The Labour party list comes under fact-challenged attack

Labour’s list came out over the weekend, and criticism of it was immediate and vehement. But the criticism was also mostly inaccurate. If you listen to the critics, you would think Labour’s list is overrun with gay Tongan women. In fact, Labour’s post-2011 caucus could well be tilted towards heterosexual white guys.

One popular critique was that Labour’s list is union-dominated. Well, duh. They did not call it “Labour” for nothing. Being upset with Labour for this is like being angry at the Greens for having all those environmentalists, or being mad with Germany’s Christian Democrats for having too many religious people. But that critique is at least technically true.

A Gaggle of Gays!
The meme about Labour’s list goes further, saying that the party is also dominated by a rag tag assortment of feminists, gays, and various non-white people.

The biggest error by the critics has been to look at the list in isolation. Today’s Herald editorial is a good example. The point of a party list is to deliver a post-election caucus. Forecasting caucuses is not hard and is the best way to assess the list.

Using Labour’s list and assuming 4% wasted votes and no partisan change in the electorate seats, except Wigram moving from the Progressives to Labour, I projected the Labour caucus across all vote shares from 20% to 50%. The graphs below show how Labour performs across the gender divide, three minority ethnic categories, and the (declared) sexuality divide.

What the graphs show is that Labour’s caucus will look broadly similar to New Zealand, but will continue to moderately underrepresent women, Maori, and New Zealanders of Asian descent. The Rainbow community is either marginally overrepresented (by about one MP) or represented proportionally, depending on which population estimate you prefer. And Pasifika peoples are overrepresented in Labour’s caucus by 1-2 MPs.

After the list was released, Labour MP Damien O’Conner said that ordinary blokes like him get ignored in Labour’s list process, which is why he did not play the game. David Farrar and company agreed, saying for example: “How many non-union straight European males (such as Damien) have list spots? In the top 15 effective spots, there is only one – David Parker. In the top 30 effective spots, there are only two – Parker and Nash.” Of course, that little word “effective” is important – because it allows Farrar to ignore over half of Labour’s top-ranked parliamentary candidates.

Disregarding the “non-union” caveat (see above), here is a graph of the projected proportion of Labour’s caucus that will be Straight, Wholly European Males (SWEM). People like this make up around a third of the population, and if we consider Labour’s caucus in its entirety, over a third are SWEM in most circumstances.

Does all this descriptive diversity give lie to Phil Goff’s claim that “people were chosen for their skills rather than backgrounds.” No, it doesn’t. If you assume there are good numbers of highly skilled people across all demographic categories in New Zealand, then going and looking for highly-skilled people wherever they may be should get you a group that looks broadly like the country as a whole.

The other popular criticism of Labour’s list was that it featured too few newcomers. David Farrar says: “The latest poll (Roy Morgan) has Labour at 31.5%. If this was the result… the only new MPs would be Andrew Little and Deborah Mahuta-Coyle.” This is not a true statement for a start. In that exact situation, there would be two further new Labour MPs, David Clark (Dunedin North) and Megan Woods (Wigram). Clark is an ex-Treasury analyst and ex-Presbyterian Minister; and Woods’ current job is a business manager for a research firm. Neither of their backgrounds fit Farrar’s conclusions, of course. He ignores them.

Four new MPs would not be a great renewal effort, of course, but that scenario is one in which Labour falls to its worst MMP result since 1996. Not too surprising that there would be little room at the inn in that circumstance. But what of other possible results? The bullets below list new Labour MPs in three situations, corresponding to 30%, 35%, and 40% of the vote (again with a 4% wasted vote):

  • 30% vote share: Megan Woods, David Clark, Andrew Little, Deborah Mahuta-Coyle
  • 35% vote share: above plus Michael Wood, Kate Sutton, Jerome Mika
  • 40% vote share: above plus Josie Pagani, Lynette Stewart, Jordan Carter, Christine Rose, Glenda Alexander, Susan Zhu, Rino Tirikatene

Most of those new MPs are under 40, and come form a wide range of backgrounds. Looking at the full facts gives a very different understanding from the “two new unionist MPs only” picture that David Farrar attempted to draw.

