Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On the Labour leadership change

December 13th, 2011

david shearer, grant robertson

So it is to be David Shearer as leader, and Grant Robertson as deputy. With David Cunliffe, there were always two concerns. One, whether the wider public would warm to Cunliffe’s combatively intellectual style, and secondly whether his caucus would support him loyally in the battle against the Key government. With David Shearer, the concern is whether he can carry the fight in Parliament and beyond, with sufficient confidence and authority.

Labour may live to regret this choice. Undoubtedly, Cunliffe is the more polished performer with the more proven record of political achievement. The claim of disloyalty – that he was really to blame for Phil Goff’s inability on the campaign trail to defend Labour’s election costings – always seemed bizarre. It was a charge born of Labour’s internal tribal resentments given that, as leader, Goff had only himself to blame if he couldn’t defend his election costings credibly.

More to the point, while in government, Cunliffe had taken on Telecom and virtually ended the harmful market dominance that the telecommunications giant had been allowed to get away with for the previous 15 years. (The Key government BTW, is now in the process of restoring Telecom’s dominance, this time in broadband )

Regardless, the Labour caucus has now chosen Shearer. He is Labour’s aspirational choice. The hope being that Shearer’s very inexperience and lack of polish will work for Labour, as a foil to John Key’s perceived likeability. As a consequence, both New Zealand’s main political parties are now being lead by politicians who are running, essentially, as anti-politicians. Both project themselves as ordinary bloke outsiders to what Parliament has come to represent.

In Key’s case, this has involved considerable work and day to day management, in order to distance himself from his government’s less popular policies, and to shield him from sustained media scrutiny.

The media are likely to be less kind to Shearer. Opposition parties are fair game for mainstream journalism, given that less is at stake with them in being a tiger at the keyboard.

Since Parliament is due to sit before Christmas, Shearer will have no time for a breather before he is thrown into a media-driven cycle of hand to hand combat with Key and his front bench. In reality, an Opposition can rarely expect to prevail in such encounters. If Shearer can avoid being trounced in these early skirmishes, that will almost count as a victory.

Similarly, for the next couple of years there has to be a reasonable level of expectation as to what an Opposition can achieve. The Key government will be the agent of its own demise during its second term, rather than any masterstroke by Labour.

The reality is that neither of the major items on the government’s second term agenda – asset sales and welfare reform – will address the chronic weakness in the New Zealand economy, and the related lack of well paying jobs. The Opposition cannot stop the current erosion of the standard of living. All it can do is to try and look like a credible alternative, and position itself as the decent, consistent advocate of middle income and poorer New Zealanders.

The economy has to remain Labour’s focus (and it cannot afford to waste Cunliffe’s talents in that respect). Labour has to avoid being drawn into every sideshow – including industrial unrest – that the government will be conjuring up over the next three years to distract the public from its failure to lift the standard of living for all but a fortunate few.

Years ago, Mike Moore used to hammer on about how Labour was a broad church. Yet ideologically, neither Shearer or Cunliffe mark much of a break from Phil Goff’s worldview. The unknown factor is how Shearer will perform under fire. As yet, not even the colleagues who voted for him today know the answer to that one.
Joyce as heir apparent. While Hekia Parata made the big leap in the Cabinet rankings to become Education Minister, the more significant move was that of Steven Joyce to Minister of Economic Development, while retaining his associate finance and tertiary education roles.

Joyce, as the new jobs czar with his hands on all the economic, scientific and educational levers necessary to lift the New Zealand economy – including the management of oil, gas and mining exploration – will be the man held primarily responsible for the success (or failure) of National’s second term in office. What this ascension will put at risk is MED’s capacity to be a more balanced, less ideologically driven voice on the economic policy than the extremists at Treasury.

Hitherto, Joyce has been something of a backroom operator behind the scenes – a grey Bill Birch fixer, whose political appeal is irrelevant – but his current load of responsibilities will inevitably propel Joyce into the public spotlight, as the heir apparent to John Key. If it ever comes to that, the task of making Joyce into an attractive political figure will pose a few headaches for the image merchants. But clearly, that’s a problem for another day.


