Why Labour’s list is so important

by Jake Quinn

Interesting things have been written about Labour’s 2011 list. People feel strongly about this topic because it’s so important; because New Zealand badly needs a strong opposition and a set of potential MPs who are worthy adversaries in this year’s election. New Zealand doesn’t have a particularly flash government right now. John Key has been popular and Labour’s been struggling. This has led people to think this government is popular. This is misguided.

The Key government has been increasingly uninspiring in the face of adversity, their response to the country’s economic stagnation the best example. They have tried a few things from the centre-right playbook, nothing really has worked. The task’s been made harder by the Christchurch Earthquakes, but National has missed opportunities. We deserve better, we need better. That’s why there’s been some angst from the “commentariate” about Labour’s list.

What should Labour’s list look like? Some have claimed it’s full of “gays and unionists”. The first part is completely untrue (if anything it’s representational of society *shock horror*), the second, if not a debatable point, is at least moot. To be fair, the party elects candidates who work hard to get there by first running in National party seats and in local body elections, getting involved in the party at their local and regional level and those who effectively build relationships within the organisation. Fair enough.

To a certain extent, the new entries to the list reflect a mixture of those who’ve both worked hard and who have some talent. Of the new crop, in winnable or near winnable positions, I see no one who is undeserving of a shot. The main point of the criticism, which is quite fair, relates to old hands not bowing out. This will happen because MPs are heavily involved in the ranking process and because they hold strong influence over other party members.

The party needs senior members who know the ropes, but there is a limit to that quality’s usefulness. Some of the people who should have opted out are good people, hard-working, and have strong friendships and loyalties. But for every MP from a bygone era who insists on staying on there is an opportunity cost; that is, the fresh blood that would otherwise replace them. That’s the crux of the problem.

Are Ruth Dyson, Darien Fenton, Parekura Horomia, Rajen Prasad, Rick Barker and even dear old Steve Chadwick and Annette King still more useful to a post 2011 Labour opposition or government than injecting a swath of new talent would be? With respect, I’d find that a hard proposition to argue.  Would the caucus be better served heading into the future with them or with Jordan Carter et al? You tell me.

Blame, if it must be dished out, needs to go not to the new names on the list but those who insisted on staying on it. There are literally dozens of talented next generation Labour hopefuls lining up for selection, but only the tiniest handful is afforded a show in. Though, for the reasons I’ve explained, I am not at all surprised by the phenomena, I cannot help but agree with criticisms of incumbency protection, as articulated by Bryce Edwards.