It's not just about Willie: sizing up the Labour Party list

10:04 pm on 2 May 2017

Oh the drama! The suspense! The daggers at each other's throats! While Labour Party stalwarts mop up the blood after last night's 'emergency discussions' to review the importance of Willie Jackson, The Spinoff's Simon Wilson takes a scalpel to the outcome.

So Willie wasn't going to die wondering, was he? Didn't think 21st on the Labour list (PDF, 184KB) was good enough to secure him a job as MP, so he charged down to Wellington to force them into the most embarrassing situation since, well, the last embarrassing situation. He thought the party leader had assured him of a "high place" on the list, which would guarantee him a return to Parliament. Speaking to media this morning, he said that he was unhappy, too, with the rankings of Māori candidates. There are three in the top 21, but none in the top 15. "I believe Māori should be in the top 10 or 15," said Jackson, who has also been announced as campaign director for the Māori seats, presumably to help placate him.

But the big takeout from the Labour list (scroll down for the full rankings) is really that the newbie candidates likely to become MPs are, on the whole, an impressive bunch. Labour has moved to fix a problem at the last election, when they failed to renew well. On RNZ today Andrew Little said they were "rubbish" at it in 2014, and the consequence is that the party is a little short of talented and experienced MPs this time round. But then, you could say that about all the parties, including the government incumbents.

Clockwise from top left: Kelvin Davis, Willie Jackson, Jacinda Ardern, Priyanca Radhakrishnan, Willow-Jean Prime and Andrew Little

A selection of notable candidates (clockwise, from top left): Kelvin Davis, Willie Jackson, Jacinda Ardern, Priyanca Radhakrishnan, Willow-Jean Prime and Andrew Little Photo: RNZ / Supplied

First, how it works. Every candidate who wins an electorate seat becomes an MP. And under MMP, the size of each party's caucus corresponds to the percentage of their total party votes. There are 120 seats in Parliament, which means if Labour gets, say, 30 percent of the party vote it will have 30 percent of 120, which is 36 seats.

The critical question for a list MP is how many electorate MPs in their party get in, because the number of list MPs is the party's total number minus its electorate MPs.

(If a party wins more electorate seats than its party vote would entitle it to, it keeps those seats and there is an 'overhang': the size of Parliament grows. We currently have an overhang of one seat - 121 seats in all - caused by United Future winning the electorate of Ōhāriu but almost no party votes. For the purposes of this exercise I have assumed no overhang.)

So the first question when looking down the lists is what percentage of the party vote is achieved, and the second is how many electorate MPs win.

Labour is currently tracking about 30 percent. Let's call that the mid-range result or the likely result. That won't be good enough for Labour: good is 35 percent and very good is 40 percent. Poor is 25 percent.

A good result

Let's look at that good result first: 35 percent of the party vote. That will give them 42 MPs.

Definitely going to be MPs

My count of the candidates in safe electorate seats, who are likely to win regardless of how well or badly the party does, is 22.

They are: Jacinda Ardern, David Clark, Clare Curran, Ruth Dyson, Paul Eagle, Kris Fa'afoi, Peeni Henare, Chris Hipkins, Iain Lees-Galloway, Nanaia Mahuta, Damien O'Connor, Grant Robertson, Deborah Russell, Jenny Salesa, Carmel Sepuloni, Rino Tirikatene, Phil Twyford, Aupito William Sio, Louisa Wall, Poto Williams, Michael Wood and Megan Woods.

Probably going to be MPs

In addition, if Labour gets 35 percent support it will win quite a few marginals. That would probably include most of these: Ginny Anderson in Hutt South, Kelvin Davis in Te Tai Tokerau, Steph Lewis in Whanganui, Stuart Nash in Napier, Greg O'Connor in Ōhāriu, Priyanca Radhakrishnan in Maungakiekie, Adrian Ruawhe in Te Tai Hauāuru, Duncan Webb in Christchurch Central, Meka Whaitiri in Ikaroa-Rāwhiti.

That's another nine, of whom, let's say, seven make it (the two probably most at risk are Lewis and Radhakrishnan). That's 29 MPs, with a male-female ratio of 17:12. Noticeably more men than women.

This is relevant because Labour now has a 50:50 gender rule. The party looks at its likely electorate winners and uses the list to try to even out any imbalance. That means, this year, more women are on the list in the winnable higher spots than men.

No, it's not a 'man ban'. Men are obviously not banned. It's gender balancing to reflect the party's desire to overcome unconscious and historical biases, and if you're worried about that ask yourself if there's a better way of getting roughly equal numbers of men and women in Parliament.

Yes, it does frustrate the ambitions of some male candidates and their supporters. But it will also delight some women candidates and their supporters. And is there anyone who wants to argue our Parliament will be worse off for having more women in it? Didn't think so.

