Thursday, October 12, 2006

Thatcherism New Zealand Style

Proportional representation is not something I approve of. I could just about stomach it for local council elections but I could never support it for Westminster elections. Whatever system emerged would be bound to ruin the link between MPs and their constituencies. Just look at the system for electing MEPs. I suspect only a small proportion of the people reading this could name their own MEPs. I have absolutely no idea who the MEPs for my area of Kent are, with the exception of Dan Hannan.

If we had PR I think you'd find a plethora of new political parties being formed. Last week I recorded an interview for my One 2 One programme with the leader and deputy leader of ACT, a Thatcherite liberal party in New Zealand. Rodney Hide and Heather Roy are ACT's only two MPs in the New Zealand Parliament. The party was formed in the early 1990s by the former Labour finance minister Roger Douglas, who had grown disillusioned with the Labour Party. it was he who reformed the New Zealand economy and experimented with so-called 'Rogernomics'.

The interview will be shown at 10.30pm on 18DoughtyStreet.


Anonymous said...

With PR the 'plethora' os small parties are powerless. Unlessfor some reason the big parties allow them into ruling coalitions.

Under FPTP, the small parties like Referendum, UKIP can on occasions exert huge influence.

With the Referendum Party, we would not have had the referendum offer on the Euro from the major parties - without that we would no doubt have had the Euro under Blair.

Without UKIP, IDS would probably not have won the Tory leadership, and if Portillo or Clarke had made it, Cameron would be unlikely to leader now.

Without UKIP, the Conservatives would not have copied their offer of the referendum on the EU Constitution. Neither would Blair have had to copy. Nor would Chirac have done.

It is a fallacy that PR helps small parties. It blocks them far more effecively than FPTP.

Anonymous said...

Not even local government-it would be used at some point in the future to "standardise" the system.
Someone in Brussels would love us to kick start the system for them!

strapworld said...


Tapestry is right. But it does mean that the small parties/lobby groups will always remain such. I mean just treasure the picture of Prime Minister Farage!! I ask you.

PR is a failure and we only have it in Euro elections because the other countries favoured it.

Personally I do know my euro MP's and one, Giles chichester is renowned by his absence from his constituency, only emerging at election times. He never holds meetings or surgeries or anything...and by the way he is a conservative!

The Ukip Mep's, here in the third world, have internal meetings but do absolutely nothing and I believe, if the Tories can put up new and exciting candidates, will all lose their seats.

But would the Tories get rid of Macmillan or Chichester?

Anonymous said...

"Whatever system emerged would be bound to ruin the link between MPs and their constituencies."

ooh - i dont know about that. In my home constituency in Cork city in Ireland, i have a choice of 5 elected MPs.

in the system over there, the MPs end up competing with each other in order to solve your problem (and thus get a mention in the local paper). its quite common for voters to go to the surgeries of each elected MP and to play one off against the other. The end result is that politics is a LOT more local.(isnt that what we all want? a bit less of the westminster village?)

the PR system over there is NOT the crazy and quite frankly, undemocratic, Euro Election MEP system you have here. You can still vote for candidates, but its a transferable voting PR system ( you number your choices 1 to 5... its a bit complex but worth reading up about)

Anonymous said...

"it is a fallacy that PR helps small parties. It blocks them far more effecively than FPTP."

That's somewhat inaccurate. look at the Progressive Democrats in Ireland. 4% of the vote, and they have had an enormous influence on policy in the coalition government over there. (of course that begs the question - is that more democratic than FPTP? i would guess not.)

Tory Ted said...

I hate to nitpick but Heather Roy isn't actually the Deputy Leader of ACT and never has been.

Iain Dale said...

Ed, well that's what I was told she was. I'm sure I introduced her as that (it's a pre-record) and she didn't demure. perhaps our NZ friends might know?

ian said...

Well of course you are against it. You have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo in which the Conservatives or Labour can form a government with minority support, and where some voters have no influence at all.

The Remittance Man said...

I fully agree with Iain's comment that PR further distances elected representatives from the people.

Here in SA we have "pure" pr for parliament and quite frankly I doubt whether 1% of the population could name more than a handful of MP's.

There are certainly no local equivalents to MPs' surgeries or even writing to one's MP about issues. The political class is simply viewed as a bunch of self interested egotists vying for loot and patronage.

neil craig said...