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    1. 21 Responses to “On the Labour leadership change”

    2. By Elyse on Dec 13, 2011 | Reply

      Thanks for a spot on assessment once again, Gordon.
      I like Shearer but fear he’s not shallow or cunning enough to compete with the smiling assassin in the media. Hope Labour get him some first rate training.
      Still, once the gnats have shrunk the economy over the next three years and all those small time aspirationals who vote for them realize that beneficiaries cannot be blamed for everything, Labour might not have to do much to get in, as you have suggested previously. They’ll just have a hellava mess to clean up.
      I’ve never understood why Cunliffe gets such a bad rap. Would have loved to see Mahuta as deputy. She’s awesome in debates and funny, too.

    3. By Leon Henderson on Dec 13, 2011 | Reply

      I am falling in love with you Elyse!!!

    4. By Angela on Dec 13, 2011 | Reply

      It’s great to read an insightful piece like this.

    5. By Joe Blow on Dec 13, 2011 | Reply

      Although I prefer Shearer, I don’t think that either Cunliffe or Shearer are made for leadership. I’ve seen interviews that suggest that Shearer is just a new face for the dead wood in the Labour party. Cunliffe lacks kiwi humbleness, but he may have been what we needed in terms of someone that could take an axe to the dead wood. So when caucus voted was the dead wood just thinking about self preservation or do they really want Shearer? It’s a hell of a gamble. Shearer falters when he talks about topics he doesn’t know much about (for example the economy), but he’s a lightening rod when it comes to international affairs. There are flashes of the leader he may become. It looks like it’s going to be a baptism of fire for Shearer. Let’s hope there’s a phoenix left 6 months down the track, instead of a gnarled charred piece of green wood amongst the even more charred dead wood…

    6. By Shane Jones for 2017 on Dec 13, 2011 | Reply

      I suspect that in 18 months’ time all the news reports will be speculating on when Grant Robertson “will make his move” on the leadership.

      My pick: Labour gets 20% of vote in 2014, and Robertson/Shearer get removed.

      Hopefully they’ll choose people that have a record of actually “connecting” with the public i.e. Shane Jones, Damien O’Connor, Clayton Cosgrove – to ensure a strong Opposition is elected in 2017 because strong democracies need strong oppositions that are potential governments.

      What’s been dished up today is weak soup!

    7. By Cullen's Sidekick on Dec 14, 2011 | Reply

      Good to see still some half dead Labour rats ranting over Key bringing this country on its knees etc and then Labour will come back and save it. Just sit tight and cry in a corner silently for the next three years, you losers.

    8. By Elyse on Dec 14, 2011 | Reply

      hey, Cullen’s Sidekick,

      There’s a sunny middle eastern country where the opposition have to “sit tight and cry in a corner”. Why don’t you move there?

    9. By Sailor Sam on Dec 14, 2011 | Reply

      The main beneficiary (excuse the pun) of Shearer’s “Clean, Green and Clever” statement will be Russsel Norman as leader of teh largest non-government party fter the 2014 election.
      Fancy giving your greatest political rival such a leg up.

    10. By Erica on Dec 14, 2011 | Reply

      Have a labour voter since my youth, now 63. Bitterly dissappointed in the selection,for its absence of strategy at a time when we need a vital and assertive opposition. With a newby upfront, and two blokes at that, my perception is that it has taken a giant leap backwards and become another boy’s club. At a time when we urgently need a stengthened oppositon Labour plays as if it has time on its side, a decision made by a ship of fools. To those under 30s who deserve better representation it becomes abundantly clear it will not come from Labour and in 2014, I will be voting for the party that does have youth and vision – and understands the aspirations of the rising generations. Double Tick Green. If there is to be a centre Left government in 2014 or 2017, it will a Green led coalition.

    11. By Leon Henderson on Dec 14, 2011 | Reply

      Gordon: Why did Trevor Mallard stay out? He is the only person in the hideously, insipidly, bloodless so-called “Labour” Party that has got enough “personality” to win them an election in this rabidly populist era.

      Am no fan of Trevor at all, about the only thing he “stands” for is rugby, but the Labour Party is in desperate need of a leader who has got a “personality”, and apart from Trevor, they are utterly devoid of anyone, apart from Trevor, who has got any!!!

