Deborah Coddington
Deborah Coddington is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Deborah Coddington: MMP bargaining better than paralysis of polarity

Robert Muldoon spent excessively under the first-past-the-post electoral system. Photo / NZ Herald
Robert Muldoon spent excessively under the first-past-the-post electoral system. Photo / NZ Herald

It would be hypocritical of me to vote against retaining MMP in the upcoming electoral referendum.

Thanks to MMP (mixed member proportional) I was a Member of Parliament for the Act Party. So for me now to join others from the right, and say we should return to FPP (first past the post) smacks of dissembling.

But others are entitled to their opinions and campaigns. It's worth remembering, however, the Act Party, aligning itself with those fronting the anti-MMP campaign, would still be a ginger group were it not for MMP. Some of you might find that comforting. But before you hip-hooray, so would the Greens, the Maori Party and Mana.

Act is also, this election more than ever before, counting on one of the worst aspects of MMP to get back into Parliament - a sweet deal in Epsom. In 2008, John Key had his significant "cup of tea" with Rodney Hide, which sent the message a party vote for Act was not wasted. But three years ago Act was a different party.

Hide was holding the Epsom seat (not struggling to win it like John Banks) and Act members were campaigning hard around the country for the party vote.

This year, Act are barely visible. Apart from Wellington and Auckland Central, there is sparse party vote campaigning as they cynically rely on Key to boil the kettle.

Disgruntled Act chairman Morris Hey in New Plymouth proved that point. Act isn't asking voters nationwide for their party vote, but instead waits for a cushy ride, so they don't deserve to be back. Yet they're using MMP, a system they oppose, to get there.

But even if I hadn't used MMP to go to Wellington, I'd still favour it. It's not perfect, it needs tweaking but, hey, democracy isn't perfect.

Critics such as Roger Partridge, chairman of the Business Roundtable, writing in the Herald, linked MMP to increased government spending. But Partridge conveniently forgets to mention the uber-spending think-big Muldoon years under FPP.

Partridge also blames MMP for "weak governments with feeble mandates" which we can take to mean governments that don't push agenda promoted by the Business Roundtable. Partridge is free to form a political party and see how popular the Roundtable's policies really are. Five per cent anyone?

It's easy being black or white; left or right. I know, I've been to both extremes. It's much harder to step back from polar opposites, as MMP forces political parties to do, consider the wider issues, read around the subject and learn something from another perspective. Changing your mind doesn't cause your head to fall off.

Are list MPs lazy? No more or less than some electorate MPs. There are slackers in every organisation and, with increased media scrutiny, parties are quick to jump on anyone who lets the side down. There's the complaint about lists selected by party bosses, but so too are electorate candidates, and that's an internal process, never open to the public, so why should the public vote on party lists?

Ruth Richardson is another campaigner for FPP and claims - foolishly - that minor parties' interests will reappear in the major parties. Does anyone believe Labour would insulate homes if the Greens weren't there? That National would liberate student unionism without Act?

That Labour or National would truly represent iwi without the Maori Party?

On a National Radio Insight debate, Richardson carped on that strong government can only be delivered under FPP until Michael Cullen shut her up with this: "Ruth talks about strong government, she is really talking code for a particular kind of government doing certain things. Muldoon's government was a very strong government, it just went in a different direction from New Zealand's interest and finally got chucked out.

"In the US, with an FPP system in both chambers you end up with the worst example of government paralysis in the world at the present time. A legislature which is paralysed by party politics of the worst variety, to the point where the US is incapable of carrying out the policies that not just it needs, but the rest of the world needs."

Really that says it all about MMP and FPP.

- Herald on Sunday

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