Sunday soapbox


Sunday’s soapbox is yours to use as you will – within the bounds of decency and absence of defamation. You’re welcome to look back or forward, discuss issues of the moment, to pontificate, ponder or point us to something of interest, to educate, elucidate or entertain, amuse, bemuse or simply muse, but not abuse.

The day we stop believing in democracy is the day we lose it – Queen Jamilla

Politics ‘too complicated’


More than a third of British graduates admit that politics and government are too complicated.

Regardless of what sort of degree they’ve undertaken, graduates are supposed to have learned to research, reason, enquire and think.

If people with those skills can’t apply them to politics there’s little hope for the rest of the voting public.

. . . 36 per cent of people educated to degree level agreed with the statement that “politics and government seem so complicated that a person like me cannot really understand what is going on”. Among those who left school at 16 the rate was 65 per cent.

People in some countries are still dying for democracy and yet these people in Britain with centuries of democratic tradition can’t be bothered to do the little required to understand what’s what with the people who run the country and spend so much of their money.

But is it any better here?

When asked to list things which they liked least about Britain’s political system, 53 per cent cited “the quality of our politicians”. . .

That’s with a First Past the Post electoral system where the candidates have to win the support of voters.That doesn’t guarantee their quality or ability but it does mean they have to campaign on their own merits.

While MMP has brought in some very able politicians through party lists, I’m sure we could all come up with a little list of others who wouldn’t stand a chance if they were elected directly by voters.

Hat tip: Tim Worstall

Democracies don’t have famines


Quote of the week from Roger Kerr:

Less edifying was a session titled ‘An Uncertain Harvest: Investigating Global Food Security’. Malthus seemed to have a couple of seats at the table in a round of agonizing about food security and whether the world can feed its population in the 21st century.

I made the point that food security is often the code word for agricultural protectionism. It has been the excuse for the common agricultural policy and protection of Japan’s rice farmers, for example. If markets are allowed to work, trading is free, and property rights and contracts are secure, it is hard to see why global supply and demand will not balance over the longer term.  As one delegate said, there’s never been a famine in a democracy.  

Consumers never win from protectionism and in the long-term producers don’t either. New Zealand is proof of that.

We might have been dragged kicking and screaming into the real susbisdy-free world in the 1980s but New Zealand farmers are much the stronger for it now.

Protectionism increases the power of politicians and bureaucrats which adds costs and uncertainties.

It also upsets the law of supply and demand, creating unwanted surpluses or unnecessary shortages.

Aid might be needed in the short-term but the best way to tackle famine is to open borders and ditch subsidies.

Fair Trade is a compelling slogan but the only really fair trade is free trade.

Democracy requires participation


When asked on Morning report last Monday how many people had attended United Future’s annual conference the previous weekend, Peter Dunne replied (

“It varied during the day but around about 40 to 50 at most points.”

The National Party could expect that many people at many of its electorate AGMs and there would still be some areas where they’d worry if they didn’t get that many at a branch AGM.

But then National is the only party which can say it’s got a reasonable grassroots membership. It’s not measured in six figures as it used to be, but it can still claim tens of thousands of members.

Labour would be scratching to make it to five figures – and I suspect that would be when union membership is counted. The wee parties would be lucky to muster much more than the 500 required to register – and some may not even make that.

That makes them not so much parties as interest or lobby groups.

Declining membership isn’t peculiar to political parties. Sports and service clubs, churches and most other groups which depend on volunteer members are in the same boat.

But these organisations don’t get to run the country, political parties do and under MMP parties and their leaders have more power.

Most National and Labour MPs are electorate ones so they are not only answerable to party members, they are also answerable to their constituents.

Maori Party MPs are too but only because of the Maori seats which by definition and in practice are not broadly representative.

Most MPs from the other wee parties, with the exception of the two one-man parties United Future and whatever Jim Anderton’s current  incarnation is called, are list MPs, chosen by their parties and answerable to them.

Given how small their memberships are that’s not very healthy.

We’re supposed to be an open and representative democracy. It’s difficult to be that when participation for most means no more than voting once every three years, if that.

Update:  Maybe we need to make politics more like this: (warning sexual imagery).

Should the taxpayer fund political parties?


David Farrar has given his usual intelligent and considered response to Labour’s submission on electoral finance at Kiwiblog.

The only thing I want to add is a very loud no to Labour’s self-serving and unprincipled suggestion that the taxpayer should fund poltical parties.

We have a very low hurdle for registration as a political party – just 500 members. The idea that any other organisation with as few members as that and as little accountability as most poltical parties have would get taxpayer funding as of right would never be countenanced and there is no reason why political parties should be treated differently.

Democracy is supposed to be of the people, for the people by the people not of a party, by the taxpayer for a few political groupies.

The Orange Man puts it succinctly at No Minister.

Dead man wins mayoral election


Democracy might be better than all the other methods of government, but it does have the odd flaw such as enabling people to re-elect someone as mayor a month after his death.

Hagar: PR threatens democracy


Pupblic Relations can do as much to hamper communication as to enhance it but this is a bit rich  coming from Nicky Hagar:

The manipulation of public opinion through sophisticated public relations techniques poses a threat to New Zealand democracy, Wellington investigative journalist Nicky Hager warns.

Mr Hager gave a keynote lecture, titled “Imagining a world where the PR people had won”, at the Sociological Association of Aotearoa New Zealand conference at the University of Otago.

Public relations methods had long been used to influence public opinion, but in recent years there had been “a really huge and important change” which now posed “a threat to democracy”, he said in an interview.

I don’t necessarily disagree with his view, especially given the blow out in communications staff in the public service. But there is an antidote to the PR poison and that’s free and intelligent media which delves beyond press releases.