So with 35 percent support, and assuming those seven marginal victories, Labour will bring in 13 MPs from its list. They are Andrew Little, David Parker, Priyanca Radhakrishnan, Raymond Huo, Jan Tinetti, Willow-Jean Prime, Kiri Allan, Willie Jackson, Jo Luxton, Liz Craig, Marja Lubeck, Trevor Mallard and Tamati Coffey.

The caucus would have a male-female ratio of 23:19, which isn't 50:50. Willie Jackson at 21 is a shoo-in and there are no really prominent candidates who miss out.

A par result

But what if the party gets only 30 percent? The caucus would have 36 MPs, including all 22 named above in the safe seats. But it would win fewer of the marginals (perhaps dropping Anderson, Ruawhe and Webb from the electorate line-up). With a core of 26 electorate MPs, there is room for another 10 from the list.

Anderson is ranked at 27 and would get in on the list; Webb is ranked at 42 and would miss out; Ruawhe is a Māori electorate MP, all of whom have elected not to be on the list.

Those to miss out are Tamati Coffey, Trevor Mallard and Marja Lubeck. But Willie Jackson is safe. The gender ratio is 19:17.

A poor result

And if Labour repeats its performance from 2014 and gets, say, only 25 percent? That will mean 30 MPs in all, including those 22 in safe seats but probably none of those in the marginals. There would be eight list MPs, meaning Liz Craig, Jo Luxton, Ginny Anderson and Willie Jackson all miss out. Jackson would be the highest-ranked unsuccessful candidate. The gender ratio is 15:15.

A miracle result

Oh, and if you think all this is way too harsh and Labour will win 40 percent? That's 48 MPs. They get all the safe seats and all the marginals too, for a total of 31 electorate MPs. That allows another 17 to come in from the list.

Everyone named in any part of the above will be an MP, as well as Jamie Strange, Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki, Kieran McAnulty and Angie Warren-Clark.

The Māori seats

What about the Māori seats? Labour currently holds six of the seven and I've assumed Labour will keep them all. Despite strong challenges, as far as I can tell Kelvin Davis has the personal support and organisational strength to hold Te Tai Tokerau against Hone Harawira; Peeni Henare has the mana to see off Shane Taurima in Tamaki Makaurau and Nanaia Mahuta will do the same against Rahui Papa in Hauraki Waikato. It's a similar story in the other Māori seats, except Waiariki, which Te Ururoa Flavell should hold easily for the Māori Party.

But this could be wrong. If it is, those Labour MPs who lose will not return to Parliament on the list. They've all opted not to be on it.

So if there's a swing to Labour that gives it 30 percent of the overall party vote, but a swing against Labour in the Māori seats, the party might lose, say, three Māori members and gain three others from the list. They would be: Tamati Coffey, Trevor Mallard and Marja Lubeck.

The future caucus

The list throws up more questions. How strong will the caucus be? And will there be factional unity?

Labour needs as many as 15 MPs who would be good ministers in a coalition Cabinet. First-term MPs need not apply (even Deborah Russell, who has much-needed expertise in taxation: she's likely to get an important non-Cabinet role). However large the party vote, I think they've got maybe eight or nine MPs ready for Cabinet, and with the potential to do the job well, among the electorate MPs. There are another three or four coming back on the list. Not quite enough. Of course, that's true for National, too.

The Labour line-up does look far more future-proofed than it was last election, when it was clogged up with too many party hacks. The likes of Russell, school principal Jan Tinetti, police policy manager Ginny Anderson, Michael Wood (still a newbie really), policy analyst Priyanca Radhakrishnan, disputes resolution specialist Steph Lewis, Wellington deputy mayor Paul Eagle, lawyer Kiri Allan, insurance lawyer and academic Duncan Webb and local councillor Willow-Jean Prime should all add heft.

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Photo: Supplied / Labour

As for factional unity, it's a red herring. A party that's unified does well and a party that does well is unified. But a party that does badly has internal fights on its hands. While those fights have an ideological dimension, in this country they are less about the politics and more about popularity. Which leader and what policies can get us into power and keep us there? This is utterly true of National and largely true of Labour, despite some angry shouting from the sidelines.

One thing that should be very clear: Labour desperately wants to form the next government. They really hate being in opposition. Its party list is full of people who are, on the whole, determined to do their bit to help the party succeed. Andrew Little might not have succeeded in having Willie Jackson placed as high as he wanted, but he was never going to allow Jackson or anyone else to push the party around once it was decided. The determination remains, and there's a little lesson in that for Jackson.

Follow The Spinoff's Election 2017 coverage here.

Simon Wilson is a journalist specialising in politics and urban issues. He is the current editor of The Spinoff's Auckland section and a former editor of Metro.

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