Monday, July 10, 2006

The beginning of renewal?

After three elections in which its vote share held fairly steady and incumbents were protected by the list, Labour is looking a little long in the tooth. There has been little new blood introduced into the Parliamentary caucus, which is dangerous for the long term. So one of Labour's big challenges for this term is to find a way to renew itself in office, shuffling off some of the older time-servers and bringing in new talent via the list.

That process finally seems to have begun. Former trade minister Jim Sutton is expected to announce his immediate retirement today. He will be replaced by Charles Chauvel, a lawyer and former chairman of the AIDS foundation.

So, who's next to go then?


Well word is that the next on the list, Lesley Soper, is expecting to be (back) in the House by Xmas, so there should be at least one more this year.

Posted by Span : 7/10/2006 01:46:00 PM

Taking my partisan hat off for a moment, I'd suggest Labour actually sit out the term with the caucus the electorate delivered and reform the list selection and ranking process. While I wasn't a supporter of MMP, the fact remians that every list member was lawfully and legitimately elected with the implicit guarantee they would serve a full term. If Clark is serious about "renewing" Labour, there's got to be a better (and genuinely democratic and transparent) way to do it than heavying list MPs into a political death with dignity.

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 7/10/2006 04:02:00 PM

Craig: I think that argument would cut some ice if the list was directly selected and ordered by the public at large, rather than (a tiny subset of) the party membership. But it's not. These people were elected to represent their party, and the party is entitled to replace them with the next person on the list if they die or retire for whatever reason.

I think this ability to renew mid-term and gradually bring new people in is a strength of the system. Both parties have used it - National shuffled off Jim Gerard, Paul East, Don MacKinnon and Simon Upton this way, and Labour has seen the departure of Jill White, Graham Kelly and Jonathan Hunt this way. That's because both parties understand that you shouldn't have to be carted out of Parliament in a box.

Of course, the real test will be next election; people who disagree with the legitimacy of mid-term retirements can always vote for a party which doesn't use them. Assuming they can find one by then.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 7/10/2006 05:46:00 PM

I would have thought National would be quite keen on the idea of mid-term retirements, to possibly get rid of the embarassment of an ex-Leader hanging around and possibly turning into another Muldoon after he no longer has the mantle... ;-)

Posted by Span : 7/10/2006 08:40:00 PM


In your first par., you've made an excellent argument that Labour's 'renewal' should be driven by democratic reform of their selection processes. Unfortunately, neither of us really have much of a voice in the internal processes of the Labour Party.

Like it or not (and Helen Clark obviously doesn't), Labour took a slate of candidates to the electorate last year - and the "public at large" made their choice. It's called an election. The result wasn't exactly what I wanted either, but democracy's a bitch. Labour made a political judgement by putting forward a list heavily weighed towards incumbent insurance and voters make theirs, so it's a little rich to try and game the result in a blatantly undemocratic manner.

And while I wasn't a supporter of MMP, I lost that argument and don't accept that list members are second-rate MPs who are no more than the creatures of party machines. As I've said elsewhere, Sutton isn't resigning because of ill-health, misconduct or incompetence (to the contrary, he's been warmly praised on all sides) or other reasons clearly signaled before the election.

And please don't run the 'you Tories do it too' argument. I've never been a fan of the diplomatic service being used a tool of Prime Ministeral patronage to get rid of turbulent priests. With very few exceptions, they've hardly been glittering jewels in the crown of Kiwi diplomacy.

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 7/11/2006 09:15:00 AM

I think you should be allowed to stand on the list or in an electorate but not both.

Posted by Anonymous : 7/11/2006 10:11:00 AM


Heh, but the Greens (like all minor parties, in one form or another) have their own problems around 'renewal' - and, again, euthanising your list members is dodging the issue, not addressing it. IMO, the Greens have a strategic problem - establishing a happy medium between being Labour's reliable lapdogs and alienating your base, and being pinned (fairly or not) as fringe-dwellers who will call down the apocalypse in the interests of ideological purity.

