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Gerrard Eckhoff

The Rattle of a Grumpy (Old?) Man

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With an election in eight months time and the prospect of having to vote a party rather than a person into office- I’m getting grumpy.

The thought of another three years of treading water with the National Party or a return to socialism with the Labour party makes me even grumpier. (Socialism is defined as the equal distribution of misery -Winston Churchill)

Does any one out there feel that the National Government has actually achieved something / anything during their time in office? Yes the financial meltdown caused major problems for National but it has also constrained their spending aspiration (to ensure their anointed place in parliament) which is no bad thing. Their major “achievement” so far is to impose the ETS on the people of this country so that Nick Smith can trumpet his success on the world stage; as though that is some how of importance to anybody other than Minister Smith. I’m grumpy, because if the voters of this country wanted more of the same, they would have continued to vote for Labour. We keep on doing the same old things so we keep getting the same old results. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we focus on the effects of previous Government policy rather than deal to the causes of the nation’s problems?

At least part of the answer is the advent of the party system of political representation within our Parliament, but that was not always the case. If it was, the voting lobbies outside the debating chamber would not have the “ayes” and the “noes” above the voting lobby doors but simply National and Labour.

Our first Parliaments consisted of people who felt they had something to offer as individuals and the voters obviously agreed. Their allegiance was to their electorate and not a political party. Each and every vote would have effectively been a conscious vote as each member made up their minds on which decision would better suit their electorate and the country and probably in that order. Contrast that with the party system we now have which effectively renders most MPs of the two larger parties – DOA, or dead-on-arrival. A Government’s decisions are (hopefully) made for the good of the country but now rather curiously, they are also good for the party. (see the ETS and Smith’s blue-greens)

We are now faced with a situation where the number of parties in Parliament precludes a clear majority for any one party .The passing of a bill in Parliament requires the co-operation of other smaller parties and impels the MP of the governing party to vote as they are told to do. Abstentions and crossing the floor is now a political death warrant. The so called mavericks within the two major parties of yester-year like Norman Jones and Aubrey Begg are not to be found. These were men who stood and delivered on behalf of their constituents and barely considered their parties’ official views.

It is inconceivable that today’s crop of National’s rural MPs were so keen on an ETS regime that their party imposed on their constituents, that not one of them spoke out in opposition to the ETS. In other words the party system ensures that MPs represent their party’s views back to their electorates not their electorate’s view to the Parliament. Isn’t it the people’s representative’s job to do just that?

The day of the independent MP may well be on its way back if enough people understand what happened in the Australian election. Consider the benefits of independent MPs. The people actually get to choose their representative rather than being appointed and anointed by their party for sign-off by the electorate who in turn are more inclined to vote for the party than the person. The independent MP is not subject to “whipping” – rather they are wooed by the other parties for support.

MMP is tailor-made for independent MPs. Anderton and Dunn, while espousing they represent a party, are both independent MPs to all intent and purpose. Peter Dunn is doubly blessed with a political and philosophical dexterity that enables him to serve in either a centre left Labour Government or centre left National Government. (no typo)

The recent Australian election resulted in four independent MPs deciding who will govern. Their decision obviously resulted in enormous benefits for the “bush” which is all but ignored by the urban controlled party system – not unlike NZ. In fact it is exactly like NZ. The four independents from “the bush” have brought a balance and influence back into Australian politics that would otherwise never surface.

Back in NZ it would be a fascination to see how many taxpayers’ dollars have gone into Auckland vs the whole of the South Island for any period of both National and Labour’s governance. The party system demands those with the voting strength gets the discretionary dollar.

Meanwhile the crucial issue of race relations focuses on the effects of government policy on the poorer with brown skins rather than on what is needed to bring all on the wrong side of the socio economic tracks back into the ball park.

Small towns stagnate due to a lack of innovation opportunity due to the cost of fighting those who demand their St Helen’s version of the RMA bible is to be liberally interpreted.

Rate rises keep councils in the style to which they have grown accustomed.

The young disappear to Australia – most never to return.

NZ is resource rich but determined not to utilize them for fear some future generation might miss out on something that new technology has long since ignored.

The party system appoints a few representatives from ethnic minorities or interest groups (which is little more than tokenism) so the real debates are never had.

Oh for the chance to vote for a Don Brash- a Stephen Franks- a Ken Shirley – a Muriel Newman as independent members of Parliament. Imagine the quantum lift in the quality of debate and the shift in focus to those things that really matter.

I believe few good men and women can make the changes we desperately need.

A house of independent MPs of thought and deed would deal to the causes of our lack of progress and the years of ambivalence the party system of government has imposed on us.