The most pure form of MMP?

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern claimed ‘pure MMP’ in her speech at the Government’s PR rally in Auckland yesterday:

Next month marks the first anniversary of this Government. Not only have we achieved a huge amount, we’ve done it as the most pure form of MMP government New Zealand has ever had.

Perhaps the lady doth claim purity too much.

I really don’t know what she means by that. “Pure MMP” sounds like pure nonsense.

We have had eight elections under MMP, the first in 1996. After each of those elections we have had varying governing arrangements, all involving more than two parties. Each of those governments have involved negotiations and agreements and compromises between parties.

What is different about the current MMP government?

Winston Peters in his opening speech yesterday:

Because we are a unique government, the first true MMP Government since 1996, there are issues we regularly confront that requires consultation and negotiation. These can be robust discussions but that is not a sign of division or weakness. It is rather a manifestation of our shared commitment to create enduring solutions that reflect a coming together of the different values and beliefs that each party brings to each and every issue. There is strength in our diversity because it reflects the majority will of the country.

“The first true MMP Government” is just as nonsensical.

“It reflects the majority will of the country” is questionable, especially in a situation where Peters seems to be using far more power than NZ First’s 7% justifies.

Patrick Smellie at Scoop BusinessDesk:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has used an invitation-only political rally involving all three government parties to reassert both her leadership and to re-establish the government’s political agenda after a fractious few weeks in relations between coalition partners Labour and New Zealand First.

…amid recent indications that NZ First leader and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters is seeking a more equal footing with her and between the two parties, despite NZ First having nine seats in Parliament to Labour’s 46.

@cjsbishop:

National, ACT United and Maori managed to get on with it without cancelling pre-arranged interviews in order to do TedTalks to hand-picked supporters asking vetted questions. The idea today was remarkable is just ludicrous

@honpeterdunne:

Actually, Labour and UnitedFuture worked well together 2002-05 and Labour, UnitedFuture, and NZFirst did likewise between 2005-08 without any need for this type of event.

Patrick Smellie:

While the framework for organising government policy-making had been in development since March, Ardern used the speech to subtly assert her primacy, describing herself as being “in the driving seat” for the metaphorical car ride the government is taking the country on…

Peters opened his speech with:

Eleven months ago we in New Zealand First faced a choice between perpetuating a modified status quo or in joining with other parties to effect positive change. The Labour-New Zealand First Coalition was formed out of that choice, with confidence and supply provided by the Green Party.

He strongly implies here that the governing arrangement was his choice. That fits with his playing the media during negotiations last October, and him being the party leader who announced what form the government would take, as it was his decision.

That doesn’t look like pure MMP or true MMP. It looks like you can’t teach an old dog not to wag the Government tail.

The PR rally seems to have been an attempt to paint a rosy picture of a thorny power struggle.

The MMP claims are likely to be an attempt to fool some of the people some of the time about the governing relationship. perceptions of Government leadership seems to be bugging Peters.He seems to see himself as the senior politician, and has struggled to adjust to being Ardern’s deputy since he had a few weeks in charge.

The MMP references may well be in response to some exchanges in Parliament last Thursday. In question 1:

Hon Paula Bennett: Will the Labour-led Government support the Employment Relations Amendment Bill that was approved by Cabinet as it is currently written?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, after 25 years of MMP we expect members of Parliament to come here understanding the lexicon and language of MMP. That’s number one—it’s a coalition between the Labour Party and New Zealand First with support agreement from the Green Party.

That question and answer was repeated. And this was repeated four times in question 6:

Hon Scott Simpson: Will the Labour-led Government consider changes to its Employment Relations Amendment Bill that allow more businesses to use the 90-day trial period when taking on new staff?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: The member has been here long enough to know how the parliamentary process works.

In question 9 Chris Hipkins was baited twice with ‘Labour-led’ but didn’t bite. However in question 3 David Clark missed the script:

But a return to the conditions found under the previous Labour-led Government…

And Peters rose to the bait in question 12:

Hon Todd McClay: Can he therefore confirm media speculation that he is considering appointing a member of the Labour-led Government as a head of mission to a New Zealand post overseas?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Can I just say to that member that while he and his colleagues deliberately seek to get the lexicon of MMP Government wrong, they’re not going to get an answer out of me. Behave and you’ll get it.

Peters and Ardern still seemed to be playing with their positions of power in their speeches, Peters with his “The Labour-New Zealand First Coalition”, but  Ardern slipping in:

It’s a bit like a road trip that tells you who’s in the car, where you’ll be stopping, but doesn’t tell you where you’re going.

I can tell you, that as the person driving that car, that wasn’t enough for me.

Despite their attempts to paint a rosy (but confused) picture, it looks obvious that Peters is not content to be a back seat driver.

With James shaw riding a bike behind.

Audrey Young in Show of unity by Peters was important at Jacinda Ardern’s speech:

Not quite unified enough for Peters to share the stage with the Greens after Ardern’s speech, to take questions from the audience.

Instead questions were left to Ardern, Green Party co-leader James Shaw, New Zealand First minister Tracey Martin and Finance Minister Grant Robertson.

Peters later allowed himself to share a platform with Shaw, along with Ardern at the press conference after the speech. It looked like things might be changing.

