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Critiquing A Modest National Party Proposal

Written By: - Date published: 7:09 am, October 26th, 2017 - 69 comments
Categories: MMP, national, Parliament - Tags:

There’s been a lot of noise about how “unfair” it is to National for them to win a plurality of the party vote in this election, but not have succeeded in forming a government, necessitating some other pretty interesting smackdowns of that meme.

I’m not going to focus on their complaints, which can be adequately addressed simply by saying that National supporters, or supporters of any other party, have no right to tell New Zealand First supporters what sort of government their party should enter, which is absolutely a matter for those people who voted for New Zealand First, who I will not even attempt to analyze from the outside. Instead, I’m going to be focusing on the suggestion, floating around National Party supporters on social media, that the largest party (“plurality winner” is the technical term for being largest without necessarily winning a majority) after an election should have some enshrined constitutional right at the first shot to form the government offered to them by the Governor General. This would be similar to Germany’s system of the President proposing their Chancellor (PM) and the Bundestag (Parliament) confirming them, or in practice more directly similar to Iceland’s system, where their President invites parties in sequence to try to form a government after the election, so we’ll focus on the latter for comparative purposes. It is relatively common for these sorts of constitutional mandates to be offered in European proportional systems, but not so much outside of Europe.

The obvious first thing to discuss here is that such an arrangement would favour National forming the government except in the most Labour-slanted circumstances, as right-wing votes tend to be much more concentrated towards the largest party when they feel like National is doing well, making them the most significant beneficiaries of the “come back to mother-ship” effect that both of the two largest parties benefited from this election. Given that it is almost exclusively National supporters suggesting this change, we should probably fall back on the principle of electoral reform’s purpose not being to outright advantage any particular party, and count this as a strike against the idea. That’s not to say that ideas that do advantage any given party can never be considered, but they need to have broad support outside that particular party in order to be considered a point in their favour like MMP had in the 90s, and there’s no evidence yet that this change would enjoy such support.

The second thing we need to consider is the length of coalition talks. Lets go back to Iceland, where recently a three-party coalition was formed, despite hopes that the Pirate Party might pull a five-party coalition out of their bag of tricks. It took their President four rounds of inviting parties to form a government in order to make it through to a formal coalition. Each round of talks took between two weeks to a month. If we had formed the latest government that way and New Zealand First had made the same decision in the quickest likely period of time, we’d still be waiting on Peters’ announcement about a week from now. That’s two strikes, as New Zealanders expressed a clear preference for faster coalition talks in ’96, and seemed impatient even with the practically-lightning-speed talks this time around.

This flows nicely into the third point- that of redundant coalition negotiations. There is no guarantee in such a system that a powerful third or fourth party like New Zealand First in 2017 wouldn’t simply wait until it was their turn to be in charge of the coalition talks for extra political clout. Being able to say no to your preferred partner amps up the stakes significantly. Again, we saw that in the 2016 Icelandic election, where the fourth round of negotiations concluded with the same partners forming a government as had attempted to agree in the first round- so arguably six weeks of coalition talks were wasted just to go back to square one but with more leverage for the minor parties! I struggle to imagine the field day the New Zealand media would have with that, but it would probably be pretty enraging for all highly political types.

And finally, overall, it’s simply a constraint on freedom of association for minor parties. It goes against democratic principles and constrains political speech to have our head of state direct coalition talks, and it rules out parallel talks which are simply more efficient and leave the country waiting less time. It might not be a bad idea for parties to agree to some fair norms around coalition talks and Parliamentary reforms, but I think that’s a discussion that needs to be had on a more consensus basis between our four largest parties. (New Zealand First’s new waka-jumping legislation seems like a particularly good example of how not to do this)

Overall failing on every major point, this idea seems to be a non-starter, and is instead perhaps intended as just another front for National to attack MMP on, after it has tried and failed twice to defeat it at the ballot box- if they succeed in getting the measure through, they slow down and make coalition talks far less popular. If they fail, they get to say that the electoral system is unfair and hasn’t elected a prime minister with plurality support, something which was never the point of MMP and wasn’t even in our constitution before then, as FPP often awarded more seats to a party that had lost the popular vote, or at least failed to achieve a near-majority of the electorate. They need to instead move on and accept that they can’t rely on strong plurality results to govern without eating up the electorate-based parties that support them, and perhaps even consider splitting into multiple parties themselves for more differentiated campaigning, as National has always been an informal coalition of urban right-wing liberals, right-wing conservatives, and a significant rural support base of many ideological flavours, and arguably could earn more of the Party vote under MMP by campaigning separately to each group. But that might require them modernizing, an idea which is always deeply unpopular with the National Party, who still have no direct democratic impact on important decisions like electing leaders.

69 comments on “Critiquing A Modest National Party Proposal”

  1. Exactly this … so exactly this! Let’s imagine the “biggest gets first go” rule was in place in NZ in 2017.

    (1) National goes to Greens and Labour (who tell them to bugger off) as well as to NZ First (who tell them “maybe … we’ll see … but not now”). No deal.

