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Editor’s Note: Here below is Dr Bryce Edwards’ New Zealand Political Roundup – which analyses one prominent topic being debated in New Zealand and links to media coverage. You can sign up to NZ Political Roundup for free here.

Political Roundup: Why Louisa Wall was a problem for Labour (and democracy)

Since announcing her retirement on Tuesday, MP Louisa Wall has been heralded as a great maverick who progressed important social legislation by operating outside of the usual Labour Party structures. Her failure to be elevated to the rank of Cabinet Minister, is being blamed on her outspokenness and refusal to toe the party line, as if Wall was punished for following her principles and being more interested in getting things done.

Wall’s partisan opponents have been particularly full of praise. Chris Bishop tweeted how sad he was to see her go, saying “Louisa achieved more as a MP than almost all Ministers from the party she is a member of”. And David Seymour described Wall as “the kind of person that every Parliament needs”.

There is, however, a different view of Wall’s parliamentary career, and it’s one that is more likely to be found amongst Wall’s own political side. As various commentators have noted, her announcement has been met with very little warmth by Labour MPs. In marked contrast to the praise from opponents and commentators, there have only been a handful of statements from her own side, and those have mostly been the kind of perfunctory or obligatory farewells that are expected from the party leader.

Even deputy leader Kelvin Davis’ choice of proverb to farewell her was interpreted by Herald political editor Claire Trevett as something that “could be taken as a poetic way of saying good riddance, bring on the replacement.”

Wall’s attempts to be an Independent MP within a party

The standard explanation for why Walls was shunned by her Labour colleagues is that she was difficult to work with, abrasive, and wasn’t trusted by other MPs, including leader Jacinda Ardern.

All of this might be true, and there is certainly a lot of evidence for it. But a more objective way of understanding her relationship to her party is that Wall operated according to a very different principle of democratic parliamentary representation. It was an elite approach that argued politicians should not be so encumbered by allegiances to political parties, but instead operate as expert individuals to make progress or change in ways that they think best serves the public.

This goes back to the thinking of 18th century British philosopher and politician Edmund Burke, who argued MPs should be free to vote in Parliaments how they see fit, rather than how their constituents or parties want them to. He argued politicians are the experts and should be trusted as individuals to come to the right decisions on a case-by-case basis. This went against the prevailing idea that politicians should campaign on the basis of manifestos and receive a mandate to carry out their promises.

Burke essentially wanted Parliaments to be full of Independents. And in reality, Louisa Wall often acted as an Independent rather than a member of the Labour Party. This meant that at times she was not seen as a team player. She once explained her way of operating as an individual like this: “If you give me the ball, don’t tell me how to run the ball. It’s my ball, I will choose.” Clearly Wall struggled with the discipline that is normally imposed by parties on their MPs to work collectively. And perhaps more importantly, she failed to realise that she only ever “had the ball to run with” because of the work of her party in getting her elected, which it continued to do even after she had undermined the party in various ways.

The cult of the private members’ bill

Following this Independent approach to its logical conclusion, Wall became a vigorous user of private members’ bills to make progress in Parliament – essentially rejecting the use of the Labour Party as the primary way to create change. This meant eschewing the traditional route of championing a cause, winning over the party, and then campaigning amongst the public for support to make the reform.

In the case of Wall, as we’ve seen with many others who have used private members’ bills to advance a cause, the political party and the public are cut out of the deal, in favour of more direct attempts to get a cross-party alliance of MPs to simply vote the reform in.

This approach has plenty of advantages, but it also has shortcomings, especially if it becomes an elite way of making change without democratically taking along society or even your own party. Arguably, there is now something of a fetishisation of private members’ bills in New Zealand – with the luck of having your bill pulled out of the old biscuit tin being favoured as a way of making social progress.

In praise of maverick MPs

Wall’s maverick nature has been praised by many commentators. For example, Stuff’s chief political reporter Henry Cooke has lamented that “MMP and our political culture discourage this kind of independence. In the United Kingdom this level of rebellion would barely raise an eyebrow, but in New Zealand it is a serious breach of decorum.”

Likewise, Newsroom’s Sam Sachdeva has saluted Wall for going against Labour Party discipline: “While the advent of MMP has had many benefits, it has concentrated parties’ power at a central level while leaving us with no end of sycophantic politicians – of all stripes – willing to ask patsies and defend their boss’s screw-ups to the dying end. As one of the MPs willing to speak out when warranted prepares to leave Parliament, we are all the poorer for it.”

What is often forgotten, however, is that maverick MPs can only flout their party’s collective solidarity for so long. If they have a truly principled difficulty with the direction of their party it is normal practice to resolve this by departing and becoming an Independent and then starting a new party. After all, there are many honourable examples of this, including the likes of Jim Anderton, Winston Peters, Tariana Turia and Hone Harawira. But in the case of Wall, she chose to both stay and try to operate more as an Independent.

We should also be careful before we wish for too many Independent MPs operating from within the existing parties. As Ben Thomas writes today: “A major parliamentary party full of Louisa Walls would be unmanageable, and possibly incoherent to the voting public. Moreover, individual MPs can be particularly bad judges of whether they are themselves motivated by a personal mission, a sense of service, or simply ego.”

