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 Labour under Helen Clark.
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 candidate selection. In fact, some interviewees reported that in 1993, the party president and her allies deliberately influenced candidate selection 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!