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Jackson furore a bad way to start parliamentary year for Labour

Opinion Piece

Labour leader Andrew Little may appear to have made a slip with his approach to outspoken broadcaster Willie Jackson, but there were sound tactical reasons behind his decision.

His offer of a high place on Labour’s list aroused anger from a section of the party based on unwise comments Jackson made about the notorious Roastbusters group three years ago. Labour MP Poto Williams made a public statement criticising the decision and 400 party members and the Young Labour group wrote to the NZ Council in protest.

It left Little, who up to this point has looked increasingly confident in his role, forced (in cricket terms) on to the back foot.

He has defended his decision, although it now seems Jackson may not get such a high place. The unfortunate thing is that the dissenters chose to make their comments openly, even hiring a PR firm. In an election year it is essential that parties remain united, at least on the surface — keeping any internal squabbling firmly behind closed doors.

There was a sound logic behind Little’s approach to Jackson. He wants to target the Maori Party — which was courting Jackson, and has been a coalition partner for National in all three of its terms in government — and in the process win all seven Maori seats.

He and his advisers didn’t see this blowing up publicly, though, and he has had to devote precious time to firefighting. It is still early enough in the election campaign to put it behind him.

The furore was good news for Prime Minister Bill English who spent a contrasting weekend winning a “rigged” shearing contest against former world champion David Fagan, then attending Auckland’s Big Gay Out.

On Friday he will meet Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and high on the agenda will be how to deal with mercurial US President Donald Trump.

There was some good advice from visiting former Australian PM John Howard, who said the challenge for the two was to avoid gratuitous insults while focusing on the best interests of their countries. They would do well to take it on board.