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My MMP Review submission

Since the majority of people voted to retain MMP in last year’s referendum, they’re keeping it but they’ve launched a review into how it could be made better.

Public submissions are open until the 31st of May, which is ten more days as of today.

In a spate of procrastination I’ve written one, I didn’t take too much time but I think it represents what I think pretty well.

My submission is below.  You can do your own one (either a brief statement on one or two issues, or a longer document) at http://www.mmpreview.org.nz/have-your-say

Caleb Anderson – MMP Review Submission

Contents:

  1. Basis for eligibility for list seats (thresholds)
  2. Overhang
  3. Proportion of electorate seats to list seats
  4. Other issues – By-elections and how they affect total party numbers

 

1. Basis for eligibility for list seats (thresholds)
Summary: The 5% threshold should be removed or significantly lowered – perhaps just enough for two MPs.  The electorate threshold would be less necessary if the 5% threshold was lower.

We still have a ‘two-party’ mindset to a large extent, which is perhaps inevitable when MMP is so new.  Currently the two biggest parties have an unfair advantage because they’re the only two who are actually guaranteed to be represented (recently the Greens have seemingly achieved this security also, but no other minor parties have managed to maintain a guaranteed presence).

This uncertainty about crossing the 5% threshold is also demonstrated in the way that minor parties (and allied major parties) are strategically using local seats to guarantee minor party representation when they cannot guarantee crossing the 5% threshold.

Because of the uncertainty of parties crossing the threshold (or winning a local seat), this leads to artificial contortions of party vote results, where recent polls affect the results far too much.  For example, in the last election ACT was not certain to win Epsom, so they may have lost voters worried about vote wastage.  NZ First polled just below 5% just before the election, so they may have gained voters who wanted to make sure they made it up over the line (and they ended up polling far higher than 5%).

The very idea of a threshold is arguably a symptom of a ‘major party’ mindset, a mindset which says that lots of small groups of people (or independent individuals) having their say is somehow detrimental to democracy, and that it’s better to have a few big groups controlling things.  Even if you do decide that it’s good to have some kind of threshold in order to keep things simpler, the experience of the last 16 years shows that 5% is far too high for New Zealand at this time.

The electorate seat threshold (the rule that when you win an electorate seat you can bring other members of your party with you) is also problematic.  The 5% threshold combined with the electorate seat threshold gives an unfair advantage to those parties who are able to secure a local seat (Maori Party, United Future, Mana, ACT, formerly Progressive Party) compared to those minor parties who cannot win a local seat but do have a significant amount of support across the country (Conservative Party, NZ First in the 2008 election, Values Party and Social Credit before MMP).

I tentatively support the electorate seat threshold currently and would not support removing this if the 5% threshold remains the same.  However, the electorate seat threshold would be unnecessary (or less necessary) if the 5% threshold was lowered or removed.

If every significant minor party could be guaranteed to meet one of the thresholds (ie: guaranteed that their vote would not go to waste), this would make party vote better reflect people’s actual preferences, and avoid giving unfair advantage to those parties whose presence is guaranteed or almost guaranteed.

 

2. Overhang
Summary: Difficult to know how to make it more fair.  Perhaps have ‘electorate-only’ MPs who cannot vote on issues outside the specific concerns of their electorate.

I tentatively support overhangs as I think they are more fair than taking MPs away from a party whose party vote earned them.

However, if there is a way of stopping overhang MPs having more influence than their party’s party vote earns them, I would support this too.  Perhaps ‘overhang MPs’ should not be allowed to vote on general issues, but ONLY issues directly affecting their electorate.

For example, if Peter Dunne regained his electorate seat, but United Future didn’t get enough of the nationwide party vote to justify one MP, Peter Dunne would not be allowed to debate and vote on national issues, only specifically Ohariu-based issues.  Or if the Maori Party wins three electorate seats but only enough party vote for two seats, only two can vote on ‘national’ issues and the third can only vote on what directly affects his/her electorate.

This kind of rule would avoid the entire country being affected by people who do not have support across the country but only people in one local area such as Ohariu.  It would also avoid major parties effectively earning an extra MP by conceding a local seat to member of an allied tiny party which has no hope of gaining a second MP (therefore most party votes will go to the allied major party rather than to the tiny party).

At the same time, hopefully this rule could be designed in such a way that it avoids crippling Maori representation, because electorates are populations of people.  An ‘electorate-only’ Maori MP could vote on all isues that affect Maori in his/her region, which would probably be a wider scope than a local MP in a non-Maori seat.

However, this kind of rule would be extremely hard to enforce – where do you draw the line between issues affecting your electorate, and national issues?

Perhaps an electorate-only MP would have to seek permission from the Speaker to speak and vote in his/her capacity as an electorate MP, explaining briefly why the issue specifically affects his/her electorate.  This could be a simple verbal process, but one which the Speaker could refuse if he/she felt that the request was unfounded.

