Labour, leadership and White blokes

David Shearer said on TV3’s The Nation this weekend that he appreciated the support Labour’s received from Maori and Pacific communities over the last few elections, but that it was important to again, secure the votes of ordinary white blokes who had deserted Labour, and voted elsewhere. I wonder if he’s talking about the many White blokes that live in his electorate, who decided not to give their Party vote to Labour? If the Labour leadership race is anything to go by, then they must all believe thats the case because all of them are just that… White blokes. To date David Cunliffe, Grant Robertson and Andrew Little have confirmed their desire to sit at the leaders desk. David Parker is expected to announce his intention to stand tomorrow and David Shearer is still sounding out his supporters.

In a recent post, I wrote that the Greens needed to ensure Pasifika representation in their top 15 at the next election to be fair to its broad constituency base. In the same way and in light of being further along the broad church journey, 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 peron in its current caucus to stand for the leadership. I’ve been posting on facebook that my personal preference is for a Mahuta/Sio team to lead the Party, giving a clear message to its very faithful voter support-base, and the NZ public at large, that Labour is in fact the progressive Party it claims to be. Going back just a few elections and the words of former Party President Mike Williams ring true… that the Labour victory of 2005 was courtesy of the south Auckland booths. Its time to reward that loyalty and offer a completely new, fresh, unifying and culturally contemporary group of leaders in Labour.

There seems to be an agreement amongst those currently vying for the leadership that Labour needs to take up more of the middle ground. These White blokes have said that Labour needs to occupy that political space in order to win the votes of their peers, other White blokes. Around the Party I’ve also heard discussions about the socially conservative values of both Pacific communities and working class families. So perhaps there’s some merit to the White blokes appeal and approach that Shearer’s advocating? But Labour must also bring to the fore, a meaningful and culturally appropriate conversation about the role of Pasifika MPs and how they can be encouraged to seek the leadership. Moreover, Labour needs to actively encourage Pasifika MPs to put their names forward for the leadership contest.

I’m fascinated by the ongoing dialogue amongst leadership hopefuls that the Party needs to avoid merely representing lobby groups, feminist interests and the unions. And up until this weekend, Shearer’s been the first to openly admit that we need to win back the middle votes of White blokes. Of further intrigue is that there may be 5 White blokes seeking the leadership of Labour, that could’ve been six had Nash contested. The one thing I admire about Labour’s rules in going thru a Party wide selection for the leader, is that it forces people out of the closet to state their leadership ambitions. But it disturbs me no end, that to date there hasnt been a single Maori or Pasifika MP signal a desire to enter the race. The bottom line is we cant just sit on the sidelines and wait for someone to extend an invitation to us. Its time for Pasifika to stand strong in the mandate of loyal Pasifika votes and put themselves forward for the leadership. Its also high time for the Party to actively encourage that level of participation – because in the end, surely thats what it means to be progressive?


  1. Yes great post Efeso.

    Perhaps the immediate opportunity for Pacific or Maori senior representation is in the selection of the Deputy. As a Labour party member I would’ve liked to see a contest between Leader + Deputy, i.e. as a ticket.

    I am concerned that the Deputy selection is left up to the Caucus after the Leader is selected, and it is not credible for the Deputy to be another Pakeha male, or even a Pakeha.

    It is worth noting there were only 11 out of 72 electorates where Labour came 1st in the Party vote:
    – 3 in Sth Auckland
    – Kelston
    – 7 x Maori seats.
    That’s pretty clear cut.

    None of the 4 leadership contenders won the Party vote in their electorates, Cunliffe was easily the highest with 35.9% (2nd), Robertson with 23.8% (3rd), Little with 21.1% (2nd), and Parker was on the List.

    That’s also pretty clear cut to me.

