessed in the recent electoral referendum in the UK. I mean it didn’t help that the Yes2AV campaign was insular, self-congratulatory and poorly run, the actual voting system is a bugger to explain to the neophyte.

    SM and AV are not at all alike. If I understand it correctly, SM is like MMP with only list seats allocated proportionally (as opposed to proportional allocation over all seats). AV, on the other hand, is STV in single-member constituencies (like how mayors are elected in some cities).

    Comment by derp de derp — May 29, 2011 @ 5:40 pm

  27. @Simon: cheers for that clarification! I used to remember really liking the ads!
    @derp: Yeah, point taken. It is still harder to explain than MMP.

    Comment by Matthew Littlewood — May 29, 2011 @ 5:51 pm

  28. Michael – if you measure success by money, then yes, I’d say minor parties have generally received crumbs (but still enough crumbs to justify a fair amount of graft and corruption, IMO). However, significant legislation such as the anti-smacking bill were driven by minor parties, and many people would say were very much an example of the tail wagging the dog.

    Comment by PaulL — May 29, 2011 @ 5:54 pm

  29. PaulL @28 “However, significant legislation such as the anti-smacking bill were driven by minor parties, and many people would say were very much an example of the tail wagging the dog.”

    This legislation was sponsored by the Greens who were not, and never have been, part of government. It was not a case of the major governing party having to support it in exchange for support on supply and confidence. Many opposition MPs, including John Key, voted for it. It became law because a majority of MPs voted for it to become so. I fail to see how this is a good example of the tail wagging the dog.

    Now, Winston Peters’ hard-ball negotiations in 1996 would be a better example of tail wagging dog.

    Comment by Dorothy — May 29, 2011 @ 6:00 pm

  30. The clearest example of the tail wagging the dog is when a government with less than 50% support can do whatever it likes without having to compromise with anyone to get them over the line.

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — May 29, 2011 @ 6:04 pm

  31. I labelled them as specious because they all seem to recall Winston Peters (without whom NZ politics would be dull indeed). But his efforts back in 1996-99 led to NZ First’s share of the vote dropping by 9 points. Since then no minor party has managed to wag the dog to the same degree. The governing parties have both juggled support parties as needed on various issues. In fact, having multiple minor parties in Parliament reduces the power of each of them, as there are more possible combinations adding up to 50%.

    But if the anti-MMP brigade were truly worried about disproportionate power, they shouldn’t advocate switching to systems that disproportionately allocate power to the big 2 parties. This is why, it seems to me, they talk about mandates, and getting things done.

    Comment by Nick — May 29, 2011 @ 6:18 pm

  32. As an aside, I seem to remember that Murray Ball ran a series of pro-MMP Footrot Flats commercials/cartoons during the referendum, am I correct in this memory, or was it during the 1996 election?

    Ball was pretty hilariously awesome.

    Comment by Keir — May 29, 2011 @ 6:53 pm

  33. I’ll easily agree that their arguments don’t stack up. The argument that small parties have undemocratic power, as you say, isn’t entirely borne out by the evidence, but there are definitely examples. And, as you say, the cure may be better than the disease if the answer is supposed to be FPP or SM. But to ignore or dismiss those arguments is to allow them to fester, with the people that you ignored feeling disenfranchised. To explain in detail how, in fact, minor parties haven’t actually shown disproportionate power, and how FPP has it’s own share of issues, is a much better tactic.

    I think one of the large concerns that many have (myself included) is that the Maori party are now setting up quite well in the centre of politics. Parties of the left or right will never have huge power, as they don’t ever really hold the balance of power. So the Greens (unless they reposition) and ACT aren’t really a problem other than as a convenient bogey man for the opposite end of the spectrum. Those in the centre, though, are in a position where they very likely will be in every government. My read is that it will be exceptionally difficult in future for any party to form a government without the Maori Party included. So I would expect to see increasing privilege to their supporters, with no government every winding back the concessions, and each election new concessions being offered. I think that is one of the large flaws of a multiparty system (as opposed to two party system) – there are some parties that it will be almost impossible to vote _out_ of government.

    I do take the point, however, that if sufficient NZers were upset with that party, then it would be politically astute to rule them out in any coalition deals – as John Key did with Winston. So it cannot get too out of hand.

    Comment by PaulL — May 29, 2011 @ 7:05 pm

  34. Isn’t that what specious means? Superficially plausible, but won’t stand up to scrutiny? This is why, as I see it, most objections are based around the supposed inability of MMP Parliaments to get things done. Arguments about disproportionate power lead directly to accusations of hypocrisy.

    I agree about the future of centrist minor parties, but IMO the best example at the moment is Peter Dunne – the hair that will not die. However, the existence of other centrist parties, eg NZ First and the Maori Party, should prevent him (or any of them) becoming a permanent part of government.

    It’s possible we’ll see more minority governments, with coalitions of convenience on certain issues, than majority coalition governments in future.

    Comment by Nick — May 29, 2011 @ 10:32 pm

  35. PaulL @ 33: Interesting you mention the power of the electorate based Maori Party when they’re likely to do better under the alternative systems which have more electorate seats. With MMP we have 7 Maori electorates out of 70. So under SM there will be 9 out of 90. Under FPP, PV, and STV we will have 12 Maori electorates.

    Comment by Newtown News — May 30, 2011 @ 11:33 am

  36. It irritates the crap out of me, and does so regularly, that
    [1] people are being led/spun into blaming MMP for the perhaps less-than-ideal manner in which coalition governments are being formed and the deals that are being made to form them, post-election.
    [2] the referendum has been issued for “shall we keep MMP” rather than “shall we continue with some proportional representation, or not” THEN “which one MMP, STV, SM etc.”

    Yes: coalitions should be declared before the poll. To do otherwise is shabby, dishonest, and a glaring deficiency in this implementation of MMP.

    The possibility, meanwhile, of going back to FPP basically just gives me the screaming heebie-jeebies.

    Comment by Progger — May 30, 2011 @ 3:02 pm

  37. Progger, SM is not a form of proportional representation.

    Comment by Kahikatea — May 30, 2011 @ 3:14 pm

  38. “Progger, SM is not a form of proportional representation.”

    Oops, thanks for pulling me up on that. Careless/rushed post… silly error…

    Comment by Progger — May 31, 2011 @ 12:42 pm


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