Labour stuck talking about 'man-bans' and social engineering rather than jobs and social mobiltiy. How have they let this happen again?

I'm not against quotas.

In Afghanistan, young girls are denied education because there aren't enough women leaders. Women are victimised and systematically deprived of security, livelihood and other basic rights because they are women. In that context quotas for female representation in parliament are one of the most pressing issues facing that country. 

Quotas have a place as temporary measures. They’re a kickstart to getting women into powerful positions. They have their place.

But in New Zealand? I would prefer Labour to be talking about incomes, jobs, power prices, housing. Instead here we are once again trying to defend the merits of a policy to  people who are open-mouthed in amazement at Labour's priorities. Here we are using precious political oxygen trying to explain why it's not really a 'man ban'. We have so much more to do for women than this.

A strong women candidate does not need the handicap of people thinking she has only been selected because she is a woman, not because she is qualified.

Quotas and bans say that Labour women are not good enough to be selected ahead of men on our merits. I wouldn’t want anyone to think that of me. Helen Clark and Julia Gillard were capable of winning elections without removing men from the contest. We are not helpless dearies who need a bit of a leg up from a fixed race. 

The democratic principle at the heart of progressive politics is that any person is as good as another, we all deserve a fair go. Quotas say that what we are is more important than the content of our character or our ability to represent Labour values.

Andrew Geddis blogged here on Pundit that even David Cameron supports women-only pre-selection. But if the UK Conservatives can adopt gender quotas then there is nothing intrinsically progressive about the idea. It's just something you do instead of making the meaningful changes that are needed to bring more qualified women through. 

Labour subtly discriminates against parents. Meetings are scheduled right around bath time or over entire weekends. Pandering to internal blocs is valued over talent developed in community contexts. 

We should be seeking out the women in our communities who go on school camps, sit on their school board or coach local sports teams. We should be head hunting women in the workplace who are proving themselves every day alongside male counterparts. You can’t expect these female leaders to play the silly palace politics needed to get ahead in the Labour party.

Fix childcare. Fix flexible work hours. Fix private sector recruitment so that talent gets promoted there, too, and then recruit leaders from there, from the school gates and the weekend sports fields, instead of from the internal power blocs. And value parenting as much as political parties value political networking. I would like to see all that before they put another fix in to the selection process.


Comments (14)

by Josie Pagani on July 04, 2013
Josie Pagani

Actually, Julia Gillard did remove a man from the contest - in spectacular fashion! No quota necessary for her - just the knife.

by Tim Watkin on July 04, 2013
Tim Watkin

Exactly. Where has this come from Josie? Who pushed this through and why didn't anyone have a quiet word? Did Shearer know this was coming?

by Keir on July 04, 2013
It came from the organizational review, it went through the democratic party structure, including a full round of regional conferences, and went before NZ Council last weekend. It is part of having an open, democratic party that sometimes things can't be fudged with a "quiet word"...
by Josie Pagani on July 04, 2013
Josie Pagani

@ Keir - you're right re the process. To answer your question Tim, this has gone through local branches, LECs and then right to the top at Council level. No-one in the party can say they didn't know. It hasn't been a knee-jerk reaction. It's a well considered, debated policy. 

by Peggy Klimenko on July 05, 2013
Peggy Klimenko

In defence of Julia Gillard, she was in fact a reluctant candidate, I believe, needing considerable persuasion to take on the job. It's a bit of an overstatement to describe her as having taken the knife to Rudd. But she was, by a considerable margin, a more effective and competent prime minister. And it was Rudd's inability to do the job that was part of the reason he was rolled.

Of course there's bias in candidate selection; it is necessary only to look at the composition of Parliament to see its results. We need a Parliament which represents its people; if that can be achieved by adjusting the selection process in the ways suggested, it should be considered. Why can't Labour pay attention to this, along with jobs, childcare, the environment and so on? I don't see these issues as mutually exclusive.

by stuart munro on July 05, 2013
stuart munro

The public perception of Rudd was reasonably positive. Acting without public assent is always risky, and if Rudd were really unable to do the job someone else would be toppling Gillard.

Why can't Labour do both? One of the great failures of the Clark government was not to reverse the erosion of worker rights that came in with the employment contracts act. They were more concerned with issues of race and gender. Labour's interpretation of these issues did not seem to resonate especially well with the public.

If Labour demonstrates that it can resolve both so much the better, but that calls for public trust that Labour has learned from its last two electoral failures. This issue would tend to suggest that they have not.

by Tim Watkin on July 05, 2013
Tim Watkin

Well, then Labour will reap what it knowingly sowed. Did anyone know that the party's leader was opposed? Or did they just leave him exposed to this sort of leak?

Of course it occurs to me that Jenny Shipley is in favour of quotas for women on boards, is she not? The evidence of more women in leadership positions meaning better outcomes is pretty strong. But it's how you do it, what problem you're trying to fix and how it looks.

by Peggy Klimenko on July 05, 2013
Peggy Klimenko

@ Stuart Munro: the toppling of Gillard by Rudd was only about polling. They know what he's like, all right: look how many MPs jumped ship along with her. The ALP has  brought him back in order to make their defeat at the next election less catastrophic. They still detest him. It's likely he'll be rolled again after the election.

Rudd's campaign was gleefully abetted by the Australian media, which coverage in turn affected both Gillard's and Rudd's personal approval ratings. Much of the voting public takes little notice of what's actually going on in government, relying on what's reported by the media. And most of the media coverage focused on the campaign of misogyny against her, with relatively little reportage of the government's achievements under her watch. Kerrri-Anne Walsh has just written a book about this. A great pity that it didn't come out earlier.

