John Armstrong on politics

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Anti-MMP group of no merit until it names an alternative

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Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Put up or shut up. The new anti-MMP lobby group, Vote for Change, does not deserve to be taken seriously until it answers this question: change to what, exactly?

The organisation is not saying "at this stage" which alternative voting system it will support in the referendum. It will make an announcement once it has a "substantial" membership whose views have been heard.

Very democratic-sounding. And very convenient. By not indicating a preference, Vote for Change can keep pointing out the flaws of MMP without supporters of MMP being able to retort.

It has predictably seized on those aspects of MMP which really annoy the public - most notably MPs who lose their constituency seats being "sneaked" back into Parliament via their party list. This is a myth in terms of huge numbers. There were just four cases of that happening at the last election.

What's more, a change to the partly proportional supplementary member system - the alternative Vote for Change will probably end up championing - would not necessarily solve this problem, if indeed it is one.

Vote for Change also argues MMP "doesn't offer enough accountability". Yet, it was the public's inability to call politicians to account for broken promises which prompted the change from first-past-the-post to MMP in the early 1990s.

The lobby group also claims MMP hands a disproportionate amount of power to small parties. If the tail really does wag the dog, why have those voting for minor parties like the Alliance, United Future and Act deserted in droves in elections after their party having some kind of support arrangement with a Labour or National-led Government?

Vote for Change also argues that it wants a system that is fair to voters, not the politicians. Yet there is no fairer system to voters than MMP.

The only beneficiaries of a shift away from a truly proportional voting system like MMP are the two major parties. The Greens, for example, would have just two MPs compared to their current nine if the last election had been fought on the supplementary member system. How fair is that?

The suspicion is Vote for Change is spouting such hogwash about "fairness" to disguise its true motives. Labour's Trevor Mallard has already outed its founding organisers' links to National and Act. Like all such groups which do not have backing from across the political spectrum, Vote for Change claims to enjoy such backing, citing former Labour Party president Bob Harvey as a founding member.

That celebrity endorsement does not mean a lot. By and large, Labour these days is comfortable with MMP. National is not. A truly proportional system combined with a Labour-aligned fast expanding Maori and Pacific Island population spells bad news for National. Vote for Change looks very much like the National Party Preservation Society in drag.

- NZ Herald

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