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If Epsom & Ohariu were Northland & Te Tai Tonga…

Written By: - Date published: 7:03 am, October 26th, 2011 - 29 comments
Categories: democratic participation, MMP, Politics - Tags:

There’s a tired old line trotted about by those who dislike MMP and that whole proportionality thing it guarantees: “it gives minor parties too much power”.

You usually see it used to disparage law changes like the repeal of section 59 (which only 113 MPs voted for! Injustice!) and parties like the Greens … but since the anti-MMP movement is pretty much based on the right (in terms of a return-to-FPP movement, specifically; plenty of us politic-geek lefties throw the horns for systems like STV) you just never see the same criticism made of, say, ACT.

ACT, who exist because the voters of Epsom have basically struck a bargain with National: make sure your true-blue candidate is guaranteed a viable list spot, and we’ll supply the coalition partner of your dreams.

That bargain might be on the down now, but still we get stories about the PM coquettishly refusing to instruct National voters to tick Banksie (nudge nudge, wink wink) while of course supporting his own party’s guy (just what you’ve got to say, innit, hint hint.)
[And yes, having just snarkily defended proportionality you might think it’s hypocritical for me to disparage ACT; but when parties like NZ First get nearly 10,000 more votes than ACT and no seats at all, proportionality’s on my side of this one.]

Anyway. The question I pose today is, why, when the Greens get nearly 7% of the popular vote yet “have too much power”, do we not look to the two rogue electorates who have held so much more sway in the formation of our government? [Someone far smarter than me can probably do the math, but without ACT’s five seats in 2008 you can’t deny National would’ve had less free rein.]
So where’s the hate for Epsom and Ohariu?

Call me a raging feminist if you will, but here’s a funny thing:

Epsom is (at Aug 09) 64.4% Pakeha/European, and only 6% Maori/Pasifika. 35.9% of its population have a Bachelors degree or higher, compared to 14.2% nationwide. 59.2% of its households have an income over $70k, and 46.4% over $100k, at a time when the median was $59k.

93.8% of people receive no government benefit.

Ohariu is 69.2% Pakeha/European, and 11.3% Maori/Pasifika. 28.4% of its population have a Bachelors degree or higher, and 58.1% of its households have an income over $70k, and 38.2% have an income over $100k.

92% receive no government benefit.

… So we’re looking at white, academically-educated, well-off electorates (and please let’s not start the whining about how $100k per household doesn’t make you rich).

All I’m wondering is, what if those statistics looked very different? What if Mana and Labour were striking a deal over Northland? 40% Maori/Pasifika, 6.6% Bachelors or higher, 20.4% of households on 70k+, nearly 1-in-5 on a benefit?
Or, even more scandalously, the electorate that’s over 74.4% Maori, 9.7% varsity-educated, 1-in-5 on a benefit, 29.5% of households over 70k Te Tai Tonga?

Would the dominant story still be about the Greens having too much power? Would the Armstrongs and O’Sullivans of the world still be talking about dealings in Epsom as though it were a clever intellectual exercise?

Is anyone seriously going to argue that rich white electorates having significant, some might say disproportionate say in the future of our country, and this being treated as normal, isn’t a reflection of who’s in charge of New Zealand? (Hint: not the unions.)


Note: Before y’all ask, I haven’t subjected Wigram to the same analysis because since 2005 Wigram just hasn’t played the same role as Ohariu in providing a swinging single vote or Epsom in bringing in additional seats.

For more QoT goodness and a little badness (good badness, that is) head over to her blog: Ideologically Impure


29 comments on “If Epsom & Ohariu were Northland & Te Tai Tonga…”

  1. Uturn 1

    The answer isn’t in statistics or logic.

    “…It gives minor parties too much power…”, is middle-classese (or aspiration-ese) for a long list of cliché, unexamined, ideas that eventually are defined as “They’re not like me”.

    Much like the comments of a poster here whose main argument was “…they’re ruining the grass…”, his point wasn’t that the grass would get ruined, but the grass is a symbolic image relating to a concrete concept within a cultural or personal language. You won’t catch them with logic, primarily because they aren’t listening, aren’t aware they can’t listen and usually don’t want to change.

    A certain mind is off out into the future all the time. It doesn’t reside here, with day to day acts, it thinks that life happens after work, during retirement, after promotion, after the climb, in Tahiti, Noosa or a beachside resort, and anything of the now and familiar is low class and backward. It knows solutions to everyone’s problems – aspiration, planning, schedules, logic, reason, ambition. It seeks out reflections of it’s own ideas and appearances and rejects alternatives. It does not know what it is, so embraces cultural norms as it’s identity.

