There has been a lot written about the morality of the IP-Mana deal in the mainstream media and in the blogosphere. Generally speaking, I do not have the same reaction to ‘coat-tailing’ like Patrick Gower and here’s why. Because I do not like the 5% threshold. It is unrepresentative and while I understand why larger parties do not want Parliament to be overcrowded by a large number of 1 man parties, I still think that it limits our voting choices to 3 or 4 parties. But Parliament seems to have a hierarchy of MPs where electorate MPs have a higher status than list MPs and ‘coat-tailing’ reinforces that unfair view. Labour has reiterated their commitment to abolishing the coat-tailing provisions. IP-Mana deal seems to also have brought out the ‘list MP’ resentment and people’s tendency to revert to a nostalgic view of the FPP system.
One may argue that electorate MPs have more constituent work, which is a valid argument but I think list MPs represent constituents who are not confined to a geographic area that is often ignored. I have needed help in the past and I went to a list MP rather than my electorate MP because they represented my issue. I also find the superiority complex of electorate MPs slightly off-putting. Representing someone because they happen to be in a confined geographical area is somewhat ridiculous in a country like New Zealand. Local issues are far more likely to be represented and also better represented by local government. I feel that the whole time I have voted, I have been personally better served by MPs who are not my local MP. I would rather vote for a party that embodies my values, a party that can then be in a governing position to enact policies that reflect my values than an MP whose hands are generally tied by the party anyway.
I do not think the vote for the electorate MP is a purer vote than my party vote. It is the party vote that determines how many MPs parties have in Parliament anyway. As a person who has voted “strategically” in the past by not giving two ticks to the same party, I would like political parties to be “strategic” too. I would like parties to understand that coalition leads to better ideas, more compromise and better representation. Electorate seats are still won by winning the most votes in a given electorate. Not the majority of the votes, the most amount of votes. In reality, there’s only a handful of hotly contested seats in New Zealand so a win from a geographic area hardly constitutes an extraordinary feat for most electorate MPs.
I always tell myself, there is no person or party that can represent yourself as well as you can. But if we must choose someone or some party to represent us, it has to be as close to us as possible. And in no way is a party or an electorate MP ever going to be that (and rightly so because every voting person is different). When I vote for a party or person, I’m cognizant that they will do things that I do not agree with. Political parties also have to learn to make those compromises.
I was once told that 70% of legislation in the NZ Parliament pass with the support of National and Labour (don’t quote me on that statistic). Over the time I worked there, it certainly seemed to be the case. Many Government bills were supported by the Labour Party. Does anyone really think that Labour just decided to support bills without conversation with their Ministerial counterparts? There may not be formal agreements but agreements generally are sought often, options are discussed, compromises (changes) are made in select committee and behind the scenes, and then bills become law. However, where major parties disagree on substantive issues, minor parties have the ability to have a much greater influence. They almost act as a check on the two major parties. Minor parties are constitutionally significance under MMP in a way that I believe ensures more robust policy making in this country.
The reality of the current situation is that following the MMP review, the National Government made the choice to not make changes to the system. It could be argued that it was for their own self-interest. Maybe. The IP-Mana deal is not “grubby”; political parties have two choices - ensuring representation through electorate MPs or through the 5% threshold. IP-Mana have made a choice. They did so well before the election. They made their intentions extremely clear down to the length of time the deal is valid for. What did the National Party do? They organized a faux tea party and ran weak candidates to try to game the system.
No doubt the Te Tai Tokerau election will be a hotly contested election. Kelvin Davis has promised to fight it as is his prerogative. I’m a huge fan of his priorities especially his commitment to Te Reo. I also have a lot of respect for Hone Harawira for the way he stood up to the Māori Party and the way he stands up for Māori. An argument could be made that he is doing the same thing the Māori Party did. I’m going to wait to see what policy compromises he makes (should he back in Parliament) before I make that judgment.
The Left and particularly Labour needs to be mindful of MMP. In 2011, Kevin Hague, the Green Party candidate for West Coast Tasman, voted for Damien O’Connor. Tactical voting like that could have potentially knocked out Peter Dunne whose 1 vote got us the GCSB legislation and the asset sales legislation. Is that gaming the system? Is that on par with Gerrymandering in America? If we were to make a judgment call as to the impact on democracy, what is worse? I don’t have the answers to these question but if I were a centre right or centre left voter I would be more worried about the overall direction of the country and the long term effects of policies. I would be worried that we will never be able to reverse certain destructive policies of both major parties because they have such a huge monopoly on the electoral system. List MPs make our system more democratic, so I am less worried about the fact that the IP-Mana deal could actually make sure more people’s votes count in the next election instead of being wasted because of the 5% threshold.