Sunday, 11 December 2011

Thoughts on the Special Votes

I started working on a full post on the true meaning and subtle variations on the word "Mandate" and what it means in New Zealand, and it evolved into this mammoth "State of the Nation As I See It" essay that I'm both proud of and kind of scared by. So while I whittle that into shape, I would like to quickly share with you my thoughts on the Special Votes, both before and after they were counted.

You may have seen these ideas in their larval form on the Facebook page; consider this a refinement and a collection of those ideas in a single place. I promise to have something meatier up on Tuesday. Thank you for reading.



Every Vote Is Special
By Arthur Monteath-Carr

In my view, every vote is a special vote.

Every vote is like a snowflake; no two are said to be alike, yet if you group them together, they can form a snowball, or a snowman, or a snow-fort. Get enough of them, and you have a vote-avalanche.

(Where this metaphor breaks down is that it leads to the idea of politicians trying to catch your vote on their tongues, and that's not a good look for anyone; let's move on quickly before anyone notices).

Yesterday, the Special Vote tally was released, ending a special time for me when there was still a faint, remote hope that National would potentially lose two seats to other parties, forcing them to re-negotiate their agreements with ACT and Peter Dunne's Peter Dunne Party United Future. It would've handed the Maori Party yet more rope, and could have - in Bizarro Land - led to a weird spectre of a Greens confidence-and-supply agreement, or even - heaven forfend! a National-Labour confidence and supply agreement; stranger things have happened in Germany, where MMP was born.

(John Key has a weird idea of how MMP works. He is on record as saying [I'm paraphrasing here] that he would much prefer a world where the leading party could just do whatever the hell they wanted and he is under the impression that "Most New Zealanders" see things his way; don't expect a tiny little thing like 57% of the country disagreeing with him to deter him from this view. I'll come back to this point. There are links).

For a blessed fortnight, the fate of Nicky Wagner and Brendan Burns hung in a very, very delicate balance; the preliminary tally was *exactly* tied, which - in sporting terms - put the race for Earthquake-battered ChCh Central into overtime and up to a penalty shoot-out.

Likewise, Paula "Basher" Bennett had a lot to worry about; her precious, proud Westie home looked set to either give her a skin-of-her-teeth victory or a bitter, bitter pill of rejection to swallow. If she lost her homeland of Westie™~Ville, then her whole image of a solo-mum-done-good would be in tatters. Her position as National's sympathetic voice to the Underclass would be in jeapordy, leaving her with the blood of the poor on her hands and no Ministerial perks to justify it.

Truly, we live in the best of all possible worlds.

More after the jump... if you dare.

After the announcement of the special votes, I expected there to be much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Two very high profile deals have been struck, one with the Peter Dunne Party, which gave National a crucial Confidence and Supply vote (meaning that National were allowed to carry on ruling the country); in return, Peter Dunne got the following key concessions:

  1. He got to keep his job as Revenue Minister which lets him do... something... to do with revenue.
  2. He got to cut Bambi a break, meaning no more helicopter hunting for rich tourists who saw A Dog's Tail Tale and thought it looked like great fun.
    1. As an aside, PM John Key was 'Disappointed' when he failed to stop the UK from raising a tax on UK tourists by... $14 NZD. Way to be moderate and have your priorities straight there, Johnny Boy!
  3. National promises not to sell Radio New Zealand, which they weren't going to anyway... yet. Nothing about TVNZ 7 to the sadness of anyone who likes intelligent telly, and to the delight of those who love infomercials. Which is... nobody.
  4. Peter Dunne gets to sack 3 out of 4 Families Commission Commissioners, whose names he cannot remember, and Most New Zealanders had thought that the department had already been disbanded.



Meanwhile, The ACT Party of John Banks had also struck a crucial deal, whereby...

  1. John Banks got to be Corrections Minister Sorry, I meant Minister for Small Business.
  2. ACT got to push through radical reforms to school funding, allowing every Tom, Dick, and Brethren the right to purchase any state school they see fit to, and potentially allow those same purchasors the right to appoint unqualified teachers to teach their own made-up curriculum and cherry-pick the best students, AND get state funding for it.
    1. This is an excellent example of ACT's policies of refusing to suckle on the welfare teat and do things in their own determined pioneer fashion without any taxpayer support to weigh them down, unless it suits them.
  3. ACT got to go through every single one of their wish-list for turning New Zealand into a radical right-wing economic utopia, including
  4. A spending cap on government expenditure, requiring every future government to have a note from their parents to justify future increases in state spending.


This will have come as no surprise to long-time watchers of the herd of cats that is the ACT party. It came as a hell of a shock to Most New Zealanders when they realised that certain interested parties in Epsom, comprising exactly 1% of the voting population, got to dictate a radical right-wing reform agenda to the 99% of New Zealand who think that the ACT party is just plain bonkers.

In other words...

I Hate It When I'm Right. See also: Bioshock.

TL;DR: National needs to have ACT around as a stealth vehicle for their real agenda, which is not exactly secret, just well camouflaged.

But then, the Special Votes were counted. While the result didn't quite live up to my wildest dreams, the result was a small but firm kick in the pants for the Two Johnnies.

As I mentioned above, I believe that every vote is special. However, "Special Votes" is the name given to those votes cast on Election Day by those who are, for whatever reason, unable to vote in their 'home' Electorate; you might be out of town, in hospital, or too busy looking after sick children and training to beat up a Maori politician to get to a polling booth that day.

