October 15, 2011
A tale of two elections
New Zealand is ramping up to an election. It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that the National party will win; the only question is whether National will win enough votes to govern alone, or whether they’ll need the support of a minor party. This is somewhat reminiscent of the situation in the last UK election, in which the question was not whether the Tories would get the most votes, but whether there would be a hung parliament. But it’s interesting to compare attitudes in the two countries.
In the UK, absolute majorities are the norm. The voting system is designed to produce absolute majorities from voting pluralities, and a referendum on a change that would have mitigated this was recently defeated. Voters are taught that governments need to be ‘strong’ so that they can enact all their policies.
In short, for one party to have an absolute majority to do with as it wishes is regarded as essential to effective government.
By contrast, I asked a friend what he thought of the possibility of National winning an absolute majority. He wasn’t keen on the possibility. Part of this was specific to National’s style of government – their routine use of urgency – but part of it also seemed to be a feeling that parties should not go unchecked. No party should be free to just do what it wants without building at least some measure of consensus. (To be clear, the friend in question is not anti-National. I don’t know his voting intentions, but I’m pretty sure he won’t be shedding any tears over National getting a second term. His concern was specifically about National winning an absolute majority.)
In short, for one party to have an absolute majority to do with as it wishes is regarded as not only inessential to effective government, but actively worrying in terms of keeping government in check.
It’s obviously invalid to extrapolate from one conversation with one person, and it’s certainly true that there are many people in New Zealand who do long for the jackboot of unchecked government (as long as it is their party wearing it, of course). Still, I’d like to think it illustrates how Kiwis have in the last 15 years come to take consensus for granted as an expected and desirable outcome of an election, in contrast to Britons actively preferring absolutism.
Of course, the MMP referendum could be about to prove me wrong…
September 03, 2011
Fortunately, we can save ourselves by leaving the lights on while we’re not using them
Stuff: “In a speech to ACT party faithful in Auckland today at its annual conference, new leader [Don] Brash delivered the keynote speech saying the country was in the grip of an emergency so bad New Zealand ‘faces serious threats to its continued existence.’”
April 17, 2011
So, turning your Twitter avatar black inexplicably failed to have any effect.
November 20, 2010
First as tragedy, then as farce
You would imagine that the one thing an identity card system would have is information on who the cards were issued to. But you would have reckoned without the UK’s well-thought-out implementation: “We should not exaggerate the significance of all this. Much has been made of the elderly and the very young. We have no reliable demographic information at all on who the purchasers were.”
September 17, 2010
Rick, 15 Credibility Street
Stuff: “Act leader Rodney Hide said he wasn't sure if disgraced MP David Garrett had told him how he obtained a fake passport in the name of a dead child. ‘'I actually couldn't remember if he declared it, how he did it to me,’ Hide said. ‘'I think I remember that he got something off the cemetery.’”
And that’s fair enough. Hey, if I was recruiting somebody who was going to be my law and order spokesman, we’d be having like this totally cool argument about who would win if Ayn Rand fought Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and if he suddenly told me he stole a dead guy’s identity to commit passport fraud, I’d be totally, like, whatevs, dude, I didn’t ask for your life story. And if he kept going on and said that actually it was a dead child, it’s not like I’d remember something like that, cuz y’know it’s just like a peculiarly ghoulish crime, it’s not like memorable or anything.
And it would totally be Ayn Rand. She’d cut off Sheriff Joe’s government budget, and then…
July 19, 2010
John Gravois: “Google maintains thirty-two different region-specific versions of its Maps tool for different countries around the world that each abide by the respective local laws. Thus on India’s version of Google Maps, for example, all of Kashmir appears as an integral and undisputed part of the country—because Indian law sees it that way. Similarly, ‘Arunachal Pradesh’ is nowhere to be found on ditu.google.cn. What you find instead are all the same Chinese place-names that caused the uproar of Google Maps in August.”