None of this is to say that I think Labour delivered a flawless list. That is not my belief. I would have liked to have seen more graceful exits by some long-serving MPs, and some additional grand entrances – some from people lower on the eventual list, some from people not on the list at all. I am also sympathetic to the idea that Labour needs cognitive diversity in its caucus at least as much as it needs descriptive diversity. Those two things are related, but they are not the same.

But I do not feel the need to bend the facts, ignore inconvenient facts, or make things up in order to justify my beliefs, unlike some of the critics. If they have to cover up the facts in order to make their political point, they don’t have much of a point.

Comments (21)

by Phil Lyth on April 12, 2011
Phil Lyth

And talking of renewal, Labour will have at most 22 MPs remaining from the 1999-2008 Government. (That's including Su'a William Sio and Louisa Wall who did six months each in 2008.)

Over half the post-2011 caucus will be new faces.


by Russell Brown on April 12, 2011
Russell Brown

Bravo, sir.

by on April 12, 2011

I think a compounding issue with Mr O'Connor's analysis is the question of whether a caucus should be representative of its voters, its potential voters, or the population as a whole. My view is the former - politicians fundamentally exist to carry the views and beliefs of those that vote for them, and this is best achieved through having a caucus proportionate to voters. From this perspective, the lack of women in Labour's caucus is even more troubling, as the 2008 NZES showed that a woman is more likely to vote Labour than a man. This would also lead to an expectation that Pasifika people would be represented as they are in caucus. I'm not sure about the effect of this principle on Queer representation, but we assume that Labour does better with those from a LGBT background, so should over-represent this group. This would also justify an under representation in those from an Asian background, and SWEM's. However, it seems that this principle isn't the one being used - Goff is relying on the "where marginal votes will come from" principle (the potential vote) whereas popular discourse is relying on the "representative of the population" principle.


Also, I'd add a small issue in your analysis in that you didn't consider youth representation - I'm sure every party under-represents young people relative to both their vote and the population as a whole (whether this is a special case, and so justified, is admittedly debatable).

by The Falcon on April 12, 2011
The Falcon

The problem with your statistics is that at least one (Darren Hughes), and probably plenty of other Labour MPs too, are likely in the closet. O'Connor probably knows several, since he is in the Labour Party, but he can't name them in the media.

Once these others are taken into account, the % of gay MPs will be far higher. Furthermore, they are given top roles with a great deal of power - just look at Helen Clark's top 10, known as the "sisterhood".

Personally I don't have a problem with the over-representation of gay people in the Labour Party, although it is odd for a party obsessed with identity politics to have certain sectors of society over-represented.

by Richard Aston on April 12, 2011
Richard Aston

"Straight, Wholly European Males (SWEM). People like this make up around a third of the population"  Thats an interesting number where did it come from?

by Richard Aston on April 12, 2011
Richard Aston

"politicians fundamentally exist to carry the views and beliefs of those that vote for them, and this is best achieved through having a caucus proportionate to voters" .

This sounds good and I don't mean to be picky but I don't think that is how it works in practice.Party politics, pressure from the whips and just plain realtity may change individuals intentions towards not carrying voters views at all. It also presumes that for examaple I as a Straight, Wholly European Male would have the same values as all Straight, Wholly European Males - I simple don't .

I'd rather vote for politicians that can, listen well, lead well and be honest in their failiings.


by Claire Browning on April 12, 2011
Claire Browning


For a man allegedly not so obsessed, your comment is odd, too - and offensive, as per. How is any of it relevant? I mean, since this is politics after all, political beliefs and skills would be relevant, wouldn't they. And, um, what else?

And yes, it follows that I wouldn't myself write an identity-based list. Has anyone done this, since you keep going on about it?

by Rob Salmond on April 12, 2011
Rob Salmond

Some quick comments in reply:

Wilbur: I don't have the data on the ages of all the list candidates, so could not do a proper youth representation work-up. But I don't think youth representation belongs in the same category as the other demographic categories. I think it would be bad for NZ if the Parliament had the same age structure as the (voting age) population. People acquire skills and experiences outside Parliament during their early adult years that make them better decision-makers later. And once somebody hits 70 or so I'm not sure they have the energy needed to do the job right. So I'm fairly comfortable with the parliament being dominated by people aged, say, 35-60.


