Magazine article New Zealand Management

MMP'S Instability. (Politics)

Magazine article New Zealand Management

MMP'S Instability. (Politics)

Article excerpt

This is the stability election. Or so Helen Clark would like you to think. You are supposed to give her a majority to restore stability after the Alliance screwed up and the Greens went ape.

Hang on a minute. According to the theorists who gave you the wonderful German MMP system, it was supposed to give you wonderful German stability. Trouble was, the theorists did not first examine the reality of New Zealand political culture--except to conclude perfunctorily that MMP's retention of electorate seats was supposed to continue 150 years of area-based representation.

They neglected to register that our political culture has been one of adversarial combat between two sides, not a search for consensus among many.

Sure, romantics have long dreamed of National and Labour forming a government of the great majority. But they forget that since the early 1930s Labour and National have fought tooth and nail.

That left no room in the centre, because to win Labour had to take votes from National and vice-versa and that meant fighting over the centreground.

Small parties spawned only on the fringes. If they tried to migrate to the centre, as did the originally rightwing Social Crediters in the early 1980s, they got squashed.

So policy switched from right to left to right as power flicked from National to Labour to National.

This may sound unstable. But in fact there was an automatic stabiliser. Too big a swing to the right by National or to the left by Labour would leave the centre vulnerable to raiding by the other party.

So swings were moderated. The automatic stabiliser kept the policy swings from going too far in either direction.

Except, that is, in crisis. In the 1980s the forces of revolution broke the stabiliser. Labour swung far to the right; National finessed it. The Alliance occupied Labour's vacated left ground. Parties split. Voters got frustrated and angry. MMP was the result.

MMP was supposed to force parties into each other's arms and so dampen the swings. Instead, it has set up an oscillator.

Labour's potential allies are to its left, National's to its right. There is no stabilising mechanism in the centre.

When Labour took office in 1999, its coalition partner, the Alliance, and its supporting party, the Greens, were not the sort of parties to hold it back from leftist excesses. …

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