Category: reverse cup of tea

MMP strategy and the big parties: Self-interest, hypocrisy and anti-democracy

Gatecrash
National: Self-interest

In the last few days, many have noted National’s blatant self-interest in ignoring the Electoral Commission and maintaining the MMP status quo. The Commission suggested lowering the threshold to 4% and removing the “coat-tailing” exception, but National refused to do so because they wanted to continue having cups of tea with John Banks, Peter Dunne and (if needs be) Colin Craig. And now their chickens are coming home to roost with the Internet Mana strategic alliance. (In theory, the Conservatives and ACT could follow suit – but I’d argue there’s less common ground between Jamie Whyte and Colin Craig than between Kim Dotcom and Hone Harawira)

Labour: Hypocrisy

Certain Labour members (edit: though not Louisa Wall) are taking a far more critical view of coat-tailing and strategic use thereof. Many have (rightly) criticised Labour for being anti-strategic, anti-small-parties and anti-anyone-further-left-than-them. Some have also (wrongly) suggested they’re hypocrites for not consistently criticising “coat-tailers” on the left and right. In fact, they are consistently criticising coat-tailers – condemning both Epsom and the Internet Mana alliance as “rort[s] of the system,” “ruse[s]” and “scam[s],” and proposing to get rid of the rule that allows them.

So they’re not being inconsistent. But they are being hypocritical, by condemning coat-tailers in the first place – for at least four reasons.

Firstly, because until Jim Anderton retired, they happily let him win Wigram for another party, and received him and any coat-tail buddies he could bring with him into the Clark governments.

They’ll no doubt say the difference is voters “genuinely liked” Jim Anderton (and their ex-buddy Peter Dunne), whereas Epsom voters only vote for the ACT candidate because they want to see his party represented. Perhaps this is true. But under First Past the Post, millions of voters across the country voted for Labour candidates not because they liked the candidate, but because they wanted to see the party represented. And still under MMP, many Green/Mana/etc supporters vote for Labour local candidates because they prefer a Labour local MP to the only other realistic alternative.

So they’re also hypocritical because they’re happy for Labour voters in Wigram or Green voters in Wellington Central to vote strategically for another party’s candidate, but not National voters in Epsom (or Labour voters in Te Tai Tokerau, for that matter).

Thirdly, they’re hypocritical because they call the “cup of tea” strategy a “rort” and in the very same press release endorse their own “reverse cup of tea” strategy: Labour voters voting for National’s Paul Goldsmith in Epsom. The only way this can possibly be ethically coherent is if they see all local seats as “rightfully” belonging to the same party that won the most party votes in that electorate (ie, always either National or Labour)… but in that case they’d have to give up most of their 22 electorate seats from the last election (some examples). And, of course, it would be pointless having a two-tick system if that was how it worked.

Lastly, they’re hypocritical because what is a political party but a strategic alliance of disparate factions and individuals, with some common purposes, banding together to pursue those purposes in elections and government? There’s at least as much diversity of views within Labour or National as there is between the Internet Party and Mana, and considerably more in-fighting (so far). But Labour have inherited a respectable and safe “major party” status that will never be described as an unholy “rort,” due the historical accident of being descended from a party that once represented the labour movement. This means that by condemning Internet Mana, they’re condemning a “sin” they’re not “tempted” by. Like National but unlike anyone else, they’ve never had to work doubly-hard for each vote, by first convincing potential voters a vote for them won’t be wasted. They’ve never had to resort to creative MMP strategies to provide this assurance. Blinding themselves to the privilege the system gives them, they blame the parties the system doesn’t privilege for taking the opportunities available to them.

Fixing the real problem

These days, Anderton is representing a dead fake building instead of Wigram, and Dunne is serving casinos instead of Clark… there’s no small parties left Labour actually likes. So, very nobly, they’re proposing to enact the Electoral Commission’s suggestions if elected.

But these high-minded condemnations and proposed solutions misdiagnose the problem entirely. The problem is that the threshold built into our MMP system stops it being truly proportional. It stacks the system against small and new parties, threatening to waste their votes and making them work far harder for them… thus creating the need and incentive for the so-called “rort” strategies.

That won’t change by getting rid of the coat-tailing exception, or even by lowering the threshold from 5% to 4%. We’d still have small parties banding together – only they’d be doing it to get across the 5% (or 4%) threshold, like the original Alliance. And we’d still have artificially skewed results – like the Labour voters who vote NZ First to make sure they get above 5% (or 4%), or the voters who shy away from small parties because they’re worried they won’t reach 5% (or 4%), often leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The only way to stop disadvantaging small parties and incentivising “dodgy deals” is something neither National, Labour or the Electoral Commission suggest, but the most evidence-based/least reactionary submittersinternational experts and bloggers across the political spectrum do: make MMP fully and straightforwardly proportional, by eradicating the threshold system that causes these problems in the first place. 1% of the votes, 1% of the seats – end of story. No need for the controversial coat-tailing exception, nobody’s vote robbed of effect because the party wasn’t big enough, and no need for creative strategies to negotiate coat-tailing versus wastage.

