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NZ POLITICS DAILY: Labour’s pale, stale, male leaders under challenge

Bryce Edwards
Tue, 14 Oct 2014

With Nanaia Mahuta entering the race to be Labour leader, are the days of the party’s ‘pale, male, and stale’ leaders over? Prior to her announcement, there were increasing questions about whether the contest was offering enough real choice. Many were asking whether the candidates provided enough demographical diversity. The possible leadership option of five white aging men was deemed too narrow. To some degree this all changes with Mahuta’s candidacy. To see some of the interesting debate about her entry into the race, see my blog post, Top tweets about Nanaia Mahuta running for Labour leadership. But while the demographical narrowness of the Labour men vying for the leadership has been causing some degree of angst on the left, there is perhaps a more substantive lack of diversity, with all of the candidates ideologically very similar and lacking in political dynamism and boldness. 

The identity politics concern with Labour’s leadership options

Social liberals on the political left are increasingly unhappy about the lack of personal diversity in the contest. For example, Labour Party member David Cormack (who blogs at The Ruminator) says  ‘All in all, the white-straight-maleness of the bulk of these leaders is disheartening’. His blogpost, Labour Idol puts the case for Grant Robertson, and highlights the weaknesses of the other candidates. For example, on Andrew Little: ‘He’s a straight white male unionist. Yawn’. But he makes a much more vitriolic attack on David Cunliffe: ‘I joined the Labour party for the sole reason to vote for David as leader. Boy was I wrong…. I have never understood the rage and scorn that the ABC contingent in Labour  feel towards the man, but since the election it has all become clear. They were right… You are a piece of shit’.

CTU leader Helen Kelly, who is often talked about as a potential candidate for Labour leadership in the future, has also been reported as expressing concern about the lack of difference amongst the leaders – see TVNZ’s Too many Davids, not enough diversity in Labour leadership race. The report says: ‘Even some of Labour's most fervent backers are now expressing their concern at the lack of diversity among the candidates.  "I think who they stand with as deputy will be an absolute key, and you raise the issue of women and Maori making a more diverse leadership team," President of the Council of Trade Unions Helen Kelly said’.


On the Daily Blog, Efeso Collins, who is an Auckland Labour Party politician, criticises his party for failing ‘to actively encourage Pasifika MPs to put their names forward for the leadership contest’ – see: Labour, leadership and White blokes. He called for the party to be led by Nanaia Mahuta and Su'a William Sio, and says that ‘Labour need to exhibit their commitment to both Pasifika voters and its own values of fairness and inclusion, by providing a way for a Pasifika person in its current caucus to stand for the leadership’.


One response from the ‘pale, male, stale’ leadership contenders is to highlight their more diverse supporters in the party, especially by carefully choosing which MPs nominate them for leader – see Claire Trevett’s Labour leadership hopefuls get their bids in. Robertson has chosen Rino Tirikatene and Kris Faafoi. And before pulling out of the race, Cunliffe chose Louisa Wall and Su'a William Sio. It seems that considerations of ethnic and sexual issues have been key concerns in these strategic decisions. 


Labour’s deputy leader and diversity

It is likely that all leadership contenders will endorse a female and/or ethnic minority Labour MP as their deputy. This is an obvious way of dealing with concerns about diversity. As Dene Mackenzie points out in the ODT today, Grant Robertson ‘is likely to have Auckland list MP Jacinda Ardern as his running mate.  The other two contenders need either a woman, a Maori or Pacific Island MP as a running mate given the strength of the Maori and Pacific Island vote for Labour and the ''man ban'', which requires 45% of Labour candidates to be women’ – see: Cunliffe out; backs Little for leader


Vernon Small makes some similar points, suggesting that Robertson might be the best leader, but ‘with caveats. Little, Parker and Jacinda Ardern providing the deputy, finance and social policy leadership.  The only thing missing from that is a prominent role for any Maori and Pasifika MPs to reflect their importance and loyalty to Labour.  Two at least must be on the front bench when the dust settles after the leadership race’ – see: Slim pickings for Labour leader.

Today Andrew Little is also being reported as signaling ‘his preference for a woman as his deputy. "We need to ensure both the leadership and the front bench is as representative of New Zealand as we can"’ – see Andrea Vance’s Blow for Grant Robertson's hopes.

Backlash against Labour’s identity politics?

