Back in the days of First Past the Post elections, we had what Geoffery Palmer termed ‘the fastest law in the West’ and the Prime Minister was effectively an elected dictator. The PM controlled Cabinet, the Cabinet controlled caucus of the majority party in what was by design a two-party system (in Parliament, there were popular parties that couldn’t get in) and the majority party could vote through whatever it liked. Even the check on power provided by a second house in most democracies was missing.
This wasn’t even a tyranny of the majority. The ruling party that held a majority of seats in the House usually got those seats with well short of a majority of the votes. In the last FFP election, National won just 35.05% of the votes, 0.37% more than labour, but won 50 electorates giving it an unassailable majority in the then 99-seat House.
There was no proportionality. In 1993, National won 35% of the votes and 50% of the seats, Labour 34.5% of the votes and 45% of the seats, the Alliance 18% of the votes and 2% of the seats, New Zealand First 8% of the votes and 2% of the seats. Just as bad, there was no guarantee that even the most popular of the two parties would govern. In both 1978 and 1981, Labour won more votes than National but National won more seats. Muldoon, who should have been a one-term PM, ruled for nine years.
Unless you supported a major party and lived in a swing electorate or a safe electorate for your party, your vote couldn’t lead to an MP sitting in Parliament on your behalf.
Small parties couldn’t get a foothold because the barrier of winning an electorate seat when competing against two major parties was near insurmountable. The Alliance and NZF were only in because their leaders had defected from National and Labour respectively. Social Credit won between 6% and 20% of the vote for over 30 years but only won a total of six seats during that time. Despite winning over 5% of the vote in 1975, Values didn’t get any seats and gradually faded away.
Because it was an effective two party system, supporters of a party had no real way elect a party that represented their views if the major party on their side of the spectrum moved towards the policies of the opposition. The Fourth Labour Government held unbreakable 17 seat majorities in its two terms despite winning only 43% and 48% of the vote. It betrayed its supporters by moving sharply to the Right. What were those supporters to do? Vote for the Tories? That wasn’t going to solve the problem of having a right-wing government. Or vote for a minor party? That’s what we would do under MMP but under FFP that was just wasting your vote. There was no option to vote for a party that represented their views and had a chance of getting a fair number of seats in Parliament. Some wasted their votes on the Greens, some went to NewLabour (5% of voters represented by one seat), many (holding their noses) went to National, and about 10% of Labour’s previous voters just stayed home.
FFP was unjust and disenfranchising. It was a Clayton’s democracy that gave no voice to those with non-mainstream views, who were predominately of the Left.
That suited the ruling capitalist class just fine. Their party held complete power most of the time despite only getting over 50% support once, beating Labour by less than 0.5% twice, and losing to Labour on votes twice. FFP was a system guaranteed to deliver a National victory most of the time in a country where most of the votes in most elections went to Labour or minor left-wing parties.
No wonder the business elite, led by Peter Shirtcliffe, fought MMP so hard. Shirtcliffe spent a fortune but he was beaten by a grassroots movement that was sickened by the perversions of democracy in the 1978-1993 elections. MMP has finally given a voice to the disenfranchised and curtailed the power to ram legislation through Parliament. Now, the business elite are going to get a referendum on MMP that they believe will see a change to FFP or its cousin SupplementaryMember. Shirtcliffe wants the referendum next year so 2011 can be held under FFP or SM. In the words of Fran O’Sullivan:
Fighting the next election on an electoral system – even First Past the Post – which gave more power to the major party to implement sensible policies would do more to even the gap with Australia than endless horsetrading.
That ‘endless horsetrading’ that Fran refers to is called democracy. Fran and the business elite would rather go back to the days when Parliament represented them, and a government didn’t have to find coalitions of parties representing a majority of the population to pass laws. Calling for “more power to the major party to implement sensible policies” is a call to silence the rest of us, to remove anyone who dissents from the government of the day from the decision-making process. It’s a call for elected dictatorship.
Well, Fran, you can tell your business mates that when they try to take away our democracy, they’ll have a fight on their hands. Kiwis aren’t dumb, they know your game. They know who will win from a return to FFP and they know that they would lose. We’re not going back to your elected dictatorship.