If PR removes (or at least weakens) the link with the constituency, by the same process, it strengthens the link between the elector's views & those of his "representative". It is a rare UK constituency where even half of the voters are represented by someone who had their vote & presumably confidence. Under PR almost everybody has at least one representative they voted for.

If the height of power is for one party to influence the policies of another then doubtless the height of Thatcher's power was the election of Tony Blair to Labour leadership & the height of blair's power was the election of David Cameron. This seems a tortuous argument.

You appear to like Roger Douglas's position Iain. Is it not then paradoxical that you oppose a system which allowed him power when the FTPT system we have here would have squeezed him out of politics when he no longer had the backing of the big party structure?

Under FTPT we are allowed to vote for whomever we want secure in the knowledge that it doesn't matter if they aren't of the big parties Reminiscent of Henry Ford's stricture "any colour as long as it's black" but hardly a prime example of freedom of choice.

Anonymous said...

"Whatever system emerged would be bound to ruin the link between MPs and their constituencies."

What link??? Pretentious nonsense.

"If we had PR I think you'd find a plethora of new political parties being formed."

Certainly hope so: the only remaining slim hope of salvaging this rotten country that the liblabcon parties have so assiduously created and sustained

Anonymous said...

Iain, are you going to eventually go back to doing blogs that are not plugs for your programmes??!! Am delighted with what you're doing at Doughty Street, but have you - finally - overstretched yourself? I thought the PR to 'my New Zealand guests' link was nearly a stretch too far!!

Anonymous said...

Whilst I agree that PR has obvious downsides, would you argue that the current system we have is a true democracy? (Labour won 34% of the vote and end up with a huge majority [34% of the vote!! THREE parties!!] - Where-as the Tories are currently ~10 points ahead in the polls - Tory: 40% vs Labour 31% and that will result in a hung parliament, how the fuck is that democracy?)

Anonymous said...

Here's what the ACT website has to say on what they call 'governance and constitution':

- Hold the growth in government spending below the growth in gross domestic product.

- Reduce spending and dependency through welfare and labour market reform.

- Reduce middle class churning in health, education and superannuation.

- Focus spending on improving core activities, such as law and order, roads, and defence.

- Cut waste in core activities, and downsize local government.

- Stop poor quality and politically correct spending.

These sound like fine Thatcherite proposals, perhaps, but I detect nerry a word on constitution matters here, let alone PR or FPTP.

Are you sure you're talking about the same party?


By the way, yes, only a small proportion of people could name their own MEPs. However, only a not-much-larger small proportion of people could name their own MPs.

So your point is....?

Owen Blacker said...

I have to disagree (and agree with corkonian) about PR.

Whilst STV isn't perfect, no electoral system is — certainly not FPTP.

I think the reason even politically-engaged people, like most people here, would have trouble naming their MEPs has very little to do with the electoral system and a lot more to do with the minimal coverage of European politics in the British media. If MEPs are treated as an unimportant assembly somewhere on the continent (and I'm not opining on whether or not that's a fair assessment), then why would people know who they are?

Surely that FPTP creates wholly unrepresentative Parliaments (think Labour landslides, or Thatcher's majorities, depending on which scares you more) is a problem with our current system.

Fixing that issue — particularly if we can do so in some way that makes politics more local, as is the case with Teachtaí Dála — might well help with the current levels of political disengagement, perhaps?

Anonymous said...

The role of the small parties is problematic either way you view it.

In proportional representation, one gets a plethora of small parties with shifting alliances holding the balance of power. See how the Greens affected the German Social Democrats (Oh, that the Free Democrats could do the same to the Christian Democrats!). Because the tail ends up wagging the dog, their power is disproportional and so it is undemocratic.

However, under FPTP, pluralism and innovation are crushed. If one launches a new party, one does most harm not to one's ideological opponents but to one's ideological neighbours. That is what the SDP did to Labour and what Referendum/UKIP have done to the Tories. One could not currently launch a neo-Thatcherite party without helping Labour.

I have often wondered whether the solution would be to have a proposing chamber chosen by FPTP, so that I have an MP who represents me, but have a ratifying chamber chosen by PR so that it represents the will of the nation.

Anonymous said...