The Falcon: You are probably right that there are people in the closet. But the population estimates for the gay population are usually of the Out population, not the Out + Closeted population. So it should even out.


Richard: The SWEM estimate came from multiplying the following five proportions together: men (.49); non-Maori (.85), non-PI (.92), non-Asian (.94), and heterosexual (.9). That gets you .332. But I realise these are all rough numbers and my assumption of indpendence between the categories is simplistic, which is why I stated it vaguael as "about a third."


by Graeme Edgeler on April 12, 2011
Graeme Edgeler

And yes, it follows that I wouldn't myself write an identity-based list. Has anyone done this, since you keep going on about it?

The Green Party's list candidate selection rules are here (1MB .pdf).

As you will be able to see, there is a clear quota basis to them. At each list position, the Green Party list is required to be "balanced" or as close as possible to balanced.

The rules require that the top two positions are 1 male and 1 female; that the top 4 positions are 2 males and 2 females; that the top six positions are 3 males and 3 females; and that the top eight positions are 4 males and 4 females.

At least 1 of the top 10 must be Māori. At least 1 of the top 10 must be under 35. At least 1 of the top 3 must be a North Islander, and at least 2 of the top 5. At least 1 of the top 5 must be a South Islander.

by Claire Browning on April 12, 2011
Claire Browning

You are all helpfulness today, Graeme. I'm familiar with those rules, expected similar from The Falcon; and indeed, you've posted them here before. Old trolling habits die hard in an election year, I daresay.

A sharp lawyer like yourself would note that I said identity-based. The Green party list is voted on by its members, first and foremost, who will, one assumes, take into account whatever factors they damn well choose. That "balance" or "quota" to which you refer is a secondary consideration: it is a requirement for the end product, to be sure, but it does not follow that this is the basis for the list.

Thank you for the opportunity to clear this up.

by Luke Stewart on April 12, 2011
Luke Stewart

It is not often a mere mortal gets to correct Gramae but I do know a lot about Green Party List ranking proceedures.

Candidates can only be moved 2 places to fulfull quota so there is no gurentee this will be achieved. The final list is at the descretion of the party executive, they can decide whatever they want although they would have to have a very good reason to make changes to the list as voted by the membership.

by Ian MacKay on April 12, 2011
Ian MacKay

A very interesting set of graphs Rob.Will the naysayers read and accept the implications? Yeah Right!

Will you analyse and publish the National List? Wouldn't be surprised if the Nats publish their Final List as follows:

No 1. Person one, might be male or female.

No 2. Person two, might be male or female

No 3. Person three and the rest are mind your own business!

by Tim Watkin on April 12, 2011
Tim Watkin

Just loving SWEM. This is a new demographic category, invented today, right here. Rob, how about we set up SWEM focus groups, a SWEM think tank and consultancy on SWEM issues? Forget baby boomers and millenials and WASPs, we'd carve out a new SWEM industry and make millions.

By the time we'd finished with them, they'd rule the world. Oh, hang on...

by The Falcon on April 12, 2011
The Falcon

Thanks for posting the link to save me the trouble Graeme. I suspect that woefully untalented MPs such as Metiria Turei would probably not have received such a high list ranking without the quota system.

On an unrelated note, it would be interesting if someone at Pundit wrote a post about why left-wing politics tends to be a magnet for gay people. My guess is that they identify with the culture of victimhood so inherent in Labour and the Greens.

Although I would add that gay people have far more right to complain of discrimination than Maori people, who are provided with so many extra opportunities that the rest of us just don't get. Gay people face genuine difficulties in life. Overall I would prefer to have a Ministry of GLBT Affairs than a Ministry of Maori Affairs.

by Rex Widerstrom on April 13, 2011
Rex Widerstrom

You're right of course that some people ranked lower than others will get in by virtue of their winning a seat, or at least being highly likely to do so.

But then that can't that be argued the other way: putting a stellar performer with a good chance of winning an electorate in a high position surely does no harm, because when they win they'll drop out and everyone on the list moves up?

