Emotional politics at Labour’s 2017 Congress

I popped into Labour’s Congress yesterday to catch up with a few comrades who were down for the big event. Literally everyone was buzzing about a couple of the speeches which had been delivered earlier in the day, from Deputy Leader Jacinda Ardern and Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson.

Jacinda’s speech was livestreamed, and it’s well worth a look:

The full text is here. Some highlights:

Generation Y are the product of social breakdowns and two decades of rapid economic and global change. And what did that mean here in New Zealand? It meant that basically, they are the product of a time where WE, politics and politicians, told young people we didn’t owe them anything.

We sold their assets.

We told them their education wasn’t a public good anymore.

We traded on our environment while we polluted it for those who follow.

We stood by while home ownership amongst young people halved in a generation and is now the lowest it has been since 1951.

Generation Y have been the ones to watch inequality rise, they have been the ones to watch poverty rise, and they will be the ones who’ll see it compound even further as those who have become those who inherit.

This generation may not be having the same experiences as generations past, but just because they are different, doesn’t make them indifferent.

I was only 13 years old when my best friend’s brother took his own life. I had just started high school and was waiting for class to start when I heard the news. I can remember exactly where I was standing, just outside the science block.

Every single thing about it seemed unfair, and still does to this day. Even at my friend’s wedding just a few years ago, the sense of loss, of there being a missing member of that family, hung in the air.  He was just 15 years old when he died.

There should be no politics in addressing an issue like this, there should only be one thing- the value we place on new Zealanders of all walks of life having a sense of belonging, a sense of support, and a sense of hope. And none of that is more true than for our young people.

Grant also spoke very well. The text of his speech is here. He said:

When Andrew asked me to take on the Finance portfolio I was clear with him that I did not view the job as one that was just about spreadsheets and statistics, or share markets and currency movements.

Don’t get me wrong, those things matter.  But they don’t matter as much as people.

I still cannot get out of my head the story of TA, an eleven year old girl who was looked after by Te Puea Marae last year.  She was living in a van with her other six family members.  She was trying to do her homework by torch light.

Delegates, New Zealand is not at its best if there are children doing their homework by torchlight in a van.

Mr English and Mr Joyce, hear this- you cannot raise a family in a car.

Hearing so many of the Labour whānau rave about these speeches reminded me of last year, when I attended the Party conference up in Auckland, and the speech of the weekend was Justin Lester’s. He brought the entire room to tears talking about the benefit cuts of the nasty National government of the 1990s – not just materially, but psychologically. The son of a solo mother, he found himself adopting the beneficiary-bashing narrative of the day, and blamed his mum for not doing a good enough job. He cried. We cried.

This is what politics is missing. Genuine passion. Real stories of real people affected by politics. It can’t be any wonder that a lot of people don’t vote, and think politics isn’t relevant to them, when every discussion seems to be about costings and Budgets and abstract arguments about the role of government. But when we’re talking about young people being able to feel like they have a shot at a good life or families raising kids without enough money or workers getting a fair deal, it’s real. When our politicians show that they give a fuck about other people’s lives, in concrete and real terms, not as figures on a spreadsheet or projections in a Treasury forecast, it is immensely powerful. The right know this. That’s why they sneer at any hint of emotion in politics, and try to spin passion as a negative with their “Angry Andy” memes.

We should not be ashamed to be angry when young people are killing themselves and children are doing their homework by torchlight and mums and dads can’t even pay the rent when they’re working three different jobs. We should be proud of that anger, because it shows we care. Because it shows we don’t see politics as a fun game to play in between tobacco lobbying and seats on the board of Air New Zealand. Because people want to know we give a fuck. That’s when they’ll start to think that there are politicians worth voting for.

Getting more women into Parliament

Natwatch posted recently at The Standard about National’s difficulty finding enough women to put into Cabinet, and EEO Commissioner Dr Jackie Blue, herself a former National MP, has also called for actual action on getting more women into Parliament:

“If anything, the Cabinet is the ultimate board in New Zealand, and if women on boards is now being accepted as good for business, it bloody is going to be good for New Zealand,” Blue told The Nation.

“So I don’t want to hear these sort of measly, ‘Oh, we appoint on merit’…

“We have to have that debate. I mean, we’ve asked nicely, we’ve implored, we’ve pleaded, not much is happening. Women’s representation in Parliament has gone static.”

National is the party of capitalism. Of course they’re also going to be the party of patriarchy.

But Labour’s meant to be better. Not just because of its progressive principles, either. In 2013 the party passed a conference remit mandating that after the 2017 election, 50% of caucus would be women.

So with another party conference done, candidate selections underway and the list moderation process looming, I did the math on how the party can meet its commitment.

Labour currently holds 27 electorates and five list seats (Little, Ardern, Parker, Cosgrove, Moroney). There are 12 women MPs – 37.5%. The Party was meant to achieve a 45:55 split in 2014, and even despite the horrible showing, we only needed 2 more women to make it in.

Most Labour seats are pretty safe. Michael Wood winning Mt Roskill doesn’t affect the count. In a best-case scenario – Jacinda Ardern taking Auckland Central, Ginny Andersen maintaining or increasing Trevor Mallard’s majority, and perhaps a woman candidate in New Lynn? – we get 13 out of 28 electorates held by women. 46%.

In a good result for Labour, Duncan Webb wins Christchurch Central, giving us 13 out of 29 – down a little to 45%.

So it’s over to the list to get women into caucus. Andrew Little as leader obviously takes the top spot, so our starting point is 29 electorates – 16 men, 13 women – plus Little. 43% women.

