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July 17, 2006 | by  | in Opinion |
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The Week in Politics

What does Labour do after a collective laurel sitting, back slapping birthday party? Resign, that’s what. OK, maybe not precisely the case but the resignation of Jim Sutton (Labour, List) has overwhelmingly been seen as a step by the party to start the next 90 years with fresh faces.

It was never a shock that Sutton’s days as an MP were numbered. Regular readers (are there any out there, for that matter?) may have spotted him in an earlier article (Agony Aunty Helen). However as the week started off with nothing in the media cycle, the major papers churned on with articles on Sutton’s replacement: Charles Chauvel.

Once again failing to be original, the major papers followed their “New MP formula”:

1. Wax lyrical on the new guy (or gal) 2. Wait one day 3. Criticise the party, Government or the MP in question for any reason you damn well like!

In the flurry, an editorial by the Dominion Post tried to lambast Chauvel for his personal lifestyle, and the Labour party for putting him so high on the list. To be fair, Chauvel’s position as a rather dapper lawyer will probably not create that ‘common touch’ that Labour’s most highly regarded MPs have had, but that is to ignore his lowly beginnings. A talk with the man will give you no doubts as to his appeal to liberal urban voters. This is the very political voter group that has been propping up Labour since 1999, and the very group that media pundits have suggested National needs to capture to win the next election. Have the editorial staff at the Dominion Post that short a memory?

So, Chauvel’s appointment is good, right? Well according to the media, no. Labour’s most recent MPs, with perhaps the exception of Shane Jones (Labour, List) have come from the apparently ‘strongest factions’ of the Labour party: women, unions and rainbow (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, taakataapui, fa’afafine and intersex). Now for those who find the concept of political factions dominating a party enough for you to scream, “Henny Penny, the sky is falling!” you should wise up to this realisation: there have nearly always been factions in Government. National, have them: the Bluegreens, NATFORT (Nationals for the treaty) and the recently resurrected Liberal group, headed by Chris Finlayson (National, List). Factionalism seems to run a sort of cyclic pattern: some rise, others fall. If anything, the fact that very few people join political parties only accentuates the factional nature of party politics, with only those who want some sort of specific social or economic change joining up. As one person noted to me recently, “Labour has the union’s hand stuck up their backside”, but look carefully and you see that National has the business interest groups and the tacit support of religious groups shoved firmly up their arses too.

It’s a relationship that goes both ways (I apologise in advance for any offence from the sudden rise in sexual innuendo in this article). Student politicians may have been too quick to accuse the unions of “being in the pocket of Labour”, so far it’s a relationship that has been more beneficial than one with a National-led government. If anything, conditions have allowed the unions to take advantage of the political process and to suggest a step backward is as smart as holding a student protest in the first week of trimester one.

Back on point, it would have been more useful for the newspapers to lament the decline of a politically active public, short of their triennial voting chore. They could blast the political parties afterwards for not inspiring the public enough.

The Dominion Post took umbrage that Sutton’s exit was greased by the patronage of the PM. But again, this whitewashes the reality of politics. So people, get ready to be stunned…patronage has been around for a long time. It is becoming a more common tool to reward compliance or support. Many bring up Winston Peters (New Zealand First, List) being given the Foreign Affairs posting. While it’s debatable if that is patronage, he’s received favours under both National and Labour MMP Governments (Peters was of course Treasurer under National).

Finally with party lists being criticised for appointing MPs with no strong connections to the party (anyone remember Alamein Kopu?) it is refreshing to soon have an MP who has a clear and strong party affiliation. Chauvel’s long party history membership and leadership within the branches and sectors of the party is certainly reason enough to represent the party, and his appointment is deserved.

Chauvel has been very guarded about his private life, defending his privacy staunchly. It’s tough enough trying to separate MPs private and public lives, and it is not getting any easier; Labour hasn’t had a good run so far. David Benson-Pope (Labour, Dunedin South) and David Parker (Labour, List) have had to defend their own pasts. Chauvel may be trying to make himself a more rounded MP in the public by highlighting his broader skills, but there are occasions where your uniqueness can be an advantage, Georgina Beyer (Labour, List) has been more open, acknowledging her very unique perspective but also. like Chauvel, her determination to pull herself up by their bootstraps.

Good luck to another new MP in the house.

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