May 05, 2010
How the “Big Society” works
Johann Hari reports on David Cameron’s “model borough” of “compassionate Conversatism.” Meals on Wheels charges, he learns, have increased by £527 a year (to put this figure in context, the savings from all the council’s sell-offs and increased charges amounts to £20 per year for the average resident). ASBOs are up since the council closed down the youth club to try to sell it off. The council is trying to sell off people’s homes to property developers. A polo consortium has ripped out a local park’s running track, and denies locals access to it for a month every year. “Does it look like we need a polo pitch around here?” pleads a local 17-year old.
And then there is this: “The Conservatives… immediately sold off 12 homeless shelters, handing them to large property developers. The horrified charity Crisis was offered premises by the BBC to house the abandoned in a shelter over the Christmas period at least. The council refused permission… We know where this ended. A young woman… turned up at the council's emergency housing office one night, sobbing and shaking. She was eight months pregnant. She explained she was being beaten up by her boyfriend and had finally fled because she was frightened for her unborn child. The council said they would ‘investigate’ her situation to find ‘proof of homelessness’ – but she told them she had nowhere to go while they carried it out. By law, they were required to provide her with emergency shelter. They refused. They suggested she try to find a flat on the private market. For four nights, she slept in the local park, on the floor. She is still traumatised by the memories of lying, pregnant and abandoned, in one of the wealthiest parts of Europe.”
Long quote, so here’s the shorter. The “compassionate Conservatives” gave an woman who was eight months pregnant a choice of sleeping on the streets or going back to the guy who beat her up. And they actively interfered with a charity that tried to ameliorate the situation.
April 27, 2010
In related news, freedom is slavery
David Cameron apparently sees no irony or contradiction in claiming that progressive voters should vote Conservative. For the most oxymoronic statement of the British election campaign, Mr Cameron wins a shiny new dictionary, from which in deference to anyone who falls for this the word “gullible” has been carefully removed.
In a particularly delicious irony, Cameron argued that “if you care about civil liberties” you should vote Conservative, apparently unaware that his shadow home secretary wants to allow B&B owners to discriminate against gay couples. Fail.
April 20, 2010
The people screamed
I was checking up on New Zealand’s history with proportional representation and came across Elections New Zealand’s history of MMP (Mixed Member Proportional, NZ’s current electoral system).
The whole thing is worth a read, especially in the context of the current British election (in “the 1978 and 1981 elections … the Labour opposition actually secured more votes overall than National, but the latter won more seats in Parliament and remained in government” – sound familiar?). It describes how popular anger forced the main parties to offer electoral reform against their will, and it’s pretty open about the teething troubles as New Zealand transitioned from FPP to MMP. But my favourite bit is this rhetorical flourish from the opposition leader of the day when the results of the electoral reform referendum became known:
“Although only 55% of electors took part, an overwhelming 85% voted to change their electoral system. In the second part of the poll, 70% favoured MMP. As Labour leader Mike Moore put it: ‘The people didn’t speak on Saturday. They screamed.’”
(I also like the publicity material from the first MMP election, especially the school poster which pleads, “Please read this. You’ll probably have to explain it to your parents.”)
April 18, 2010
The Guardian: “A BPIX poll for Mail on Sunday puts the Lib Dems in the lead in the general election campaign for the first time ever – polling 32%, a bounce of 12% over the past week. The Tories were down seven points on 31%, while Labour dropped three to 28%.” (Scroll down to the 6:18pm entry.)
Acknowledging that there are the proverbial two chances of this being the actual election outcome, let’s feed these numbers into the BBC’s seat calculator gizmo:
I know I banged on about this yesterday, but this outcome is even more borked than the one I discussed then. Not only does the the party with the fewest votes (of the big parties) get the most seats, now the party with the most votes gets the fewest seats. The representation in Parliament is the exact opposite of the number of votes.
Even the Daily Mirror, which backs Labour and would love to see Labour as the largest party, concedes: “Talk of unfair. The case for electoral reform would be unanswerable.”