Saturday, September 02, 2006

National wants to get rid of MMP

Today's Dominion-Post has a ten-year retrospective on MMP (offline), noting the remarkable changes it has made to both the way our Parliament operates, and its makeup. It points out that thirty years ago, National's front bench was made up of farmers, accountants, and shopkeepers - and every single one of them was male, white, and over 50. Labour was much the same. Overall, the 87-member house included only a handful each of women and Maori, with a consequent disregard paid for the interests of more than half the population.

How things have changed:

Today, almost a third of Parliament's 120 MPs are female, and about 20 are Maori. In addition, there are three pacific Island and two Asian members of Parliament, five openly gay MPs, a transsexual, a Rastafarian and an MP who was arrested so many times before she entered Parliament she has lost count of how many convictions she has.

This is the great success story of MMP - better representation, and a consequent increase in Parliament's legitimacy. We've also seen more transparency, as the dealmaking which previously would have been kept within party caucuses instead happens between them, allowing the participants and their positions to be clearly identified. Finally, we've seen a decrease in executive power. The Dom-Post's Nick Venter seems to think this is a bad thing, remarking that under MMP "life isn't so easy for governments" - but that was part of the point. Not only was MMP intended to give us a fairer and more representative electoral system; it was also intended to castrate the executive, stop it from running rampant, and remove its ability to ram through its political program without majority support.

The last point is important, and predictably National's Don Brash - an example of exactly the sort of radical reformer MMP was intended to curb - isn't happy with the outcome, calling it a "miserable failure". I guess it must be, if you measure the success of a political system by the ability of a small clique of ideologues to impose their demented vision on everybody else. And according to a sidebar, he wants to get rid of it:

National promised a referendum in the lead-up to last year's election and will offer another in 2008. Leader Don Brash says he favours a three-way contest between MMP, FPP and one other option, perhaps the supplementary member system, which gives small parties a voice but reduces their influence.

(Link added)

So, National not only wants to restart the Revolution, they also want to undermine our democracy and return us to an unrepresentative and unfair electoral system solely so they could impose policy without majority support. It's two years until the next election, but that should be reason enough to vote against them.


Er.. I/S,
so to be clear you are saying we should vote against national because they might give us an opportunity to vote on what government system we should have and that might potentially result in us choosing a less democratic system...

there is somthing strange going on in that line of thinking...

Posted by Genius : 9/02/2006 09:44:00 PM

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator. Posted by Sanctuary : 9/02/2006 10:43:00 PM

Don Brash just articulates the views of the business elites, who recognise that MMP is a serious blow to their privilege and represents a shifting of power away from a technocratic and plutocratic elite and towards a a more inclusive democracy. Thats what I/S means by National wanting to take us backwards and reducing the quality of our democracy. Don Brash is busy refighting the 1980's and 1990's - he has no new ideas. But he is only a mouth piece.

Its a great concern to me that our business elites continue to seem to prefer a form of Pinochet-lite to real democracy. The wedge they are driving in our society in their relentless campaign to seize constrcutive sole power via a return to a one party, two wings FPP solution and backroom palace coups is a disgrace to them and makes National an unelectable pariah in my view.

Posted by Sanctuary : 9/02/2006 10:45:00 PM

Sanctuary: pretty much. And the neoLibs are absolutely explicit in their view that the increased representation and democracy we have under MMP is a barrier to their implementing their policy programme; its a recurrent theme in their dialogue, and it popped up again just a couple of weeks ago at the BRT's Ron Trotter lecture.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 9/03/2006 12:06:00 AM

It cracks me up some of the arguments people used to make against MMP, like the one that no legislation would get made. A load of bollocks that one turned out to be.

Onwards and upwards I say. I look forward to the day when we implement participatory democracy and parties like Labour and National, even parliament itself, will be marginalised or disappear altogether.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/03/2006 02:21:00 AM

I'm broadly supportive of MMP (although the two votes have to go in my view). But the propaganda spewed on its behalf here (and other places) really does give me pause....