    (2) So Labour gets a go … it talks to National (who tell them to bugger off), the Greens (who say “yes!”) and NZ First (who tell them “maybe … we’ll see … but not now”). No deal.

    (3) So the third biggest party gets a go – NZ First. Who hold simultaneous talks with National and Labour (who have already got the Greens support), weigh up the offers from each of these parties, and then announce which of them it will support.

    In other words, exactly the same outcome as we saw in 2017, except even more delayed. So why this would be “better” than what we’ve presently got is anyone’s guess!

    The European model (as far as I can tell) simply exists to try and bring some order to what could otherwise be a quite confused process, given the number and range of parties in their PR systems. We don’t have that in NZ … we’ve carried over FPP traditions into our MMP system (2 big parties dominating, only a few minor parties, no tradition of “grand coalitions”). So post-election negotiations are pretty simple and quick … as 2017 demonstrated.

    • Matthew Whitehead 1.1

      Cheers Andrew, it’s always nice to have someone agree with you when you’ve followed and respected their own work. 🙂

      I’m pretty sure the reason these people floating the idea feel it would be “better” is that they want the plurality winner of the Party Vote to automatically be awarded the Prime Minister like an FPP vote in a Presidential system would ensure, but at the same time they’re a little stuck because they also oppose a presidential Republic, even if it were elected with a system that favoured their party in some way, so they’re trying to shoehorn their Strong Leader sensibilities into a parliamentary system that never actually directly catered to them.

      I agree that it might become more necessary in the future if New Zealanders start to branch out from our two large parties that we adapt our constitution in this way. Although they’re closest to our system of government in many ways, Germany is a poor metaphor for the New Zealand political situation in terms of party distribution, as it doesn’t have the same urban-rural dichotomy we do, and instead has a strong east-west divide, with eastern German voters (or “new federal states” in formal language) far more strongly supporting the hard nationalist AfD party, and the virtually-communist Left party far more than their western counterparts, who arguably couldn’t sustain those parties in the long term. Iceland works much better with its strong population surge towards urban centres, urban-rural cultural divide, and tendency to spin off new parties often, although with their mature list system, they’ve had a lot longer to decentralize power than we have. In the current environment where most parties have strong political preferences between left- and right-blocs, and those that don’t are usually clearly differentiated on other issues like support for rural NZers or conservative political ideology, it’s really not an issue right now.

      • swordfish 1.1.1

        Matthew Whitehead

        the virtually-communist Left party

        Nyet Comrade Nyet

        One of Die Linke’s 2 main feeder Parties (PDS) certainly had its origins in East Germany’s ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED) – but the PDS founders were very much the new generation from the pro-Gorbachev pro-glasnost pro-perestroika Reformist wing (and were subsequently joined by various dissident leaders from the anti-communist Left) By the end of 89, the last hardline members had either resigned or been expelled

        PDS formed an electoral alliance with leading dissident Social Democrats (WASG), (including the former SPD leader, Oskar Lafontaine) in 2005 before unifying into a single left-wing party during 2007.

        Despite the usual “their just a bunch of commies” smears – the Party is in fact Democratic Socialist & sits comfortably within the Nordic-style Green Left party genre (although it certainly includes many different factions, ranging from the dominant Keynesian Social Democrats & Dem Socialists … to Libertarian Socialists … to the tiny minority Marxist–Leninist Communist Platform – with just around 1% of the party’s national membership.)

      • swordfish 1.1.2

        Germany is a poor metaphor … it doesn’t have the same urban-rural dichotomy we do, and instead has a strong east-west divide

        (1) Germany does have some traces of a urban-rural divide though

        (2) “Strong east-west divide” – True in terms of the relatively small AfD and Die Linke parties but arguably for the Biggies – CDU/CSU vs SPD – the north-south divide is more salient = SPD do very poorly in the South

        • Matthew Whitehead 1.1.2.1

          Sure, there are other divides. I’m just saying it’s a poor metaphor for our actual political situation, even though we both run MMP. It’s good for talking about ways MMP can work, (although you have to account that Germany has what it calls “levelling mandates,” or in English terms, “Adjustment seats,” that counteract the disproportional effects of overhangs)

          The urban/non-urban divide in Germany is really interesting, as the Greens largely tend to do better in non-urban areas, which is the opposite of how it works here. (although in both countries Green parties do well in the capital) North-south is relevant in terms of the CDU/CSU coalition and the SPD, sure. We might start looking more like Germany if eventually New Zealand begins to lean in to MMP more in the long term, but for now the analogy is so poor we really do have to limit it to “MMP works in similar ways in both countries.”

  2. Andre 2

    Anyone wanting to propose a change to something as important as our electoral system first needs to clearly show what’s broken about what we have now.

    I don’t see any problem at all with how negotiations have played out in NZ under MMP. Even the shenanigans in ’96 fall within the limits of tolerable. All I see in the current noise is the distressed mewling of Nats denied what they feel entitled to.

