Thursday, 23 April 2009

Ten Years Ago This Week: "Forever Blue"

Jenny Shipley

THE NATIONAL PARTY’S decision to revisit MMP is remarkable from at least two aspects. First, because it places an unnecessary strain on the political relationship between National and its parliamentary allies. ACT New Zealand, Mauri Pacific, and the United Party would all cease to exist as viable electoral options if proportional representation was abolished. Second, because it exposes the extraordinary mindset of the typical National Party member. Your average Nat simply cannot accept that anyone other than farmers and businessmen have a legitimate role to play in the governance of New Zealand.

The cool response from the other right-wing parties raises serious doubt about the long-term survival prospects of National’s proposals. In the unlikely event of a right-wing victory in November, who really believes that ACT New Zealand, Mauri Pacific and the United Party will readily connive in their own extinction by signing on to a campaign against MMP? A much more realistic scenario would have National’s parliamentary allies extracting a promise to quietly abandon the proposed referenda in return for their support on all matters of confidence and supply.

It is hard to believe that among National’s top strategists there is anything other than complete agreement that their whole electoral reform policy is a gigantic hoax, a cynical ploy to attract the support of those voters stupid enough to believe that MMP is at the root of all their troubles.

It is not in the least surprising that National should be targeting this group of voters. As Mrs Margaret Robertson proved with her inane petition to reduce the size of Parliament, they number in the tens of thousands. What’s more, they all seem to suffer from what might be called ‘Political Alzheimer’s Disease’ – an affliction which prevents them from recalling past abuses. For example, they cannot remember the 1978 General Election, when the Labour Party received more votes than National but "lost" the election. Or 1981, when Social Credit received 21 percent of the popular vote, but "won" just two seats. Or 1993, when National claimed "victory" after receiving barely a third of the votes cast. These poor, benighted citizens appear to believe that Parliament was somehow more "representative" when women, Maori, Pacific Islanders, and other members of the New Zealand community were all grossly under-represented; those "good old days" when the word "majority" meant not "50 percent + 1" but "more votes than the other guy".

Which brings us back to the second aspect of the National Party’s desire to rid the country of MMP. Deep down, your average Nat knows that he or she is really on the losing side – numbers wise. That the nasty, brutish world beyond the suburban boundary fence and the family farm gate contains a disturbingly large number of enfranchised citizens. The old FPP system, by bottling them up in state house ghettos like Mangere and Porirua and Sydenham and Pinehill, reduced their potency. But MMP, by turning the whole country into a single, vast electorate, has unleashed the awesome voting strength of the great unwashed - and the National Party just can’t stand it. Heck! Even Winston Peters was too uncouth for them!

Mrs Shipley talks about the fear MMP inspires in foreign investors. But it’s not MMP that worries them, its the left-wing governments MMP may bring to office. What the Prime Minister and her foreign friends want is a New Zealand that’s "forever blue". A New Zealand governed by the "RIGHT people", elected under the "RIGHT electoral system", and implementing the "RIGHT policies".

For National Party voters, and the sufferers from Political Alzheimer’s, that probably sounds like heaven; for the rest of us, however, MMP remains the Much More Progressive option.

Originally published in The Dominion of 30 April 1999.

1 comment:

Jordan Carter said...

We might well need some more comments like this in the coming year or two.