MMP has some advantages but it has a lot of disadvantages too... In general, for example, it does freak people out that there are all these list MPs for whom nobody voted individually. And since MMP elections don't normally give one party a majority in the House, and hence are typically compatible with a number of different governing majorities and a number of different executive arrangements within each possible governing majority, this also unsettles people, and can feel very disenfranchising: the people have voted, and yet there are very important questions left unanswered. The answers are provided by (post-election) weeks of relatively Byzantine intra-party negotiations that are strongly influenced by the interactions of diverse personal traits and diverse attitudes towards brinkmanship.

When one is in a certain mood it can seem as though an MMP executive is something nobody voted for made up of individuals many of whom nobody voted for.

Now... if you like MMP you just swallow these sorts of consequences (and tell people to get over them) and acc-cent-chu-ate the positive.

Fair enough, but it's also completely fair and reasonable to *not* accept the calculus of MMP-boosters: to find the consequences pretty ghastly, and the positives overrated ("You want representativeness, go for a jury-duty model. Don't we want the best people for jobs regardless of race, sex etc.? Blind review would surely be best right? We don't use MMP to select an orchestra or a faculty! This dragging in of demographic representativeness as an intrinsic good is a reductive crock!").

Moral: Stop demonizing people who disagree with you. They're being completely fair and reasonable, and you can probably win them over if you don't insult them ("Pinochet-lite"? Right... every other country [and almost every state] in the anglosphere, not to mention modern non-MMP Chile, is almost as bad as a military dictatorship. Listen to yourself! Stop unnecessarily repelling people!). It just makes you look stupid, and as if you don't have confidence in your own lines of reasoning, or perhaps in democracy/the people more generally if you carry on as though only a complete idiot or a tool of the BRT or worse could possibly have any doubts about MMP.

More constructively, one of the principal sources of kudos for MMP in New Zealand both before and after its adoption has been the perception that it causes more demographically representative, "more diverse" parliaments. i/s repeats that line here (that's branding for ya).

But is the causation claim true? What's the evidence? We need to show causation, just citing increases doesn't do the job. That argument needs a lot of work in my view.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/03/2006 04:11:00 AM


Is the BRT's Ron Trotter lecture you refer to online? I can't find the text of it and I'd like to see it.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/03/2006 05:24:00 AM

I support MMP.

If it came up for another referendum I'd vote for it.

But how is promising another vote undemocratic?

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 9/03/2006 09:18:00 AM

"A three-way contest" is just a cynical method to split the vote, FPP-style. Assume 60% of the electorate is for some form of proportional representation and 40% is for returning to FPP. In a three-way contest, where two of the options are some form of proportional representation, a split in the non-FPP vote is likely (say 25%/35%), especially when a quasi-grassroots organisation is saturating the media. FPP is very likely to win.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/03/2006 10:21:00 AM

I see I/S's point, but I think it's made unclearly.

The vote is undemocratic because it asks voters to choose between democracy and something undemocratic (because no MMP means less political choice).

It's a similar thing to putting to a vote whether certain parties can exist or whether certain social groups can vote.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/03/2006 10:24:00 AM

Anonymous has a point about the setup of the vote. The questions for a referendum should always be posed by an impartial group to avoid what is effectively a "leading question" or otherwise an engineered result.

But that is a problem that should be solved rather than dodging any referendum which might not give the result you want because it might be effected by something like that.
That is a sort of engineering of democracy itself.

one could easily get accused of hypocrisy

Posted by Genius : 9/03/2006 11:14:00 AM

Stephen, I have to disagree with you on list MPs. They are democratically elected.
The list selection process is democratic within each party.
The list is made public.
If people really don't want a candidate, then they don't vote for the party. They just have to weigh up their options.