    • Matthew Whitehead 2.1

      Technically, this is a constitutional reform they’re proposing, not an electoral reform. The elections are done once coalition talks start.

      I agree with you there are no problems with how talks proceeded in 2017, hell, even National themselves were okay with it until it was clear they’d lost, but I think it exposes this “GG should direct who gets to talk with whom” proposal as the attack on MMP it is to actually consider it seriously.

    • Anyone wanting to propose a change to something as important as our electoral system first needs to clearly show what’s broken about what we have now.

      That would be nice but it certainly isn’t what happened when National tried to bamboozle us into implementing SM which would, most likely, have resulted in them being in power permanently.

      All I see in the current noise is the distressed mewling of Nats denied what they feel entitled to.

      QFT

  3. Gristle 3

    It’s troubling that NZ now has its very own ” Irish problem.”

    In his Modest Proposal Swift highlighted the plight of Irish peasantry and the indifference of the English ruling classes to the starvation occurring. Going through a social investment framework Swift’s satirical solution was to bottle the young babies of Ireland for English consumption (as a delicacy.)

    National complaints about the irregulaty of the current results shows a willingness to destabilize the legitimacy of the current Government. And that is a route that I can see absolutely no merit in following. NZ stands with a small group of countries that successfully change government regularly and peacefully.

    • cleangreen 3.1

      We will watch with interest as the ‘night of the long knives’ (ex cira June 30 to July 2, 1934, Germany) come out inside the dying carcass of the National Party with ‘imploding’ of their overpowering style and arrogance that National always showed as the “party that has the right to rule” simply we have grown tired of their bullshit and the arch activist Steven Joyce’s heavy handedness & lies all the time.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_of_the_Long_Knives

      So maybe Nikky Kaye will be groomed (in the next several terms) over living in more ‘humbling’ opposition will take over as a more ‘moderate’ right wing leader.

    • Matthew Whitehead 3.2

      Yes, National’s attacks on the legitimacy of Ardern’s government are a scorched earth electoral strategy, but ironically, I’m not sure Labour’s the target. I think National is hoping to pull New Zealand First under threshold and prevent them winning an electorate in 2020, because they think they can hold ground as an opposition party until the next election. I expect they’re in for a rude awakening if they think it’ll be that easy, (best hope to dethroning NZ First is to simply wait until Peters retires and hope their own internal squabbles and inefficiency kills them off) but it’s getting ahead of ourselves a bit to speculate on the next election before the 2017 government is even sworn in.

      Labour tends to become more popular in its first term in government, not less, so…

      • Carolyn_Nth 3.2.1

        And I suspect we are in for way more changes socially, economically and politcally over the next 3 years.

        The Nats are in that space when they can’t quite believe they have lost governmental power. They think it is very much still within their reach.

        But, their vote share was always in decline, and partly boosted at the election by lies, and dirty politics (the attacks on Peters’ superannuation).

        The incoming government is aiming to rebuild public service media, there’s likely to be a decline in the housing bubble, etc. All that could be a bumpy ride for the right.

      • Gristle 3.2.2

        Seeking NZF continued existence is achieved firstly, and chiefly, by being relevant. By this I mean that it has policy, politicians and a party apparatus that by connect it to a sector of society. Getting some changes in the

        Secondly, there are technical electoral changes that could be enacted, for example by reducing the threshold from its current 5% level. Doing this will give minor parties more of an opportunity for minor parties to move above the existential threat behaviour mode and actually get on and do stuff.

        Thirdly, and another technical electoral change, the Waka Jumping legislation would introduce stability into government and parties by not seeing a slow erosion of MPs defecting, but does so at the threat of instutionalising internal party instability (we have all seen the quality of marriages kept going “for sake of the children.”)

        Fourthly, the old throw a dog a bone trick (Act and Nation in Epsom) is just as relevant for Labour and NZF.

        Seeking to collapse any minor party’s vote, and thus extinguish its Parliamentary presence, is going to get very tiring for the public over the next 3 years. Greens are probably fairly stable with a core support of +5%. If the world doesn’t collapse during this term of Government, then the bogey monster label it is given by its detractors will fade. If NZF is seen delivering stable good government, then its continued electoral presence becomes stronger.

        • Matthew Whitehead 3.2.2.1

          Personally speaking, I’d quite like NZF out of Parliament. On a more systemic level, of course, the idea of it happening because of the 5% threshold is enraging, and I’d rather they went the way of ACT, with their party vote gradually collapsing due to their own shenanigans. I don’t think the Nats are correct that they can steal their way back into government by trying to knock NZF out of Parliament- I think they’ll find that the more likely outcome is actually that the coalition parties start to eat up their support now that people get to compare a Labour government to what they’ve been getting the last nine years, but we will have to wait and see what polling looks like. I expect at the very least that Jacinda’s popularity will have increased.

          I think Labour is going to be far less inclined to electorate deals in the future, even if NZF agrees to something like a pre-election coalition deal similar to the Labour-Green MoU this campaign.

