One of the things which seemingly sets the Green Party apart from other large-scale electoral vehicles in this country, is the way they do their list ranking process. Most political parties will delegate this incredibly important responsibility to a single committee, or other tightly controlled schema; with a view to ensuring the “right” outcomes, amenable to the Party Leadership, are resultingly delivered.
Occasionally, there’ll be some brief outbreak of flirtatious indulgence with democracy [and, indeed, Labour’s shift in how it selects its Leader is arguably an instance of this]; but in the main, a certain degree of abject terror about what ‘the masses’ of the Party Faithful might do if they ACTUALLY got a serious say in the list-ranking process keeps many of our multi-coloured electoral tribes from going TOO terribly far down this particular road.
But not so The Greens. Say what you like about the eventual results of their listing process .. it’s hard to disagree that the mechanisms by which these are produced are pretty much the most democratic in the land [subject to occasional ‘correction’ from on-high, as we have previously seen with a view to ensuring a more optimal balance of North Island and South Island representation].
Although just because it’s broadly democratic, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s optimal. And given the huge variety of perceptions people have about what the makeup of Parliament ‘should’ be [recall, for instance, the old debate about a ‘House of Representatives’, wherein we place emphasis upon selecting those with aptitudes that will strengthen the legislative/political process; versus the ‘Representative House’, which strives to have a Parliament that mirrors New Zealand more or less exactly in terms of race, gender, sexuality etc. etc. etc.], it’s entirely unsurprising that reasonable people can seriously, strenuously disagree as to whether a given Party’s List is a great one.
The 2017 Green Party List looks set to be no exception.
The ‘draft’ iteration released some weeks ago has already inspired considerable debate [and/or jeering]; and it is interesting to note that the finalized version put out yesterday appears to ‘double down’ on some of the things which rendered the previous List such a lightning-rod for commentariat controversy.
Namely, the way youthful – and more especially youthful female – candidates appear to have been elevated at the direct expense of several other axes of diversity.
There are a number of potential reasons for this. The three candidates I’m thinking of in particular are rather high-profile [Ghahraman, Swarbrick, and Holt], with two arguably qualifying for a sort of minor quasi-celebrity status [Swarbrick & Holt], whilst the third [Ghahraman] has an impressive resume and record of service of exactly the sort one would expect from a quality Member of Parliament.
When it comes to the votes of ordinary Green Party members, therefore [which is what plays a strong role in determining the shape of the second-phase list], it’s presumably to be somewhat expected that democracy will wind up prioritizing those who are well known over more quiet achievers. Particularly, as in the case of Holt [who’s gained an impressive 12 places in the second set of rankings], where there’s been much murmurings of surprise as to a perceived ‘too-low’ placing.
But given the strong concern many Green Party membership-folk seem to have for concepts like “diversity”, I believe something else has also been at play here.
Namely, something which I call the ‘diversity olympics’. This is the notion that as the processes of Parliamentary List rankings represent the competition between various perspectives as to what’s ‘important’ to have in a candidate, a Caucus, and so on and so forth … and as all ‘diversities’ can’t be equally represented unless the Greens somehow manage to poll well enough to effectively become a ‘one party state’, list-ranking in the minds of a goodly number of Greens members able to vote on the eventual list [and also the Executive when it chooses to intervene in same] is therefore about establishing a hierarchy of which ‘diversities’ they MOST want to see in Parliament.
Understood in these terms, then, it becomes rather interesting indeed that the Greens’ latest List appears to have such a pronounced pattern of demoting [or otherwise placing in perilously low positions] its Maori MPs and candidates [with, to be fair, the notable exception of Marama Davidson – who was placed deservedly highly in the initial list, and gained on this by one spot in the re-work].
[In specia, for those of you playing at home … it’s somewhat sad to see long-time Green activist and principled chap Jack McDonald lose four placings, winding up in the mid-teens; presently-sitting MP Denise Roche also find herself wending downwards toward number 15; fellow presently-sitting MP David Clendon relegated to number 16; and Teanau Tuiono also dropping to number 19]
And further, the demotion of sitting MP Mojo Mathers (by three places) and candidate John Hart (to number 14) would appear to suggest, at best, that a reasonable swathe of the Greens’ membership effectively prioritizes the shininess of some of its newfound youth/female candidates over the ‘diversity’ represented by Disability [Mathers is, as far as I am aware, our nation’s only present MP who has the visceral personal experience of living day-to-day with a serious and seriously intrusive disability, in the form of deafness]; and by, I suppose, some combination of not being an ‘urban-liberal’ [like much of the rest of the Greens’ top-twenty listings], and being able to reach out to farmers by virtue of being one.
Also rather disappointing to see new MP Barry Coates drop two placings, but I guess his strong record of NGO service isn’t quite the sort of diversity they’re looking for.
Now, to be fair to The Greens, Golriz Ghahraman’s impressive jump to top-ten status [an increase of five placings on her previous, perhaps undeservedly relatively low standing] does serve to counterbalance this trend somewhat. Mention has already been made of Ghahraman’s legal competency [something of undeniable importance for a legislator], record of and proclivity for helping others and serving nation [the sine qua non requirement for an MP, in my view]; but it’s probably worth noting that her personal background also provides an important aspect of diversity to the Greens’ final list – namely, that of being able to convincingly represent the non-white/anglosphere migrant communities demographic which the Greens have historically struggled quite significantly to reach [as a point of interest, in 2011 and possibly again in 2014, the NZ First Party’s list – for all the commentary about “xenophobia” in said organization – actually worked out being more diverse in these regards than the Green Party’s].
