Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler

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Legal Beagle: Coalition of Losers

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  • Graeme Edgeler,

    STV results in similar proportionality to MMP if the number of members elected in each electorate seat leads to the same effective threshold (1/n = MMP%). So for our current 5% threshold that would mean 20 MPs elected in each electorate.

    I'm not sure that's necessary. A party with 5% support is likely to have pockets of support, do better in some electorates than others, etc. so may be able to get representation even with smaller electorates (winning one seat in each of six 20-member electorates is the same as winning one seat in half of the 12 10-member electorates).

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2971 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    Graeme Edgeler - as someone who is a lifelong Labour voter (in the Southern Maori electorate) may I say how very much I appreciate your explications?

    I am frantically on-sending them to other family (Pakeha/Nat )voters so they at least understand there's a bit more than "Paul says this" or "Michael says that"-

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    democracy also incorporates parties campaigning on platforms

    It seems to me you are basing a lot of your thesis on the idea that having campaigned on a platform should allow the majority to enact that platform.

    To me that is the whole problem with our system and is a legacy from FPP days. A party campaigns and then once it has power enacts that campaign ... without any further discussion or compromise.

    It's that total lack of discussion or compromise or heaven forfend input of multiple groups to create a better law that is the flaw with our current style of government and is also the flaw in your thesis.

    It is stupid to imagine one person or even one group with the same ideology can create the best possible law. Even more stupid to imagine that such a law would represent the wishes of most New Zealanders or be good for most New Zealanders.

    The best decisions come from taking many ideas and opinions and working with a diverse group to make the best law.

    Our current system doesn't do that because the politicians (and folks like you) can't imagine how to come to such joint decisions and instead insist that the dominant player gets to make all the calls. And this government is a clear example of that with Key's government repeatedly making big decisions with no discussion or even normal process.

    What MMP is meant to achieve, and does in many other countries, is a parliament where several parties express viewpoints and laws are enacted to represent as many of those views as possible. A politics of compromise not of domination.

    That it has failed to achieve that in NZ is sad and as long as folks like you continue to suggest that parties be allowed enact the laws they campaigned on (without compromise) then we will remain a country of domination with a 3 year refresh.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3115 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    That it has failed to achieve that in NZ is sad and as long as folks like you continue to suggest that parties be allowed enact the laws they campaigned on (without compromise) then we will remain a country of domination with a 3 year refresh.

    That wasn't what Graeme said, and "folks like you" sounds unnecessarily pejorative.

    The basic principle -- that parties elected to government have a mandate to implement the policies on which they campaigned -- is a core feature of democracy. That's why parties publish policy manifestos.

    That's not the same thing as being able to legislate policy without scrutiny or expert advice. The present government's abuse of urgency -- most notably to escape scrutiny of its populist National Standards policy -- was an affront. But I don't think that means there is no such thing as a policy mandate.

    When Labour introduced the civil unions bill, there was a great deal of wailing and gnashing about it being sprung on a unsuspecting nation. But it had been in the manifesto since 1999. They'd been elected twice with it there, and that gave it some legtimacy.

    Even so, along with the companion legislation, it still was subject to debate and amendment. I really can't imagine a good system in which the voice of the voters carried no weight in policy.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17973 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Ok I withdraw the "folks like you" it wasn't meant as a pejorative.

    I however disagree that "parties elected to government have a mandate to implement the policies on which they campaigned – is a core feature of democracy"

    It's a core feature of our version of democracy.

    To me what a party does is represent a viewpoint held by a proportion of the population. The key word is "represent". That doesn't mean to me that they should be allowed to make law based on that opinion or policy but instead that they should represent a viewpoint when a law is made.

    That would hopefully make the law contain some representation of the opinion of that section of the population. But not to the exclusion of all other viewpoints. It's that latter that we have seen all to much from our current politicians. It's the desire to exclude other viewpoints when a government gains power that has messed up our MMP system. We have continually talked about the "need" to have a majority in order to govern. But what is actually meant by that is there is a need to have an absolute majority to dictate. Without a majority governing would require compromise ... which is bad because????

    The mandate a party has when it is elected is to represent a set of views and opinions. Some of that is embodied in policies they campaign on but I don't want even my views enacted into law without compromise.

    Part of the problem is the way policies are even campaigned. Labour will do this ... National will do this ... instead of Labour will ensure that these principles are considered when law is made OR The Greens will ensure that these ideas are considered when law is made.

