Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Oops, I’ve got an STV

Lindsay Perigo used to say that “New Zealanders need to get over this knee-jerk notion of changing the electoral system, and go for freedom instead.” He’s right: if we’re going to beat the bastards back – which is how to gain our freedom, right – then the important thing is not to change the way the bastards are voted in, but to make sure the bastards are properly chained up. (Which means, let’s face it, a properly written constitution.)

As “Captain Ahab” says at the CYFSWatch website, “Although MMP has brought many changes, it is clear that a new voting system cannot by itself radically alter a nation’s traditional political culture.”

That said, with John Boy’s announcement of the forthcoming two-stage referendum on MMP, it looks like we’ll still be talking voting systems for some years to come.  May the gods help us!

And may the gods rescue us too from the “race to the centre” that the big parties think MMP requires, and those wastes of space that, let’s face it, MMP has delivered us.  You know who I mean, those people “on the list” who are slipped in and can never ever be elected out again: the unelected and the unrepresentative; the braindead and the brazen; the Alamein Kopus and the Sue Bradfords.

Whatever its other demonstrated faults, perhaps this is MMP’s greatest flaw: that it gave power to those like Bradford who have never won office in an open contest, and never would have. (And by contrast to the Bradfords of the political world, at least the Kopus are benign.)

So despite ourselves, it looks like we’re going to be saddled once again with a debate on electoral systems in which case it’s important not be encumbered once again with a bear trap.

Which leads me to make two suggestions.  First, if we’re going to change the system again, then the STV system has my money – not the sexually transmitted disease, you understand, but the Single Transferable Vote system used in Australia, though without the compulsion in Australia to vote. And as it happens, that post by “Captain Ahab” at the CYFSWatch website I linked to above explains the system well, and why it should be your preference (the simple answer being that it gives at the opportunity for those few principled politicians who do exist in New Zealand to be heard, and to be rewarded with office – which is about as much as you can really hope for in a voting system).

And the second suggestion is that if we’re going to have the debate, then it might be opportune for some young enthusiast for liberty to pick up the baton and become The Face of STV – or in other words, to “do a Rod Donald” in reverse.  Do it well, and you’ve leveraged a place for yourself and your colleagues in the bear pit, you’ll have helped ensure the system introduced might be better than it would be otherwise, and you’ve probably also set yourself up to continue the debate into one on the necessary constitutional changes that will eventually need to be made here if we are to ever chain the bastards up properly.

It’s a dirty job (just like all politics) but someone has to do it. So who’s up for it? 


  1. What is the purpose of democracy?

    If it is to allow people that Not PC likes (and only those people) to do whatever they like, then sure, STV might be a good option.

    If you think the purpose is to represent the people, then you'll want the make-up of parliament to be as representative as possible - people from all walks of life, colours and political stripes must be there. Only a proportional system, such as MMP, can give us that.

    In parliament there is a hall with photos of parliamentarians over the last 150 years. What is immediatly obvious as one walks down that hall is that up until 1996, all the photos are of old, white, men.

  2. The purpose of democracy is not mob rule, nor the ridiculous throughing that is currently going on, with completely out of control ideologues trying to organize society by way of an ever increasing amount of increasingly normative legislation.

    A proper democracy requires restraint of government, and hence the argument that electoral reform is in fact meaningless without also having a debate about a proper constitution. Unfortunately, proper constitutions do not result from democratic debate, they tend to originate from application of sheer coercive power. This is an unfortunate conundrum.

  3. Rimu - democracy doesn't really have a purpose, or a great definition for that matter. One person, one vote doesn't translate into representation of every point of view if your POV is only shared by a small number of other people.

    MMP has not put a real drug-legalising tax-banning welfare-state-abolishing libertarian into parliament in NZ. STV might do this.

    Democracy turns into mob rule unless constrained by a constitution, hich we don't surrently have. There is no limit to the degree to which the state can invade our privacy, expropriate our assets and incarcerate us.

    The best form of government, in my view, is a constitutional republic limited to upholding individual rights and otherwise keeping out of our lives.

  4. Bez - the Free Radical website has a suggested constitution that would restrain governments from violating the rights of citizens. Check out:

  5. I don't understand why New Zealand doesn't have a constitution, since the English came here over a century ago to establish law into protecting people's rights and I thought that they would have done that. Any one here can give a reason why the British representatives didn't do that (a written constitution)?

    This is exactly what the British missionaries did in Tonga in over a century ago in the island kingdom. They setup and established a Constitutional Monarchy there in 1875.

    Although that it wasn't the best constitutional system they setup there, it is viewed as something still better than some other forms of governments in existence today.

  6. PC, under an MMP system with no threshold, I think a party such as the Libertarianz could gain representation, because many pragmatically-minded libertarians (if that's not an oxymoron) hold their noses and vote ACT (or National) in the knowledge that the Libz are an electoral dead letter. The threshold creates a chilling effect for parties which poll below it, and (almost orthogonally) parties which aren't already incumbent. Remove it and voting behaviour changes -- I don't expect we would have seen such a high turnout in 2008 for the Bill & Ben party without a threshold, for instance. For one thing, if C4 had the faintest hope of getting a seat, their lawyers would never have permitted them to run that stunt and the whole question would be moot.

    The other thing removal of the threshold would do is sharpen up the game run by a lot of micro parties. Those outside parliament tend to be fairly crude operations, and their offices tend to be held by those who want them rather than those to whom they are best suited. This also holds true for the party lists of established parties, which are pretty meaningless beyond about poll+10%. Also, the parties would move from being primarily agitators who propagandise issues to influence other parties without needing to care too much about sounding like raving moonbats, to being genuine electoral contenders who need to be cognisant of their electoral prospects and relationships. I include the Libertarianz in this latter group: it's easy to advocate brash and decisive policy when there's no chance of you ever having a responsibility to enact it. I imagine that with the prospect of gaining office, there would emerge a stronger incentive for meritocratic revolution in the micro-parties. That would be good for everyone, including the parliamentary parties.


  7. @Richard McGrath: Interesting. I could agree to following the US declaration as it does, but would think that further work is needed on many of the details. Also I would depart from the one man one vote system and create some system whereby individuals obtain additional votes based on the amount of net tax paid over the preceding electoral period.

  8. Sean Fitzpatrick22 Oct 2009, 14:13:00


    Good points.

    I do remember it being said before the introduction of MMP that it would lead to a heavy reduction in the vote share of minor parties such as the then third largest Alliance for those very reasons. A prediction that turned out to be accurate.

  9. "MMP has not put a real drug-legalising tax-banning welfare-state-abolishing libertarian into parliament in NZ. STV might do this."

    You support an electoral system on the basis it might be more helpful for your point of view?

  10. @STC Doesn't everyone? Welcome to rational self interest.


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