Friday, August 31, 2007

Do MPs have a conscience with which to vote?

In recent years there has been a number of bills passed through Parliament (Prostitution Law Reform, Civil Union, Anti-smacking) on the basis of MPs 'voting with their conscience'. I believe it is adopted when a controversial moral issue is debated in Parliament.

Here's the problem. In the cases cited the conscience of the electorate was not represented among the MPs in Parliament. An overwhelming majority of ordinary Kiwis were opposed to the legislation.

Allowing MPs to exercise a conscience vote is undemocratic. MPs are elected to represent their constituency in Parliament (well, that's my understanding of the process). If they vote against the will of the people then they are being undemocratic.

A further problem is that under MMP there are certain MPs who are not accountable to a constituency. They get into Parliament on the party list. They do the bidding of the party and try to keep their position on the party list for the next election.

Party politics in itself is unrepresentative. The number of New Zealanders who are members of a political party is a small minority of the population. That, in itself, make party politics unrepresentative and undemocratic. There is a certain type of person who prepared to join a political party. The vast majority of the population is not prepared to participate in politics at this level. [I am not and never have been a member of a political party. If I did join a political party I would submit a remit to outlaw Political Parties and to revoke MMP.]

So whether an MP votes along party lines or votes with their conscience they are unrepresentative of those they supposedly represent. There is a serious flaw in politics in New Zealand. We do not have a democracy in the Platonic sense. Plato defined democracy as "government of the people, by the people, for the people". The propensity for politicians to array themselves in parties means we have government of the party, by the party, for the party.

Conscience voting is anathema to democracy. Political parties are anathema to democracy.

Monday, August 27, 2007

MMP - wrong, wrong, wrong

If you wanted the worst form of government possible, you would not choose MMP (Mixed Member Proportion) as your electoral system. You would opt for anarchy. MMP only delivers the second worst form of government.

The New Zealand electors were conned in the selection of MMP. Back in the '80s when we voted in a referendum, and the overwhelming majority selected MMP I doubt that 2% of the population understood what they were letting the country in for.

MMP may deliver a proportionate representation of the views of the populace (notice that I said "may") in terms of the number of MPs in Parliament. However, in combination with the "auto-combative" Westminster Parliamentary system operated in New Zealand it is an utter failure at delivering good government.

Here's what MMP does.

Firstly, a proportionate number of MPs representing all the views of the populace is elected to Parliament. There should be proportionately the same number of fringe looneys in Parliament as there are in society, and the same proportion of "politically correct" (as in, "I'm right, you're wrong") as there is in the general population.

Secondly, under the Westminster Parliamentary system, in order to form a government a political leader (let's call them a Prime Minister) needs to have the support of 50% or more of the members of Parliament. Negotiations take place between the various parties (here that means Political Parties) and a compromise is reached. Policies are traded off in order to reach a position where these 50% of MPs can share the power of being in government.

Smart readers will have spotted the problem already. Prior to the election political candidates can (within reason) promise anything they like. If elected, and they get invited to the negotiating table, they can simply trade off their "principles" and go back to the voting public with an excuse. They claim that in the overall picture it was better for them to be on the Treasury benches rather than in Opposition and holding out over a principle.

In order to maintain "Confidence and Supply" support, the major coalition partner needs to support legislation put forward by minor partners. In this current Parliamentary session the coalition has supported legislation put forward by an informal member i.e. the Greens have offered to support Labour, United Future and New Zealand First on confidence and supply while not being formal members of the coalition. Without the former, the latter 3 would lose the Treasury benches.

The result is that while there is supposedly a proportionate number of moderates, liberals, conservatives and loonies in Parliament, there is actually disproportionate representation in the development of policy. The minor views actually hold a disproportionate amount of influence on the Treasury benches.

How hard is it for voters to see this?

Maybe I haven't quite been hard enough of MMP as I should. However, I am prepared to cut it a bit of slack that with the right Parliamentary system it might have merit. However, in combination with the Westminster system it is an abject failure.

I haven't at this point gone into the problems of Political Parties, especially how they have been disproportionately empowered by MMP. In a later post I will fill you in.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Another sacred cow up for homekill...

You could easily say that I am just being negative. However, I am really trying to be provocative - trying to add some creative thinking into New Zealand politics. (some would argue that any thinking would be a start).

Having questioned the the sacred cow of universal suffrage, I will now move on to my next slow moving target - Compulsory Education.

