The debate between supporters and opponents of MMP just ended.

Last week I posted on the on the emergence of the "Dump MMP" side of the upcoming referendum on our electoral system, in the shape of "Vote for Change". That post was a typically long-winded attempt at rebutting the arguments advanced by Vote for Change as to why MMP is a "bad thing" for New Zealand.

It was, I hope, the sort of thing Sunday Herald columnist (and fellow Punditeer) Deborah Coddington had in mind when she says "voters deserve non-partisan accurate information when they exercise choice in this referendum.* Not, I hasten to note, that I expect Ms Coddington to endorse the post's content ... just that its intent was good.

However, now I'm wondering whether the effort was worth the load. Because it looks like the prospects of a meaningful debate between two serious contenders for the public's ear is disappearing faster than snow on the Central Otago skifields.

First up, Martin "Bomber" Bradbury spotted that the name of one of the founding members of Vote for Change, Alex Fogerty, was the same as a gentleman who previously has espoused some pretty horrible racist sentiments - as well as threats of physical violence against those who oppose him. Having established that they indeed appeared to be the one and same person, he posted the information at TUMEKE!

Next thing you know, Vote for Change has booted Mr Fogerty from their organisation and deleted him from their website ... but not before the NZ Herald picks up the story. Which then shifted attention to another founding member of the Vote for Change outfit - former Waitakere Mayor (and Labour Party president) Bob Harvey. Because I think it is fair to say that his political background marked him out as something of an outlier on the otherwise pretty right-leaning list of names backing the Vote for Change position.

Now, I hasten to note that the pro-MMP side could be accused of having a distinctly reddish hue to it, so you can play the partisan-benefit card either way here. And I also note there is absolutely nothing wrong with a "lefty" choosing to join a group of "righties" on any issue - would that such crossing of political ditches happened more often! But it still isn't very comfortable being the token member of "the other side" in any group; or, as Bob Harvey himself puts it: "I don't usually hang out with this crew . . . they're not my drinking mates".

Which meant that when Mr Harvey found out that the group he'd added his name to consisted of not just right-leaning opponents of a particular voting system, but also an outright racist, he pretty quickly had some understandable joiner's remorse. And so it wasn't that much of a shock to see the story that he was quitting the Vote for Change group not because his views on MMP had shifted, but rather because the group had not "done their homework" on its members and "I wish to have nothing to do with anyone that holds those views.".

(As an aside, Mr Harvey's reason for opposing MMP - that it is a vehicle for "failed politicians" to stay in Parliament through the party list - just isn't a very good one on the facts.)

Now, the presence or absence of Mr Harvey on Vote for Change's list of names doesn't change the merits of their position one iota. But it does weaken their ability to argue their position in two crucial ways.

First, Mr Harvey's resignation (and Mr Fogerty's earlier removal) justifies looking at who is behind the Vote for Change name. For, if it really doesn't matter whose names are attached to these ideas, then why have these changes in the list of its founding supporters taken place?

Second, without Mr Harvey's name there, Vote for Change lose their immediate rebuttal to the accusation that they are just a group of right-of-center, business friendly supporters of ACT and/or National. Which is exactly what they are going to be accused of, whether or not they like it.

And so I suspect that the debate over whether or not to keep MMP just got scuppered, in that the first question Vote for Change is going to have to answer in every discussion is "who exactly is it that you represent?" And the answer to that question, I suggest, is not likely to endear them to large sections of the voting public.

Which isn't to say MMP will certainly be kept at November's referendum (although I think this is highly likely). Should the present coalition arrangements collapse completely, voters may get pissed off enough to decide they want to see the back of MMP. But that decision would, I think, have little to do with anything the Vote for Change group is able to do before the vote takes place.

* In the interests of accuracy, I did make something of a clanger in my earlier post regarding MMP when I claimed that in 2008 Darren Hughes was the only defeated electorate MP to re-enter Parliament on the party list. It subsequently was pointed out in the comments that actually two other Labour MPs (Steve Chadwick and Lynne Pilay) did likewise on election night, while Damien O'Conner later joined then when Michael Cullen resigned. I've amended the earlier post accordingly.

Comments (9)

by Frank Macskasy on July 04, 2011
Frank Macskasy

I think I'm starting to miss Peter Shirtcliffe's "Campaign for Better Government" (pro-FPP/anti-MMP lobby group), from 1993.

