Another tiresome national conversation has begun.
It is about MMP, about whether to throw it out and, presumably, go back to the old First Past the Post system of electing governments, or something similar.
First there will be a debate on whether we need to visit the issue at all. There will be debate about whether we should hold a binding referendum about MMP at or before the 2011 election, as the National Party promised before the last election.
No doubt we will be drawn into a debate about whether we want to throw out the baby with the bathwater and look again at the proportional alternatives we rejected last time.
The Prime Minister has floated the referendum to test the water. No doubt he felt he had to. I cannot see that the country wants to go back to interminable debate about proportional representation.
However, the debate kicked off with passion this week. I read two diametrically opposed arguments. The New Zealand Herald's Brian Rudman argued that MMP has given us a "true" House of Representatives, in which groups that would never make it to Parliament in the old system now have a voice in the House, and this is a good thing.
The other, Garth George in the same paper, managed to stop short of calling MMP satanic. George wants MMP dumped because it creates a mess, gives too much power to irrelevant people and parties and too much leverage to the survival instincts of MPs and causes disgusting wheeling and dealing that makes him gag.
I can see merit in both arguments. But I can't be bothered. We've had this debate. It was long and painful and hard to understand. In any case, MMP seems to be ticking along nicely. No system is going to be perfect. I find I tend to agree with John Key, who says he thinks New Zealanders are increasingly comfortable with MMP.
He is dead right. It has taken us a long time to come to terms with MMP but increasingly the public has learned how to work with it to its advantage. It took us years, but now we have it figured. We can vote tactically and effectively. And we have stable government.
We have to remember what led us to MMP. For many it was the sense of powerlessness many in the Labour Party felt under the Pass-it-While-They're-Blinded-By-The-Headlights years of Roger Douglas, a sense of being powerless to stop, or at least examine, policies you had no idea were coming. For many others it was the betrayal by the Bolger government of the key election promise to remove the surcharge on superannuation and Ruth Richardson's out-of-the-blue Mother of All Budgets.
There was growing anger at politicians among people of all persuasions; a feeling that the political process and politicians had to be checked. National and Labour opposed MMP, for the obvious reason that it would make the practice of their dark arts more difficult. But the people decided, after a decade of being pushed round, that the big parties needed a thumping. Then the wealthy businessman, Peter Shirtcliffe, started throwing millions towards the First Past the Post campaign and, charming as he was, because he was rich he made the people all the more contrary.
So we chose MMP. And immediately after the first MMP election Winston Peters gave the new system its first shock. After keeping the country waiting for three months, he announced he was taking his seats into coalition with National.
There had been a fairly clear sentiment for a change of government and the expectation was that he would have to go with Labour. The negotiations between New Zealand First and Labour foundered on the rock of the Treasury. Winston wanted the Treasury. He had the power of political life or death in those months and he wanted the big prize.
Labour would not deal away the Treasury. Jim Bolger agreed to give Winston the Treasury but, brilliantly, he put Bill Birch in as Minister of Revenue. Again, Jim won.
But MMP's main achievement has been quite unexpected. There is peace in the land. Everyone now feels they have representation. Everyone feels they have a voice. And we appear, for the moment at least, until the next great upheaval, to be moving beyond the blind politics of ideology.
The politicians have worked out how to use MMP in the formation of governments, so you can have a National government governing quite smoothly with two deeply opposed parties, Act and the Maori Party, with even a sop to the Greens in the home insulation policy, and the continuation of the Families Commission to satisfy Peter Dunne.
I am proud of a system that can see Maori elected representing their own party, not having to be patronised by the Labour Party. Two of their MPs sit as ministers of a centre-right government. Maori know they finally have their own representation.
I don't share Garth George's revulsion at the wheeling and dealing that goes on with MMP. Politics is all about wheeling and dealing. It is all about persuasion. It is all about the possible. It is all about the numbers. It always has been and it always will be.
Accommodations always have to be made. And if John Key needs Phil Goff for a new Emissions Trading Scheme, then Goff will exact a price for his compliance. We might not know about it immediately but there will be a price agreed. The great thing about MMP is it encourages co-operation because none of the parties knows when and how they are going to need other parties in the future.
Where deals get unpleasant is when an MMP government is hanging by a thread and the deal-making is seen to be a last grasp for power. Labour granting Winston Peters the Foreign Affairs portfolio and staying with him through the scandal was an example. Having said that, Winston was eminently qualified for Foreign Affairs and got on well with Condoleezza Rice. But that kind of deal-making was seen for what it was and got punished. Every three years we have the right to punish.
MMP requires consultation. It requires many sides to be considered in any policy change. In doing so, it provides the checks and balances FPP did not guarantee. Under FPP, a government could run rampant. If MMP has slowed down some decision-making, that is no bad thing. Things slowing down because of greater and wider representation might have played a part on the restoration of respect for Parliament after the turbulence, anger and frustration of the 1980s and 1990s.
Parliament is a nice show to watch now. It is less poisonous. You can sense greater co-operation for the good of the nation. Let's not waste our time. Let's move on.
Another tiresome national conversation has begun.