Editorial: Unambitious list keeps fresh talent in check

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Labour Party leader Phil Goff. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Labour Party leader Phil Goff. Photo / Sarah Ivey

The Labour Party has 43 seats in the present Parliament. If it wins at least that many at this year's election it will bring in eight new names from the list it published on Sunday: Andrew Little, Deborah Mahuta-Coyle, Michael Wood, Kate Sutton, Jerome Mika, Josie Pagani, Lynette Stewart and Jordan Carter. If the party maintains its improvement in the latest poll - suggesting pressure on its leader over his handling of Darren Hughes has done Phil Goff and his party no harm - Labour can look forward to many more than 43 MPs.

The names Christine Rose, Glenda Alexander, Susan Zhu, Rino Tirikatene, Sehai Orgad and Megan Woods could be in the House too. There are not many pale males among all those names. Party lists are intended to bring a better gender balance and more ethnic diversity into democratic representation. Labour's makes a meal of it.

It has also learned from recent experience not to put old names low on its list where they could be next in line to replace any list MP who fails to serve a full term.

There are no Judith Tizards in a position to return at the expense of fresh talent this time.

But the downside of that lesson is that there are no new names high on the list. With few exceptions, sitting MPs occupy all the places down to number 35. Most of them are also standing in electorates, which means that if any are rejected by the voters they will return on the list. The real winners of any party's list selection, in the public eye at least, are probably electorate MPs who want no place on it.

Three of Labour's present MPs have spurned the security of the list this year: Christchurch East's Lianne Dalziel, Manukau East's Ross Robertson and Damien O'Connor who held the West Coast-Tasman seat until the last election and hopes to regain it in November. Mr Robertson and Mr O'Connor may have had little hope of a worthwhile ranking - Mr O'Connor says the list was drawn up by "a gaggle of gays and self-serving unionists" - but Lianne Dalziel's decision can only be commended.

"I came to the conclusion that if I wasn't re-elected by the people of Christchurch East I wouldn't want to be a member of Parliament," she said. "I wouldn't want to be anything other than the MP for this area, especially now with the challenge we've got." She said she had been a list MP before, and missed the connection with a constituency.

The list system remains an unsatisfactory element of MMP to members and voters alike. The lists are drawn up by party panels out of the public eye. Electorate candidates are selected in similar secrecy, but at least those selected have to pass muster at public election meetings and voters have put a tick beside their names.

Some other countries with proportional systems find ways to involve the public in list selections. It would seem possible to allow voters to register for a list vote much as voters do for primary elections in the United States. Each party's registered voters in each electorate could elect a candidate and those that did not win the electorate at the general election could fill the party's list seats in the order of their support from the party's registered voters.

Or the list seats could simply be awarded to the party's highest polling losers in electorates.

The main value of leaving list selections completely to party insiders is that they may entice some people into Parliament who were not willing to face personal electorate contests. Attorney General Chris Finlayson springs to mind, as does Margaret Wilson in the previous government. Labour's latest list shows no new name of that sort.

It is not a bold list, up and coming talent has been placed near the bottom of the likely intake. It is the list for a party that is marking time, looking well beyond this year's election for its next turn at the helm.

- NZ Herald

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