New Zealand used to offer all its citizens access to Primary and Secondary education for free. University education came with a price tag that was borne directly by the student, though very heavily subsidised. In reality, it was not "free education", as it had to be funded, and that funding came from taxation.

I am definitely a beneficiary of this education system. I used my entire allocation of primary, secondary and tertiary education. I have a Masters degree and a postgraduate diploma on top of that. So, I have done pretty well out of the system. My parents fared even better, as they had all 5 of their children educated through to tertiary level. I am now in the position where I am putting my children through school. On top of the exorbitant rate of taxation I am paying, I am constantly being tapped for more funds for their compulsory education.

In stage one economics I first heard the maxim "Without abstinence there is no investment.". I observed that this was true. Those contemporaries of mine who went through university on a full bursary were "by and large" less studious than those of us who were paying our own way.

Similarly, compulsion does not encourage scholastic achievement. I think a lot of people would agree that schools seem to have become baby sitting centres. Kids must attend until the age of 15, regardless of whether they achieve anything academically.

Now, I think I gave the tax payer pretty good value for money. I spent a long time in the education system, but I passed everything, every year (except for a couple of papers in my first year at University). Since leaving University I have been in paid employment within New Zealand, working for tax paying companies.

What I see now is that while there is compulsion for children to attend school, there is no compulsion for them to actually learn. As taxpayers this should outrage us. We should demand value for money. Our employers appraise us to ensure we represent value for money. Show me the cost:benefit ratio of the state education system in New Zealand. Show me the cost:benefit ratio of each tax payer funded pupil in the school system.

Some day I will give readers the benefit of my insights in to the National Certificate in Educational Achievement (NCEA).

Friday, August 24, 2007

Exercising our democratic right...

Almost every New Zealand over the age of 18 has the right to vote. You have to have met certain residency criteria and are not in prison or mentally unfit (although there seems to be a lot of latitude in that one).

Is this really the best way of establishing a Government?

Surely the idea of having a central government is to have a body to act in the best interests of the country. Giving every citizen the right to vote may not achieve this. Why? Because too many in society do not understand what they are supposed to be doing when they apply their mark to the ballot paper.

Self interest plays too big a part in the decision making process of too many who have the right to vote. And the politicians know this.

This was epitomised in a comment by someone televised after the latest budget. "There was nothing in it for me.". Most people's interest in politics is "What is in it for me?". There is no thought of the overall good of the country. And the politicians know this.

This makes it very easy for a political party (I'll get to the morality of political parties one day), especially one that is already in power to "buy an election". And they buy it with tax payer money. The winner of elections under universal suffrage is the one who appears to benefit the greatest majority of the populace - not necessarily the one who has the best policies for the governance of the country.

Okay. That's a lot of rhetoric. What is the alternative? I am not going to present my alternative just yet (I have one to offer though). I am just going to challenge the status quo and hopefully readers will see that what I am saying is right.

So what am I about?

What are you going to learn from me? Hopefully quite a lot.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about and discussing politics, especially of the Kiwi variety. I have some ideas that will rattle some cages. My views on politics include such things as eligibility of voters, the type or electoral system, the number of MPs, the value of MPs... The list goes on.

I hope to be even handed and not expose political bias. I have never been a member of a political party. My interest does not lie in entering into politics myself. I have many other important things to do.

Hopefully, these posts will not be "mud slinging" from the sidelines, but a spur to people thinking differently (and since these are my views, correctly) about politics.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Don't Get Me Started...

Well I suppose I just have. I have read blogs over the last little while and thought I could do just as good a job as most posters. At least I have something valuable to contribute (but then the "lamers" think the same about themselves). I have quite strong political opinions, and thought that Politically Correct would be an appropriate name for my blog, but someone has already taken that, so Political Sidelines is the next best thing. I am so late getting into blogging that I suppose it will be "so last week" tomorrow that no one will read this.

What really got me riled up and pushed me over the edge to start this blog was a comment by Prime Minister Helen Clark (I am a Kiwi). There has been a political storm in a teacup over an Australian MP (Kevin Rudd) visiting a strip club while in New York on UN business. Helen Clark is reported as being disapproving of his actions. A number of other Kiwi MPs have come out and admitted visiting strip clubs at various stages during their usually pre-politics life.

My outrage is that Helen Clark fails to see the inconsistency of a government that legalises prostitution but then "tut tuts" and disapproves of a people visiting strip clubs.

Both are immoral. There I said it. Making something legal doesn't make it moral.