List Ranking

The Herald editorial:

The public can only wonder how somebody like that can get into Parliament.

Nobody elected him. He came in on ’s list in 2008 but could not make it back to Parliament on the list in 2011 even though that election increased National’s proportional representation. The previous year this newspaper revealed he did not have a finance industry qualification claimed in his CV.

Now he is back filling a vacancy left by Speaker Lockwood Smith’s departure. This unfortunately is typical of the list system. People near the bottom of the list come and go without the public noticing or knowing much about them.

It is often claimed that the same could be said of many electorate MPs who are largely unknown outside the electorate. But they are well known within it. Before their election they have faced public meetings, attended local gatherings, made a point of meeting and talking to as many voters as possible.

List MPs may do the same but they do not face the same test. It is hard to believe someone who behaved as Mr Gilmore apparently did would win even a safe National electorate. Word gets around.

The fact he is in Parliament suggests National’s list exceeds its depth of presentable candidates.

Not quite, but it is true that most parties get some quality issues at the lower end of their lists. However this situation is partly of National’s own making.

In 2008, Aaron was ranked No 56 on National’s list, and he was the list person in on their list.

In his first term he didn’t endear himself universally. That’s now because he isn’t without skills – he’s got a good understanding of policy, and is a good debater in the House – but because he does some stupid things.

So in 2011 he was one of two MPs ranked at the bottom of the caucus on the party list, and they were not returned in the general election. Since then however two vacancies have occurred, and hence the two List MPs not re-elected were given opportunities to return.

But while they were ranked at the bottom of the caucus, they were not at the bottom of the list. They were both given places potentially winnable and this is because National has made a “policy” decision at the last three elections to rank existing List MPs above new candidates, except when the new candidates are deemed exceptionally talented or have special appeal.

In 2005 the only candidates ranked above current List MPs were Tim Groser and Chris Finlayson.

In 2008 the only candidates ranked above current List MPs were Steven Joyce, Hekia Parata, Bakshi Singh and Melissa Lee.

In 2011 the only candidates ranked above current List MPs were Jian Yang, Alfred Ngaro and Paul Goldsmith.

When you are in Government with small majorities, I understand the desire to not have incumbent MPs given unwinnable List places. However there is a price to pay when you do protect the caucus.

By this I don’t mean in any way that I believe incumbent MPs should be treated more harshly – far from it. I just think that when it comes to , MPs and candidates should compete fairly on their qualities as individuals – not dealt with collectively.

There are in fact a number of people lower down National’s List who would make solid MPs – Paul Foster-Bell (who is now there), Claudette Hauiti, Jo Hayes, Leonie Hapeta, Denise Krum, Viv Gurrey, Brett Hudson etc (not an exclusive list).

The problem is not that National won too many seats. The problem is that it protected its existing caucus and ranked them ahead all bar three new candidates. Now again, there are reasons why that can be politically desirable. But there are also reasons it is politically undesirable, as we have seen this week.

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