After pulling out of the race for leader, David Shearer has very clearly taken aim at the idea of using the deputy leadership position to solve the diversity problem. This is what he has is reported as saying: ‘Today, for example, there was an announcement made that if it was going to be a white bloke that was leading the Labour Party then you need a Pacific [Islander] or a Māori or a woman [as deputy leader] - it's nuts…. This is what is wrong with the Party, if a woman is selected she should know that she is the best person for the job – not because of her gender…. I just refute and think that is completely the wrong thing and I think it is symptomatic of where we are going and I also think that unfortunately for most people looking at the Labour Party they are saying 'that’s not for me' – see TV3’s David Shearer rules out running for Labour leader


For more on David Shearer’s arguments, see Vernon Small’s Shearer comes out swinging. And for some strong reactions in the blogosphere, see Martyn Bradbury’s David Shearer’s ‘no feminist chicks’ mentality highlights all that is wrong within Labour and Greg Presland’s Dear David Shearer.


Labour Party activist, Josh Foreman also takes aim at identity politics, saying that ‘The rhetoric coming out of the various factions of our party is indicative of exactly what is wrong and why Labour was decimated at the recent election. The focus on special interest groups, Teachers, Unions, Rainbow, Beneficiaries, Maori et al is exactly why we got smashed’ – see: Tumeke ism’s. Here’s his more substantive point: ‘Labour needs to become a meritocracy and divest itself of the obsession with rewarding sub-groups or particular individuals. If you are a brown woman and you are capable of stepping up to win in 2017, do it. I will support you. If you are a gay man, and you are capable of leading Labour to victory, stand up and be counted. In this country people are judged, or should be judged on their individual merits, not on the colour of their skin, their sexual orientation or what they are packing in their underwear.  We need to debate the issues that caused us to fail, and put aside the cosmetic bollocks that distracts us. Ageism, sexism, racism, factionalism all need to be consigned to the history books. We can and must unite for our political survival and for the sake of New Zealand’.


Even the leadership candidates are making some noises about shifting away from such identity politics concerns. In an interview with the ODT’s Eileen Goodwin, David Parker was fairly clear about this: ‘Under his watch, the party would push ''egalitarian'' economic policies more than so-called identity issues around race and sexuality.  Mr Parker said he supported progressive changes such as marriage equality, which Labour successfully sponsored into law in the last Parliament, but a change of emphasis was needed for the ''next wee while''.  ''We have become less identified with the interests of working New Zealanders than used to be the case. And that's a place for us to get back to.''’ – see: Parker joins Labour race


Last week Andrew Little responded similarly to such questions. And in a perceptive opinion piece, Labour's gay conundrum, Nicholas Sheppard argued that Grant Robertson was wise to distance himself from Labour’s identity politics: ‘If the public perceived Robertson to be a beneficiary of that culture, they would likely see Labour as having failed to adapt and evolve, to be still beset by special interests and political correctness’.


Political sameness in Labour’s contest

A bigger problem amongst the Labour leadership contenders is their lack of political diversity and dynamism. All three candidates appear to be fairly bland in terms of their ideologies and (lack of) vision. And if it’s difficult to discern any substantial differences between them, that is probably because there aren’t any. Even David Parker is reported as believing ‘there was no significant philosophical difference between himself and Messrs Little, Robertson and Cunliffe’ – see Eileen Goodwin’s Parker joins Labour race. What’s more, ‘Parker described himself as a centrist politician’. His differentiation from Robertson and Little amounts to style rather than substance: ‘David Parker is promising a gentler, kinder type of politics if he wins the top job’. He is reported as saying that ‘The tone of New Zealand politics must change, to be less focused on conflict’.


So far in the debate the candidates come across as very ‘middle of the road’ and moderate, spouting only platitudes, vagueness and caution – certainly not much to inspire supporters. The frontrunner, Andrew Little, started out with some relatively bold statements about policy, but has mostly been non-descript since. For example, he participated on The Standard blogsite interacting with lefting activists – see: Q&A with Andrew Little


His answers to questions – and the evaluations of these – are well documented by Pete George in his post, Andrew Little at The Standard. For example, one person summed up Little’s contribution: ‘Some answers were waffle, some were ambiguous/unclear, some were promising and some quite good. None were outstanding’. Another concluded: ‘He came across to me as totally unprepared and full of glib phrases. In fact, he seems to be a mix of Key and Shearer’.


Leftwing activist and blogger, Jake Quinn (@JakeQuinn) has tweeted to say, ‘I'm struggling to figure out where the lab leadership candidates line up on a political spectrum. Perhaps the alignments are more personal’. This is perceptive, because these days the different Labour Party factions are more about personalities, ambitions and rivalries. The caucus itself is relatively narrow in ideology and views. None seem to be keen to see as traditional Labour or even leftwing. Would any of them call themselves a ‘socialist’? Unlikely. Instead they couch their leftism in more vague terms about ‘egalitarianism’. 


All three candidates are more technocratic than visionary. All appear to be in the mould of colourless deputies rather than visionary leaders. In fact, two of the three have recently been adequate deputy leaders (Robertson and Parker). In such circumstances, its not surprising that bitterness and pettiness come to represent the main forms of internal politics. 


