Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Dunne and MMP revanchism

With an election due at the end of the year, we're seeing the usual calls from the right to roll back MMP and return to the "good old days" of first past the post. The latest to join the chorus is United Future's Peter Dunne, who thinks its time for another referendum on the issue. His reasons are the usual laundry list you expect from the grumpies:

We have seen MPs defeated in their electorates returning to Parliament via the party list. There has been the list MP, elected solely on the basis of his party crossing the threshold by virtue of winning an electorate seat, claiming to remain in Parliament after deserting his party.
But the first is a feature, not a bug, while the second can occur under any electoral system and is a normal part of the political process. Reform was formed this way, Labour was formed this way, National was formed this way, even Dunne's own party was formed this way, when he and some centrist friends deserted their parties just before the 1996 election - and I didn't see him wailing about how the voters were betrayed then (I also didn't see him wailing about defeated electorate candidates entering Parliament via the list when his own party collected seven such MPs in 2002, and two in 2005).

But Dunne reserves the bulk of his criticism for the Maori seats (which, as I recall, were also present under FPP), raising fears of an overhang preventing National from forming a government. But as I've pointed out before, overhangs are not a "Maori seat" problem - any electorate can cause them. They're the price we pay for having a mixed-member system and an archaic attachment to local constituencies. And if we want to solve this problem and reduce disproportionality, the answer isn't to move back to an electoral system which entrenched it and manufactured a majority for whichever party wins a plurality (or indeed, allowed a party to win a majority of the seats without even winning a plurality of the vote) - but to move to a list-only system where the only thing that matters is the proportion of the party vote. But you won't see Dunne advocating that because he wouldn't be in Parliament under such a system.

(And again, there's a rich irony in seeing Dunne complain about the prospect of an overhang, when on current polling and with his party vote fragmented, he looks highly likely to be an overhang MP himself by the end of the year).

Dunne's concern about National being prevented from forming a government is telling. Most MMP-revanchism is driven not by principled concern for a more democratic electoral system, but by partisan concern for electoral outcomes. By guaranteeing a more democratic outcome and requiring every government to have the support of the majority of the electorate, MMP makes it more difficult for the right to win. And it says something about their attitude to democracy that their preferred response to this is to try and restore an undemocratic political system, rather than change their policies so as to better win over the people.