    If that were the mode of campaigning then we might see a different kind of government.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3115 posts Report Reply

  • Raymond A Francis,

    I voted for MMP (apparently one of the few) and I feel it has delivered a better system

    My only problems are the strength it gives to the Party, some of whom don't have many members but whose bosses do get to chose who we get to vote for (smoke filled rooms)
    And although we mostly get to hear the policies the Party espouses, when the various Parties come together the policies and the weight that the governing Party gives them is out of our (the voters) control (more smoke filled rooms)

    45' South • Since Nov 2006 • 522 posts Report Reply

  • Bruce Thorpe,

    The greatest advantage of democracy is the extent to which the populace accept the process as fair and open.
    For this reason a simple majority of votes has always been a favoured way to measure support for an option, but as we have learned with FFP when a simple majority is not achieved the the issue of fairness becomes more complex.
    When the matter is not settling a single decision, but choosing long term representation, MMP provides an open system where the means of achieving a majority is at least still overt and comprehensible.
    In my view STV does not properly achieve the same level of clarity. I believe voters choose a favoured candidate and then tick the boxes of a few familiar and inoffensive candidates.
    I am suspicious of any electoral system where more than one vote is cast for candidates.
    I am opposed with our current local government option where a number of councillors from a ward provide the voters with an equivalent number of EQUAL votes. This seems to skew the election in favour of prominence as such rather than personal support.
    For example up here in the Far North District, in one ward voters cast four votes for councillors, and quite clearly a large number of fourth preference votes defeat a smaller number of first choice votes, and that seems contrary to the idea of democracy.

    Hokianga • Since May 2007 • 42 posts Report Reply

  • izogi,

    Hi Graeme.

    The question you have to ask is: would I prefer one of those MPs to be John Key or Roger Douglas. If you really don't care, and would be exactly as (un)happy with John Key as Roger Douglas, then don't vote for either of them.

    This is getting academic, but I think STV can become less representative when people don't rank all candidates. For a fair system, it really relies on all voters making a clear and informed choice about all candidates, even though this is probably unrealistic.

    I tried to create a proof-of-concept example of how this could happen a few months back, which I posted at the time in a comment on Frogblog.

    In essence if you have candidates A, B and C, consider that candidate C gets eliminated first by a very small margin behind both B and A. Voters for C never bothered to rank anyone else, so their votes are wasted at the point of C's elimination. Candidate A then remains ahead of B by a small margin. A significant factor overlooked by the system, however, is that everyone who voted for B had a second preference for C, but these preferences aren't counted after B's elimination because C was eliminated first... even though the total number of transferred preferences could have been nearly twice the votes of A if C hadn't been eliminated first-up. And, of course, none of the B voters ranked candidate A because they all hated A's guts.

    What's effectively happened is that candidate A was elected even though only a third of voters explicitly voted for candidate A at all, despite nearly two thirds of voters explicitly indicating that they preferred candidate C over candidate A. Implicitly, I think the system implicitly divided the C-voters' preferences evenly between A and B, and this effectively put both A and B at the point where C couldn't have beaten either of them anyway, even if later preferences of B had been able to be transferred to C. I think many people would still consider it an unfair result, though, because so many people had stated outright that they wanted C rather than A, and in particular had refused to rank A at all.

    There's some irony in that if C voters had ranked A and B, then either A or B would have had to win rather than C, so it might not be quite right to say that apathy of C-candidate voters prevented their own candidate being elected. There's still something twisted going on, though.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 254 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    (to summarise GE's point: if you have any preference at all in the lower orders, vote accordingly)

    The Australian experience with multi-member electorates and large numbers of candidates is that numbering every candidate is beyond the capacity of much of the electorate. I've scrutineered and seen that in action (perhaps only 1% or 2% invalid votes, but people get elected with a primary vote around the same level). So you get political parties publishing "how to vote" cards, and above the line voting.

    But I think that even without that, preference flows can move in very odd directions. A party that is widely despised can attract enough lower preferences to avouid exclusion and overtake more preferred parties through successive rounds of exclusion. The take home lesson is that voting for people you don't want elected is dangerous.

    In your example, by voting for Key over Chapman I might ensure that Key is elected instead of a Green member. Not directly, certainly, the mathematics of the voting syetm remains pure and unsullied. But by advocating that people "vote all thew way down" I am ensuring that people who don't know and don't care vote for candidates they know nothing about. Worse, they will probably follow the how to vote card of their preferred party, complete with silly preference deals. So by a combination of random voting and party tactics we get extremists elected despite having a primary vote of around 1% (and multiple parties haiving higher primary votes). Where do the votes come from? Preference deals with major parties that give surplus votes disproportionately to the extremists. In the overhang distribution a party with 1% can gain another 1% or more, and right there overtake candidates that have a higher proportion of the primary vote.

