OneAction NZ

Democracy Co-operative

Democracy Co-operative vs. Traditional Party - Part 2

Votes vs. Value

Posted by Rhys Goodwin on October 31, 2022 · 8 mins read

Kia ora folks,

In this series of posts, I’m hoping to explain how a Democracy Co-op like OneAction is fundamentally different to a traditional political party and why it’s worth building. In the last post I showed that in a Democracy Co-op, decisions are collectively made and collectively owned, whereas in traditional parties all responsibility rests on the shoulders of politicians, leading to finger pointing and a whole lot of spin, instead of open honest dialogue. In this post I look at where political parties focus their energy and question the value they bring to citizens.

A few months ago, I argued that the primary purpose of a political party is (should be) to connect people to political decisions. So, to what extent do our current line-up of parties do that? Cast your mind over the parties which you might support or might vote for. What do you feel their focus is? Do they exist to distribute political power to citizens? Or is their own agenda front and centre? Are they primarily concerned with giving something of value (political power) to you, or getting something from you (your vote)?

It’s quite clear to me that traditional parties invest more of their energy in trying to get rather than give. Miller (2005) describes a weakening of the link between parties and citizens over the past decades. He explains that power has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of party elites, party membership has declined, and the public has become increasingly disillusioned with politics. Sound about right? It’s a very bad thing - this is our country folks. At their peak in the 1940-50s the Labour and National parties had nearly 200,000 and 300,000 members respectively (Miller, 2005). However, in subsequent years their focus shifted from mass involvement toward centralised decision making and professionalised, image-centric campaigning (Miller, 2005). Examining what parties say about themselves is revealing. In their constitutional purpose, objective, and value statements, none of the fifteen presently registered parties in Aotearoa cite political empowerment as a primary goal. Parties would argue that they do allow and encourage members input into policy. Granted, if you have enough time and resources, or if politics is a hobby for you, then you might be able to work your way into a party and increase your influence. This is not practical for most, and it’s a long way from what the purpose of a party ought to be – to provide agency to citizens – to act as a conduit so we, self-governing people, can take the responsibility for our country that it desperately needs.

Recently, when pressed for information about a policy, a very high-ranking member of one of the two largest parties said something to the effect of “We’re not going to give any hints because if we do the next thing you know, the policy gets adopted by the opposition”. Here competitive advantage was the main concern, not openly sharing their ideas with the public. This has become so normalised that neither the MP nor the interviewer realised the significance of what had just been said.

So, how is our Democracy Co-operative model fundamentally different? Our purpose, our reason for existing, is to provide value to our members. Here’s our purpose statement in the (OneAction Constitution):

“OneAction is a member-driven political organisation which, through participatory processes, exists to give its members a voice in the decisions which shape Aotearoa New Zealand, and to enact that voice by being elected to parliament by its members.”

When I was growing up in Taupō my parents owned a computer business and my dad gave me a valuable guiding principle of business which has been a reoccurring theme in my life in various ways:

To be successful in business, don’t focus on money and how you can get it from your customers, rather, focus on providing the best value, the best product, the best service etc. Money will be the by-product of that. – Thanks Dad ❤️

This theme can also be applied to political parties in our system of representative democracy. Perhaps it’s yet to be proven, but it follows that if a party provides value, then votes are the natural by-product.

A Democracy Co-op relies on votes from its members. The very same group of people who set the co-op’s policy by working collaboratively with each other to find common ground – even when we come with very different perspectives. What this means is that we never need to expend any energy on campaigning for votes or spinning sound bites. We don’t seek votes for the sake of votes. Votes are the by product, the measure of the value we provide.

This diagram illustrates the difference in flow of votes and political power between a Democracy Co-op and a traditional party.

When an individual casts their vote, their political power is pooled in the party (or co-op) they vote for. In the traditional model that pooled power is channelled to the party leadership, but in a Democracy Co-op the power is returned to the members. The members are the co-op, so we effectively vote for ourselves, rather than for something that is external and disconnected from us.

Now, any organisation needs to have leadership so some members will be highly involved in running the organisation, likewise, every party who makes it to parliament must have MPs. However, the difference with a Democracy Co-op is that the leadership is there to facilitate the distribution of pooled political power back to the entire group, and the MPs are there to negotiate in Parliament on behalf of the Co-op. MPs are selected and elected by the Co-op members – they work for the co-op. Their concern is not with getting votes from the wider public.

The catch is, to get this model off the ground, we will need the support of a very large number of people. About 200,000 people ultimately. Unlike traditional parties who count their supporters once every 3 years at the general election, OneAction counts our numbers every month. We do that with the monthly TallyUp.

So, what do you say? Would you support building this new approach to politics? It needs everyday people, anybody and everybody to get behind it. Thinking it’s a good idea in your head and doing nothing will not get us closer. But supporting the idea will cost you less than 2 minutes of time each month. It’s as easy as joining the monthly TallyUp™.

Ngā mihi nui

Miller, R. (2005). Party politics in New Zealand. Oxford University Press.