Friday 29 September 2017

A No. 8 Wire Constitution - That Works.

That'll Do: An awful lot of Kiwis either do not understand, or do not approve of, the way MMP operates. What we have here is MMP – with FPP characteristics. A No. 8 Wire constitution – that works.

NEW ZEALAND AND GERMANY share a common electoral system, and last weekend both countries went to the polls. That’s where the parallels would appear to end, however, because the Germans draw the line at offering-up hostages to political fortune. Every German voter entering a polling booth last Sunday was well aware that should the far-right Alternative For Germany (AfD) party cross the 5 percent MMP threshold, none of the other parties represented in the German Bundestag (federal parliament) would have anything to do with it.

Left-wing German voters entered the polling booth with even more information. They knew that if the far-left Die Linke party re-entered the Bundestag, then neither the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SDP) nor the Greens, would have anything to do with it. Bear in mind that, for the last four years, a theoretical centre-left majority has existed on the Bundestag floor. Regardless, neither the SPD nor the Greens wavered in their opposition to Die Linke’s political connections to the remnants of the former East Germany’s Socialist Unity (i.e. Communist) Party.

Now, consider New Zealand’s predicament. Upwards of two million Kiwi voters went into the polling booths last weekend without a clue as to which of the two major political parties NZ First would join forces with in the event that such an arrangement became necessary. Even more astonishingly, neither of the two major parties was willing to rule out entering into a coalition deal with NZ First.

It is difficult to imagine such a scenario unfolding in Germany. Confronted with a political party committed to stripping a vulnerable ethnic minority of their guaranteed parliamentary representation; tearing up the country’s founding document; reducing the number of parliamentary seats by a sixth; and dramatically diminishing the flow of immigrants across the nation’s border; there can be little doubt that it would have been shunned by Germany’s mainstream political parties in exactly the same fashion as the AfD.

Many New Zealanders will, of course, object that no one takes these NZ First promises at their face value – least of all National and Labour. To accept this, however, is to confirm that neither our leading politicians, nor the electorate itself, take New Zealand’s parliamentary democracy all that seriously. By refusing to regard the policies of NZ First and the promises of its leader, Winston Peters, as truthful statements of genuine intent, we identify ourselves as citizens whose understanding of politics is instinctive rather than cerebral.

It points to an electorate whose constitutional sensibilities are overwhelmingly informed by the custom and practice of successive generations of politicians. Not so much Hegel and Heidegger, as “don’t worry, mate, she’ll be right”. We inhabit a political culture in which a generous helping of cynicism is considered essential to getting the democratic recipe right. New Zealand’s constitutional theory elevates good-old Kiwi common-sense well above strict Germanic ratiocination.

No matter how many times our formal constitutionalists insist (quite correctly) that there is no rule which says the party with the most votes gets to form the next government, New Zealand’s common-sense constitutionalists, guided by political precedent, will reply: “Yeah, yeah, we know there’s no ‘rule’, mate, but, at the end of the day, the largest party will be the party that calls the shots in the next government. Wouldn’t be fair, otherwise!”

Most certainly, that is not in “the spirit of MMP”. For the very simple reason that most Kiwis either do not understand, or do not approve of, the way MMP operates. What we have here is MMP – with FPP characteristics. A No. 8 Wire constitution – that works.

The Germans would, no doubt, respond to all this evidence of our simplicity with a sad smile. “Yours has been an extremely lucky country”, they would say. “But what will you do when your luck runs out? What will you do when you are confronted with a politician and/or a party which is deadly serious about the policies it puts before you? How well will your easy-going cynicism about politics and politicians serve you when you are confronted by a party that is fuelled by the most uncompromising idealism? We Germans have experience of such politicians and parties. Which is why, when we encounter them, we shun them, and shut them out. You should do the same.”

“Shut out Winston? Nah, mate, that wouldn’t be fair!”

This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 29 September 2017.


Kat said...

Of course immigration hasn't affected "custom or practice of successive generations" has it.

Looking at the freshened make up of National support over recent times it could easily be said there exists in its blue ranks a fueling of uncompromising idealism.

peteswriteplace said...

A majority want change, albeit narrowly. National campaigned on lies, untruths and exaggerated thruths.

peteswriteplace said...

All nicely packaged by Crosby Textor. C'mon Chris.

Polly said...

In my and my cats opinion;
Should we have a NZF/ Lab/ Green government after Oct 7, then we are all well and truly fucked.

Bro's and sisters "thems the facts". Face the facts.

Weather the storm, stock up on food and cat food now.

JanM said...

It is rather overstating the case, surely, that we didn't have a clue. The people who took a punt on voting NZF did so, I assume, because its policies fitted best with their political views. They knew perfectly well that there was a risk factor and were prepared to take it. That tends to suggest that they were not over-exercised about which major party it joined forces with. I think it likely that there were many others who may have been attracted to NZF but had stronger ideas about which party they wanted to see running the country, so, being more risk averse, voted accordingly.
That risk aversion played out more tellingly in the Maori electorates where uncertainty as to where the Maori Party would go cost them all their seats.
We did know some things (despite the MSM telling porkies left, right and centre) such as the Green Party would never align with National, and that Labour wouldn't have anything to do with Act. The rest is, as they say, in the lap of the gods. We live in a mad world!

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Bro's and sisters "thems the facts".

No, them's your opinion. And its opinions that masquerade as facts that have well and truly fucked America, to some extent Britain, and us so far. And until we learn to tell the difference between opinion and facts we will remain fucked.

