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Strife over the Jackson factor

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 9/02/2017 Peter Wilson, Political Writer

The last thing Labour needed at the start of an election year was internal strife, so it's surprising Andrew Little went about recruiting Willie Jackson the way he did.

Promising the high-profile broadcaster a winnable slot on Labour's list was sufficient to entice Jackson to give up any ideas about standing for the Maori Party, which had been wooing him.

"Right now there is a voice that is not well heard and that is the voice of urban Maori, and I think Willie brings very strong credentials in that regard," Little told reporters when he announced his coup.

It's not clear whether Little knew, or had even considered, how much discord would be created within the party.

Jackson has been a controversial figure for years.

He was an MP for the left-wing Alliance between 1999 and 2002, and a broadcaster since then.

Three years ago Jackson and co-host John Tamihere were stood down, and subsequently reinstated, by RadioLive.

That was because of their attitude, during an interview with a young woman, to the Roast Busters scandal.

They were accused of trivialising the activities of the group of young men who had been boasting online about getting underage girls drunk and having sex with them.

It was that which caused the first problem for Labour.

MP Poto Williams, a sexual abuse victim, went public with her concerns about Jackson and despite meeting him this week she still hasn't endorsed him as a Labour candidate.

Jackson says he apologised after the interview, had done so numerous times since, and will do so again if he has to.

He's also been pointing out that he heads the Manukau Urban Maori Authority, which campaigns against violence against women.

Williams seems to have been working alone, but while she was criticising Jackson others were gearing up to voice concerns from other perspectives.

Labour's youth wing, Young Labour, posted an open online letter to the party's ruling council opposing Jackson's candidacy.

It cited his attitude to gays - he once said he was "uncomfortable" around gay men - and his support for charter schools, which Labour opposes.

Around 400 party members were reported to have signed the letter, including three former women MPs - Maryan Street, Carol Beaumont and Marian Hobbs.

They have queried why Jackson should be given a high list place when there are women candidates who have been striving to get onto it for years.

Little has been trying to damp it all down, but it's his own actions that have also been under scrutiny.

Jackson wasn't a party member when Little approached him, and won't have been one for long enough to qualify as a candidate when the list is announced.

He'll need a special waiver for that, issued by the council.

Little also went over the council's head when he announced Jackson was coming on board.

He now says it will be up to the council to decide whether Jackson is a suitable candidate.

He knows the council will endorse Jackson because it doesn't have much choice - a split between the council and the leader would be fatal for Labour's election chances.

Little has run a messy operation. The fallout is manageable and there won't be an open revolt, but it need not have happened the way it did.

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