Wall’s de-selection and compromise deal

It is not insignificant that Wall lost the confidence of practically her whole party, seemingly at every level – from the leader down to her own electorate membership. Normally those in an extremely safe seat such as Wall’s Manurewa electorate, which she held from 2011 to 2020, are able to embed themselves and build a strong coalition of supporters. But in her case she faced de-selection at the last election, with both locals and the party head office wanting to replace her with the relatively unknown Arena Williams.

Wall threatened to take legal action against her own party in order to retain her incumbency. Wiser heads prevailed, and reports came out of a negotiated compromise. As the Herald’s Audrey Young wrote at the time: “inherent in the deal is an understanding that Wall will be given a winnable position on Labour’s list and she may be helped to find a good appointment in the coming term to help her exit from Parliament.”

That seems to have come to pass. We will now have to wait and see if an appointment to a new job has been made by the Government as part of a deal. The fact that Wall announced her retirement so abruptly, in the middle of the parliamentary term and, along with her colleagues has refused to answer any questions about it certainly seems to point to some sort of “non disclosure agreement” between Wall and the Government.

Wall has indicated that she won’t answer any questions about her departure and new job until her valedictory speech on April 14. Several commentators are expecting fireworks – suggesting Wall will give her side of the story about life inside the Labour Party and how badly she has been treated. More likely, however, she will want to go out on a high note, using the speech to mend fences, especially if it’s also a launching pad to a new Government appointment.

Wall can now be saluted as someone who progressed important social change, and this will be her legacy. But her rise and fall also raises important questions. Do we need coherent and united political parties to put forward manifestos to pursue change and get a public mandate for these, or do we want more Independents pursuing alliances in the parliamentary chamber via the biscuit tin of private members’ bills?

Further reading on Louisa Wall

Ben Thomas (Stuff): Louisa Wall remained immoveable, despite the personal cost
Tova O’Brien (Today FM): Sad day for Labour party as MP Louisa Wall resigns
Sam Sachdeva (Newsroom): Louisa Wall’s departure a loss for MP independence
Claire Trevett (Herald): Labour MP Louisa Wall leaves a legacy – at a cost to herself (paywalled)
Henry Cooke (Stuff): Louisa Wall achieved a lot in politics, but sometimes forgot it was a team sport
Lloyd Burr (Today FM): Looking back at Labour MP Louisa Wall’s 14 years in Parliament
Irra Lee (1News): Louisa Wall ‘remarkably effective’ MP, ‘a great loss to Labour’

Other items of interest and importance today

CO-GOVERNANCE AND THREE WATERS
Shane Te Pou (Herald): David Seymour’s sequel to Don Brash’s Ōrākei speech (paywalled)
Richard Prebble (Herald): The problem with Labour’s co-governance – there is no democratic accountability (paywalled)
John Tamihere (Herald): You cry separatism? Try being Māori and living in the system (paywalled)
Jo Moir (Newsroom): Co-governance firmly back on top of political agenda
Zane Small (Newshub): Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirms public consultation on Māori co-governance will happen in 2022
Anneke Smith (RNZ): Seymour dismisses Te Paati Māori accusation over co-governance debate
Russell Palmer (RNZ): Luxon backs co-governance debate, shies from referendum
David Farrar: Not supporting is not the same as ruling out
Mihingarangi Forbes (Newshub): Māori Party calls out ACT leader David Seymour’s ‘race baiting’
Jonathan Milne (Newsroom): ‘Racist’ Three Waters rhetoric damages council-iwi relations (paywalled)
Grant Miller (ODT): Three Waters backtrack
Sinead Gill (Stuff): Dunedin backtracks on joining anti-Three Waters group, prioritises mana whenua relationship
Stefan Dimitrof (Māori TV): New Three Waters Māori head appointed

FAIR PAY AGREEMENTS
Rachel Smalley (Today FM): Fair pay agreements: Government misread the room, timing couldn’t be worse
Luke Malpass (Stuff): Fair Pay Agreements are on the way – but will they become a big election issue?
Nona Pelletier (RNZ): Fair pay bill tipped for plenty of scrutiny during parliamentary process
Brigitte Morten (NBR): Should unions start pivoting? (paywalled)
Ireland Hendry-Tennent (Newshub): Christopher Luxon says former National leader Jim Bolger’s claims Fair Pay Agreements will lift wages and productivity are completely wrong
Brent Edwards (NBR): Fair pay agreement legislation finally here (paywalled)
Zane Small (Newshub): ACT’s pledge to reverse sick leave, pause minimum wage hikes, scrap extra public holiday and benefit boost