Lists also send a message to an electorate not as well versed as most here in the nuances of list selection (around 30%, at the last EC survey, don't "get" MMP at all).

And the message from Labour's list is (to take two random examples about whom I know a little more than some of the others) that a promising energetic newcomer like Josie Pagani is valued much less than a time servier like Su'a William Sio.

Like it or not, just like "league tables" of schools, most people see a party's list as indicating that the higher up you are, the better you are. Given that fact, there are some rankings that are very hard to logically justify.

by Andrew Geddis on April 13, 2011
Andrew Geddis

"I suspect that woefully untalented MPs such as Metiria Turei would probably not have received such a high list ranking without the quota system."

You mean, get elected co-leader of the entire frickin' party by the party's membership? Hmmm ... looking at this, I wonder what the attraction was. You must let us have some insight one day into the busy, busy world of the Falcon that lets you look down with scorn on the puny achievements of such mere mortals.

"On an unrelated note, it would be interesting if someone at Pundit wrote a post about why left-wing politics tends to be a magnet for gay people."

Of course, such an article would have to ignore inconvenient counter examples such as this. Or this. Or these. Or this guy. Or this guy.

But, yeah ... once you exclude all the gay people who aren't attracted by left-wing politics, you'd get a very interesting post. So write it, dear Falcon, dear Falcon, dear Falcon - so write it, dear Falcon, write it right now!

by The Falcon on April 13, 2011
The Falcon

Thank you for the link to Turei's biography, it really lightened up my day. Here are some highlights:

1) On the dole at 18, joined the prestigious National Maori Beneficiaries Network. Clearly a high-achiever from an early age.

2) Joined the anarchist movement, NORML, and the McGillicuddy Serious Party. Classy.

3) At just 22, Metiria became pregnant and along with the excitement came a sense of panic. “I thought ‘I can’t rely on a man or the state to look after us’... So, I had to come up with a way to ensure we could take care of ourselves.”

Wow. If only she'd taken those lessons to heart instead of readily forgetting them.

4) She hassled law firms to implement Maori quotas and hiring token Maori lawyers - and was duly hired herself.

All in all, a wonderful career from an individual with a lot of talent. More than just a quota-filler.

I'm surprised you linked to that page though, unless you did so in jest?

by Tim Watkin on April 13, 2011
Tim Watkin

Falcon, do you really think that Maori get a ministry because they are perceived to be society's biggest victims?

I think it's fair to say that women and youth got ministries in an attempt to re-balance power inequalities, but I'd argue that's a different thing than some kind of victim-o-meter.

As for Maori, there's this thing called the Treaty which by law (including SWEM law) the Crown is meant to honour. Part of that means ensuring some political power. And of course they had first ownership of this country by dint of posession (nine-tenths, some say).

So a Maori ministry doesn't exist due to victimhood but because of historic, political and legal obligations.

by Paul Williams on April 13, 2011
Paul Williams

Rob, as ever your analysis is clear and your argument well made. I agree that it's a beat-up and the List, and prospective caucus, is strong. Sadly in politics, explaining is losing. Farrar's done an effective job at damning the list with praise.

Regarding Turei, I think she's one of the stand-out performers in parliament. Her politics are not mine, but I admire her effective advocacy in the same way I admire Simon Power.

by Andrew Geddis on April 13, 2011
Andrew Geddis

Is there an equivalent "story of the Falcon" page where we can compare and contrast achievements? 'Cause otherwise it's a bit like hearing a flea deride the cat as a less impressive animal than the dog.

Turei is the co-leader of the party that may well decide the Government at the next (or more likely next-after-next election), based on her ability to inspire people and give them cause to trust her judgment, making it highly likely she will in time become a Minister of the Crown. You apparently have copious free time to post repeated anonymous comments on an obscure blogsite, as well as read through the links in other commentators contributions. And the person displaying talent, initiative and leadership here is ...?

by Claire Browning on April 14, 2011
Claire Browning

Is there an equivalent "story of the Falcon" page where we can compare and contrast achievements?

It's here. Not to mention calling yourself "The Falcon", and depicting this with, um, an Eagle.

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