It's time to get rid of political 'coat-tailing'

COLIN ESPINER
Last updated 05:00 27/07/2014
Espiner
Sunday Star-Times columnist Colin Espiner
Opinion poll

Would you cast a tactical vote against your preferred party?

Yes, whatever it takes for the right result

No, what are we without principles?

Grudgingly, but coat-tailing must go

Vote Result

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OPINION: It's time to end the farcical electoral contortions and dodgy deals that have besmirched the reputation of our MMP electoral system.

As the Conservatives, ACT, United Future, and Internet-Mana attempt to once again rort an historical oversight in the drafting of the law governing our system of proportional representation, voters are once again being asked to hold their nose and look the other way.

Let's be quite frank about this. If Conservative Party leader Colin Craig's only hope of getting into Parliament is if long-standing National MP Murray McCully steps aside, then he has no right to be there.

Would the All Blacks celebrate a test victory if the other side simply stood by and let the team run in try after try? Politics is supposed to be a competitive contest of ideas, of will, of character, and of persuasion.

It is not supposed to be about dirty deals done on the sideline.

The same goes for the ludicrous political vehicle the once respectable Laila Harre has hitched herself to. Whatever you think of Kim Dotcom and his millions, their attempt to subvert the democratic process by hitching themselves to the coat-tails of Hone Harawira in Te Tai Tokerau is similarly shameful. Jamie Whyte is hoping voters will swallow their pride one more time in Epsom, while in Wellington, Peter Dunne looks set for another three years in a cushy ministerial post courtesy of the compliant voters of Ohariu-Belmont.

It's time someone called enough on this practice. It was never meant to be. When the Royal Commission recommended MMP back in 1986 it proposed the so-called "coat-tail" rule - where parties who win an electorate seat are exempted from the usual 5 per cent threshold before being entitled to list seats in Parliament - only to protect Maori representation.

This was because the commission also recommended the abolition of the Maori seats. But this never came to pass, and is unlikely to, in the foreseeable future.

Ironically, it is not Maori political parties who have mostly benefited from coat-tailing. Quite the reverse - they normally win more electorate seats than their list vote would otherwise entitle them to.

The Royal Commission also recommended a slightly lower threshold for seats in Parliament - 4 per cent, rather than 5. I think that slightly lower threshold should be adopted by our next Parliament, and the coat-tailing provision abolished. Four per cent is not an unreasonable bar and should continued diversity in the House.

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Labour has pledged to get rid of coat-tailing but other parties have been silent, particularly National, which has benefited from it the most. The best way voters could help other parties change their minds on the practice would be to vote for the candidate they want to represent them - not the one they're told to vote for.

- Sunday Star Times

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