The nature of the Labour leadership contest therefore threatens to decline from a dynamic contest of ideas into a personality contest – and possibly a rather drab one.  Leftwing blogger, Jono Natusch, expresses his concern about the blandness on offer: ‘Grant Robertson really doesn’t seem to excite much support out in the wider party. But then, it is a little difficult to get excited by career politicians. The problem is that neither Parker nor Little seem to attract much excitement either. They’re solid and intelligent, but hardly charismatic. Andrew Little certainly struggled to shine on The Nation over the weekend, even attracting unfavourable comparisons to David Shearer’s legendary inarticulateness during his time as leader’ – see: Cunliffe bows out.


Martyn Bradbury makes some similar points: ‘The leadership contest now seems to be a bleached contest between the groups who didn’t want Cunliffe as leader and the groups who really didn’t want Cunliffe as leader. The empty rhetoric of the candidates to date is depressingly vague, however seeing as the electorate just rewarded mass surveillance lies and dirty politics, boiled meat and three vege politics may be the perfect feast for a passionless people’ – see: Cunliffe quits leadership race – the losers are the Labour Party members.


Of course there will be some differences, because the candidates will have make an effort to differentiate themselves from one another. They will signal different priorities and each have a different emphasis. Just as Cunliffe posed as a more traditional ‘red’ Labour leader in last year’s primary contest, we might yet see some of the candidates shape-shift somewhat into new ideological forms. For example, already, we can see Robertson trying re-invent himself in the partial image of Shane Jones, with his newfound emphassis on supermarket reform – see Vernon Small’s Robertson reveals party push


Finally, to get a visual idea of how the media, photographers, and cartoonists are portraying the contest, see my blog post, Images of the 2014 Labour leadership race, which is in addition to the previous blogpost, Images of the post-election Labour Party.


Today’s content


Labour Party

Katie Bradford (TVNZ): Nanaia Mahuta joins race for Labour leadership

Vernon Small (Stuff): Mahuta running for Labour leadership

Herald: Nanaia Mahuta to contest Labour leadership

Simon Wong (TV3): Nanaia Mahuta makes last-minute Labour leader bid

Nick Grant (NBR): Mahuta joins Labour leadership race

Bryce Edwards (Liberation): Top tweets about Nanaia Mahuta running for Labour leadership

Vernon Small (Stuff): David Parker stays as acting Labour leader

Matthew Beveridge (Social Media): I may not agree with The Standard but I will support their right to say it

Lynn Prentice (The Standard:) On the unruly parts of the Labour caucus

Nick Grant (NBR): Cunliffe camp engaged in dirty politics against Labour rivals – Shearer

Felix Marwick (Newstalk ZB): Cunliffe's political future uncertain

Andrea Vance (Stuff): Blow for Grant Robertson's hopes

Vernon Small (Stuff): Shearer comes out swinging

Scott Yorke (Imperator Fish): What to do with former Labour Party leaders?

Simon Wong and Patrick Gower (TV3): Shearer to Cunliffe: Leave politics

Simon Wong (TV3): Shearer: Leadership vote process 'hijacked'

Julie Fairey (Handmirror): Labour leadership: Too many irrelevant judgements

Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Labour and ‘special interests’

Claire Trevett (Herald): Leadership dance crazier by the day

TV3: Cunliffe's endorsement seals it for Little - Edwards

Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): David Shearer’s ‘no feminist chicks’ mentality highlights all that is wrong within Labour

Greg Presland (The Standard): Dear David Shearer

Barry Soper (Newstalk ZB): Phil Goff a lost Labour opportunity?

Claire Trevett (Herald): David Shearer: Cunliffe should quit politics

Claire Trevett (Herald): Shearer backs out of leadership race

Chris Bramwell (RNZ): Shearer questions Cunliffe's motives

TVNZ: David Parker: Let NZ decide about raising superannuation age

TVNZ: Cunliffe will undermine Labour's next leader – Shearer

TV3: David Shearer rules out running for Labour leader

Herald: Labour leadership's turbulent ride

Stuff: Labour's leadership: where are we?

TVNZ: David Cunliffe: I'm at peace with my decision to step down

Tova O’Brien (TV3): Cunliffe: 'My decision is final'

Dene Mackenzie (ODT): Cunliffe out; backs Little for leader

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Cunliffe pulls out

Jono Natusch (Occassionally Erudite): Cunliffe bows out

Corin Dann (TVNZ): Cunliffe's exit from race a clear boost for Little

Cassandra Mason, Claire Trevett, Bernard Orsman (Herald): David Cunliffe quits leadership race

Greg Presland (The Standard): Some thoughts on David Cunliffe’s withdrawal

Stuff: David Cunliffe quits Labour race  

TVNZ: David Cunliffe pulls out of Labour leadership race

Simon Wong (TV3): David Cunliffe withdraws from Labour leadership race

Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Cunliffe quits leadership race – the losers are the Labour Party members

Andrea Vance (Stuff): Labour bans secret trusts

Matthew Beveridge (Social Media): David Cunliffe goes on a following spree

The Ruminator: Labour Idol: not by Judith Collins

Keir Leslie (Progress report): How Labour Should Change

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): How have the leadership contenders gone in their electorates?