List PR, sure. Multi-member constituency STV works; it'd enhance local politics, not damage it, and it'd avoid disenfranchising urban and Scottish Tories, rural Labour voters, etc etc etc. The Tories get screwed by the present system; it ruins politics by magnifying the difference between 30% and 35% of the vote beyond all reason. Look at America, where about 3% of the vote actually matters - the difference between 49/51 Dem and 49/51 GOP - to see the FPTP reductio ad absurdum.

If you want local politics, strengthen local government and devolve more power to it...

Anonymous said...

Iain, you are an intelligent person. I can't believe you are peddling such nonsense... you are just being conservative for the sake of it rather than taking any principled view of what might be best (that's why Thatcher was one of the best Conservative PMs ever, she was a radical not a mere conservative).

Have a look at Make My Vote Count's latest series of blog posts, they counter the arguments against PR.

As for not knowing who your MEPs are, well, that's a failure of them and Europe, not the electoral system (although the closed list system is deeply flawed, it offers less choice to the electorate and more to the party chiefs).

Multi-member STV can give a more proportional representation of the voter's intentions /and/ give more of a connection to the constituency as the people vote for their representatives rather than simply on a party line. You can choose between say three Tory candidates and rank them in order of preference. You can vote rank the more liberal LibDem above the social democrat LibDem, your choices are more accurately reflected so you feel more of a connection with your MPs.

As for small parties gaining domination, to get a seat in a 4 member constituency you need 20% of the vote, so not much scope for real fringe parties. Minor parties will not gain as much influence as people think, they will be junior members of the government and if they switch allegience they will lose votes as the public do not like such to and fro-ing.

A decent PR system will also strengthen parliament.

I would rather have FPTP than say the Israeli system, but anyone asking for that is a raving lunatic, but a constituency based PR system, like STV combines the best of both worlds.

(and at local government level, surely the mult-member wards are the perfect place for STV...)

Simon said...

AS corkconian said we have PR over here in Ireland. And what it allows for is more parties with ideas to come about. With the FPTP you just have the big parties all of which are slowly moving into the centre and offering no choice to people. PR allows more scope for your vote. Also I can name my 3 members of parliment.

Anonymous said...

Rather short-sighted of you Iain. Or are you sticking to the PR=List PR line because it makes thinking about it that much easier?

No one is advocating closed-list PR for Westminster.

As Corkonian points out, STV improves the link between an MP and their constituency, not to mention making a whole lot of other stuff better too.

I realise a spot of dilettantism is necessary in such a prolific blogger, but you could have given it a second or two of thought...

Anonymous said...

I rather enjoy the choice of the double-ballot system for the Scottish Parliament elections -without that second vote for a party the Conservative presence would be rather reduced into near nothingness!

It's a system that still allows for an MP connection to a constituency whilst still alllowing for a somewhaty fairer representation of the electorate. At present my vote for Westminster has been rather wasted as the person/party I've voted for has never actually made it!

Anonymous said...


Doubt very many people knew who their MEP was when they were elected under FPTP.

In that regard don't think PR for the European Elections has changed much but did allow for a richer variety of voices to be elected to the European talking-shop.

The Regional List system of PR used here is the main problem. It is undemocratic and puts power over who does and doesn't become an MEP effectively in the hands of the party who control list position rather than the voters which can't be a good thing.

STV would be better system even though nobody would understand how the final results were arrived at. But I doubt they know that now let alone actually care.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Corkonian but the Progressive Democrats were admitted into the ruling coalition. If they don't make the coalition, they are completely stranded with nil influence.

Voters have no say who goes into the coalition and who doesn't. It's all deals done behind closed doors. It is far from democratic. The only way voters know what they are voting for is FPTP.

Anonymous said...

Iain-according to Wikipedia (Not always correct I know), she's 2nd on the 'party list', but not actually the deputy.

Anonymous said...

Surprise, surprise. Iain misses the point again. But then he's a NuLAbConner, so total contempt for the will of the people is his basic principle.

PR is about fairness to VOTERS not parties. The present system is fraudulent & support for it is anti-democratic. That being said, no-one in their right mind would support the current dogs' breakfast of STV for NI & Scottish locals, AMS lists for Europe, FPTP plus AMS in Scotland, Wales & London assembly elections, & FPTP for
English & Welsh locals & General elections.