  2. Nanaia Mahuta would be a great leader of the Labour party. Su’a William Sio on the other hand is not progressive by any stretch of the imagination and would be better off in NZ First. He wouldn’t be any different than Cunliffe, Robertson, Little, Parker or Nash in terms of supporting any meaningful change for Pasifika people.
    Hopefully, since you seem to have shown a commitment to progressive politics, you get an opportunity to get in and make change some time. You might have to prise some of the white men out with a crowbar though…

    • I totally support Mahuta to be the leader of Labour as too many men fighting for leadership and it is time for a Female to lead and break the cycle. When we look back to the leadership of Helen Clark, this is a clear view for us. Also to support Mahuta as she is a great candidate during and before Election debates. On the other hand, to acknowledge Maori and Pasefika after 2014 election.

  3. This whinge about white male candidates is EXACTLY why New Zealand did not bother to vote for Labour.

    How have you not learnt the lesson that people don’t want

    Polynesian, Maori, Female, Gay, Transgender, Muslim, Christian, etc.. leaders.

    They want THE BEST PERSON FOR THE JOB. Labour’s obsession with ticking off meaningless “diversity” quotas is a joke.

    • How is it then that despite having some excellent Polynesian, Maori, Female, GLBT and/or non-Christian religious politicians, those groups are chronically under-represented in the leadership of political parties?

      • National -Jewish (not Christian)
        Green -co-leader – female Maori
        NZFirst -Maori
        Mana -Maori
        Internet party -female
        Maori party – Maori
        Labour – candidate – (Robertson) gay.

        • continued … the only party I can think of which has a straight white male practising Christian leader is the Conservative party.

          • Look at the leadership, and not just the leader, of the Labour and National parties. Including party presidents/boards. Tonnes of white men, the occasional white woman thrown in too. The most senior gay person in the National party desperately tries not to be gay and consistently votes against gay rights. Polynesian and Maori people at the top are sparse in number. Asian MPs or senior party leadership figures even more so.
            Hardly an environment of diversity, especially in National

            Unsurprisingly, the Green, Mana, NZ First and Maori parties have more diversity in their numbers, which speaks to their genesis and their ethos.

            • ”Hardly an environment of diversity, especially in National”
              by the logic of this article Labour should have more Pacific Islanders at the top because Pacific Islanders are faithful Labour voters. If this is the case then by what logic should National have more Pacific Islanders at the top?
              ( not that I agree with the logic of the article btw )

  4. Broadly correct to point to the under-representation of Pasifika people in politics.
    But I think this is because Labour has since the 70s oriented towards the middle class which hugely under-represents Maori and Pasifika.
    If Labour turned left back to the core working class its ethnic composition would reflect that class.
    Right now we see a giant ABC leadership circus diverting Labour back to the centre, so those who see Cunliffe as leading the charge (while being sniped at by the ABC) to the left should be pointing to his record in this regard.
    He nominated Nanaia Mahuta as his deputy in the last leadership contest. He seems to have strong support from the Auckland Maori and Pasifika MPs.
    While Labour performed poorly in the election, its gains all point to this left turn in Maori and Pasifika seats.
    Those who want to advance the turn back to the core working class, and to the battered workers turned off politics that sucking up to the mainly pakeha centre, should get behind Cunliffe and rally support for his leadership in the membership and unions.
    A victory for Cunliffe would be huge victory for party democracy, the disenfranchised working class, and for the representation of Maori and Pasifika.

  5. I have been lurking in the forums of TDB and the standard for quite some time without making a post I would consider myself on the left side of centre when it comes to politics but it is as if being of European descent is something to be ashamed of.

    Lets get this straight I AM NOT a white I am not a pakeha I am a New Zealander of European heritage I am not the cause of society’s ills and I am sick of feeling like an outsider in my own country.

    If you want to know why the Labour movement is dying all you have to do is look to the forums and columns like this. It is not my fault that Maori and People of Pacific heritage are not putting their hands up for leadership of the Labour party. So the more you alienate myself and people like me the more you doom the Labour movement to obscurity.