CHINA-NZ-SOLOMONS
Geoffrey Miller (Democracy Project): New Zealand’s Australia-friendly response to China-Solomon Islands security deal
Jon Fraenkel (Stuff): Why the Solomon Islands risks becoming a bull’s-eye of the Pacific
Stephen Hoadley (Newsroom): China and Solomon Islands: Over-reaction or legitimate concern?
Chris Trotter (Daily Blog): Double Standards: What’s evil in Ukraine is apparently good for the Solomon Islands
Mike Smith (The Standard): The Natives are Getting Uppity
Sam Sachdeva (Newsroom): Solomon Islands-China security talks add to strategic concerns in Pacific
Thomas Manch (Stuff): Solomon Islands PM rebukes NZ, Australia over China security deal dismay
Michael Neilson (Herald): China Solomon Islands security pact: New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta says it risks ‘destabilising’ Pacific, continues NZDF deployment
Russell Palmer (RNZ): New Zealand must send strong signal to Pacific over China – Defence Minister Peeni Henare
Zane Small (Newshub): China-Solomon Islands security deal: National dismisses Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s COVID-19 Pacific engagement excuse

COST OF LIVING AND BENEFITS
Henry Cooke (Stuff): Cost of living: Green Party calls for benefit clawbacks to be scrapped
Max Harris (Stuff): Income support isn’t providing enough to live on
Claire Dale (The Conversation): The coming storm for New Zealand’s future retirees: still renting and not enough savings to avoid poverty
Kendall Hutt (1News): Benefit increases will still leave families ‘locked in poverty’
Jean Edwards (RNZ): Upcoming benefit increases ‘too little, too late’ amid high inflation
Bernard Hickey: $300/week shortfall for beneficiaries (paywalled)
Isaac Davison (Herald): Benefits need to be up to $165 higher a week, advocacy group says
Bridie Witton (Stuff): Anti-poverty campaigners say families still ‘locked in poverty’ despite benefit increases

TRANSMISSION GULLY
Peter Dunne: Transmission Gully challenges Wellington’s future
Stuff: Editorial – Transmission Gully is finally open, but questions remain
David Farrar: After 103 years, we finally have Transmission Gully!
Jake McKee (RNZ): Fines accruing ‘into the millions’ to end for Transmission Gully road builder
Tom Hunt (Stuff): Transmission Gully named after Ngāti Toa chief of Battle Hill fame
Tom Hunt and Bronte Metekingi (Stuff): Transmission Gully name ‘doesn’t cut it’: Rebrand in the works

GOVERNMENT
Barry Soper (Herald): Police Parliament protest, mental health – Labour Government abusing its power
Tova O’Brien (Today FM): Labour must take ownership of problems it continues to deflect
John Weekes and Claire Trevett (Herald): Police Minister blocks MP from meeting commanders, says cops ‘too busy’
Jason Walls (Herald): Multi-million dollar road to zero: Govt cops criticism for ‘extraordinary’ ad spending
Steven Cowan: Labour is part of the problem, not the solution

HOUSING
Daniel Dunkley (Stuff): Housing greed threatens New Zealand’s future
Dileepa Fonseka (Stuff): Why you should pay attention to New Zealand’s rental crisis, even if you aren’t renting
Greg Ninness (Interest): Effect on the market of new tax deductibility rules for residential investment property likely to be long-term
Tobias Newton (NBR): Correction on the cards for fragile housing market (paywalled)

ECONOMY
John Anthony (Stuff): Political party tax policies. Here’s what we know so far
Tova O’Brien (Today FM): Government’s proud lauding of temporary petrol tax cut makes it difficult to reverse
Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): Supermarket duopoly looks safe after minister indicates he won’t overrule ComCom
Susan Hornsby-Geluk (Stuff): Is it really the right time to introduce an income insurance scheme?
Bryce Wilkinson (Herald): NZ Initiative: IMF report into NZ economy ‘cringeworthy praise’

CLIMATE AND AGRICULTURE
Olivia Wannan (Stuff): Scientists and most governments say fossil fuels must plummet by 2050. National’s new adviser disagrees
Richard Harman: Bitter row splits farming (paywalled)
Eric Crampton: Paths to 2050
Henry Cooke and Blair Ensor (Stuff): Groundswell refuses to meet prime minister alongside other groups, as ructions surface inside agriculture faction

HEALTH
Rachel Thomas (Stuff): Capital & Coast DHB set to hand over $52m deficit to new health entity
Otago Daily Times: Dunedin man with heart problems told ambulance would take 3 hours after collapsing on Dunedin golf course
Ian Powell: What makes good public health sense also makes good sense for other things

ANTI-SEMITISM
Paul Spoonley (Stuff): Anti-Semitism on the rise in Aotearoa
Sapeer Mayron (Stuff): Holocaust Centre says education key to dismantling anti-Semitic views
Molly Swift (Newshub): New survey finds shocking number of New Zealanders believe Jews brought the Holocaust on themselves, as concerns of antisemitism rise
Marc Daalder (Newsroom): Antisemitism stats don’t tell the whole story

LOCAL GOVERNMENT
Damien Venuto (Herald): Auckland mayoral race – are these really the best candidates we have?
Todd Niall (Stuff): Auckland mayoralty: Fist-pumping Molloy’s quickfire almost-launch
Georgina Campbell (Herald): Wellington mayor warns against secret social media accounts after councillor’s Twitter embarrassment

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