But in the end Ardern seems to have used her authority:

But Ardern ended the press conference when Peters started getting belligerent with the media, and it looked liked not much had changed.

That may be why most of the event was carefully orchestrated PR.

Spin winds up as Labour battles

Labour have had a bad week, on top of bad weeks before it. They have been widely criticised for conceding power to Winston Peters, and have been dogged by problems, especially the Clare Curran/Derek Handley saga that continues to cause them embarrassment.

The weekend commentary continues to challenge Labour’s credibility.

Audrey Young: Failings in Coalition Government become glaringly apparent

Illustration / Guy Body

In March, the honeymoon between the new Coalition Government and the public ended after the mishandling of Labour’s summer school complaints and the bumbling around New Zealand’s position on Russia.

September marks the end of another honeymoon – between the partners in the Coalition Government, Labour and New Zealand First.

This week also marks another milestone: Peters finally came clean about how he sees his party’s status in the relationship, as an equal partner to Jacinda Ardern’s Labour which explains a lot.

This week has been more like the first falling-out rather than a crisis in the relationship but both parties behaved very badly to the other.

Young details a plethora of problems.

Duncan Garner:  Don’t write this fumbling coalition off just yet

It’s been a messy, incoherent and rudderless 12 months. The winner has been the surplus National left behind. It has given Labour options. The loser has many names. Clare Curran, and all those average jocks posing as ministers, and those using the “c” word.

Peters prefers to describe criticism of this governing hybrid with a turn-of-the-century word, “balderdash” which is ultimately a pretentious gum movement meaning utter nonsense. The use of such a silly word should be a warning to voters to stay well clear, but you simply can’t save all the conspiracy theorists all the time.

If you wanted a trainer wheel Government, this is it. Yes, there are a few policy scraps and differences right now. That’s because there are three partners and the tail does wag the dog more often than it should. That’s called MMP in action. They’ll sort it. It’s the only option.

So what do they do to try and improve things? It seems like they are spinning up their PR department to try and look better (or at least less bad).

I have noticed a change in attitude at The Standard recently, back to being very sensitive about any criticism of Labour.

MickySavage has kept plugging away with post attacks on National, nothing much new there. (And he puts up some good posts on less party orientated subjects as well).

But some with close Labour (and Green) ties have started to pop up in the mix.

Mike Smith (ex Labour general secretary): Is Politik a propaganda mouthpiece for the UK Embassy?

It very much looks as though Richard Harman would have been one of the selected journalists. I know Richard well, like and respect him, but I think he is barking up the wrong tree on this issue.

Winston Peters is and deserves to be treated as a substantial politician and diplomat. One doesn’t have to agree with everything he says, but he is no fool. On this issue, for our country’s sake, I am very glad he is not knee-jerk following the “western” group.

Curious to see a Labourite supporting Peters, who copped more criticism than from Harman.

Simon Louisson (former journalist who reported for The Wall Street Journal, AP Dow Jones Newswires, the New Zealand Press Association and Reuters and has been a political and media adviser to the Green Party): What does it take for bosses not to get their bonus?

Fonterra’s $196 million loss for the June year – the first loss in the co-op’s 17-year history and a staggering reversal of last year’s $745m profit – failed to seriously dent the remuneration of its former CEO Theo Spierings.

Part of the trouble lies in the fact that people on very high salaries get the same employment protection that ordinary workers receive. I would argue that the law should be changed so that once an employee receives remuneration of over ten times, or even five times, the average income, he/she should be prepared to take the responsibility that they live or die by their performance.

As a former businesses reporter, time and again I would see bosses fired for incompetence but paid enormous “golden parachutes”.

Louisson is back posting at The Standard after a break of six month break, since authoring a flurry of posts (six) at the start of the year).

Te Reo Putake (an active Labour member and activist and seems to be close to some Labour MPs): Coalition Problems? Tell ’em they’re Dreaming!

The National Party and their paid stooges have been promoting the narrative that NZ First is the party that’s really in control of the new government. That’s bollocks.

“Their paid stooges” is a dirty politics type allegation. Trying to blame critics for Labour’s run of incompetence is not going to fix or even paper over the bad press they have been getting.

What’s actually happening is that we have an MMP Government that is functioning in exactly the way it was envisaged to work. The three parties negotiate, they argue for their positions, they seek consensus and then they enact legislation. And, yes, it is a three way deal. The Greens have managed to find ways to build a relationship with NZ First that must be annoying the hell out of the Nats.

It’s not ‘the Nats’ who seem annoyed as hell by Labour’s bad media coverage.

And that’s because the strength of this coalition is respect for different opinions and a way of working that emphasises consensus.

Consensus as long as Peters approves? That is how it is being portrayed, with some justification.

How very different from the undemocratic FPP when a one seat majority ensured an effective dictatorship over legislation.

Inseat there’s a growing perception of one MP who dictates what goes in a small party now dictating to a party with five times as many seats.

No, this is the modern way. No wonder the right can’t understand why they lost the last election.

They’re dinosaurs, watching the comets fall.

It’s not National who look to be in danger of falling at the moment. As self inflicted comets fall around labour their PR dinosaurs try to patch up yesterday’s mess. Too late as the rapid news cycle continues to steam roll them.

