Labour has made a worthy, and now selfless, proposal to abolish the provision in the Electoral Act that can give parties two or more MPs for the price of one electorate. It is a worthy intention because the "coat-tailing" rule can give those MPs influence out of all proportion to their tiny fraction of public support. And it is selfless because if Labour is in a position to carry out its policy after the coming election, it could owe its power to the electoral provision it wants to abolish.
The merger of Kim Dotcom's money with Hone Harawira's lone seat gives Labour a possible ally with two or three seats, which could change the Government. If that happens, it is hard to see Internet-Mana supporting legislation to abolish the very mechanism that has given it pivotal power.
By that time, Internet and Mana have said, they will be separate entities. They plan to dissolve their marriage of convenience six weeks after the election. That would make their arrangement the most cynical use of the coat-tailing rule to date. Having entered Parliament on the basis of Hone Harawira's electorate, Laila Harre would become an independent. In that event she would have less moral right to be in Parliament than MPs who fall out with their party after entering on its list. They at least enter in good faith.
National must now rue its refusal to act on the Electoral Commission's recommendation to abolish the provision for parties to gain proportional representation on the strength of a single electorate. The irony is not just that opponents are now using the rule against National but also that National has not had need of it since 2008.
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The Government's majority in the present Parliament depends on two electorate MPs, John Banks and Peter Dunne. Their parties did not attract enough of the nationwide party vote in 2011 to be given additional seats. The Maori Party won more electorates that year than its nationwide vote would have awarded it. National is not currently a beneficiary of the coat-tailing rule and it looks unlikely to benefit from it at this election.
Abolition of the rule would not stop small parties concentrating their efforts on winning a single electorate in case they could not reach the nationwide 5 per cent threshhold for proportional representation. Nor would it stop a main party making way for a potential partner to win an electorate. Even one seat can decide which major party will govern.
If providing an electorate for a supporting party is "rorting" the system, there is no way to stop it short of abolishing electorates. They are not essential to proportional representation; the party vote alone could decide the Government. But territorial representation was also considered important by the designers of "mixed member" proportional representation.
The provision for parties winning a single electorate to be awarded proportional seats too arose from the designers' concern that a nationwide vote of 5 per cent was a high threshhold. If the provision is to be abolished, the threshhold should be lowered, as Labour proposes, to 4 per cent.
Labour has challenged National to support this change in a member's bill before the present Parliament. Having seen the Internet-Mana manipulation of the system, National should reconsider its position. It can probably ignore David Cunliffe's promise to introduce a Government bill within 100 days of taking office. A Labour-Green-Mana-Internet coalition would be unlikely to give him enough votes. But it normally pays to do the right thing.
If National had done so after its MMP review, Mr Dotcom would not be able to manipulate our electoral system now.