03 October 2005

Victory for Labour in New Zealand.

Historic third election victory for Labour PM - Helen Clark. Here are some facts about the election.

81% turnout, up from 76% in 2002.

Remarkable consistency of turnout, with even the most deprived areas registering turnout in the high 60s or even higher.

Biggest increase in turnout has been in deprived urban areas and among left of centre voters. This is enabling more radical left wing policies for the Labour led government.

Labour got 41% of the vote, and the National Party(Tories) got 39%. The electoral system - Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) recognised this by giving Labour 2 more seats in line with their proportion of the vote.

The same result in 1978 and 1981, resulted in a National Party government despite them getting fewer votes than Labour. This was under the Westminster style first past the post (FPTP) system.

New Zealand changed from FPTP to MMP in 1996 after a huge majority voted in favour in a referendum held by the Labour Government.

Since then declining turnouts have been reversed and turnout is increasing at each election.

In this election the Labour party increased its number of votes over and above the level of increased turnout. How many parties could say that when winning a third term in office?

There has been a big increase in representation for women and ethnic minorities in parliament since MMP was introduced. Maories now have for the first time, levels of representation in line with their percentage of the population.

Voters overwhelmingly like the more consensual style of government required by coalition governments. No longer can one party ride roughshod over parliamentary scrutiny on a minority of the vote.

Labour PM Helen Clark has led successful social reforming and stable coalition governments for the last 6 years and will form a new coalition in the next week or two, now that the final overseas votes have been counted.

This was a close election but the National Party (who were considered the 'natural' party of government) have now been out of power for their longest period. They ran a scurilous campaign against Maories, with massive support from the right wing press.

It is now virtually unforeseable that the Nationals could ever win a majority under the MMP system and they know it - they fought bitterly against electoral reform (backed by big business finance) and still desperately try to undermine the system with slurs and untruths. They have failed because more and more people are getting to like the system that has 'given them back a say' in government by re-enfranchising their vote, hence the dramatic jump in turnout in deprived areas.

When are the Labour Party in Britain going to honour their promise, their manifesto commitment, to a referendum on electoral reform?

I'll explain why FPTP works against the Labour party and against left wing parties in general and why the Tories are still the only party unanimously against PR despite 3 consecutive election defeats. Remember Labour has over 100 MPs who support PR, the Tories have NONE. Recently Neil Kinnock and Roy Hattersley have stated their support for a change to PR. Of course Robin Cook and Mo Mowlem were also long time campaigners for PR and they will be sadly missed.

The key to why the Tories want FPTP is that it stifles public debate and leaves millions of the urban poor in safe seats with wasted votes that encourages all political parties (including the Labour party) to ignore them. This not surprisingly leads to even more alienation and disaffection amongst left wing and urban voters.

The reason is that under FPTP the so called 'general' election is decided by around 250,000 swing voters in the 15% of seats that are marginal. These 'lucky', 'special' voters or as Michael Howard put it, 'the only voters that matter', are not a representative sample of the population.

Apart from the unfairness that some voters are more important than others just because of their geographical location, these voters tend to be more middle class because 'marginal seats' are more affluent than deprived urban seats. This means that to win elections the Labour party has to appeal to these voters by moving to the right and ignoring the millions of poor voters in its heartlands who don't matter under FPTP.

But, I hear you cry, we are 'winning elections' so why would change help us? This is a very short sighted view because the suppressing of internal democarcy that is losing us members and the ignoring of urban voters that is destroying turnout, are just storing up problems for our future. Under this electoral system, it is inevitable that the Tories will get back in on a right wing agenda and on a minority of the vote. We won with 35% of the vote and just 22% of the electorate supporting us, who knows how low this figure could go. But how will we feel when the Tories are ruling on this amount and inflicting another dose of neo-liberal Thatcher like government on us once again against the majorities wishes, like they did in the Eighties. Labour may govern with some nod towards consensus but don't believe the Tories will do the same.

And when the Tories do get in they are committed (it was in their last manifesto) to reduce the number of MPs to 500 thereby emlarging the constituencies. Why does this matter? They are only doing this because it will benefit them, by combining more rural and suburban voters with urban voters they win more seats. This is why the alienation of our urban support and the drop in turnout there is storing so much trouble up for our future. With these changes we could be out of power for a generation once again. We cannot let this happen for the sake of the poor.

I know a lot of you, think PR is a minor technical issue, but you are missing the point. PR is about power itself, it is the MOST important issue because it automatically affects EVERY other issue. Would we have had the Poll Tax under PR? And PR would have curtailed Labour's excesses as well, would we have invaded Iraq? Almost certainly not. So hopefully you see the importance of this issue.

Start a debate in your ward on this issue, the Labour Party is fairly evenly divided amogst its membership on this issue, but with good arguments like these in favour you will win a resolution on electoral reform, just like our CLP passed a few months back. If enough CLPs can pass this resolution we might just be able to persuade our leaders to give time to this issue and honour the referendum we proposed in our manifesto. We need to change the electoral system before alienation and dissafection reaches US levels and we are then fighting a lost cause and becoming more and more right wing like the Democrats have had to become over there. I don't think any of us want that, do we?

Thanks to Trees for Labour for inspiring me to write this and indulging me with a debate on his site.

*update* Spoke to David Lepper MP tonight and he confirmed he is a member of Make Votes Count (MVC) and broadly supported what I said. He said that PR will increase turnout, re-invigorate democracy and be advantageous in the long term to both the country and the Labour Party.