Gordon Campbell on the kerfuffle over Willie Jackson’s list ranking

Gordon Campbell on the kerfuffle over Willie Jackson’s list ranking

For a brief period yesterday, extreme weather conditions associated with Hurricane Willie (reportedly on course towards Wellington) resulted in an ‘unprecedented’ delay in the release of the Labour list rankings. Batten down the hatches. Willie Jackson had been assigned a position of 21 on the party list for September’s election, behind candidates with a far lower pubic profile! This perceived slight being the simple product of (a) the need to secure safe list positions for existing MPs and (b) the Labour policy of ensuring that the list reflected gender balance and ethnic diversity.

Jackson, who had ties to the Maori Party, was shoulder-tapped by Labour leader Andrew Little late last year to run and announced at Waitangi that would he seek a place on the list. Little threw his support behind Jackson getting a high-list placing. But Northland and East Coast candidates, Willow-Jean Prime and Kiri Allan, look to have secured list spots ahead of Jackson – likely helped by Labour’s 50/50 gender policy. It’s understood Jackson isn’t happy about either candidate being ranked ahead of him.

As it turned out, Hurricane Willie puttered off ineffectually out to sea, and his list ranking of 21 will remain. (He did get a shiny new badge though, making him Labour’s high sheriff of negotiations with the Maori Party though. Wow.) The party mandarins – and the likes of Raymond Huo, who is expected to deliver the urban Chinese vote for Labour – will be able to rest easier in their beds tonight. Huo has been ranked at 12. Previously, Huo has defended China’s rule over Tibet. The full Labour list is available here.

For all his grumblings Jackson has still been ranked, as leader Andrew Little says, at a winnable position on the list, assuming that Labour can get its vote up to around 30%. Little has got only himself to blame though for the fact that the treatment of his own high profile recruits – Jackson and former Police Association chief Greg O’Connor, who has been ranked way down at 40 – have become the story that has dominated the release of the list itself. Certainly, the Jackson hissy fit has overshadowed the likely regeneration of the Labour caucus by a number of talented women (eg New Lynn candidate Deborah Russell) after the election in September.

All up, this year is shaping up to be a testing time politically for the nation’s blokes. The month of May is when New Zealand First is expected to disclose the worst-kept secret in New Zealand politics: namely, the return of Shane Jones to the political fray, as the New Zealand First candidate for the Northland* seat. To some extent, Jackson had been recruited (a) as a pre-emptive strike and counterweight to Jones down at the socially conservative end of Labour’s core constituency, and (b) as a conduit between Labour and the Maori Party. At the time it announced it had recruited Jackson though, the Labour leadership had done nothing to sell this move to parts of the Labour parliamentary caucus and the party membership who found Jackson’s well-documented record of misogyny to be repellent, and intrinsically opposed to what the party professes on gender issues.

At the core of its serial flirtations with Shane Jones (in the past) and Willie Jackson (in 2017) is the myth that if Labour has a problem with attracting centrist voters, a shortage of blokiness is the main reason why. To believe in that myth is to bathe in a golden haze of Kiwiana, where rough-hewn chaps in flannel shirts are forever hoisting beer jugs and nattering about the rugby while eyeing the sheila behind the bar – provided she’s a good sort, and not too uppity in her ways. The media is much given to lamenting Labour’s lost connections with this mythical ‘real New Zealand’ and its straight talking, hand-calloused sons of toil – as if Labour would be better advised to try and graft the social attitudes of 1950s Timaru onto the economic settings of modern Auckland. Then she’d be right, right?

There’s nothing wrong with triangulation – whereby you neutralise the opposition by stealing their policy positions. Labour’s problem is that triangulation isn’t just a secondary tactic sitting below a raft of progressive policies; instead, its triangulation gestures have been dominating whatever passes these days for its core identity. It has shed its capital gains tax policy. Under the so-called Budget Responsibility Rules agreement, both Labour and the Greens have essentially signed up to National’s current economic settings, and to its social spending framework.

On other fronts, Labour also appears to have given up entirely on finding common cause with middle New Zealand via a raft of progressive policies. Instead it seems to be chasing a populist image by re-packaging some of this country’s most retrograde social attitudes on everything from immigration to law and order. Be warned: at this year’s election, there will be quite a lot of this sort of thing around, in prime time. Willie Jackson has already been brought on board, to show us the fun-loving side of misogyny. The Shane and Winston show can be relied on to kick around immigrants and Asians – but with earthy good humour, of course.

