Decreasing the size of the List under MMP

by Jake Quinn

You’ve got to love a good schism through the party delegates. The last day of the 93rd Labour Party Conference in Rotorua provided just that. 103 votes for, 104 against was the original floor vote. It ended up, after a card vote, seeing the retention of a remit clause saying that Labour would encourage a debate about some key changes to MMP such as increasing the number of electorate MPs while reducing the number of list MPs (ie shrinking the size of constituent seats), but while maintaining proportional representation.

The main thrust of this is that the public are a bit annoyed with some of the odder aspects of MMP. So changing the system to reflect that is preferable to allowing the National Party to ride this sentiment all the way back to the old electoral system (FPP – first past the post) or something like it (SM – supplementary member) that delivered us the elected dictatorships of Muldoon and Lange/Douglas where parliament was a powerless rubber stamp.

What’s more the rural MPs believe that large electorates (think West Cost Tasman, which runs almost the length of the south island) are just too big to service effectively. It is perhaps not coincidental that having smaller electorates would actually favour the Labour Party anyway because a number of MPs in semi urban semi rural electorates, who lost in the last election, might well have won if their seat was smaller (less rural/more urban).

The main backer of this was Labour’s Justice Spokesperson Lianne Dalziel and  Christchurch’s James Caygill. Lianne’s thoughts are below and in full here:

We had a great debate on the MMP remit today.  The most challenging part of the debate was over the proposal to reduce the size of electorates, resulting in fewer List MPs.  Some say that this will be bad for diversity and proportionality.  I am told that the Greens think it will leave them with one MP.  Let me make it clear that none of the smaller parties will lose any MPs as a result of this proposal, as overall proportionality would still be retained – unlike the Supplementary Member system being proposed by the government.  As long as we retain overall proportionality then it isn’t a problem.

A number of the Labour delegates (including Caucus members) voted against this part of the section (the affiliated union delegates also seemed to block vote against it too) on the grounds that the list helps to secure diversity in parliament, they pointed out that there are no women Labour MPs north of Mana – although you’d think one could easily amend that through the candidate selection process, no one thinks for a moment that Labour couldn’t get women elected in Auckland, their candidates just happen to be men.

It was a feisty debate and really livened up the wrap up session of remit voting. Plus it is good to see Labour thinking strategically about how it will deal with Key’s MMP referendum – the consequences of which a very significant for our democracy.