Wondering why the New Zealand Labour Party have been struggling so much recently? Why the polling continues to underwhelm? Why, despite a succession of unpopular moves, the Government is still most voters' preferred party (and John Key the preferred PM)? You only had to listen to Mangere MP Su'a William Sio the other day to get some answers. When it comes to leadership, there must be serious doubts this party could lead a sing-a-long.
Let's not throw all this on Sio's shoulders. But let's not avoid the point, either. The Mangere MP told us everything we need to know about his version of leadership last week when he warned his party about the dangers of supporting the same sex marriage bill. He won't be voting for it he says, apparently because he thinks his electorate is opposed to it. Something to do with "fundamental beliefs". That's right, rather than leading, he's opting to be led.
True, it would be nice to think that Sio's not just another homophobic politician, pandering to the base instincts of his community. But I'm not so sure. Certainly, there's been no suggestion he's at odds with what he says his electorate believes. Sounds more like he's trying to hide his bigotry behind the skirts of his community. Not only is he refusing to confront it, by giving it a mouth-piece he's helping legitimise it. He's become a voice for intolerance and prejudice.
That he doesn't get the irony of his stance is only more reason for concern. It'll be interesting to see if his caucus colleagues can help him in this regard. After all, nothing says hypocrisy quite as succinctly as a Pacific Island MP rushing to oppose the rights of another minority group. And especially when his explanation (only following the wishes of his electorate) is so dubious. This 2011 study, for example, completely contradicts his claims.
Makes you wonder what else the Mangere MP might have opposed for the sake of his electorate. Can't imagine he would've voted for the Homosexual Law Reform bill in 1986. Presumably, that would have gone against his "fundamental beliefs" too. Who knows, he might also have opposed the 1985 bill that for the first time made marital rape an offence in New Zealand. Sounds like his idea of leadership is to do what his church elders tell him.
No surprises then, that National's having such an easy time of it. There's hardly any opposition. As people have been pointing out, reports late last week revealed the unemployment rate had climbed to 6.8% yet Labour hardly made any mileage out of it. Not so much as a press release. And who's their employment spokesman? None other than Sio, who had earlier urged Labour to forget marriage equality and concentrate on holding the PM "to account".
Was at a fund-raiser at Eden Park last Friday, the day after the unemployment figures were made public. How concerned was the Government over the mauling they might receive from Labour, and presumably Sio? So concerned that the Minister of Social Development and Employment, Paula Bennett, took most of the day off to help MC the function. She probably took more flak from co-host Duncan Garner than she received from the entire Labour Party.
Not that the leadership vacuum simply ends with Sio. Dyed-in-the-wool Labour voters will also be anguishing over the recent performance of their party leader, and with good reason. For someone who's worked in such turbulent parts of the world, David Shearer comes across as being unusually gun-shy. As Gordon Campbell noted last week, rather than spoiling for a fight in the name of his party's core values, he seems
more intent on trying to distance himself from them.
It is, to not put too fine a point on it, like the blind leading the blind.
» Read more of Richard Boock in the Sunday Star Times.
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