    While it makes the maths easier if everyone votes all the way down, I think it's more reasonable to only vote for candidates you know and approve of. I suspect in that case we would still get extreme microparties elected on residual votes in the first few elections, but I expect that the steady state would not favour that outcome. But the analysis is much harder because it requires looking at how people interact with their electoral system rather than just the mechanics of the system.

    In practice MMP (or PR) are so much simpler and demonstratably more fair that IMO it's hard to argue for STV. The electorate at large are not voting system geeks and the extra impost of STV is unjustifiable unless it demonstratably produces better outcomes. I haven't seen it do that. But I have seen a religous extremist elected with 1% of the primary vote, and I can't imagine that happening under MMP (and yes, I do know about the electoral problems in Israel but regard them as an artefact of the gerrymander rather than the voting system).

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 294 posts Report Reply

  • Moz,

    To summarise: the question is "how do we choose the last candidate in a multi-member electorate?" Under STV it is essentially random, based on preference flows not considered by most electors. Under a proportional system it is based on the next most popular candidate.

    The usual case in Australia is that there are 6 senate seats, 3 go to the government, 2 to the opposition, and one has no clear majority. Typically the proportion of excess votes will be something like 20% govt, 30% opposition, 30% third party, 20% microparties. In that case, arguing that selected a candidate from one of the microparties is just as fair as from the other parties is IMO bizarre. I think the question should be "opposition or third party" in this exact example, rather than distributing the 20% overhang from the govt party to their preferred microparty.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 294 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    If all that was wanted was to maintain a candidate-electorate link, it would be possible to conceive a proportional system with multi-member electorates and optional open lists.

    In such a system, voters would either choose a party (and get their list rankings) or rank individual candidates within their electorate.

    This would then be processed roughly as follows:
    - the party lists are ranked, with "party only" voters being taken as approving the suggested list.
    - seats are allocated using de Hondt or whatever
    - optionally, seat allocations are adjusted to give proportionality on a national basis.

    This would enable people (if they chose) to have a say in which personalities got elected (like an instant run-off primary). It would also achieve proportionality. At the same time, it would allow for simple "one-tick" voting for those that wanted it.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4221 posts Report Reply

  • Gareth Ward,

    Surely we are meant to be electing representatives from a party that we feel will best represent our viewpoint in Parliament - and so under MMP the parties should be campaigning on what positions they will take and where their "walk away" points are. If anything, your thesis just shows that the two big players haven't yet adjusted to the fact hat they won't be calling all the shots and are still campaigning on a "this is what we'll do as supreme rulers of the country" model

    Auckland, NZ • Since Mar 2007 • 1712 posts Report Reply

  • Conan McKegg, in reply to Gareth Ward,

    Surely we are meant to be electing representatives from a party that we feel will best represent our viewpoint in Parliament - and so under MMP the parties should be campaigning on what positions they will take and where their "walk away" points are. If anything, your thesis just shows that the two big players haven't yet adjusted to the fact hat they won't be calling all the shots and are still campaigning on a "this is what we'll do as supreme rulers of the country" model

    I think this is the important thing. It's not about how can we work the model to match the country's perception, it's how the parties can represent themselves to better present the system they are working in.

    I think if all the parties stuck to describing their policies but also outlining what parties they can work with - the voting habits will change to match. If you know that if you vote for Greens regarding their policy knowing who their partners are likely to be, then you may be more inclined to vote for them rather than Labour (Which some voters did to not "waste" their vote.)

    Wellington • Since Jan 2011 • 4 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Young,

    Here's a little look at Germany's version of MMP, courtesy of yours truly, published on Gaynz.Com in late December last year:

    http://www.gaynz.com/articles/publish/31/article_9741.php

    "What about Germany? In order to put this debate in focus, a short description of LGBT rights in Germany might be in order. It really didn't begin until the late sixties, when the New Left emerged, due to the Stalinism of East Germany's governing Socialist Unity Party and conservative Catholicism of the centre-right Christian Democratic Union. Fortunately, West Germany underwent the same social changes as most other West European democracies and a new Green environmentalist and peace-oriented party emerged within the Bundestag to provide greater democratic diversity in the eighties as a result. East Germany decriminalised in 1968, while West Germany followed suit in 1969, although there was repression of independent LGBT political organising until the fall of communism in 1990-91.

