Since the election, there has been a lot of commentary on how Māori and Pasifika voters ‘stayed loyal’ to Labour. Some have even called for a Māori leader/deputy leader.
Regardless of who wins the Labour leadership, the party should give senior positions to Māori and Pasifika MPs. Not because they are Polynesian, but because they performed better than some of Labour’s leading lights, and can effectively and believably represent Labour values and Labour voters.
In this blog I will outline the strong performance of some of Labour’s Māori and Pasifika MPs, and contrast them with some of Labour’s current crop of careerists, namely Grant Robertson, Jacinda Ardern, and Andrew Little. I call them ‘careerists’ because they have followed the conveyor belt(way) from student/union politics, to positions as party staffers, to parliament (with a gap year or three in the public service). In the next post, I will compare Labour’s Polynesian MPs and careerists to see who best represents Labour voters and Labour values.
Quiet successes: Labour’s Māori and Pasifika MPs
An alarmingly large number of Labour supporters think their electorate MP won a hard-fought victory, but their Māori electorate MP only won because of a weak Māori Party. I understand why the party members wouldn’t want to celebrate the success of Māori and Pasifika MPs too loudly; to do so would make some prominent MPs look average by comparison.
Obviously, there are external factors beyond the control of MPs, and any win or loss is the result of both push and pull factors. But the performance of other political parties/candidates is only one side of the ledger. Labour MPs should not be separated from the party’s performance in their electorate. The decline of the Māori Party is a factor, but we shouldn’t overstate it. To do so diminishes the hard work of Labour’s Māori MPs.
The Labour MPs in the table below managed to increase the total party vote and mostly hold their vote share constant.
Labour’s Pasifika MPs held off raids by Colin Craig and National, while Labour’s Māori electorate MPs fought off an established Māori Party and a well-funded Internet-MANA Party. In particular, Kelvin Davis managed to defeat an extremely well-funded Hone Harawira, despite reluctance from his own party.
Of course, the elephant in the room is election turnout efforts. It’s difficult to determine what role the get-out-the-vote strategy played, but considering how poorly Labour’s main election strategy fared elsewhere, I don’t think we should write off the MPs’ party vote gains.
Noisy failures: Labour’s leading lights
The table below looks at election results for Grant Robertson, Jacinda Ardern, and Andrew Little (David Parker is omitted because he didn’t contest an electorate in 2014). Since these MPs are the leading lights of their party, I’m looking at their recent results, rather than just the last election.
In both total party votes and party vote percentage, Robertson, Ardern, and Little fare badly. In pre-Robertson Wellington Central (2005), Labour had almost 50% of the party vote, yet in 2014 the party came a distant third with 23.78%. Similarly, Auckland Central under Jacinda Ardern and New Plymouth under Andrew Little both shed over 10% of the vote since contesting the seat.
Robertson, Ardern, and Little presided over disproportionately large losses in vote share, yet they have flourished. Why are they currently the future leaders/deputies for the party if the party vote has crumbled around them?
They are ranked so highly because they are masters of the inside game. They know the strategies and tactics that help them climb the party ladder do not win general elections. Their skill is not winning broad support, but manoeuvring within the party.
So what about Nanaia Mahuta for leader? If the leadership race was determined by increasing the party vote, she would win by a landslide. Unfortunately, Nanaia’s charisma does not match her experience in ministerial and spokesperson roles (she may have blossomed on the campaign, but I haven’t seen it). Also, despite her experience, the commentariat wrote her off shortly after she announced. The highly questionable tone used by the media when discussing her campaign has undercut her chances.
The next blog: Labour voters, Labour values
The ability to win votes is one aspect of a good leader, but not the only aspect. The next post will compare Labour’s Polynesian MPs and careerists to see who best represents Labour voters and Labour values.