Labour: The October Itch

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October is typically the month where you suddenly wake up in a sweaty panic and realise that exams/life/christmas/the end of the year is coming up and you’ve done absolutely nothing all year. I imagine the Labour Party is probably having such a moment right now, National probably is too, but in different way. The Nats spent all year fretting about Cunliffe, Mana, Dotcom, and now all of the above have pretty much been eliminated. They might as well have just sat back, sipped mojitos and waited for Nicky Hager’s book to do all the hard work for them.

After the bloodbath that was September 20th (that I’d call Red Wedding if it wasn’t for the absence of red at the end of it) we seem to be left with the also-rans. In other words, those who didn’t stick their heads too far out of the parapet to get blown off last time (Grant Robertson), and those who have already lost leadership votes of one kind or another before (Cunliffe/Shearer). People call the Labour Party leadership selection process ‘Labour Idol’ or ‘Labour’s Got Talent’ but I beg to differ. People get eliminated on those shows, the weakest link doesn’t suddenly get re-selected for the finals.

On Labour Party musical chairs nobody gets eliminated, you just have to wait long enough and you’ll eventually get a seat. In fact, not only do you get a seat, but the earlier you get eliminated the stronger your return! Witness the (re)rise of David Shearer, who was the first one to get eliminated and now is being talked about in glowing terms everywhere. This doesn’t happen on Idol, all the people who sang off-key (pun not intended) in the first round don’t suddenly re-appear in the 5th season and get selected for a duet with Beyonce.

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No, the upcoming primary is more Come Dine With Me than My Kitchen Rules. Come Dine With Me being the reality show where all the narcissists who are unable to make their way onto a reality cooking or home renovation show, instead appear on a show where they sit around a table making hilariously ignorant comments about life, politics, and – mostly – their fellow competitors.

The recent controversial Code of Conduct appears to be an attempt to stop this. The controversy around it is that a code of conduct of sorts now appears to apply to members as well. Lots of members have been horrified by the fact that they seem to have agreed to allow Moira Coatsworth to scrutinise their tweets in return for donating a whole lot of their own time and money to the Labour Party. While this makes no sense to everybody else, this makes complete sense to me.

What doesn’t make sense to me is why somebody’s tweets and personal comments about various candidates is at the top of the list of things that should be prohibited by said code of conduct. Surely prohibitions against murdering other people should be at the top of that list, followed by instructions that members shouldn’t covet their fellow members’ wives/husbands, or just leave plastic chip wrappers and half-eaten sausage rolls lying around after meetings. Oooh and prohibitions against not walking on muddy grass before meetings probably wouldn’t go amiss either (and would be a lot kinder to the underclass cleaners who might have to clean up afterwards).

Interestingly, as far as I can see, the rules do not prohibit comments criticising the process itself, which is probably what members should be doing anyway. After all, it’s not the fault of the candidates that they’re terrible, they were (probably) born that way.

The current situation/selection of candidates is a direct consequence of the open primary contest. Failed candidates run and re-run all the time in open primary contests – and win. The US Democratic Party twice selected Adlai Stevenson as their party’s Presidential candidate and he never won an election. He kept winning the primaries because he was the favoured candidate of the Democratic Party’s liberal faction, and as long as he had that support then he could effectively block others from being nominated. In fact if Adlai had decided to run against Kennedy there’s a distinct possibility Adlai could have been selected for a third unsuccessful run. This scenario gets even worse in a parliamentary democracy where each candidate effectively gets a seat next to their opponent in caucus at the end of it all anyway (where they are free to leak and pout to their heart’s content). Unless they resign of course, but there’s no real incentive for anybody to do that.

After all, this isn’t like American Idol where a hugely diverse crowd come to the table with very few preconceptions and vote with their phones. This is Come Dine With Me, where people are voted on by a small – increasingly elderly – group of people and can never really be voted off again until the show ends.

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