But in terms of the ‘other’ high-profile youth/female candidate to be a ‘winner’ on the recently updated list, Chloe Swarbrick, leaving aside the aforementioned qualities of her youth and the level of ‘hype’ that has grown up around her in the last few months, I am genuinely unsure quite what she adds to the Greens’ List and prospective Caucus to justify such a prominently high List ranking.
Obviously, I am not party to much of what goes on inside the Green Party, and it’s eminently possible that there is a side of Swarbrick that I am not seeing. But based on her performance at an election year debate held earlier in the week at Auckland University, and on the opinions of some folk who’ve come into contact with her in a political capacity this year, it seems difficult to truly see what all the fuss is about.
Persons amenable to her keep saying things like “she’s highly articulate and really good on policy”. It’s possible that she just had a bad night when I happened to catch her ‘in action’ earlier this week; but I didn’t exactly see either trait in evidence. There’s also a persistent parroting of the notion that she “really changed the conversation around the mayoralty/public transport/youth representation in politics”.
My flat look of askance every time somebody says this is accompanied by asking *how*, and what we can actually point to which more strongly evinces that she’s managed those things. Thus far, nobody’s managed to provide me with a coherent answer which didn’t basically boil down to that old Ralph-Wiggum-I’m-Helping trope of “Raising Awareness’.
Now, to be fair to Swarbrick, she’s obviously got /something/ to her – after all, she’s managed to go from complete relative unknown to about to become an MP inside the space of six to eight months. There is a certain level of respect as a political operator which that almost automatically requests.
But looking at the ongoing disconnect between how hugely Swarbrick the political Enfant Titanical has been built up in the minds of many, and the somewhat underwhelming experience of observing her actually campaign, I can only conclude that various agents of narrative construction [in the media and elsewhere] have consciously chosen to imbue Swarbrick with both overweaning hype and ‘zeitgeistyness’; talking up her positive attributes, in a way that’s now had a tangible effect upon the nation’s political process.
And, might I add, in a way that coming third in a local body election with about as much of the vote as Penny Bright plus perennial ACT no-hoper Stephen Berry, amidst a Mayoral field which featured a split right-wing [two National candidates], and a ‘foregone-conclusion-so-get-out-yer-protest-votes’ nominal ‘left-wing’ easy-favourite candidate … just simply didn’t.
Perhaps I have become inordinately cynical and curmudgeonly in my [relative] old age; but the only feasible explanation I can see for Swarbrick’s high placing is that Greens have decided that the large quotient of “SHINY” presently invested in Swarbrick might just rub off on their Party at large in the event that she’s handed a shining path to becoming an MP.
Certainly, other than hype-value, it is a little difficult to see what she adds from a strategic point of view. I do not doubt that Swarbrick can resonate with a reasonable proportion of the stereotypical Green voter or party member. But given her primary audience appears to be found amidst the young [liberal] folk who do bother to vote, those older or middle aged and middle-income voters who get all giddy about the notion of supporting ‘young people’ because ‘they’re the future, and parts of the post-materialist values crowd all up … as these people are most likely ALREADY voting Green, it is somewhat implausible that she’ll help the Greens bring in *new* voters, rather than assisting most markedly in ‘doubling down’ on what they already have.
The very real risk, given the allocations of list rankings to other candidates and their ‘diversity factors’ this time around, is that she won’t be “balanced” in this regard by further figures who WOULD be more able to bring more [and different] people to the Green Party’s electoral tent.
There’s also a subsidiary cautionary tale to be told about the perils of political parties putting substantial eggs in a ‘celebrity candidate’s basket, and then finding out much too late to do anything about it [usually post-Election once they hit the House] that they haven’t just bought a lemon … but a limonov [a sort of Soviet hand-grenade, fruitily named for its shape]. The best example for this [and probably the Ur-Example of modern times] is New Zealand First’s 1996 Caucus – a reasonable chunk of whom wound up either defecting or simply being outright defective; perhaps as a result of their being chosen for their ‘star power’ and whom it was imagined they might be able to bring in due to their prominence elsewhere, rather than more traditionally appropriate considerations like quality and length of involvement in the Party, more-than-notional loyalty to its policy, members, and principles, and that sort of thing.
Now, I’m not saying that Swarbrick is going to do as former NZ First MP [and current Green Party Chief of Staff] Deborah Morris-Travers did [she was also a bright young thing at the time – being pretty much our youngest-ever Cabinet Minister in her mid-20s] and defect from her own party to wind up propping up a deeply unpopular and unprincipled last-term National Government … but it will be decidedly interesting nonetheless to see what sort of fruit or dividends the Green Party’s latter-day Listing strategy actually achieves.
In any case, lest I be misunderstood .. there are, indeed, a number of seriously impressive people on The Greens’ 2017 List. Some of them are even [in my view, at least] well-placed relative to their merits.
But it is hard to look at reasonable swathes of the rest of their List without getting the distinct feeling that Fad and Fancy has beaten out Fastidious Factotumry as their governing rubric for promoting their prospective post-polling MPs.