Last night I went to a political debate about health. Compared to other debates I've been to on tertiary policy and public transport there seemed to be some more interest in this issue; at least in expectation: it was held in the new auditorium in the business school. I think about the same number of people crammed themselves into a much smaller space for the public transport one; a fitting symbol of the unrequited demand for better public transport. The tertiary policy debate only attracted your usual straggle of hairy students; the stance of the New Zealand First representative was "is there even a debate on tertiary policy?"
The people that this debate attracted were naturally for patient choice, equality, transparency, &c., leading two of the speakers to pose criticisms of the audience. The first was Sir Rodger Douglas for ACT, who said that there were a lot of people in the room, every speaker before him, and a lot of people in general who care, but that caring makes no difference unless you also cure. His solution was to open up choice by giving the money back to the people. I thought that this was a fair criticism: people will clap when they hear what they think they want; he was encouraging them to ground their pipe-dreams a little, and I think we got his point.
The other criticism made me retch. The spokesman for National suggested in his closing remark that there was a lot of Green Party support in the room; this was acknowledged by some noise. He then proposed that if a Green supporter voted Green a Labour government would be more likely, a government which would be in favour of the Therapeutic Goods Administration which Greens and others in the room were against (Labour were conspicuously absent, along with NZ First, United Future). He said that to ensure the TGA would not come in people ought to vote not for Green but for National.
This is a seriously bad sentiment. Basically he's saying there are two parties who don't want the TGA, Our Party and Third Party, but only Our Party has the chance to become government, so vote for us. What he was asking people to vote on was not the issue but on the likelihood of their party becoming government. It's supposed to be the other way around: people should be able to vote in accord with their convictions with impunity, not be forced to vote "strategically" for a party they don't agree with.
It made me think of the refusal of Helen Clark and John Key to take part in TV3's all party debate. It made me think of the US election, the ultimate farce which our system here in New Zealand will escalate into if we allow major parties to monopolize the debate. There Ralph Nader is bluntly _not allowed_ to debate with Obama and McCain. And so if you say you're voting Nader you'll get a scale of responses from ignorant to informed: "Huh?! Who's Nader?", "But he won't win! shouldn't you vote for the lesser of two evils?", or "Right on, brother!". It's this "vote for the lesser of two evils" argument which makes me sick; and it's sad to see people buy it. If year after year you vote for the lesser of two evils: a) you only ever get an evil, and b) the two evils become more and more similar.
I'd argue that both of these are happening to some extent here; it has certainly already happened elsewhere. The feeling seems to be that the closer the race between the two major parties the less we should consider voting for a third party. It should be the other way around: a closer race oughta get more people voting for more extreme parties; otherwise the whole political arena descends into monotony and status quo as National tries to cater to the centre-left and Labour to the centre-right, trying to get an edge one over the other.
National has announced that they won't go back on the several Labour initiatives which they opposed but which went through (Working for Families, interest-free student loans, &c.); are they just some retarding force which only grudgingly admits progress? or are they too afraid to set themselves apart, since that would lose votes? And this isn't just an attack against National. The fact that National wants me to vote for them out of some desire to keep Labour out is insulting; as much I am insulted by Labour's "it's about trust" theme: they want me to vote for them to keep National out because National have been demonstrated to be "untrustworthy", but for all I know Labour could just be better than National at not getting caught. It's not about trust, it's about transparency. I shouldn't be being asked to vote on some vague faith that the government is doing it right, but on clear principles which are being openly and consistently acted upon.
Duverger's Law: in a first-past-the-post voting system a two-party race results; something which MMP aims to eliminate. I would go further and suggest some kind of electoral reform: if I liked Green and National policy then I could approve them both, or rank them in the order of my preference. This would eliminate the kind of negative campaigning which leads to major parties stealing the votes of third-party supporters. I've talked about the Greens, but this goes for any third party. Nobody should be able to tell you that an honest vote will be worse for you than a vote for them. And do you think National is in favor of electoral reform? perhaps; but only to eliminate MMP. I heard last weekend someone say, "I wish we could go back to voting for people. I think Helen's had her time; I like John Key." I kicked myself for not speaking up. We still do vote for people! What a shame John Key isn't running in your electorate; for that matter, neither is Helen Clark.
I'm not telling you not to vote for National, I'm not telling you not to vote for Labour; unlike electioneering politicians the only people or parties I'd advise not to vote for are those whom you disagree with.