Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The great week that was

Last week was a busy one, which isn’t particularly unusual. But it was filled with a lot of work, a public holiday, family and politics—pretty much everything I like to spend my time doing (apart from blogging…). It turned out to be a great week.

Last week was condensed because of the Queen’s Birthday Holiday last Monday, which was a relaxed day off. But that meant I was starting the workweek behind the game, which added a bit of pressure onto a week in which I’d rather have spent time with my mother-in-law.

The reason the pressure was acute, however, was because I didn’t have much of this past weekend to catch up on work, as I otherwise would have. So, Friday night was a very (very), very late night.

This weekend, I was a delegate to the Region 1 Labour List Conference. Local Labour Party organisations in our region (Auckland and Northland) sent delegates to the conference in order to rank the candidates from our region as we preferred to see them on the final Party List.

In a couple weeks, a special party committee (also with members supported by the party’s local level) will meet and mesh together the Lists from the various regions to come up with the final Labour Party List. In doing so, they’ll pay attention to preferences of the regions, but they will also balance that with the needs of the party and the Labour caucus in the new Parliament. In particular, they’ll look at skills, experience, and background, as well as working to ensure a diverse caucus that looks like New Zealand.

Under New Zealand’s MMP system, parties in Parliament get as many seats as their proportion of the Party votes (basically—there’s a little more to it than that, but that’s essentially how it works). So, people cast their Party Vote for the party they want to form government.

Many parties will win electorate seats, but most don’t win as many as their percentage of the Party Vote entitles them to. When that happens, candidates from the official Party List become MPs to ensure the correct percentages. So, anyone who votes for a party in the Party Vote is actually also voting for that party’s List MPs, too.

Electorate Candidates who win their seats are removed from the Party List, and the next-ranked candidate moves up a spot. Some people have argued that candidates should be List or Electorate and not both, saying that a candidate who loses a seat has been “rejected” by voters. But I think that ignores a few important things, like, for example, parties run candidates in Electorates they know they can’t win, mainly because this gives them a local presence and a way to promote the Party Vote. To say such candidates have been “rejected” is being a bit unfair when they never had a chance of winning the Electorate Seat in the first place. And, in any case, if the candidates have a high-enough ranking to enter Parliament on the Party List, it means, as I said a moment ago, that the people who voted for the party also voted for that List candidate (among all the others), so they clearly weren’t “rejected” by voters.

All parties’ lists are published well before the election so voters can evaluate them. If they’re truly unhappy with the people on that List, they can give their Party Vote to a different party. But if they want their preferred party to have the best possible List, they can get involved in that party, as I did.

The Labour Party has created what I think is good and balanced process for creating its List. Members get a say, first, through their local organisation, then regionally, and then the final list is also influenced by the local level of the Party, balanced with the needs of the party when it enters Parliament. The process ensures democratic input, but also addresses the bigger picture. I think Labour has the balance about right.

The two days were actually quite interesting. No doubt part of that is the fact that I’m a politics nerd, but I enjoyed seeing the process up close. I was able to meet MPs I hadn’t met before, starting with Labour Leader David Cunliffe (who was quite nice and personable in real life). In US terms, that’s a bit like having a chat with Nancy Pelosi. I also talked quite a bit with Phil Goff, a former Labour Leader. For me, a personal highlight was meeting Louisa Wall, who I thanked for her bill that allowed Nigel and me to get married. I also asked her if I could give her a hug (she agreed).

I spoke with most of the List candidates in our region, but time and the number of people meant I didn’t get to them all. But the ones I did speak with were all charming and personable. In fact, we had an embarrassment of riches with our candidates—it was very difficult to rank them. I don’t envy the job of those putting together the final Party List, with so many great candidates in our region alone, let alone all the fantastic people from the other regions!

Partisan politics aside, one of the things I enjoy most about politics is the opportunity to see the nuts and bolts of democracy, how all the pieces fit together. Obviously, the only party I can observe up close is the one I support, but party processes, too, are part of our democratic system and equally fascinating to me.

On the downside, I was exhausted by the time the weekend was over. In fact, the past couple days I’ve felt like I had jet lag. I guess I can’t tolerate late nights/early starts quite as well as I used to.

So, that was my busy week and weekend. They turned out to be great.

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