Labour selections under Clark

November 26th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

John Crysler of the Department of Political Science of Carleton University in Canada has done a paper looking at the influence of party leaders on selections in two parties, with one of them being NZ under .

It is a fascinating contrast to the current situation with David Shearer who couldn’t even stop conference voting to lower the threshold to challenge him – and just as importantly couldn’t get the party to agree to rules on future candidate selections.

Here’s what Crysler says about how it worked under Clark:

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the parliamentary party and the party organization were divided, the Labour Party leader had very little influence over . In fact, some interviewees reported that in 1993, the party president and her allies deliberately influenced to move the ideological orientation of caucus to the left and to replace the incumbent leader (which is how Clark came to the leadership in 1993). However, under Helen Clark’s leadership, during which time the parliamentary and extra-parliamentary wings were far more united, many interviewees reported that she did influence many electorate selections.

Clark was firmly in control. Now, no one is.

The institutional framework was such that all she had to do was communicate her preferences to the three head office representatives to have some influence. It is not clear how often these representatives took her advice, but many in the party believe it to have been frequent.

By the way this can not happen in Labour National. The head office gets zero say at all on selection meetings. Their role is just the traditional veto early on of totally unsuitable candidates.

According to the party’s constitution, there are 36 members of the moderating committee, only three of which are parliamentarians (the party leader, deputy leader, and someone elected by caucus). The rest represent the various elements of the party (party executives, sector councils representing various demographic groups and trade unions, and regional representatives). Despite (or perhaps because of) this disparate membership, Clark was widely reported to have taken a strong hand in the ranking process. Some interviewees reported that her influence stemmed from the respect the other committee members had for her judgment. One member of the moderating committee for three elections described Clark’s influence this away: Helen Clark’s opinion “was sought and always acted upon. If one slot didn’t reflect her preference, the next one would

I think the 2014 Labour Party list ranking will be fascinating. Think if Cunliffe is ranked No 3!

In Clark’s case, she also appears to have used her influence to augment the party’s electoral chances. For example, she tried to ensure that those demographic groups shown by Labour polling research to be likely Labour supporters be represented high on the party list.

Such as Rajen Prasad!

The conclusion is worth noting:

The experiences of Helen Clark and John Howard suggest that political media stardom is not necessary (nor, perhaps is it sufficient) for sustained political success in New Zealand and Australia. Instead, party leaders must be very competent media performers (preferably superior to their parliamentary colleagues) and media managers, and they must continually forge party unity through the drudgery of managing personalities and attending to party affairs so that their political messages are unsullied by unseemly divisions.

I think they are missing Helen!

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32 Responses to “Labour selections under Clark”

  1. Graeme Edgeler (3,289 comments) says:

    By the way this can not happen in Labour. The head office gets zero say at all on selection meetings. Their role is just the traditional veto early on of totally unsuitable candidates.

    Assuming you meant National, I wonder how this squares up with John Key’s selection as the candidate for Helensville in 2002 (over MP Brian Neeson), which has been said to have been engineered by then Party President Michelle Boag.

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  2. Manolo (13,780 comments) says:

    Don’t even mention her name. The loathsome comrade may return one day to inflict more damage on NZ!

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  3. bhudson (4,740 comments) says:

    @Graeme,

    That conspiracy theory holds as much water as the illuminati piece Reid posted on the “Plunket on conspiracy theorists” thread here a couple of days ago.

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  4. Manolo (13,780 comments) says:

    Ah, I can see bhudson, faithful Key’s paladin, jumping to the spirited defense of his steely “leader”.
    That’s what I call loyalty beyond the call of duty. :-)

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  5. RRM (9,924 comments) says:

    Don’t worry Manolo, I am sure that sooner or later the motley NZ Labour Party will again come under the influence of another competent team like Clark / Cullen / H2, and then you’ll once again have a political party to vote for that will actually reduce Govt debt…

    …As opposed to this tax & spend John Key crowd you’ve got now :-P

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  6. scrubone (3,099 comments) says:

    RRM: you don’t follow politics very closely, do you?

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  7. Manolo (13,780 comments) says:

    RRM, with socialist Labour at least you know what you’re getting. Bad, very bad, but upfront.

    The same cannot be said of Key’s Labour lite, ready to meander all over the political spectrum for the sake of electability and “being liked”. Four years later it has reformed fuck all.

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  8. BeaB (2,123 comments) says:

    The contrast was stark yesterday on Q&A. David Shearer mumbled and bumbled his way through the interview, that revealing tic in his eye belying his attempts to sound decisive. He couldn’t give answers to the most basic questions about their housing policy. He looked old and tired.

    In contrast, John Key got a fairly rough ride from the interviewer who in that infuriating TVNZ way kept interrupting before a question was answered and dismissing answers when they didn’t fit. However, Key was on top of his material, articulate and convincing – a man fully in control. He looked sleek and healthy.

    Roll on the election debates. Key will wipe the floor with Mumbleface.

