Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Labour's carefully engineered party list

25 comments
Labour leader David Cunliffe. Photo / File
Labour leader David Cunliffe. Photo / File

The Labour Party has managed to put together a fairly well-crafted and non-controversial party list. There are few surprises, with nothing much to rock the boat. Most factions of the party will be relatively happy with the final result and the gender-balance goal looks to have been largely achieved without much fuss. Claims of 'political correctness gone mad' seem to have been avoided. The major downside of Labour's list, however, is its failure to rejuvenate the party.

A conservative list

Critics have seen the Labour Party list as relatively boring and safe. Although Labour might benefit from a decent shakeup at the moment, and a rejuvenation of the caucus, this objective has obviously been thrown into the 'too hard basket'. Instead, incumbency protection has been more important than refreshing the talent on display. For this reason the new Labour list is unlikely to excite many voters. As today's Otago Daily Times editorial says, 'If Labour was seeking a renewal through its list, it has sadly failed. It has missed an opportunity to promote fresh talent in an effort to shake off the raft of bad news which has recently surrounded leader David Cunliffe and the rest of the party' - see: The importance of lists.

Some of the reaction to Labour's list on Twitter - from both left and right -exemplifies the unhappiness with how unadventurous the list is. Andrew Chen (@bobsalive) tweeted: 'So much needed party rejuvenation...

hasn't really happened. History shall haunt (some of) those faces for another three years. #nzpol', Jordan McCluskey (@JordanMcCluskey) said, 'If you want to make room for new blood, you gotta have a bloodbath, not a tea party', and Lew Stoddart (@LewSOS pointed out, 'So the effect of Labour's electorate old guard not standing on the list is to make the list looks fresher than it really is. #wellplayed'. To see more examples of the less than enthused reaction from some politics-watchers, see my blog post, Top tweets about Labour's 2014 party list.

Labour newcomers - will they get in?

There are, of course, some new faces on the list, but they're ranked so low that it's unlikely many of them will make it into Parliament via the party list. The most obvious new names are Priyanca Radhakrishnan, who is ranked at 23, and Rachel Jones at 25. On current polling, these newcomers would appear to miss out.

Other newcomers such as Tamati Coffey, Jenny Salesa, Liz Craig, Deborah Russell and Willow-Jean Prime are placed even further down the list - in the 30s, with little chance of being elected via the list.

For more, see Rob Salmond's blog post, Labour's list - the newcomers. He has short profiles on Rachel Jones (ranked 25; needs a party vote of 30%), Liz Craig (32; needs 32%), and Virginia Anderson (37; needs 35%).

There is also some debate about how much party vote Labour would have to receive in order for the new faces to come in to Parliament via the party list. Adam Bennett points out that 'No newcomers are likely to make it into Parliament on Labour's new list unless the party polls almost 32 per cent in September' - see: Labour Party release list for 2014 election. Labour's blogging spindoctor Rob Salmond disagrees with such calculations as well as Bennett's assumption that Labour will win as many as 27 electorate seats - see: Herald mistaken on Labour list.

National blogger David Farrar puts forward his own calculations about what percentage of the party vote Labour needs to achieve in order to obtain certain caucus outcomes. For example, Farrar says Labour need 28% in order to retain Kelvin Davis as a List MP, 29% to get any Asian MPs etc, - see his post The problems for Labour if they don't get their party vote up.

Farrar suggests that even the potential newcomers, such as Priyanca Radhakrishnan, might not have as much appeal as Labour would like: 'I'm sure she is a very capable and talented person for her to have been ranked so high, but Chris Trotter would point out that having your highest ranked new candidate being a policy analyst, won't really appeal to Waitakere Man'.

Rightwing commentator Matthew Hooton agrees that Labour has failed to rejuvenate: 'this is hardly renewal, especially compared with National, likely to have 15 new MPs. The way things are going, Labour will head into the 2017 election with basically the same tired, dismal line-up it has now. It's quite possible today's list is not just a suicide note for 2014, but for 2017 as well' - see: Eight Labour candidates walk from list (paywalled).

It needs to be emphased, however, that there will be some rejuvenation for Labour by newcomers probably winning electorate seats - people such as Jenny Salesa, Tony Milne, and Adrian Rurawhe - see Rob Salmond's Herald tricky on Labour list.

And for more on the highest ranked newcomer, Priyanca Radhakrishnan, see Don Farmer's profile of her, Wairarapa woman launches party bid. And you can also read her 'postcolonial feminist' thesis about Forced Marriage in New Zealand.

Labour's gender goal partly achieved

Women do relatively well from Labour's list. For example, as Vernon Small points out, near the top 'Annette King, Jacinda Ardern and Nanaia Mahuta are placed fourth, fifth and sixth respectively' - see: Labour reveals its list. In another column, Vernon Small says that 'Labour has stacked its plum list positions with women' - see: Women to the fore on Labour's 'talented' list.

Blogger No Right Turn confirms the improved gender balance (but with some caveats): 'On the gender front, there's a slight male bias in the top 10, but its balanced across the top 20, 30, and 40 (after which I stopped counting). However, those electorate MPs who have abandoned the list swing male, so we might see Labour's efforts for a gender-balanced caucus frustrated by its FPP rump' - see: Labour's list.

