Thursday, November 17, 2011

The case for MMP

Last night I went to a public meeting at the Palmerston North Central Library to hear Dr Sandra Grey of Keep MMP make the case for MMP. She started off by debunking a series of common myths around MMP:

  • A perfect voting system: No voting system is perfect. They all require various democratic goods to be traded off against one another. MMP trades off single-party government to gain fairness, legitimacy, equal voting power, a more diverse Parliament, and a stronger Parliament. Whether you think these tradeoffs are worth it will depend on how much you value the latter over the former.
  • Confused voters: Apparently, people don't know about the referendum, and therefore won't be making an informed choice (Peter Dunne is one of the latest to propagate this myth). But from talking to people while campaigning, Dr Grey has found that people are talking about the referendum, and about what they like and dislike about MMP and how to fix it (IMHO this is just a comforting myth put about by the anti-MMP faction so they can take solace in denouncing the ignorance of the peasants when they lose).
  • More MPs: While MMP gave us more MPs, it doesn't have to be that way; there's no magic number that it requires. Wales makes MMP work (kindof) with only 60 MPs. But the issue has been wisely separated out from this referendum into the constitutional review.
  • Instability: One of the biggies, but history has shown it to be untrue. The system has not led to sudden mid-term collapses of confidence and changes of government; five out of six MMP governments have gone full term (and the one that didn't - Labour in 1999 - 2002 - went early voluntarily in a failed effort to seize an absolute majority).
  • "The tail wags the dog": Again, another biggie, and equally untrue if you look at the historical record. The major party in government has clearly set the agenda. While they have had to compromise in order to gain the support of coalition partners, these compromises have been modest. When minor parties have been seen as being too greedy - e.g. Winston Peters in 1996 - 1999 - they have been punished by the electorate.
She talked a lot about the statutory review if MP wins, and the parallel constitutional review, and encouraged people to submit on both if they wanted to tweak the system. As for the second question, she pointed to polls showing FPP well in the lead, with STV a distant second (and SM even further behind that). And as a result, she thinks a second referendum would be fairly pointless - a straight rematch of 1993, pitting MMP against FPP, the result of which would be a foregone conclusion.

Her overall conclusion: MMP is on all objective measures a fairer, more accountable and more deliberative system than the alternatives on offer. And we should vote to keep it.

There was a brief Q&A session afterwards, including the inevitable question on which voting system to support on the second part of the ballot paper. She would support STV as a distant second, but noted that many people she had talked to said they would leave that part blank (IMHO these people are fools, voluntarily surrendering that battle to the anti-MMP brigade). In response to a question about Supplementary member, she pointed out that contrary to National's spin, it is not "FPP-lite"; rather it is FPP on steroids, giving major parties all the FPP electorates, plus a big bonus from the party vote. The system undervalues some votes, overvalues others, and will lead to single party majority governments (which is one of the problems we were trying to avoid).

As a final note, 70% of OECD nations use proportional representation (those that don't are predictably the Anglosphere - the US, UK, Canada and Australia). Its pretty obvious which way democracy lies.