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  9. homepaddock (408 comments) says:

    Graeme @ 4:10 – In National selection is left to at least 60 delegates from the electorate who must have been members for at least six months before the selection. The delegates are selected by the members in the electorate (one for every 15 members). It would be almost impossible for head office to influence that many people.

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  10. Rex Widerstrom (5,354 comments) says:

    she tried to ensure that those demographic groups shown by Labour polling research to be likely Labour supporters be represented high on the party list.

    Such as Rajen Prasad!

    Which is a perfect example of how the post of Member of Parliament, which should be subject to a rigorous selection process designed to ensure we get the best possible people to lead the country, has been totally subsumed under MMP to instead represent an inducement which can be handed out on the whim of a party leader to anyone, regardless of competence, who can bring either a demographic of voters, party funds, or anything else the leadership feels like buying with it. And then taxpayers and citizens support these incompetents for 3 years while they do nothing to better the lives of most NZers.

    I don’t think that’s the way we want our country run: to be presented with what is still essentially a bipolar choice (and the third parties seem to be doing their best to keep it that way!), in which both those choices are led by someone chosen not by the bulk of party members but by a small and somewhat anonymous cabal, and who then has almost unfettered power to pick people whose list ranking or selection in a safe seat guarantees they’ll become an MP.

    It’s a pity the review of MMP didn’t go further and review the laws and standards (or rather lack thereof) surrounding the manner in which candidates are selected, lists ranked, and leaders chosen. Opening all these processes to input from the greatest possible number of people might not bring about these bloodless coups we’re now all but inured to, but it’s worth giving real democracy a try… it can’t produce worse results than we’ve seen in the past.

    @bhudson: Don’t be so quick to dismiss all scuttlebutt as “conspiracy theories”. Influential National figures were introducing Key to select people at private social gatherings as “NZ’s next Prime Minister” when he was entirely unheard of. As it happens, he’s proven to be a hugely positive asset for National and thus validated the judgement of those who plotted his ascent. But it’s still not a democratic way to run a country, IMO.

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  11. bringbackdemocracy (427 comments) says:

    Rajen Prasad became an MP because of his role as head of the Families Commission. While there he supported the anti-smacking law in opposition to the families of New Zealand.
    The poor fool thinks he’s an MP on merit.

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  12. bhudson (4,740 comments) says:

    Don’t be so quick to dismiss all scuttlebutt as “conspiracy theories”.

    I’m not simply dismissing the scuttlebutt – I have heard of the events around the selection from someone who would know. There was no engineered outcome other than a candidate and supporters lobbying delegates (party members.)

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  13. Monique Watson (1,062 comments) says:

    I doubt they are missing Auntie. She seems awfully accessible.

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  14. Graeme Edgeler (3,289 comments) says:

    That conspiracy theory holds as much water as the illuminati piece Reid posted on the “Plunket on conspiracy theorists” thread here a couple of days ago.

    Funny, because I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it on Kiwiblog :-)

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  15. David Garrett (7,289 comments) says:

    Rex: Nice to see you back safely from the benighted desert that is most of Australia.

    Rajen Prasad…that name rings a bell….who is he again?

    I remember when I was an MP there was a brown skinned chap who was always sitting in the Labour benches but never said anything. I wondered if he was a “stranger” (and thus not permitted to sit in the House) and took a point of order to enquire if that was the case…His name was Choudry…I dont think he is there any more. Mind you, how would anyone know?

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  16. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    Does anyone really believe we have a poorer quality of MP since the change to proportional representation?

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  17. Graeme Edgeler (3,289 comments) says:

    Does anyone really believe we have a poorer quality of MP since the change to proportional representation?

    I’m confident we’ve had pretty dire MPs throughout our history.

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  18. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    Yes, or pretty good ones. Depends on whether one is a pessimist or an optimist.

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  19. mavxp (483 comments) says:

    Where did Labour go wrong after Clark showed how it was done? They were effectively decapitated by a powerful Clark-Cullen 1-2 leadership model departing with such swiftness in 2008 after their election defeat. A smoother leadership transfer to someone ready to take the role would have been wiser. Perhaps Cullen should have stayed as an interim leader, for say 1.5 years allowing Labour to regroup and decide on the future leader. Goff tried to do this a whole election cycle, and failed, dragging Labour lower.
    Shearer should have elevated Cunliffe to the ‘Cullen’ role immediately he was made leader: “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” If Andrew Little is smart, when it is his turn he will take Cunliffe with him as a 1-2 leadership combo, now that Cunliffe is out in the cold and his supporters vexed. The unions have quite a say in any future leadership vote – it could be interesting if someone thinks they can unite the party under a 2-person leadership team model like Clark-Cullen. Could it be Little-Cunliffe?

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  20. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    Political parties don’t usually plan for transitions, in the wake of either victory or defeat, but it is naturally much harder after the defeat of a governing party. Labour’s problems now are nothing new. Despite many prediction in the last 20 years, MMP doesn’t look like ending or essentially two-party system. That means that when National fall apart (as all governments do), a Labour-led government will replace them. I’m sure many Labour MPs would like to now which leader has the magic formula, but there will be a large element of randomness.

