Five Reasons Why Faafoi is a Bad Choice for Mana #nznews
Update: I copped some flak for this post. I respond here.
I have known enough pointless politicians in my time to fill a small stadium, but none wetter or less consequential than Graham Kelly.
Kelly was the member of parliament for the electorate of Porirua, which became Mana, between 1987 and 2002. It was a shockingly mediocre career, marked by the absence of even a single notable achievement. He only became MP in 87 after the trade unions decided the local candidate, All Black legend Ken Gray, was unacceptably “right-wing” and Kelly, an official with the shoppies’ union, was suitably militant and pliable. He was not a resident of Porirua, an extremely multicultural electorate at the time, and, even though he moved there after his election, was never comfortable. Kelly was old-school left, which is to say his racial attitudes were of another century – and I am not talking 20th. A kind person would describe him as “paternalistic” towards the large Maori and Pacific Island segments of his electorate; an unkind person may use a term that rhymes with “bassist”.
It was always my intention to succeed Kelly as Mana’s MP — and it wasn’t an entirely delusional aspiration. I was a Porirua City Councillor at the tender and stupid age of 19, and was something of a power-broker within the electorate. Everything looked on track. Then two forces intervened: first, I became strongly identified with the evil right faction of the Labour Party and hence persona non grata in Helen Clark’s NZ (one smarmy lefty once described me as “the kiss of death” in the NZLP, to which a former leader and “right-wing” identity replied, “well, that must make me the blowjob of death”). And second, I encountered some “personal issues”, culminating in a decade-long bender in Melbourne…a long and tawdry story for another day. Suffice it is to say, I sacrificed my Parliamentary ambitions at the altar of Carlton Draught. Ho-hum. Such is life.
Mana is once again up for grabs and there are two serious candidates seeking the nod. One of them, Kris Faafoi, is a press secretary to Phil Goff, Labour’s current leader (and, full disclosure, Goff is an old mate of mine — although we haven’t spoken in a while). I am sure Faafoi is a tremendously capable guy, but his candidacy annoys me. Here’s five reasons why:
1. I have seen a letter he has sent to branch members. The complacency and sense of entitlement reflected therein is reason enough to vote for anyone but him. His candidacy, judging by his letter, is entirely about him, and the local party members are expected to fulfill the role of fawning pawns.
2. He is neither fish nor fowl. Faafoi is neither a local candidate with strong Party credentials nor a celebrity vote-magnet. I am not someone who rejects outright the idea of parachuting in well-known identities to contest by-elections, and Faafoi , a former TV reporter, has pretensions toward such a category — but he falls way short. His fame is ankle-deep and is worth precisely no votes for Labour.
3. I gather from well-placed sources that Faafoi first considered becoming an MP two weeks ago. Call me old-fashioned, but the Labour Party should not reward such fly-by-night ambitions with (nominally) safe seats. If he has harboured no political ambitions for all but two weeks of his charmed life, then it begs the question: how much time has he dedicated to learning about public policy and preparing himself for Parliament? None, I would venture to guess.
4. The Porirua/Mana electorate has been treated like a prison-bitch by the Labour Party for too long. Outsiders like Faafoi, Laban (the retiring member), Kelly and his predecessor, Wall, have represented the seat since its creation. If Faafoi thinks that having family members in the electorate adds up to something, then he is more naive than I thought (and I thought he was quite naive to start with).
5. The NZLP should stop looking at 20-year old census data: Mana is not the overwhelmingly Islander-dominated seat they think it is. Since the expansion of the electorate for MMP, it now encompasses large white, middle class suburbs of the kind Labour ought to be very nervous about (from the formerly marginal seats of Kapiti and Western Hutt). The instinct to back Faafoi purely on ethnic grounds is patronising and simplistic — but it is also strategically misguided.
Labour could lose the Mana by-election, especially given Key’s post-earthquake glow. The wrong candidate choice could doom their chances — and I see enough evidence to believe that Faafoi could be such a choice.