A comment on that thread: from Incognito:

Very good post! Bryan Gould wrote a similar post: http://www.bryangould.com/coalition-government-working-as-it-should/

Gould often trots out pro Labour pieces, and plays a similar tune to TRP:

It is increasingly clear that some supposedly expert commentators on the political scene have a poor understanding of how a parliamentary democracy actually works.

When the coalition partners occasionally do not agree on a particular issue, here is no reason, in other words, no reason to froth at the mouth, or bemoan the fact that National, with the largest number of seats but not a majority, is not in government, or to ask, who is running the government. A coalition government that has to muster a parliamentary majority to get its measures passed is what both our constitutional principles and the will of the people as represented by the outcome of the election both dictate; it is called democracy at work.

So, when New Zealand First declines to support a particular proposal put forward by Labour, or if the roles are reversed so that Labour fails support something New Zealand First wants, we should celebrate, not fulminate. We have the best of all worlds – a more representative parliament, a government that has to take account of a wider range of opinion than just its own, and a coalition government that provides stability and a consistent strategic direction.

Perhaps some of our commentators should pause to reflect for a moment before going into print.

Jacinda Ardern has often batted away suggestions of dysfunction by saying it is just how MMP works. In a just released book on the 2017 election (see ‘I remember the crunch point’: Jacinda Ardern looks back on the 2017 election) she says:

The rest really is history, and now with the most genuine MMP government we’ve ever had, it’s also up to us to make history.

What makes the current government any more ‘genuine’ than past ones?

Tracy Watkins: Is Winston Peters Labour’s dud Lotto win?

There might have been lots of calming words spoken about  MMP in action – but that’s just Labour putting on a brave face.

Seems like a few brave faces are being trundled out by Labour’s PR department.

Ardern, Labour and their mouthpieces can claim as often as they like that ‘MMP is working as it should be’, but they currently look like they are insisting the seats look comfortable as the wheels get very wobbly.

German government to be formed after nearly six months

Germany held a national election at about the same time New Zealand did last September. After four weeks complaining about Winston Peters holding the country to ransom and playing to his ego an agreement was reached here to form a government.

It has taken five and a half months to reach a coalition agreement in Germany, and a fourth term Merkel led Government should be up and running in a couple of weeks.

Deutsche Welle: Germany’s SPD members approve coalition with Angela Merkel’s conservatives

More than five months after Germans went to polls in the September 24 national election, Germany will be getting a new government. The final hurdle was cleared when the Social Democratic Party (SPD) rank-and-file sanctioned the coalition deal that party leaders had negotiated with Angela Merkel’s conservatives.

Sixty-six percent of party members who voted supported a continuation of the grand coalition, while 34 percent opposed it — a clearer margin than many in the party had expected.

“This wasn’t an easy decision for the SPD,” said acting party Chairman Olaf Scholz. “In the discussion [about the deal], we’ve come closer together. That gives us the strength for the process of renewal we are embarking upon.”

The coalition agreement can now be signed, and the Bundestag will elect Merkel chancellor of Germany for the 19th legislative period. It’s thought the vote will take place on March 14. It will be the third grand coalition in Merkel’s 13 years as German leader, but it only came about after efforts to form a coalition with the Greens and center-right Free Democrats (FDP) failed.

Former SPD Chairman Martin Schulz initially ruled out another grand coalition and was forced to resign after he flip-flopped on the issue. Social Democratic leaders were persuaded to conclude another deal after winning key concessions from Merkel and her Christian Democrats (CDU), as well as earning consent on these posts from the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). The SPD will have control of Germany’s powerful Finance Ministry, among other things.

The decision about whether to form a new partnership with the conservatives divided Social Democrats, many of whom blame the SPD’s participation in grand coalitions for the party’s slide to historic lows in opinion polls.

Minor parties in coalitions have problems retaining support under MMP in Germany too. Voters seem to have little tolerance for parties that are not in a dominant position and therefore can’t  implement many of their preferred policies, but that’s something that can’t be avoided in coalitions.

Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU)  sanctioned the coalition agreement last week at a party conference. And the chancellor was quick to express her pleasure at Sunday’s announcement.

“I congratulate the SPD  on this clear result and look forward to further cooperation for the welfare of our country,” the CDU tweeted in Merkel’s name.

In a statement, CDU General Secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer welcomed the Social Democrats’ vote.

“This is a good decision by the SPD and especially for our country,” Kramp-Karrenbauer wrote. “With it, after the conservatives, Social Democrats have declared that they’ll willing to accept responsibility for the country in a joint government.”

There is probably some relief there. The alternative was probably going to the polls again.

 

Has National stuffed up under MMP?

There have been criticisms of how National campaigned last election, and how they failed to negotiate a coalition agreement with NZ First (or the Greens). Some have said that National don’t get how to work under MMP.

The latest to slam National is ex-ACT MP Heather Roy (who helped stuff ACT under MMP)  in National needs an MMP Leader:

The National party should have been in government after the 2017 election. They had the most votes by a long shot. But they fought a first-past-the-post campaign. It was 21 years out of date. They don’t have any friends. It’s no longer enough to just worry about getting themselves across the line. They’d like to be alone in government but it seems to have escaped the strategists that MMP delivers coalition governments.

