Forgotten Lessons: Has Labour Just Chosen To Lose Hutt South?

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SOMETIMES IT FEELS LIKE THE LEFT is incapable of learning anything. Why leftists forget every lesson History teaches them – even those of the recent past – I simply do not know. Mistakes, it seems, are for repeating – endlessly.

Twenty-seven years ago the NewLabour Party, full of energy and idealism, decided to institute a gender quota. Half of its candidates had to be women. Had to be, you’ll note. None of this “strive to ensure an equal number of women candidates” malarkey. Fifty percent meant fifty percent. Sorry fellas.

The NLP women grinned and the NLP guys puffed out their chests. Theirs was a party of real democratic-socialists – completely unlike those devious traitors in the Old Labour Party. If the NLP leader, Jim Anderton, had reservations, then he kept them to himself. Or, maybe, he knew enough about working-class voters to let them do the talking for him.

And talk they did. Canvassing Dunedin’s working-class streets I was taken to task on doorstep-after-doorstep by a succession of narrow-eyed matrons as suspicious of my rounded middle-class vowels as they were contemptuous of the NLPs affirmative action policy.

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“I don’t agree with quotas”, I was told over and over again. “You should pick the best person for the job.” With impressive prescience, these hard-bitten mothers and grandmothers demanded to know what the NLP would do “if your quota isn’t filled and you’ve got to choose between a really good man and an unsuitable woman? Are you really going to tell the best man to bugger off? Because if you are – then you needn’t bother coming around here asking for my vote.”

Not that anyone paid much attention. Even in the democratic-socialist NLP, the idea that the political leadership should be guided by the views of those whose votes they were seeking got precious little traction. If working-class women were sceptical (if not downright hostile) to the gender quota, then it was only because they had yet to throw off the dead weight of patriarchal thinking. Nothing that a little feminist consciousness-raising couldn’t fix.

Always assuming that those working-class women wanted their consciousness raised, which, by-and-large they didn’t. Or, at least, not by democratic-socialists so utterly unaware of how patronising they sounded. If the choice was between being talked down to by a middle-class feminist, or represented by a working-class bloke who’d grown up in the same neighbourhood as themselves, then the best man was always going to win.

With the NLP long since deposited on the ash-heap of history, you might assume that the Labour Party would be wary of repeating its mistakes. But, you’d be wrong. Feminism is one of the progressive traditions which Labour has never turned its back on. The support of the Women’s Council of the party thus remains indispensable to any attempt to re-write Labour’s rules. Or un-write them. As David “Man Ban” Shearer discovered when he attempted to attenuate the Women’s Council’s constitutional efforts to ensure gender balance.

Over the past three years, those efforts have been crowned with success. And now Labour’s mandatory gender quotas are dictating the party’s candidate selection processes in precisely the way those shrewd Dunedin working-class women foresaw nearly thirty years ago.

Last weekend, Labour members in the Hutt South electorate gathered to choose a successor to their long-serving MP, Trevor Mallard. The choice they faced was between a popular local lawyer and city councillor, Campbell Barry, and a well-connected party insider, Virginia (Ginny) Andersen. Barry, who attended Wainuiomata High School, easily won the support of the Hutt South members present at the meeting, but he failed to convince the selectors representing the party’s New Zealand Council. By a narrow majority (4-3) the selection panel voted to install Ginny Andersen.

Bear in mind that Mallard holds Hutt South by just 709 votes, and that in 2014 National won the Party Vote by a margin of 6,745 votes. National’s candidate, Chris Bishop, is a strong campaigner and will only be prevented from lifting the seat in 2017 by a Labour candidate capable of putting a large and enthusiastic team of volunteers in the field. That is very hard to do when the local membership believes “Head Office” has ignored their preferences and imposed an unwanted “outsider” on the electorate.

Once again, I’m recalling that doorstep dialogue of thirty years ago: “I don’t agree with quotas. You should pick the best person for the job. What do you do if your quota isn’t filled and you’ve got to choose between a really good man and an unsuitable woman? Are you really going to tell the best man to bugger off? Because if you are – then you needn’t bother coming around here asking for my vote.”

40 COMMENTS

  1. Oh hum more of Chris Trotter relating his past history…door knocking in Dunedin…New Labour Party…Jim Anderton… Feminism, Gender Balance…he knows it all.
    The election is a year away and replacing a discredited right wing neoliberal Trevor Mallard with a woman might just be the right thing to do…for it might bring the Greens to discuss an arrangement…
    anything is possible. For god sake Chris give the woman a chance…without your whining we might never have know how close the vote was…sometimes silence is better than bluster and pomp.

