Who Should Fill The Seats Of Power? Stripped of its cloying political candy-floss, the diversity project is a pure-and-simple power grab. It’s core objective is to fundamentally shift the balance of power in favour of those currently excluded from the inner sanctums of privilege, where political and economic power is wielded decisively by members of the dominant class/race/gender. How are we doing? Well, there's some movement (not enough) on race and gender. Just don't mention class.
MATT McCARTEN understands the practical consequences of political idealism better than any left-winger I’ve ever known. “It’s always about the numbers”, is one of his favourite sayings. Another is: “How big is your army?” Both reflect an unsentimental grasp of the brute numerical realities of democratic politics all-too-frequently lacking on the Left.
Back in the 1990s, when Jim Anderton’s remarkable coalition of insurgent political parties, The Alliance, was regularly outstripping Labour in the polls, it was part of Matt’s job to convey the realities of progressive diversity to his white, male, socialist comrades.
Working from the latest poll results, he would offer them his estimate of the maximum number of seats the Alliance was likely to win. Matt would then remind them of the quota of seats allocated to each of the Alliance’s constituent parties. Of the quite modest number of seats available to the socialist NewLabour Party, at least half were automatically set aside for women. Proper consideration also had to be given to the Waitangi Treaty Partner – before assessing the NLP’s Pakeha comrades.
As the ambitious socialist males gathered around Matt performed the necessary arithmetical calculations, their faces fell. Clearly, the chances of an ambitious Pakeha socialist making it into Parliament were somewhere between slim and non-existent. “Diversity” was indisputably an important progressive objective – but it was not without its downside.
Julie Anne Genter’s unfortunate remarks about diversity (unfortunate because, like David Cunliffe’s “I’m sorry I’m a man” comment, they will be hung around her neck for the rest of her political career) were jarring for exactly the same reason’s Matt McCarten’s triennial lecture to the NLP’s left-wing males was jarring. They revealed what lies on the obverse side of the “positive discrimination” coin: the inescapable obligation of the old order to make way for the new.
“Speaking to students at Christchurch’s Cobham Intermediate School on Thursday [22 March],” reported Stuff’s Adele Redmond, “Genter said the private sector needed to address the low level of female representation on New Zealand company boards if more businesses were to be led by women.
“About 85 per cent of board members were male, and many were ‘old white men in their 60s’.
“‘Some of them need to move on and allow for diversity and new talent,’ she said, later clarifying she had ‘no problem with old white men’ on company boards generally.”
Really? Why not? Stripped of its cloying political candy-floss, the diversity project is a pure-and-simple power grab. It’s core objective is to fundamentally shift the balance of power in favour of those currently excluded from the inner sanctums of privilege, where political and economic power is wielded decisively by members of the dominant class/race/gender.
As the Minister for Women, it is Ms Genter’s job to have a problem with men on company boards. Assuming that it’s a core part of the Minister’s remit to ensure that the percentage of women on company boards matches the percentage of women in the population as a whole, then some blokes will, indeed, have to “move on”.
“It’s all about the numbers.”
That those blokes should, preferably, also be white and over 60 is, presumably, because their ethnic origin confers a power advantage every bit as decisive as their gender; and because their advanced years make them statistically more likely to harbour reactionary views about women, Maori and other minorities, than younger, more enlightened New Zealanders.
“Reactionary” is not an accusation anyone could fling at those two “old white men” Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn.
Ah, but Bernie and Jeremy are self-confessed socialists whose core mandate is all about delivering justice and equality not only to women, people of colour and the LGBTQI community – but also to the working-class.
That’s the awkward thing about socialists: they’re forever bringing class into discussions about diversity.
‘How is inequality reduced by bringing an extremely wealthy business-woman with reactionary views about Maori and the poor onto a company board?’, the socialists demand to know. ‘Wouldn’t a much more substantive blow for both diversity and equality be struck by appointing a sixty-year-old working-class trade union secretary to the company’s board of directors? After all, a man who’s spent the last 40 years of his life scrutinising the company accounts and whose knowledge of the needs and capabilities of the workforce is second-to-none, is likely to bring many more progressive ideas to the table than a ruthless female lawyer from the Big End of Town!’
How would history have unfolded if the Alliance had selected its candidates purely on the basis of merit? Would Nigel Murray’s nemesis, Dave Macpherson, have made a better MP than Mana Motuhake’s Alamein Kopu? We will never know.
Six out of the eight members of the Green Party caucus, including Ms Genter herself, are women. That’s splendid – but how many of them are socialists?
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 27 March 2018.