While the ‘man-ban’ silliness consumes the national debate, Labour is forced to create some wiggle-room to edge its way back to ready-to-govern status. It did this this morning on TV3’s The Nation.
The Nation’s host Duncan Garner had a fabulous line up to debate all the angles: Chris Trotter, Martyn Bomber Bradbury, Jordan Williams and Labour’s own Sue Moroney.
It made for excellent telly. Every angle was covered, and even Jordan (who was the spokesperson for the anti-MMP campaign in 2011 alongside fiscal conservative strategist Simon Lusk) said: really, this week’s debate should have been whether the Prime Minister lied over knowing of Kim Dotcom earlier than he admitted to, and, if so, should John Key resign if found out to be a liar.
The face-palm question was: why did Labour “trip over its other foot” as Chris Trotter said, and allow Key to get off the hook once again? And, is Labour really match-fit and ready to own the ‘Cabinet In Waiting’ label when it allowed a weird party membership recommendation to dominate the mainstream media headlines yet again.
Firstly, on The Nation, Sue Moroney was a perfect representative for Labour. As a woman, Moroney argued rightly that Labour must ensure the proportion of women in its caucus reflects the percentage, role and contribution women hold in today’s contemporary society. I’m sure, that thousands of others couldn’t agree more.
Then, when pushed, she permitted Labour’s red-curtain to part enough to present a shimmer of light, just enough of a glimpse, to show a way out of this mess for her leader David Shearer and also her Party activists to resolve the ridiculousness of this man-ban move.
Moroney said in its current form, this recommendation to give LECs (Labour Electorate Committees) the right, on application, to exclude men from seeking candidate selection, would not make it. She indicated there were other ways the party could achieve its goal of equal gender proportionality without subscribing to the so called ‘man-ban’ method.
As Sue Moroney will have been well aware, and as Duncan Garner rightfully noted, this fiasco has drawn into question David Shearer’s ability to lead. Shearer is now centre-stage, where he will be judged on whether he is able to put to bed this recommendation from the Party’s activist-base… or not.
The activists have momentum on a principle that has merit, one of equality. But it is ill-thought out on how to achieve this. If the issue is not given strategic attention now, where it resolves through establishing common ground and progress, then the party is on course for a serious collision between political pragmatism and gender-specific idealism. Moroney is aware of this, and her suggestion that the recommendation in its current form is not likely to succeed is gold for David Shearer, and in a way for the well meaning members.
The Party should be thankful to Moroney for creating this wiggle-room. If some disagree then read on.
First, let’s deal with the activists’ ‘man-ban’ move.
With respect, it is ridiculous for these well-meaning members to play the gender-specific exclusion card at this stage in the political cycle.
As every caucus member will rightfully know, Labour, at this stage in the political game, must be ruthless in ensuring the Party, in the mind of the public, is seen as ready and match fit to govern.
Frankly, the revelations this week – that factions within the Party’s rank-and-file are pushing a controversial methodology to exclude some men from standing as electoral candidates – should have been thrashed out during its first term in opposition. Not now (in case it has escaped these members notice, Labour, rightfully or wrongly, is seen by hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders as the political vehicle of change).
In simple terms, this very public proposal is a head-scratcher. The move by Party activists smacks of idealism over political practicalities. If they do not agree with or understand this, then goodness me, they need to go home and have a very long sleep, as they are rather estranged from the contemporary thinking that shapes New Zealand’s public sphere.
I mean, let’s look at this hypothetically: Would this group prefer that a high-quality Labour candidate like Stu Nash be blocked by a LEC (Labour Electorate Committee) from having a shot at candidacy selection in Napier?
Surely, if there was a potential Labour woman candidate of equal political talents eyeing up that electorate then she would/should battle it out face-to-face with Stuart. If this person won the selection on the basis of merit, then I’m sure even Stu would tip his hat to his successor. If this challenger missed out by the skin of one’s teeth then, for goodness sake, the Party should compel this person to pitch for TukiTuki in an effort to remove National MP Craig Foss from that seat in 2014.
You can apply this logic also to Manurewa.
As such, Labour MP Louisa Wall is a political rock-star and has demonstrated this year how much south Aucklanders have to offer this country through political leadership. Through Wall’s efforts and skills New Zealand has been upheld on a world stage once again on the strength of the morality of its argument. That is something we have not seen since south Auckland’s David Lange championed New Zealand’s right to establish nuclear free status on the basis of morality.
Louisa Wall’s politics, of non-gender specific equality, was embraced by members of all parties in the New Zealand Parliament on a principle of morality and fairness. As such, Wall’s policy became law and was noted all over the world for the merits of its moral ideal.
Wall’s politics was most probably founded on her experience as a woman who witnessed bigotry based on labels and a legal institution that prevented her from being able to marry the person she loved/loves. She got into Parliament, she challenged the status quo, and changed all that. But first, she achieved candidacy status by convincing the Manurewa LEC of her merit, of her conviction for equality, of her ability to truly represent the people in this electorate. The Manurewa LEC recognised her for these attributes and realised the electorate had changed in the past twenty years and required a representative that reflected this change, reflected the electorate’s culture. This LEC understood that Wall understood the issues confronting her people, and that Wall had solutions to address those challenges in essence to progress the life experience shared by her people, her electorate, and her country.
Wall achieved the right to run for Labour in Manurewa over a strong candidacy pitch by the EPMU’s Jerome Mika. Both lead candidates were unionists, both were strong. Both fought a solid fight, and Louisa Wall won, on her own merit.