        • Draco T Bastard 3.2.2.2

          Secondly, there are technical electoral changes that could be enacted, for example by reducing the threshold from its current 5% level. Doing this will give minor parties more of an opportunity for minor parties to move above the existential threat behaviour mode and actually get on and do stuff.

          True but last time I looked NZ1st is actually against lowering the threshold.

          Thirdly, and another technical electoral change, the Waka Jumping legislation would introduce stability into government and parties by not seeing a slow erosion of MPs defecting, but does so at the threat of instutionalising internal party instability (we have all seen the quality of marriages kept going “for sake of the children.”)

          I’m going to disagree with you there. We’ve actually seen how easily list MPs can be held to account and be replaced by the party. Just so long as the Waka Jumping legislation allows for a political party to kick a list MP out and that list MP then needs to be replaced it would be good.

          The problem, as has been shown by Philip Field and Todd Barclay, is electorate MPs that don’t have a way for the electorate to remove them.

  4. ianmac 4

    Would 2017 outcome be any different if the biggest party ran the show? No. Just take longer.
    Was the 2017 process pretty quick and efficient? Yes. Remarkedly so.

    It was said that the National Party put the kybosh on National MPs making any real concessions to NZF. So a group of unelected people decided the outcome. Terrible. But wasn’t that the complaint directed against the NZF Board?

  5. ianmac 5

    As Matthew says, “…National has always been an informal coalition of urban right-wing liberals, right-wing conservatives, and a significant rural support base of many ideological flavours,…”
    I see them as a group huddled together for fear of being eliminated if each group stood alone. Surprising that a block of them didn’t switch to Act.

    • Matthew Whitehead 5.1

      Oh, so do I. That’s literally why National was formed in the first case- it was originally a Grand Coalition of the Liberal and Reform parties in fear of those commies in the upstart new Labour party.

  6. DRUM 6

    “That’s two strikes, as New Zealanders expressed a clear preference for faster coalition talks in ’96, and seemed impatient even with the practically-lightning-speed talks this time around.” It seemed to me that the impatience was created, fueled and maintained by media!

    • Matthew Whitehead 6.1

      There’s some elements of that to it, sure, although I think people would have been impatient regardless, as FPP had them used to getting a government-in-waiting on the night of the election, with its habit of transforming popular pluralities into parliamentary majorities. MMP didn’t disenfranchise smaller parties as effectively, even with the giant 5% threshold built in by National and Labour, so it necessitates coalition building when one of the largest parties doesn’t get a strong minority result and have multiple options to govern.

  7. tuppence shrewsbury 7

    It’s a sore loser comment from an unbecoming rump of national party supporters that isn’t representative of the whole. Rather like NZF and it’s relationship to the wider electorate.

    It’s about as stupid an argument as “national didn’t get 50% of the registered vote so has no mandate!!!”

    It’s what happens under mmp with people who actually vote. Anyone who complains about any of this is recklessly stupid. We can’t keep changing the rules because someone doesn’t like the outcome

  8. It’s a proposal that would effectively reward National for cannibalising its potential coalition partners and create an incentive for Labour to head down the same path.

    So, yet another tiresome attack on MMP from die-hards who hate proportional representation. It would be nice if the media were to treat them accordingly, but that’s unlikely.

    • Chris 8.1

      Bernard Hickey said it simply on RNZ yesterday. That the government’s made up of who got the majority of the votes: Labour, NZF and the Greens.

    • Enough is Enough 8.2

      I have never really understood this sentiment that National cannibalised its potential coalition partners.

      Their job, as it is for all parties during a campaign is to maximise their own vote. Which they did more successfully than any other party. At the same time they did electoral deals with ACT and United Future (“Dirty Deals’) by attempting to give them a free pass into parliament by not competing in elections.

      They also offered the Maori Party Ministerial positions, when they didn’t event need them for the numbers.

      I am just wondering what you think they should have done differently.

      Where did Labour’s big increase come from in the 4 weeks of the campaign. Almost solely from NZ First and Green to the point where both parties would have been panicking as the votes were counted. Did Labour cannibalise its potential coalition partners as well?

      • Matthew Whitehead 8.2.1

        Because although making National bigger is good from their perspective, it’s ridiculously hard for a single party to get over 50% of the Party Vote under a proportional system, no matter what their platform or entrenched political culture is. And that >50% number is what gives you a mandate in a proportional system. (you can still govern with less under MMP, but it needs to be pretty close to 50%, and you don’t get to brag about how your group has a democratic mandate to pursue radical policies without getting over the hump)

        Without falling into the trap of giving too much good advice to your political opponents, (even though I’m sure they won’t follow it any time soon) National are trying to be everything to everyone at the moment. They would actually do better if they split into multiple parties and started concentrating on more specific communities of interest, driving up their voter participation and being more persausive to soft voting blocs. (I would actually advise Labour to consider doing the same, although I think there’s a reasonable argument that while Labour could split in two, National could actually split in three if it wanted)

        It would also potentially even give one of those new parties room to form a coalition with Labour in the future if necessary.

