I should really send Rohan Lord a thank you note. It's not often someone hands me a column on a platter.

Dear Rohan, it would begin. Thank you for sharing your struggle as a middle class white man with the whole country. I can only imagine what you must be going through. How awful it must be to belong to a group that has been so privileged, prioritised and pandered to for, well, ever.

Lord recently withdrew as Labour's candidate in the East Coast Bays electorate. He'd been placed at number 72 on the list - a ranking he didn't agree with - and he felt that his being white, middle class and male might've worked against him.

So he gave an interview with Radio New Zealand. "I'm white, middle class, male and I couldn't really see a long term future within the party," he told Guyon Espiner.

Advertisement

"I think they - rightly so - want a cross-representation of all parts of the community, whether you're Polynesian, Māori, women, ethnic, and I think it's got to such a stage where if you're not within the establishment and they want the - rightly so - fifty-fifty women/male within caucus, that it would take such a long time to penetrate the upper levels of the party. That's just my view."

He wasn't told as much by the party, but he read a blog that influenced his thinking. "It's my reading between the lines. There's quite an informative blog - I can't recall what the name of it is now - but this person who put it together, it was when various lists are announced, it was quite clear that it would be difficult for people in my circumstance and situation."

Despite this, he felt that he would've been able to connect with certain communities.
"You know and I did feel like I could present quite a... um... sort of... um... I'd target the middle class in terms of business and high performance sport, so I did feel like I had something to offer."

Because we all know how few politicians resonate with the middle class. And how much business and high performance sport struggle for attention in New Zealand. You really couldn't make this up if you tried.

The thing that astonishes me is the implication. In my view in order for Lord's claims to have merit, he'd have to demonstrate that some of the candidates ahead of him are there only as tokenistic quota-fillers.

By evoking gender and race as potential factors in why he wasn't placed higher, Lord has conjured the veiled insinuation that perhaps some of the "Polynesian, Māori, women, ethnic" people ahead of him on the list are there because of their gender or race and might not deserve to be there as much as he believes that he does.

I have an alternative reality for Mr Lord. Perhaps the non-middle class, non-white, non-male candidates who've outpaced him in the blood sport of politics are simply better at it than he is.

Perhaps they have more runs on the board. Maybe they are better respected in their communities. Maybe they bring skillsets and experience to the party that it doesn't already have.

Advertisement

Maybe they're the kind of people who would have the sense not to give interviews on national radio about why they think their gender, skin colour and position of economic comfort stopped them from receiving the list ranking they thought they deserved during their first election campaign.

I find it fascinating that a wannabe politician who receives a low ranking on a party's list would take from that the message that, "you're probably not for us". Surely the most likely conclusion one would jump to would be that the party was saying, "you're new to this and need to work your way up".

What seems overwhelmingly apparent in all of this is that a self-described white, middle class man entered into a new profession with a high opinion of himself and the expectation that reaching the upper echelon wouldn't take him long.

When he was found wanting, while others who didn't look like him were given the nod, he reacted not by taking stock of what he'd need to do to improve his position next time, but rather withdrew and looked for explanations for why such an apparently unexpected outcome had befallen him.

Such a situation provides a stark illustration of the most offensive side of the diversity debate. In order for diversity to be a bad thing, the people filling the positions that in the past would, let's be honest, almost automatically have gone to white men must be thought of as sub-par, or not as good.

In a dynamic nation like our own, you can't tell me that we don't have a decent number of talented people - women, Māori, Pasifika, and others - who are just as qualified and ready to serve New Zealand in Parliament.

What Labour's move to attract a more representative list has done is ensure that there is more competition. It means that Labour has gone looking for good people from all different backgrounds to represent a diverse population. It hasn't simply relied on self-selection of people pushing themselves forward - a method that, for whatever reason, often results in an overrepresentation of middle class, white men.

It doesn't mean that there's no place in the party for middle class white men. It's hardly as if there aren't many ahead of Lord on the list. A quick glance at candidate pools across the majority of the political parties shows that middle class white men have very little to worry about when it comes to representation in Parliament come election time.

The unfortunate truth for Lord is that he underestimated the competition and was beaten. Resoundingly. Not that he sees it that way.

While I listened to Espiner signing off, a quote I saw on Twitter once popped into my head. "Lord, grant me the confidence of a mediocre white man."