Oh, whoops. Sorry. Michael Laws was "too apolitical" to vote. Silly me; I thought he was a player in the foundation of NZ First before he became a member. My bad.

Christchurch Central is going down to a judicial recount, which is like when your overtime penalty shoot-out goes to the video referee, which I'm not sure they even do in Soccer/Football. The difference is (IIRC) 45 votes which means - and this is a very important point to remember for 2014 - that if just 46 more Labour supporters had been able to make it to a polling booth, or if 46 Greens supporters had thought they'd rather see Nicky Wagner kicked in the pants instead of giving their Green candidate a warm fuzzy feeling by voting for them in a race they were unlikely to win, or some combination of those two scenarios, then National would be unable to claim that the Most New Zealanders™ left in Christchurch supported their conduct in the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes Canterbury suffered through.

(Not that we suffered alone. Thank you, New Zealand, for showing true Kiwi spirit in our time of need. This has been a personal note from a proud Chrstchurch-born Cantabrian who deeply loves his battered, troubled, brilliant city. And now, back to our story.)



Paula Bennett, however, appears to have lost her grip on the hearts, minds, and wallets of the poor, dumped-on DPB-earning mothers and parents in Waitakere, by... 11 votes.

John Key was relaxed, but disappointed. Demands recount with all the grace and tact of a toddler demanding that their toys belong on the outside of the cot, thank you very much.

Instead, last-minute voters in Westie~Ville have seemingly opted to have someone represent them who didn't stab them in the back for political power the instant she could. Ka pai, solo mums and others; I hope you relish this victory, if you chose it. That feeling? That feeling is power. You can haz it this day.

In other news, I've figured out a way to make outlines on text, sort of. Yay me!
(For an example of what *could* have happened, please run my above story about Christchurch Central tactical voting backwards, replacing Labour or Greens voters with either disaffected/busy National voters or Libertarianz/Act/NZ First/Conservative voters; turnabout, after all, is fair play, and it's not just Lefties who get busy or left feeling unheard when it comes to Polling Day.)

(I urge you to bookmark this point in the post and wave it in my face when I get too uppity in the future. ^_^)

All of this movement in the electorates has implications for poor Raymond Huo, who I know nothing about other than he is Chinese and the only Chinese person to make it into Parliament from Labour. This has implications for the complaints about identity politics from some people on the Internet that I'd rather not go into just now, thanks, but more importantly, we will now not have the chance to learn anything more about him in a parliamentary context. For all I know, he could've been a contender. I hope this doesn't put him off politics, but instead, gives him a hunger for more, if he wants it.

Now, for the big news: The Greens continue their roaring rampage of revenge against National for keeping them at 'kissing cousin' distance last term and stealing the credit for their home insulation subsidies by pinching a seat off them in the Specials, proving once again that while the party consistently drops a couple of points on their polling on Election Night, there is a slight bounce-back on the Specials the morning (two weeks) after.

This means that some guy in National I don't care about and is probably boring anyway(*) is out, and opens the way for New Zealand's first profoundly deaf MP to be elected: Mojo Mathers. I assume she is running on a pro-Mountaintop Laser, anti-Powerpuff Girls platform. It would be a shame if she wasn't. Welcome, Mojo Mathers; you are not only poised on the verge of doing great things for your country, your party, and your fellow deaf people, but you have also opened the door for me to ram that joke into the ground over the next three years. I honestly and sincerely look forward to following your parliamentary career, and earnestly wish you the very best.

(* I am open to being corrected on this point and in fact encourage you to do so in the comments).

There was some minor movement in the party votes too: Labour, Mana, and the Maori Party picked up a slight bounce, giving the impression of a shift away from National and NZ First. In reality, it's just that more people came to the party to put those guys into perspective, which is great news for all involved; one can never have too much perspective.

Unless you're Salvador Dali. In which case... man. I give up.

The Dada Party threw the best parties!

For a counter-example
(or counter-factual, as the cool kids seem to be saying) way to view the Party Vote shifts, here is a post I prepared earlier on the BookFace:
National had it's majority shrunk by .5(ish) of a percent, losing that to Labour (I think) while NZ First lost a few points (.5%) to the Maori Party and Mana's benefit.
(BTW, Mana, at 1.07%, should be patting themselves on the back rather than bemoaning the lost opportunity to get a 2nd MP; from formation to 1.07% party vote inside of a few months is a great achievement, rivalled only by the Conservative's meteoric rise to 2.5(ish)% and they had a $1.5 million war chest.ACT is stable at 1.07%, which just goes to show who they truly represent. ^_^

I'm really, really stoked with the way the Specials went; I think they show that despite the gloomy prognosis, there's life in this battered ol' Democracy of ours yet.

The Special Votes really represent the true beauty of our Electoral system, in that they represent the chance for people who were otherwise occupied by the ups and downs of everyday life who nevertheless triumphed over the every-day world to rise up and be counted. They should be applauded, and as should every single citizen who made their voice heard.

The Brighter Future is here. It is so much brighter, that I have to wear shades.

I'm really looking forward to it, and I hope that you're willing to come with me as we look at the unfolding story of the next three years, take that story apart, keep what works for us, and throw away what doesn't.

This is the MemeSpree NZ 2011 penultimate report. Good night, and good luck.

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