Sunday, September 01, 2013

Primary Colours

Rodney Hide cannot resist putting the boot into Labour's leadership primary in his column today in the Herald on Sunday. Which is a bit rich coming from a former party leader who gained his thorny crown from Act's leadership primary in 2004.

Here's me describing Act's season of Dancing with Leaders back when the Greens were looking for Rod Donald's replacement:

Fortunately for the Greens, there is precedent for them to go off. The leadership scrap in Act showed how not to do things. Like the Greens, Act believe (or at least used to believe) in direct democracy. The primary race, while good on paper and ideologically sound, is a dangerous thing for a niche party to do in practise. I re-joined Act when it became clear that Prebs was standing down. Like most Act members, I had made up my mind who to vote for way before the big day. I joined so I could vote for Rodney and keep Stephen Franks and the Rabids from taking over.

I went along to a Meet the Candidates meeting anyway, just to be certain of my decision. Speaking order was very fairly decided by random ballot. One by one, the four contenders stood at the podium and gave absolutely no clue why they would be the best leader for Act. Oh yeah, everyone got the blurbs, the CVs, the former glories. Staying true to Act's core values was mentioned more often than the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi are mentioned in statutes. The meetings didn't change a thing. They only provided media fodder to highlight rifts in Act.
Which is it, Rodney? Amnesia, willful ignorance or just plain old tribal shit-stirring?

In Act's primary, half its then-caucus stood for leader; Rodney Hide, Stephen Franks, Muriel Newman and Ken Shirley. You could say each faction had their hat in the ring. The populist Libz, the conservative Rabids, the nutty Rabids and the moderate Libz (for Libz and Rabids definitions, please see here).

The Labour primary also has all three tribes of the Labour caucus represented; Careerist Labour, Union Labour and Pragmatic Labour. Needless to say, Pragmatic Labour is the underdog by a long shot. For a party three times the size Act ever was, it still has fewer divisions than Act did.

If there's any criticism to be aimed at this Labour primary, it is the Byzantine voting procedure that's as clear as mud. The Greens and Act have a clean vote for their leaders, one vote per person. Whereas Labour has this mess of weighted votes that may well render a victory so opaque, it might have well been decided in a back room deal in the first place.

I suppose that's what happens when Labour tries to retrofit a true democratic system onto a representative one. As the saying goes, a horse designed by committee is called a cow. A horse designed by a Labour committee is called a cow's ass.