Proponents of MMP say the system needs tweaking to make it better fit New Zealand.
That won’t be easy.
A spokesperson for the Keep MMP campaign, Sandra Grey, says one of the main issues that should be looked at is the ability for candidates to stand for both a party list and an electorate.
One of the biggest issues people have with the system is the ability for someone who has been rejected by an electorate to remain in parliament on the list.
Changing that would have very little impact on the wee parties when few of them win electorates but it would have a major impact on National and Labour and would worsen the perception we have two classes of MP.
Kate Wilkinson and Nicky Wagner didn’t need to win seats, they would have been in parliament on the list. But they are justifiably delighted at winning their electorates, Waimakariri and Christchurch Central for several reasons, one of which is that they have a mandate from the people rather than just being in parliament at the pleasure of the party.
They were already hard working and effective MPs, they wouldn’t have won their seats had they not been. That won’t change but the perception of their role will because even after 15 years with MMP, being an electorate MP is still regarded as being better than a list MP.
That perception would worsen if there were no dual candidacies.
If candidates could stand in only an electorate or for the list the wee parties wouldn’t have candidates in any seats unless they came to an arrangement with one or other of the bigger ones, as has happened in Epsom and Ohariu.
The bigger parties would find it much harder to get candidates to stand in marginal or unwinnable seats if it meant there was no possibility of entering, or staying in, parliament on the list.
It could also make list MPs more removed from a wide cross section of people. Electorate MPs and those who hope to win electorates can’t pick and choose who they serve. List MPs, knowing they weren’t ever going to have to contest an electorate, could work only with those who were likely to support their parties.
The two seats I’ve mentioned were won by National list MPs, Waitakere has been won by a Labour list MP. The people in these seats have had two advocates rather than one. They might still have a buddy list MP, if people could stand only for an electorate or the list, but the motivation for the buddies wouldn’t be as great as it is for those who know they will be trying to win not only party votes but the seat as well.
Without the protection of a list place, MPs might forget that while they represent and must advocate for their constituents, they are also in parliament for the good of the whole country.
Lindsay Mitchell argues that Paula Bennett should wear the loss of Waitakere as a badge of honour:
Sue Bradford stood for Mana in Waitakare to play up welfare hysteria. Carmel Sepuloni was the feasible Labour candidate able to represent the anxieties Bradford stirred. Labour also did some shitty things to stir up fear and paranoia among beneficiaries. In the face of these two influences it is hardly surprising that a welfare-reforming Minister half serious about the job would lose electorate votes.
Paula’s achievements as a Minister might well have cost her the seat, although with only an 11 vote loss that is not yet certain, but as a list MP she will still be in parliament working so that welfare, as Lindsay says is:
the safety net it once was rather than the career (too respectable a word) choice it has become.
Paula has first hand experience of life on a benefit. She knows it’s hard but she also knows it’s possible to get off it. Parliament is a better place for having people with her life experience in it, it would be worse if losing an electorate cut her career short.
Another factor, unlikely to win much sympathy from the wider public, is party control of candidates and MPs.
One reason Labour did so badly this election is that most of their candidates gave up campaigning for the party vote and fought old-fashioned FPP campaigns for electorates. If candidates could stand only in a seat or on the list that would happen every election. People like a bit of independence from MPs but most also punish parties for disunity and disloyalty and there would be a lot more of that if candidates had to opt for either an electorate or the list.
I understand why people who reject MPs in electorates find the party votes of the rest of the country keep them in parliament but under MMP its the party vote that counts.
Tweaking the system won’t change that and any tweaks that reinforce the distinction between list and electorate MPs would make the MMP worse.