Best Man Or Mandatory Woman? Are Labour’s compulsory gender quotas dictating the party’s candidate selection processes?
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.
“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.”
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 31 October 2016.
Very accurate Chris. True believers would rather fight fairly, according to their own rigid prescription, and lose, than compromise in the battle in order to win the war.
Few people think Trump will fix anything but a lot are willing to vote for him. Because whatever you think of him, he’s not a vote for the status quo......maybe Labour should learn this...
I well remember that delicious remit to advance the position of women in the New Labour Party those many years ago.
However, as I remember it Chris it took the form of 'at least 50%' of office-holders will be women. Noble as the propelling sentiment was, in a new party determined to avoid Old Labour's mistakes, it created a breathtaking silliness of its own. That 'at least' qualification allowed for 50, 60, 80 or 100% female office-holders but never more than 50% male, thereby inverting the potential gender unbalance and fixing it in stone.
In the wave of conference euphoria such 'negative' interpretation was swept aside in the self-congratulatory thrill of whole-hearted approval of such a silly remit in such 'progressive' drag. The 'Pied Piper' syndrome won.
A pity it was, since I felt then, and still do, that the New Labour Party had much more integrity than the Old, and was exploring some very interesting ways forward that were lost when it subsumed itself into the licorice-allsorts Alliance.
This tendency of the 'Left' to rectify what it sees as injustice, whilst commendable, is fraught with similar potential silliness if it chooses this path. Should the 15% of people identifying themselves as Maori be entitled to 'at least' 15% of seats in parliament, or on local bodies? What about 'Asians', Catholics, and of course women.
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.
My father was an active member of the Labour Party in the 1960's and 1970's as a worker in the Old St Albans electorate. They had the same thing happen to them - someone called Roger Drayton was selected in 1969 he was originally from Christchurch but was RNZAF up to selection. He served three terms and then disappeared never to be seen in St Albans again. Another case of party hierarchy out voting local worker. Sometimes political parties don't deserve faithful followers.
Of the people By the people For the people ? Dream on.
Cheers D J S
Don't you dare speak against this, the sisterhood and Grant Robertson have spoken. Little cowers.
The membership shake their heads.
The MSM barely murmur's.
Well, Mallard isn't that popular, and there are an increasing number of middle-class women in Hutt South since the boundary changes who might just vote for a woman. The place is pretty much gentrified now. Just a thought.
Slight problem with your hypothesis about this being mandated by NZ Council is the fact that their representatives were in a minority compared to local reps...
"The Selection Committee shall consist of: g. Three (3) members appointed by and on behalf of the New Zealand Council..." NZLP Constitution.
So assuming all the NZC reps voted for Ginny (which you don't know if they did or not), that means she managed to convince either one of the two LEC reps, or the rep nominated from the floor, or won the floor vote of members present. How exactly does this mean she was not the better candidate?
But hey, never let facts get in the way of a bit of vexatious sexism...
Vexatious sexism! Is there any other sort? Women, when they get into positions of power, tend to behave just like (very like?) men. See Paula Bennett, see Paula Rebstock, see Hekia Parata, see Christine Rankin (with added short skirts), see Margaret Bazley, see Jenny Shipley, see Ruth Richardson (with added lye).
So women seeing themselves as noble, unrecognised human wonders that should have their place ceded to them by two breasts to none is perversely just retiring back to the old position of getting special help and consideration because they were considered the gentler, frailer sex.
I met with Bishop once. He's no intellectual but like many of the Nat's he has drain-pipe rat cunning.
He's also a solid campaigner & his partner runs a lobby group in Wellington. Since the last election, Bishop has been working hard to promote & broaden his profile in the Hutt. Recently he opened an electorate office up at Wainuiomata.
My understanding is that Ginny Anderson lives up at middle-class Silverstream (Rimutaka electorate) and is a policy wonk for the Police & has no presence in Lower Hutt.
Well done Labour; you've gifted a seat to Bishop who will be looking forward to a long career in Parliament.
● I have always believed Labour stood for equality of opportunity, not outcome. Women don't need quota, they need barriers to entry removed.
● Labour Party central don't always get it wrong. In the 90s Labour central foisted a candidate on a deeply divided Lyttelton electorate. Ruth Dyson has proven an outstanding electorate MP.
More tedious Trotter bollocks tossing tasty morsels to Whaleoil - yaaaawn. Ginny Andersen will be an excellent (and experienced) campaigner and fresh, energetic Member of Parliament.
If I was in this electorate, which I sometimes resided in, I might have considered a vote for either Mallard or his current wife, Jane Clifton. But I would be no more likely to vote for either Bishop or Ginny ( the police policy wonk from Silverstream- surely the ultimate oxymoron, as no intelligence ever came out of Silverstream other than Micheal Fay and police intelligence is a concept beyond laughable) than for the ex Mormon pretender Jacinda Arden. Voting for Trump or even Millosovich or Vidella would be a more informed human vote.
You know what? If I thought we could – like Iceland – establish a balanced parliament without quotas then I'd say to hell with quotas. But it's not going to happen. And you know it. The old boys club is far too well entrenched here. And to be honest, you don't know who's going to be good as an MP until they actually start MPing. I'm sure we can all think of a few people who looked good on paper, but who turned out to be if not useless then mediocre. Actually, most MPs seem to be mediocre if often well-meaning, ah well.
It may well be that (if I remember rightly) this is the woman that lost Ohariu by a few hundred votes? Given that much of that electorate is now in Hutt South who knows? Maybe she'll be popular.
What's the big deal with Silverstream? It's just another middle-class suburb. Fraser Coleman was probably the last Labour MP to live in a working class suburb, and even he lived in the posher end of it. And – no intelligence ever came out of Silverstream – pure truthiness. Which is a polite way of saying bullshit.
Apparently you like Ginny Anderson because she will be good at getting elected and so hold the seat for Labour, and that she will be a "fresh, energetic Member of Parliament " so new, unlike the old present ones, and energetic which seems to imply that that is an important factor in being Labour. Doesn't sound that they require someone who has a fervent attitude to advancing NZ small business, improving working hours and conditions, promoting wellbeing policies including education and everyone having a place and input in society not isolated in rich and poor silos. Trying to retain what's left of the country in our own hands, and slowing the reckless sales of assets to foreigners would be good.
But no just being able to get out of a chair and move quickly (energetically) is all that makes for a good Labour politician in Michael Smythe's opinion. Which I won't rate highly in future.
I found myself chatting to Chris Bishop about a year ago.
He told me that he's serious at getting to the cabinet table.
He seems highly regarded by the National party - who will, I expect, throw resources at his 2017 campaign.
The reality is National have deep pockets for their chosen ones.
Labour is penniless.
Quiz question for all the political animals out there:
Who did Chris Bishop plagiarize in his maiden speech?
Clue: Michael Gerson
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