STV all round is the way to go. Effectively gives control of candidate selection to the voters, as they can order a party's candidates in their own order of preference.

Corkonian, it's only complex for the counters, not the voters. For us it's easy as 1-2-3.

Anonymous said...

You should see what we're about to be hit with in Scotland.

We already have a list system for the Scottish Parliament which means we could have 8 MSPs claiming to represent us. There are far too many of them, but it is claimed you need that many to make a Parliament work. Not so sure!

On top of that STV comes in for local elections in May, so then we will each have 3 or 4 councillors representing us. So, the direct link with a local representative is gone.

On top of that we will have more councils where there are coaltions which as we all know just leads to bad policy making.

Anonymous said...

"the link between MPs and their constituencies."

What link would that be then, when "elite" A-listers, many of whom don't even know where the constituency is, never mind having any local connections whatsoever, get forced on local associations by the CCHQ mafia?

Anonymous said...

I don't think Ireland makes a good example. Corruption is rife, and voters can't kick the peretrators out. PR and STV are a con. It appears more democratic on the face of it, but it removes power from the voter.

Only a two party system can reflect the poular will, and ensure governments are kicked out of power. That's the only cure for corruption. PR and STV allow the sliders to stay in power by making new coalitions of the same faces.

Anonymous said...

FYI - Muriel Newman is ACT's deputy leader.

And.. bring back FPP to NZ! MMP is a killer, no mandate at all to do anything. Then we may have a National led government!

Kiwi Dirt Biker said...

MMP in New Zealand has it's faults, but one thing that cannot be argued is that Parliament is by far and away more representative of the population of New Zealand than it ever was under FPP, be that NZ European / Maori ( indigenous people ) / Greens / Asians / Male vs Female / Transgender.

I would hate to go back to FPP for that reason alone, but even without that there are some key benefits, it removes the opportunity to buy electorates, whether by defense spending / health or education, not to mention making jerrymandering electoral boundaries irrelevant.

The balance in numbers between list and electorate representatives is key.

Looking forward to your interview.


Anonymous said...

MMP in NZ has produced a dogs breakfast of minority parties. We have parties that 95% of the electorate voted against having significant influence in Government (known as 'tail wagging the dog').

Successful politicians are now those who toe the party line the best. No Boris Johnson's here. We also haven't had a new independant constituency MP elected since MMP - definately less local voter connection.


Anonymous said...

The single transferable vote system which takes into account voters' second preferences produces single member constituencies.

So it is a bit dishonest to imply that the system used for electing MEP's is the only one possible. Or you don't really know what you are talking about. Surely not!

Anonymous said...

As someone who lived in NZ for five years and got very into the politics, I'll have to tune in. ACT are interesting, but basically over. They're only there because the conservative party, National, after hoovering up ACT's vote by moving right, was worried it would be short of allies and let Rodders win his constituency seat - which in NZ means you and your party get in even if you miss the 5% threshold.

That sort of fiddle is no doubt one of the many things that puts all right-thinking Conservatives off PR.

I think that's a shame, not because I necessarily support PR, but because I believe the party may have to get real about the distinct possibility that it will be the price of a deal to get it into government next time around. I won't go into this in detail here, but you can see something I wrote on it on Conservative Home:

Basically, the party may not like it, but it should be doing its homework (in secret if not in public): as some of the impressively informed comment above points out, there is PR and there is PR; if the other parties get to define it, the Tories will end up with a version crafted to their disadvantage.

neil craig said...

Anon says that under PR
"Successful politicians are now those who toe the party line the best. No Boris Johnson's here."

In fact in Scotland we have 2 politicians, Margo MacDonald & Dennis Canavan, who were deselected for not toeing the party line, stood on the list system & won. Margo in particular is a major asset. I think he may be wrong about the strength of party discipline in NZ - there seem to be several 1 or 2 person partities of people who didn't "toe the line".

A system where party discipline is expected to be strong has a problem not only for the rebel but also for the leader. He is held accountlable for everything any party member says (even Boris when talking about Liverpool) & is thus forced to use his whip. Remember Howard Flight.

This makes it very difficult for controversial ideas to be even discussed, until such time as they are no longer controversial - this may be the worst effect, even beyond the democratic deficit, of FTPT.