Editorial: Party-political balancing acts

After the turmoil of the previous week, with revelations about donations by Chinese multi-millionaire Donghua Liu emerging seemingly daily and a disastrous poll result at the end of the week, the Labour Party would have been hoping for the smooth adoption and development of its list candidates for the general election to bring positive news. As it turned out, hitches in the process allowed the impression to form that even in what should be straightforward, well-signalled, matters the party is having trouble getting itself organised.

The list was due to be announced on Sunday morning. It was then delayed to Sunday evening, then to Monday morning and was finally released early on Monday afternoon.

The explanation for the delay was that party leaders were distracted by media questions on the Dongua Liu matter. There is some credibility to that, although that did not stop snide critics suggesting that if the party was not able to deal with two pressing issues at once how could it claim to be able to govern the country.

A more likely explanation for the delay was the careful construction of the list required by a rule requiring the party to aim for having a caucus with at least 45 per cent of the places occupied by women. It is a commendable target but Labour's low poll results are creating problems in trying to implement it. At present more than 64 per cent of the constituency seats Labour might plausibly win have male candidates. To redress the balance in caucus to the 45 per cent female target the list needed to be weighted in favour of women.

As it turned out, it largely was, with four of the first six MPs likely to make it into the House being women, giving near the required balance. For getting new blood into the party, the list was not so successful. Labour will have to get almost 32 per cent of the party vote before the first new list candidate would be elected.

Also at the weekend, Conservative Party leader Colin Craig presented a problem to National by making his long-awaited declaration that he would stand in Murray McCully's East Coast Bays seat. Craig claims that opinion polls underestimate the strength of his party and he will get more than 5 per cent of the party vote at the election. Nonetheless, he would like National to ease the way by having McCully step aside.

Accommodations between parties of a similar stripe are a fact of life under MMP, where it is extremely difficult for any party to win an absolute majority. But cynical money-driven deals (Internet Mana is the most egregious example) or even silly stunts (like the foolery of the cup of tea at the last election) put off voters.

The Conservatives and National could, at a stretch, go together, being philosophically broadly similar, but the arrangement would have to clear and open. The danger for National, even then, is that Craig looks very much like a political loose cannon. There is no chance his flakier notions could have any influence but they could be electorally damaging. At present the polls indicate National may not need him. John Key will be hoping it stays that way.

The Press