    • Labour tried parachuting a woman with no ties to the electorate into the seat before – Sonja Davies. Just as Chris had predicted here, local activists got their noses out of joint and did very little to back her.

      In those days it was a deeply red seat and National put up a typical chinless private schoolboy type, so she got in, but with a much reduced majority compared to her long serving male predecessor Fraser Colman.

      After she’d done bugger all and qualified for a pension, they had to move Mallard from Hamilton to rebuild the party locally. And he’s done a damn good job of it. But it looks as though history is set to repeat…

      Regardless of their socioeconomic profile, Wainuiomatians will not embrace someone with no ties to the valley and who hasn’t shown themselves willing to help the community in other ways.

      For a perfect example look no further than Lower Hutt Mayor Ray Wallace, wildly popular in the Nui after years on the community board and then as a councillor. Campbell Barry, while he doesn’t have the same mileage, is in the same mould.

  2. Hey Chris. Those Dunedin matrons weren’t suspicious of your vowels, they were contemptuous of your superior attitude, which hasn’t dimmed one candela to this day.

    • I disagree, Muttonbird. Nasty criticism – back it up with some convincing evidence. Or is it just the usual resentment of any criticism at all?

    • Not bad as a walk down memory lane there Chris.

      Labour have some good hard working spirited MP’s like Sue Moroney she is awesome and Chris Hipkins also.

      These MP’s should be advanced and David Cunliffe should also be placed at the front again to support Andrew Little as he grows some backbone.

      Labour needs to be bold and fight for the underdogs all amongst us all.

      Winston is and the Maori party seems to be getting bolder so labour come step forward again please the provinces are waiting?

  3. Given that Anderson has failed to unseat Peter Dunne she has a track record of failure as well. Chris Bishop has developed a reputation as being everywhere in the electorate and it is his to lose in my view.

    • How weird that being everywhere in the electorate is important to people!

      That has a ring about it, so is worth repeating: being everywhere in the electorate is important to people. Personal contact.

      So the nominee, to even get onto the batting plate to play with Bishop, has has to catch up on that?

      • Andersen is behind the eight ball already. She most likely can’t do what Chris Bishop does as he does it as part of his role as a MP while she needs to work during the day (presumably). He also has a established profile and contacts. She starts with next to nothing in that regard.

    • Probably more important , from Labour’s point of view, would be to put into Ohariu someone who can defeat Dunne, even if that means finding Virginia another electorate.

  4. Where exactly is the evidence that Anderson was chosen over Barry to fulfil a gender quota?

    Am I wasting my time asking this? Does Chris Trotter ever answer questions on his posts?

    • He’s probably so embarrassed with what he’s written that he won’t return to this page. I wouldn’t if I produced this drivel

  5. “Feminism is one of the progressive traditions which Labour has never turned its back on.”

    Well good for them!! FFS were you suggesting Labour (or anyone else) SHOULD be turning their back on Feminism?

  6. Chris, are you saying that the party selectors overtly chose a woman candidate specifically because of the gender quota? And that the male candidate was better qualified? You weren’t quite clear about that. And how does that quota work, as I assume they don’t choose all candidates in the same selection process.

    • There’s a Moderation process involved, Weka. A fair bit complicated, but it seemed to work in The Alliance.

      One candidate/moderation process I was involved in (Wellington Region) was incredibly good-natured between Party members and candidates.

      In one instance, Mana Motuhake candidate (for Rongotai), Bill Hamilton graciously stepped aside to allow easier moderation to take place. He took the next position down on the Party list.

      I heard at least one seasoned journo expressed surprise that it seemed to be taking place in good spirits (no, not the liquid variety) and without the Ego-sparring he witnessed at other political party selections.

        • The two points you raise are unrealated, Gosman. Read up on recent domestic political history, post September 11.

          And by the way, Gosman, that’s a bit rich coming from an ACT apparatchik, considering that your party is in Parliament only at the pleasure of National.

            • As I pointed out, Gosman, the only reason ACT is still in Parliament is because the National Party allows it.

              I hope you’re not so delusional as to believe that no dirty deal was arranged between National and ACT? Of course not.

              So don’t expect us to swallow that fantasy.

              • Ummm…the deal between ACT and National is no more or less dirty than the one that has occurred fir the Mt Roskill byelection between The Greens and Labour or do you think everything done by parties of the right are bad regardless of if you think it is okay if done by the left?

