Saturday, September 12, 2009

Some "improvement"

Chris Hipkins posts on a discussion at the Labour conference on "improving MMP". Among the suggested "improvements" were:

  • increasing the number of electorates and decreasing the number of list MPs
  • making the party vote threshold apply without exception, which would mean that a party that wins an electorate seat but does not cross the threshold would not get extra list MPs

Neither of these is any sort of improvement.

The first - as noted here in my submission on the 100 MP bill - would undermine proportionality, producing regular large overhangs in favour of the major parties. That was in the context of a smaller house, but any shift in the proportions which results in "too many" electorate seats has the same effect. Because the number of electorates grows with the population (or rather, the difference in population growth between the North and South Islands), MMP actually commits us to regular readjustments to rebalance the system - either by shrinking the number of electorates back down to 60 (constitutionally difficult to do, as it requires a referendum - not to mention creating serious problems with the sizes of South Island electorates) , or by increasing the overall size of Parliament by increasing the number of list seats (something we had no problem with in the FPP days, but which is likely to be unpopular due to the perceived lower legitimacy of list seats). Reducing the number of list seats also encourages the public to see them as less legitimate - which has been one of the problems with our MMP debate from the start.

As for the second option, I will simply say that the solution to unfairness is not greater unfairness. If party A gets representation while party B - which won more votes - does not, then the solution is to give party B representation, not to deny it to both.

If Labour wants to defend democracy, it should do exactly that. If it wants to improve MMP, it should push in the principled direction of lowering the threshold. That both connects well with their core values, and gives them a principled platform on which to oppose National's attempts to gerrymander the electoral system to their advantage. Their current response robs them of that opportunity, and simply makes them look unprincipled, self-interested, and hypocritical. And that's not a party I could vote for in 2011.