Sunday, August 17, 2008

Where’s the diversity?

The conservative New Zealand National Party has released the list of candidates who will make up the Party List in the upcoming general election. Crowing about the people selected, the party’s president, Judy Kirk, declared, "The diversity and individual strengths of the candidates is outstanding. It is a list that truly blends experience with new talent."

All of National’s returning MPs (those who are not retiring) are ranked in the top 50, pretty much guaranteeing them election to Parliament, even if they lose the electorate seat they’re running for, if any. One pundit has looked at current polling and worked out that even with a relatively conservative (so to speak) estimate of election results, National might have 29% female MPs, 11% Maori, along with 1 Pacific Island and 3 Asian MPs.

Despite some appearances, the List isn’t all that diverse. Easily two-thirds of the List is made up of existing National MPs, some of whom are clearly dead-weight (and that’s actually not a slap at National—no major party can have a caucus of 100% excellent MPs). Too many of the returning MPs have been in Parliament since the neo-conservative heyday of the 1990s. Several were also closely aligned with the Party’s disgraced ex-Leader, Don Brash.

Chief among the new additions to the List is the party’s campaign manager, Steven Joyce. It’s been documented that he met several times with the extreme-right fringe religious group Exclusive Brethren, who in 2005 spent more than $1 million in a campaign to smear the Labour and Green Parties in an effort to elect National. It’s alleged that Joyce coordinated the message of various right-wing groups to better assist the National Party’s campaign theme, and it’s further alleged that he provided input to the EB’s advertising smear materials.

So, most of the National Party List is made up of hacks and neo-cons whose agenda is very different from the few policies that the National Party has announced so far. And, of course, the neo-cons' agenda is also at odds with what ordinary New Zealanders want.

What of the newcomers? There’s a TV show presenter, a member of the right-wing bloc on the Auckland City Council, some consultants and various other political activists. On the plus side, several are under 40.

However, there are apparently no openly gay or lesbian candidates apart from the party’s only “openly gay” MP, Chris Finlayson. However, Finlayson is not listed or identified in any way, directly or indirectly, as gay on his official National Party website page. In fact, the only place I’ve seen Findlayson called “openly gay” is on gay news websites. Finlayson is also a List MP, and doesn’t represent an electorate.

We can’t yet say how Labour’s List will compare, since it hasn’t been released, but the party has several gay and lesbian MPs, both Electorate and List. It also has several Maori and Pacific Island MPs. This suggests that Labour is more open and accepting of true diversity than National is.

Many people have apparently been swayed by the “charm offensive” of the National Party’s leader, John Key. He seems like a nice enough fellow, but what, exactly, does he stand for? Policies released so far haven't made it clear, nor has his ham-handed defence of his vote against the Civil Union bill.

Given how much I still don’t know about Key and his agenda, I’m sceptical. Given what I do know about the neo-conservative old-timers still in Parliament, I’m suspicious. The Party List does nothing to relieve either that scepticism or that suspicion.

Maybe I’m too demanding, but it would take a lot more than them simply not being Labour for me to give my vote to them. There’s still too much at risk.

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