Furthermore, voters in Wellington Central (i.e. me) have no choice on who the MPs for Rongotai, Auckland Central, and the 66 other electorates are. But no one says they are 'unelected' - yet less people have voted for them than for the list MPs.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/03/2006 11:17:00 AM

Space: sadly, no. It was referred to in Chris Trotter's column in the Independent two weeks ago - also sadly offline.

Looking at their website, there'll probably be a PDF version available in December, when they'll also try hocking hardcopy to all the faithful.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 9/03/2006 11:47:00 AM

Stephen: I think people are simply wrong on list MPs. As Rich points out, they're elected openly from a party list. While you don't know exactly how far down that list a party will get - that depends on those inconvenient other voters - you usually have a broad idea from the polls of who will probably be in and who will probably be out. And if you don't like a list or the people on it (or the way they were selected) you can always vote for a different party.

As for post-election coalition-making, at least it is now out in the open. Who in 1984 knew that Labour's programme would be hijacked by the ACT caucus? Now, we can all see, and we can judge the parties accordingly.

Regarding causation, check out the latest Social Report on Representation of women in government. While there was a clear upward trend in the last days of FPP, MMP has revealed a significant disparity in the number of female MPs representing electorates vs those brought in on the list - though it did equal out in 2002, because Labour (which has more gender balance in its candidates) won so many electorates from National (which overwhelmingly selects dead white males). They don't have another graph, but I'm fairly certain that you'd see a similar story for the number of Maori MPs. By making all parties accountable to the entire electorate through the party vote, MMP provides an incentive for them to be more representative of the country as a whole.

And finally, it is worth pointing out that every one of your criticisms applies to Don Brash's favoured system, Supplementary Member (the reason he's in favour of it is of course because he can't win an electorate and doesn't dare risk the humiliation of trying)

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 9/03/2006 12:15:00 PM


One of the reasons I occasionally read this blog is that despite being a filthy pinko commie, you occasionally come up with some good analysis. Not on this occasion. It's a partisan rant. Given your treatment of Trotter justifying corruption to win an election only a few days ago, you've shown that it doesn't take long for you to revert to type.

You've made assumptions about representation equalling democracy. By that argument, it would be undemocratic for a Parliament to have 20% Maori representation, or to have TWO transgender MPs. 12% of New Zealand's population is over the age of 65, yet we don't have 15 MPs over 65, do we?

The assumption that a predominantly white, middle-aged, male party is undemocratic is absurd.

That digs right at the heart of your assertion "I guess it must be, if you measure the success of a political system by the ability of a small clique of ideologues to impose their demented vision on everybody else." The Labour Party is composed almost entirely of union officials. If you are not from a recognised ethnic minority, or from the Rainbow group, your chances of breaking through the Labour Party outside the unions is almost zero.

The Labour Party is not representative now, any more than the Maori Party representing Pakeha, Winston representing young people, the Greens representing sanity, or Peter Dunne representing atheists. No electoral system will, of itself, deliver representative parties.

I'm not defending FPP or attacking MMP, but your claim that representation is better is based on your particular prejudice against Don Brash and middle-aged white males, rather than representation.

Posted by Insolent Prick : 9/03/2006 02:25:00 PM

anon: the vote-splitting worry you mention is neutral between the contents of the options (one could equally reason - 60% of the electorate are opposed to MMP but they split their vote 30/30 between FPP and SM) - arguably it favors incumbency and so might benefit MMP (if anything) in this case.

[Note too that it's basically prety insane to have 50%+1 vote as a referendum standard... it was a mistake in my view to have that threshhold for the original MMP change and I'd be in favor of a 60% (at least) standard for anything Brash might propose.]

Greg: Thanks for your comments. Your remarks are the sorts of things one tends to make to oneself to make peace with the idea of list MPs.... But there's no getting around the problem of lack-of-individual-jeopardy that list MPs introduces or (in a Westminster system) the very high degree of lack of determination of the executive by the legislature.

