Sunday, 18 September 2011

How to lose your own political identity in one easy step

When I was 16 I worked in a take-away store that sold fried chicken, and on Saturdays things were invariably slow and quiet during the day.  The manager would usually get stuff done in the office, while the main cook and the cashier (me) would mainly do prep for the evening shift when things were busier.*  For a while the main cook was a guy called Peter and we used to have quite interesting discussions about politics.  I remember the specifics of none of what we talked about, except for the time when Peter told me I should be a Cabinet Minister's wife someday.  I asked why I couldn't be a Cabinet Minister myself.

That discussion, nearly two decades ago, has come back to me in the last few days.  On Thursday I rang back a journalist at the Herald on Sunday who had left a message saying he wanted to discuss my take on the marginal seats.  To put this in context, I generally do a couple of media interviews a month since I was elected to the Puketapapa Local Board, mostly about local issues, but sometimes about feministy political things as a result of work on this very blog you're reading.  I've been asked to be on TV panels for political shows (invitations I haven't been able to take up) to add a feminist perspective.  All of these media contacts, and ones I've experienced in the past for other hats I've worn, have been to me, as a person in my own right, a politician or a blogger or a spokesperson on an issue.

Back to my conversation with the HoS journo.  To start with I thought we were just talking about my take on the marginals.  I thought this was a bit strange, as I don't profess to have any particular expertise on the marginals, and had only made some loose predictions a couple of weeks back to aid my calculations for the projected Labour and National caucuses (and the gender analysis of the parties I've been doing for two elections now).  Indeed I declined to comment on the Hamilton seats at all because I just don't know enough about them.  I would have done the same for most of the other seats on my marginal list, but he really only asked me about Auckland Central and Maungakiekie, which I do know a little about.  I said I thought the door-knocking Nikki Kaye had done for six months before election day in 2008 had been key for her victory and that I had heard Jacinda Ardern's team had been canvassing there for ages already, making it difficult to predict.  I talked at length about what a good job Carol Beaumont was doing as a local MP in Maungakiekie, and how impressed I had been when we worked on the Pah Rd Warehouse issue together.

Then the penny dropped, when I was asked if I thought it would be demoralising to Labour to have the wife of a candidate saying they would lose some marginals.

Was it naive to think that a reporter might actually want to talk to me about some political analysis I'd written?

We chatted some more about Labour's morale; I told him I've been around Labour activists for more than 12 years, since before I met my partner, and I have not seen them as energised and motivated as this since 1999.  I said they were clear about their vision and strongly wanted to get National out of government.  I talked about the commitment and energy I saw put into the Botany by-election, and not just by the candidate.  I mentioned the difficulty of overcoming the "John Key factor"; that this Prime Minister is immensely popular for reasons I don't understand and it's very difficult in true marginals when the incumbent has John Key in their corner.

And I talked about myself as a separate political entity from my husband.    I pointed out that I am not in the Labour party. The journo queried that, I reconfirmed it.  I talked about some of the evidence that we are not a political hivemind, referencing the fact we stood for different parties in two elections (and he indicated he was aware of that already by saying he knew I had been in the Alliance), that I don't receive the emails about what the lines are and we don't discuss it either.  I also said that Jane Clifton's political commentary was not considered to be influenced by her relationship with Murray McCully. 

There have been several days of apprehension waiting to see if an article would come out, including conversations with a couple of Labour MPs, and my partner, about what I'd said and what they'd said and blah blah blah.

When the article came out today I couldn't believe how sexist it was.  "Labour wife"?  I'm not even in the Labour party, and I made that clear.  It's like a master class in how to annoy a feminist politician.  The whole concept of the article assumes that I am but a political appendage of my partner.

Even David Farrar has labelled it a non-story.  Of the three Labour MPs quoted, Goff refused to comment, Ardern pointed out lots of blogs are making comments and predictions for the general election, and Beaumont wisely stated "In the end the decision won't be made by independent commentators. It will be made by the people of Maungakiekie."

There are many layers of irony in this experience.  Not least that the reason I made an assessment on the marginals in the first place was to work out the political representation of women in National and Labour.  A measurement I've done now across various political parties 12 times.  There's been a lot of discussion and debate on blogs, and also in the mainstream media, about the problem National seems to have with getting women into Parliament, but apparently it's only worth talking to me about the analysis I've done because of who I'm married to, based on the assumption he shares my views.

One last irony.  Inherent in labelling those seats as "marginal" is a conclusion by this blogger that Labour's excellent candidates in Hamilton West, Auckland Central and Maungakiekie could win those seats.  Last election I was sure Judith Tizard would hold Auckland Central and I was so wrong.  Every election I hope that Peter Dunne will lose Ohariu-Belmont and I'm yet to be correct. 

My partner's views?  You'll have to ask him; I only blog and do interviews on mine.

*  Not busier enough - place went under and I ended up with no job and no holiday pay because I didn't quit as I believed the boss when he said he was re-opening elsewhere and I'd work there instead.  Every job I've had since then I have joined the union.


Lucy said...

That's just appalling. And deeply misleading - your existence as your husband's wife can't be separated from your own political and commentating experience, they can't claim you're commenting as one but ignore the other. Worth a formal complaint, maybe?

Cactus Kate said...


But the best thing about being a blogger - you have an instant forum to put the record straight.

Which you can now do attacking the repeater for at least the next 5 days.

Psycho Milt said...

On the plus side, now any woman contemplating marrying Mr Scott Morgan merely has to flick back through his stories to find out whether it's a good idea or not.

Julie said...

Thanks for the feedback and support. I've had a lot of private messages too, which have been very helpful.

I'm not sure if I'll make a complaint, but I will be writing a letter to the ed (for publication).

I don't entirely blame the specific journalist concerned. The whole angle of the story was clearly always the "Labour wife" rubbish, and he probably had to pitch that to someone (or was assigned it) before pursuing comments from me and the MPs. Even after that info had been gathered someone higher up would have made a call on whether there was sufficient news value in it to go to print.

Lindsay Mitchell said...

Once bitten, twice shy. The media is, like most groups, a diverse bunch. Some are mischievous and self-serving. They sully the waters for their counterparts. You'll take something positive from it.

Deborah said...

It's a truly bizarre day when Tumeke is attacking you, and DPF defending you. The HoS ought to be deeply ashamed of its complete lack of standards of any sort. When on earth are they going to realise that a "wife" is in fact a person in her own right, with views of her own, and that it is perfectly possible to support your partner in pursuing his goals without necessarily subsuming yourself into them, even though you are a "wife". And it's bloody weird that somehow, husbands aren't expected to do the same.

You are a person of great integrity, Julie, and I think that shines through. I'm very sorry that you have had to put up with all this nonsense.