The rebuff of Ratana’s ultimatum – but when did Labour start building its list based on merit?

Alf reckons the NZ Herald is giving good advice to the Labour Party this morning. Because it is good advice, of course, he is confident Labour will ignore it.

The advice is tendered in an editorial that notes the Ratana Church has given Labour an ultimatum. It wants four Ratana candidates for winnable seats on Labour’s list at the next election in exchange for its continued support.

It is a demand the party cannot meet. If it was quietly disposed to do such a deal before, it cannot do it now. The very public demand, issued as a challenge at Ratana Pa on Sunday, will compromise any new Maori candidates Labour might put high on its list next year.

Voters do not take kindly to the idea that MPs may be beholden to organisations other than their party.

Labour has had enough difficulty over the years from its association with the union movement, supposedly the reason a number of lacklustre candidates from union ranks can often be found in Labour’s winnable seats.

The newspaper goes on to express its surprise that Labour’s long-standing alliance with Ratana has not raised voters’ eyebrows more than it has done in the years when it monopolised Labour’s selections for Maori seats.

Alf would go further. He is astonished that the leaders of so many political parties troop off to Ratana Pa near Wanganui at this time of year for the annual birthday celebrations of the church’s founder, Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana.

Fawning is what Alf calls it. Humiliating. stomach-turning fawning.

Yet as the Herald recognises –

Each party’s reception is carefully read as a barometer of its standing with a church that supposedly has a political reach far beyond the 45,000 people (8 per cent of Maori) who report Ratana to be their religion.

Say that again?

Just 45,000 members, eh.

Around 1 per cent of the population.

Why would you be busting yourself to win the favours of 1 per cent of the population (even if their influence extends beyond that) when you are prepared to piss off the great majority of the population with measures such as the anti-smacking law?

And why would you expose yourself to the humiliating reception Labour’s MPs were given at the weekend?

As the Herald reported, Goff led a contingent of about 40 on to the marae, including 20 MPs.

The contingent was challenged to reciprocate the loyalty shown to it from Ratana for decades by accepting four Ratana candidates for winnable positions in Parliament on the list.

To rub his nose in it, Labour leader Phil Goff had to endure a speech praising Prime Minister John Key for being “a brilliant speaker” and “a person who should be admired”.

Goff – as he had to do – rejected the suggestion of greater Ratana representation in the Labour caucus, other than on merit.

“A seat in Parliament on the list is something that comes from merit and working and gaining the respect of your peers. It is not appointed by the leader or the president and that’s the way it should be.”

This should come as astonishing news to most people. Look at the sad-sack Labour line-up in parliament, and work out for yourself the importance of merit and respect.

If they start building their list on that basis, the buggers might start to look like they could govern something bigger than a caucus room.

But for many Labour MPs, introducing a meritocracy would also spell the end of their political careers.

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