The Electoral Commission acknowledge that lowering or abolishing the threshold “would be a solution more consistent with the principle of proportionality that underpins the MMP system”… the only reason they won’t do it is because of a fear of a “proliferation of small parties.” Yes; you read that right; a supposedly independent commission are biased towards large parties, considering them “safer” than small parties; even though there’s no evidence high thresholds or few parties brings stability. And, of course, both big parties agree with them – neither of them suggest lowering the threshold below 4%.

The stupid thing is, at the moment we do have a proliferation of small parties; but we also have a proliferation of the strategies Labour condemns, because that’s basically the only way small and new parties can get in. If the Electoral Commission get their way, there may be less opportunities for small parties and their strategies, but (as they admit!) this would come at the cost of true proportionality. Is this anti-democratic knee-jerk response and anti-proportional threshold rule really worth it?

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I’m (tentatively) happy about Internet Mana

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InternetManatweet

The Mana Movement and the Internet Party have made their unlikely strategic alliance official – the full agreement is here. It will be a new party for electoral purposes, with a combined list for the party vote, but both parties will retain their own separate identities, policies and leaders.

My first reaction was sort of like Sue Bradford’s, but unlike her, I’ve rethought it and I’m now (tentatively) for it. I could change my mind, but I’m quite likely to vote for them in September.

Here’s the main pros and cons hesitations as far as I see them.

Pros

Strategy

The anti-democratic thresholds in our MMP system place very high barriers of entry to small and new parties. It’s a vicious circle – in order to cross one of the thresholds you have to assure voters their votes won’t be wasted, and to do that you have to guarantee you can cross one of the thresholds. Thus, small parties (and their larger allies) usually need to make use of various strategies like the cup of tea, the reverse cup of tea, specialist targeting of Māori seats, and – yes – the strategic alliance.

The right-of-NZ First parties have been much better at these strategies than the left-of-NZ-First parties. If it wasn’t for these strategies last election, we could have avoided asset sales and the GCSB bill, and passed Feed the Kids. iPredict thinks both ACT and United Future‘s cups of tea will remain successful this year, and National has another cup up their sleeve if they’re desperate – Colin Craig. This election is looking even more tight than the last, and the relatively-left bloc need to get better at using MMP strategically (this is welcome news from a strategic perspective, despite the hypocrisy; let’s hope the Greens join in).

The alliance strategy was used fruitfully in the aptly-named Alliance party for about three elections, almost-fruitfully by the Christian Coalition in 1996 and semi-fruitfully by United Future, Outdoor Recreation and WIN in 2005.

The beauty of an electoral alliance rather than a merger is that it enables both parties to maintain separate identities. Under the Internet Mana alliance, the parties have separate policies and policy spokespeople, separate leaders and very clear identities. It even allows the same people to be list candidates for Internet Mana and electoral candidates for their individual parties (are they allowed to do this? Apparently yes). They also have an exit clause – the current agreement will expire six weeks after the election, and they’ll re-assess after the election.

However, as long as they’re aligned they’ll pool resources, campaign together for the party vote, run a Get Out the Vote campaign and develop a shared policy platform of stuff they both agree on and they’ll all vote for.

Mana

I’m a Mana supporter – I voted for Mana in 2011 and was probably going to vote for them again. Mana seem to be the most (arguably the only) genuinely left-wing party in Parliament, and one of the parties who care most about the most vulnerable. I like what Mana bring to this alliance and to Parliament – whether in government, keeping Labour accountable to the poor and Māori, or in opposition as a prophetic voice. And I’d love to see John Minto in Parliament.

This alliance should make that more likely – it’s a great deal for Mana, giving them positions 1, 3 and 4 on the combined party list and an IP leader at #2 who’s another classic NZ leftist from way back (see below). The pooling of financial/human resources means Mana will also benefit from Kim Dotcom’s $$$, which has led to accusations of “selling out” etc. That’s a bit rich given Mana, more than any other party, have stood up for their principles even when they’re unpopular and non-utilitarian. Harawira, Sykes and Minto would not have agreed to this deal if they felt it compromised their principles. Just like with rich amateur sportspeople criticising poor professionals, it’s easy for the party who doesn’t need to “sell out” to criticise those who do make strategic use of offered resources for mutual benefit.

Internet Party

I’m not really a fan of Kim Dotcom, but I like some things about the Internet Party – they’ll be more radical than any other party on certain issues such as spying, intellectual property and (perhaps) free tertiary education. Free tertiary education is normal where Kim Dotcom is from, and was received by most NZ MPs older than about Metiria Turei’s age, but is too “far left” for any other party at the moment.