        • Enough is Enough 8.2.1.1

          But they didn’t really do anything different from Labour.

          A week before the election the polls were indicating Labour and National’s final results would be the reverse of what they ended up. Labour had all the momentum

          Labour was looking like a mid 40s part at possibly the expense of the Green Party. At that point in time Labour did not pull back from campaigning in any way to ensure that that the Green Party survive. They continued to campaign for every single vote. As did every party.

          • Matthew Whitehead 8.2.1.1.1

            Actually it’s VERY different.

            There was a broad acknowledgement from both staff and volunteers in the Green Party and the Labour party that even though they disagreed on priorities, that supporting the other party was still valuable and that they would work together in coalition. Sure, the Greens wanted some of Labour’s voters and vice versa, but the vast majority of the support base of either party wanted the other to succeed, too. There were some right-wing Labour Party insiders that wanted the Greens gone, but they were clearly in the minority and it was written off as poor political tactics.

            At no stage did it look seriously like Labour was going to kill off the Green Party. Yes, polling came in below 5% (but well within the margin of error of the threshold) two or three times out of the roughly dozen or so polls leading up to the election, but I can tell you that from the inside of the volunteer machine it didn’t feel like Labour was trying to get rid of the Greens. It’s also worth pointing out that polling also showed NZ First under 5% at one point, but nobody has accused Labour of killing off a potential support partner there either.

            • Enough is Enough 8.2.1.1.1.1

              Yes and there was a broad acknowledgment between National, ACT, United Future and to a lesser degree the Maori Party “that even though they disagreed on priorities, that supporting the other party was still valuable and that they would work together in coalition.”

              National even went to the extent of not competing against ACT and United Future in electorate seats, in a failed attempt to guarantee their survival. They sure as heel weren’t trying to kill of either of those parties.

              I am fairly certain that from within ACT and United Future it did not feel like National was trying to kill them off.

              I am not suggesting that Labour was trying to kill off the Green Party. I am saying they went out to get as many votes as they possibly could from wherever they could. If that wasn’t the case can you point me to what they did differently when the Green vote got close to 5% to ensure their survival? Nothing is the answer, the campaign continued…

              • Enough is Enough

                I suppose where I am coming from is I voted for the Green Party because the general policy platform is in my view the best way to move New Zealand to the society we want.

                I would be delighted if a majority of Kiwis agreed with that and voted for them so we could move New Zealand to that sustainable fair society that the Greens promote.

                Labour offered a similar platform, but in my view they still respond to right wing attacks to easily (see the back track on tax during the election), and for that reason I worry what will happen when they come under pressure from the screaming right wing brigade.

                If the Green Party could be the government by convincing all Labour’s supporters that Green way was the best way, and in doing so takes 51% of the vote, then why would I be disappointed?…Nope

  9. Ad 9

    I don’t agree with your first point. Labour have had the dominant vote share before and done well out of it.

    On your second point, reducing the time would focus everyone’s minds. They need to be.

    I can easily see a framework where the Governor-General can guide multiple coalition discussions at once.

    The left is naturally seeing nothing wrong with the scope and speed of the negotiations, because they won. That’s victor morality.

    We have witnessed a really bad case of the tail confusing itself for the dog. We are not having a major argument about this in the media, because we were lucky enough that it was led by an exceptionally able politician in Winston Peters. There needs to be some protocols and a referee who points the finger and simply says: “me dog, you tail”.

    Run the election scenario again with Labour on 45% of the vote, not getting to form the government, then tell me honestly the left would not be crying out for reform.

    • Gristle 9.1

      Hi Ad,

      IMO the model of having the GG guide multiple coalition discussions at once is un-necessary. Muliple coalition discussions were held at the end of the voting process and a result was arrived at. The difference between involving the GG and not involving the GG is to all intents and purposes the same.

      And as MW points out getting the GG to go down the list of parties until a government is formed is assuming that the parties cannot, or have not, been successful in forming governments in the past.

      As for the charge the NZF are the”ail wagging the dog,” can you please provide evidence about this occurring. Most commentators have pointed out the close fit on many policy areas between Labour and National First, and as such the coalition agreement didn’t require a lot of forcing.

      • Ad 9.1.1

        I’d like to agree that no process needs to change, but I’m uneasy.

        Probably until there’s a good-scale constitutional crisis that need for change won’t occur.

        On the dog thing, there’s two bits to it.

        First off, for nearly equal vote share, NZF and the Greens got vastly unequal outcomes in power and policy. Clearly the will of the electorate is not reflected. What’s reflected is merely negotiating skill.

        Second off, we have seen Act and the Maori Party essentially determine the government last time on 9/10ths of fuck all. That should give us all pause.

        • RJL 9.1.1.1

          @Ad First off, for nearly equal vote share, NZF and the Greens got vastly unequal outcomes in power and policy. Clearly the will of the electorate is not reflected. What’s reflected is merely negotiating skill.

