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?