The most telling moment in Monday night’s minor parties debate came towards the end, when Mark Sainsbury (who I thought did a pretty good job) asked the leaders whether they would support a binding referendum on MMP. Given that this was like asking turkeys whether they favoured a vote for an early Christmas, a bit of squirming and equivocation was to be expected. And so it turned out.
Rodney Hide and Peter Dunne passed this litmus test of their democratic instincts with honours, both answering without hesitation or qualification in the affirmative. Tariana Turia, Winston Peters and Jeanette Fitzsimons seemed less keen, wondering whether a referendum was really necessary or quibbling about the wording before agreeing, albeit with less than hearty enthusiasm, to accept the result. And how could they not, for heaven’s sake? What more fundamental expression of democracy could there be than a referendum?
But the classic response came from Jim Anderton, who showed how closely attuned he is to the will of the people after 24 years in Parliament. After gravely expressing some caveats about who would organise the referendum and how it would be worded, Jim magnanimously declared: “I don’t have any problem with the people having a say.”
Priceless. Democracy is safe as long as the MP for Wigram is on the job.