Wednesday, September 21, 2005

What do you want?

Yesterday I dissed Roger Kerr for wanting to have a referendum on MMP, assuming he wanted a return to FPP. My bad there, the article mentioned no such thing. Phil O'Reilly reckoned MMP's all good. They are both right.

Consumercitizens should constantly be appraising their system of governance, questioning to ensure the government machine does what we want it to. A permanent vote on the ballot paper, asking voters if they have confidence in the MMP system, couldn't be a bad thing. Not so long ago electorates were asked each election if they wished to remain dry or get wet, alcoholically speaking. The idea has precedent. Roger Kerr's statement is sound.

This year The General Electorate has shown a maturity and understanding of how MMP works, using eloquent tactical voting gambits while returning to the honesty of the the Great Urban/Rural Divide. Last term, Helen Cark demonstrated proficiency at playing minor parties off one another while maintaining a centrist-left government. She is the Spinball Wizard and this term it's multiball. So Mr O'Reilly is also right. The public has little reason to lose confidence in MMP. Yet.

John Campbell had the tangental Mike Moore on his show last night. The closest The Panda got to a point was that the public wanted a system of government that harnessed party power; instead they unleashed a monster. The Panda is right.

Never before has The General Electorate been so alienated from our representatives. Meet the Candidates meetings, with the exception of Aro Valley, are ill-attended affairs of 100 people if you're lucky. Most of those attendees are party hacks without a brain cell to sway to another cause. The party is Mother, the party is Father.

Communication between politicians and public is a one-way street of advertisements, direct mail and polling. Polling for example reverses the Q & A game. In the past, voters asked their candidates questions and the candidate replied. Nowadays the candidate-commissioned pollsters ask the questions and the voters reply. How fucked up is that?

Membership in political movements has gone the way of most community groups. Membership has plummeted, allowing power to coallesce relatively unchecked and making a mockery of the illusion of participatory democracy. The only party that still subscribes to consulting its members is the Maori Party with their hui. Look how much they are mocked.

Like Super 12 and One Day Cricket, MMP has reduced politics to a television entertainment, sold as a brand with presidential-style icons leading a dubious bunch of party chosen into an arcane parliamentary sytem. Door-knocking and talking to ordinary people has been replaced with soundbites and photo opportunities as the most efficient way of electioneering. All this is encouraged by the story-hungry packs of media hounds following the leaders around this election.

If anyone lost this election, it was the mainstream media. Once a refuge for some objectivity that voters could use to analyse the merits of our alleged representatives, an intrusive media has set their own agenda. TV3's unilateral exclusion of JAP and UFO and subsequent forced acquiesence showed the influence of the media on the outcomes in a poor light.

Bad polling presented as news by print and television media has damaged their credibility. Rodney Hide is justifiably pissed by this. By continually dissing Act, the media forced Act's vote down. Even Captain Sensible, looking radiant with a There's Something About Mary hairdo, lost his rag with the media on election night. Meanwhile, it seems Judith Tizard MP doesn't exist without media present.

But I digress. Winston Churchill once described democracy as the least worst system we've thought of so far. MMP is not perfect, but it's the best thing we've got. Philip Temple (Hattip DPF) reckons MMP just needs tweaking. As eminently respected as his opinion is, I would discount his two suggestions.

Increasing the electorate threshold from one to two seems arbitrary. Germany has a threshold of five electorates in a Bundestag of over 600 seats. Germany also has a bicameral system as opposed to our single House. Eliminating the single electorate parties in NZ would disproportionately increase the power of the Executive.

His second point, the one favoured by the Nats, is even more threatening. If there was ever a time to remove the Maori seats, it was with the introduction of MMP. Too late now. Any attempt to remove the Maori seats now, without any comparable trade-off to favour them, is futile. It would mean we have learnt nothing from our short history, nothing from our literature, nothing
from our movies. As Alan Moore once said, "Citizens should not fear their governments; governments should fear their citizens."

It is with this thought somewhere in her mind that Helen Clark looks to keep not only her leadership and the fortunes of Labour V in favour, but MMP's as well. If our three-yearly civil wars don't work, if stable government is not possible under this system, we will have to find something that does.