Letter: Reforming lessons from the New Zealand election

Click to follow
Sir: Mark Lawson asserts that 'if political chaos' - whatever that may mean - 'and instability continue in New Zealand, this first laboratory experiment in proportional representation will provide ammunition for opponents of the process'.

He overlooks the fact that in September 1992, in the first stage of the referendum on electoral systems, first-past-the-post was supported by less than 8 per cent of the electorate; that in Britain, and I suspect in New Zealand, first- past-the-post has resulted in hung parliaments; and that the system the New Zealand electorate preferred - the additional member system - has operated in the Federal Republic of Germany since 1946 without leading to 'political chaos' or 'instability'.

Your readers' attention should have been drawn to the fact that the so-called Campaign for Better Government led by Peter Schirtcliffe, former head of New Zealand TV, spent in excess of NZdollars 1m in an attempt to defeat the call for reform. Its campaign focused on the fact that the powers of political parties vis-a-vis the electorate would be enhanced by the introduction of a party-list system compiled by the various parties, and almost succeeded in overturning the decisive majority recorded in the September 1992 referendum; had the electorate been given the choice of first-past-the-post or the single transferable vote (STV), Mr Schirtcliffe's campaign would have been largely ineffective.

The lessons for John Smith and the Labour Party are, I suggest, clear. Mr Smith should take heart from the result and reiterate his commitment to undertake a referendum on lines similar to those enjoyed by the New Zealand electorate. Other reformers should note that Mr Schirtcliffe's campaign was close to defeating the reform option, and recognise that STV is the system that has the widest appeal.

Yours etc,




8 November

The writer was Labour MP for High Peak, 1966-70.