Claire Trevett (Herald): Labour's leadership contest is not about taking turns

Dan Satherley (TV3): NZ sick of 'comedian' PM – Parker

Manawatu Standard: Editorial: Labour needs more than policy changes

Rob Hosking (NBR): Labour leadership: how Little and Parker have changed the contest (paywalled)

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Little puts policies on the table

Slightly Left of Centre: TUMEKE ISM’S

Lewis Holden: Labour's leadership election

Curwen Rolinson (Daily Blog): Guest blog: Why David Parker *isn’t* a credible choice for the Labour Leadership

Simon Hendery (Herald): Nash wrote foreword for lobby report

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Bowker says Nash knew of report


NZ intervention in Middle East

Gordon Campbell (Stuff): On the government’s review of security laws

Adam Bennett (Herald): Labour: terror law overhaul 'superficially attractive'

Dan Satherley (TV3): Andrew Little: PM's terror talk 'creating fear'

Andrea Vance (Stuff): Labour unconvinced on terror law changes

Andrea Vance (Stuff): Wider scrutiny of terror law changes urged by Greens

Andrea Vance (Stuff): Terrorist attack 'possible, not expected'

Adam Bennett (Herald): Isis fight: NZ's threat level rises from 'very low' – Key

Scott Yorke (Imperator Fish): A useful terror threat tool

Jono Natusch (Occasionally Erudite): Panic in Detroit. And Auckland.

No Right Turn: Apparently, NZ has a terror level

RNZ: PM warned over terror threat level

Patrick Gower (TV3): Terrorism threat rises to 'low' – Key

Stuff: IS sparks terror law tightening

Adam Bennett (Herald): Quickfire overhaul of terror laws to boost SIS surveillance powers

Peter Wilson and Sarah Robson (Newswire): John Key wants Opposition's support for terror law change

TV3: Key 'misleading' over IS law change – Greens

Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Key raises terror threat level to justify war in Iraq and now the SIS need MORE spying powers???

ODT: Editorial: Venturing into quicksand

Herald: Editorial: Confiscation of passports a step too far

Press: Editorial: Keeping us safe a worthy goal

TV3/Newswire: SAS in Iraq unlikely – Key

First we take Manhatten: Key plays up ISIS to betray our freedoms for a Security Council seat

Mike Hosking (Newstalk ZB): Doing nothing now is not an option



Andrea Vance (Stuff): NZ embassies used by spies: docs

Adam Bennett (Herald): NZ faces claims of spying on friends

Adam Bennett (Herald): NZ embassies involved in covert intelligence work for US – reports


Justice system

Neil Ratley (Stuff): Institutional racism in justice system: Flavell

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Maori Youth Offending

Mike Butler (Breaking Views): Playing young Maori crims for votes

No Right Turn: More rotten cops

Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): The audacity of the NZ Police in trying to justify their cover up of a cover up of a cover up



Brian Easton (Pundit): A divided country?

Colin James (ODT): Investing, not spending. A tougher way of thinking

TVNZ: NZ campaigning hard to secure UN security council seat

Willie Jackson (RadioLive): Hone Harawira will be back

Stacey Kirk (Stuff): Seymour to escape questions in House

Newswire: Labour: MPI should name source of bug

No Right Turn: MPI's policy capture is now a threat to public health

Rachel Stewart (Stuff): What's the source of Fed funds?

Chris Keall (NBR): Kumar farewells Dotcom, founds startup (paywalled)

Rodney Hide (NBR): Flag debate is next poll distraction (paywalled)

Matthew Hooton (NBR): Corporate welfare reveals deep conceit (paywalled)

Aimee Gulliver (Stuff): BMJ claims dirty politics not confined to NZ

Chris Keall (NBR): Tony Lentino's 'Whaleoil 2.0' site back on

Jane Clifton (Listener): Snakes in a Parliament (paywalled)

Bill Ralston (Listener): The greening of the Greens (paywalled)

Christine Rose (Daily Blog): The Importance of Perception in Politics

Michael Timmins (Daily Blog): The Dust Settles

Bryce Edwards
Tue, 14 Oct 2014
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NZ POLITICS DAILY: Labour’s pale, stale, male leaders under challenge