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August 1, 2011 | by  | in Opinion |
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Politics With Paul – Exploiting MMP

It seems ridiculous, but Paul Goldsmith—biographer for both Act Party leader Don Brash, and Act’s Epsom candidate, John Banks—has been announced as National’s candidate to run against Banks.
Well, sort of.

Rather than campaigning against Banks, Goldsmith has announced he will campaign for the ‘party vote’, while encouraging National-leaning voters to give their ‘electorate vote’ to Banks.

It’s win-win for Goldsmith. He might have been convinced to fall on his sword in Epsom, but a predicted decent list placing means he will likely be returned to Parliament anyway, albeit through the ‘back door’.

A cynic might see this horse-trading in Epsom as efforts by Brash and Key to undermine MMP by exploiting two of the system’s deficiencies—(1) the one-seat rule that allows a Party to gain proportional representation without reaching the five per cent threshold, and (2) the ability of candidates rejected by the electorate to utilise the ‘back-door’, entering Parliament via the list. The irony is, of course, that Brash’s preferred electoral method—Supplementary Member (SM)—would see the party he leads obliterated.

To be sure, it wouldn’t be the first time suicidal tactics have been used against the country’s democratic institutions. In 1950, Sid Holland’s National Government abolished New Zealand’s upper house, the Legislative Council, by stacking it with National members—the so-called ‘suicide squad’—who immediately dissolved the body, voting themselves into unemployment.

Of course the difference here is that if voters do opt for SM in two consecutive referendums, by the time a government is elected by that system in 2017, Dear Old Don will no doubt be relaxing in retirement with all those other septuagenarian and octogenarian proponents of laissez-faire.

The deal makes perfect sense from National’s point of view. Due to the aforementioned peculiarity in the current MMP system, if Act wins an electorate seat, the five per cent threshold is foregone, and in addition to the winning candidate, Act would be rewarded with seats in Parliament proportional to its share of the party vote. Even at their current abysmal polling levels, Act would pull in at least two or three candidates alongside Banks; not least of all Party leader Brash, dependant on entry via the list because of voters’ growing aversion to the ex-National leader. This compared to the one MP National would gain from winning the seat makes it a matter of simple arithmetic.

There have been claims from Brash that Act won’t necessarily join a National-led coalition after November 26, potentially opting to support the Government from the cross-benches rather than take ministerial portfolios. But this defies logic; it is near impossible to believe Don Brash would settle for any less power than he could possibly achieve in any post-election deal.

The case of Epsom doesn’t explain National’s decision to turn voters toward United Future leader Peter Dunne in Ohariu though. On the latest Fairfax Media-Research International poll, United Future are heading toward the same result as 2008, meaning again, only Dunne would be represented in Parliament. At this point however, Dunne looks a surer bet than National candidate Katrina Shanks, and with reports of Party polling indicating strong support for Labour candidate Charles Chauvel, National have concluded that it’s safe to put their eggs in the Dunne basket, especially considering Dunne is renowned for towing whatever line will keep him in Government.

In addition to speculation about Labour’s own deals being made with the Greens—particularly in Dunne’s Ohariu electorate with Gareth Hughes opting to focus on the party vote—there exists the potential for Labour to derail the National-Act agreement in Epsom. The New Zealand Herald’s Brian Rudman recalls how at the closing stages of the 2005 campaign, Helen Clark urged campaigners in Epsom to encourage voters to give their electorate vote to National to derail Act. Certainly, the same tactic in 2011 won’t exactly endear voters towards Labour, but in a true-Blue seat, the sinking of Banks and Act could be worth the minor damage.

Of course, there are numerous deals being done, explanation of which would be beyond the space limited to this column, but rest assured, Ohariu and particularly Epsom, will be particularly interesting contests to watch as we gear up for November’s election.

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Comments (4)

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  1. Paul, I do hope you’re Voting for Change at the electoral referendum so we can stop this type of skulduggery.

  2. peteremcc says:

    “This compared to the one MP National would gain from winning the seat makes it a matter of simple arithmetic.”

    National don’t gain ANY MPs by winning Epsom, as they just lose a list MP to compensate.

  3. Paul Comrie-Thomson says:

    Not at all. I’d like to see some changes to MMP, sure, but I’m convinced it’s the country’s best option. More on this in a later column…

  4. Irais says:

    That’s the best anwesr of all time! JMHO

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