Posts Tagged ‘centrism’

So, with Bill English and Paula Bennett now anointed by the National caucus as our new leaders, the pre-campaign is now off to its start. In the drivers’ seat, we have the man who lead National to its worst-ever loss, and beside him probably the second-most despised woman in National’s caucus, which is more of an achievement than it sounds because Judith Collins.

On the other side of the aisle, Andrew Little can’t help but being pleased by the news of who he’s up against. (And I imagine Annette King and/or Metiria Turei are keenly eying Paula Bennet’s seat for 2017…) With Labour taking back the Wellington Mayoralty from a Green-aligned independent, (basically by default, as no Green was running, and Wellington is basically the most left-wing liberal place in the country right now) and it winning the latest by-election in what was essentially a straight contest between National and Labour, Little probably feels resurgent right now. And that’s a dangerous feeling.

There is an opinion piece on the Herald that is just close enough to being right on this that it’s worth linking. Heather correctly points out that while English is a record-breaking loser, (performing even worse than Labour has during its constant leadership struggles) he lost to an ascendant Helen Clark coming off her first term. Little might have the chops to be Prime Minister, but he’s no second-term Clark just yet. (and hopefully, he won’t try to be- while Clark was a successful Prime Minister, she set a precedent as PM that has infected the Labour Party with careerists who are unwilling to step aside and accept a renewal. Little needs to be his own type of leader if he’s to succeed) This is still an election Little can lose, even though English makes even Little’s off-days look vibrant and interesting by comparison.

Heather is wrong to say that Labour can’t snag some of the fleeing National voters who will, inevitably, leave the party fold after Key’s resignation. In fact, I suspect Labour will likely get a 1% bump even without trying from the news, as there were many Key supporters who had come from Labour’s tribe and supported Labour values. At least some of those people will look at their options and conclude that now is the time to re-enter the fold as Labour supporters. It could even be more than a 1% bump if Little can come up with an appealing positive vision for Labour heading into 2020. But Heather is absolutely right to imply that much of the loss from National is likely to either head towards NZ First or simply into the non-voter pile, at least in the next couple of polls.

Speaking of polling, all the 2016 trends before now are essentially out the window. (And we’ll have no way of knowing if the recent surge for National after a slow trend towards Labour and the Greens for much of 2016 was temporary or semi-permanent, as we’re now all expecting a noticable falloff in the Government’s polling this month anyway) We are looking at a different government now, no matter how much National wishes to maintain continuity. Heather is wrong to keep bashing Labour over the head with recent polling. We should be waiting and seeing where they poll after Key’s resignation in terms of looking at horse race results, and those numbers aren’t going to be out until we’re well into the holiday season, so there’s really no room for numbers-based reporting until then.

Nick Legett’s defection, seen by mainstream pundits as somehow a reflection on Labour, really says a lot more about what a centrist sell-out Nick Legett is, and why Wellington so soundly rejected him. He belongs in the National Party, and always did as far as I’m concerned. Good riddance to bad rubbish, the Left doesn’t need pretenders taking up space in its ranks, and National needs more moderate liberals to adjust to the new political consensus John Key has forged, where National can no longer win by selling themselves as a purely right-wing party. John Key’s political legacy, arguably, is ceding the war to the Left in order to win the battle: a concession that conservative right-wing governments in an MMP era is asking too much of a liberal, centrist electorate.

Heather’s also wrong to take issue with Little’s comments about “not knowing what the centre is.” He’s actually being reasonably savvy here- Centre voters love to be talked about in terms of being politically unlabelled, defying the conventional wisdom, and being just ordinary people. In its full context, Little was actually pandering to the centre while simultaneously saying he’s not trying to and managing to sound honest at the same time. By the standards of new-millennium kiwi political rhetoric, (hint: those are pretty low thanks to our former Prime Minister, and his predecessor wasn’t exactly one for rhetoric even though she was an excellent politician) this was practically masterful.

Little should also know that the advice to go hard for the centre is bad advice. Labour performs its worst when it’s self-conscious about where it is positioning itself. If it wants to be the nexus of a left-wing government in 2017, Little will need to lead Labour towards its own electoral identity, one with a populist appeal to working and struggling New Zealanders, that can plausibly say it will do better for ordinary kiwis than National. It should be picking policies that resonate with Labour’s identity, not because they think they will sell well to the centre. If Cunliffe showed anything positive about New Zealand politics, it’s that people are willing to be persuaded to policies they disagree with if they’re told how they’ll benefit the public, and that the electorate does have respect for politicians who will tell them things like they are.

Little doesn’t necessarily need the politics of the Centre to win, although he’d be wise to keep a big tent. He needs a politics of honesty and integrity. There are missing and demotivated voters out there who have been waiting to hear a left-wing message from Labour too, and if Little can get them without scaring away the centre as well, then his confidence may not be misplaced.


Posted: August 13, 2012 in civil rights, democracy
Tags: , ,

The electoral commission has come back with its recommendations based on our feedback, and they’re tricky. I’ll go over them in a second, but first, I’d like to encourage everyone to read them in full,  and to make your own submission, if you have comments. If you don’t submit where you agree and disagree with the commission, further reviews will ignore your sorts of views in the future.

