Before I move onto the editorial, I want to make the point that people should regard with disquiet that the Govt is leaking over multiple days aspects of the Electoral Act changes. I am no political virgin – leaking govt policies and proposals is commonplace and fine. But the Electoral Act is a constitutional foundation of New Zealand. The entire way Labour is going about their proposed changes reeks of grubby political gain at the expense of New Zealanders having a fully informed debate on the rules that politicians and parties have to obey. It’s fine for most areas of Government, but not for the Electoral Act.
Now extracts from the Editorial:
The Labour Party has not learned very much from its public lashing last year over election spending. It seems still to regard its misuse of public finance as a disagreement over rules, which it hopes now to resolve once and for all with legislation permitting more state funding of political parties. Its plans, disclosed by the Herald this week, are those of a governing party looking to secure its future while it has the chance.
State funding can have an effect as unhealthy as secret slush funds and more far-reaching. State funding tends to entrench existing parties. Under Labour’s proposed formula, it and National would split the lion’s share of campaign finance and smaller parties would be awarded scraps. That would be so even if a major party’s support was to collapse between elections as Labour’s did in 1987-90 and National’s in 1999-2002.
This is a point Hooton made on radio. Take Labour from 1987 to 1990. They collapsed under a morass of infighting and what was seen as betrayal of their core principles. New Labour was the benficiary. But with state funding as pproposed by Labour, they would have received just as much money in 1990 as in 1987, and New Labour would have got nothing.
Likewise National lost a lot of support in 1991 and NZ First benefited in 1993. State funding would have seen National rewarded in 1993 despite it loss of support and NZ First get nothing.
State funding protects political parties from their own unpopularity.
Some political arrangements are too elemental to be decided by political parties. State funding of elections, disclosure of private contributions and restrictions on who may advertise in election campaigns are among them. Political parties are prone to believing their organisational interest is identical to the public interest. It is not. The public interest lies in ensuring elections can be contested as openly, intensely and freely as possible by people with their feet on the ground. It does no harm that they have to pass their hat around.
There is an irony that because Labour broke the electoral law last election with their $800,000 overspending, they are arguably now in a position to change the law to reward them for doing so.