If ever there was an election that shows this, it was the 2017 election. So, until there is an understanding throughout the National party of the importance of playing the MMP game they are destined to be on the opposition benches.

I’m not so sure. It’s not National’s fault that the Maori Party lost votes and all their seats to Labour. It’s not National’s fault that Peter Dunne decided to retire from Parliament (perhaps preventing voter enforced retirement). It’s not National’s fault that the ACT party have made major mistakes, kept changing leader, and lost most of their support except for in the Epsom electorate over the past ten years.

It also ignore’s National’s success in putting together three successive MMP coalition governments.

The 2017 election was impacted mostly by two things outside National’s control. The first Metiria Turei’s big gamble that led to the end of her career in Parliament, and halved the Green vote, almost losing the party a place in Parliament.  And Turei’s implosion led to the second, Andrew Little giving up Labour’s leadership and Jacinda Ardern stepping up very successfully (with the assistance of an enraptured media).

National have been criticised for not doing much more in last year’s campaign to show they would be willing to work with NZ First in a coalition, rather than trying to bury NZ First and go it alone (with ACT and, it had hoped, the Maori Party and Peter Dunne).

Every party takes a gamble with their election strategy. Well out from the election Labour and the Greens gambled on being joined at the hip. After that seemed to have failed, Turei’s throw of the political dice turned to custard. Little’s big punt on an Ardern turnaround paid off for Labour. Opportunist supremo Peters always gambles on getting media coverage and support from an election issue – and that didn’t pay dividends for him in 2017, with NZ First support slipping.

National gambled on not needing NZ First support to form a government. A similar strategy had worked for them in 2014, just.

Would National have got the same level of vote (44.45%) if they had campaigned on a willing coalition with NZ First? They could have been harmed by such a strategy and lost more support than they did – Peters is popular with a small percentage of voters (less than 10%), but he is very unpopular with many.

And there are a number of indications that Peters wouldn’t have wanted to form a Government with National regardless.

He campaigned for change and against a continuation of similar governance – ” “The truth is that after 32 years of the neoliberal experiment the character and the quality of our country has changed dramatically, and much of it for the worse.” However that may have just been vote targeting rhetoric, as he is now part of a Government that doesn’t look like following a hugely different direction. He flip flopped on a number of things once in Government, like switching to support of the TPP (along with Labour).

Peters filed court proceedings against Bill English and other National MPs and their staff just before the election, accusing them of leaking his Super overpayment.

And it’s unlikely Peters would have been able to negotiate as many baubles of power – including a deputy prime ministership and acting prime ministership – with National. He had more to gain playing Labour and the Greens.

I think that National understands MMP as much as any party. They had to play their hand with the cards available to them.

Roy continues:

Next Tuesday the National party caucus has the chance to rectify this sorry state of affairs. In this leadership battle one criteria stands out well ahead of all others to me. If I was eligible I would vote for the candidate who best understands MMP and is capable of cultivating strong working partnerships with like minded politicians outside of National.

Best understands MMP like Key, Like English. Like Joyce? They were a successful three term MMP government.

Of course under MMP it is necessary to cultivate strong working partnerships outside your own party – but that depends on willing partners.

But MMP leaders to be able to cultivate working relationships with non-like minded politicians – it’s essential to be able to work with other parties, therefore with different minded politicians.

None of the five candidates is talking about the real problem – that of having no friends now, and having none in the wings. Not since 1951 has one party, under either of our voting systems, won more than 50% of the votes. No-one to work with means opposition benches under MMP.

Not since ever has a party without the highest vote (by a significant margin) led a government.

Is it’s National’s fault they have limited coalition partner parties? They have been slammed for propping up ACT and United Future.

What should National do? Set up a couple of other ‘like minded’ parties that they can work with? They would be slammed for trying to contrive a coalition. They would lose votes, possibly a lot of votes.

The 2020 election is looking like being an MMP election like no other – it’s quite feasible that either or both NZ First (currently polling below the threshold at 3-4%) and the Greens could fall out of Parliament, leaving it effectively as a head to head battle between National and Labour. If that happens neither of the two big parties are likely to get over 50%, but under MMP they wouldn’t need to. They would only need to get more votes than their main opponent.

A major party leader in National’s current situation has to be successful in a succession of quite different roles.

First, they need to get the support of a majority of their caucus to become the leader.

Then they need to be able to lead and manage their caucus, preventing faction splitting.

They need to be able to look like a Prime Minister in waiting, with their party looking capable of running the country.

They also need to get the Leader of the Opposition balance right, between holding the Government to account, but not being seen as over-negative numpties – the barking at every passing car syndrome.

Then they need to appeal to the public for sufficient votes to be in a position to be able to negotiate to form a government.

It takes an extraordinary person to be able to bring all groups together again without resentments lingering once they’ve been declared the winner. A politician worthy of leadership is one who can bring people together, either within a party or to produce a government. Same thing.

And after the election they need to be bring people and parties together, to be more successful than their main opponent, and to form a government.

It doesn’t end there – they then need to switch into being a successful manager of both the country and the coalition.

It’s important to be able to have good working relationships with other parties, but that’s only a small part of the attributes needed to being a successful leader.

