09 Nov

The New Zealand electoral referendum: we analyse the values and narratives, and find the Conservatives storming ahead

New Zealand’s referendum on voting “reform” this month poses a major threat to anybody who cares about New Zealand’s democracy. Here at the Green Words Workshop we’re concerned that the progressive side is losing ground to a more emotionally and psychologically intelligent right wing. And we’ve seen this happen before. Like in Britain’s disastrously-run and heavily-defeated referendum in May , the question is essentially between a more democratic inclusive voting system (in this case “Mixed Member Proportional”) and the backward 19th century First Past the Post.

There are a number of extremely worrying signs – many of which we watched with horror in the UK referendum – that MMP’s historical lead in the polls could be reversed, with disastrous consequences that would include the decimation of the Green Party in New Zealand, the marginalisation of Maori voices, and a return to minority conservative rule.

Our newest, 30-page report, which you can download below, analyses the messages from both sides, and recommends how the progressive side must change tack – quickly – or be swept away by an expert conservative understanding of values and the human mind.

The anti-MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) Vote for Change campaign are using compelling, popular narratives and deep frames that are fundamentally embedded in conservative values but powerfully command a wide audience.  Their messages can be summed up as:

  • List MPs are morally bankrupt, unprincipled, tricking you, getting something for nothing, and don’t deserve to be in Parliament. 
  • Parliament is being corrupted, distorted, dragged-down.
  • Politics is becoming about cheap talk, haggling, bureaucracy and selling-out, not about principle. Political ideas are being turned into commodities to be traded.
  • MMP allows all this and pampers, protects and encourages bad, unworthy politicians.

The pro-MMP Campaign for MMP are using shallow-framed technical arguments that are unable to appeal far beyond a hardcore of committed Progressive/Left/Green voters.  Their messages can be summed-up as:

  • “Kiwi democracy should include everyone, and include a range of political choices. Politicians should work together and be conscientious. This is what MMP gives us”.

Repeatedly the Campaign for MMP assumes that the criticisms of MMP are technical, issue-based and not moral, whereas conservative criticisms are invariably expressed in moral terms, which in our opinion are infinitely more powerful.

Although we hope the opposite is true, the experience from the British referendum on AV (the Alternative Vote) is that the hardcore of committed Progressive voters will be nowhere near sufficient to achieve a pro-MMP victory.

Progressives need to tap more deeply in to their own values and put the debate on their own terms, as set out in our Recommendations. This would start with moving “the issue” away from MMP and onto the wrongness of First Past the Post, its variants and Conservative tactics.

Download the full report as a Word doc below… and spread the word.

Our previous articles on the British “Alternative Vote” referendum can be found here  and here and here and here

p.s. November 13th: the PDF document report below has now been updated with the key messages talked about here in our latest article.

PDF Download nz_ref_gww_1