28 November 2013
Amidst the frenzied debate about the suitability or otherwise of the untested, yet to be elected, Conservatives as a viable post-election support partner for National, one point seems to have been overlooked.
By all means focus on the absolute, genuine sciurid nuttiness of Mr Craig and his colleagues – that should be enough to scare off any sane voter – but also give some thought to the actual role of a support or coalition partner. Mr Craig’s utterances make it clear he has yet to.
Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg summed up that role very well earlier this week when he said that Britons need to know “there’s still a party that will always shun the extremes and govern from the liberal centre.” He was, of course, referring to his Liberal Democrats, but his point has equal relevance to New Zealand.
The role of support partners in multi party governments is not to push extreme agendas, but to moderate the actions of the major party of government, lest it lurch towards an extremism of its own. People do not vote for a support party to keep a check on the government, only to find that support party is the one needing to be kept in check. Yet, when one looks at the New Zealand scene, support party extremism is precisely what would happen with the Conservatives, and arguably, although to a lesser extent, with ACT and the Greens. (In New Zealand First’s case the record is more basic – it is just chronically, serially unreliable.)
The most common dislike voters express about our MMP system is that tails can wag dogs. So long as governments of either hue are reliant on more extreme partners, that will continue to be a valid criticism. After all, MMP was introduced to be a check on the hitherto unbridled power of the major parties in government. But because of the need, more often than not, to have to constrain unruly support partners, the two main parties have ended up potentially more powerful than ever.
As the Liberal Democrats’ New Zealand sister party, UnitedFuture has attempted to play the role Nick Clegg describes. However, while we have knocked off some of the extreme edges of various things successive Labour- and National-led governments have considered in the last decade or so, or at the very least voted against them, we have never really been in the numerical position to do so absolutely. Nor have we got the credit when we have done so – after all, stopping nuttiness is never as exciting a media story as promoting it in the first place. Or, in the even worse case of the Conservatives, actually believing it as gospel.
MMP will only work as people expected when it is the big parties that are being constrained from the centre – and not being the ones hauling in their partners from the extremes. John Key has already acknowledged he would have to reign in the extremes of the Conservatives in government – is not that completely back to front?