Thursday, January 13, 2005

Brash's desperate populism

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.


First we have principles where a person in government might do what he thinks should be done or do what the country thinks should be done.

Then we have MMP where you can have a representative system (MMP) or a system that curtails representativenes in order to preserve stability (FPP) - (there are also other effects).

It seems to me both do basically the same thing if you have MMP one would think you would want unprincipled leaders (as in having no principles besides democracy - not having bad ones) and of you want FPP you would want principled leaders.

Posted by Genius : 1/14/2005 08:16:00 AM

Both MMP and FPP are representative forms of government; the difference is that MMP, being proportional, tends to produce minority governments. This is a valuable check on government power (it removes the old "executive dictatorship" whereby cabinet collectice responsibility and the whip meant that a small clique could dominate the house and pass whatever legislation they desired).

Of course, it makes no difference in conscience votes or private member's bills, apart from being more representative,which is a virtue in itself.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 1/14/2005 10:10:00 AM

Note the profound social conservative hypocrisy involved here, too. They want BCIRs on LG relationship
equality, but not issues they know they'll lose on, like euthanasia law reform. And would Brash be so ardent about BCIRs if he knew that one of its primary advocates, Voters Voice, appears to regard immigration policy as a subject for referendum status? And that Voters Voice has links to Australian racist politician Pauline Hanson, and the New Zealand League of Rights??


Posted by Anonymous : 1/14/2005 11:44:00 AM

> They want BCIRs on LG relationship equality, but not issues they know they'll lose on, like euthanasia law reform.

but I imagine a social liberal would want referendum on euthanasia reform but not the death penalty because they would probably loose the latter. Anyway either one wants government based on the public wishes or one wants the executive to generally tell us what is right.

If you dont trust the public in regard to the death penalty, immigration or euthanasia then it could be that you just dont trust the public at all - and "democracy" (ie pure democracy) is only being offered lip service.

Similarly if you like the greens having influence under MMP you need to accept that in a different political environment that Act or NZ firstm, destiny church or the smoking party etc might have political influence and trust the public not to create too bad a situation.

Posted by Genius : 1/14/2005 01:58:00 PM

It's not about whether or not we trust the public; it's about checks and balances and sovereignty. If you start from the position that sovereignty is not absolute, then whether it is vested in the people, Parliament, or some crowned monarch, there should still be limits.

Referenda effectively establish the people as a branch of government. But then we should be treated just like any other branch of government, and our powers restricted and balanced against the others. Otherwise, we risk creating a tyranny.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 1/14/2005 10:57:00 PM