Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: August 14

John Banks. Photo / AP.
John Banks. Photo / AP.

The 'Goldilocks' formula has been used by the Electoral Commission to come up with its controversial proposals to change MMP. This is the age-old process by which politicians and authorities decide on compromise policies on the basis of them being 'not too hot and not too cold' - i.e. something between the extremes of opinion on any one issue. This is how the Electoral Commission has come up with its recommendation to abolish the so-called 'one seat rule' that helps small parties get proportional representation in Parliament, and reduce the 5% threshold slightly to 4%. This Goldilocks method is both explained and approved of today by John Armstrong (National faces tough decision on closing door to cosy deals) and Andrew Geddis (Should the government dissolve the people, and appoint another one?).

The danger, however, of trying to please everybody by choosing a middling and mild approach is that you end up satisfying very few, and you make poor choices. Today it is clear that there is a lot of disagreement about the Electoral Commission's ideas. Certainly the smaller parties in Parliament are far from happy about the Commission's proposal to reduce their representation via the abolition of the one-seat rule - see Kate Shuttleworth's Commission paper 'woeful' - John Banks. Banks has not just criticised the removal of the rule, but also predicted that National will not back the recommendation - see Radio NZ's National won't back MMP change, says Banks.

As Robert Winter blogs in What National must think of Mr Banks... he may not be doing himself any favours by arguing 'that National will not accept the proposals because it elected him (thus pre-empting the National decision-making process, and basically challenging National to disagree with Mr Banks - and put the final nail in ACT's coffin)'.

The New Zealand First leader is in classic form, insisting that his party can't be accused of acting in self-interest because they are arguing for the same 5% threshold that saw the party ejected from Parliament in 2008. Although there is a risk that it could happen again, in contrast the potential for a high threshold to make NZ First the sole kingmaker will be very attractive. This is especially so for an aging leader who will want to go out in style (in a BMW limousine) as the centre of attention, not the third wheel behind the Greens or the Conservatives.

The debate about the desired level of the threshold continues: 'Victoria University professor in public policy Jonathan Boston said the party vote threshold should drop to 3 per cent if the electorate-seat threshold was to be wiped.... Campaign for MMP spokeswoman Sandra Grey said it should be reduced to 4 per cent, or even 3 per cent. She said concerns that it would mean a glut of "fringe" parties made it into Parliament, making it harder to form a stable Government, were misplaced' - see Claire Trevett's Small parties resist end of piggy-back rule.

There appears to be increased interest in the blog- and twitter- spheres for the total abolition of the 5% MMP threshold. Mark Blackham asks 'What exactly is wrong with MPs in Parliament that represent specific interests of voters? - see: Meddling with MMP.

Danyl Mclauchlan see: More mob rule wonders if a low threshold might encourage lobbyists to set up their own boutique parties and if that may actually be an improvement on the behind-the-scenes influence they currently wield. The commission did not really address the arguments for a much lower threshold says Gordon Campbell, and so have missed an opportunity: 'Politicking aside, the reviewers have indeed muffed a once-in-a-generation chance to make the Parliament a more democratic, and more representative place'.

In his blogpost, Andrew Geddis has some arguments against abolishing the threshold, quoting the New Zealand Electoral Survey to suggest that most voters have an 'apparent aversion for proliferating political parties', and therefore the commission couldn't go too far in lowering the threshold. It isn't surprising, however, that the majority of voters who consistently support the main parties are keen for the political competition to be kept to a minimum. The tyranny of the majority is at its most powerful when it comes to making the rules for elections.

On the issue of internal party list-selection rules, Graeme Edgeler has written a very good blogpost agreeing with the recommendation for no change - see: MMP Review: Trusting voters. He argues that it's better that voters reward and punish parties that don't appear to have good list-making processes than it is to legislate to force political parties to do so. He advises David Farrar to help the National party to 'heal thyself' by voluntarily adopting more democratic rules.

Much of the commentary today focuses on how the changes could benefit the Government, and how National will react to the proposals - see for example, Vernon Small's MMP blueprint little comfort for minnows. Small says that the changes will appeal to National because they would help provide support parties to enable a third-term in Government: 'Making it easier for both the Conservatives and NZ First to be re-elected in 2014 suddenly makes a whole lot of sense. Supporting the commission's view would also allow National to claim the moral high ground as the party that set aside self-interest and deferred to the commission and the public's view. How much more delicious for National that it aligns with its own best interests'.

Labour activists continue to go public with their concerns over the party's direction and discipline. The latest is Jenny Michie on The Standard - see: Bad behaviour puts Labour activists off. Keeping Stock points out that Michie was David Shearer's campaign organiser in Mt Albert as recently as 2009 - see: Airing Labour's dirty laundry.

Josie Pagani's support on Radio NZ's Nine-to-Noon show yesterday for Shearer's sickness beneficiary comments (listen here) has provoked further dismay amongst some activists. Her views perfectly 'summarise how the Labour Party has lost its way' says Scott Yorke - see: Wrong Strategy. He says the strategy doesn't reach its intended audience and appealing to one group of voters by targeting another is 'an age-old political ploy, but it is also a deeply cynical one'. Mike Smith thinks the debate on strategy is legitimate but that Matthew Hooton and Kathryn Ryan made more sense than Pagani - see: Let's debate political strategy. The Pagani's (Josie's husband John is an adviser to David Shearer) are fixated on Blairite Labour's electoral success and how it can be applied to New Zealand says Will de Cleene - see: House of Palangi.

The political reality is that Labour needs to win over centrist voters and that means addressing their issues, including welfare abuse says Rob Salmond. Shearer was simply 'reminding everyone that Labour supports people who pay taxes, too' - see: Leftie strategerizing.

While the Labour leadership is keen to downplay the ructions as simply a 'blog war', it seems clear that the debate will have an impact in parliament - see Kate Shutteworth's Caucus meeting could be uncomfortable one for Shearer.

Other important or interesting political items today include:

• More than 10,000 submissions were made in response to the Government's Green Paper for Vulnerable Children, and a summary has been released today - see: Kate Chapman and Tracy Watkins' Government hears voice of vulnerable children.

• Another local council has been replaced with commissioners, and it may not survive the process - see RNZ's Democracy's dead in Kaipara, says deputy mayor.

• Railways and nostalgia have always gone together. Chris Trotter looks at the history of our rail system and thinks that, in spite of the 'bottom line', it will prosper in future - see: When we went off the rails. David Kennedy says the future is already looking up as freight volumes steadily increase - see: Rail is Worth the Investment!.

• Peter Dunne looks likely to face a serious challenge from his coalition partner next election as Cameron Slater details the looming selection battle for National in Dunne's seat - see Cameron Slater's Joyce's plan for Ohariu.

• The revolving door for staff in Hekia Parata's office continues to spin as another key adviser departs after just two months in the job: Stuff: Today in politics: Tuesday, August 14.

• Finally, David Cohen has a very readable profile on David Farrar and his political prodigy - see: David Farrar's nine-year old baby.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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