As to the actual topic I thought Winston had given up on getting rid of the Maori seats? Because reasons. Which seems to suggest that he is open to a Labour/Greens coalition? Because I guarantee that now the Maori party is down the tubes National would be quite happy to get rid of Maori seats. Mind you, please do not take this as a prediction. No one should bet on what Winston is doing.:)

David Stone said...

Hi Chris
I reckon on Winston's behalf that dismissing his commitment to implementing his promises is a bit unfair. Had he ever been prime minister with a supportive cabinet and failed to implement his announced policies it would be fair enough, but he never has been in that position. He has always had to settle for what he can negotiate. Roll on MMP.
Cheers David J S

Anonymous said...

The majority did not vote for change. Thousands more voters ticked National than Labour, and the small parties were all but wiped out. Greens halved their support, Act is a near dead duck, UF are gone and Winston lost two seats, Northland included and has less of the party vote. How is this a vote for change? National's percentage of the party vote is far higher than Labour's, this is a vote for the status quo, with a few of the actors changed! Bill did so well, especially as the MSM are incredibly biased towards Labour. If it was FPP, and this election result represents that, Bill's victory would already have been cemented, as it will be soon.

Anonymous said...

Polly, I agree with your comment, but I can' imagine Winston giving the fingers to the majority of the voters. It was basically a National landslide, no matter what the left wishes for.

Victor said...

Pitch perfect, Chris.

In many other Western countries, a party with NZ First's profile and policy mix might find itself conventionally described as "Hard Right".

But few New Zealanders see NZF as such, no doubt because, probably rightly, its policies aren't taken too seriously.

Germany, is of course, our polar opposite in such matters. But we're not Germany. So what do we do now (apart from wait for the "specials")?

Meanwhile, I note that Frauke Petry and her husband have quit the AfD caucus, within days of entering the Bundestag and that the Mecklenburg-West Pomerania branch is in open rebellion.

So, who knows? Perhaps we shouldn't take AfD too seriously either. But, there again, no-one took the Austrian lance-corporal all that seriously to start with.

Steve said...

...and thousands more voted for anything but National.

You do realise there are more people who voted who don't want a National government than do want one? However the government is formed this was most definitely a vote for change.

Anonymous said...

If the biggest party wins under the New Zealand system, what on earth do we make of this:,_1911

Reform on 37, Liberals on 33. Liberals stitch together a deal with minor parties and independents.

Note that this was under FPP too, as was the UK in 1923, which delivered a Labour Government (the First British Labour Government, no less) with fewer seats than the Tories.

Fact is, New Zealand's constitution is an evolutionary beast. If Winston goes with Labour, the public will deal with it.

Sanctuary said...

In the last few weeks Mr. Trotter your output has shot up, but I fear you quality has declined significantly, afflicted with what seems an endemic defeatism that is exacerbated and revealed in moments of high political drama crisis.

Everything is ideological, including our "common sense" lack of ideological rules. In fact, I would argue NZ is simply the last Anglo-Saxon democracy which practices the great political gift of British Empiricism derived from John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume and infused by Karl Popper.

At the end of the day, if Labour, the Greens and NZ First form a government and do a good job of running the country people will accept it. The only who won't will be the entitled supporters and owners of the National party - farmers, the irrigation lobby, and certain hard right ideologues in the former and largely the Chinese Communist party in the latter - but they are the enemy, and those bastards wouldn't accept even a majority Labour government. The failure of the left-leaning Ardern led coalition won't be found in the campaign of destablisation that will immediately be launched by the right establishment aimed at branding them illegitimate; It will sit with a left that isn't assertive enough to take measures to counteract the right's narrative by creating new media outlets, funding new centres of power in it's support base in the community, giving workers stronger rights, and creating a new constituency of winners from it's reforms who are willing to re-elect them.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Sanctuary.

I'm sorry you think the quality of my writing has declined, Sanctuary. I must take issue with you, however, over the accusation of defeatism.

In moments of high political drama and/or crisis it is not defeatist to set out as clearly as possible the forces ranged against you. Knowing who is with you and who is against you is the very first step to devising a winning strategy (which can often be to retreat from an exposed position in good order rather than be wiped out). It is also important to understand the thinking of the people in whose communities the conflict is unfolding. If it is hostile to your aims, then winning the fight is made that much harder.

No useful purpose is served by taking-in an intrinsically complex and difficult field and then simply ordering your forces forward and hoping for the best.

The facts are these: Labour's manifesto is inadequate to the task of fulfilling the expectations of the people who voted for it. The Greens have been severely mauled - both by Labour and the electorate. NZ First is a hybrid and volatile political creature which is very difficult to predict as well as being internally fragile.

Are these the armies, Sanctuary, that you would order into battle against a National Party with 46 percent of the vote and all the most powerful institutions of NZ society at its side?

If your answer is "Yes", then I'm afraid you aren't much of a general.

jh said...

Since when was NZ First "far-left"?
NZ First is nationalist. They believe in privileging fellow citizens over foreigners (unlike national, labour and the greens)

sumsuch said...

Response to the common-sense constitutionalist is 'that's FPP'. Not complicated.

Well, I pop up on Peters's side this time round. He's no neo-Nazi. Whatever his manifold faults he can be a coalition partner.

No matter what the government is moving left. And you suggest the actual 'Left' should step away for this term in prospect of a longterm hegemony on the scale of the welfare state years or Sweden? I have to imagine where you are coming from because nothing you've said about this is plausible to me.

sumsuch said...

Your comment to Sanctuary explains your position better than the half a dozen articles since the election, which , to me , seemed to be the strewing of caltrops.

Apart from a hard-bought coalition between the Greens and National, I still prefer the Left coalition. Though I get a feeling at this stage it wouldn't include the Greens.