NZ POLITICS DAILY: Labour’s demographically challenging party list

Challenging demographic requirements in Labour played a part in causing this week's difficulties with its party's list.

Creating and announcing Labour’s party list for the 2017 election was clearly a challenging affair. Part of this difficulty was due to the strong desire and, in fact, requirement that the party improve the demographic diversity of its caucus makeup. The party has struggled in the past to elect enough women – currently only 39% of Labour’s caucus – as well as ethnic minorities to Parliament (as have other parties).

But the party list creation has also been challenging due to other factors, with various incumbents and new candidates being promised high list places. As debated earlier in the year, renegade Maori politician and broadcaster Willie Jackson was strategically recruited from the Maori Party in a deft move to attempt to stymie the looming alliance between the Maori and Mana parties, which had looked likely to be a major challenge to Labour’s hold on the Maori seats.

Labour’s new talent on show
For the clearest roundup of who’s benefited or been disadvantaged by the manoeuvring and various agendas in Labour, see Jo Moir’s Winners and losers: Who is up and who is down on the Labour Party list? She says the winners are: Priyanca Radhakrishnan, Jan Tinetti, Raymond Huo, and Willow-Jean Prime. The losers are deemed to be Trevor Mallard and Greg O'Connor, while Willie Jackson is categorised as an “inbetweener.”

Despite much controversy and internal party drama about its release, there has actually been plenty of positive commentary about the list. For example, yesterday’s Dominion Post editorial declares it “a relatively strong list” – see: Botched announcement masks a reasonable list. The newspaper comments that “it's been clear for several election cycles that Labour's rump caucus has too many MPs who are past it. This list helps some of them to move on, and puts a bunch of new faces into winnable positions.”

Leftwing blogger No Right Turn makes some similar points: “The most obvious feature is the generational shift within Labour – the old guard time servers are out, retired or shoved down, while MPs elected at the end of the Clark years are firmly in charge. There's also a greater emphasis on new blood rather than incumbent protection, which should help overcome the stale feeling of the party” – see: Labour's list.

Patrick Gower points out the Jackson controversy was allowed to overshadow what should have been a story about the great new talent in the party: “It is unfortunate because it should be about the rise of newcomer Willow-Jean Prime. Rather than Willie's falling star, the story should be about Willow-Jean's rising one. This should have been a story about how Willow-Jean Prime was an outstanding new candidate with a high list spot. She is a lawyer, young mother, a Far North district councillor. She does it all – and has got it all. She is Maori, likeable, she fights for the North, is battle-hardened after the Northland by-election – and most importantly, she's real” – see: Labour's list is about Willow-Jean Prime, not 'sooky-bubba' Willie Jackson.

The likely demographics of the next Labour caucus
There have been plenty of congratulations for Labour’s presentation of a more demographically representative party list. But what will the next caucus actually look like?

The most interesting analysis comes in David Farrar’s Labour’s likely demographics. Any such analysis has to be based on a prediction of what sort of party vote figure Labour will get, and in this case Farrar bases his “on an assumption of them having 35 MPs, being 27 electorate and eight list, representing 29% party vote.”

In terms of gender, Farrar suggests Labour MPs will be 54 percent male (compared to 48 percent of the adult population), and only 46 percent female (compared to 52 percent of society). Farrar comments: “So once again Labour has ignored their requirement to have gender equality. Only at 35% party vote do they get equal number of women and men in caucus.”

In terms of ethnicity, the following categories are likely: European 49% (69%), Maori 31% (13%), Pasifika 14% (6%), and Asian 6% (12%). Farrar comments: “A huge over-representation of Maori and Pasifika in their caucus and under-representation of Europeans and Asians (compared to population).”

For an alternative analysis, see Simon Wilson’s It’s not just about Willie: sizing up the Labour Party list. He illustrates what the party list will mean in practice under different party vote results.

Perhaps the most interesting point he makes is that under numerous party vote scenarios, the party will have failed to produce the required 50:50 gender ratio in its caucus. For example, if Labour gets 35 percent of the vote, its caucus is likely to have “a male-female ratio of 23:19”, and if the party gets only 30 percent of the vote, the ratio is likely to favour men, 19:17.

So, has the party actually adhered to its own constitutional rules? It needs to ensure 50 percent of the caucus are women. And if it hasn’t, then could legal action be taken? This is entirely unlikely according to public law expert Andrew Geddis – see his blog post, Why Matthew Hooton is wrong – again.

And in terms of Labour’s improving Asian representation, there might still be cause for unrest. Yes, there are high list spots for Priyanca Radhakrishnan and Raymond Huo, but according to Richard Harman, “the next Asian candidate on the list after them is Philippino Romy Udanga in position 46. There are another six Asian candidates below him but they are unlikely to make Parliament” – see: Dodging Labour's Indian mutiny.

Harman reports that “there appears to be trouble within its ethnic base in Auckland” especially with the withdrawal from the list of former candidate Sunny Kaushal, who explains he withdrew because of “hostilities and bullying from some of the Party Membership and Hierarchy that I have been subject to.” See also, Harman’s Mallard bottom MP on Labour list.

Demographic wars in Labour
The controversy over Willie Jackson’s list placing has come about because of the difficulty Andrew Little has had in delivering on his promise that his new recruit would secure a top 10 list position. Although Little as leader was central to the list ordering process, it seems that he was outmanoeuvred in his attempts to get Jackson a more winnable position.

