Cracker by Damian Christie

105

Cup of Tea and a new Electoral System

It's certainly been amusing watching Britons get themselves into a flap these past few days, working out who is going to take up residence at No. 10. So much for the traditional stiff upper lip, the anxiety has been palpable, and has resulted in protests calling for reform, commentators wandering around like headless chooks and in at least one case, exploding on air.

I love that we in New Zealand have adopted a condescending tone as we see the chaos caused by what we have come to expect since 1996 - no clear winner on election night. Oh aren't we clever for having adopted MMP, the subtext reads, look at how disproportionate the outcome, how unfair for the Lib Dems. Aren't we mature for approaching Government formation in such a consensus building manner. One news item I saw was tellingly phrased :

"Britain's election are still run under a First Past the Post system."

Still. As though the progression was inevitable, natural. Like that famous diagram of the ascent of man: the feudal system with its prehensile tail; the disproportionate caveman of FPP, dragging its knuckles; Communism, the extinct neanderthal, an evolutionary dead end; and finally Mixed Member Proportional - modern man depicted in all his romantic glory.

Don't get me wrong. I agree. A proportional system, much like Bornvita, is better better better by far.

But it's ironic, laughable even, that this sort of smug tone can exist at the same time as we here are debating a return to those old ways. When according to the polls and my own experience wandering the street with a microphone, a good number of us, maybe even a majority, favour dumping MMP (and the majority of them choosing to devolve to FPP).

Certainly, there are differences between ours and the British example. Winston Peters delusions of granduer aside, we have never had a third party of any significance*, nothing like the Lib Dems, who were running neck and neck with Labour and the Tories before their vote collapsed on election day. But even with their poor showing, they should still have twice as many seats as they do, proportionally speaking. Losing an Act, or a Green Party or NZ pales in comparison.

[*There were Social Credit and Bob Jones' New Zealand Party, both cited as good examples of injustice under FPP, but neither ever achieved polling parity with the big two.]

I hope that come the referendum, people will remember the British example. And not remember it in the muddled way Peter Shirtcliffe seems to be interpreting it (seriously, who sets up a website to lobby against MMP, and calls it petershirtcliffe.co.nz?), but as an example of the Bad Old Days. When big parties with vested interests fought to keep Parliament from truly reflecting the wishes of the people, afraid it might interfere with their unbridled power.

I'm pretty politically agnostic these days. I have my leanings, but my vote is far from decided in advance. I don't believe one party is by definition better than another, although I do think some are definitely worse. But one thing I do believe passionately, is that if we're going to live in a democracy (my preference is actually to be ruled by a bunch of benevolent elders wearing white Grecian tunics, like in Minority Report or Superman or something), then our Parliament should be as representative of that democracy as possible. You won't see me at a Labour rally, or handing out pamphlets with a big blue tick, but I'm thinking it might be time for me to raise a placard for the first time in my life, to walk down the street for a cause I believe in - MMP. I hope when the time comes, you might join me.

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