After a little shadow voting elect the prime minister
It must be exercising the mind of ‘Mattiavelli’ McCarten.
Simply give the job of prime minister, post the election, to ‘Wily’ Winston.
After all, it is entirely up to the winning bloc as to who the prime minister should be. Across all voters, Winston Peters would likely soon be better preferred than either the now terminally tarnished current prime minister, John Key, or leader of the largest opposition party, David Cunliffe, who is only polling, despite the damning evidence of Dirty Politics, 14%.
In line with the Mahurangi Magazine’s suggestion of shadow voting for under-age college students, shadow voting for prime minister, by all voters, should be trialled. (Preference voting, of course, is indispensable in determining such contests.) This, over time, would decide the issue as to whether New Zealanders wanted an elected prime minister, as opposed to an appointed one. It would also allow voters to differentiate between choosing policies—the party vote—and choosing their prime minister. Directly electing a prime minister would place some aspirants at a disadvantage, but not in terms of election financing, which should in any event be state-funded. David Lange, for example, would have struggled to be directly elected as prime minister—his polling as preferred prime minister prior to his Labour Party’s win, 14%, was as dismal as the net outcome of his time in office. Even the by-then-much-diminished Prime Minister Robert Muldoon was polling nearly twice that of his challenger. As widely revered as Lange was, for enhancing New Zealanders’ self-esteem, it is arguable that the social fabric of Aotearoa would not have been so savagely rent had he never become prime minister. By the time he reined in his rogue finance minister, neoliberal ideology had inflicted the heaviest of its damage. Lange resigned having served less than two terms as ‘leader’.
Despite the warning by Winston Peters that he will not go into government with any party not committed to a wide-ranging royal commission on the Dirty Politics revelations, the Prime Minister has proceeded to announce terms of reference so tight that none of the staff of his office will be questioned. While this does not rule out the possibility that he could accommodate Peters’ bottom line post the election, National’s support may well weaken to extent that it will not be able to form a viable government. In the Rodney electorate, this will probably hurt first-term National Member of Parliament Mark Mitchell. Although Mitchell polled reasonably strongly in 2011, in wake of the then speaker of the house, Dr Lockwood Smith, he received nearly 4000 votes fewer than National’s party vote. It is probable that many National supporters who would otherwise have automatically also voted for the National electorate candidate will now feel disinclined to do so, given the sleaze into which their party has descended.
Fortunately for Rodney voters, they have an attractive alternative. New Zealand First’s deputy leader Tracey Martin currently enjoys a much higher profile than when she contested the seat during the previous two elections, and will likely poll significantly higher this time round, due to Dirty Politics disaffection. While this will also be at the expense of the Green and Labour candidates, they were never going to remotely threaten National’s man, and neither are they women, nor well known. More importantly, through her time on the Rodney Local Board, Tracey Martin is widely respected locally for her relentless advocacy of Rodney. Certainly the Mahurangi Action Plan has benefitted from her consistent support. Not that Martin will defeat Mitchell in 2014—that would require a shift of unprecedented speed and proportions. But if New Zealand First plays a pivotal role in the next parliament, as is likely, Martin will be well-placed to win the seat in 2017, particularly if she has, by then, succeeded Peters as party leader.
The move away from Mitchell in 2008 mostly benefitted Conservative Party leader Colin Craig. Wacky Craig’s pro-wacking party is in danger of setting back the case for citizen-initiated binding referendums, both by its obsession with the ‘anti-smacking legislation’, but also through its advocacy for the sort of regulation-by-referendum that has hamstrung the State of California. But Craig is tapping into a rich vein, given the current wholly unsatisfactory referendum legislation. The Citizens Initiated Referenda Act 1993 has seen an enormous expenditure of effort, and money, and resulted in few actual referendums being held, and those few held being comprehensively ignored by Parliament. While some referendums arguably deserved to be ignored, it was because they failed to present a reasonable choice to the voters. In the case of the corporal punishment of minors, the problematic saga stemmed from the courts reprehensible tendency to allow flagrant child abusers the defence of ‘reasonable force … by way of correction’. Referendums, used properly, are an indispensable component of democracy. An excellent example is that recommended in 1986 by the Royal Commission on the Electoral System:
…MMP should be introduced only with the approval of a majority of voters at a referendum. Although a proper time should be allowed for public discussion the decision should not be unnecessarily delayed. We therefore recommend the referendum be held at or before the next general election after 1987. The referendum should be introduced on the basis of an Act of Parliament which makes it clear that the result is binding.
