Sarah Campbell, a list candidate for the Alliance, writes about her frustration at the media ignoring small parties and the 5% threshold
As a candidate for the Alliance, a party that is temporarily resting outside of parliament, I have come to realise in the past few weeks how difficult it is for such groups to get any coverage this election. Not only is the whole campaign being portrayed as a two horse race by Clark and Key, the media is only paying attention to the parties which have MPs. Perhaps this is why in recent history no new parties have entered the New Zealand parliament without being formed by breakaway sitting MPs – like the Alliance, Act, NZ First or the Maori Party. The media likes familiar faces, and doesn’t care much for ideas or policy.
This focus on those already in power risks reducing the political gene pool. Not only are new ideas ignored in this climate, people become afraid to vote for the small parties. I know plenty of people who believe in the Alliance, but are backing the Greens as the next best option, afraid as they are of splitting the left vote. To that I say: we are the left vote. With all due respect to the Greens, they put Green before Red. This means regressive taxes on things like pollution, they talk about moving tax from income to waste. That’s not a left message.
At some point it comes down to a decision. Do you want to back the lesser evil for the rest of your life, or make a leap of faith? I want to vote for what I really believe in: free education, free health care, public ownership of essential services, progressive taxation and social justice. Not gradually, now. As the other side would say, you just have to choose it. If everyone who told me they would vote Alliance, but felt it would be a waste, actually did, we’d be back by lunchtime.
The five percent threshold is of course the scariest thing for the small parties in parliament, and the biggest hurdle for a party such as the Alliance. It is patently undemocratic that, conceivably, ten small parties could poll at 3 or 4 percent, and thus a third or more of the votes could be essentially excluded.
The threshold/electorate system is particularly irksome to those of us who lack one star player assured of winning his or her electorate. The Alliance consistently polls above Jim Anderton’s party, but without a cult of personality like Jim’s, we don’t get in the door. Without the threshold, Alliance MPs would have been in Parliament in 2002-2005. There is a good case for lowering the threshold to the lowest percentage that yields a seat. A lot of people throw up their hands in horror and say things like – that would mean the Destiny Party would have got a seat, or what have you. But really, that’s representation, that’s democracy.
MMP is a good system. But it seems to me that people aren’t using it yet – they tend to give two ticks to Labour, or what have you, without thinking that they can get more out of it than that. By using electorate votes to back the also-rans, you don’t risk giving votes to the Nats – when the Alliance win an electorate, we won’t be changing the number of Labour MPs, it will just mean they have one more list member. The same goes for the dark side – not that I want to encourage any more votes for Rodney.
This election is about trust, says Helen, ever able to set the parameters. Why can’t this election be about what’s fair? What’s fair for the small parties, and what’s fair for New Zealanders. As a voter, I want to hear from all the parties. It’s madness that the most ads are from the parties people know the best.
To the people who question whether the Alliance will win any seats, and therefore ask why are we bothering, I say: we will, eventually. We are rebuilding. In the meantime, it’s about having the courage of your convictions. If this election is about trust, I hope people will trust their instincts, and back what they believe. Whatever that is.