Mixed-member means rout no landslide
The word has been proportionally expunged from the electoral lexicon.
Had the election been held under first-past-the-post, the result would have been a landslide of global warming proportions. In its first successful election, in 1949, National won 51.9% of the vote but enjoyed a whopping 12-seat majority over Labour. But that was a mere slip of a rout, compared with 1990. What was left of Labour after the ruinous Rogernomics experiment was swept away by a 37-seat majority, Jim Bolger-led landslide, on the back of a percentage of the vote almost identical to Saturday’s.
When a political party can claim 67 of 97 seats after receiving fewer than half the votes cast, it is graphically obvious the system is flawed. The Green Party had won 6.85% of the vote that year, but was denied a solitary seat, thanks to first-past-the-post. It is perhaps fitting that it was Bolger, ever sniffing the wind for political advantage, who agreed to hold the referendum that consigned first-past-the-post to electoral system scrapheap, where it should have already been since 1878, or soon thereafter.
Right and left, commentators have Labour losing its share of the vote to the Green Party, and to a lesser extent, to New Zealand First. But this two-party –centric view obscures the reality: National and Labour continue to cannibalise the Green Party vote. The provisional 10.6% is a significant gain, but the party’s predecessor, Values, polled 5.19% thirteen elections ago, in 1975. Despite the introduction of a fully proportional voting in 1996, New Zealanders predominantly continue to vote, and politicians continue to operate, as if were a two-party system—albeit two parties with their respective support partners. Without this effect, Green Party support might be somewhat closer to the 86% of New Zealanders who think the 100% Pure brand and sustainable behaviour is important to the country’s trade.
The struggle Green parties have in generating mainstream support is not confined to Aotearoa. Support for its German counterpart in 2009 was almost identical to Saturday’s Green Party result. The Alliance ’90/The Greens, despite its clumsy name, has just polled +12.5% in the Baden-Wūrttemberg state election, growing the party’s optimism for the 2013 federal elections. In 2010, the Australian Greens polled 13%, winning it its first and only federal representative—0.67% representation, courtesy of the preferential voting option that, mercifully, attracted a mere 8.19% support of votes cast in advance of Saturday’s referendum.
If the Green Party had received the 14.5% that the 22–24 November Roy Morgan Research poll indicated might be possible, it could now boast it enjoyed exactly half the support the century-old Labour received. Regardless, Dr Russell Norman’s aspiration for Green to become the second party is entirely realistic—Winston Peters’ is not the only party with an aging support base. As Dr Norman alluded to yesterday, in the 2009 elections the greens pulled ahead the German labour party. How soon that happens in Aotearoa will depend on which party ramps up the quality of its candidates and marketing more quickly. With Labour failing to re-elect one of its most telegenic assets, Stuart Nash, the early lead has gone to the Green Party. That Labour would risk such a fiasco by stacking its list with political hacks and has-beens is tragic. But it is also doubtful whether, flushed by their party’s success, the small and unrepresentative Green Party membership realises their mistake in placing the likes of the prodigiously talented David Hay so far down their party list that he is left out of parliament despite the party bettering its goal of 10% of the vote.
Second only to their ability to fund-raise, as witnessed by the Conservative showing, the success of political parties depends upon their ability to communicate with the populace. Once, it was mastery of the microphone that was all-important for communication, both for radio—in the case of Sir Winston Churchill, and for massed public meetings—in the case of Adolf Hitler. Almost since its inception, television has been the essential medium for politicians to master. Even the wily Winston Peters couldn’t engineer his 6.81% comeback on Saturday through old-style election meetings alone. Peters exudes confidence in front of a television camera. Others, like Dr Norman and Helen Clark, with all the will and work in the world, could never enter the same league, to the penalty of their respective parties.
The Green Party, despite its calculated downplaying of the subject, is the obvious vehicle for action on global warming. With Labour wedded to the continued drilling and mining of fossil fuels, its otherwise comprehensive environmental policies are worthless. But for the Green Party’s policies to amount to more than greenwash, it will need to acknowledge that renewables can only form part of the energy needs of a world of seven billion people, and rising. With their blind anti-nuclear orthodoxy, the greens are directly responsible for increasing Germany’s contribution to global warming. Aotearoa will make a stronger contribution if it is brutally honest about the limitations of renewables, regardless of its impact on the sensitivities of the faithful:
… I occasionally get a feeling that I am fencing with a tetraplegic. You might say this is not sportsmanlike, but unfortunately the political reality is that the mirage of solar and wind based solutions is a tetraplegic which hampers us from confronting the real and difficult issues with respect to climate change. By offering an easy ‘alternative’ this mirage effectively acts as a cover for the damage anti-nuclear activities are causing for attempts to mitigate climate change.
Regardless of how soon the Green Party eclipses Labour, the truly transformational change that is required is for political parties to transcend the tired and destructive model of government and opposition, and begin treating Parliament as a parliament. The twin imperatives of climate action and economic reform demand nothing less.
Had it enjoyed a good old-fashioned first-past-the-post landslide on Saturday, National could have looked forward to three years of unchecked flog, spend and borrow. Not only is it now forced, once again, to seek at least a limited consensus, and so long as the advanced voting referendum majority in favour of retaining mixed member proportional holds up, National is powerless to stop the Electoral Commission review, and its probable recommendation that the coattail provision be abolished—that device could have given it more than its current, wafer thin majority, had the Act Party vote not collapsed completely.
Now that is a binding referendum.