I’d (tentatively) like to see the Internet Party in Parliament (but see “Hesitations” below). If the rumours are true, it’d be good to see Laila Harré back in Parliament too (see below).

I probably wouldn’t vote for them ahead of Mana or the Greens, but the same goes for Labour, and I’d still want Mana and the Greens to work with them after the election. Why not work with the Internet Party before the election too, if it could get more representation for both parties, inspire apathetic people to vote and avoid wasted anti-John-Key votes?

Common ground

I don’t agree that the two parties have “practically nothing in common.” They have at least as much in common as the unionists and neo-liberals in Labour, or the urban liberal businesspeople and rural conservative farmers in National, or the eco-socialists and eco-capitalists in the Greens, or the libertarians and fascists in ACT.

The central thing Māori, leftists and Kim Dotcom fans have in common is not wanting empires raiding their homes, controlling their lives and oppressing them. None of these groups are fans of US military dominance of our privacy and policy, or capitalist dominance of trade and intellectual property. The spirit of the internet is the spirit of freedom, consensus and self-determination – the opposite of the spirit of colonisation, corporate dominance and inequality.

Of course, there are differences between the groups. That’s obvious. But I don’t think there’s anything in the Internet Party’s policies signalled so far that a Mana voter should oppose. This guy powerfully shows the appeal of the Internet Party idea to a certain constituency, and it definitely sounds like something a Mana supporter get behind. I think the two parties can learn a lot from each other, and (in true Internet spirit) they’re maintaining a lot of autonomy for where they disagree.

The IP are kind of a single-issue party (well: they have about four single issues), so perhaps they could basically provide policy on their specialist areas and let Mana provide the rest – so long as they’ll accept that. I also think it’d be good to get the literal single-issue party, Legalise Cannabis, on board – I think a lot of Mana and Internet Party voters would be sympathetic to their cause. Perhaps they wouldn’t provide candidates, but they’d join the alliance in exchange for a promise that those elected would work towards decriminalisation and eventually legalisation… though maybe that’s too much to ask this time around.

Hesitations

IP People

No Internet Party candidates have been named yet. It won’t be confirmed until 2pm tomorrow, but it’s been leaked that the Internet Party leader will be former Alliance leader Laila Harré. This is an interesting choice – I’m not sure what her internet credentials are, but she’s definitely someone I’d be happy to vote for. It’s likely their leader she will make it into Parliament – they’d only need 1.2% of the party vote, or 2% if Annette Sykes wins Waiariki. The IP leader will be announced tomorrow – it will be someone with name recognition, whom Mana are “extremely happy” with. My money would have been on Martyn Bradbury, given his previous suggestions, but apparently he’s been ruled out. iPredict has no bets on – I expect it’s all too sudden.

It’s possible other IP candidates will be elected too (though they’d need about 3.6%). These candidates are being chosen over the next few weeks – we’ll have to wait and see who they are.

IP Policies

Internet Party policies are similarly “in progress.” Kim Dotcom has signalled support for various policies like better & cheaper internet, opposition to the GCSB and TPPA, combating inequality and free tertiary education, but the actual policies are being developed via online forum. There’s a lot of uncertainty what they’ll eventually look like, and (I expect) a danger of policy being shaped with a post-modern “my opinion is as valuable as yours” mind-set, rather than decent research. I’m not sure how the Internet Mana joint policies will be decided on.

Nonetheless, the strategic alliance strategy works in theory even without any shared policy platform – so long as you don’t hate each other’s policy enough that you’d rather disadvantage your own side’s policy than advantage the other’s.

Te Tai Tokerau

The whole plan is predicated on Hone Harawira having a safe seat to bring in others on his coat-tails; but it might not be as safe as it seems, despite his having won it for the Māori Party, as an independent, and for Mana. Labour’s usual philosophy is to oppose anyone further left than them, and they’re certainly not offering Harawira any cups of tea to keep the seat. Their candidate Kelvin Davis is a strong candidate who’s just made it back into Parliament after Shane Jones’ retirement. He slashed Harawira’s majority in the seat in the last two elections, and he’s hoping to take it off him this time. There’s a danger the whole plan could massively backfire if Harawira’s constituency don’t approve of the alliance, and he loses his seat (of course, Annette Sykes could still take Waiariki off Te Ururoa Flavell).

Voters

This leads into my last hesitation – voters. Other potential voters might not be so supportive of a strategic alliance. While I don’t think Mana and Internet Party policies are really opposed to each other, their voters are another story. Mana voters could be morally opposed to voting for billionaire businesspeople who donated money to John Banks. And the Pākehā cynical/apathetic torrent/Reddit lovers who (I imagine) form many of the Internet Party’s prospective voters might be swayed by the mainstream media demonisation of Harawira. So, again, the strategy could back-fire if it costs more votes than it gains. Time and polls will tell.