At least those guys were a tad more professional than Donald, Mickey, and Goofy from "Vote for Change"...

One thing none of us in the ERC ever did was point-and-laugh at the CBG. Those guys knew their sh*t, and stayed "on-message" like a team of Jehovah's Witnesses who'd just received a Facebook message from their deity...

I wonder what Peter Shirtcliffe is thinking about all this?

by Steve Withers on July 05, 2011
Steve Withers

The argument Bob Harvey is using about failed politicians betrays a certain lack of perspective.

When I cast my MMP party vote, I'm voting for the party I prefer. That includes the entire "team" on the list. There may be a few people on the list who might not be to my liking, but I'm supporting the whole team. Other people may not like some of the people I like. That's how things go. But we support the team.

MMP actually lets us elect people from the team we support no matter where we live. We don't elect just one, either. We may elect a whole swag of people from the list with our party vote.

But people who think like Bob Harvey and Vote for Change would deprive us of the ability to elect ANYONE we want on the basis they think a few of them are duds. Worse, the people they often name as duds are members of parties they don't even vote for.

I find that bizarre and wrong-headed.

by Chris Diack on July 05, 2011
Chris Diack

There are some far more interesting issues arising from the referendum and the VFCC.

First of all the breathlessness over imposing spending caps turns out to be a total absolute waste of time - not to mention totally evidentially flawed (no evidence that money = votes).

Second, the law is greatly favouring corporate speech - the speech of media corporates.  The uniform coverage of the VFCC has been some degree of hostility.  I guess corporate speech is ok if one agrees with its conclusions.

You are correct one should seperate those who advocate ideas from the ideas themselves - the ideas stand or fall on their own merit.  However you cannot resist.

This post is basically a subtle ad hominem attack mixed with a wife beating question.

Zapping the odd fellow and the excentric Mr Harvey resigning raises the question of conspiracy (who is behind VFCC); not zapping the odd fellow and Mr Harvey not resigning would mean that VFCC/Harvey endorse the views of the odd fellow and would be proof positive conspiracy involving a racist element.

Very Marxian approach.

I prefer the cock up theory of history - VFCC aren't very competent in terms of campaigning and establishing an organisation.  And relying on the irratic Mr Harvey to prove one's leftwing cred was always going to end in tears.  I suspect that poor old Bob was being beaten up on the mobile way before the issue of guy involving himself in Australian race relations surfaced.  Mr Fogerty provided the perfect excuse for Bob to bolt.

But much more importantly their ideas are poorly formed and not particularily logical.  Strangely this shouldn't matter should it Andrew, because VFCC have all the money.  Or do they.  Yes I can see VFCC being a fundraising dynamo.

by Andrew Geddis on July 05, 2011
Andrew Geddis

Chris,

That was a very good response to a post I did not write. I commend you on your imagination.

by Matt McKillop on July 05, 2011
Matt McKillop

I've started a petition or Facebook group or facsimile circle or something to try and get you guys to install a "Like" button, purely for comments like that Andrew.

by Andrew Geddis on July 05, 2011
Andrew Geddis

But Matt,

It's just that much more meaningful when you take the time and effort to reach out personally.

Facebook! Bah, humbug ... next you'll be wanting to twitter me on Follow, or some such cockamarmie scheme.

by Dean Knight on July 06, 2011
Dean Knight

Matt:

If only he realised how much fun we have on The Facebook, discussing his crazy ideas behind his back...

The only thing is that when you post the link, it automatically brings up the PR photo with the deadly eyes, warning you that he's somehow watching you!

d

by Andrew Geddis on July 06, 2011
Andrew Geddis

Look - I saw the movie about that Facebook man. After how he treated those nice twins, I won't have a bar of him.

by Frank Macskasy on July 07, 2011
Frank Macskasy

Chris - excellent post! *likes*

Andrew - "Facebook"? Someone is selling a book of faces? How singular!  *raises eyebrow Spocklike*

Steve - Indeed. Your comment "worse, the people they often name as duds are members of parties they don't even vote for" - is very pertinent. For example, some of these characters might slag off the Green Party List, saying how much they detest Keith Locke. A gentle bit of probing; nudging; and eventual water-boarding soon reveals that they don't actually vote Green. They prefer that awfully nice man who recently rose from the dead and took over ACT... *likes with great fervour*

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