There are no free lunches here as elsewhere: rather, increasing the accuracy of democratic representation at the level of the mix of parties that form the legislature just does come at the price of reducing democratic control both below, at the level of particular House members, and above, at the level of governing majorities and the executive.

So there are *real* trade-offs with MMP. Nobody's being stupid to prefer something else which makes a different trade-off

Furthermore, voters in Wellington Central (i.e. me) have no choice on who the MPs for Rongotai, Auckland Central, and the 66 other electorates are. But no one says they are 'unelected' - yet less people have voted for them than for the list MPs.

Yes, but the winner did at least stand a chance of losing: lots of people somewhere had to vote for them and not vote against them. It's not insane to be bugged by the fact that Brash, Wilson, Cullen etc. weren't actually individually voted for by anyone and were going to be in Parliament no matter what this year.... I mean, jesus, we could pick movies wholesale just by whether they're Pixar or MGM or Wingnut or... rather than forming opinions about them individually too! MMP involves quite a bit of sacrifice - that may be worth it, I tend to think it is - but that there *are* real sacrifices involved should not be doubted.


Who in 1984 knew that Labour's programme would be hijacked by the ACT caucus? Now, we can all see, and we can judge the parties accordingly.

Well, Roger Douglas had been doing shadow-budgets for years and there were all these treasury reports screaming "This can't go on!"... so there were plenty of signs that Labour in 1984 was going to do something like what it did (with anti-nukes used as red meat to pacify the base).

As for the general point about coalitions being out in the open now.... I find it hard to judge what the profits and losses are on that front myself, I do tend to find however that MMP-true-believers tend to describe the phenomena to suit themselves in thhis area: sometimes coalitions and intra-parrty negotiations are supposed to be very hard/difficult and to be bridling something that was previously unbridled under FPP, and other times it's supposed to be amorphous and easy and just the *same* thing as used to go on only now out in the open and leaves bridling power unchanged (or whatever it is). This is unsatisfactory... so I have it flagged as a point of contention! You might be right, but you also might not be.

Regarding causation, check out the latest Social Report on Representation of women in government.
Thanks for the link - will check it out.

When I reviewed the lit. last year I couldn't even get an unambiguous answer as to the mechanism for MMP to increase demographic representativness. It might do so just as a side-effect of MMP's lowering the barrier of entry for small parties with demographicaIly specific agendas, ideologies, and candidate selection procedures. Or it might be that the list mechanism itself increases each party's ability relative to FPP to compete for voters on the basis of its list's demographic representativeness.

Or it might be a bit of both.

In informal discussions the claim that the list mechanism itself makes for more demographically representative selections of candidates is often made explicitly. Explanations of this alleged fact that I've heard tendered have included premises such as:

• Central party administrators/list-builders are generally less racist/sexist etc. than everyone else
• Building/joining a list is less competitive/more cooperative than becoming a candidate for a specific electorate, and women and other presumptive non-hegemons are more comfortable with cooperation than with competition
• Demographic groups within parties are analogous to minor parties overall in society and they are subject to the same sorts of barriers of entry and consequent under-representation under FPP at the level of candidate selection procedures. Lists overcome these problems.

The differences here are very important, and not just because some of the possible underlying arguments are clearly unsound and their crucial premises false.

It could be that there are fundamentally different cognitive processes activated at the voter level - e.g., the same person who'd choose an action-movie/eat poorly every week will if asked to choose a movie studio/diet as a whole will choose more idealistically/objectively (i.e., to include some chick-flix, some veges,...). OK, well then that's part of what we need to know about and the mechanism tracked down and understood.

[And of course all of that's assuming that MMP does in fact cause diversity and that diversity/demog. representativeness itself is an important good or even *the* most important good as your "legitimacy" suggests causing i/p's bloood to boil!]

By making all parties accountable to the entire electorate through the party vote, MMP provides an incentive for them to be more representative of the country as a whole.

Yes, this is the sort of thing people often say. I think it conceals more than it reveals though.

