Here comes a diversity hurdle, and whoops - down goes National

Denise Piper/Stuff
National leader Christopher Luxon says the Matariki public holiday will cost too much.

Kevin Norquay is a former press gallery reporter, now senior writer for Stuff.

OPINION: So Simon Bridges departs Parliament, and National turns even more Persil Party than it was, missing yet another opportunity to reflect what New Zealand actually looks like.

First up, Sam Uffindell looks a perfect National candidate for the Tauranga by-election, if you’re looking back to reflect the party’s past. But what if you’re looking forward?

What if you looked at the Labour celebrations on election night, and thought ‘wow, so many varying ethnicities’ and compared it with the grey, blue and white misery at National HQ?

What if you feel National have fallen out of step with New Zealand’s diverse culture, and its many hues and shades, its widening gap between rich and poor?

Sam Uffindell will be the National Party candidate in the upcoming Tauranga by-election.
New Zealand National Party/Supplied
Sam Uffindell will be the National Party candidate in the upcoming Tauranga by-election.

READ MORE:
* Tauranga by-election to be held on June 18, after Simon Bridges resigns
* Behind Simon Bridges’ shock departure, and what comes next
* Christopher Luxon changes National's direction on Māori issues

Hmmm, you might think, and National did just that. It conducted a review. Then-leader Judith Collins rejected its findings, which were “develop a diversity plan” and “embed diversity into National’s DNA”.

The review recommended updating the process used for selecting electorate candidates. Collins said she didn’t believe in “quotas”.

So Bridges (of Māori descent) has departed, and four men in suits got ticked off by the party board as his potential replacement. Uffindell emerged winner, to this week promptly turn down a Monday interview with Tova O’Brien on Today FM. He gave her his first radio interview on Friday.

Tauranga National candidates Sam Uffindell, Tom Rutherford, Kelvin Clout and Matt Cowley.
SUPPLIED
Tauranga National candidates Sam Uffindell, Tom Rutherford, Kelvin Clout and Matt Cowley.

Here’s National leader Chris Luxon talking to O’Brien about Tauranga: “We have put new processes in place… so we can work out how to get more diverse candidates.”

The current lack of diversity was due to a terrible 2020 election result, he said.

Of course, had National put its diversity candidates higher on the party list (i.e. rated them as more valuable) they would have had more chance of being elected.

“Don’t doubt that there is a commitment to diversity and inclusion in the National Party,” Luxon said.

Diversity is not simply about giving minority groups a crack. There is proof it results in better and more robust ideas that reflect a broader segment of society. Had the CIA staff been more diverse, the 9/11 attacks were preventable.

Former National leader Simon Bridges has retired from politics.
ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff
Former National leader Simon Bridges has retired from politics.

A range of views combats a condition called Perspective Blindness. Our way of thinking is so habitual we scarcely notice how it filters our perception of reality. We all have blind spots, and if all those we work with are similar to us, there is group Perspective Blindness.

Matthew Syed​, an Englishman, has written five books on mindset and high performance. He lists cases where diversity within a single group increased effectiveness and outcomes, and others where ignoring broader input ended in disaster.

In Rebel Ideas, he shows the CIA – the best and brightest (largely Anglo-Saxons) from US Ivy League universities – were blind to the prospect of 9/11 style attacks on people they were meant to protect.

When Osama Bin Laden declared war on America in 1996 from a cave, his video was dismissed by CIA whiz kids. An agent well-versed in Islamic symbolism would have seen the danger, Syed says.

Diversity of thinking at the CIA could have greater highlighted the attacks on America were looming.
Richard Drew/AP
Diversity of thinking at the CIA could have greater highlighted the attacks on America were looming.

The CIA did not believe a bearded man in ragged clothes, squatting in a cave, could be a threat to the US. But almost any Muslim knows, Muhammad sought refuge in a cave after escaping his persecutors. To a Muslim, a cave is holy.

In the same way, a diverse group of committed National MPs would have fewer knowledge gaps than a mass of suited believers, be better equipped to deal with the range of complexities New Zealand faces, and be more in touch with a broader sweep of voters.

Doing the same thing time-after-time, expecting a different outcome is folly, bringing to mind the centuries old John Heywood proverb: “there are none so blind as those who will not see".

Note: this column has been altered to say Sam Uffindell did give Tova O’Brien an interview on Friday.