Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Chris Trotter: Going For Bloke

THE DANGERS of designing a prescriptive constitution are currently on stark display in the Green Party. No doubt with the best will in the world, and anxious to be seen as a good Tiriti partner, the Greens have burdened themselves with a constitutional requirement that at least one of their co-leaders must be a woman, and one a Māori. Confronted with the sad news of current co-leader Marama Davidson’s cancer diagnosis, and the possibility of being tasked with choosing a new co-leader, Green Party members are left facing a self-inflicted conundrum.

The Party’s other co-leader, Chloe Swarbrick, is a Pakeha woman. That means that any person nominated to succeed Marama Davidson must also be Māori. Instantly, the pool of possible candidates is reduced from thirteen to five: Teanau Tuiono, Hūhana Lyndon, Kahurangi Carter, Darleen Tana and Tamatha Paul. (Assuming the party prefers its co-leader to be an elected Member of Parliament.) Now, it is entirely possible that the Green MP best placed to co-lead the party is one of these five individuals, but that cannot be guaranteed. The party’s constitution could very easily leave Green Party members in the unenviable position of having to choose an MP they do not believe to be the best person to co-lead them.

To hold this view, however, a Green Party member would have to misunderstand, fundamentally, the purpose of the rule. The whole point of mandating at least one Māori co-leader is to ensure that the principle of partnership, embedded in Te Tiriti, is manifested in the co-leadership of the Greens. The purpose of the rule has nothing to do with finding “the best person” to co-lead the party, but to ensure that the tangata whenua are represented in the leadership team. Because, for it to be possible not to have tangata whenua represented in the leadership team, will, justifiably, be construed as confirmation that the rules of the game remain the rules of the coloniser.

But, if this explanation justifies the requirement that at least one of the two co-leaders be Māori, what explanation can the Greens offer for there not being a rule mandating that at least one of the co-leaders be a man? If the absence of Māori in the co-leadership team would signal that Te Tiriti is not being honoured, then what would the absence of a man signal? That half the human species has no guarantee of being represented on the leadership team? That the presence of a man on the team is fortuitous – not mandatory? That, if he makes the team at all, it will most likely be because he has something else going for him – like being Māori?

Once again, in advancing these ideas a Green Party member would be demonstrating a deficient understanding of how power is distributed in New Zealand society. This country is, first and foremost, a patriarchy. The masculine principle trumps all others. Yes, women can rise to high places in New Zealand – all the way to Prime Minister – but the big decisions: economically, socially, politically; are made in rooms where women, if they are there at all, are decisively outnumbered by men.

If a party is determined to strike a blow against patriarchy, as the Green Party most certainly is, then to make it mandatory for a man to be on the leadership team would be the worst kind of betrayal. It would be tantamount to saying that: “No matter how many concessions you make to women and Māori, doing without a man at the top is simply not an option. Somebody has got to convey the impression that at least one person in the Greens knows which way is up!”

Rightly or wrongly, there will be many Greens who review James Shaw’s performance in the “Male” co-leadership role and conclude that the sentiments expressed above were, subliminally if not explicitly, the sentiments Shaw communicated to the electorate. Marama Davidson may have been down on “Cis White Males”, but without Shaw, their very own Cis White Male, in the co-leadership role, anybody who wasn’t already irretrievably “woke” would have struggled to take the Greens seriously.

Slaying that stereotypical patriarchal dragon is the task to which every Green knight is expected to commit himself. In 2024, any male showing signs of harbouring an ambition to become co-leader of the party will likely discover that he has automatically disqualified himself from the job.

So, if Marama Davidson is forced to step away from the co-leadership for health reasons, who is the Māori Green MP most likely to replace her? At this point, it is probably safe to rule out Darleen Tana, who remains embroiled in an ongoing investigation and is currently suspended from the Green Caucus. Huhana Lyndon and Kahurangi Carter, both first term MPs, would likely rule themselves out of contention. That leaves the party with just two eligible candidates: Teanau Tuiono and Tamatha Paul.

The problem with Tamatha Paul, who is otherwise the most qualified candidate for the top job – with significant political experience as a Wellington City Councillor, and having won the seat of Wellington Central off the Labour Party, is that in replacing Marama Davidson she would leave the Greens looking very much the same as it has since the departure of James Shaw.

Teanau Tuiono, notwithstanding all the caveats listed above, would restore gender balance to the Green leadership in the proud tradition of Rod Donald, Russel Norman and Shaw. Constitutional prescriptions may be well-intentioned, but they are a poor substitute for political choices that work for the party electorally – not against it. Voters struggle to support a party that does not appear to like or want people like themselves.

Ideologically-speaking, two women at the top of the Green Party may make perfect sense. But, in the polling booth – not so much. The Greens’ already large gender-gap is unlikely to grow any smaller with Chloe Swarbrick and Tamatha Paul at the helm. Labour will not drift forever in the shallows of indecision, and any recovery of social-democratic nerve will strip away disgruntled Labourites from the Green Party in droves. If the votes of progressive males are still deemed to be worth attracting to the Green cause, then – constitution or no constitution – Teanau Tuiono’s ethnicity will likely count for much less than his gender.

Chris Trotter is a well known political commentator. This article was published HERE


Anonymous said...

The Greens are essentially a party for spoilt rich kids and overpaid public servants who are anti-business. Since when has leadership or common sense been relevant?

Ken S said...

Surely the job would go to the Green Party member and all-round political genius Tory Whanau?

Anonymous said...

Not a big issue for the Greens. Just change the rules to suit the situation just like they did when Shaw left. He was neither a woman or Maori to the best of my knowledge.

Anonymous said...

Lol @ Ken. Brilliant. Actually, I wish that would happen. Tipsy tory is made for green leadership. She just needs to hone her stealing skills a little more and then she's perfect.

DeeM said...

What's the big deal?
You can claim to be anything you want to be these days.
You can be Maori, no DNA test required, AND you can identify as a woman, even with a great big beard and a giant lunchbox between your legs.

I don't see the problem here...apart from the fact that every single Green MP is bat-shit crazy, regardless of their personal ethnic and gender preferences, so it doesn't matter which half-wit you choose.

Kay O'Lacey said...

Sadly whenever I see a Maori person in a choice job position, tendency now is to think 'diversity hire' and simply assume that they they were not chosen as the best for the position (includes places in medical school, government bureaucracy, media, etc). Racist? Maybe. True? Often (and may be quickly confirmed as soon as they speak).

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