          You can’t tell that yet. You can’t judge yet whether NZF or Greens best get to effectively implement their policies.

          @Ad Second off, we have seen Act and the Maori Party essentially determine the government last time on 9/10ths of fuck all. That should give us all pause.

          This is nonsense, National determined and dominated the previous government. Hence why the Maori party got wiped out and why no-one considers ACT a serious party to vote for.

          • Matthew Whitehead 9.1.1.1.1

            Actually, in 2014 overhang seats and the wasted vote were what delivered National the government, and had they not had Peter Dunne’s overhang seat after losing the Northland by-election, the Māori Party could have passed legislation with opposition parties whenever it liked, or decided to break its agreement with National, which they were never entirely supportive of as a government. The parties that comprised the government received less than a majority of the party vote, despite National’s relatively strong result. They were just a hair’s breadth away from not governing.

            • RJL 9.1.1.1.1.1

              Sure, but it was a National dominated government enacting National policies. National determined what the government did.

              • Matthew Whitehead

                Tail wagging the dog refers to disproportionate influence. There’s no way that, for instance, Charter Schools were a reasonable concession to a one-MP party. (This is probably due to corruption within the National Party rather than ACT being super powerful though, IMO) It’s an allegation that’s only ever levelled at Winston, but probably deserved by every National Party support partner ever, (even the Māori Party and UF) because they’ll give away nearly anything that lets them govern in the hands-off style that their business and farming mates love.

                It also ignores the reality that, for instance, in 2014 National should probably have been forced to govern with the Conservative Party to make a majority, if it weren’t for our absurdly high threshold.

    • Matthew Whitehead 9.2

      Labour have indeed achieved plurality votes before, even under MMP, however this was when the National Party was in severe decline and polling more like a medium-size party at 20ish percent. My point is that left-wing voters under MMP seem more inclined to favour a multi-partisan approach to governing, and that trend isn’t likely to go away, in fact I expect future splits within the Labour Party to bring about new political movements. This means that any plurality-based approach to our constitutional arrangements is likely to favour National, so long as it continues to exist in its current form.

      NZF got rounded up to something like half an extra minister compared to what they deserve proportionately. That’s not unreasonable. They got a fair amount in negotiations, however a lot of it was for priorities that Labour already agreed were important, like forestry, regional development, regional transport, and tertiary education. The Greens’ agreement largely focused on areas where the parties diverged instead, so for instance contains very little about transport where Labour is essentially taking notes from Green Party policy.

      As for having an approach guided by the GG where multiple parties negotiate at once- how would that be functionally different than the current approach where parties simply need to assure the GG that they have commitments that will lead to a majority vote on confidence and supply? The only point of having the GG invite parties to try to form a government is to structure who can talk to who at a given time. If you’re accepting the reality of parallel negotiations being superior, isn’t it also logical that the parties themselves should direct those negotiations, and that any norms the voters want to place on them should either be demands to their parties, or perhaps even enshrined into constitutional law if they’re that important? The only big reform I see being important there is actually to encourage multilateral negotiations rather than the bilateral approach we’ve had to date, as it will dispel rumours that three-, four-, or even five-party governments can’t effectively work together.

      • This means that any plurality-based approach to our constitutional arrangements is likely to favour National, so long as it continues to exist in its current form.

        Which is why they tried really hard to get us to change the electoral system to SM. SM benefits the largest party almost guaranteeing that National would be able to govern alone permanently.

        If you’re accepting the reality of parallel negotiations being superior, isn’t it also logical that the parties themselves should direct those negotiations, and that any norms the voters want to place on them should either be demands to their parties, or perhaps even enshrined into constitutional law if they’re that important?

        I’d still like to see a third question on election forms asking Who do you think the party that you voted for should go into coalition with? The party should be guided by the majority of their voters.

        Even better would be to have everyone in a political party and having their say but I doubt that will ever happen so we’re stuck with make-do.

    • weka 9.3

      “Run the election scenario again with Labour on 45% of the vote, not getting to form the government, then tell me honestly the left would not be crying out for reform.”

      Honestly, I’d be wanting to know wtf Labour did to end up in that situation with no viable coalition partners.

      This is why I voted for MMP. I want diversity and increased representation, not consolidation of power back into the hands of the duopoly. If Labour were on 45% I’d consider MMP to be failing and that might require electoral reform, but not in order to hand the govt to Labour. It would mean things like dropping the threshold to allow smaller parties into parliament again.

      • KJT 9.3.1

        Labour got the majority of the vote twice, under FPP, without becoming the Government.

        One of the main reasons, apart from the out of control dictatorships in 1981, 1984/87 and 1990, we all favoured MMP.

        Most people, left or right wing, apart from authoritarian followers, favour more public control over policy and Parliament, not less.

        All this is simply sour grapes from the self appointed kleptocracy/sorry autocracy, who have lost their license to burgle from New Zealanders for another three years.

      • Enough is Enough 9.3.2

        For Labour to get to that position they would have advanced policies that appeal to 45% of the electorate. Why is that such a difficult thing to comprehend.

