By: Mike Hosking | Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Perhaps the most controversial statement made by the MMP reviewers is that list MPs are as accountable as electorate MPs. How they came to this conclusion I have no idea given they’re fundamentally wrong.
The rest of the review is pretty much as expected. Does 4% v 5% make a difference? It might, could have done when the Christians came within a whisker several elections ago. What it does do is mean major parties don't quite need the same level of support to get across the line. This might help National for example given its current predicament of having no one to the right of it that can be a consistent player. At the last election the 47% support they got was extraordinary under MMP rules and yet they barely scrapped into power. Lowering the threshold will help them.
The coat tailing was always a glaring fault in the system and is easily tidied up. The reality, if not plain common sense, should always have been the threshold is the threshold. You either reach it or you don’t and winning an electorate seat shouldn’t make a jot of difference.
What we’re learning as each election comes and goes is that by and large each vote is a specific thing that throws up no real advantage or disadvantage in a consistent fashion. If the threshold had been 4% last time, the result wouldn't really have changed. The minor players like United Future and ACT wouldn't have seen any change in their outcome. NZ First got across the line easily anyway. With 4%, I think the commission are right in saying it isn’t going to see a swathe of new weirdos and odd balls forming parties and giving us scenarios like the Greeks or Italians where you have many minor players in the house and coalitions built with six, seven or eight different parties thereby leading to instability.
But back to the list MPs. To say they are accountable is farcical. The party selects them, they’re not put to any public test. Whoever is number nine for example on Labour’s party list will get elected no matter who they are, how good they are. An electorate MP has to answer to the people who specifically voted them in. They need to answer local issues, represent local ideas. A list MP does no such thing. For example Steven Joyce answers to no one yet look at the power he wields.
But tinkering aside, which is all this really is, the fundamental flaw in MMP has not and to a degree really cannot be addressed. That is the disproportionate power of the small party, the tail wagging the dog. We have seen too many examples of it in MMP’s short time as our electoral system not to be concerned. From NZ First to Alamein Kopu to the Alliance to the Maori Party to the Greens to ACT. Under our current system these parties, or in some cases just people given there’s only one of them, extract extraordinary amounts of resource or influence or cause disproportionate amounts of trouble given their actual support levels. Sadly hasn’t been addressed.
Photo: Edward Swift
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