Oh, and on top of all that they also need to be able to appeal to the media, to provide the media with headlines and stories and clicks that enhance their chances in election campaigns.

There’s a lot more to MMP leadership than the narrow musings of someone who wasn’t exactly successful in her own party, let alone under MMP. In her third term as an MP Roy is thought to have been involved in an attempted leadership coup, the ACT party fell apart and they dropped from five MPs to one after the 2011 election.

Before a party leader can get into a position of working with other parties they need to not be a party of their own party implosion.

If they are to be successful National’s new leader will need to demonstrate a wide range of skills – one of which is being adept at adapting to the unexpected in politics. It’s impossible to know what the likely options will be by the 2020 election.

A weakness of parties, not of MMP

Karl du Fresne claims that the way coalition negotiations were conducted (with Winston Peters in charge) is a problem with MMP, but I think he has the wrong target. Peters was allowed to run the post election process because National, Labour and the Greens let him.

All political systems have weaknesses. It largely comes down to how much politicians try to exploit them or allow them to be exploited.

Stuff: Winston Peters top of the political pops with willingness to exploit wonky system

For the first time since New Zealand adopted the MMP system in 1993, the party that won the biggest share of the vote didn’t form the government. How we arrived at this outcome was down to one man: Winston Raymond Peters.

Nope. There were four parties and four party leaders responsible for the procedure and the outcome.

The Peters party, aka New Zealand First, won 7 per cent of the vote. It lost three of its electorate seats in Parliament, including Peters’ own.

That’s incorrect. NZ First only had one electorate seat, won by Peters in a by-election in Northland early last term. They lost that plus reduced their list seat allocation.

Despite this less than resounding endorsement by the people of New Zealand, Peters ended up determining the makeup of the new government.

Many insist, bizarrely, that this is an example of MMP working exactly as intended, but I would argue that it points to a gaping void in our constitutional arrangements – one that allows a politician whose party commanded an almost negligible share of the vote to decide who will govern us.

7% is not ‘almost negligible’ in this situation.

The MMP system allowed for a wide variety of ways for negotiations to be conducted and for a Government to be formed.

The National, Labour and Green parties al played a part along with NZ First, as did three party leaders as well as Peters.

Nonetheless, for his willingness to exploit this wonky system to his advantage, and for the sheer audacity of the way he went about it, Peters is a hands-down winner of my award for Politician of the Year in 2017.

It isn’t ‘a wonky system’.

It’s in the nature of politics for leaders and parties to work a political system to their advantage as best they can, it would be ludicrous if they didn’t.

Peters was allowed to run the negotiation process simply because the other parties and leaders allowed him to. That isn’t a fault in the MMP system. It was how all parties and leaders and MPs allowed it to happen.

And, so far at least, the end result has worked ok, with a secure majority in Parliament.

MMP under threat?

There has been some inevitable complaining about MMP after the outcome of the election and the eventual formation of Government – generally by people who didn’t like the result.

Is MMP broken? Or is it working as intended, albeit with the first time we have the highest polling party by a clear margin in Opposition?

Brent Edwards – Insight: MMP – Democracy or Power?

For the first time under MMP the highest polling party is not leading the government. Despite winning 44.4 percent of the party vote, easily ahead of Labour’s 37 percent, National could not win the support of New Zealand First to form a government.

We have a majority three party Government, with a large minority party in Opposition.

There is no convention for the largest party to form the Government. The only requirement is for a party or group of parties to convince the Governor General they can form a viable Government.

“That is actually the essence of democracy. The majority rules. That is the rule and that is what happened here,” Sir Geoffrey Palmer said.

As it should be.

Meanwhile, Peter Dunne thinks the process has shaken people’s confidence in MMP. But polling by UMR Insight, which does political polls for the Labour Party, does not support that.

It polled 750 people after the coalition agreement was announced.

The poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percent, found 50 percent of respondents were in favour of retaining MMP, while 38 percent wanted to change the electoral system.

Back in October 2011, the last time UMR polled on what people thought of MMP, only 43 percent wanted to retain it while 37 percent wanted change.

So increasing support for MMP. That may or may not continue after this term, depending on how it manages to perform.

Jacinda Ardern said she wanted to run government differently so it reflected more accurately the reality of MMP. That included ensuring ministerial positions better reflected the interests of all parties involved in the government. In New Zealand First’s case it got regional development and the Greens climate change, both areas where those parties had campaigned strongly.

As well, in a change from previous arrangements, New Zealand First ministers sit alongside their Labour colleagues on Parliament’s frontbench. Their backbench MPs sit behind them in seating which, until now, has been the sole preserve of ministers from the largest party in government.

An interesting change. It allows the Prime Minister and Deputy to sit side by side.

The Prime Minister has only ever voted in MMP elections. For her MMP politics appear to be more instinctive than for those politicians who experienced the old first-past-the-post electoral system.

While it is unlikely any rule will be introduced directing how parties should negotiate after elections, the government does appear to be foreshadowing more change at Parliament. If select committees are given more power and if Ms Ardern is serious about consultation then the National Party might have more influence than any opposition has had in the past.

But just how far will Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens go? It is easy to talk about sharing power, much more difficult to do it. This three-party administration, which is working hard to finish off the year’s business, is under pressure to demonstrate it is not only a truly MMP government but an effective one.