A great pity, too, that there weren't more voices raised in her defence before she was toppled. But that boofhead misogyny on show in the media appears to be normalised in Australian society, to the extent that, if the polls are any guide, many women don't see it as exceptionable. They characterise it as "larrikinism", or the rough and tumble of politics. It's not: it's misogyny. Such things are never said about male politicians.

But back to Labour. The Clark government served three terms with its agenda; it repealed the ECA and enacted the ERA, which overturned many of the more pernicious aspects of the preceding legislation. Their major failing was to leave intact the changes to the benefit system made under the National administrations of the 1990s. At least some of our contemporary problems with poverty and hunger stem from that failure, although the roots of disadvantage lie further back, in the economic changes of the 1980s and 1990s.

Gender and race issues still have currency. So does the erosion of workers' rights. Labour needs to run a campaign on these issues, with a raft of substantive policies aimed at addressing them. Pretending that misogyny in candidate selection doesn't exist, or isn't important, won't make it go away. Or improve Labour's election chances, I'd have thought, given how many voters are female.

by stuart munro on July 05, 2013
stuart munro

@Peggy, Rudd stayed popular with the Australian populace by consistently putting them ahead of the party. Only party insiders like Gillard, and at the end of the day they didn't like her enough to keep her. It's a common story in politics, more ambition than talent. The curious thing is that that is the narrative of both the anti-Rudd and the anti-Gillard factions. The public will judge them, and we will all move on.

by Peggy Klimenko on July 07, 2013
Peggy Klimenko

@ Stuart Munro: Rudd's popularity had declined before he was rolled in 2010; that's part of the reason for his ousting.  The voters nevertheless reacted with suspicion and hostility; a good chunk of that was because Gillard was female.

He then embarked on the campaign of revenge referred to above, gleefully abetted by the Australian media. Press coverage was relentlessly negative, much of it disgustingly misogynistic. Gillard never had a chance to improve her poll ratings, because the media made sure of it. But she sure wasn't lacking in talent: go look at her achievements, and running a minority government to boot. Rudd, on the other hand, couldn't run the proverbial in a brewery: another reason for his being rolled in 2010.

Rudd's campaign was all about him: his performance suggests that he doesn't give a flying fig about the electorate, except insofar as voter approval was enough to get him his old job back. He all but wrecked his own party's chances of re-election; not that he cares, of course. Gillard's the handy fall-guy.

I have a family member in Australia; an Australian citizen of many years - and a life-long Labor voter. This relative used to be a fan of Rudd, but has been horrified by what he's done, and by the media coverage of Gillard and her government, and for the first time ever, isn't voting Labor.

The deposing of Gillard was solely about Labor polling, and how big the defeat would have been with Gillard as PM. It wasn't because they've suddenly realised what a decent chap Rudd is; look how many jumped ship along with Gillard. Some of us think that Labor would've been better to tough the election out with her as PM; at least that way they'd have been rid of Rudd, without having so cravenly compromised their principles.

by stuart munro on July 07, 2013
stuart munro

Well my Australian connections tell it differently. Nevermind. Can you explain the Woman's Weekly shoot? It didn't seem like particularly good judgment.

by Peggy Klimenko on July 09, 2013
Peggy Klimenko

@Stuart Munro. My Australian family member - and a sibling who visited grandchildren in Australia - both say that, when other people they knew there were asked why they didn't like Gillard, they couldn't give substantive reasons for it, beyond what they'd seen in the media. And by and large they had no idea of her and her government's achievements in office. Not a scientific survey, but a flavour of what the ordinary citizenry thinks.

When you refer to the Woman's Weekly shoot, I assume that you're talking about the pix of her knitting. It's not clear why this would be poor judgment - except, of course, that in an environment of misogyny, a woman knitting is an object of ridicule.

Perhaps if Gillard had enjoyed "manly" pursuits such as skiing and tramping, as did Helen Clark, she'd have escaped the worst of the crap thrown at her. But maybe not: as I recall, Clark was labelled "lesbian". Sometimes, a woman can't win....

And speaking of ridicule, I see that Rudd wants to set himself up as leader-for-life of Labor. Australia's answer to Mugabe, perhaps; he really is a piece of work! And still no election date: that is playing out just as I suspected it would. If Oz elects Labor, they'll be getting just what they deserve.

by stuart munro on July 11, 2013
stuart munro

@Peggy, you're awfully light on specifics in your criticism of Rudd, but I rather suspect that he has not

  • surrounded himself with a praetorian guard of foreign mercenaries
  • destroyed his economy with hyperinflation
  • flooded neighbouring countries with refugees crippled by torture

so your comparison to Mugabe might be a bit of a stretch.

The Women's Weekly knitting shoot is only problematic to the extent that it is contrived and  insincere. Public insincerity is rarely a good strategy for a struggling politician. Now that Gillard has given up politics for a while it will be interesting to see whether she finishes that piece of knitting.

by Peggy Klimenko on July 17, 2013
Peggy Klimenko

@ Stuart Munro: for Gillard, knitting is a leisure pursuit, not something she did just for a photo shoot. It wasn't, therefore, insincere.

As for Rudd, it isn't Mugabe's egregious crimes against his fellow citizens to which I was referring. It was Rudd's attempts to change the Labor party rules, such that he cannot again be deposed, as he was by the party, when it replaced him with Gillard. And as he has just deposed Gillard - with the enthusiastic support of the Australian media. The irony of this hasn't gone unnoticed among sceptics in Oz.

The polls may have swung in his favour, but let's see if public enthusiasm for him will last much beyond the election, if voters are silly enough to return Labor to power. He claims to have learned his lesson from the last dumping; I'm sure that he has. And that lesson is: change the rules, so they can't do it to you again, even if you stuff up like you did the last time around.

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