While on the surface of it, these recommendations might seem like mild pushes in the right direction in most areas, (other than the recommendation to allow the continued and harmful inflation of electorate seats well past three fifths of parliament) when taken in combination a few of them are deeply problematic. Rather than re-writing why, I’m going to paste my submission verbatim:

In principle I support the abolishment of the electorate threshold, but combined with the relatively high recommendation of a 4% list threshold, this is a recipe for the destruction of small parties in our political system and cannot be supported in this combination. Either both thresholds need to be abolished or neither.

I am also highly disappointed at the very high recommendation of a 4% threshold. The only functional change in this case is that established small parties will be able to more easily maintain party vote support once they start polling in the neighbourhood of five percent. This does nothing for the transition of electorate-anchored micro parties into genuine small or medium parties, who would have the chance to transition to a larger political force from a roughly .83% “win a list seat outright” threshold, or its abolition. I would also like to clarify that my support for a 1/120th of the vote threshold is not a “confusion about abolishing the threshold”, but rather an expression that the roughly .4% de-facto threshold of our formula for allocating list seats is too low, but that a 1% threshold would present a too high barrier for micro parties to transition to a party-vote strategy, as it would require parallel campaigning for both the party and electorate vote. There are genuine advantages to a small threshold between 2.5% and .4% that should not be discounted, although either option is by far preferable to the yawning gulf created between 1-person electorate parties and 4% threshold list parties that are likely to receive six or perhaps seven MPs if they just pass the threshold.

Between the electorate threshold abolition and the mere lowering of the party threshold to 4%, there is no demonstrated way for a party to transition from a single electorate MP to a multi-member party. The only party to successfully contest multiple electorates has been the Maori Party, which is a very unique case that arguably has more to do with the politics of Maori electorates than a general case for multiple electorate seat parties. Any changes we adopt must allow micro parties a feasible opportunity to expand beyond one MP.

I support the commission’s recommendations that dual candidacy and list MPs being allowed to contest by-elections continue. There are unintended consequences to those changes that could easily reduce the quality and diversity of representation in New Zealand.

I am disappointed but not altogether worried that parties are recommended to maintain control around the composition of their lists without even a mandate to hold a vote on the issue in some manner. There should be greater public participation and transparency around list selection, but still in such a way that allows political movements to have some degree of autonomy. Mandating a vote of party members is held and the results publicised, but not legislating any way that vote effects the list, would be the best way to do this. At the very least, parties should have to disclose all candidates that were nominated for their list in any fashion, and outline a formal nomination system to the public, even if it is restricted to members or the party’s inner circle. Some of these aims could be achieved without legislation, but very likely they would be restricted to a particular area of the political spectrum, which is not fair to voters of different opinions, who also deserve more say and transparency about their list candidates.

I support as a good but problematic first step the commission’s recommendation that overhang seats be abolished for parties that do not cross the party vote threshold, but I would prefer overhang seats were abolished altogether. This rule seems like an opportunity for a large party to deliberately tank their party vote and instead aggressively campaign for electorates, artificially inflating their allies’ levels of party vote support. Allowing a hole like that in our electoral system is even worse than allowing a small party to campaign only for electorate seats- at least a small party is unlikely to have the support to win more than a handful.

I think allowing a full 76 electorate seats is a risky decision that enhances the negative effects of both electorates and disproportionality. New Zealanders like to think they like electorate seats because we are enamoured of the idea of “our local MP”, but by far the least popular MPs are always in safe electorates, outside of which they are at best tolerated, but often infamous, including several small party leaders. Ideally the number of electorate seats should be capped at a third until such time as electorates are abolished in favour of some flavour of open list system, or if for some reason New Zealanders never tire of electorates, the number of MPs should grow as electorates are added to keep electorate MPs as approximately one third of the house.

In summary, I think the commission’s recommendation are moderate and well-intended, but that they do not represent any significant gains over the status-quo, and introduce new problems rather than solving existing ones. I would have been happy with moderate recommendations if they were geared to lead to a more robust electoral system that encourages participation, transparency, and political growth. (both of small parties when they represent the people well, and of good policy) While I understood that ultimately my modest but radical (as in “wanting to change the nature of our system” radical, not extremist) expectations of voting were unlikely to represent the will of the majority of submitters, I did expect more intellectual rigour from the commission’s recommendations, rather than simply taking the least objectionable path every time. The only brave stands were on dual candidacy and list MPs contending by-elections, where the commission just flat-out pointed out the ideas were dumb, although in their usual diplomatic way.
It’s a little astounding that the VERY modest support for raising the party vote threshold (usually from people who don’t understand it and just wanted to price all small parties out of existence) held back the commission from lowering it significantly. A threshold of 4% is little better than one of 5%, it’s merely stupid rather than ridiculous. 3% is the bare minimum at which small list parties start to become viable, and medium-sized list parties become safe. Any third party in New Zealand needs to become very large to avoid the possibility of decline under a 4 or 5% threshold, and as the Alliance proved, that still doesn’t prevent internal strife from ending the movement.