But did Labour go far enough in implementing it's constitutional rules about gender balance? Matthew Hooton thinks not. He points out that the committee has actually ignored the rule that the list must ensure that 45% of the post-election caucus is female, and claims that the party could be subject to a court case. He says that 'In putting Andrew Little as high as 11, Kelvin Davis at 18 and Raymond Huo at 21, the committee has quite clearly ignored that rule. It has acted boldly to save these three men from an early shower, even at the risk of a spurned woman seeking a judicial review of its decisions' - see: Eight Labour candidates walk from list (paywalled). Of course, Hooton congratulates Labour for not 'taking the constitution seriously'.

Similarly, David Farrar says that 'Only if Labour get 30% of the vote, will they not be in breach of their rule to have at least 45% of the caucus female... On the average of current polls Labour will be only 41% female, which is less than they are at the moment with no rule!' - see: Labour List 2014.

The media has certainly made much of the increased number of women on Labour's list. This has raised the ire of many - see: No Right Turn's Our misogynistic political media.

Not all Labour women did well from the list. Claire Trevett makes a good point about this: 'Ironically, rather than appear to be punishing males to get to quota, Labour instead punished a female - the only MP who has reason to be aggrieved by their ranking is Carol Beaumont' - see: Labour's female quota makes candidate choice a mind-bending exercise. Trevett explains that 'This year was more complex than usual, courtesy of the new requirement for at least 45 per cent of its caucus to be female', and due to many competing factors, the 'committee was wrestling with a very slippery pig'.

Labour's other demographics

Labour has not only strived to produce a parliamentary caucus with a gender-balance but also with other demographic equilibrium. For some interesting insider insight to how the list was achieved and what it represents in terms of demographic representation, see Rob Salmond's Labour's list - representation.

Labour's likely demographics are also number-crunched by David Farrar in his post Labour List 2014. For example: 'The ethnicity is interesting. On current polls their caucus would be massively over-represented with Maori and Pasifika MPs, and under-represented with Europeans and there would be no Asian MPs at all. Also by location, they will have twice as many Wellingtonians, as our share of the population. Also one quarter of the caucus will have entered Parliament in the 1980s or 1990s'.

Claire Trevett also makes the point that Labour's list might end up producing a less diverse Labour Party: 'Perversely, the attempt to minimise the fallout of the 45 per cent target also means Labour could return to Parliament an even less diverse party than before. The only Asian with a chance of making it back, Raymond Huo, will need Labour to get about 30 per cent while the top ranked candidate of Indian descent, Priyanca Radhakrishnan, will need 31 per cent' - see: Labour's female quota makes candidate choice a mind-bending exercise.

And what about socio-economics or class? As usual, there's been little attention paid to the economic or occupational backgrounds of the candidates. The ODT does make the point that 'Trade unions still get their share of candidates, but these days it is mainly through the talent of the person, rather than allocation' - see: The importance of lists.

Winners and losers

To see how Labour candidates have fared compared to 2011, the No Right Turn blogger has put together a useful table in his post Labour's list. Unsurprisingly, people like Grant Robertson have sped up the rankings - he moves from 14 to 3, for example. Phil Twyford jumps 26 places to 7, and similarly Chris Hipkins goes from 30 to 9. Also, Nanaia Mahuta - not exactly a high performing Labour MP gets the number 6 slot and is the highest ranked Maori MP.

On the downside, Phil Goff drops 15 places from number 1 to 16. Some surprising demotions have occurred. For example, Carol Beaumont is down five places (needs a party vote of 33%). For more on the 'winners and losers' see Vernon Small's Women to the fore on Labour's 'talented' list. Maryan Street has also dropped from 7 to 15, but is putting on a brave face and spinning it as a promotion - see Bill Moore's Street's in pursuit of party vote for Labour.

Boycotting Labour's list?

A surprisingly high number of Labour's electorate candidates are not on the list - 21 in total (5 women and 16 men). High profile MPs have abandoned the list in an unprecedented way. These are mostly from the supposed ABC faction - people such as Trevor Mallard, Kris Faafoi, Clare Curran, Ruth Dyson, and Rino Tirikatene. The common assumption by commentators is that this was a strategy designed to avoid the embarrassment of a low list placing by simply jumping off the list. This perception of a 'list boycott' was something that Labour was keen to avoid.

Matthew Hooton argues that the abandonment of the list by Labour MPs signals deep divisions in the party: 'No fewer than eight out of the 31 MPs it can expect to win under the average of current polls have declined to be part of David Cunliffe's list... [believing] their chances of making it to parliament are better if they run mainly as individuals rather than be more closely associated with Mr Cunliffe and Labour. There could be no greater vote of no confidence in their failing leader' - see: Eight Labour candidates walk from list (paywalled).

Some Labour supporters have been keen to challenge any notion that MPs like Mallard have stepped aside for 'selfless' reasons. For example, on The Standard, it is argued that such 'old guard' MPs should actually step aside completely to allow fresh faces into the caucus, with one blogger saying, 'In reality, the only way the old guard in safe seats can give way to fresh talent is to retire from Parliament' - see: Labour's Electorate-only Candidates.

Finally, there's Labour's Te Tai Tokerau problem. The Labour candidate, Kelvin Davis, has been given a relatively poor list placing, at 18, which means that he's going to be less inclined to allow Mana's Hone Harawira to easily win that seat. This could be problematic for Labour's coalition strategy, as explained well by Derek Cheng in Labour gunning against Mana: party insider.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

Read more by Bryce Edwards

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a4 at 01 Aug 2014 08:14:32 Processing Time: 803ms