And finally, it is worth pointing out that every one of your criticisms applies to Don Brash's favoured system, Supplementary Member (the reason he's in favour of it is of course because he can't win an electorate and doesn't dare risk the humiliation of trying)

Indeed! SM has smaller versions of MMP's problems and it picks up small versions of a few FFP vices. But it's got a mixture of the systems' virtues too... It's a station-wagon/mullet alright... that why it appeals to some people as a compromise position.

Don Brash in a station-wagon with a mullet! That's my good deed for the w/end. :)

Posted by Anonymous : 9/03/2006 03:20:00 PM

I don't care if I'm represented by a transexual, dreadlocked, gay, asian pandabear or a white middle class male who wears pinstriped suits and is never seen without his tie and briefcase. What I care about is that my _political_ choice (AKA my vote) is represented in parliament.

Representation for stereotypical purposes is pointless if all the "curly headed perky goths who wear too much nailpolish at parties" represent a political view that you don't agree with. Or indeed say an asian woman who is really involved with supporting trade unions isn't going to be all, like... "Yay Pansy Wong for representing ME!".

So as a Catholic, Peter Dunne (although also pakeha Catholic) does NOT represent me. His stereotype might match mine on some appearances, but I don't agree with him politically.

And it's also pretty insulting to whatever minority you're celebrating if it's their mere state of existence is what counts. Hey Gay MP! You only count as good because you fancy blokes! You help meet the GAY quota! Wheee!

Stuff who he/she/it/them sleeps with - is the person a good politician?

Posted by Muerk : 9/03/2006 03:28:00 PM

Graeme said "But how is promising another vote undemocratic?" -

It's simply not true that the democratic method always leaves you with a democratic system.

National wants a vote that would offer people the choice of reducing the democratic effect of elections. That's undermining our democracy, even if it is done in a fully democratic way.

Posted by tussock : 9/03/2006 03:36:00 PM

How about we all take a leaf from Peter Dunne and have MMP with open lists?

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 9/03/2006 03:46:00 PM

MMP has twice given Winston Peters the balance of power; if that isn't a daming case against it, what is?


Posted by Anonymous : 9/03/2006 09:15:00 PM

Graeme: Open lists in theory would help quite a bit, but in practice overseas the results are disappointing (only very minor re-rankings seem to go on - even the sort of preferential voting that Australians get to do gets largely defeated by people checking the "straight ticket" option). And insofar as open-lists really took off to that extent the calculability of party votes (the sort of reasoning about likely personnel that Greg saluted above) drops away.

Paulinem: STV is best thought of as solving/addressing a different sort of problem than MMP. MMP is trying to get the %s of seats in the House to line up with %s in the popular vote. STV is normally trying to get a more accurate read on who people actually wanted/who was their choice in a particular electorate or region. So they're not really competing proposals. And indeed there are multiple places where an STV mechanism could be tacked onto MMP in NZ.... We'd have a brutally complicated system if we slipped STV in everywhere though.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/04/2006 01:58:00 AM

If ranking two sets of names is "brutally complicated", what's evaluating the potential impacts of each party's policies on the economy and society within the present global geopolitical context?

Posted by Commie Mutant Traitor : 9/04/2006 12:18:00 PM

Muerk: The political representation bit goes without saying; under MMP we have far more diversity of political stances (or at least far more open diversity), and far more of a fair competition between them. No longer do we have the frankly obscene situation of parties which get 20% of the vote winning only 2% of the seats - or parties able to claim government while failing to win even a plurality of the vote.

As for diversity, I think it is a Good Thing if our Parliament "looks like New Zealand" in aggregate. It doesn't have to be exact, and can't be given the size and level of granularity, but there's no question that we're a lot better than we used to be. As for why its a Good Thing, we have only to look at the amount of attention paid to women's and Maori interests by the dead white male Parliaments of the past. Where people are absent, their interests just never tend to be raised, let alone given consideration...

