Three years ago New Zealand had a referendum on whether or not to keep the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system. 57% voted to keep MMP, which was a win, but only just. If the referendum were held this year the result might be different.
Coat-tailing is eroding the public’s faith in MMP, and is a long term threat to the system. Look at the situation we are now in:
1- Some of the Right’s most prominent pundits (and Cameron Slater) are supporting a Labour candidate
2- John Key and Laila Harre are both voting for National candidate Paul Goldsmith (even though Key wants him to lose, and Harrè hates National).
3- A rich foreigner with ties to the far right has joined forces with a Māori nationalist to create IMP people.
4- Peter Dunne’s hair and bow-tie are allowed near a Ministerial portfolio.
Thanks to the coat-tailing rule, this all makes complete sense. The situation is so bizarre that one is tempted to suspect the whole thing is a conspiracy designed to discredit MMP. If it is, it’s working pretty well.
The problem for the Left is that coat-tailing puts us at a strategic disadvantage. We can’t exploit coat-tailing like the Right can because our parties are more principle-driven. What principles guide National? Common sense? Optimism? John Key? (ACT is the exception here, but their principles are widely discredited, and they haven’t been a real party for years).
Maybe this is merely a function of conservatism, which is, I think, more disposition than philosophy. A vanilla conservatism underpins a significant chunk of the kiwi Right, and as such, it’s not really ‘for’ anything other than the status quo.
The Left, however, values its principles. Seeing genuine Left parties like Mana go in for coat-tailing is unseemly. And watching Laila Harrè talk about internet speeds like she gives a shit is cringe-worthy.
Okay, maybe our first-past-the-post electorate seats are actually the problem. Maybe we should have STV instead -it might even bring a Kiwi Motorsport Enthusiast Party to parliament, like in Aussie. At least it would be entertaining. But convincing anyone to shift to STV is a challenge, to put it mildly. Removing the coat tails provision is not.
Frighteningly, an even easier option is to let this farce keep discrediting MMP until the next referendum, when more people are fed up with the system. And that’s the option that works well for the two big parties, especially National. If that happens, we are back to the system that brought us Muldoon and Rogernomics.
The Left might lose this election, or it might not. But regardless of what happens, we need to work to remove coat-tailing.
To paraphrase Karl Marx, coat-tailing in New Zealand repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. Welcome to farce.