Saturday, September 14, 2013

My choice is made

Screen capture of my ranking just before I submitted it.
Tomorrow is the deadline for Labour Party members to cast their ranked preferences for the new leader of the Labour Party. I took my time to make up my mind, and yesterday I voted online. I gave my first preference to Grant Robertson.

This was a much harder decision for me to make than I’d expected. I had to balance my ideology with my desire for Labour to win the next election and lead government. For the longest time, I wasn’t sure the two goals were compatible, but then I remembered a chat I had with a family member a few weeks before David Shearer resigned: Labour, I said, needed to make a bold choice to shake things up, not just go with business as usual, and it needed to return to core Labour values.

When the three candidates announced, there was one, Shane Jones, that I could rule out immediately. He’s said and done many incredibly stupid things while in Parliament, and has a reputation for being sexist and homophobic. At the very least, his unnecessarily flowery language strikes me as arrogant and show-offy. His answers to questions during the course of the campaign have been underwhelming for me, and he’s clearly the most conservative of the three candidates. There was no way I’d support him, and I knew from the start I’d rank him third.

That left David Cunliffe and Grant Robertson. The left-most activists in the party went into overdrive to push their chosen candidate, Cunliffe. There have been plenty of accusations that the Cunliffe supporters (I don’t think he himself did so) were using dog whistle politics by constantly bringing up the fact that Robertson is gay. They then expressed outrage that anyone would accuse them of bringing up Robertson’s being gay for political advantage, thereby bringing it up again.

The supporters also tried hard to present Cunliffe as the only true leftist in the race, that Robertson would drag the party to the right if he became leader. This ignored both Cunliffe’s own right-of-centre history as well as the campaign statements of both men who clearly said they thought the old ways were over and it was time to return to Labour’s core values. What became clear to me is that neither one is a secret rightwinger (Jones is openly in the rightwing of the Party).

So, since ideology wasn’t the determining factor for me, despite the hectoring from Labour’s left, it then fell to who I think can best lead Labour to victory.

At 41, Grant Robertson is the youngest contender. Should he become Leader, that, and the fact that he’s gay, would mean a dramatic break from the past. He would be the boldest choice among the three contenders. Robertson is likable, has a good command of issues, a good sense of humour and he can take on John Key in the House. The main criticisms I’ve heard of him, even from the leftists, are that he’s gay and he’s fat, neither of which are legitimate reasons to vote against him.

Like all the gay people I know, I don’t automatically support a candidate just because they’re LGBT: They must earn my vote, just like any other candidate has to. I know gay people who are supporting Cunliffe and others who support Robertson—exactly as it should be. So, Robertson doesn’t have an edge among LGBT Labour Party members.

I seriously doubt that most New Zealanders are any different. Instead, from the evidence I’ve seen, they’ll vote based not on the Labour Leader’s sexuality, but rather, what he can do for New Zealand. So, Cunliffe doesn’t have the edge there.

In the election campaign next year, whoever’s the Labour Leader will have to present a case for changing the government. That can’t be done simply by portraying Labour as “National Lite”, but rather as an alternative to National, a change in direction, not just more of the same.

I believe that either Grant Robertson or David Cunliffe has the necessary skills to do that, and whichever one of them becomes Leader will have my full support. However, based on all that I said above, I believe Grant Robertson is the best choice, so I ranked him first and David Cunliffe second.

We should know who the new leader is sometime tomorrow, if everything goes well. I’m more concerned about the PARTY doing well next year and that's ultimately what was behind my ranking Grant Robertson first.

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