Thursday, December 01, 2011

Constitutional opportunism

So, having (apparently) failed to roll back MMP and inflict an unfair voting system on us, the Auckland business community, through their mouthpiece the Herald, is pushing for a four-year term. Their chief argument? John Key is such a nice man. Yes, really:

The thought is not new. In the most recent referendum on the subject, in 1990, 69.3 per cent of those who voted opposed the notion. That rejection must, however, be placed in context. It was held at the tail-end of a two-term Labour Government whose disdain for the public view led eventually to the introduction of MMP.

Politicians were held in particularly low esteem, and people were in no mood to endorse a device that would make governments even less responsive to the electorate.

Things are different now. John Key has proved a particularly popular Prime Minister, in large part because he has kept such a close eye on public sentiment.

And because John Key is such a nice man, the Herald thinks he should force us to vote on this now, exploiting his popularity (or as Fran O'Sullivan would put it, "spending some political capital") to ram this change through without public consultation or opportunity for debate offered by the constitutional review process.

Of course, they trot out the usual technocratic argument as well: "three years isn't enough time to do anything! The government spends all its time worrying about the next election". Which is precisely the point. We don't want our government to be able to do anything (or at least, anything too quickly without us being able to revisit it in short order). And we want our politicians to be constantly worrying about their re-election. Because worrying about re-election is what stops them from doing stuff we don't like (such as - and this is their example, not mine - more privatisation). Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson didn't worry about re-election - and we're still cleaning up their mess.

What the argument for a longer term boils down to is a claim that we would be "better" governed if we had less democracy, and politicians were less accountable to the people for their decisions. And that is a deeply undemocratic idea. The opportunism of the Herald in pushing for change now is just icing on that undemocratic cake.

Sadly, the length of the Parliamentary term is on the agenda for the constitutional review, so we'll all get to have our say on it. And I expect our politicians will stitch up a deal for more job security for themselves to put it to the vote after the review reports back in 2013 or so. And then we'll just have to hand their arses to them again, just as we did in 1967 and 1990. The question is whether they'll actually get the message this time.