From here, Labour needs to hold 34 seats to get gender parity, from four additional women coming in off the list. That’s doable on just 28% of the party vote – but of course we’re aiming a lot higher than that.

At 35% party vote, Labour gets 42 seats, with four men and eight women coming off the list.

At 40%, being super optimistic (and certainly not wishing any ill on our comrades in the Greens) we get 48 MPs all up: 16 men and 13 women from electorates, eight men (including Little) and 11 women from the list. It doesn’t look too out-of-whack – but the fact remains that multiple women need to be up high on the list to give Labour a realistic shot at the gender equality its members want.

It’s simply a historical, structural issue. A lot of safe Labour seats are held by men. That’s not surprising if you have even the faintest clue we live in a patriarchal society. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who don’t seem to get that – and as soon as you even think of putting a woman into one of those safe seats, they start screaming bloody murder about quotas and reverse sexism and “what about merit!”

I was at the party conference in Auckland, and let me tell you, Labour is not wanting for women of merit, qualification and principle. They’re not expecting a hand up or an easy go of it (they’re women in politics, guys). They just know, as anyone with any sense of the world knows, that we live in a society which doesn’t treat women as the equals of men. It doesn’t even treat qualified-but-problematic women as the equals of unqualified-and-actually-monstrous men.

hillary-clinton-unimpressed

We don’t set gender equity goals because women need help. We set them because our institutions need help, to step out of the past and be fit for the future. It’s nothing to be frightened of. It makes us stronger, not weaker, when we acknowledge the problems of the past and take action to rebalance the scales. So let’s ignore the squawking, and get some damned good women and men into Parliament next year – and not just on a Labour ticket either!

My top 5 politicians of the year

Duncan Garner announced his pick for the top 5 politicians of the year yesterday, and one thing really stood out.

family guy no girls allowed

That’s right, all of them, without exception, are from the North Island. I mean, you can quibble that Bill English is technically a Southland boy, he lives in Karori, people.

sebastian roche and

Oh. And they’re all men.

Duncan had a pretty straight-up explanation for that.

And he’s right. We shouldn’t let box-ticking or tokenism or silly quotas get between us and the stone cold political assessments. So here, based entirely on objective factors like talent, media profile, principled action and political impact, and certainly not biased by any inherent preferment or societal narratives of what success looks like, are my top 5 politicians of the year.

5. Metiria Turei

You may not see it, but you have to assume she’s had her work cut out for her getting the Greens from Male Co-leader A to Male Co-leader B this year. And where other parties can’t so much as blink without cries of internal disunity and caucus ructions, the Greens have just got on and got the job done.

4. Jacinda Ardern

A strangely polarising figure in the Labour Party, half see her as the Second Coming and half despise her, not despite but because she has tremendous public profile in so-called “soft” media. Yet “soft” media is one of the keys (pardon the pun) to the PM’s success – as much as we pols nerds may rail against the perfidy of accepting interview requests from Radio Sport and ignoring Morning Report’s calls, it works. Unfortunately most NZers don’t get their news from Morning Report.

It sounds cynical if you assume that “soft” media is the be-all and end-all of politics these days. But Labour can be a both/and party, and that means doing Checkpoint and 7 Days.

3. Annette King

Just so you’ll forgive me for #4, Labour’s deputy leader has spent all year embarrassing Jonathan Coleman with inconvenient facts about his failure to properly resource our health system. If you took a drink every time he whined “no you’re wrong and Labour was worse” you’d have spent most of 2015 very happily inebriated.

2. Judith Collins

Boo, hiss, et cetera. But even though I totally called this, pretty much the day she resigned in utter disgrace, it’s impressive how delicately, yet determinedly, she’s rebuilding her profile and her credibility. We’re talking about a Minister of the Crown who threw senior public servants under the bus when members of her party were caught rorting the taxpayer, who brazenly coordinated attack bloggers and gossip mavens to do her bidding, and who was plagued with story after sordid story of the shady use of ministerial trips to help her husband’s business … and now she’s back with a weekly newspaper column and regularly going head-to-head with the deputy leader of the Labour Party on the telly.

Next stop: an inevitable return to Cabinet, and after that, a thunderous (but probably/hopefully unsuccessful) charge at the National leadership.

1. Mojo Mathers, Jan Logie, Clare Curran, Poto Williams, Denise Roche, Louisa Wall, Nanaia Mahuta, Catherine Delahunty, Marama Davidson, Jenny Salesa, Eugenie Sage, and Julie-Anne Genter

For making the voices of survivors of sexual violence heard in our House of Parliament and staging a beautiful collective act of resistance when they were shut down, making international headlines in the process. Doing the right thing and winning the media battle at the same time: that’s good politics.

How does #nzpol do on Facebook?

Feinstein Doak has a post up with the Top Political Facebook Posts of 2014, and the results are interesting:

  • John Key, unsurprisingly given that his Facebook page has over 180,000 likes, dominates with 5 of the top 10 posts
  • But the top post – with a staggering 14,000 likes and 475 shares – is a lovely, genuine update from Jacinda Ardern about assembling a roadtrip with some other stranded travellers trying to get to Auckland
  • At #9, David Cunliffe’s resignation was obviously big news, but no one else from the Left got this level of cut-through
  • But the remaining 3? All Winston, baby.

It seems to defy conventional wisdom about (a) the uptake of social media by ~older generations~ and (b) the demographics of Winston’s fanbase. That being said, it thoroughly plays into the idea of Winston as New Zealand’s ultimate populist politician – always saying exactly what people want to hear.