FPP: A perverse affront to democracy

This afternoon Parliament will be holding a First Reading debate on the Electoral Referendum Bill.  This is the Bill that will enact the National Party’s election pledge to hold a referendum on whether we want to retain our current MMP electoral system.

The Greens will be supporting the Bill to Select Committee, despite concerns about the lack of spending caps for those campaigning in the referendum.  Hopefully that issue will be addressed by the Select Committee.

So it is timely to recall how much of a perverse affront to democracy the First Past the Post (FPP) electoral system New Zealanders threw out in 1993 was.

The United Kingdom still has an FPP electoral system, and is in the middle of an election campaign at the moment.  One recent poll put the Liberal Democrats on 33% of the vote, the Conservatives on 32%, and Labour on 26%.  But translate that poll result into seats in the UK Parliament and we get this absurdity:

Party % Vote Seats % Seats
Liberal Democrats 33 132 20.3
Conservative 32 239 36.8
Labour 26 247 38.0
Others & NI 9 32 4.9

The Liberal Democrats get only slightly more than half the seats Labour gets, despite being the highest polling party, and Labour gets the most seats despite trailing well behind in third place.

The same undemocratic FPP system here saw the National Party winning a majority of seats and forming governments without the need for a coalition partner in both 1978 and 1981, despite receiving fewer votes than the Labour Party in each of those elections.

Why on earth would anyone want to go back to that or to the similarly undemocratic Supplementary Member electoral system ?

Hat Tip: No Right Turn

18 thoughts on “FPP: A perverse affront to democracy

  1. The Greens voted in Parliament just yesterday for a referendum on a republic that didn’t have spending limits, or donation disclosure, and didn’t even have the limited requirements of openness (registration at $12,000 etc.) that this Bill has. Why the change of heart so quickly? Why does the MMP referendum need spending limits, but a republic referendum not need spending limits?

    Heck, Keith’s republic bill would even have allowed the potential elected head of state to receive unlimited foreign corporate donations, none of which had to be publicly disclosed. What gives?

  2. When party A gets (say) 48% and party B got 50% they knew that they had to please the voter. Now (under MMP) they feel they can do what they like as the attention is deflected to their coalition partners.

  3. That’s a straw man, Edge. First, in no way would the outcome of the head of state bill affect our democracy in the way that the MMP referendum bill would. There are just not the same sort of vested interests involved. Second, I very much doubt any Green would argue against the inclusion of spending caps even so.

  4. @jh

    Read frog’s links.

    In 1978 voters were displeased with Muldoon. National got 39.8% of the votes. Labour got 40.4% of the votes. But National had a majority of 9 seats in Parliament, so Muldoon continued to govern.

    In 1981 the same thing happened. National got 38.8% of the votes. Labour got 39.0% of the votes. But National had a majority of 2 seats in Parliament, so Muldoon continued on as PM for another 3 years. And in that election, Social Credit got 20.7% of the vote, but only 2 seats in Parliament. How can you consider that to be democratic?

    And in 1990 the public were extremely displeased with the neo-liberal reforms of the Labour Government. So they chucked them out in favour of the National Party who had promised the “Decent Society” – only to get Ruth Richardson as Finance Minister and even more extremist neo-liberal policies implemented.

  5. And in 1990 the public were extremely displeased with the neo-liberal reforms of the Labour Government. So they chucked them out in favour of the National Party who had promised the “Decent Society” – only to get Ruth Richardson as Finance Minister and even more extremist neo-liberal policies implemented.

    But why did ol’ ‘Neo-Liberal Labour’ get re-elected to a second term in the 80s?

  6. Two reasons. They didn’t fully realise what was hitting them, and its hard to go back to a party you waited so long to get rid of after only 3 yrs.

  7. where is my comment?what happened?

    [frog: kotani, comments are fine, but your advertising spam is not. Your comments will be moderated until I'm happy the latter has disappeared.]

  8. I would add another reason, Valis. The vote for the economically libertarian New Zealand Party, which had received 12.2% of the vote in 1984 although winning no seats (which is anotehr undemocratic travesty of FPP), collapsed to less than 0.1% in 1987. Most of those votes went to Labour, because they were implementing the neo-liberal policies that the New Zealand Party had been formed to advocate.

  9. Why on earth would anyone want to go back to that or to the similarly undemocratic Supplementary Member electoral system ?

    Because many on the right seem to have a very wavering commitment to democracy, at best?

  10. MMP is the way forward.. FPP is a step back.. think about !!
    FPP is about two-party politics, plus the ‘odd’ independant..
    MMP is about giving a balanced representation.. Kia-ora

  11. Living in Iceland may be preferable to living in NZ under an FPP system, imagine a combination”Think Big” and Roger Douglas (if you were around then)-a FPP future would be something similar!

  12. Taking up Edge’s point — Heck, Keith’s republic bill would even have allowed the potential elected head of state to receive unlimited foreign corporate donations, none of which had to be publicly disclosed. What gives?

    Is it correct? If so, was it intended..? or simply an omitted consequence?

    I ask because with corporate unison arising by extension of wto business across the world one nation could inadvertently find its democratic processing locked out.

  13. The main reason why I dislike FPP (and STV for that matter) is not so much the assault to democracy notion, but the fact that it makes pork barrel politics a part of the process – so instead of having policies for the benefit of everyone, you emphasise all your policies around marginal seats.

  14. Indeed, john-ston, although I’m not sure how that applies to STV with multi-member electorates.

    If a 5-member electorate under STV were, for example, to elect 2 National, 2 Labour and 1 Green, doesn’t the balance cancel out the pork-barrel potential to a large extent.

    I think STV is a great electoral system, if a country has a population large enough to make it work. In the UK it would be brilliant. In New Zealand I don’t think it could work – the electorates would be too big to manage constituent work, particularly in the South Island.

    You can still get an extent of pork-barreling under MMP. For example, if Steven Joyce wants to succeed Lockwood Smith as the MP for Rodney, rather than be a List MP, what better way than to build a holiday highway with a negative cost-benefit ratio through the electorate.

  15. @StephenR
    Yet another reason why Labour got a second term in the 80s was the nuclear issue. Much better chance of being nuclear-free under Labour than under National, and most of us were terrified by the possible effects of nuclear war and “nuclear winter”.

  16. Toad, the Australians use STV and pork barrel politics is very much a feature of their system – I could give you plenty of examples of infrastructure projects over there that had their basis on appeasing the marginal voter. In terms of pork barrelling under MMP, while that is true, it isn’t as bad as it would be under an electorate based system.

    In terms of Labour getting the second term in 1987, remember that the economy was doing very well at that stage and everyone was feeling good about themselves – of course that all changed two months later. People tend to stick with the status quo when the economy is good, and the last time that we saw an incumbent government given the boot when the economy was good was in 1972.

  17. Johnston wrote: “Toad, the Australians use STV and pork barrel politics is very much a feature of their system – I could give you plenty of examples of infrastructure projects over there that had their basis on appeasing the marginal voter.”

    nah, they mostly use Preferential Vote, which is a non-proportional system that uses preferences but single-member electorates. Only the Federal Senate and the Tasmanian Parliament are elected by STV.

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