The National Party, no matter what concessions are made to it as the Opposition, has little incentive to make the government’s job any easier.

I disagree with that. Opposition parties have a duty to aid the Government of the day, and they do this through Parliament’s committees. They can do this in other ways, by providing a majority vote for legislation that doesn’t have the support of all the parties in Government.

I think that a largely constructive Opposition that worked positively for the good of Government and the country, albeit holding the Government to account when appropriate, would be reward at the next election if they sold themselves as an improvement.

 

 

United Future disbanding

There are a number of news reports that the United Future Party has agreed to disband. They were already in terminal decline, and Peter Dunne’s retirement effectively delivered the party’s last rites.

Damian Light made a decent attempt to take over the leadership but with little support and no money it was a hopeless task.

A letter announcing the disbanding is being reported on and linked to despite being clearly headed ‘Press embargo until 10:00am Tuesday 14 November 2017‘.

Can the media be trusted on anything these days?

United Future has been one of the most successful small parties, having been a part of several Labour and National governments but has been in what turned out to be irreversible decline for a decade.

The prohibitively high MMP threshold will make it very difficult for any new small parties to find a way in to Parliament.

Millions of dollars of funding didn’t help the Conservatives, the Internet Party (and Mana), and Garteh Morgan’s TOP, although people were also a problem for al of those parties.

Unless the threshold problem is addressed the only possibility of seeing any new parties in Parliament is if they are led by existing MPs who split of larger parties.

The ‘largest party’ argument

Although The Standard has just lost stalwart author Anthony Robins they have gained another, Matthew Whitehead, who has previously commented there and has had the occasional guest post. While he is openly a Green supporter he will provide some good input at The Standard.

His first post is an intteresting Critiquing A Modest National Party Proposal

I’m going to be focusing on the suggestion, floating around National Party supporters on social media, that the largest party (“plurality winner” is the technical term for being largest without necessarily winning a majority) after an election should have some enshrined constitutional right at the first shot to form the government offered to them by the Governor General.

The obvious first thing to discuss here is that such an arrangement would favour National forming the government except in the most Labour-slanted circumstances, as right-wing votes tend to be much more concentrated towards the largest party when they feel like National is doing well, making them the most significant beneficiaries of the “come back to mother-ship” effect that both of the two largest parties benefited from this election.

Under the current mix of parties it may favour National but that situation may change. Obviously Labour were the biggest party when they were able to form the Government in 1999, 2002 and 2005.

Given that it is almost exclusively National supporters suggesting this change, we should probably fall back on the principle of electoral reform’s purpose not being to outright advantage any particular party, and count this as a strike against the idea.

That’s silly. Of course National supporters will be dwelling on why they lost power and the process that led to Winston peters decision to go with Labour, while Labour, NZ First and Green supporters are more likely to be rejoicing and looking forward to the new term. That’s not a good reason to “count this as a strike against the idea”.

…it’s simply a constraint on freedom of association for minor parties. It goes against democratic principles and constrains political speech to have our head of state direct coalition talks, and it rules out parallel talks which are simply more efficient and leave the country waiting less time.

It’s not necessarily restraining small parties from associating. It could be a simple guide to beginning negotiations.

It would have been useful for the Greens to officially rule out dealing with National up front in the recent process. But perhaps all parties should make it clear before the election what they would consider to properly inform voters.

It might not be a bad idea for parties to agree to some fair norms around coalition talks and Parliamentary reforms, but I think that’s a discussion that needs to be had on a more consensus basis between our four largest parties.

Why just between our four largest parties? That doesn’t sound very democratic. It should involve all parties in Parliament, any parties not in Parliament that wish to have a say, and the public.

If Greens had missed making the threshold I doubt that Whitehead would be suggesting “a more consensus basis between our three largest parties”.

Overall failing on every major point, this idea seems to be a non-starter, and is instead perhaps intended as just another front for National to attack MMP on, after it has tried and failed twice to defeat it at the ballot box- if they succeed in getting the measure through, they slow down and make coalition talks far less popular.

Questioning whether our current way of doing MMP could be improved is an important democratic process. Dissing it as “just another front for National to attack MMP” could be described as just another front to attack an idea Whitehead doesn’t favour.

They need to instead move on and accept that they can’t rely on strong plurality results to govern without eating up the electorate-based parties that support them, and perhaps even consider splitting into multiple parties themselves for more differentiated campaigning, as National has always been an informal coalition of urban right-wing liberals, right-wing conservatives, and a significant rural support base of many ideological flavours, and arguably could earn more of the Party vote under MMP by campaigning separately to each group.

But that might require them modernizing, an idea which is always deeply unpopular with the National Party, who still have no direct democratic impact on important decisions like electing leaders.

“An idea which is always deeply unpopular with the National Party” – that’s a ridiculous claim and hints at Green arrogance. It’s possible for parties to modernise without being just like the Greens. It would be alarming if parties didn’t modernise in their own ways.

A party in power for none years is always going to tend towards sticking to what succeeded, as long as it works.

I’m sure if Steven Joyce remains he will modernise his campaign strategies, but he is unlikely to favour a modern kamikaze attempt to outmanoeuvre their MoU partner party leading into the campaign, like Metiria Turei and the Greens did. They came close to not being one of the largest parties in Parliament.

