Editorial: Botched announcement masks a reasonable list

Willie Jackson and Labour leader Andrew Little on the day Jackson announced he would stand for Labour.

Willie Jackson and Labour leader Andrew Little on the day Jackson announced he would stand for Labour.

OPINION: Labour's party list announcement will be forgotten soon enough in the wash of an election campaign, but it was still revealing.

Willie Jackson's reported tantrum over his marginal placing reflected badly on him. Labour's last-minute delay in releasing the list, while "crisis" talks played out, was a familiar sort of shambles from a party that has spent many of its years in Opposition hamstrung by internal divisions.

Part of the problem was that the drama obscured a relatively strong list.

For instance, it's been clear for several election cycles that Labour's rump caucus has too many MPs who are past it. This list helps some of them to move on, and puts a bunch of new faces into winnable positions – like the young Maori lawyers Willow-Jean Prime and Kiri Allan, the school principal Jan Tinetti, and the Indian and Chinese New Zealanders Priyanca Radhakrishnan and Raymond Huo. The latter two, in very prominent spots, help to correct Labour's inexplicable neglect of Asian communities.

The list still makes plenty of room for the most avowedly blokey of Labour's current caucus, from leader Andrew Little to the Stuart Nashes and Damien O'Connors – but it issues a reasonable challenge to others who would join them. For instance, former Police Association head Greg O'Connor will have to prise Peter Dunne out of Wellington's Ohariu seat if he wants to be an MP.

Of course, party lists are to some extent just a piece of MMP technicality. Little says they don't mean much to 99 per cent of voters – and points out that list rankings do not necessarily correlate to MPs' responsibilities in Parliament.

The personalities that mean by far the most are the party leaders'. They are the ones endlessly in the voters' faces, and the ones who run the show in power.

But lists still matter, even in a system with strong party discipline. They make careers and end them. They paint a picture of a party and what it prioritises.

Plainly Labour's list reflects its various power bases. Yet that means it also looks more like New Zealand – more than previous lists, and more than those of most rivals. Parliament needs more of this variety.

It also needs more skilled politicians. The risk for Labour is that most of its new faces are untested and that the party still lacks obvious stars. Jackson is a prominent face, but also a throwback. Most of Labour's other prospects have no national profile; nor do plenty of its current MPs. Deputy leader Jacinda Ardern is the great exception, but deputy leaders seldom lead surges of voter enthusiasm.

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One final complication: the party has plenty of clever MPs who might make a reasonable fist of ministerial portfolios. It has far fewer who have done a good job of testing the Government.

It's not that this is easy. Trevor Mallard, who has volunteered for a threatened position on the list (he will only stay on if Labour is likely to hold power), told reporters yesterday that "Opposition is absolutely debilitating and I've had enough of it."

But on current polling that is still where Labour's new arrivals will be. Has the party chosen MPs who can succeed in the political wilderness?

 - The Dominion Post

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