 

3. Proportion of electorate seats to list seats
Summary: Perhaps a lower proportion of electorate seats to list seats; but only if local representation is kept the same or improved.

Some of the overhang issues could perhaps be avoided by having a lower proportion of electorate seats to party vote seats.

In principle I support local representatives having a significant say in national politics, but at the moment I suspect that the ‘local representation’ component of electorate MPs’ activity is dwarfed by national issues and party lines (even for MPs who are only in Parliament by virtue of winning an electorate seat).  Perhaps there could be a better way of achieving local representation in Parliament.

 

4. Other issues – By-elections and how they affect total party numbers
Summary: After by-elections I think seat allocations should be based on what would have happened if the general election had gone the same way as the by-election (especially if it’s in the first year since the general election).  Currently there is a loophole because by-elections bypass the party vote.

MMP is supposed to avoid parties earning a greater proportion of seats than their party vote deserves (with the exception of overhangs) by pegging total MP numbers to the party vote (regardless of how many of that party are electorate MPs and how many are list MPs).  However there is a loophole in by-elections, which still function based on a FPP system.  If I’m not wrong, whoever wins the by-election wins not only the local seat, but also adds one to their total party allocation, regardless of whether they deserve it based on their party vote.  This is an occurance that MMP prevents in general elections, but not by-elections.

Because of this I think that in by-elections the last general election’s party vote should come into play, especially if the general election was relatively recently.

In the case of a hypothetical Epsom by-election, for example, if a National candidate wins, I do not think National should win an extra seat no matter what.  I think the seat distributions should be determined based on what would have happened if National had won the seat at the general election a few months ago.  In this case that would mean three things:

  • ACT’s 1% of the party vote would be ‘wasted’, as would have happened if John Banks had not won Epsom in the general election
  • National would gain an electorate MP, but at the expense of a list MP
  • Obviously there needs to be an MP gained somewhere to make up for the MP lost, but this would go to the party whose party vote put them closest to earning one more.  In this case, according to my calculations it would be Labour.

 


So Much Mo? (Notes on a neologism)

I was reading quake-anniversary blogs about Christchurch on the Herald website yesterday, and I came across the phrase “SoMo” for the area SOuth of MOoorhouse Ave.

I enjoyed the London and New York connotations of the term, and I also enjoy that area.  Before the earthquakes it was arguably most distinguished as a good destination for retro secondhand bargains (clothes from its multiple op shops and records from Penny Lane).  Recently, it’s become home to a bunch of city-refugee businesses like Burgers and Beers and the Honeypot, as well as a whole lot of Gap Filler projects.

Of course, putting the ol’ black hat on for a second, there’s kind of already a name for that area: Sydenham.  Perhaps Sydenham is divided into the commercial area north of Brougham St (“SoMo”, and the residential area south of Brougham St (“SoBro”).  Oh well, they can sort that out amongst themselves.

It got me to thinking, though, that it might be even more useful to coin equivalent names for the areas just outside of the other three Avenues.

So without further ado, I would like to propose that we introduce the following terms to designate those other not-quite-central-not-quite-suburban unsung artistic niches:

  • “EaFitz” (East of Fitzgerald Ave, but before Phillipstown or Linwood)

  • “WeRol” (West of Deans Ave, but just shy of Riccarton)

  • “NorBea” (North of Bealey Ave, but closer in than St Albans and Edgeware)

These are actually some of my favourite parts of town.  I’ve lived in WeRol, home of fine bubble tea, sites of worship for several major world religions, and of course Christchurch’s “alternative art gallery” in the old stockyards.  NorBea I have less experience with, though I was considering moving there until I found a place in EaFitz just today.

It could be argued that while some of these areas are relatively nameless niches, others already have perfectly specific nameswell, sorta.  But Christchurch is already such a loveable sprawl of blurry, overlapping and contested suburb delineations (everyone seems to live in at least two suburbs) that a few more names thrown in there couldn’t hurt, surely.

I for one will be using these four new names as much as possible from now on, and I look forward to hearing you doing the same.

P.S.: Some cursory internet research reveals that my supposedly original idea is basically what they’re already doing in New York with the likes of “NoHo” and NoLIta”, but hey, great minds think alike, right?

P.P.S.: Some MORE cursory internet research (which I maybe should have undertaken before I wrote this blog) reveals that the term “SoMo” is actually being bandied about quite a lot around the internet; even in the prestigious academic journal Lonely Planet.

The bad news is that it looks like these websites are using it as a catch-all signifier for Addington and Sydenham (suspiciously, not Waltham), for when people want to refer to the pre- and post-quake gentrification happening in those areas.

