Tuesday, June 30, 2020

National's whiteness problem

Todd Muller's first act on become party leader was to appoint an all-white front bench. This understandably raised eyebrows, so he is now apparently reconsidering caucus and list rankings. Which is obviously necessary, but there's still the underlying problem: National doesn't have a lot of Māori MP's. And the reason for that is that it has consciously chosen not to pursue the Māori vote. Thanks to Bill English's retreat into racism over the foreshore and seabed, National decided not to run in the Māori seats in the 2002 election. Don Brash doubled down on that decision, and because they're a conservative party opposed to change, National has stuck with it. And the result is that they haven't run in the Māori seats since 1999 - over twenty years ago. Officially, they pursue Māori voters on the general roll and for the party vote. But by not standing in these seats, the message they are shouting at the top of their lungs is "we are not interested in Māori votes and we are not interested in Māori".

This is bad for National, leading directly to the diversity problems they have today. Seven fewer Māori candidates means seven fewer Māori on the party list means a caucus which doesn't look like New Zealand. But its also bad for our democracy. One of our two major parties is telling 15% of our population "we don't want your votes", and implicitly, "you don't and never will matter". And that is an appallingly racist message for a party which purports to be for all New Zealanders and which leads the government half the time to be sending. We voters can and should judge them on that.

So, if Muller actually wants to fix his party's whiteness problem, he has an obvious solution available. But that would require reversing 18 years of racist policy, not to mention potentially upset incumbent MPs over list placings. And to be honest, I just don't think they have it in them.