In the Herald this morning, Don Brash argues that MMP has led to a decline of accountability and consensus, and pushes for a referendum on the electoral system and greater use of referenda generally. Just Left has already pointed out that this is little more than insincere populism on his part; Brash voted for the Prostitution Reform Act and supported the Civil Union Bill on its first reading. He seemed quite happy at the time to impose his will on the public, despite not having campaigned or sought a mandate on either issue. For him to turn around now and say that there should have been a referendum is simply hypocritical on his part. He is also being dishonest in claiming that these changes were made without a mandate; both civil unions and the Supreme Court were part of Labour's manifesto at the last election (here and here respectively), while prostitution decriminalisation was a private member's bill, not government policy. But as the post-Orewa "race debate" showed, dishonesty is hardly unusual for Brash, and he seems quite happy simply to make shit up if the facts are inconvenient.
This move to populism show's Brash's desperation: he has one shot at becoming Prime Minister, after which he is likely to be rolled in favour of a younger, more electable candidate. And as the Civil Union debate showed, he will adopt any political position that he thinks will improve his chances - even those violently at odds with his claimed principles.
What about the substance? Unfortunately, on the referenda front, there isn't any - which is why I dismiss Brash's position as empty populism. At least Winston went to the effort of developing a (deeply flawed) legislative framework when pushing for referenda; Brash hasn't even bothered to do that. When National comes up with a proper referendum scheme, I will take them seriously on this issue - but until then, they're simply appealing to the grumpy vote.
On electoral reform Brash has more concrete proposals, echoing National's long-standing desire to make Parliament less representative and restore the executive dictatorship. He also plumps for the supplementary member system - the "salmonella" option in the 1992 referendum, which combines the worst features of MMP and FPP: party lists without proportionality and majority government without restraint. And the reason for this is quite obvious: Brash can't win an electorate seat (he went down to Social Credit twice in the early 80's), and thus needs a list to get into Parliament.
But what about the "problems" a return to a less representative electoral system is supposed to fix? Parliament has been more consensual this term, with bills generally attracting wider support than under FPP, and the newer parties displaying a more constructive rather than oppositional culture. While there are "back-room deals", they are more open than under FPP, when they happened within parties rather than between them. As for accountability, we will have a chance to hold our representatives accountable for their votes later this year. And with his voting record, Don Brash should be worried.