The debate between supporters and opponents of MMP just ended.
Last week I posted on the on the emergence of the "Dump MMP" side of the upcoming referendum on our electoral system, in the shape of "Vote for Change". That post was a typically long-winded attempt at rebutting the arguments advanced by Vote for Change as to why MMP is a "bad thing" for New Zealand.
It was, I hope, the sort of thing Sunday Herald columnist (and fellow Punditeer) Deborah Coddington had in mind when she says "voters deserve non-partisan accurate information when they exercise choice in this referendum.* Not, I hasten to note, that I expect Ms Coddington to endorse the post's content ... just that its intent was good.
However, now I'm wondering whether the effort was worth the load. Because it looks like the prospects of a meaningful debate between two serious contenders for the public's ear is disappearing faster than snow on the Central Otago skifields.
First up, Martin "Bomber" Bradbury spotted that the name of one of the founding members of Vote for Change, Alex Fogerty, was the same as a gentleman who previously has espoused some pretty horrible racist sentiments - as well as threats of physical violence against those who oppose him. Having established that they indeed appeared to be the one and same person, he posted the information at TUMEKE!
Next thing you know, Vote for Change has booted Mr Fogerty from their organisation and deleted him from their website ... but not before the NZ Herald picks up the story. Which then shifted attention to another founding member of the Vote for Change outfit - former Waitakere Mayor (and Labour Party president) Bob Harvey. Because I think it is fair to say that his political background marked him out as something of an outlier on the otherwise pretty right-leaning list of names backing the Vote for Change position.
Now, I hasten to note that the pro-MMP side could be accused of having a distinctly reddish hue to it, so you can play the partisan-benefit card either way here. And I also note there is absolutely nothing wrong with a "lefty" choosing to join a group of "righties" on any issue - would that such crossing of political ditches happened more often! But it still isn't very comfortable being the token member of "the other side" in any group; or, as Bob Harvey himself puts it: "I don't usually hang out with this crew . . . they're not my drinking mates".
Which meant that when Mr Harvey found out that the group he'd added his name to consisted of not just right-leaning opponents of a particular voting system, but also an outright racist, he pretty quickly had some understandable joiner's remorse. And so it wasn't that much of a shock to see the story that he was quitting the Vote for Change group not because his views on MMP had shifted, but rather because the group had not "done their homework" on its members and "I wish to have nothing to do with anyone that holds those views.".
(As an aside, Mr Harvey's reason for opposing MMP - that it is a vehicle for "failed politicians" to stay in Parliament through the party list - just isn't a very good one on the facts.)
Now, the presence or absence of Mr Harvey on Vote for Change's list of names doesn't change the merits of their position one iota. But it does weaken their ability to argue their position in two crucial ways.
First, Mr Harvey's resignation (and Mr Fogerty's earlier removal) justifies looking at who is behind the Vote for Change name. For, if it really doesn't matter whose names are attached to these ideas, then why have these changes in the list of its founding supporters taken place?
Second, without Mr Harvey's name there, Vote for Change lose their immediate rebuttal to the accusation that they are just a group of right-of-center, business friendly supporters of ACT and/or National. Which is exactly what they are going to be accused of, whether or not they like it.
And so I suspect that the debate over whether or not to keep MMP just got scuppered, in that the first question Vote for Change is going to have to answer in every discussion is "who exactly is it that you represent?" And the answer to that question, I suggest, is not likely to endear them to large sections of the voting public.
Which isn't to say MMP will certainly be kept at November's referendum (although I think this is highly likely). Should the present coalition arrangements collapse completely, voters may get pissed off enough to decide they want to see the back of MMP. But that decision would, I think, have little to do with anything the Vote for Change group is able to do before the vote takes place.
* In the interests of accuracy, I did make something of a clanger in my earlier post regarding MMP when I claimed that in 2008 Darren Hughes was the only defeated electorate MP to re-enter Parliament on the party list. It subsequently was pointed out in the comments that actually two other Labour MPs (Steve Chadwick and Lynne Pilay) did likewise on election night, while Damien O'Conner later joined then when Michael Cullen resigned. I've amended the earlier post accordingly.