    Common phrases, sentiments, keeping up appearances of class, is it’s M.O. We’ve seen a lot of it recently with people attaching their emotional state to the winning of the RWC. After a while, the self-inflicted damage of delayed self-awareness creates anxiety and serious problems can occur once the host realises the problem. Panic sets in and anything that reminds them that the identity of culture is not real makes them scared, angry and then openly hostile. At that point the host can either stop and examine the problem to make changes, or fight it and project it outwards; ad nauseum, or until psychosis sets in, which ever happens first

    It doesn’t much matter which culture you pick, it happens with all of them. People are designed to grow, mentally, not stagnate for economic purposes. “…It gives the minor parites too much power…” could mean anything, but is usually along the theme of “…it reminds me of all of the parts of myself that scare me…”.

    That’s my theory based on my life/personal experience. I should also add that just because something scares people, doesn’t mean the the alternative is true/right/good. It takes far more work to find what is true than a simple either/or reduction.

  2. Lanthanide 2

    Some Wigram stats:
    12.1% Maori or Pacific, 71.1% European, 11.4% Asian

    12.6% Bachelors or higher, 26.3% on $70k+ and 9.9% on $100K+

    13.3% on government benefits

    The stats are actually surprisingly close to Te Tai Tonga, except for the ethnicity.

    • Lanthanide 2.1

      Incidentally as a resident of Wigram, I’d have to say this election seems like a bit of a non-event. There are hardly any National billboards around at all, I’ve seen a few Greens ones but mostly it’s Megan Woods for Labour everywhere. Seems like National aren’t even bothering to contest it.


  3. Rich 3

    I suspect that Northland (along with places like the East Cape) is only Tory because a large chunk of the population is on the Maori roll.

    Rural seats like West Coast (where the working class is predominantly Pakeha) are a lot more marginal.

    • Lanthanide 3.1

      Sounds like a ripe area for gerrymandering. Get Labour to team up with Mana or someone else and gerrymand the maori voters onto the appropriate roll so that left-wing parties can win both electorates.

  4. Ari 4

    While I’d love to chuck Peter Dunne out, it’s pretty ridiculous that these parties even require electorate seats to get into parliament in the first place. If they have the party vote for at least one seat, they ought to be in Parliament anyway.

    • Draco T Bastard 4.1

      Thinking about that. Electorate seats can be won with less votes than a list seat. An electorate seat can be won with about 10k votes whereas a list seat requires about 60k. What this shows is that we have the threshold around the wrong way. This brings about the idea that it should be that a party cannot win an electorate seat unless they win enough party votes to support a seat in parliament, ie, you need to have 0.8% vote to win a seat in parliament.

      The present 5% threshold should, of course, be dropped so that if a party does get 0.8% of the vote they get a seat whether they win an electorate or not.

      • Mark 4.1.1

        Well that’s just idiotic. You’re saying that we should deprive electorates the right to democratically vote in the person they most want representing them? Yes, MMP needs adjusting; no, we shouldn’t force unpopular representation on people just because their local MP is part of a minor party.

        • Draco T Bastard

          And yet our present system deprives people of their chosen representatives unless they pass some arbitrarily high proportion of the vote and yet a lot of people want to keep that injustice.

          Tell me, are you one of those people?

        • mik e

          yes take away the 5% threshold and that would allow true proportionality and would stop the carpet baggers but put stronger legislation to stop extremist parties from gaining power.

          • Colonial Viper

            but put stronger legislation to stop extremist parties from gaining power.

            What on earth would such legislation even look like?

            Best opt for a ~3% threshold and leave it at that. Once one in 33 voting NZers back a party they should be in.

            • QoT

              Obviously something like “no party may campaign in a general election:

              a) which commenter mik e at The Standard judges to be too extremist.”

              • lprent

                Oh Oh… I know. Lemme moderate…. I have lots of experience with political wannabes who are unsuitable.

                Which I suspect will raise and dispose of all of the issues (especially succession after my good fair self croaks) about getting someone (apart from mik e) to act as the governor general, ombudsmen, presidential, court figures, etc.

            • Ari

              Why 3%? If we’re lowering it, why not just set it at .87%? (ie. 1/120th of the vote) There’s actually a good reason for having a threshold that low, (if we ditch it altogether, because the saint-lague formula is quite friendly to minor parties, they could possibly win a seat with a very small amount of the vote, less than an electorate) but given the small size of our parliament in world terms, I don’t see why any other criteria than “win a seat” should be required for a small party to enter parliament.

              If they have ridiculous or harmful ideas, so what? Tens of thousands of people get what they voted for if those ridiculous ideas are heard, and hopefully being seen to support those ideas becomes unpopular and people with silly or extreme views change their minds. I really don’t see how anyone but National* win by having any significant threshold at all.

              * Labour is far more likely to benefit by going into coalition with small parties that might die to the threshold, seeing they can sometimes be almost sensible.

    • QoT 4.2

      I absolutely agree that the current 5% threshold is too high, Ari. And it seems pretty objectively unfair that NZ First with 10k more votes gets 0 seats to ACT’s five. In a fairer system, Ohariu and Epsom wouldn’t be as big a deal.