Whitehead will no doubt be happy with the outcome of the election and how that came about. But the situation could be quite different after the next election, as it has been after each of our eight MMP elections. It could be the Greens that fall apart as a small party in Government.

Considering whether we can do our democracy better should be encouraged, not blown away because what is being suggested wouldn’t have suited your favoured party’s current situation.

We have just seen a situation where three parties stood back, allowing one small party dictate how negotiations would be conducted, and putting themselves in a position where they made the key decision and the key announcement.

Surely there is a better way of doing things, the public tends to not like tails calling the shots while the dogs cower.

We don’t need hard and fast rules, but if we had accepted guidelines (arrived at by consensus of course) for how post-election negotiations and decisions are made I think the public and the media would be happier with the process of forming a government.

“Media attack on New Zealand’s democracy”

A post by Dr. Hans B. Grueber at ZealandiaBlog suggests that there is a Media attack on New Zealand’s democracy

It’s true that the only ones seemingly concerned about parliament being left in limbo since the election and politicians not fronting up or answering any questions of note are journalists.

Twenty five years ago New Zealand voted in a first referendum for the (more) democratic proportional voting system called MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) as recommended  by the Royal Commission after the most thorough investigation into all electoral systems around the world.

The media are extremely slow learners. Over all these years they still  seem to be living in the old imperial First Past the Post world. For example they still talk about electorate and list MPs as if there was a difference. In the other MMP country Germany nobody makes that distinctions and never has. In our current debate we still hear the myth that electorate MPs are supposed to be first class while list MPs second class. The former being accountable and being able to be voted out by the people while the later (only) being accountable to their parties, which put them on the list. This myth could not be further from the truth.

As one scientist quipped in the US context that MPs in safe seats are less accountable to the public than the members of the Stalinist polit-bureau. The later having changed much more often under public pressure that safe seats under First-Past-the-Post. As I already said in a 1992 debate in safe National seats like Te Kuiti or Southland Clutha the party can put a blue ribbon around a sheep dog and it will be elected.

This year the blue ribbon around Toddy in Clutha Southland got fairly tatty, leading to him leaving Parliament with his tail between his legs. This was largelky due to the efforts of some of the media.

Not even a conspiracy

Still every election where the results are not to the liking of the neo-liberal media inevitably the electoral system is blamed.

Even the media are labelled ‘neo-liberal’ now. Was that the cause of or a result of the ‘neo-liberal’ revolution in the 1980s?

The New Zealand media in general do not even try to conceal their disdain for our electoral system and democracy. After this year’s election, which as usual under proportional representation didn’t produce a clear winner with over 50% of the vote they almost demanded that the party with the most votes – as it two weeks later turned out to be 44% – be given the right to form the next government.

The fact that 56% had voted against the old government wasn’t ever worth a mention.

I’ve seen something like that mentioned quite a bit. For someone promoting the merits of MMP to be treating it as a binary for/against vote is curious.

It isn’t a fact that “56% had voted against the old government”. There is no way of knowing the reasons why each of 2,591,896 people voted, especially the 186,706 who voted NZ First.

ACT voters, some Maori Party voters and others may not have specifically voted against the old government. Even some of those who voted for the Greens may not have cared who runs the next Government, they may simply have wanted to ensure that the Greens retained a voice in Parliament (I have voted exactly that way in the past)

It was actually 55.6% who didn’t vote for National. And 63.1% who didn’t vote for Labour, 92.8% who didn’t vote NZ First, 93.7% who didn’t vote Green.

We didn’t have a new government on election night, Oh My God !

The media wouldn’t even allow for the final results to come out before crying out about New Zealand being taken hostage by a party with only just over 7% of the vote. They are just taking their time to negotiate and make up their minds. These media, editors, commentators, and pundits assumed that the New Zealand people of voting age are still like little children who cannot wait and want to open the presents under the tree before Christmas day. The only ones who can’t wait are the media themselves. This is the age of instant gratification after all.

It does seem that it is mainly some of the media who are impatient for a new government.

Another media beat-up in the crazy assumption that it will scare the people is the fact that for an interim period after every election the old government continues as caretaker government in charge of running the day to day business of government. However they are not allowed to introduce any policy changes of make major decisions.

This is portrayed as a terrible thing as if the country would not happily function for a few weeks or even months without a proper government.

I haven’t seen the caretaker government portrayed as a terrible thing, although I have heard some concerns expressed about New Zealand not actively reacting on the international stage. However New Zealand’s lack of input will hardly be missed by most of the world.

The other MMP country Germany held elections on the same weekend. The far right neo-liberal party (FDP) represents the interests of the the business community, which according to the media here cannot live without the certainty of a new government. One of their representatives just appeared on the most influential political TV talkshow. When asked about a coalition before Christmas he replied that such serious negotiations could not be rushed. The host’s only reply was that they just would have to wait.

Belgium a few years back was without a new government for about 18 months after their election. The people loved it as no harm and damage was done to them unlike to us by successive neo-liberal governments over the last 33 years.

