Herald Editorial on MMP

The NZ Herald editorial is scathing of Judith Tizard, Labour and MMP.

The last thing the MMP electoral system needed this year was an episode to stir up discontent over list MPs. Yet that is exactly what is being provided by the posturing and prevaricating of Judith Tizard as she decides whether she will take the list seat vacated by Darren Hughes. The Labour Party hierarchy has made it clear it does not want the former minister back in Parliament.

But, as the unelected candidate highest on Labour’s 2008 party list, she is, by law, the first cab off the rank. With the retention of MMP the subject of a referendum at the time of the general election, this is far from a ringing endorsement of its merits.

Exactly, and bizarrely the vested interests of pro-MMP lobbyists seem tot hink that these same people rorting?the?list should also be the ones to reform MMP.

Labour has itself to blame for much of its embarrassment. Not only does it not want Judith Tizard back – and earlier went so far as to stop Phil Twyford standing in the Mt Albert byelection to prevent this – but it also does not want any of the next four candidates on its list, Mark Burton, Mahara Okeroa, Martin Gallagher and Dave Hereora. None are standing this year, so they would occupy the seat for just six months. Party president Andrew Little’s choice is Louisa Wall, who is next on the list after those fellow former MPs and has already been selected for the safe seat of Manurewa.

The editor is of course talking about the Tizard Effect or the Tizard Bomb. Labour are ardent supporters of MMP, yet they are quite willing to chuck the intent of the list system aside because it doesn’t suit them. That makes the MMP system highly suspect that it can be manipulated in such a manner.

It would be easy to say Labour should have seen this coming; that it erred badly in the drawing up of a list which saddled it with lacklustre choices in the event of incidents such as that allegedly involving Mr Hughes. But before the 2008 election, the party may have felt it would be wrong to demean and effectively disown sitting MPs by placing them far lower on its list. If the worst came to the worst, it could always appeal to them to stand aside for the good of the party.

Labour is not the first to seek to manipulate its party list this way. In mid-2008, the Greens tried to bring Russel Norman into Parliament by orchestrating the departure of MP Nandor Tanczos and asking Catherine Delahunty and Mike Ward, who were ahead of the co-leader on their party list, to stand aside. This came unstuck when Mr Ward stuck to his guns. Nonetheless, this blatant attempt at a rearrangement of convenience left a sickly taste, a state of affairs now rekindled by Labour.

Yes it does leave a sickly taste. We need to dump MMP, not reform it. If politicians can’t be trusted to stick to their lists then they can’t be trusted to reform MMP.

Issues surrounding list MPs, along with other aspects of MMP that have raised question-marks, will be examined by an Electoral Commission review if the public votes later this year to retain the electoral system. This would offer the chance to assess whether the situation in which Mr Little finds himself is reasonable.

On the one hand, the public votes for a party list, which, like policy, is announced before an election. It could be considered that a commitment has, therefore, been made to voters, and the list should be sacrosanct.

Yet is it fair that a party, and perhaps a new leader, should be shackled with unwanted people in what may be much-changed circumstances? Should, in fact, party lists be dispensed with after an election?

The common complaint about this would be that people could enter Parliament without any sort of public mandate. Party leaders would be free to exercise their whims. Equally, however, the present situation is unsatisfactory, and has blighted MMP at an inopportune time.

Louisa Wall is, clearly, the most suitable candidate to replace Mr Hughes. Something must change to ensure the country is spared a rerun of the current shenanigans.

That something is for us all to reject MMP.