What our MPs really care about

TALKING POLITICS BY GORDON CAMPBELL
Last updated 09:14 28/11/2013

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OPINION: No matter how rewarding it may be to hobnob with the rich and powerful, MPs will always say they prefer the satisfaction of doing the little things for their constituents.

Supposedly, nothing beats helping out the ordinary folk who bring their problems across the threshold of far-flung electorate offices, in the hope that their MP will go back to Wellington and do battle on their behalf against the bureaucrats and number- crunchers.

In maiden speeches and valedictory speeches alike, MPs routinely celebrate the joys of humble service to their constituents.

In between times, naked self-interest tends to rule the roost.

Last week, Social Development Minister Paula Bennett scrambled at record speed to get out of Dodge - in her case, the Waitakere electorate - and seize the candidacy for the new, safely blue Upper Harbour seat at the next election.

Bennett's performance was a spectacular example of political self-interest operating at full throttle.

Reportedly, she publicly laid claim to the Upper Harbour candidacy a mere 20 minutes after the Representation Commission announced (a) the boundary changes that made her Waitakere electorate unwinnable for National, and (b) the population increases that created the Upper Harbour seat.

Left blinking in the dust was Conservative Party leader Colin Craig, who had hoped that Upper Harbour might be his entry ticket to Parliament, and to a coalition deal with Prime Minister John Key.

Any seat would do, Craig wanly indicated. (While individually precious, constituents are evidently interchangeable.)

Craig will now be pinning his hopes for a sweetheart deal with National on the East Coast Bays electorate seat currently held by Foreign Minister Murray McCully, who is expected to take up a high position on the list, and an eventual ambassadorial post in Washington.

No doubt, McCully would find it a wrench to leave the joys of constituency service behind for such a prospect, but in the interests of party and country, he may be willing to make the sacrifice.

Finance Minister Bill English, he of humble Dipton farming stock, is another joining the stampede - I mean, the sad and reluctant shift - to the party list.

In his case, some locals seem glad to see the back of a tightfisted Cabinet Minister and the advent of a new, locally focused MP.

As the Queenstown News put it: "What we've been missing from Billy Boy are the juicy bits from the pork barrel of politics - the new bridge, the hospital upgrade and other big-ticket items."

Lurking behind these shenanigans are the reform issues facing MMP.

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The Electoral Commission has recommended lowering the MMP threshold to 4 per cent and scrapping the "coat-tail" provision that would enable Craig, on current polling, to bring three or four extra MPs into Parliament.

Key has not (yet) enacted those reforms.

A members bill in the name of Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway that would enact those same reforms is now before Parliament.

Will National vote down the members bill, keep the "coat-tail" provision, but reduce the MMP threshold to 4 per cent?

Add in East Coast Bays, and that outcome would be the trifecta for Colin Craig.

One thing seems certain.

The desires of constituents - who, in opinion polls oppose the sweetheart deals that seem likely to propel Craig and company into Parliament - will not be the prime concern.

- The Wellingtonian

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