Getting Jackson a higher position was made more difficult because of the new rule in the Labour Party constitution that requires the caucus to be at least 50 percent female. Sam Sachdeva explains: “A further wrinkle is the party’s requirement for gender balance: rule 8.47 of its constitution states the ranking committee must ensure that at least half of its MPs are women, taking into account likely electorate results. Based on current polling, Labour could win 36 seats. However, if it retains the 27 electorates it currently holds (15 of which have male candidates, and 12 female) that leaves space for only nine list MPs – at least six of which would have to be women to ensure gender parity. That is in part responsible for the predicament Jackson finds himself in” – see: Labour list delay reveals cracks in unity.

Little’s promise of a high list place for Jackson was necessary to lure Jackson away from what was seen by many as a sure win for him in Tamaki Makaurau for the Maori Party. And it is significant that Little was not able to deliver on the promise.

As Audrey Young writes, this was a blow to Little’s leadership and authority: “It was not unreasonable of Little to have made the public promise to Jackson. Having lured him away in February from a high-paying broadcasting job and a likely candidacy with the Maori Party, a public statement by Little was a signal to the party that this was his call. It wasn't a decision made by Little because of the calibre of the candidate. It was a perfectly legitimate ‘Captain's Call’ made by Little for legitimate strategic reasons in the wider interests of the party” – see: Labour leader deserves more respect from his party executive.

Young says that Labour’s party hierarchy – the list committee and New Zealand Council – “blocked Little's bid to make good on his pledge, and that “Little deserves more respect from the party's New Zealand Council.”

According to Chris Trotter, the agenda of gender equality was simply stronger than Little strategic maneuvering with Jackson: "Willie failed to grasp I think, and maybe even Andrew did too, just how firm Labour is – in terms of the party organisation – in ensuring gender equality” – see Newstalk ZB’s Willie Jackson's list placement down to gender equality – analyst.

Some voters might be put off by the apparent reduced emphasise on meritocracy in the creation of the party list. And for arguments about this, watch Mike Hosking’s Labour's list another bungle.

But for a defence of Labour’s mechanism to ensure gender diversity in its caucus, Simon Wilson says: “No, it’s not a ‘man ban’. Men are obviously not banned. It’s gender balancing to reflect the party’s desire to overcome unconscious and historical biases, and if you’re worried about that ask yourself if there’s a better way of getting roughly equal numbers of men and women in Parliament. Yes, it does frustrate the ambitions of some male candidates and their supporters. But it will also delight some women candidates and their supporters. And is there anyone who wants to argue our Parliament will be worse off for having more women in it? Didn’t think so” – see: It’s not just about Willie: sizing up the Labour Party list.

And for an even more strongly-worded case for Labour’s diverse demographic project, see Gordon Campbell’s On the kerfuffle over Willie Jackson’s list ranking. He paints a picture of any opposition to such identity politics as being misogynistic and racist, and even accuses the Labour leadership of playing into that: “Willie Jackson has already been brought on board, to show us the fun-loving side of misogyny.”

Campbell actually foresees this latest split as merely the beginning of a gender/culture identity politics divide in New Zealand politics for the election campaign, and that “All up, this year is shaping up to be a testing time politically for the nation’s blokes.” He concludes, “In the end, the likes of Willie Jackson and Shane Jones will cost their respective parties as many votes (especially among women) as they attract. Essentially, Jackson and Jones represent a nostalgia trip back to an era that really wasn’t so great at the time, especially for women and ethnic minorities. Which could help explain why, beneath their surface jollity, both men seem to be so angry.”

Poor political management
Regardless of the merits of Labour’s candidates and their demographics, there has clearly been some poor political management of Labour’s list. This is spelt out best by Barry Soper, who says: “One would have thought before Labour made public when it'd be announcing its list, it would have ironed out those who could have been disgruntled with it. Yet again they're spilling their guts in public, being forced to delay their announcement until this morning to give them time to either placate Jackson or to send him up the political creek without his waka” – see: Willie Jackson ranking latest headache for Andrew Little.

In failing to get a high list spot, Willie Jackson seems to have been given the consolation prize of being made Labour’s “Maori campaign director.” But could this be a big mistake? Rob Hosking thinks so: “That leaves him incentivised to pull in a different direction. On the face of it, he has been told to deliver those electorates for Labour and, certainly, they will be critical to the party’s chances of forming a government at the end of September. But the fewer Maori electorates Labour wins, the better Mr Jackson’s chances are of getting into Parliament on the party list. Most of Labour’s Maori electorate candidates are below a winnable position on the list: This is a deliberate challenge to voters in those seats to vote Labour, and not the Maori Party. So, depending on Mr Jackson's performance as campaign director, this could yet backfire on Mr Little” – see: Willie Jackson's 21st party fizzer (paywalled).

And it’s clear that Jackson’s integration into Labour – as a candidate and campaign manager – still isn’t accepted entirely accepted by many in the party – see Jo Moir’s Willie Jackson's role in the Labour Party is still a bone of contention. She reports Labour MP Poto Williams still appears reluctant to show any support for him, and Tamaki Makaurau MP Peeni Henare was less than enthusiastic in his response to Jackson getting the new party job.

Finally, how much does the Labour Party really care about championing those MPs who achieve progress for working women? For although much of the focus of Labour’s party list has been on Willie Jackson and the demographics involved, less attention has been given to the surprise resignation of Labour MP Sue Moroney, who was essentially demoted by her party. For the best analysis of this, see Chris Bramwell’s Labour Party listing early in election voyage. She reports: “RNZ understands she was blindsided by her party. Ms Moroney is a hard-working, tireless MP who pushed hard for an extension to paid parental leave and on closing the gender pay gap. However, she was a huge David Cunliffe supporter and it's possible that counted against her with the committee that decides the list placings.”

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