        Under MMP 45% of the population would be represented by Labour. MMP hasn’t failed in that scenario. every single one of those votes has counted in relation to the make up of the parliament.

        Lets make it 51%. MMP is still working in that scenario. Yes Labour has complete control but only because every single vote has counted in relation to the make up of the parliament,

        The system has not failed just because one party appeals to a large proportion of the electorate.

    • The left is naturally seeing nothing wrong with the scope and speed of the negotiations, because they won. That’s victor morality.

      I suspect that your view on that is in the extreme minority. IIRC, the Left in general have always said that the talks take as long as they take.

      We have witnessed a really bad case of the tail confusing itself for the dog.

      No we didn’t. We had the ignorant journalist pointing at NZ1st and calling ‘dog’.

      There needs to be some protocols and a referee who points the finger and simply says: “me dog, you tail”.

      No, there doesn’t. Even in 1996 the talks progressed quite smoothly.

      Run the election scenario again with Labour on 45% of the vote, not getting to form the government, then tell me honestly the left would not be crying out for reform.

      Probably not. We can actually see the problem of trying to force a minority government on the nation when there’s a majority government coalition. The RWNJs don’t seem to be able to do that and think it’s all about bigness and might rather than cooperation.

  10. red-blooded 10

    On another matter, I think I’d wait to see the detail of the waka-jumping legislation before judging it. I’m reasonably comfortable with the idea that a list MP who wants to leave their party should lose their seat. They haven’t been elected directly, as individuals, they simply represent their parties.

    It’s a bit more nuanced with an electorate MP, but I’m not necessarily against the idea of a by-election if one leaves their party. I know there’s cost involved, but it does test the individual mandate of that MP. There’ve been occasions in the past when the electorates have supported their maverick MPs, some of whom have gone on to form new parties (Jim Anderton, Peters himself, Jeanette Fitsimmons and Russell Norman breaking the Greens away from the Alliance, Tariana Turia….).

    • Andre 10.1

      Don’t forget Hone…

    • weka 10.2

      The Greens didn’t waka jump, they signalled their decision ahead of time to leave the Alliance and stand as their own party at the next election.

      The co-leaders wouldn’t have made that decision (it was Rod Donald btw, not Norman), but the party as a whole.

      • red-blooded 10.2.1

        Fair enough re the Greens (and yeah – silly mistake re Rod Donald). My basic point remains, though.

    • Matthew Whitehead 10.3

      My point about the waka-jumping legislation is that while it may be important to New Zealand First, it’s really bad process to have a reform of how governments and elections work like this essentially result as an agreement between two parties rather than with broad support from New Zealand society- either through a supermajority agreement in Parliament, or through broad support of submissions to a select committee or similar body. At the very least it should have also been in the Labour-Green agreement, although I think it also really needs at least minority support among National too.

      I’m inclined to agree that it’s reasonable for list MPs to be chucked out for jumping parties, but my understanding is that this law would also mandate by-elections when electorate MPs leave, which I think is a little counter-intuitive. If we want people to properly understand that they’re voting for a candidate and not a party with their electorate vote, we need to treat it that way under the law too, and allow them to change party allegiance without consequence.

      • KJT 10.3.1

        I doubt if many people vote for a candidate, rather than a party as an electorate vote.

        Especially in the safe National/ACT electorates where you could put up a gumboot, and they would still vote for it. I doubt if many ACT voters in Epsom even think Seymour is sane, for example.

        • Matthew Whitehead 10.3.1.1

          Yes, a lot of people just vote for whoever their favorite party endorses. My point is that if we really believe in the electorate part of MMP, we should actually be making efforts to counter that.

          Personally, I don’t care for it and would be quite happy to go to a full list-based system, but I know that I’m in the minority there, so instead I’d like the electorate half of the system to work a bit better and to disrupt proportionality a little less. If we align the law with the assumption that electorate MPs are supposed to represent their party rather than their region, we are reinforcing the voting behaviour we claim to be against.

          • red-blooded 10.3.1.1.1

            The are plenty of cases when people split their votes. My electorate (Dunedin North) always returns a Labour candidate but last time, after specials, the Party vote went blue. I used to often split my vote, going Labour for candidate and Green for party. When I lived in Jim Anderton’s electorate years ago I used to vote for him as my MP and sometimes Labour with my party vote. While most may just go with two ticks, it’s not the only way to operate and it’s certainly easier to make a case for the individual having been endorsed in an electorate.

            Anyway, as I said, I don’t necessarily mind the idea of a by election.

            As for the process, I’m not too worked up about it. Any bill will need to go before the house, and if the Greens disagree it can be voted down.

  11. Brian Tregaskin 11

    https://i.stuff.co.nz/opinion/98209992/maths-behind-political-merger
    Another article froth stuff from Massey University staff.
    Sorry tough this is not FFP no amount of spin is going to change the fact that there are winners and losers under MMP

    • ianmac 11.1

      Interesting Brian. They included, “That increase of 11.77 percentage points (to Labour) had to come from somewhere. Just over half swung left from National; the rest came from other left-wing parties and NZ First.
      Hardly National rampant.
      And National picked up about 3.9% from the Conservative collapse. Lucky them.

