Magazine article Public Sector

Politics Rule, Right?

Magazine article Public Sector

Politics Rule, Right?

Article excerpt

Recently, I was in the United States where I witnessed first hand the federal government shutdown following a disagreement between the House of Representatives, in which the Republicans have the majority, and the Senate, where the Democrats have control. In short, the Republicans sought to "defund" the Affordable Care Act which came into law three years ago and to which the Republican Party is doctrinally opposed. Some also sought to impose further conditions on President Obama as the price for passing a new budget. The Democrats in the Senate were equally steadfast in refusing to pass any partial funding bills or to undercut the health reforms. To compound the problem, the legislated borrowing limit for the US government was also rapidly approaching, meaning the US was well on its way to defaulting on its bonds for the first time in its 237-year history.

Looking at this imbroglio through my New Zealand eyes (although I have spent a fair number of years in North America), my first reaction was one of gratitude that this situation could not happen in New Zealand. Governments routinely seek guarantees of supply in their formative process, and should this be withdrawn at any time, there is an established process where either an alternative government is formed or a new election is called. Either way, government funding continues to be provided for.

But even more significantly, it seems unlikely to me that the kind of political partisanship that led to this situation in the US could come to pass in New Zealand. Political contests in New Zealand are largely to capture the centre and as much of the surrounding political space as possible. This ensures that views of either the political far leftor far right obtain only limited support in terms of those elected to office. By contrast, in the US, electoral boundaries for the majority of seats in the House of Representatives have over the years been drawn in such a way by partisan state governments that very few of those seats are genuinely in play in any election. I have seen estimates that suggest that as few as 10 to 15 per cent of seats have any chance of changing political affiliation at any election. The real contest, thus, is in the primaries. For example, any Republican with something approaching centrist views will be very much aware that they are likely to be challenged from the right, thus ensuring that they too steer in that direction.

Again, it seems to me that we are fortunate in our MMP electoral system. …

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