Friday, November 07, 2008

Choices: democracy

Elections are about choices - not just choices between parties and politicians, but choices between policies. In this series I have been exploring the choices we face in employment relations, health, education, the environment, and other areas of key policy difference. In the final post, I'd like to focus on the biggie: our democracy. This election, we have a clear choice, between a party which would preserve our democracy, and one which wants to undermine it.

The core issue is MMP. Since being forced on the government in 1993, MMP has done its job of limiting government power and ensuring that the Revolution of the 80's and early 90's can never be repeated. It has done this by virtue of being a proportional electoral system: parties require the support of a majority of voters to form a government. Because New Zealanders are diverse in their political opinions, and support numerous parties, this has meant permanent minority government, in which minor parties have the ability to pull the plug if the government goes off the rails. It has also meant policy moderation and consensus, as parties have been forced to find common ground and work together regardless of their differences. The sort of right-wing policy radicalism we saw in the 80's, and the blitzkrieg tactics used to advance it, are simply no longer politically tenable.

The architects, backers, and beneficiaries of that policy radicalism - the small, ultrarich clique circulating around Douglas, Richardson, Brash, and more recently, Key - hate this. They hate the fact that they can no longer capture government by persuading six key movers and shakers (who can dominate cabinet, hence caucus, and hence the House). They hate the fact that government can no longer ram through their preferred policies the way it used to - in the dead of night, with no debate, and bugger what the rest of us think. They hate the fact that there are checks and balances, a constant need to seek and maintain a majority, and a requirement for government to actually hold majority support. They correctly identify MMP as the source of these "problems", and have resolved to replace it with a less fair election system which allows them to do what they want.

The choice on offer is clear: Labour wants to keep MMP. National wants to get rid of it, and replace it with an unfair system which would return them to the "good old days" of cosy oligarchy and unfettered government power. This is a deeply anti-democratic agenda, which would implicitly devalue the votes of a large percentage of New Zealanders. And we should not stand for it.