History never repeats

David Farrar thinks that Labour is bad for not doing what National has not done as a result of the Electoral Commission's report into MMP, and Labour should not do what David thinks National should have done as a result of their election victory in 2008.

Over on Kiwiblog, David Farrar is having conniptions about David Cunliffe's promise to repeal the "coat tails" rule in MMP that allows electorate MPs to bring party list members into Parliament, as well as to lower the party vote threshold to 4%. (That said, he's right to be upset if Labour really does mean to make the change in just 100 days after being elected - that would be a bad thing.) He reasons as follows:

[N]o party should be declaring they will change such a major aspect of electoral law (it would have probably changed the result of the 2008 election and given Labour a 4th term) unilaterally. It is quite appropriate for parties to state their positions and ask people not vote vote for parties that have a different position. The way to remove the one seat threshold is to place pressure on all the parties (or at least the major ones) to support a change, or risk being punished by the voters. But in the absence of an agreement, a Government should not use a bare majority to tilt the Electoral Act in its favour (and make Parliament less proportional). You do what National did with the Electoral Finance Act – work with other parties on the replacement law, and compromise when necessary.

If Labour can change the Electoral Act unilaterally after the election to try and wipe out smaller parties, then how could you argue against National changing the Electoral Act to move the threshold to say 10% to wipe out the Greens?

You really really do not want to go down the path of a Government making major changes (and this is really major) to the Electoral Act without broad parliamentary support.

This actually is not a new issue. Labour (or, at least, Ian Lees-Galloway) already has a member's bill awaiting debate in the House to do exactly what David Cunliffe proposes. And so I've had cause already to register my disagreement with DPF on the legitimacy of Labour's position:

refusal to change the law is just as much a decision as is one to change the law. So by saying "we won't take the action needed to implement the Electoral Commission's recommendations (because we don't agree with them)", National is doing the exact same thing that Labour is by introducing a Bill to implement them. It is seeking to use its narrow majority support in the House (which gives it governmental power) to dictate what the electoral rules will be, irrespective of whether other parties may want to see those rules amended (and, it should be noted, in the face of the considerable number of public submissions indicating that the New Zealand public want to see these changes made to their electoral system).

What is more, National's refusal to allow the changes to MMP that the Electoral Commission recommended looks to be driven by partisan political calculations as to how those changes would affect its own chances at election time. Given the fact that all its most likely support partners (and current cohabiters in government) rely on the "electorate lifeboat" rule to get into Parliament, refusing a recommendation that this be abolished works to advantage National at the next election. Which looks exactly like treating the Electoral Act as "some sort of grand prize which winning parties use to screw over losing parties, to try and stay in power longer" that David (with some justice) criticises Labour for in relation to the Electoral Finance Act.  Again, it doesn't matter that the treatment involves arefusal to act rather than a positive decision to act - where the status quo has a perceived partisan benefit, the effect is the same. 

So complaining that Labour is seeking to "abandon consensus" and make changes to the Electoral Act without "the more significant political parties" agreeing is true. But Labour is only doing this because National has first "abandoned consensus" by refusing to change the Electoral Act, even though some of "the more significant political parties" want this to take place. So either both parties are equally guilty, or we need to accept that while Simon Power's model for changing electoral law provides an ideal-type response; [and] in the absence of any such mechanism for debating change parties should be free to pursue their own favoured electoral rules. And then we might ask, whose fault is it that there wasn't a Simon Power-type response to the Electoral Commission's recommendations in the first place?