  6. There are several parties with leaders who are non white, female or from religions other than Christian. National, NZ First, Mana, Internet, Greens and Maori party spring to mind. I don’t care what ethnicity or religion the Labour party leader is but choosing a leader just because they ARE of a particular ethnicity is nuts. I’ll bet half of your ”white blokes” who deserted Labour voted for Winston who doesn’t look very pakeha to me.

    • Excellent assessment Robert I voted NZ first and would probably return my vote to Labour If someone like Kelvin Davis was leader.

      although he is a little green behind the ears I don’t see this as a disadvantage john Key is a prime example…..It may even be a plus not being tainted or corrupted by politics.

      To be honest I pray for the day someone like Stephen Tindall was the leader of the labour party he already has experience wearing red.

  7. You’ve named Mahuta and Sio as your dream team to lead Labour, simply because they’re Pasifika and can appeal to the party’s base (your words). You complain about white contestants for the Labour party leadership being unrepresentative of New Zealand, but 75% of New Zealand’s population is self identified as European, and under 10% Pasifika (2013 census).

    It’s not representative to have a Pasifika leadership team, in fact it’s UN-representative.

    Any strategy that is based on appeal to a <10% minority is destined not to be productive.

    • ”Any strategy that is based on appeal to a <10% minority is destined not to be productive.''
      My take on the article was that it was not about attracting the Pasifika vote so much as rewarding that group for being faithful Labour voters. i.e. the leadership is not a job of serving others so much as a reward which rightfully belongs to someone.

  8. Bear in mind that since we’re all neck deep in the “great equaliser” that is multiculturalism, you don’t have to have paler than brown skin to be pretty damn “White”. However, I don’t recommend anyone tries to go on a hunt for the least white white person in Labour, or the most brown non-whitey, or the least gay gay, the most masculine woman or anything else. It’d be a useless waste of time. I don’t even care who is or will become the leader of what is now the most irrelevant political party in NZ and which is about to be fractured three ways instead of four. It’s just amusing to hear the same old whimblin’s from whites when anything brown comes along and I love that picture that accompanies the article. Can the whiney whities go back to The Standard, please?

    • Wow……. you truly are a despicable excuse for a human being I wont even dignify you with using the “R” word.

      You are the problem with this great country.

      If we cant stand united we fall divided…

  9. Efeso, working folk stood by the liberal party as well, whilst that party put up, middle class elitist prats one after another in it’s dying days. It took till the depression for working folk to realise the liberal party was no longer working in their interest.

    I think working people are making the same mistake again. Pasifika and Maori both want the best to happen from labour. They believe the party that has helped them in the past, will do so again. David Lange and his work with the Pacific panthers was legendary. But, the economic and social nightmare that these same working people now face, came from the releasing of untethered capitalism on working people by labour.

    I dislike labour, I’ll be honest – a party which thinks liberalism is OK, is the rightwing enemy in my book. Yes I’m a socialist. But, Efeso you point out one thing, one good thing and you may have even missed it yourself. The best people in labour are not the crackers who are professional politicians – but those who are there because they believe they can make a difference – shame there is so few of them.

  10. While I agree that the leadership team should be more diverse (the time must have come for a Maori or Pasifika deputy surely???), I think the big danger is to fall in to the assumption that Labour’s leadership should just represent the base. It wasn’t the South Auckland booths that won the 2005 vote for Labour, it was every one of the 41% of New Zealanders who came out and voted for a Labour-led government.

    Labour (and the left for that matter) can’t fall in to the same trap as the GOP in the US and think that simply trying to turn out the base vote is sufficient. Labour got 20,000 votes in Mangere in 2005 and 18,000 in 2014. The base is staying reasonably strong.

    The party needs to figure out how to get back voters like those in Tamaki (party vote practically halved between 2005 and 2014), Napier (14,500 to 9,500) and Invercargill (14,300 to 8,500). These voters aren’t particularly difficult to get – most of them will have voted Labour at least once in the past 12 years – Labour just needs a leader who can make them feel welcome back inside the party tent.

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