TV debates: MMP, not FPP

Note: this post originally appeared on ‘Douglas to Dancing’, a blog I maintained from 2007-9 on the ACT New Zealand political party. The blog was an extension of the thesis I wrote about the Act Party in 2007, From Douglas to Dancing: explaining the lack of success of ACT New Zealand and evaluating its future prospects (PDF).

News that Helen Clark and John Key are refusing to debate each other with other party leaders has understandably been received with anger by Rodney Hide. Television debates are a major platform for small party leaders to put forward their case to voters. Excluding leaders other than from National or Labour devalues votes given to small parties and only encourages the mistaken view that New Zealand has a presidential system, rather than a proportional, MMP environment.

Hide performs well in debates and will be annoyed that he will be robbed of a potential opportunity to swing voters from National in the manner that Peter Dunne did back in 2002, via the infamous “worm”.

Hide’s words from his Sunday speech are worth repeating here. Even if you don’t support ACT, you should support Hide’s position on this issue. I certainly do.

I am disappointed for our country and our democracy. We need to see our Leaders debate their policies. There are serious issues confronting the country. We need to debate the future direction of the country. The man who would be our next Prime Minister is refusing to do so. That’s disappointing.

It’s MMP. Voters vote a coalition. Having John Key debate with the Leaders of the MMP Parties would be so valuable: voters would get to judge how the Party Leaders and their ideas would work together. Voters need to see the dynamic between the Helen Clark and the Greens, and John Key and ACT. They deserve to see how the Maori Party would fit in.

John Key has denied voters that opportunity. I think it’s a shame and anti-democratic.

Here’s an idea Hide should take to TVNZ and TV3: encourage them to cancel their head-to-head debates with Key and Clark if they do not agree to take part in debates with other party leaders. Judging by the success of the news media’s ganging up in the US against molly-coddling of Sarah Palin, this could be quite effective.

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