It pains me to say this, it really does: Peter Dunne is right to pussy out. It's not that I have anything against him, but I've always held Edmund Burke's statement close to my heart:
Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”
It's the difference between elected leaders and populists. Dunne was clearly reading from the same page in his articulation of his party's pansiness. As much as I like to mock what is clearly a wimp-out, his reasoning is sound. The nature and the content of the law – that is, electoral law – is pretty unique. Democracy relies on participation, and participation relies on trust. The EFA's opponents attempted to frame it as “a self-serving attack on the freedom of our electoral process”. And they succeeded. To pass it now is to allow the fear, doubt and cynicism they created to be connected to the electoral system itself.
However, even when our representatives do sacrifice their judgements and wimp-out, they still owe us their industry – and if Dunne thinks that it's “pointless continuing to attempt to [persuade people about the EFA]”, then he really would be betraying his constituents.
While Dunne's speech was a mix of the tragic and the weasely, Hide continues to hit the “you're fucking kidding” note. Whether the campaigns to abolish slavery and to give women the vote would have been treated as third party electioneering by the EFA is a legally debatable point, but Hide says that if they were, then they would have had to register with the government. Yeah, so?
These kinds of rhetorical reacharounds are grossly offensive. What exactly is he trying to insinuate? That the abolitionists would have went “aw, I can't be bothered registering as a third party, let's never speak of this emancipation stuff again”? That the women's suffrage movement would have failed, had it been unable to to spend more than $120,000 on phone spamming the country? It's a cheap bloody trick, and he insults the sources he's drawing from.
This is all the more tragic, as Boscawen has finally managed to convince me that the EFA is, in fact, a good thing, by reminding me that $120,000 wasn't the spending cap at all.
To communicate with your fellow countrymen [with more than $120,000], all you need to do is find 499 friends and start a political party. Piece of cake!”
He's being sarcastic, but um, he's right – if you want to spend more than $120,000, all you need to do is find 499 supporters and start a political party. (Credit, incidentally, goes to NZ First MP Barbara Stewart, for telling Boscawen that in the first place.)
Until Boscawen put it to print, I hadn't realised how stupid it sounds: you want to spend more than $120,000 on a campaign, but getting 500 members is too hard? The process of registration is so impossible, that it amounts to government suppression?
Dude. The Libertarianz can do it. The Destiny Party can do it. Even the WIN Party can do it.
Is Boscawen really worried about the plight of groups like the Sensible Sentencing Trust or Family First, with their “many thousands of members”, who can all too easily be trapped into raising far too much money and being unable to spend it? If they just register as a political party, then they'd have a $1m cap, plus another $20k for each electorate candidate they stand.
This isn't about how much money third party can spend, this is about how much money third party can spend before they have to become political parties. As much as Boscawen would like to paint political parties as parliamentary fatcats, they're not. You haven't heard of half of them. I would wager that with all the non-parliamentary parties combined would have far less money than the Maxim Institute or the Exclusive Brethrens, or, obviously, groups like the Business Roundtable or the EPMU.
“Political parties” is not a predefined group of privileged elites, it's a status that isn't very hard to obtain. More fundamentally, if a group is trying to spend more than $120,000 on influencing an election, then they are clearly parties interested in politics, hence the term “political parties”. If you want to set up a shop, you start a company. If you want to run a election campaign, you start a political party. It's not a fence to keep groups out, it's barely a hurdle, it's an insistence that these groups carry a label that is consistent with their intentions.
I'm not convinced about philosophical soundness of this, but the ridiculousness of Boscawen's claim has made me reframe the way I think about the EFA. It doesn't change the technical problems with the act, nor the fact that Labour pushed through this piece of electoral reform without consensus or consultation, but I now support the idea behind the act. Coming on-board just as the flames are reaching the helm is somewhat awkward, but hey, here I am. Thanks, Boscawen.
And unlike Peter Dunne, I'm looking forward to round two next year.