All Good: As a result of Little’s recruitment of Jackson, Labour’s ability to attract Maori support has been enhanced. And, thanks to Labour’s List Moderating Committee, New Zealand will soon be appreciating the contributions of Priyanca Radhakrishnan, Jan Tinetti, Willow-Jean Prime and Kiri Allan.
WHERE IS IT WRITTEN that everything the Labour Party does must be interpreted exclusively in terms of dysfunction and disaster? This is, after all, the party that pretty much invented modern New Zealand. Most of the state institutions and services we take for granted: public health and education; welfare payments for the unemployed, the sick, the disabled, solo mums, and the elderly; state houses (what’s left of them) the Waitangi Tribunal; we owe to the New Zealand Labour Party. Not bad for an outfit which, if you pay attention to the pronouncements of the punditocracy, has become a synonym for ‘absolutely bloody useless’.
Certainly, the release of Labour’s Party List for the 2017 General Election has been presented as an omnishambles of no mean proportions. Willie Jackson (No. 21 on Labour’s List) has been presented as something akin to an untamed force of nature – against whose windy objections the House of Labour was very nearly blown over.
By just about every account, the man responsible for this untidy state of affairs is Labour’s Leader, Andrew Little. In the matter of Jackson’s list-ranking, he stands accused of over-promising and under-delivering. Such political ineptitude, his many critics imply, bodes very ill for Labour’s chances of emerging at the head of a new government following the General Election of 23 September.
The other big feature of Labour’s 2017 Party List – the prominent places allotted to women candidates – is, similarly, presented as, if not actually an inappropriate process, then as something quirky and eccentric. The clear impression conveyed is of a predetermined female quota system not being something with which a professional, mainstream political party would willingly have encumbered itself.
The story of Labour’s 2017 Party List could, of course, have been told very differently. In a country where the vital historical contributions of social-democracy were not only recognised but celebrated, Little’s recruitment of Jackson and the deliberate elevation of progressive women candidates would be achievements worthy of hearty applause.
Far from political ineptitude, Little’s eleventh-hour interception of the prominent and influential Maori leader, Willie Jackson, before he could declare his allegiance to Labour’s rivals in the Maori Party, would’ve been presented as an act of inspired political improvisation.
It was no secret that Jackson was considering a run against Labour’s Peeni Henare for the Tamaki Makaurau seat. Nor was it a secret that a great many people in Maoridom expected Jackson to win. Little’s successful appeal to Jackson’s trade union heritage – not to mention his left-wing credentials as a former Alliance MP – not only averted the loss of an important seat, but it also deprived the Maori Party of a person who would have been a powerful champion of their cause.
Did Little take care to sweeten the deal by promising Jackson an above-the-line position on Labour’s Party List? Of course he did. These men were playing politics – not tiddlywinks. Jackson’s ability to make a successful pitch for Labour in the electorally crucial working-class Maori communities of South and West Auckland would hardly have been enhanced by allocating him a list position that blared: “We’re happy to use this guy, but we’re not willing to have him in our caucus!”
But if Little demonstrated considerable skill in negotiating Jackson out of the Maori Party’s clutches, then he showed even more in keeping his promise to place him in a winnable position on Labour’s List without subverting his Party’s determination to have a gender-balanced caucus after the 2017 election.
Labour’s List Moderating Committee was well aware of the deal Little had struck and needed no instruction in the political dangers of making their leader a liar. But, they were equally seized of their constitutional duty to increase the number of progressive women in Parliament. As social-democrats they could do no less – and Little didn’t expect them to.
As a result of Little’s recruitment of Jackson, Labour’s ability to attract Maori support has been enhanced. And, thanks to Labour’s List Moderating Committee, New Zealand will soon be appreciating the contributions of Priyanca Radhakrishnan, Jan Tinetti, Willow-Jean Prime and Kiri Allan. What’s more, if Labour lifts its Party Vote to 35 percent – as it must do to form the next government – then Speaker Trevor Mallard will be asking even more Labour MPs to make their maiden speeches in political circumstances that are neither dysfunctional nor disastrous.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 5 May 2017.