Thursday, November 24, 2005

Cullen on MMP

Michael Cullen on the primary functions of government. This isn't a Lockean treatise on what exactly government is and isn't allowed to do, but rather on the way the New Zealand constitution (in the pseudo-Aristotelian sense) develops, and particularly the recent developments under MMP. One of the key aims of electoral reform was to weaken the executive and eliminate the "executive dictatorship" (in which a clique dominates Cabinet, which in term dominates caucus, which provides a majority in the House to enact whatever program that clique decides upon). This has been largely successful. Cullen notes that MMP has shifted us from a Westminster system to a "Wash-minster" one, in which the executive governs and proposes rather than governs and imposes. And that IMHO has been a good move, providing both more accountability of the executive to the legislature as well as better checks and balances against the sort of mandateless revolutionary madness we saw in the 80's and 90's.

Cullen also comments on Cabinet Collective Responsibility, noting that the 1999 "agree to disagree" clause with the Alliance attracted similar dire predictions from the proponents of total subordination, but ended up being completely unproblematic (the problems were caused by the Alliance imploding, not by any disagreements with the government). He expects the current looser arrangements to work out as well. He goes on:

It is worth making the point that the effective exercise of executive functions is as much a matter of the skills of the individuals involved as it is the robustness of the laws and conventions within which those functions are carried out. In other words, after several MMP governments, MPs are now learning what behaviours work and what ones are counter productive.

As in the oft quoted Prisoners' Dilemma, what emerges over time is that co-operation is on average a better strategy for the individuals concerned. One could argue that the developing shape of the executive under MMP reflects a growing maturity of the political culture.

Of course, some parties have grown up faster than others. Both the Greens and United Future have been notable for displaying an understanding of the new MMP culture and cooperating where they can, while criticising where they cannot. Unfortunately, National, dominated as it is by pre-MMP dinosaurs, still doesn't seem to have got the message. But with their large new intake and the expected change of leadership, maybe we'll see that change sometime in the next Parliamentary term.


The executive branch still calls the shots under our current system but to a lesser extent than under FPP. This explains why the Nats hate it so much - they do not want to share power with anybody, particularly people who come from otuside their narrow, elite world. I actually think the Nats will remove MMP when they next form a government - watch for some serious constitutional changes if they win power.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/24/2005 06:47:00 PM

I actually think the Nats will remove MMP when they next form a government - watch for some serious constitutional changes if they win power

But that's the beauty of MMP: The Nats (or any other party) can't win a majority of seats without a majority of the votes (or close to it). So they could make these "serious constitutional changes" only via consensus with other parties--which depend on MMP for their existence.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/25/2005 12:11:00 PM