Jacqui Van Der Kaay: Candidate selection process under fire – again

Jacqui Van Der Kaay: Candidate selection process under fire – again

Anyone who thinks that political scandals don’t matter, need only look to the United Kingdom where, on Friday, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab resigned after an investigation into complaints of bullying.

He is the third senior minister to resign in six months following a tumultuous period in British politics including the short-lived premiership of Liz Truss and scandals involving former Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

New Zealand has not seen the same level of scandals, but the country is far from scandal free. In recent months we have seen the following:

  • Former Cabinet Minister Stuart Nash was sacked from Cabinet
  • Questions have been raised about political lobbying and party donations – most recently about donations Justice Minister Kiri Allan received from Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon for her 2020 campaign
  • Earlier this month Allan, had to apologise for not following the Cabinet rules
  • The Green Party is currently investigating allegations of bullying by MP Elizabeth Kerekere
  • Last week the National Party’s selection process came under fire again

The last one is in some ways the most surprising – given that National was already under intense scrutiny over its selection process because of a series of scandals involving its candidates and newly elected MPs. It’s hard to believe that the National Party didn’t check former candidate Stephen Jack’s social media before selecting him to stand for Taieri seat.

The media did that job for them – Stuff uncovering two offensive posts on Jack’s Facebook account. The first was a video he had shared that included the joke: “I like my Covid like I like my women. Nineteen. And easy to spread”. He removed the post after it became public. The second, also reported by Stuff, was a poem he shared that compared former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to Hitler. By that evening he had resigned.

National Party leader Christopher Luxon told media he was pleased that Jack had resigned and said that the party had standards that it ensured were upheld. At the same time, however, he was unable to confirm if Jack’s social media had been vetted.

The party does, however, ask its candidates if there is anything they should be aware of before their selection. The problem with relying on this quality assurance process for social media is that people posting material on their social media clearly think it is appropriate. In this case, the media found the information on Jack’s public page. It’s not that hard to do so – a basic check of a candidate’s social media presence seems like an essential part of the vetting process.

Unfortunately for Luxon, the matter didn’t end when Jack resigned. The morning after his resignation, Jack blamed the media for the demise of his short-lived political career. He accused them, via a statement given to Radio New Zealand, of “woke stupidity” and “character assignation”. RNZ reported that Jack said the posts he had shared had been presented in a “misconstrued and false context” and in a way he found to be “vile and offensive”.

Luxon should be concerned that less than six months from the election, the party’s candidate selection process has once again come up lacking, particularly after providing assurances that its processes had been tidied up after the Sam Uffindell scandal.

It can be easy to dismiss issues like these as being insignificant to the wider public. Jack himself tried to do this by saying he had been “cancelled”. However, the public doesn’t take kindly to this type of behaviour. As Jack doubled down, some people in the electoral expressed their dissatisfaction. One Tairei local interviewed by Newshub said: “Integrity’s so important, really, you’ve got to have it to be in a public position today.” Another said, “Someone who’s keen to represent the region needs to have a think about what he puts on social media.”

Research in the United Kingdom shows that the public expects a lot from its elected representatives and holds them to a higher standard than other citizens. The public also considers what politicians say as issues of integrity. Interestingly, as it would appear to be in this case, the research found that politicians themselves don’t hold the same view, instead holding a much narrower position and only seeing transgressions as issues of integrity.


Jacqui Van Der Kaay is a PhD student at Victoria University of Wellington. She is a former journalist, holds a Masters degree in Political Science from Victoria University of Wellington and has a specialist interest in political leadership, voter behaviour, immigration and how social media affects democracy.