Shearer’s ‘man ban’ challenge
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.