Similarly, Bill English has already been on social media with his pizzas, to show what a dag it is when men get let loose in the kitchen. And lets not forget the Greens and their retro North & South cover, with all those pretty ladies draped decorously at the feet of the two blokes in suits. That’s a problem. Across the board, politics seems to be finding much of its identity (and branding) by looking in the rear view mirror. At some point, the nation is going to be asked to choose between Andrew Little and Bill English as to which is the more convincing specimen of blokiness. Yikes. That’s a depressing prospect, and one that risks turning almost anyone on the left into a non-voter.

[* Correction: Shane Jones is considered likely to stand for New Zealand First in the Whangarei seat.]

Shane Jones’ current contract with the government is due to expire this month. Hopefully, when Jones finally does step out of the shadows, his (lack of a) track record as a vote winner will come under some serious scrutiny. Back in 2014, Danyl McLauchlan pointed out how bogus the man’s credentials as being in touch with middle New Zealand really are:

The press gallery – with its usual acumen – decided that speaking like an eccentric Victorian-era Oxford don meant that Jonesy was ‘connecting with working class Kiwis’. I never saw any evidence of this. Jones performed poorly as an electorate candidate during multiple elections: actual voters were never as impressed with him as the gallery were. During the Labour leadership campaign Jones’ support among Maori voters was only 37% – which strikes me as shockingly low, considering they’re being offered the chance to endorse a contender for first Maori Prime Minister. It reflects – I suspect – Jonesey’s incredibly low support among female voters across the board.

For much of his time in Parliament, Jones’ overt hostility to the Greens was a festering source of dis-unity on the centre left. On that point, the prospect of a Shane Jones/ Winston Peters tag team at the top of New Zealand First should be serving as a salutary wake-up call to Labour that it really has no show at all of recruiting New Zealand First into any coalition arrangement that also has the Greens on board, and whereby NZF would be in the role of third banana when it comes to policy formation. Currently, NZF seems about to double down on its existing high levels of antipathy towards the Greens. Once NZF officially welcomes Shane Jones on board, National can probably afford to start taking Peters for granted. By then, Peters really will have nowhere else to go.

In the end, the likes of Willie Jackson and Shane Jones will cost their respective parties as many votes (especially among women) as they attract. Essentially, Jackson and Jones represent a nostalgia trip back to an era that really wasn’t so great at the time, especially for women and ethnic minorities. Which could help explain why, beneath their surface jollity, both men seem to be so angry.

Sylvan Esso are just plain electrofolks

Sylvan Esso are a duo from Durham, North Carolina – which is the home of Merge Records and Duke University, and a key part of the Raleigh/Chapel Hill/Durham triangle that’s been so musically fertile since the 1980s. On paper, Sylvan Esso could seem an unlikely combination of Amelia Meath’s past (with the folk group Mountain Man) and the EDM inclinations of her collaborator Nick Sanborn, formerly of Megafaun. In reality, the pop electronica and the skewed folkiness fit together surprisingly well.

This live version of their first single ‘Hey Mami’ is still probably as good an introduction as any:

The duo are also expert at meta-critiquing their own place in the sun. The new single “Radio” for instance has the earworm pervasiveness of the same sort of music that is being relentlessly trashed in the lyrics. Among the more printable lyrics :

Gimme a new single /make me a new baby/
Gonna eat all the candy /while you straddle and lay me
Gonna know all the words before you come on top
And I sing them back at you while you try to nap
While the world rides on, we’re so happy to be listening to our radio
Our saviour, oh /While the world melts on down
We’re so happy to be listening to our radio, now break it on down slow

Finally, the “Coffee” single from their first album has a stingingly spare melody that underpins just how cleverly the video conveys the rituals of connection (and emotional distance) evoked by the lyrics:

True, it’s dance, we know the moves
The bow, the dip, the woo
Though the words are true
The state is old news
Wrap me in your arms I can’t feel it but
Wrap me in your arms I can’t feel it but
Get up, get down Get up, get down Feel the turn of rotation and stop…
I know my words will dry upon the skin
Just like a name I remember hearing
Wild winter, warm coffee
Mom’s gone, do you love me?
….Feel the turn of rotation and stop –
See the next one waiting