This is the second post in a series contrasting Labour’s Māori and Pasifika MPs with the careerists Robertson, Ardern, and Little. In this post, I’m looking at who effectively represents Labour values.
People like Tau Henare argue that Māori MPs should be promoted because Māori voters stayed true to the party. But is this necessary?
On the one hand, there is the argument that loyalty should be rewarded. On the other, there is the more Machiavellian view that the party can safely ignore loyal voters, since they won’t stray. Ethical? No. Good politics? Arguably, yes. Resources are scarce, and it makes sense to allocate them where they can attract the most votes.
I agree with Tau Henare’s proposal, but not his reason for proposing it. Labour’s high performing Māori and Pasifika MPs should be promoted; not out of loyalty to voters, but because they better represent the party’s voters and values.
The difference is subtle: the former rewards a past action; the latter acknowledges and responds to a present reality. Labour’s Māori and Pasifika MPs know their communities, and are better than the careerists at articulating those mythical Labour values.
Well, I thought they were mythical, until I listened to the maiden speeches of MPs Peeni Henare and Jenny Salesa. Henare and Salesa outlined Labour values in clear terms, and tied them to Labour’s past achievements, current Labour policy, and the Labour Party itself.
The speeches are solution-oriented and people-focussed. Salesa in particular speaks clearly and convincingly of the values Labour is supposed to be about: community, fairness, hard work, and service to others. Not niche knifefights, naked ambition and insider political positioning.
Salesa reminds us that “child poverty is not a policy abstraction, but a lived issue” and that children in poverty “are five times more likely to die a sudden unexpected death in infancy. These children are, remember, New Zealand children”. When Salesa and Henare say they stand for the vulnerable, I believe them. When Labour’s careerists say the same, I hear political positioning. When the careerists talk about Labour values, I hear attempts to co-opt the values of the Left, especially those of working people. I hear ‘these are the things I must talk about if I ever want to be Prime Minister’.
The voters that these MPs represent are crucial to the party’s survival. Their values should be considered when choosing the next leader. This leads us to the elephant in the room: what if that leader happens to be gay? Will those loyal Māori and Pasifika voters support a gay leader?
That’s tomorrow’s post.