But I’m gonna go ahead and defend my more specific definition of SoMo anyway.  I can provide irrefutable Wikipedia and Google Maps proof that SoHo in New York is a very specific intra-suburb neighbourhood, not a general trans-suburb area.  Vote for a small SoMo, vote for localism against centralisation and super-suburbs…

Anyway, SoMo has a way different feel to Addington.  The buildings are a lot bigger over there.  Both suburbs have a lot of exciting new commercial and community activity, sure, but that doesn’t make them the same place just because they happen to be vaguely close to one another.

Besides, Addington is just as much “WeRol” as “SoMo”…


Sociology stuff I wrote this year

Hi, here’s my three sociology essays for this year which finished off my honours.  I did two courses – the mini-thesis research paper and a general course on social theory, so I had a lot of scope for deciding what to look into for my essays.

For my thesis, “Opium or Liberation? (Notes towards an Investigation)”, I looked into when Christianity supports the powers that be and when it’s liberating; what was it originally, what is it now, and what makes the difference?  I couldn’t come up with any kind of conclusive answer in 10,000 words, so this thesis consists of background theoretical/historical discussion and ‘provisional research’; ie, if I was going to research this topic, here’s how I would go about it.  Hence the subtitle “Notes towards an Investigation” which I stole from an essay by Louis Althusser.  The ‘investigation’ will probably never take place, so hopefully as well as notes towards an investigation it can also serve as interesting guidelines for how we assess the political functioning of various expressions of Christianity today.

For my two essays for the social theory paper, it was recommended to do one on a theoretical question, and one on a particular theorist.  I wrote the theorist one first, writing about atheist philosopher Slavoj Žižek’s interesting use of Christianity in his recent thought.  He’s basically become an atheist Christian, and more than that, he thinks the only real atheism is Christian atheism (the title of this essay, “Dwarfs, Ghosts and Monsters Against the Big Other” probably makes more sense after you’ve read the essay).  I used my other essay, “Religion, Idealism, Ideology, Revolution”, largely as an opportunity to research relevant theorists for my thesis – I looked at Mikhail Bakunin, Marx, Engels, Althusser, Žižek and Jacques Ellul as examples of three basic ways of viewing the socio-political significance of Christianity.

Anyway, here they are if you want to read them.  There are a few different formats to choose from, hopefully they all work and it hasn’t screwed up the formatting when I converted them.

1.  Dwarfs, Ghosts and Monsters Against the Big Other – Žižek’s use of Christianity .docx .pdf

2.  Religion, Idealism, Ideology, Revolution: Three radical-left views of the socio-political significance of Christianity .odt .doc .pdf

3.  Opium or Liberation? (Notes towards an Investigation) .docx .pdf


Two short articles on Christian non-violence

I was asked to write a short article promoting Christian pacifism for a friend’s magazine thing for her church thing.

