Hot Topic NBR Focus: GMO
Hot Topic NBR Focus: GMO
4 mins to read

Does it matter that Grant Robertson is gay?

PLUS: Culiffe's latest clanger.

Tue, 30 Sep 2014

Does it matter that Grant Robertson is gay?

Radio NZ’s The Panel was weighing in yesterday on the topic of whether it matters that Labour leadership contender Grant Robertson is gay. The general consensus was no.

I agree.

Some people will have a problem with it.

But this is the general lay of the land we’re looking at:

  • John Banks voted to support same-sex marriage legislation.
  • Labour voters in South Auckland, sometimes pegged as ripe for the plucking because of the area’s socially conservative churches, re-elected gay Labour MP and marriage equality champion Louisa Wall on September 20. Her majority was down slightly, but only in line with Labour’s dip nationwide thanks to heterosexual blunderer David Cunliffe. National and the Conservatives failed to receive any backlash votes as their totals remained static from 2011. Against this, Labour's Mangere MP Su’a William Sio (who voted against same sex marriage) has indicated he'll support David Cunliffe.
  • John Key attended the Big Gay Out in Auckland, and the biggest controversy was over him playing beer pong.
  • MPs like Chris Finlayson (National), Kevin Hague (Greens) and Robertson himself are gay, but it’s not how they’re defined in the public mind. It just hasn’t been a big deal in any of their careers, and they've all played it relatively low key. In Robertson's case, there could also be a hint of strategy; an awareness that though more socially liberal, the electorate still has a limited stomach for identity politics.
  • Colin Craig says he would have no issue with hiring a gay person as a member of his staff.
  • National spurned the Conservatives after (insiders say) internal polling showed an MMP deal with Colin Craig's party would cost it votes.

Some in caucus could be concerned about how Robertson would play with socially conservative blue collar voters (some of whom appeared to leave Labour for NZ First at the election just gone, given Labour's dip, the Greens static result an Winston's rise on September 20). And some who say they have no problem with Robertson's sexuality maybe just will once they're in the privacy of the ballot box.

But on balance, it adds up to a pretty Robertson-friendly environment. And I didnt' even get to Maurice William's Big Gay Rainbow.

Of course, if he leads Labour into the next election, his personal life will come more sharply into focus.

I’d argue it would add a little frisson which is much-needed. Voters will yawn if Shearer or Parker leads Labour into 2017.

Robertson would be more of a talking point, getting people to at least take a second look at the party – though those in the party looking for a jolt should also be considering Stuart Nash, who ran such a strong campaign to take Napier from National (albeit with some ham-fisted vote-splitting by the Conservatives helping him out).

There are many other questions of course, such as whether Robertson has the charisma to lead, (personally, I think he's got a good every-man touch, if I can risk that expression), whether he could manage caucus, and if he could drive Labour policy back closer to the centre, where elections are won. But I don't think his sexuality is a factor.

Cunliffe’s latest clanger
David Cunliffe's goose was cooked when the EPMU withdrew support. But he only made things worse on Campbell Live last night, with a line praising NZ's economy that National might want to quote in its next lot of ads. The exchange went like this:

David Cunliffe: The reality is National has never gone out in two terms; that it’s very rare for a government to go out on [a] % growth rate, and it’s very, very hard when you’ve got distractions like Kim Dotcom

John Campbell: The 4% growth rate was predicted. It was very much in Treasury’s books when you made that speech 12 months ago. You promised Labour you could do it. You got 24%.

DC: 24.7% ... Nobody is saying this is good enough … the hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who needed a fresh start were disappointed by it.

JC: Why didn’t they vote for you?

DC: That’s the subject of a review.

JC: Hold on a sec. You are a leader, and you are a bright man. Why didn’t they vote for you?

DC: I think at the end of the day, people wanted stability. They wanted prosperity. They saw the current government, for now, delivering that for them, and they weren’t prepared to take what they saw as some kind of risk for a change.

Oh, brother. Key and Joyce have their soundbite for today: Two terms of National brought NZ stability and prosperity. Don't take our word for it, take David's.

There was so much wrong with that interview, including Cunliffe's failure to think on his feet (again), more excuses, and more failure to take personal responsibility (Dotcom was a distraction? Then why did you not rule out any kind of coalition with Internet Mana and attack him, as Kelvin Davis did so successfully? etc, etc).

But the worst moment came when Cunliffe claimed he was the leadership candidate National most feared facing in 2017.

There are no words.

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Does it matter that Grant Robertson is gay?