John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: High Noon showdown over man ban

Labour leader David Shearer was left with no choice over the so-called 'man ban'. File photo / Ben Fraser
Labour leader David Shearer was left with no choice over the so-called 'man ban'. File photo / Ben Fraser

It had been shaping up as High Noon for David Shearer at 10.25am.

The weekly stroll from the Labour leader's office on the third floor of Parliament Buildings to Labour's caucus room is always interrupted halfway down the corridor by a waiting pack of political media.

There is no escape from interrogation. The leader has to front - unless he or she brushes the questioning aside and makes an unseemly dash for the safety of the caucus room.

But that would look terrible. So after ducking questions on the "man ban" in past days, Shearer had to front prior to today's caucus meeting.

In the end the choice was no choice. Either the "man ban" was dropped or Shearer was left in the impossible position of trying to explain why he was opposed to women-only candidate selections, but was doing nothing about getting the empowering remit withdrawn prior to it being debated at Labour's annual conference in November.

The man ban would have continued to be a major distraction which would have frustrated Shearer's efforts to get people focusing on Labour's real priorities which this week are the just-tabled legislation covering the construction of an international-quality convention centre in Auckland, whether the Government is looking at money from asset sales to prop up Solid Energy, and kicking off a campaign promoting the party's policy to cut power prices.

The inescapable logic of the leader's predicament finally seems to have convinced the party's ruling national council to agree to Shearer's request for the man ban to be dropped. All very democratic. And if he said it once, he said half a dozen times that Labour was a "democratic" party and its members had the right to put up ideas for debate.

Being democratic is one thing. Coming up with an idea as potentially toxic to Labour's election chances would have been hard to achieve.

The man ban has now been banned. But it leaves some serious questions about Labour in general and Shearer in particular in its wake.

Why were there days of dithering before the proposal was finally axed? Why did it take so long for Shearer to wake up to the damage such an idea could cause the party? Has he further alienated those elements in the party promoting the concept - the same faction who caused him so much gyp at last year's conference?

In getting the proposal off the table, Shearer has finally drawn on the well of authority inherent in his role as leader to bring the party to heel.

But the suspicion remains that he was only allowed to do so because others in the party hierarchy realised failure on his part to get the man ban dumped would have left the public convinced he was devoid of any authority at all.

- NZ Herald

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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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