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 7/11/2006 10:58:00 AM

One less relatively conservative MP in the house has got to be a good thing...

And he's been a major obstacle to reform of NZ's shameful battery farming industries, stalling changes quite successfully, despite the clear illegality of the practices under the act. Animal welfare activists might have a chance now.

Nice observations Craig and Icehawk.

Posted by Anonymous : 7/11/2006 11:43:00 AM

Labour lost serious ground in places like South Canterbury and the central North Island. They lost Napier. Napier! Getting rid of MPs like Sutton, or lopping off the B-team in the form of Yates and Fairbrother still isn't going to make it any easier to get this ground back.

Jim Sutton is a seasoned pro. He isn't some carmudgeonly old git who sits in a rocking chair and yells at anyone who comes too close to his lawn. He's a highly skilled ex cabinet minister with a lot of respect here and abroad. I just hope the gap it leaves in diplomatic circles is pluggable.

Posted by Anonymous : 7/11/2006 03:04:00 PM

Craig: Helen Clark indeed took a slate of candidates to the people. Sutton was on that slate, but so was his replacement. And the people who voted for Labour voted for both, without any idea of which, if any, would get in in the end. Its difficult then to argue, as you are trying to do, that Sutton has some sort of electoral mandate and an obligation to stay, while Chauvel does not. Instead, all we can conclude is that the public voted for Labour to have 50 MPs drawn from its list and electorate candidates. And that's exactly what they'll have after Sutton retires.

As for reasons for retirement, MPs are allowed to retire for whatever reasons they choose. Jim Bolger retired because he simply didn't want to be around Parliament after being rolled. She Who Shall Not be Named did the same after losing the finance portfolio. Its well established that MPs can leave mid-term if they want to, simply because they're sick of it or want to try something new, and I don't see Sutton's departure as being at all illegitimate. You've said that you don't think list members are second-rate MPs, but what you seem to be doing is apply a tighter standard to retirements than is applied to electorate MPs. And really I don't think that's justified.

As for the bigger issue, MMP has effectively frozen our voting blocs. A 1% gain in vote share produces 1 or 2 new faces, rather than the 5 or 6 we used to see. A 1% loss gets rid of 1 or 2 incumbents, rather than half the front bench. Retirements will therefore play a much greater role in party renewal (National has largely escaped this problem due to its 2002 landslide loss, but it will have to face it sometime). And not every retirement is going to be conveniently timed on a 3-year cycle (or, more realisitcally, not every MP who has decided to retire is going to want to stick around for two years contemplating their valedictory speech). Mid-term retirements will happen, and they make a certain amount of sense from a party's perspective, in that they allow new people to work gradually into the role. And I think that this is going to be one of the strengths of MMP, as it will allow greater scope for talent to rise via the list (though we'll still have talentless time-servers in safe electorates).

But of course, the real judge will be the voters in 2008...

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 7/11/2006 04:21:00 PM

Voters can expect candidates higher up the list to be more likely to get in, though, and weight their evaluation of the lists accordingly. Not that I personally have any problem with list MPs retiring and being replaced form further down the list.

Posted by Commie Mutant Traitor : 7/11/2006 05:34:00 PM


Well, I've never made the patently absurd claim that Sutton's resignation was illegal or Chauvel is illegitimate. But are you seriously arguing that every action is right just because it's legal. :) It just strikes me as peculiarly anti-democratic and, dare I say it, a rather superficial way to go about it if Labour is serious abour "renewal".
I guess we can just agree to disagree on that point.

But now you've raised Bolger and Richardson, I recall them both being criticised (both within and outside National) for triggering by-elections that were a considerable expense to the public purse. They were perfectly entitled to resign, but let's not pretend there wasn't an element of "fuck you" pettiness in the timing of their departures. There are certainly perfectly reasonable reasons for mid-term retirement - I just don't accept targeting list MPs because a party FUBAR'd their list is good enough.

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 7/11/2006 06:00:00 PM