The coat-tail rule and democracy

Allow me to fly in the face of an accepted truth in NZ politics by saying this: there is absolutely nothing undemocratic about the MMP “coat-tail” rules.

This has quickly become the meme du jour around the Internet/Mana alliance (and I keep using the A-word very deliberately, because there’s an important precedent which people keep ignoring!) as propounded by Patrick Gower:

… Laila Harré is wrecking MMP.

Hone Harawira is wrecking MMP.

And Kim Dotcom is wrecking MMP.

They are using Harawira’s seat and MMP’s “coat-tail” rule to get a back-door entry into Parliament.

It is a rort.

It is a grubby deal, made all the worse by the fact Harawira holds the Te Tai Tokerau seat – a Maori seat.

As both mickysavage at The Standard and Danyl at Dim-Post have noted, there’s a funny little irony here: National had the opportunity to reform MMP, but they didn’t – because, we can probably assume, they thought they’d be hurting their own chances by doing so. (And they thought ACT would be able to lift its polling numbers.) Now, their failure to act is biting them on the arse.

But there’s another point – a point I can make by strategically editing an anonymous Stuff editorialist writing on the coat-tail rule:

A weakness of the mixed-member proportional system [is that it] … allows a party … to gain seats according to the proportion of the party vote.

Hang on a tick. It’s a weakness of MMP that parties gain seats proportional to their share of the party vote? Isn’t that how MMP is meant to work?

I agree, there is unfairness in MMP, but it’s not the “coat-tailing” – it’s the plight of parties which don’t win electorate seats.

Take New Zealand First. In 1999, they received 4.26% of the vote – not enough to cross the threshold, but because Winston held Tauranga, they gained 5 seats. But in 2008, they received 4.07% of the vote and didn’t hold Tauranga – so they were out.

The real irony? Due to the increase in overall voters, New Zealand First actually received nearly 7,500 more votes in 2008 than 1999. Nearly 100,000 Kiwis’ votes were rendered void in 2008, because there was no seat to coat-tail on to.

87,000 votes got you 5 seats in 1999. 95,000 votes got you no seats in 2008. Is that fair?

Say what you like about Winston Peters and New Zealand First – but I think that kind of situation “wrecks MMP” far more than a couple of parties coming to a mutual agreement about working together to ensure their constituents have the best possible chance of being represented – fairly and proportionally – in Parliament.

Internet Mana: the sell-out and the reaction

A common response I saw to the Mana/Internet alliance today was, “Oh great, Mana’s sold out. Mana’s meant to be grassroots! Mana and the Internet Party have nothing in common!”

The thing is, it largely (not entirely) came from people who aren’t Mana members or supporters. It came from Labour supporters.

So my initial reaction was to say “Maybe Labour members shouldn’t crow too loudly about the idea of a party moderating its views in order to get broader mainstream appeal. Maybe, if you really love Mana’s kaupapa/ideology/vision/tactics that much, you should put a ring on it. I mean, join it.”

It wasn’t a particularly nice thought, but I was saved from tweeting it by character limits – probably for the best, because this kind of snark goes over much better in the longform.

The thing is, it does feel like there are some on the left who approved of Mana’s out-there down-and-dirty politics … in a very condescending way. An “isn’t it cute? They organise people living in state houses to go on marches and wave little flags, just like real revolutionaries!” way. An, “of course they’ll never win anything because they’re too scary and loud (and unashamedly brown) but wouldn’t it be great if we could all be ideologically pure like them? Bless” way.

I think Mana is seen by some in Labour as admirably extreme: but oh, they’re just not our kind of political ally. Obviously it would be delightful if they managed to pull 3-4% and bring in some definitely-not-going-into-coalition-with-National MPs, but until then we’d really rather they use the servants’ entrance while we do the grown-up politics thing.

Don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing bad about wanting to work within a larger party like Labour to pull it back to its social justice roots (hi, I’m Stephanie and I’m a Labour Party member) and appreciate having a more radical minor party in the picture to shift the discourse (I refuse to say “Overton Window” because it’s terribly wanky and also the name of a Glenn Beck novel).

But if you are a member of that larger party, you just shouldn’t be too quick to scream “SELLOUT!!!” at the first sign of an unusual, untested, practically unique allegiance of two parties with very distinct, pretty well-defined interests and approaches. (Approaches which I don’t think are mutually exclusive, but that’s a post for another day).