                • Wrong again Gosman.
                  Labour and the Greens were open about it.
                  In Ponsonby at the last election, National still kept a lameduck candidate in the race whilst John Key slithered around the electorate doing a nudge nudge wink wink urging people not to vote for his own party’s candidate and for your little puppet show instead.
                  Hmm, now which example seems the dirtiest?

        • “How come the Alliance party is now defunct then given how civil and reasonable the membership was?”

          Think about that question for a minute, Gosman. Think about what you’re suggesting.

  7. Inexplicable. And doomed to failure against Chris Bishop, who I found loud and obnoxious as a law student, but who is apparently likable.

    Then again, the local candidate may have found Bishop unbeatable on the party vote majority National is now commanding. May be better for him to keep his powder dry while Ginny fails.

    All this raises the more interesting question – who will Labour run in Ohariu and when is that candidate selection due? I think Little should run there and personally claim Dunne’s hirsute scalp.

  8. Your forthright position begs a question over the accuracy of your assessment of Ginny Anderson. I sincerely hope that you want to be wrong.

  9. And who is standing for the Greens, for NZ First, for Mana? Maybe that is more important than to consider stuff that Chris seems to worry about.

    Candidates may be one worry, a greater worry is what Labour will actually stand for in policy, perhaps the annual conference will FINALLY shine more light on this???

    • ‘a greater worry is what Labour will actually stand for in policy’

      Mike, we already know what Labour stands for.

      Labour stands for control of society by transnational banks and corporations, and manipulation of society by the corporate media.

      Labour stands for ‘trade deals’ and ‘the trickle-down effect’.

      Labour stands for extraction of fossil fuels and continuing fossil fuel dependence, and the accelerating Abrupt Climate Change that comes with the continued use of fossil fuels.

      Labour stands for industrial agriculture, both in NZ and overseas, together with the commensurate pollution of water, air and soil.

      Labour stands for low-wage jobs in manufacturing, retail, bars and restaurants, home care and tourism etc.

      Labour stands for population growth and economic growth that are slowly choking us.

      Labour stands for Ponzi schemes, such as KiwiSaver, which are destined to collapse.

      Labour stands for slightly different tax rates from National and slightly different rebates….slightly more crumbs falling off the ruling ‘elites’ table whilst keeping the ‘elites’ banquet going.

      Labour stands for ‘heads in the sand’, ‘don’t rock the boat’, and ignoring everything that needed to addressed urgently long ago.

      And I cannot see how any of that is going to change any time soon.

      • With David Cunliffe going to resign, not standing as candidate for New Lynn again, and he even considering a career change into management consultancy, I think all hope is lost for Labour to find its roots again.

        If he was the most progressive one of their more competent “team”, this is a death nail of sorts, I think.

        All running to get off the Titanic, to rescue their own skin.

  10. Maybe Labour struggle because they’ve turned their back on their base and now try to not upset the landlords? (I know class analysis is difficult for you Chris).

    I should be Labour’s base, but I wouldn’t give them a minute of my time. Why would I put time and energy into this Labour Party?

    Gender quotas are an excuse used by the working class to ignore the party that doesn’t represent them. If we had a Labour Party with economic policies in line with UK Labour, then these identity issues would become a positive, or they’d become irrelevant.

    You’re barking up the wrong tree Chris, again

  11. I’m with Chris on this one. Gender discrimination isn’t a good policy and quite frankly, the wider public don’t like it. Mallard vacating the seat looks like it could be lost with such a small margin and a provincial/parochial southern attitude to their brand of politics.
    The brains-trust fucked up again I think.

    • Takere- where is the evidence that Virginia Anderson was selected to fill a gender quota? None supplied so far.

  12. I do wish Chris had explored the current demography of this electorate, then looked at how the offered candidate matched.

    Most of the large processing and manufacturing businesses in the area, including the assorted government departments (Railways, Ministry of Works, Post Office) are long dead. The area is home to commuters for Wellington, local bodies and small to medium enterprises. It hasn’t been a Labour hotbed for decades. The flows of immigrants who knew their rights and what the boss class is capabable of have long since dried up. Aspiring chefs and investors don’t need either unions or representation, according to them.

    Game over.

    Either candidate would be suitable.

    There are no ’causes’ in need of a figurehead; just the usual underfunded medical services, the sturdy independence of the regional council riding roughshod, the standard complaints of the striving.

    Labour’s brand of patronising is nearly indistinguishable from National’s: perhaps a little less of the ‘stand on your own feet’ and more of the Helicopter Parent’s ‘We know best, dear’. Matching Ugg boots… They suit us so well.

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