(And vote for the transexual, dreadlocked, gay, asian pandabears)

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 9/04/2006 06:02:00 PM

CMT: STV options if consistently worked through explode the informational demands on voters (Quick: what's you're favorite cookie and why? Now: rank all the cookies in the supermarket and give all your reasons.) The fully STV-ed out MMP I had in mind would (i) STV your electorate vote, (ii) STV your fully open lists, and (iii) STV your party vote (to cover the case where your party doesn't meet the threshhold/get an elect. seat- so you have to do a full STV open list for all your second, third choices parties as well. That does looks brutally complicated to me.... and given that people have limited time and resources to devote to thinking through, well, anything actually, that's a bad set-up for the voter (and of course the system overall becomes unpredictable and possibly unintelligible once all the non-ideal voting gets factored into account).

Icehawk: Indeed there are such reports...but in all systems the same thing goes on - parties choose candidates for all sorts of unseemly/non-meritocratic reasons if they think that there's some electoral advantage to be gained thereby. The trend lines before MMP were clear and they've more or less kept going since, and so the question is how much of that continuation is attributable to MMP itself (and if so how much to the list mechanism itself and how much is a side-effect of lowered barriers of entry for small, third etc. parties under MMP) and how much is broader demographic/political drift that would have pushed any system? I don't know the answer to the question, and I know lots of other people don't know the answer either - which doesn't stop all sorts of people from i/s to Helena Catt (CEO of the Electoral Commission) claiming that the answer is "100%, so all hail MMP!" I'd bet a very large sum of money that anything close to 100% is wrong. I'd guess somewhere in the 20-40% range, which is of course nothing to sneeze at.

Muerk: you rule... but I guess most of us aren't quite as pure as you though... and that, instead there is kind of an aggregate judgment about the House many of us feel swayed by at times. Most of us have perhaps got a jury-of-citizens model for part of what the House does/is saving purer meritocratic considerations for the executive and the judicial functions for government.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/04/2006 08:37:00 PM

stephen: open lists is another matter altogether, and I don't think they'd be a particularly workable idea. Voting doesn't involve explaining reasons, and STV doesn't require _all_ candidates to be ranked. A better analogy would be "what's your favourite cookie and soft drink? and what are your second choices if the supermarket is out of stock of those?" - hardly rocket science.

icehawk and anonymous: no minor party can hold the balance of power unless the other parties let it. There's nothing to stop National and Labour cooperating with each other if such a minor party was making outrageous demands.

Posted by Commie Mutant Traitor : 9/05/2006 11:59:00 AM

CMT: OK I think we agree on essentials at this point: that STV isn't best seen as a competitor for MMP and that it can be tacked on to NZ's MMP in a couple of places without causing *too* much trouble (although in combination with other bug fixes such as open lists it's beyond the pale). The remaining disagreements are about:

(a) whether the informational demands on normal voters aren't too high for dual-stv-without-open-list-MMP (I think they may be - the reasons stuff is important; even if it doesn't show up on the voting paper, we want people votes to be as considered as they can be and for the ballots papers to not confront with so many choices that lots of normal people (i) give up, or (ii) variously screw themseves unnecessarily and disenfranchise themselves relative to eggheads or (iii) devolve their reasoning to party hack guides/cheat sheets or whatever (or any mix of (i)-(iii))
(b) whether it's worth it (the STV electorate vote doesn't produce genuine consensus/"who the people wanted all things considered" winner the way Borda Count does - a low first choice, very high second choice candidate gets dropped at the first stage of the recounting/transferring; and given MMP structure the only thing that's really being determined is the mix of parties in the house and both additional STV stages merely add epicycles to that calculation...computing to 7 places something that only has 2 significant digits perhaps - all without solving/addressing any super-outstanding problem, the way open lists at least attempt to or reducing MMP to one vote (which I advocate) attempts to).

Posted by Anonymous : 9/05/2006 04:21:00 PM