And isn’t there more than a little of the pot calling the kettle black in his proclamation when he wrote a whole book using selected emails to prove his foregone conclusion?

John Ansell showed how he operates here and Hager’s response is here.

The TV3 debate


The first segment of the TV3 debate ended in a shouting match, the second opened with a request for better behaviour from John Campbell and he  got it.

It means that each of the leaders can talk uninterrupted – except by the chair.

I’m too biased to give a fair assessment of John Key’s and Helen Clark’s performances – of course John’s better 🙂

 But if the outcome of the election is influenced to any great degree by this then democracy is in trouble.

 Update: John Campbell asked what’s the difference between Bill English and Michael Cullen.

Point to Key for answering: “Bill’s got charm.”

Point off Clark for saying he didn’t in 2002.

Update # 2: Point to Key for: “If nine years isn’t enough to do that no amount of time is.”

Update # 3: Linda Clark, Jenni McManus and Jon Johansson have all agreed that Key will be our next PM; and Linda said she thinks it will be decisive enough that the Maori Party won’t hold the balance of power.

MMP makes it harder to vote ’em out


One of the strengths of the First Past the Post voting system was the ability to get rid of unpopular politicians and governments.

It is much harder to do that under MMP.

A candidate can lose a seat but still get back into parliament on the list.

A party could lose a lot of support, it might not have the most seats in parliament but it could still cobble together a coalition and carry on leading a government.

A survey last week showed a majority of people thought the party which had the most support should lead the next government.

That didn’t always happen under FPP where at least twice National won more seats but fewer votes than Labour and it doesn’t have to happen under MMP.

A government could be formed by the silver and bronze medalists and some also-rans. Some people think that’s okay and if all those parties can bargain their way to a mix that gives them a total of more than 50% of the seats they’ll be right.

New Zealand is one of the oldest democracies in the world so whatever happens next Saturday, like it or not, we’ll accept it.

But if the result is seen as unfair it will help those of us who want to put MMP to a referendum because one of that system’s big weaknesses is that it ‘s much more difficult to vote an unpopular government out.

Compulsory voting?


The Herald has a readers poll asking if voting should be compulsory.

So far 467 people have voted, 56% of whom say yes.

I’m a definite no because while you can lead people to democracy but you can’t force them to participate.

Democracy gives you the right to vote and freedom enables you to choose to not use it.

56 more sleeps …


… until election day when we can celebrate that we live in a democrary and that whatever the outcome it will be accepted as the will of the people and the sun will still rise in the east.

Poneke explains it here.

Speaker assists Act election campaign


The Labour Party is in disarray tonight after Speaker Margaret Wilson admitted she has been assisting Rodney Hide with Act’s election campaign.

“It started on August the first when Rodney provoked me into cracking a joke. Everyone laughed and I liked it and people liked me. It was all such fun and I wanted more of it,” she said.

“I realised then it wasn’t going to happen with Labour in power, you see we’re not allowed to laugh. Helen says so and Heather makes sure we do what we’re told. But I liked laughing, I’m sick of being the bossy one, no-one likes, it’s lonely.

“That’s when I made the decision to help Rodney’s election campaign and that’s why I did what I did today.

“I kept saying I was sorry but I wasn’t really, because I knew that if I didn’t let Rodney ask his question and then sent him out he’d get all that wonderful publicity and Act would get more votes and join National in government and then we’ll all have so much more fun in the next parliament. Not that I’ll be there but I’ll still watch it on TV and be able to see Rodney. He’ll be a Minister and all because I helped him.

“It was going to be our little secret, but I had to come out about it because everyone’s picking on me. They think I was wrong  and they’re saying nasty things  because they don’t understand  what I was doing.

“Of course I wasn’t letting Winston Peters get away with anything fishy or hide behind standing orders or parliamentary privilege; and it had nothing at all to do with needing his votes to pass legislation for the Emissions Trading Scheme; and I definitely wasn’t being unfair to Rodney.

“That would be showing bias, it would bring the house into disrepute, goodness me, it might even prompt people to suggest I was incompetent and cast aspersions on my impartiality, then they’d start going on about freedom of speech and democracy. And we couldn’t have that just because they didn’t realise I was joking.”

Labour leader Helen Clark could not be reached for comment but her spokesperson Heather Simpson said she thought is was a hoot.

Hat Tips: Keeping Stock, The Hive, Roarprawn, Half Done,

State funding problem, not solution


Brian Rudman thinks the solution to the Peters debacle would be state funding of political parties.

What does it say about our democracy when the big two political parties – and some of the minnows – are dependent for much of their funding on private handouts from a few rich, anonymous businessmen. ..

Last year’s Electoral Finance Act has done away with the secret slush funds. Its big shortcoming is it failed to provide the political parties with an alternative source of funding.

But it hasn’t stopped parties getting money from their members which is the best way to ensure they stay in touch with their supporters.

Democracy is surely the loser if parties don’t have the money to develop and promote new policy. And be able to critique others.

The problem this year is not that parties have no money, it’s that the EFA prevents them from using it.

In 1986, the Royal Commission on the Electoral System recommended a form of state funding very similar to that already in existence in Australia.

Noting the increasing cost of the political process, the commission said “too great a reliance” on outside funders like trade unions and corporations would “be detrimental to our democracy and might … lead to corruption of our political process … ” Nothing’s changed.

In Australia, any political donation over $10,500 has to be declared by donor and receiver. State funding is provided based on votes cast. At last year’s federal election the payout was $2.70 a vote cast. It’s a cheap price to pay to keep the millionaires at bay, and democracy working.

But rather than being the solution, state funding would create a problem by distancing politicians from their supporters.

Democracy requires participation of the people and that would be handicapped if we hand over  responsibility for funding parties to the taxpayer.

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