A party model of representative democracy

There is currently a unique opportunity in New Zealand to establish a modern party model of representative democracy.

Policies are important. The People are paramount.

It’s essential for a political party to have a good range of policies that reflect the character of the party and signal the intent of the party if they get in a position to implement any of their policies.

But the key component of a democracy, and of a democratic party, are the people.

In New Zealand, as in most of the democratic world, we have a form of representative democracy, where we elect representatives who make decisions for us. It is generally accepted that it is not practical to govern a country by referendum.

The people get to vote in an election every few years, and they usually get to express their opinion albeit on a very simple base via occasional referenda.

While in theory direct democracy is the best way to rule by the will of the people (usually via  referenda) it  can be too slow and cumbersome, and it can overrule fair treatment of minorities. The impracticalities of direct democracy are demonstrated by the limited adoption of direct rule by the (majority of) people.

Representative democracy is the common compromise, but it also has flaws. One of the biggest of these is the disconnect that develops between the government (and the parliament) and the people.

To feel included in a representative democracy the people need to be able to speak in a way they are listened to. And they need to be seen to be taken notice of.

The established parties in New Zealand have systems of interacting with the people (especially the party members) to varying degrees and with a variety of systems of communication. Most of this has developed in the old world of politics.

The modern world, with modern rapid communication systems, offers the opportunity for a revolutionary new approach to representing the people, being seen to represent the people – and enabling the people to feel like they are a party of the political process.

United Future is a party that has been through recent turmoil. But from those dark clouds there have been silver linings – a key one being a surge in new membership.

Another potential positive for United Future is that the party structures need to be rebuilt. This is an ideal opportunity to put in place a model of representative democracy that rewards the party members for their commitment.

The tools are already available to enable this. The Internet provides a rapid and extensive means of communicating within a party, between elected representatives, party management and the members.

If United Future establishes an effective modern system of communication with it’s members it will:

  • make members feel an integral and essential party of the party
  • encourage members to stay with the party
  • encourage members to become more active in the party
  • provide a bigger pool of prospective candidates
  • be more willing to promote the party
  • encourage more people to become members
  • be more willing to donate

I believe that if United Future sets itself up as a modern communicative and responsive party it will grow and thrive. It will better represent it’s members.

And New Zealand’s representative democracy will be better for it.

United Future has the opportunity to become a party model of representative democracy.  It’s sensible centrist reputation and a solid range of policies provides an ideal platform to represent ordinary New Zealanders effectively and inclusively.

Leave a comment


  1. Interesting you should mention “Communication”. I have noticed this wee while that they are a growing number of people actively speaking up and out through blogs, email, Facebook, Twitter etc and it’s making them more aware they too can have active voice.

    Your post is a good one Pete

    • I think this approach would be a significant and positive point of difference for UF.

      And surely it’s what any democratic party should aspire to anyway.

  2. kmccready

     /  7th July 2013

    Actually most “democracies” around the world are not representative democracies. Anything less than proportional representation is not democratic. If political parties were “representative” each would be the same. So you logic needs a bit of tweaking here too.

    • Is your understanding of “representative democracy” different to mine?

      “All modern Western style democracies are various types of representative democracies.”

      “Representative democracy (also indirect democracy) is a variety of democracy founded on the principle of elected officials representing a group of people, as opposed to direct democracy.”



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