2 February 2019
Politics should be the contest of good ideas. Having a range of ideas debated from different perspectives results in better decision making. That’s why I am a big supporter of MMP. It was meant to deliver much better representation of our people and society in parliament, and it has certainly been more effective at doing this than the old First Past the Post system that some still have a hankering to return to.
Talk of a blue-green party emerged this week with former Green Party leadership challenger and now National Party hopeful Vernon Tava being touted as a possible leader. This may sound like confused philosophy but there is support for free market economic direction combined with strong environmental policy. It’s not a new concept – the National Party did have a blue-green interest group for many years as well as an informal group called the blue liberals (quite ACT-like in their thinking).
Question: Is there space in the political spectrum for a new entrant in the blue-green space?
Answer: Yes, there are kiwis who would support this philosophy.
Question: Is it likely to happen?
Answer: No, not while our MMP system keeps the 5 percent threshold.
I believe we need electoral reform to prevent us returning to the old two party platform where each takes turn at governing. At the very least we need to drop completely – not lower – the MMP threshold and I’ve commented on this before in MMP: Lose the Threshold, 4 Year Term.
The first MMP election in 1996 delivered six political parties to parliament – National, Labour, NZ First, the Alliance, ACT and United. By 1999 the Green Party had split away from the Alliance and entered parliament for the first time as an independent party. This brought the number of parties to 7. In 2005 the Maori Party was elected to parliament after co-leader Tariana Turia left the Labour party (2004) and formed the new party. However, along the way the Alliance, Maori Party and United (later United Future) have all lost their parliamentary presence and ACT only hangs on at the pleasure of the National Party. After eight MMP elections and with NZ First and the Greens now struggling to poll consistently above the 5 percent mark we are moving back towards the old two party dominance of politics – a duopoly type situation, which in the market-place kiwis find unpalatable!
Despite new parties having entered parliament under MMP, none have been able to break over the 5 percent threshold without an existing presence in parliament. Some have come close but that five percent barrier has proved to be very high. Although a blue-green party certainly has some appeal, history is against it getting enough votes to gain parliamentary seats. Also this week there was speculation that TOP (The Opportunities Party) and the Maori Party were talking of merging. Even by combining the votes they got at the 2017 election, they are some way from breaking the 5 percent threshold.
Voters hate to think their vote will be wasted. Having a threshold distorts voters thinking and wishes. Often those wanting to support a small party decide not to because they fear their vote won’t count. The threshold turns MMP into a system that doesn’t result in real representation. In the 2017 election 4.7 percent of the party vote – 121,412 votes – didn’t go to the party people actually voted for but was redistributed (proportionately) to other parties, mostly to National and Labour. People voting for a small party have usually decided they don’t want to vote National or Labour.
There are supporters of a lower MMP threshold, but any level of threshold distorts the wishes of the voter. This can and does influence the make up of governments.
Voters wishes should count and we are only truly represented when this is so. We also benefit as a society from diversity of thought and action. Our current system prevents this because it is near impossible to establish new electable political parties while we have an MMP threshold. Forget forming new parties and merging others. Electoral reform is what’s needed if we want real diversity in our parliament.
Nick Smith’s electoral reform speech