Was it MMP’s fault?

MMP has been given some of the blame for the inability to kick Aaron Gilmore out of parliament.

Is that fair?


Both list and electorate MPs can be sacked from their caucus and party but if they don’t resign they stay in parliament until the next election when voters give their verdict.

However, while a voters can ensure an MP doesn’t win an electorate they have no influence on where a candidate is on their party’s list. That means they can vote for someone else in the electorate but still find the person they rejected has got into parliament.

This is an aspect of the system on which many people submitted to the review of MMP, arguing that if an MP loses a seat, or contests it and fails to win it, s/he should not be able to enter parliament on the list.

I disagree with that.

Standing in an electorate ensures candidates face the voters and get to know the people whose support they are soliciting and learn about their concerns.

If they take it seriously, and given it’s the party vote which really counts they’d be stupid not to, they gain an understanding of the individuals, groups and communities on whom their policies will impact.

The goods ones don’t just stand in an electorate they stay in touch with it, working with and for the people in it. And failing once or twice doesn’t prevent later success.

Eric Roy* and Nicky Wagner, for example, failed to win electorates but got in on the list, worked hard, earned the support of the people and won Invercargill and Christchurch Central respectively.

Others like Chris Finlayson and Michael Woodhouse have stood in dark red seats they have little hope of winning, but even those who don’t share their political views would be hard pressed to criticise their performance as MPs and Ministers.

I have no doubt that standing in electorates has helped them in their work.

That not all list MPs who stand in seats perform well in parliament is not a reason to change the rules to prevent dual candidacy.

MMP is not my preferred electoral system but the advantages of dual candidacies outweigh the disadvantages.

One valid criticism of the system is that list MPs aren’t directly answerable to constituents. Dual candidacy at least means they have to front up to voters.

Good MPs will ensure they don’t squander the goodwill they earn by doing so by continuing to work in electorates whether or not they have any chance of winning them.

But to return to the original question of whether it’s MMP’s fault that Gilmore could have stayed in parliament had he not chosen to resign.

It’s not. But it is the system which enabled him to be there in the first place and that system has given less power to people in electorates and more to parties.

If parties get an electorate selection wrong, voters can ensure the candidate doesn’t get into parliament. They can’t do that with an individual list MP.

* Eric first entered parliament in 1993 by winning the seat of Ararua which disappeared when MMP was introduced. He stood unsuccessfully for Invercargill twice but stayed in parliament as a list MP. He missed out on the electorate and list in 2002 but won the seat in 2005.

6 Responses to Was it MMP’s fault?

  1. TraceyS says:

    Resilience and perseverance should be lauded. In business, many fail several times before they are successful.

  2. Gravedodger says:

    You make fair points Ele but the party that places a candidate in the parliament via the list should have an ability to withdraw that person and replace him/her.

    Brendon Horan, Elamien Kopu, the tight four, and Arron Gilmore should not be able to remain as independents after they have lost the confidence of their leader and caucus.

    To suggest such persons have a right to stay because they were a part of the party and its appeal to the vote on the previous election day is drawing a long bow and tenuous at best.

    I posted last week on the widely held belief that Keith Holyoake had signed letters of resignation in his desk that only required dating and action as an insurance and seems to be a way to remove” a Gilmore” should they lose the confidence of the caucus as a way to remove the threat from such situations.
    That a government with such narrow majorities, that MMP is almost always going to deliver, to be vulnerable to being brought down by a man such as Arron who in refusing to do the honorable thing by the party that elevated him, is very counter to my concept of democracy under the flawed MMP system.
    It has the hallmarks of post WW2 Italy about it, “who is the PM this week”.

    Good governance is too valuable to be threatened by one or even a small group who go against the majority. If the disatisfaction is greater than such a minority may assume then there are adequate safeguards available but blackmail and rorting should not play a part.

    Jenny Shipley’s use of Ms Kopu was humiliating and cringeworthy.

  3. One of the problems of MMP is that it gives too much power to party leaders. You don’t solve this problem by giving party leaders yet more power.

  4. Gravedodger says:

    Which is why I include caucus Graeme.
    Perhaps you have an opinion on the insane scenario that one out of 121 can threaten a duly elected government from completing its term just because that one loses the plot?

  5. Perhaps you have an opinion on the insane scenario that one out of 121 can threaten a duly elected government from completing its term just because that one loses the plot?

    First: it’s up to the party to make good selections, for both its list and in its electorates. It’s been said that a fool learns from his own mistakes, and a wise man learns from others’ mistakes. If National didn’t get the hint from the problems in the Alliance and in Labour, then it may have learn it the hard way. Maybe they will learn the hard way.

    Second: there is no chance that one MP could threaten this government. It has support on confidence and supply from 64 out of 121 MPs.

    Third: errant MPs sticking around and getting in the Government’s way are much more likely to come from electorates than the list. Electorate MPs tend to stick around (Brian Connell, Chris Carter, Phillip Field), while list MPs tend to leave (David Garrett, Aaron Gilmore etc.). There are exceptions to both since MMP bedded in (e.g. Wong resigning, Horan staying), but the overall trend is clear.

  6. Richard says:

    Graeme, agree with your first point. It astonishes me that all political parties cannot find suitable list candidates, particularly the major parties – it does show a lack of depth and that is a worry.
    Your third point – think it is too early in MMP to to make a positive prediction

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