Power to the people? Don't be daft

Winston Peters is the most important candidate in this coming election. His fate in Tauranga might well decide whether Helen Clark gets a majority. And unless you live in Tauranga, you don’t get a say.

Let’s say New Zealand First gets around 4 per cent of the vote, a generous estimate, judging by recent poll ratings. Let’s say all parties (leaving aside New Zealand First) which don’t get seats in this election total 5 per cent (their total was 7 per cent in 1999).

On that basis Clark would need 48 per cent for a majority if Peters wins Tauranga and 46 per cent if he doesn’t.

The first hurdle is very high in a proportional voting system. Though Labour in 1987 and National in 1990 managed it under FPP, it is a long shot for even our high-flying “government”, as ministers now routinely refer to Clark.

But 46 per cent is do-able. In fact, Labour plus the Alliance totalled 46.5 per cent in 1999. Since the fallout from the Alliance’s disintegration has been matched by a Labour rise, 46 per cent is not beyond a Labour-Anderton combination.

You can see Peters’ importance to the election. Clark is keenly aware of it. She wants him out. National, too, is very keen to wipe out his 63-vote 1999 majority.

Those 63 Tauranga votes in 1999 in fact denied Labour-Alliance a majority in this Parliament. The voters of Tauranga decided the structure of the government, not the country as a whole as the proselytes of MMP told you it would. And, because of a quirk in the voting system which even its creator, Sir John Wallace, now wants gone, Tauranga voters might well do it again.

In other words, it is possible this coming election will not be the nationwide referendum MMP presumes it to be — that it will be a denial of democracy in that wider sense.

And for good measure, the politicians cabal in Wellington decided you should also not have a referendum to review your electoral system. You have not been playing with it long enough to be trusted with fine-tuning or replacing it.

You are not wise or thoughtful enough, kiddies. Parent-politicians have decided on your behalf.

Rod Donald, who made his name organising the yes vote in the 1993 referendum that gave us MMP, candidly acknowledged to a seminar last year that he was gamekeeper turned poacher.

There is an exception. Bill English has endorsed Jenny Shipley’s commitment to hold a referendum on the electoral system, including how many MPs there should be. In 1999 in a non-binding vote a big majority wanted 99.

And today there comes on to the agenda another item on which you are not to get to vote specifically: the abolition of legal appeals to the British Privy Council, which is now our final court. ACT MP Stephen Franks, who opposes abolition, wants a referendum on what he claims is major constitutional change.

Franks is overstating the constitutional importance. The Official Information Act, passed in 1982, has wrought more change in the way we run our politics and government than will abolition of the Privy Council.

He is also probably misreading public opinion. Most people would not see changing the final court of appeal in the same light as abolishing the Queen. Most might find it puzzling that there is even a question. Asked simply if this country should run its own legal system, the great majority would almost certainly say yes.

Even Maori, who have clung to the Privy Council as a mystical link with the Crown and as a sort of referee against abuses by the non-Maori majority, appear to have come round during Margaret Wilson’s exhaustive consultations. So, too, have many other former opponents, even in that most reactionary of trades, the (in)justice industry.

So Wilson probably has the wide support she should ideally have for a constitutional change.

Nevertheless, as with the voting system, you are not to have a look in (unless in the election you throw out MPs who support abolition). Democracy is, you see, best practised by wise women (and men) in Wellington.

That’s called representative democracy. Representative democracy is fundamentally different from popular democracy. The people, you see, might get it wrong. The obverse of that is that, possibly for want of the people reviewing MMP, this election might be decided in Tauranga.