John Armstrong 's Opinion

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Parties playing politics with MMP proposals

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The one-seat threshold, which benefits Act leader John Banks, is likely to remain. Photo / APN
The one-seat threshold, which benefits Act leader John Banks, is likely to remain. Photo / APN

Judging from its less than lukewarm response, National would clearly prefer to ignore the Electoral Commission's well-crafted recommendations for improving MMP. So the governing party is desperately trying to manufacture not just one excuse for doing so, but several.

In a perfect world, National would put self-interest very much in second place, including that of allies Act and United Future.

In a perfect world, National would adopt the commission's wish for the "one-seat threshold" to be axed and join forces with Labour to secure a majority in Parliament of sufficient number to justify doing so.

National would likewise call on Labour's backing to enact the commission's partly compensating recommendation for the party vote threshold to be cut from 5 to 4 per cent.

The commission's plea for the so-called "coat-tails" clause to be abolished, however, looks like falling victim to National's self-interest.

As long as that provision remains on the statute books, there is a chance - however slim - that Act leader John Banks and United Future leader Peter Dunne could bring one or two extra MPs into Parliament at the next election, thereby upping the chances of the centre-right remaining in power.

Speaking the day after the commission's final report on the future of MMP was tabled in Parliament, the Prime Minister yesterday pretty much flagged that the one-seat threshold would remain.

It was important, he said, that governments contemplating changes to the voting system were seen to be fair and even-handed. Translation: ditching the one-seat threshold would not be fair on Act and United Future.

It was important there was a consensus in Parliament for passing new legislation. Translation: there is insufficient consensus.

It was normal for a Government to accept some recommendations made by an organisation like the Electoral Commission. Translation: we will reject recommendations we don't like.

The commission was "just another body" which "looked at things" and took a perspective which it thought was right. Translation: what the Electoral Commission thinks is not that important and governments can get away with ignoring what it has to say.

National should not get all the credit for being so self-serving. Labour's support for dumping the one-seat threshold has to be put into context. None of its allies rely on that provision to get their MPs into Parliament.

That makes Labour's drafting of a bill to enact the commission's recommendations exactly on a par with what National is doing - playing politics with a matter which should be above politics.

- NZ Herald

John Armstrong

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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