    Thereafter, the Social Democrat/Green centre-left coalition that emerged in the federal Bundestag and some state legislatures implemented various social reforms. These have included LGBT-inclusive employment antidiscrimination laws, registered partnerships and legal recognition of coparent same-sex adoption responsibilities.What about the history of (West) German electoral representation since the end of the Second World War, however? How did this situation arise?

    It might be objected that the German federal political landscape is the result of divergent political history from that of New Zealand, but such objections are spurious, as closer analysis will demonstrate.


    Currently, Germany has a centre-right government, consisting of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats and Guido Westerwalle's Free Democrats, akin to National and ACT. Westerwalle is an out gay man. Unfortunately for Westerwalle and the FDP, there are other similarities, such as plunging party poll ratings, which render the parallels uncanny.


    On the centre-left, there are now three main players. The Social Democrats correspond to our Labour Party, while the German Greens are undergoing a tremendous surge in popularity, at twenty percent in current opinion polls. Like New Zealand in the nineties, there is also "The Left", which is roughly similar to the Alliance. Like the Alliance was, it is a coalition of two entities, the west German "Labour and Social Justice-Electoral Alternative" Party and the former east German Party for Democratic Socialism, which used to be the governing East German Socialist Unity Party (communists) during the days of Cold War partition.


    However, the Left isn't a spoiler party. While it is undecided whether or not to align itself with the Social Democrats and German Greens, the latter could govern without it, given the Greens electoral surge. It isn't visibly splitting the centre-left vote, given that the Social Democrats have the largest share of that sector of public opinion.


    What about German history, though, and its microparties. In the first three federal Bundestags, the Communist Party, far right German Party and (Catholic) Centre Party gained representation, which lapsed. The Cold War, German Party neofascism and Centre Party absorption into the Christian Democrat Union all ended independent representation, until the German Greens arose in the late seventies and early eighties.


    (It should be noted that German federal MMP has stricter microparty entry criteria compared to that of New Zealand. Three constituency seats are required before a party is entitled to additional list representation if it doesn't cross the five percent threshold for list-only representation).


    Outside the Bundestag, there are some unrepresented microparties. The "Pirate Party" campaigns for minimalist Internet content regulation, and has some LGBT supporters, while the neofascist National Democratic Party is what one would expect- racist, anti-Muslim and anti-immigration. Thankfully, the latter only have representatives in Saxony's state parliament. Apart from these, there are social conservative, green social conservative, other neofascist and animal rights parties, far below the threshold. Despite some local influence, apart from the Pirate Party and NDP, their national impact is minimal."

    Craig Y

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 357 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    After reading this paper on the advantages of the Venetian Republic's procedure for electing the Doge, I am ready for us to adopt their oligarchical system. (via languagehat at Metafilter.)

    As soon as I learned about their intricate procedure I realised it would be catnip for Graeme.

    "Thirty members of the Great Council, chosen by lot, were reduced by lot to nine; the nine chose forty and the forty were reduced by lot to twelve, who chose twenty-five. The twenty-five were reduced by lot to nine and the nine elected forty-five. Then the forty-five were once more reduced by lot to eleven, and the eleven finally chose the forty-one who actually elected the doge."

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2906 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    I’m not sure that’s necessary. A party with 5% support is likely to have pockets of support, do better in some electorates than others, etc.

    Yes true.

    And I deleted a further paragraph which raised the possibility of larger STV electorates reducing the likelihood of Hide/Anderton etc making it to parliament, unless they had wider regional support outside of their (current smaller) electorate.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6145 posts Report Reply

  • Jacqui Dunn, in reply to Stephen Judd,

    “Thirty members of the Great Council, chosen by lot, were reduced by lot to nine; the nine chose forty and the forty were reduced by lot to twelve, who chose twenty-five. The twenty-five were reduced by lot to nine and the nine elected forty-five. Then the forty-five were once more reduced by lot to eleven, and the eleven finally chose the forty-one who actually elected the doge.”

    Oh yes. Let's do it like that!

    Deepest, darkest Avondale… • Since Jul 2010 • 585 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    Another problem with granting a general right to try and form a government to the largest party, or the most-winningest: it produces an incentive for a Green supporter, who wants a left-wing government with a strong Green presence, to vote for Labour, in order to ensure that it is Labour making the first round of offers. In conjunction with the threshold, this could lead to a very odd set of behaviours if the Greens hovered around the 5% mark. One possible result is the re-imposition of a FPP mentality, except this time at the national level.