Now to Manukau East.
The EPMU’s Jerome Mika is again positioning to campaign to become a Labour candidate. Again Mika’s strengths are comprehensive and compelling. But the LEC will have to consider whether Labour’s south Auckland representation needs balance. Should it give Mika (the trade unionist) a shot and position him as Manukau East’s Labour candidate in 2014, running under the Party’s banner next to his neighbour, former candidacy opponent, and fellow trade unionist Louisa Wall? Or, should it respect a call from within the electorate for local representation from the likes of Efeso Collins? Really, the Manukau East LEC should meet this conundrum head on, think strategically, and make its selection based on merit.
Let’s look at the merits of local candidacies.
Clearly, and I mean clearly, Efeso Collins would be a huge asset to Labour in this south Auckland electorate. Yes, the trade unions have impressive representation in Manurewa, the social conservative elements in south Auckland’s Pacific communities have established Labour representation in Mangere’s William Sio, and perhaps it would be strategically advantageous for Labour to position a strong voice from its local constituencies to compliment the south Auckland MPs it takes to Parliament in 2014. In other words Labour needs to cover all its bases.
Regarding Manukau East, yes it is a safe Labour seat, and yes it has been occupied by a former trade unionist Ross Robertson for three decades, but in my view it is time for Manukau East’s Parliamentary representative to truly reflect the electorate as it is today, not twenty years ago. And here there is a compelling case for the LEC to endorse an impressive and driven local candidate to represent its peoples.
Efeso Collins is with every molecule of his being a product of a proud Manukau. As such, he knows who he is, he knows the challenges facing his peoples – and he grew up in Manukau when that city held high its motto the ‘Face Of The Future’. In short, Efeso Collins is match-fit, he’s ready, and has gravitas, he has Mana.
If the Manukau East LEC heard Efeso Collins speak (without a filter of exclusion) it would hear a powerful message premised with the compelling logic of his contemporary experience. The LEC would hear how its electorate would also become relevant under a Labour brand in our Parliament. If only he was given a chance.
But should Manukau East’s LEC remain anchored, in part, to a methodology founded on exclusion, it risks slowly, by degrees, becoming guilty of eroding Labour’s chance of true representation.
No, the Party needs to honour the people who have put their trust in it for generations. These people need true representation now. It is important. Why? Because their opportunity to progress in life is currently being arrested by the abhorrent consequences of the National-led Government’s dogma of economic distribution. Efeso Collins knows this, he has seen it, lived it, experienced it. He knows the cause, the effect, and he knows the solutions that will deliver for his people, Manukau East’s people.
But back to the main point: Should Collins be excluded from candidacy based on his gender? Should he be excluded because he is not from within the trade union fold? Should he be excluded because his whanau originated from the Pacific Islands (Samoa and Tokelau)? No, Efeso Collins should be included as a candidacy contender on the basis of his work, his strength of character, on what he and his people have already achieved, judged on the natural constituencies he attracts, and considered for the communities he already represents. That is progressive politics, rather than the politics of exclusion. And, the Manukau East LEC would be strategically savvy to compliment south Auckland’s overall contribution to Parliamentary debate by giving a local candidate of this calibre a chance at selection.
That is the politics of progression. The politics of exclusion as proposed by the Party’s activist member base, is ill-thought out and is folly.
I totally agree that gender equality within Parliament, and certainly within the Party, is an essential if Labour is to truly represent contemporary Aotearoa New Zealand.
But while the purpose and intent of the Party’s activist faction is not wrong, the methodology is abhorrent.
I have always believed the true test of whether a policy is right or wrong is to turn it on its head. For example, would it be right if these activists pushed through a recommendation that LECs should have the right to exclude women from selection? Would it be right if an LEC was given the right to exclude candidates on the basis of ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation? No, of course not. Just as it is wrong for any entity to exclude people from opportunity based on their gender.
As a brief aside: don’t we have laws in this country prohibiting such actions?
Now I know some within the Labour Party will grow red with anger over reading the above rationale. I can hear the arguments stating that men have had too much power for too long, that white Anglo-Saxon Protestant males have ruled this country, excluding women, other races, creeds from reaching their potential let alone from having the ability to achieve what must be a wonderful thing: to represent one’s community in Parliament and to make a difference. I know, I know, and I agree. But there are other ways of achieving gender parity without losing the Party’s soul along the way. Look to Louisa Wall for an example of how to achieve this. Look to Helen Clark, Margaret Shields, Ruth Dyson, Margaret Wilson, Dame Cath Tizard; look outside the party frame to Chief Justice Sian Elias, former Governor General Dame Silvia Cartwright.
Sure, all the above can reveal the institutional bias against women ascending high office. And I’m pretty sure all of the above achieved their work on the basis of merit, exposed the incompetency of the gender-specific-power elite through the persuasive argument that their intellect commanded. In some ways, to give these leaders a leg up into office through excluding others from having a shot would have been patronising.
For what it’s worth, my view is: No, Labour should not endorse this man-ban tactic. Rather it should continue to be a party that promotes equal opportunities in life, in employment, in social standing, as sacrosanct principles. And it should honour this ideal when reforming its candidacy selection process.
In conclusion: if this activist proposal becomes Labour Party selection policy, despite Sue Moroney’s skillful move to provide party leadership and membership a pathway forward to resolve their differences, then the Labour Party would have lost its right to uphold its long celebrated principle of equality and egalitarianism for all.
Let’s hope political sanity prevails.