Especially before we even know who the Internet Party leader will be, or what the joint policy platform looks like.

There are many valid criticisms of Kim Dotcom – my most generous assessment is that he’s like any number of self-centered socially-awkward politically-adrift nerds I’ve known, only with a big pile of cash, which doesn’t tend to prompt a lot of self-reflection and moderation. And there is still every chance that this alliance spells the end of Mana as the kind of radical force people both inside and outside wanted or expected it to be.

We’ve already seen resignations from Mana, so clearly some in the party aren’t happy, and that could lead to a loss of members or a Labour-style internal power shift if the process for deciding on the alliance is seen as unfair or undemocratic.

All I’m saying is that it’s probably too early for any outsider to start making grandiose declarations about another party’s kaupapa.

Who is the Internet Party’s secret MP?

Maybe this is one of those open political secrets – if you’re in the know, you already know, and it seems obvious. If you’re not, it’s a total mystery.

Just who is the MP Kim Dotcom has ready and waiting to jump waka in 2014?

I’ve got no idea, but I approach these things like logic puzzles. Surely there are some basic assumptions which can narrow down the likely options.

First, the MP should be a current electorate MP. It’s only sensible. They’ve already got profile and support. Interestingly, this instantly rules out all of the Greens or NZ First, who (respectively) have the tech savvy and wilful randomness to be plausible options.

Further, we know (at least) 13 electorate MPs aren’t running in 2014: Auchinvole, Banks, Hayes, Heatley, Hutchison, C King, R Robertson, Roy, Ryall, Sharples, Tremain, Turia, Wilkinson. And Bill English is only running on the list.

Maurice Williamson and Clare Curran have both ruled out being the one.

So that’s 54 left. I rule out Hone Harawira, because it would be silly to be talking about some kind of alliance with the IP if there were also a secret plan to switch parties in the works. I can’t see Flavell or Dunne doing it either.

So we’re down to 51, all from Labour or National. Do we rule out all Cabinet Ministers, or people high on the Labour list? Party leaders and deputies, certainly. Then I think we have to get down to basics: who has sufficient personal cred to make it on their own.

So take out anyone whose electorate party vote was higher than or within 10% of their personal vote. We can see where their voters’ loyalties lie.

That eliminates everyone from National except for Nick Smith (the party vote in Nelson is 87% of his personal vote, so … close enough, really) and Paula Bennett, who barely scraped past Labour’s Carmel Sepuloni and is expected to contest the new Upper Harbour seat – unless the polls get so bad National have no other choice than to offer it to Colin Craig.

So that leaves us with Labour MPs. Specifically:

Nanaia Mahuta (party vote 84% of personal vote); Phil Twyford (party vote 75%); Trevor Mallard (party vote 74%); Chris Hipkins (party vote 66%); Phil Goff (party vote 78%); Annette King (party vote 69%); Damien O’Connor (party vote 58%); David Clark (party vote 78%); Ruth Dyson (party vote 58%); Kris Faafoi (party vote 79%); Iain Lees-Galloway (party vote 68%); Megan Woods (party vote 70%).

That does tell a story. But it’s not a story about Kim Dotcom, or even any of those MPs specifically: it’s a story about the 2011 election, which was abysmal for the Labour Party. Eight of those electorates went to National in the party vote.

I can’t see National-leaning voters going to the Internet Party in huge numbers (more than I think others expect, but not that much.) So we’re down to:

  • Nanaia Mahuta
  • Phil Goff
  • Annette King
  • David Clark

Nanaia, Phil and Annette all have stonkingly big majorities and a huge amount of personal mana, it’s true. But do we see the Internet Party going into Parliament through a Māori seat? Do we see either of the most senior, longest-serving Labour veterans making such a radical move?

winston445

The idea of Paula Bennett defecting to the Internet Party sounds positively credible in comparison. At least she could use the Coatesville mansion as a campaign base.

The disappointing conclusion to this thought experiment is that if Kim Dotcom does have a current MP lined up to front his campaign, it’s someone with a vastly inflated sense of their own political popularity or the wisdom of such a move.

It’s fitting, but it just reinforces the idea that the Internet Party is a sideshow. And after six years of National shredding our country to bits, we deserve a better election year debate than that.