    You have a mandate to form a government if you have the votes in the House; you have a mandate to pass laws if you have the votes in the House --- or at least, as far as anyone under heaven, or outside the polling place, cares.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1252 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Gareth Ward,

    the two big players haven't yet adjusted to the fact hat they won't be calling all the shots and are still campaigning on a "this is what we'll do as supreme rulers of the country" model

    Sadly also the way the media continue to misrepresent it too

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 15753 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    You have a mandate to form a government if you have the votes in the House; you have a mandate to pass laws if you have the votes in the House — or at least, as far as anyone under heaven, or outside the polling place, cares.

    I dispute your assertion that the National Government, whose leader John Key prior to the election told voters that National would not raise GST had a mandate to raise GST.

    I also dispute your assertion that no-one cared that state assets were sold by the fourth Labour Government without having the option of voting for or against that policy at the 1984 election.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2971 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    But we don't vote for policy, we vote for people. John Key said: we won't raise GST. Then he did. But John Key also made other promises. And he decided he couldn't keep all of them, and so the one about GST had to go. But that doesn't mean that he didn't have a mandate to make that decision (& what does a mandate mean anyway? How do you propose to enforce it?) nor that there's any restriction on the Labour Party attacking him for saying one thing and then doing something else.

    The voters' judgement of the 1984 Labour Government, when asked, was that they deserved another go at running the country. And, of course, the reason that there was no manifesto that year was Muldoon's alcoholic snap election. I am sure that there were people who cared, and they got to express themselves at the 1987 election, and they lost. It wasn't the fact that the Labour Party's policy preferences weren't outlined in a nice document that I think offends democracy; rather it was the problem that if you didn't approve of neoliberal policy prescriptions, you had no-one to vote for.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1252 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Keir Leslie,

    I don't propose to enforce mandates. I propose to state that they exist, and discuss the extent that they exist, and to do my bit to hold politicians to account for them.

    You are right that we elect people to Parliament, not policies, but at least some of us vote for those people (and not for others) because of their policies.

    We agree that National could, if it really wanted to, pass with ACT a law re-introducing the death penalty. However, while you appear to think they have a mandate to do this, I do not.

    If your views are as stated, I'm not sure we can have a sensible debate about this - our conceptions of democracy are just too different: you appear to adopt the elective dictatorship model Geoffrey Palmer described our system as: Parliaments are elected and have a mandate to do whatever they want. I don't. I may recognise that they probably have the power to do whatever they want, but I see democracy and their pre-election policies and mandate as at least morally limiting this.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2971 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    As far as it goes, I think that whoever forms the government can claim a mandate to run the country as best they see fit within the rough bounds of their stated policies. In National's case, that doesn't extend to a mandate to cut taxes if the trade-off is increasing GST after saying that they wouldn't increase GST. They have a mandate to cut taxes, because that's consistent with their stated policies, but increasing GST was categorically ruled out pre-election.
    Similarly, reintroducing capital punishment would be a significant deviation from the stated policies of any party, even the the neo-fascists masquerading as Act.

    In the historic context, Labour '84 could claim no mandate for any of their neo-lib bullshit because they'd never said anything about it - and I don't buy the snap election as any kind of excuse for that failing. In '87, assuming they didn't make statements to the effect of having forsaken the neo-lib ideology (I'm not old enough to remember), they could've claimed the election victory as a mandate for more of the same. What did National say in '90 about the neo-lib scorched earth policies that they followed?

    The pit from whence crawl… • Since Mar 2007 • 3733 posts Report Reply

  • Dismal Soyanz, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    but I see democracy and their pre-election policies and mandate as at least morally limiting this.

    Politicians with moral limits? Such a quaint idea...

    Wellington • Since Nov 2010 • 168 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    We agree that National could, if it really wanted to, pass with ACT a law re-introducing the death penalty. However, while you appear to think they have a mandate to do this, I do not.

    I think that if the National party & Act were willing to pass that law they should be able to do so; I also think that the Opposition would be well within their rights to call them deceitful, barbaric, cowardly, and so-on. I don't think that you need to introduce a concept of the mandate here. It also seems to me that we don't need to suppose that the lack of mandate will hold back the National Party in this instance; rather what holds them back is the fact that they don't approve of the death penalty, that introduction of such a policy would be infeasible on a host of other grounds.

    And, yes, if they'd run on it then it might go through; but that wouldn't be because they had a mandate to do so, but rather because they had demonstrated that people wanted it, and you'd be daft to fight hard against popular policy.

    The notion of a mandate seems mainly metaphysical, and to be honest, it seems as if it can be left to the electorate to judge at the next election.

    I should note that I do endorse the `don't lie' theory of electoral politics, which looks a lot like a mandate theory when dealing with election promises, but also has the nice feature of working well between elections.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1252 posts Report Reply

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