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  21. David Garrett (7,289 comments) says:

    Mikey: This is a major worry…either you are changing or I am…agreeing with you yet again.

    While we have had poor MP’s under MMP we certainly had plenty of dross under FPP. As the old joke went, you could stand a Romney wether for National in Clutha-Southland and it would romp home… then there was Ben Couch, Keith Allen, Air Commodore Gill…On the Labour side, you had the likes of Tirikatene- Sullivan, (right name, no brains), Fraser Coleman and Mat Rata…again as the old joke on the bill board went, “Mat Rata reads comics”…to which some wag added “NO, he only looks at the pictures….

    Graeme E: If you are still here give me a call plse…a matter of mutual interest…

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  22. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    Yes, David – Kiwiblog is smoothing your once-rough edges!

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  23. Ancient Dan (47 comments) says:

    If you like a bit of Ironic politics here is how clark started lining up her candidates.
    In 1988 the backbone club to the right of the party was afraid of the election of Jim anderton. as President of the party.
    The President then was very influential in the selection of Candidates.
    Jim was whiteanting the Party soon after to found New Labour
    They went to a lot of trouble and effort to support a candidate for the Presidency against Jim.
    Someone in Backbone should have done a little research as to who the new President Ruth Dyson was supporting for the long term.
    1990, 1993 were races between Mike Moore and Helen Clark as to who could get their supporters into Caucus in the various selections. Since the membership had fled to various other parties, Future NZ, New Labour whatever and Clark had control of the head office machinery the result was inevitable.

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  24. Reid (16,471 comments) says:

    Clark was firmly in control. Now, no one is.

    This is the nub.

    Clearly Clark’s tentacles insinuated themselves so assiduously into Labour’s very arteries and veins, that when they withdrew, it became all rubbery and soft.

    Basically, they’ve lost their little guy who used to do this. Consequently Labour’s machine is lurching rudderless, a ship in a storm with no-one at the helm. It’s like they really really need a Scotty, but he’s nowhere to be found.

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  25. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    Governments tend to destroy themselves, at which time the opposition party suddenly starts to look like a viable alternative and its leader of the moment acquires instant credibility. Everything else becomes what-ifs. Labour governments led by Rowling in 1981 or Moore in 1993 were very close. If Holyoake hadn’t clung to the premiership too long, could Marshall have held out in 1972? Was it wise for National change leaders in 1997, on a promise of Shipley getting tougher with Peters, when Bolger’s more pragmatic management could well have earned another term in 1999?

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  26. Michael (909 comments) says:

    @Graeme – In National, a nudge is as good as a wink.

    However, I take issue with the claim about nil HQ interference in National Party selections. A selection has 60 Delegates, which the local electorate get 1 delegate per 20 members (from memory). For seats with less than 1200 members, the Regional Chair nominates the shortfall. In a seat with less than 600 members, that means they provide the majority of electors. Although they cannot be controlled any more than any other delegate.

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  27. Steve (North Shore) (4,563 comments) says:

    Dear Leader seems to spend a lot of time here in NZ, given she was railroaded.
    Dear Leader’s influence on Liarbore is coming to a sad end – she knew, the Unionists are learning now

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  28. Bill (94 comments) says:

    “I think the 2014 Labour Party list ranking will be fascinating. Think if Cunliffe is ranked No 3!”

    Mr Farrar, you are doing the thinking and writing that the MSM are not.

    The Conference changed many aspects of how the Party works.
    The current leadership and the MSM have been so blinded by the anti Cunliffe spin of Mold/Robertson that they have failed to see the sea-change that happened under their noses.

    Cunliffe knows what happened at Conference. (leadership coup was NOT a menu item).  

    The membership(most of) knew what happened at Conference.

    The Constitutional Review will have reverberations throughtout the Party. 

    It is all for the good. 

     

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  29. Paul Williams (878 comments) says:

    I remember when I was an MP there was a brown skinned chap who was always sitting in the Labour benches but never said anything. I wondered if he was a “stranger”

    You know David, aside from the gratuitous racist imputation, you’ve got a point about the person. As far as I can tell, Prasad’s done fuck all.

    Then again, neither has he lied about his criminal past!

    In that regard, he’s like, I don’t know, most of the National Party caucus (a largely talentless bunch who’d struggle under any reasonable scrutiny once Key’s moved on).

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  30. burt (8,272 comments) says:

    It’s refreshing that the supporters of a Clark are no longer screaming at everyone that she was the greatest PM ever.

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  31. David Garrett (7,289 comments) says:

    I never “lied about [my] criminal past” either fuckhead…aside from minor points like my being discharged without conviction, please do point to some time where I lied about what I did 28 years ago…

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  32. Paul Williams (878 comments) says:

    The lie of ommission David? You held yourself up as a champion for victims with your legal work for SST and your advocacy for the ridiculous three strikes law all the while knowing you’d illegally obtained a passport in the name of a deceased child.

    In my opinion, the Parliament deserves better than Prasad and all the other do-nothing backbenchers from across the full spectrum of parties.

    I also think disgraced former MPs ought to think twice before they condemn the efforts or lack thereof of other MPs.

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