There's a surreal quality watching the Willie Jackson kerfuffle from afar (a snowy New York, as it happens). Apparently, Chris Trotter posits, Labour is going to lose the election because the Labour spokesperson on family violence expressed disquiet at the prospective elevation of Willie Jackson, a radio host who publicly mocked a teenage girl’s experience of sexual assault. (To be clear: Labour will not lose in September because it has been roughly 20 points behind National for a decade, but because of Poto Williams’ solitary Facebook post).
What’s more, this squabble -- according to a seemingly bottomless pile of unsolicited blog posts, a mere fraction of which I confess to having read -- uncovered simmering tensions between two factions of the Labour caucus: the “Left” good ole boys rallying to Jackson, and ‘identity politics’-obsessed “liberals” like Williams who oppose him.
For Andrew Little’s cheerleaders, this has the hallmarks of a Sister Souljah moment (the hardcore rap artist rebuked for the benefit of racially-anxious whites by Bill Clinton in 1992), in which he dramatically parts ways with the politically correct, Nanny Statist elements within Labour that have long alienated the traditional working class voter. Beyond that, Jackson’s irresistible appeal to Maori voters will single-handedly restore the party’s fortunes among a second bloc of voters. It’s two for the price of one: win back the long-disgruntled Waitakere Man while locking in the Maori seats.
I had no idea Willie Jackson was such an electoral juggernaut, but that’s just the start of it. This fracas has made me realise how many things I didn’t know.
I didn’t realise, for example, that regarding the Roastbusters interview as a disqualifying blight on Jackson’s record is “politically correct”, and not simply correct politics. Until this came up, I limp-wristedly thought you can mock teenage rape victims on radio or you can run for parliament, but you couldn’t conceivably do both.
I’ve also learned, much to my shock and amazement, that Andrew Little and Matt McCarten want Labour to be a “broad church”.
Silly me for thinking only reforms to party rules and a repudiation of the heretic hunting culture could make the party appealing enough to a wide enough cross section of New Zealand to become relevant, not to mention electable, again.
Nothing so onerous was required. All it takes is a Willie Jackson revival with a warm-up act courtesy of Laila Harre. If only I had known that broadening a church required merely climbing up the steeple to set the clock back 20 years, I could have saved a lot of ink and cognitive energy. Apparently, all New Zealand voters have been waiting for is for Labour to finally reinvent itself as The Alliance Historical Re-enactment Society. Is there anything Labour’s deviously brilliant internal polling can’t teach us?
Identity politics is a problem for Labour in this sense: not nearly enough voters identify with the party, or could explain at a pinch what it stands for.
It is a humdinger of a false binary proposition to contend that looking out for disadvantaged segments of society is at odds with a broader agenda of reducing wealth inequality, improving schools, hospitals, working conditions and living standards. Not only is it possible to do both simultaneously, doing so is precisely why social democratic parties exist. Unlike Marxist-Leninists, social democrats reject the class paradigm as the singular lens through which we view the political economy. We acknowledge the role of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, mental health status, among other factors, in preventing households and individuals from flourishing as they might. And we act to ameliorate such disadvantages -- yes, because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it expands economic opportunity while improving social cohesion in ways that benefit everyone.
What is deemed political correctness is often just dumb politics: David Cunliffe’s infamous apology for the contents of his trousers, for instance; or Labour’s dogged insistence on taxing sugary drinks while leaving capital gains untouched. The ‘man ban’ is perhaps the best case. It is perfectly possible to engineer an appropriate gender balance in Parliament without banning men from nominating in local democratic contests. Labor in Australia have a non-controversial gender quota that slips entirely unnoticed under the media radar. Again, the problem with the man-ban isn’t political correctness, but political incompetence; the implementation, not the idea.
In any event, this Chai Latte-swilling nancy-boy draws the line at the Willie Jackson Roastbusters episode. Subsequent, self-serving apologies notwithstanding, it reveals a mindset towards sexual assault that has no place in Parliament, let alone on the Labour Party’s benches.