Here it is … or should I say, here they are, because I actually did two articles in the end, a short one and an even shorter one.  They aren’t referenced, so if you want me to actually back up my claims I recommend you read this 15-times-as-long version of essentially the same topic.

~~~~~

Jesus and the non-violent Kingdom

The Jews have always believed that God’s creation is meant to be peaceful, that violence is the primary manifestation of sin, and that salvation will mean genuine ‘peace on earth’. The biblical creation story describes an originally peaceful creation, to which sin and violence were unwelcome intrusions (Genesis 1-4). This is in marked contrast to the ‘creation myth’ of the modern nation-state, which says we all lived in chaos until some strong man dominated us and made us behave.

The Jews were under no illusions about the fact that we live in a fallen world, but unlike many modern people, they were also under no illusions about violence being a solution to violence. They were aware that violence naturally increases (Genesis 4:23-24) and their law tried to limit this; ‘eye for eye, tooth for tooth’. But they also hoped to eventually be saved from violence altogether. For this they put their hope in God, who would one day bring a world where all shall “sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid”; the people would be free to “beat their swords into ploughshares” and study war no more (Micah 4:1-4).

As Christians, we believe that this long-awaited transformation has begun with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The basic message of Jesus’ ministry was that the prophets’ predictions of the kingdom of God were coming true in the here and now (Luke 4:14-21). Finally, violence can be truly overcome. Jesus goes beyond the law, saying that you may have heard “an eye for an eye”, “love your neighbour and hate your enemy”, but I tell you “love your enemies”. We can at last live truly as ‘children of God’, a God of grace who sends sun and rain on both good and evil (Matt. 5:21-48).

Jesus’ own life was the supreme example of this message. The people wanted him to be a military-political ruler, the kind of ‘strong man’ we still hope for today, who would overthrow the Romans violently and restore David’s kingdom. But Jesus resisted these temptations (Luke 4:1-13) and chose to spread his message with love, freedom, and humility.

While Jesus was a pacifist, he was certainly not passive. He actively pursued a kingdom of love, and this was extremely threatening to the existing kingdoms of coercion, who saw that if it continued to grow it would supplant them. But Jesus remained true to his non-violent revolution, which culminated in his execution by an alliance of Roman and Jewish authority. All powers who rule by violence use death as their ultimate weapon, and they used this weapon to defeat Jesus, who ‘prayed for his persecutors’ and refused retaliation up until the end.

But we know that this was not the end. Jesus’ resurrection shows that there is a force more powerful than death; a force that will ultimately defeat death and a force that will ensure the eventual victory of Jesus’ kingdom of freedom and love over all authorities of coercion (1 Cor 15:12-26). The hope in God’s resurrection and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit formed Jesus’ scared, scattered, dysfunctional disciples into radical egalitarian communities prepared to follow the way of the Cross – the way of non-violent resistance even unto death.

Mohandas Gandhi considered Jesus the best example of non-violent resistance in history, but he also observed that the only people who don’t seem to see this are Christians. Sadly many Christians have not chosen the ‘way of the Cross’ as the Way for their own lives, especially after the church aligned itself with the empire that crucified Jesus. We now put ourselves on the side of the ‘strong men’ who claim to be saving us from ‘baddies’, but mainly function to protect the status quo. This is completely opposite to the ministry of Jesus who brought good news to the poor and the oppressed, taking their side and opposing both the oppression and the weapon of oppression – violence.

In a world of horrific violence, it seems we are given a choice between two types of insanity. There is the ‘official’ insanity of the ‘strong men’ – the madness of trying to defeat violence with violence – and the revolutionary foolishness of the ‘lamb’ who is defeating violence with love.

The ‘other option’: Just War

Pacifism was the mainstream opinion for the first few hundred years of Christianity. But eventually Christianity became the state religion of the Roman empire. This brought benefits; persecution stopped, and the church had some say in government. But it also required compromises. Governments can’t survive without violence, so a ‘Christian government’ needs to be able to wage a ‘Christian war’.

The church couldn’t find anything about this in the New Testament, so they adopted the idea of a ‘just war’ from the Roman philosopher Cicero. Just war theories make rules and criteria to try and minimise the damage of wars. The most common rules involve a just cause to save lives and bring the greater common good; a last resort after all non-violent measures have been tried; a just authority following due process and with a reasonable chance of success; and waged with just means – attacking military targets not civilians, protecting prisoners of war, refraining from torture, etc.

Unfortunately there don’t seem to be any governments in history that have genuinely followed these rules. Today, wars often violate international law, are undertaken for political and economic reasons rather than moral ones, and tragically kill many civilians. If the just war rules were followed, there would be far less wars, and those that do happen would do far less harm. So whether you choose pacifism or just war, all Christians should be working together for peace and justice.

~~~~~

PS: If you want to download them, here they are:
Jesus and the non-violent Kingdom
The ‘other option’ – Just War

PPS: They appeared in slightly modified form (it’s complicated) in my friend Tess’ magazine ‘The Paper Crane.’


Going to waste

I’m trying to become a perpetual student.  The advantages of this are getting to read and write and think and learn and argue a lot, with access to other perpetual students and libraries and databases and tea and coffee making facilities, and not being in much danger of being corrupted by money.

The main disadvantage as I see it at the moment is that it encourages you to do all that reading and writing and thinking etc without ever really acting on it, except with more reading and writing and thinking etc.  As an arts student, it’s easy to learn very clearly what is wrong with the world and how hopeless it is to do anything about it, which is not really a nice place to be in.

I’m not really sure what I’m going to do about this problem, perhaps I’ll have to give up on my perpetual student goal and become a cobbler or something and do the thinking and arguing on the side, like Tolstoy.  But I figure a good early step is to try and distribute my essays a little wider than just the lecturer who marks it.  Maybe some other cobblers can do something with my thoughts, and maybe I can join them.  Or maybe some other cobblers will help me realise that if I was out in the cobbling world I would see things a bit more holistically than I do in the perpetual student world.  Or maybe other perpetual students can help me realise how stupid my thoughts are, and then we can amend them before any unsuspecting cobblers start taking them too seriously.

In any case, even if only a few people end up reading these essays, at least it’s more than just the lecturer…  I spend a lot of time on these essays so it would be a shame if they went to waste, being only read by one person who probably knows it all already, and only cares enough to give it a mark and then move on to the next one.

So that’s basically the point of this blog so far – it means I can put all the essays I want to share in one place that isn’t Facebook, where there can be public discussions if people want to have them.  I might eventually put other writings on here too… We’ll see.

Of course, if I am going to expect people to actually READ my essays, I’ll have to try and make them ‘interesting’ and ‘relevant’ – it would be great if this blog can somehow encourage that.

Anyway, does anyone know any cobblers?  My shoe has a hole in it.