Saturday, 5 June 2010

The A list

We can all sleep sounder now we know who are Canterbury's fifty most influential people – the Power A-Listers or PALs.

These sort of lists fall risk slipping into the category of junk journalism. They are as much about who isn't on them as who is, and say a lot about the priorities and values of the compilers.

We're constantly bombarded with lists of the most beautiful / sexy / wealthy / well-dressed or whatever and, despite trying hard not to, I couldn't resist doing an analysis of our home-grown 'movers and shakers'.

These human earthquakes are almost exclusively white, mostly male and (judging from photos and biographical details) are in, or heading towards the 'older demographic'.

In fact, there's only one person under 30.

Three quarters are male and all, bar one, are Pakeha. (I was also guided by biographical details and photos in arriving at this figure.)

Of the female PALs, 11 are involved in politics, the arts, education or health. The twelfth is a former maker of public policy who is now a consultant on public policy.

There are two current and one former National MPs; one former and one current Labour MPs, and one former Christchurch Mayor turned 'environmental entrepreneur'.

Three are married to prominent businessmen a fact which no doubt helps in carrying out the charitable works which affords them their PAL status. The Arts especially benefit from PALs with time on their well manicured hands.

National heads the overall party PALitics list with a total of 4 current and 3 former MPs.

Education makes a very good showing – well, that bit of it which deals with people over the age of 18. Of the 6 education A-Listers, 5 are men and 4 are involved in the tertiary sector.

Both in terms of secondary schools attended by PALs and the two princiPALs on the list, Canterbury's old boy network is – as you'd expect - well represented.

Clearly the days when the leaders of student politics were significant are long gone – but I cannot see why no-one from primary and early years' education figures.

There's only one churchman - the vicar of a suburban church and an outspoken supporter of the conservative Anglican Latimer Fellowship.

The sole media figure on the list is the editor who commissioned the list and who sees his newspaper as setting the City's agenda - to some measure one assumes, by publishing the list.

There are no practising doctors or nurses – the health sector PALs are both managers. Why am I not surprised?

There is no-one from the labour movement unless you count the Labour MP who was a union lawyer. So, no surprises there either.

There are no specific representatives from the older population - unless you consider that is covered by the average age of the members of the list. However, given the socio-economic location of the PALs relative to the bulk of the older population, that may be an assumption too far.

The two PALs from within the criminal justice system are the tough-on-crime top cop and the elegantly attired crown prosecutor. There are no human rights advocates or prominent defence lawyers.

In the green corner we have an entrepreneur, the Chairman of ECan and a wealthy patroness. So if you are concerned for the future of Canterbury's environment, you have every right to be.

In the 'business' sector which, predictably, leads the table in terms of numbers, Christchurch City Council is far and away the most influential organisation.

There's the Mayor, the CEO of the council, the Chairman and Chief Executive of the Council's commercial arm, Christchurch City Holdings Ltd, and the Chief Executive of VBase, which manages the Council's property portfolio.

Given the Council's majority stake in the Airport, Orion and Lyttelton Port, the inclusion of the CEOs of those three organisations makes the CCC federation pretty formidable.

As an aside, given the commercial arms are managed by boards and CEOs, there's no education or social services to manage and no large scale housing – how does CCC justify paying its CEO more than the PM?

In addition to the heavy hitters from CCC Inc there are 3 heads of state owned or former state owned enterprises, 3 notables from the finance sector, 2 from retail and 1 each from insurance, recruitment, real estate and property.

And – ONE who heads up a company that actually makes things.

And that brings me to the 40 also-rans – the 16 women and 24 men who are listed as examples of the social cement which holds the city together. They are granted the irritating title of 'Community Hero', but let's face it – they are the B-listers.

However, their efforts are pretty important for the PALs because if you move and shake something that isn't stable, it might well fall to pieces.

Most of the B-listers run a heroic business or work in a heroic job; others (the true heroes in my book) volunteer in various community projects.

One panellist (rather naively) suggested that this is not a 'rich list' but is about 'influence and outcome' .

Hmm. The fact that there are so many B-listers beavering away among the physically, intellectually, economically, generationally disadvantaged in our city does raise the question of how effective the PAL's influence is and how good their outcomes can be said to be.

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