  12. Agora 12

    We need an entity representing democratic processes of the people .. ‘a thing of the people’ – res publica in latin, republic in english.

    No system is perfect, but all depend on good will and due constitutional process to make it work.

    Die-hard nationalists may grouse, but this caravan has moved on ..

    • One Anonymous Bloke 12.1

      They’d have a revolution, but that would reduce the value of their investments.

  13. Delia 13

    The Governor General is supposed to be neutral and represents the Queen. He or she is supposed to be involved in only the rarest circumstances, at least that is what I have always understood

    • Agora 13.1

      Having lived through ‘the dismissal’
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1975_Australian_constitutional_crisis
      .. I would not be so sanguine.

      • ianmac 13.1.1

        Recently papers were released from secrecy which clearly show that the Royal Family were behind the Whitlam govt dissolution. Norty Lizzie.

        • KJT 13.1.1.1

          Yeah. In most countries the US military, or the CIA, have to shoot people to get rid of Governments who are overly “socialist!”.

          In Australia it only took a phone call.

          One wonders what the limitations are on left wing inclined Government here, that we are not allowed to know about.

    • Matthew Whitehead 13.2

      Technically, there is no formal obligation on the governor general to be neutral, it’s merely a democratic norm that appointed leaders try to be so, and there is no obligation not to intervene.

      This proposal from National supporters isn’t actually requiring the GG’s intervention in the political process, as they would follow rules set down in law about how to govern the coalition formation process, (ie. offering chances to form a government to the largest party and proceeding to each smaller party from there) if necessary, and is essentially the idea of placing our Governor General in a position similar to the Icelandic or German Presidents in helping structure the government formation process, both of which offices are formally required to be above politics and to instead consider the national interest.

      It’s a bad idea, but compromising the neutrality of our de facto head of state isn’t one of the reasons why.

      I would also point out that despite pretenses, the monarchy is not a neutral arbiter and giving them any official role, even one that’s largely ceremonial, is actually just as much of a risk to our democracy, so if the idea of the governor general taking political sides worries you, you should consider what would happen if someone like Charles, who is known for trying to put his thumb on the scale in the UK, were to become King, and seriously consider your stance on republicanism, as technically the monarchy can at any time claw back those powers from the Governor General, we just have an informal understanding that they won’t do that and that they’ll remain neutral. That understanding could break down at any time.

  14. Ross 14

    Imagine if National had secured just 25% of the vote but was the biggest of all the parties (Lab, Greens and NZF all with 24%, and 3% spread among the also-rans…yeah this is hypothetical!). Would National really be saying that they should form a government? If not, why not? They would have secured more votes than any other party. But at 25% it’s clear that a large number (three-quarters) of voters did not opt for National. That simply goes to show how silly the argument is that the biggest party should have the right to form a government. No one – apart from perhaps dyed in the wool Tories – would argue that National had the right to form a government when so many people – some 75% in my example – voted to change the government.

  15. Sparky 15

    Yes lets have a dilapidated office that’s little more than a symbol of faded colonialism guide creation of an MMP govt. I don’t think so……

  16. greywarshark 16

    National is going through the stages of grief as in a death.

    The Kübler-Ross model, or the five stages of grief, postulates a series of emotions experienced by terminally ill patients prior to death, or people who have lost a loved one, wherein the five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%BCbler-Ross_model

    A final point – National would not have suggested any such move as going to the
    G-G if they had been able to meld with NZFirst into a righteous Right-Wing crusade carrying on in the religious way they have in the last nine years. With the two parties legally married they would have had no brook with any constitutional change.

    They are just sore losers. They can’t believe It’s The End of the Golden Weather
    for them.

  17. esoteric pineapples 17

    Intentions have everything to do with outcomes and given this suggestion is based purely on trying to give National an advantage in every election, it should be given the boot at the soonest possible notice.

  18. Incognito 18

    For an idea on how things can be done differently you may want to have a look at the way the Dutch form their cabinets: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_cabinet_formation

  19. Hanswurst 19

    This would be similar to Germany’s system of the President proposing their Chancellor (PM) and the Bundestag (Parliament) confirming them […].

    I know that you go on to point out the greater similarity to the system in Iceland (the same would apply to Austria), but this statement about Germany is simply not true. Yes, the president recommends a candidate for the office of chancellor, but by convention, that only takes place after any coalition talks (upon which the president has no direct influence) have been concluded. That means that the president only ever recommends someone who already has a majority, whether through a majority for their party in the general election, or through support in a coalition.

    The only difference in Germany is that the president’s candidate then has to face a formal vote and gain an absolute majority in the Bundestag, rather than the president’s simply appointing them in his/her capacity as head of state, as the governor general does in NZ – and even then, that’s effectively pretty much the same as when the NZ parliament votes after the address in reply.

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