In abject contrast, an example of the improper absence of a referendum was the failure of the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance to recommend one prior to the adoption of its our-way-or-nothing plan for local and regional government amalgamation. As did the 1985–1986 commission on the electoral system, the regional governance commission had a duty to present Aucklanders with a number a sound reform options. Despite one of the most knowledgeable experts on structural reform and amalgamation of local government, including in Aotearoa, Queensland resident Professor Brian Dollery, recommending much less disruptive routes, the commission refused to consult him. Resentment about the new governance arrangements foisted on Aucklanders continues to fester, wasting energy that could be much better employed building the region.
Regardless of the outcome of John Key’s inquiry into his disgraced ex justice minister, Judith Collins, tightly constrained to exclude the involvement of his own office, demand for a wide-ranging royal commission on governance will only grow stronger. For some, wide-ranging means everything touched on by Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics. But here the Royal Commission on the Electoral System should be the exemplar, and enjoy the widest possible terms of reference. The royal commission should cover everything from the prosecution of the crimes of perjury and conspiring to defeat the course of justice, to the direct election of the prime minister.
Bundling the prime minister in with the party vote is akin to allowing the highest polling party to dictate who should represent Rodney. One of the powerful arguments for the mixed member system is that, compared to other forms of proportional representation, it allows for a single directly elected representative to be answerable to each electorate. The frequent discontent expressed over the unaccountability of list members is instructive, and is reason to explore the potential for reducing their number, while still maintaining proportionality. This can be achieved by refining the mixed member system to permit preference voting. First-past-the-post hands the dominant party more than its share of electorates, requiring a larger pool of list seats than would otherwise be necessary from which to compensate the other parties.
Returning to referendums, the singularly unpopular aspect of New Zealand’s implementation of proportional representation was the sudden bloating of Parliament to 120 members, reflected the 81.47% vote in the 1999 referendum for a return to 99 seats. The referendum was non-binding, and utterly ignored by Parliament. By population, Aotearoa has half as many parliamentary politicians again as does the United Kingdom and Italy, and more than twice as many as Germany—small wonder 120 seemed excessive to the vast majority of voters. That the system has survived in Aotearoa despite such unnecessary excesses is a mixed-member-proportional miracle.
With less than two weeks to the close of polling, the gap between Labour and National is vast, but not so the gap between the Labour and National blocs. There is a phenomenon, widely acknowledged by political analysts but rarely by the mainstream media, whereby, come election day, Labour’s party vote is in line with the polls, but National’s is 5% lower. This is why the National Party continually stresses about whether sufficient of its supporters will actually vote. Chances are they won’t, on Saturday week, including on account of dirty-politics disquiet. Regardless, Aotearoa faces the prospect, yet again, of a bare majority dictating policy. If it’s National behind the wheel, expect to see more discredited neoliberal policy rammed through, such as the further privatisation of the education system, despite a decided lack of support for such ideologically driven initiatives. Given that neither bloc will have a clear mandate to govern, the only ethical option is for the parties to govern in grand coalition for the next three years. This would allow, for example, for a cross-party assault on child poverty—more respondents regard poverty, the gap between rich and poor, and the imbalance of wealth as the most important group of election policy issues facing Aotearoa.
On Saturday, Tracey Martin and a thousand others including Lucy Lawless marched up Queen Street and spoke in Aotea Square about her party’s plans to reduce child poverty.
More than sufficient motivation for caring Rodney voters to give Martin their electorate vote.
We Say Referendums They Say Referenda Although Aotearoa’s legislation on the subject refers to non-binding referenda, the Oxford English Dictionary prefers referendums as the logical plural form, as does Colin Craig, possibly reflecting the school teacher profession of his father, a one-time resident of Mahurangi West. Politicians have a propensity for using what they imagine to be elite forms and pronunciation—conshumer being an example—the word is pronounced as it is spelt, consumer.