A caretaker government won’t change what has been done by successive “neo-liberal governments” over the last 33 years. Gruber keeps confusing two things, our current political limbo under MMP, and his apparent obsession with and opposition to neo-liberalism. It’s worth pointing out that seven of the “neo-liberalist” governments we have had have been elected under MMP.

And it’s worth remembering that if the incoming government 33 years ago had done nothing for some time, and hadn’t taken drastic action, some fairly severe damage to the country is likely to have occurred.

The media still stuck in the First-Past-the-Post world ignore the fact that all this is totally normal under any proportional system in the world. They are seriously suggesting the we, the people, didn’t know what we were doing when we voted over the last 25 years not only once but three times for MMP – a far more democratic system than we had before.

More democratic, which has resulted in more representative Parliaments, but I wouldn’t say far more, and still misused and abused by parties and politicians when it suits their ambitions for power.

Concerted Attack

Following the mainstream media including the state owned broadcasters you cannot but conclude that we are witnessing a concerted attack on our electoral system. Not only do we read and hear comments by editors, political reporters and media personnel of the above nature. The media also give overwhelming space to totally outrageous and false comments in the letter pages and give a platform to anti MMP campaigners of ‘Dirty Politics‘ fame to spread their old disinformation and lies.

It seems we have been watching the Media attack on New Zealand’s democracy.

I think Grueber is right that some of the media has been overly critical of what our eight MMP election has delivered – a headline and scandal vacuum – but it nothing like a concerted attack.

Some journalists have actually suggested tweaks to our MMP, like lowering the threshold, and having a clearer system for forming a new government. I think both would be good improvements to the already better than most system of democracy that we have.

And a healthy democracy needs a critical media, even if they don’t always get things right, aren’t as balanced as they should be and get too excited about things that don’t matter much, like not having a new government for a few weeks.

Our system of democracy is pretty good, our governments over the last 33 years have in the main been pretty good (they will always annoy some of the people some of the time), and our media does a fairly good job most of the time.

We can be critical of the media, as they can be critical of our politicians and aspects of political system, but attacking media for an “attack on New Zealand’s democracy” is in a way an attack on our democracy as the media are an important part of it.

Journalists complaining about nothing much happening is not something most voters will care about.

Better that we look at how we can improve our way of doing democracy.

Ditch the MMP threshold

One pundit wants to throw out our entire MMP system because he doesn’t like waiting for the election result – see Is MMP too badly flawed? – but a tweak may be all we need to improve it.

Michael Wright at Stuff: It’s time to ditch the MMP threshold

MMP hasn’t had a great 2017. It hammered the minor parties on election night then got hammered itself for presiding over such a hammering. If voting systems had feelings, New Zealand’s would be doing it tough right now.

One change can fix this. It’s time to dispense with the 5 per cent threshold. Not just lower it, ditch it altogether. The rule that under MMP political parties must win at least 5 per cent of the party vote to enter Parliament is holding us back.

The threshold exists to ensure the right mix of stability and proportionality in government. Right now it is providing neither of those things.

There is no obvious sign that stability is a problem – yet at least – but proportionality is hampered by the high threshold.

Ditching the threshold would have three big advantages. First, it would greatly diminish the spectre of the wasted vote.

If we had no threshold TOP would have probably a few seats, proportional to their real support rather than support levels distorted by the threshold – if a party looks short of the threshold it tends to deter people from ‘wasting’ their vote.

More smaller parties in Parliament means less chance of one of them holding all the cards after election day, which is exactly what has just happened to New Zealand First.

If TOP had a few seats that would have provided National and possibly Labour+Greens other options, so Peters wouldn’t hold the key cards.

It would be an opportunity to simultaneously ditch the unpopular “coat-tails” clause, whereby below-threshold parties that win an electorate seat are entitled to cash in their meagre party vote share for a handful of list MPs.

I don’t think that’s a real problem, it only appears to be a problem due to the high threshold.

Since MMP was introduced, the only new parties to enter Parliament have been splinters from existing ones, led by sitting MPs. Breaking that trend, as TOP leader Gareth Morgan said, is a very tall order.

He failed, as has the Conservative party and the Internet Party despite being backed by big spenders.

The downside is that Parliament ends up a rogues gallery, with extremist or special interest parties disrupting everything and making coalition-building a nightmare. This is possible, but far-fetched.

Across eight MMP elections, the only real outliers that would have entered Parliament under a natural threshold were the Outdoor Recreation New Zealand party in 2002 and the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party in 1996 and 1999. Even if a tiny hard-line party gained a foothold, our democracy is surely robust enough to handle it.

There is more chance of a small party MP contributing positively to Parliament than of being a ‘rogue’. We have had rogue MPs from larger parties.

That said, almost none of this is likely to happen. Voting systems are not lightly toyed with. When the Electoral Commission reviewed MMP in 2012, it recommended lowering the threshold to 4 per cent. It flirted with 3 per cent but baulked at such a “massive” reduction: “[It] would be a step too far at this stage … This is an area in which New Zealand should move cautiously and incrementally.”

That is unjustified conservatism. And it’s a nonsense that we haven’t even moved conservatively towards a fairer threshold.

Opponents of lowering the threshold promote a fear of being held to ransom by individuals or very small parties, but instead we remain held to ransom by large parties with large amounts of power, protecting their power by excluding fair representation.