      • Ari 4.2.1

        Not just that, but ACT might be stood down this election due to running John Banks as their lifeboat electorate candidate, and it worries me both that (a) their voters might get disenfranchised, and (b) that because of this a very small minority of their voters could become much more extreme and turn to corruption, crime or terrorism to get their voices heard. (given that these are ACT voters, it would probably be corruption, but still!)

        I don’t particularly care about NZ First not getting into parliament, I don’t like them, but I think it’s incredibly unjust to their voters, and that it’s poisonous to our democracy to have people unrepresented after they actually went out and voted for a party that actually should have won multiple seats in parliament.

  5. Craig 5

    Well, Charles Chauvel came pretty close to disposing of Dunne last time. United Future seems almost moribund. I gather that the Faustian bargain struck back in 2000 between Dunne and Future New Zealand (seats in return for FNZ’s infrastructure and membership) reached a Marlovian* ending in 2007 when Copeland and Baldock walked out and tried to re-establish Future New Zealand/the Kiwi Party, blathered on about Binding Citizens Referenda, failed to get enough petition signatures for a non-binding CIR and then slithered into the Conservative Party.

    After 2007, the infrastructure deficit and membership loss started to eat away at “United Future”, leading its former organisational members (ie Denise Krum) to return to National. I suspect that given various machinations in the seat, Charles may well end up pipping Petey at the post.

    Added to which, David Parker has a finance portfolio background. He’ll probably clean the floor with Banks in any Epsom candidates debate…

    • mik e 5.1

      I thought the mouth piece for the hair piece would have surfaced by now

    • Jum 5.2


      I’ve had a look at the Epsom candidates. I agree that David Parker has the gravitas and the persona that would grace Epsom far better than the weird and wacky reps they’ve had foisted upon them by John Key and National so far.

      But the factor that has more importance than any of that is what the rich and ruthless choose at the ballot box; if they choose anyone other than the best which to me is David Parker, that proves once and for all that their greedy selfish and arrogant interests take precedence over New Zealand’s future as a country seeking and all New Zealanders’ future children.

      Workers need to know that Key will stop at nothing to get into power again to allow his backers to carry out the sacking of New Zealand and support the international conservatives’ and corporates’ sacking of the greater riches lying untouched and pristine south of New Zealand. Whales first, minerals next.

      Try the try-hard Nat candidate of Hunua – been there yonks, supported by huge election campaigning by Act in 2008, yet now nothing from Act, but huge billboards from Conservative. Are we missing a game change here?

      • \Craig 5.2.1

        Good point. It does make strategic sense for the Conservatives to campaign in rural and provincial city seats, although I gather that Colin Craig’s public recognition factor diminishes as he gets further from Auckland (and don’t forget, he came a distant third in the Auckland supermayoralty race). Whether they’ll get Rodney or not should be critically assessed by an objective polling agency. As for the big billboards, yeah, the guy is a millionaire. However, that needs to be pitted against amateur antics like late entry into the election race and his bob-each-way policies- oppose asset sales *and* the emission tradings scheme?!! These are plainly clip-on policies, poorly elaborated. The Conservatives seem to be a cult of personality party (yeah, another one…)

        I see that the latest Horizon poll has them on 2.2 percent, just behind Mana.

    • Ari 5.3

      “We’re winning with it right now” is not a good reason to keep an unfair voting system. We should want to win in a fair fight, where everyone’s ideas are heard, we should want to find out the public’s REAL feelings about parties and candidates; the same way we should care about science, and facts- what is ACTUALLY right, not just what sounds nice.

      Besides, fairer voting systems work for our values much better in the long term- it’s only really the bigoted parts of the upper-middle class and the regressively rich who stand to benefit from distorting public opinion.

      By the by, if citizen-initiated referenda consisted of actual draft bills, and would have to pass a consistency check with the Bill of Rights* to go ahead, I’d probably support binding referenda.

      * By which I mean one that actually mattered, not like the ones actual bills go through.

  6. Dont care if its the jackasses in Act or the socialists in Green, MMP gives too much power to the smaller parties.

    Always hated it.

    • Colonial Viper 6.1

      MMP takes too much power away from National you mean.

    • Ari 6.2

      It’s National and Labour who determine how much power goes to smaller parties, given they’re the keyholders in negotiations. I think blaming MMP for that is rather misguided. If Labour and National’s ideas are so much more right for the country, then they should not compromise on them.

      If there’s any problem with MMP, it’s that it needs better tweaks to make the larger parties act more responsibly- for instance, requiring parties to have popular votes on their lists would probably be great for both Labour and National. (although it would likely pull both parties leftward, just because the largest parties are both right of their constituencies)

    • Jum 6.3

      Brett Dale,

      What you liked was the election results for National that had far fewer votes than Labour but still got to govern. It happened twice if not more.

  7. \Craig 7

    While I don’t like the microparty constituency/list entourage aspects of MMP, those can be fixed without compromising MMP itself. In Germany, a minor party has to win two Bundestag seats if it’s well under the five percent threshold.

    Ah- the Maxim Institute has come out supporting SM! Well, actually no, they’re having a buck each way:

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