Shearer’s ‘man ban’ chal­lenge

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION/FEATURE -

As the ‘‘man ban’’ fades into his­tory, the rip­ple ef­fects con­tinue from one of the stranger episodes in re­cent po­lit­i­cal his­tory.

The pro­posal, which might have en­dowed Labour’s can­di­date se­lec­tion process with the op­tion in some elec­torates of choos­ing an all- fe­male slate of can­di­dates, never did ex­ist be­yond a re­mit due to be voted on in Novem­ber at the next Labour Party con­fer­ence.

How­ever, it speed­ily be­came a ‘‘ PC Gone Mad’’ me­dia panic, which fi­nally in­duced Labour leader David Shearer to step in and quash the re­mit al­to­gether. Poor Shearer. He would have been damned if he’d let the sup­posed anti-male virus take hold.

Hav­ing acted though, he was damned for over-rid­ing the demo­cratic pro­ce­dures that the last Labour an­nual con­fer­ence had put into place.

Ul­ti­mately, Shearer de­cided that the risk of wider elec­toral dam­age to Labour over-rode any in­ter­nal party mis­giv­ings.

No sooner had he killed the re­mit, how­ever, than jour­nal­ist Dun­can Garner floated ru­mours on so­cial me­dia that a couprelated let­ter was be­ing cir­cu­lated among Labour MPs.

Shearer was ‘‘ done’’, Garner melo­dra­mat­i­cally claimed, with- out pro­duc­ing any sup­port­ive ev­i­dence ei­ther at the time, or later.

More than ever last week, Shearer seemed to be boxing at me­dia phan­toms, to the un­der­stand­able fury of his sup­port­ers.

Mean­while, the is­sue at the heart of the ‘‘man ban’’ re­mit still ex­ists.

Women are un­der-rep­re­sented in Par­lia­ment – a third of all MPs, when there should be half.

Iron­i­cally, Labour is hardly the main source of this prob­lem. Women com­prise 41 per cent of Labour’s en­tire cau­cus. By con­trast, only 25 per cent of National’s cau­cus are women, and among its 24 min­is­te­rial of­fice hold­ers within and out­side Cabi­net, there are only seven women, or 29 per cent.

Again by con­trast, amid Labour’s 20-strong shadow Cabi­net, eight con­tenders (40 per cent) are women.

Only among the Greens, who op­er­ate a quota sys­tem in which their party list rank­ings al­ter­nate be­tween male and fe­male can­di­dates, is gen­der par­ity a given.

The statis­tics also sup­port the ‘‘man ban’’ con­tention that the se­lec­tion prob­lem oc­curs mainly at elec­torate level: of 70 elec­torate MPs from all par­ties, only 20 – or 28 per cent – are women, while among Par­lia­ment’s 51 list MPs, 39 per cent are women.

The ra­tio­nale for pos­i­tive dis­crim­i­na­tion in favour of women in can­di­date se­lec­tion is that this would help to counter the ex­ist­ing bias to­wards men in se­lect­ing elec­torate can­di­dates – whereby, among equally qual­i­fied can­di­dates, men are seen as be­ing rel­a­tively free of the child­care and fam­ily roles that might oth­er­wise in­ter­fere with their elec­torate du­ties.

In prac­tice, though, the ‘‘ man ban’’ re­mit seems likely to have been a crip­pling po­lit­i­cal li­a­bil­ity.

On the elec­tion trail, any Labour can­di­date so se­lected would have been open to chal­lenge as be­ing the prod­uct of af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion, and not some­one cho­sen on merit.

For Shearer, the prob­lem with the re­mit was that it en­abled the me­dia and his op­po­nents to por­tray him as be­ing cap­tive to the iden­tity pol­i­tics of Labour’s lib­eral fringe, while by de­fault, be­ing rel­a­tively clue­less about the dayto-day strug­gle that vot­ers are hav­ing in mak­ing ends meet.

In quash­ing the re­mit, Shearer did what was po­lit­i­cally nec­es­sary.

Yet he still ap­peared re­ac­tive to a sit­u­a­tion that, ar­guably, his party should never have pub­licly pre­sented him with, at least not in that form.

GOR­DON CAMP­BELL

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