      A guy on Werewolf said to be very cautious about believing anything that David Shearer said as per his “Socialistic Face”.

      Within two days (of that) David Shearer refused to, in an interview, state that he would reverse the Selling of what little remains of our Strategic Publically-Owned Government Assets, such as the power stations.

      Suits and Ties!!!

      All the same!!!

      And look at his “Deputy”!!! He looks like Gerald Brownley, and is actually a Mirror-Image of Gerald, literally!!!

    12. By Heavydee on Dec 14, 2011 | Reply

      I’m convinced that 50% of Key’s popularity is down to his looks and perceived affability. Personality politics obviously rule for a large swathe of the voting public because polls have shown that very few actually like National’s policies. Yet in this climate of personality politics Labour elects some old guy that nobody knows and looks like he was just blown in on the last South-Westerly.

      I think Cunliffe has an infinitely more marketable image than Bag Lady Shearer. The sad, yet inescapable truth is that image is what wins elections.

      Personally I would have liked to have seen the up and coming Jacinta Ardern as someone’s deputy. Young and hot can’t hurt.

    13. By Heavydee on Dec 14, 2011 | Reply

      Personality politics is clearly the name of the game when polls consistently showed no one actually likes National’s policies yet they never looked like losing. I’m convinced Key’s undentable popularity is down to his looks and perceived affability.

      Yet in this climate Labour puts some old guy who looks like the wind just blew him in as leader? IMO Cunliffe has an infinitely more marketable image that would have been enhanced with someone young and good looking like Jacinta Ardern as his deputy.

    14. By Joe Blow on Dec 14, 2011 | Reply

      Markets picking Shearer for PM in 2014…

    15. By Joe Blow on Dec 14, 2011 | Reply

      @ Leon

      I think the point is that Shearer isn’t just another suit Leon…

    16. By richarquis on Dec 16, 2011 | Reply

      @Cullen’s Sidekick – Unless you can honestly say you never made a complaint about Cullen’s “We won, you lost” comment, why don’t you drop the crappy attitude, and try saying something with a shred of intellect behind it?

    17. By Dee on Dec 16, 2011 | Reply

      I say give David Shearer a whirl. It is OK to say David Cunliffe has the brains, but doe he have the likeability factor? Cullen’s sidekick, get lost, we don’t need Nats here. Thanks.

    18. By Leon Henderson on Dec 16, 2011 | Reply

      Joe: so do you definitely think that David Shearer is a real Socialist?

      I do not know what he is, but can only reiterate that I heard him on the radio in an interview and was extremely impressed by what he said; however, a guy recently put a Post on Werewolf saying that anyone with a voice-box and a minimum of half a brain can say nice-sounding words. That is not literally quoting him, but what he was meaning is to warn people not to let themselves get automatically sucked-in by the “Socialistic” words of David Shearer.

      What is the most powerful weapon of every capitalist/con-man?


      And it in no way squared with his recent (policy) ambivalence about reversing the John Key/Stephen Joyce/William English State Strategic Asset sales.

      David Shearer and David Cunliffe were both gloatingly confronted by the foreign-owned corporate mass-media hacks about whether they (Cunliffe and Shearer) would, if they were in Government again, reverse the State Asset sales.

      David Cunliffe said “we will look at it”, and David Shearer refused to say anything at all, or at least, according to the corporate mass-media he would not say anything. Joe, did he/has he made a statement about undoing the State Asset sales?

      The ties on their necks, Joe, are actually dog-leashes that Wall Street drags them ideologically around with!!! It is extremely alarming: the so-called “Labour” Party are just like the Tony Blair “Labour” Party in Pommieland, who were just as horrendously Anti-Working-Class as Margaret Thatcher!

      I need another drink!!! In fact, I need at least fifteen very big drinks!!!

    19. By Joe Blow on Dec 17, 2011 | Reply

      @ Leon

      Now I’ve got a good question for you Leon. Now think hard about this one. Are you a real socialist Leon?

    20. By Leon Henderson on Dec 19, 2011 | Reply

      I wouldn’t classify myself as being much of a Socialist at all in practice Joe, but that does not prevent me from emphatically believing that egalitarianism is the only morally correct political/social/economic philosophy.

    21. By Joe Blow on Dec 19, 2011 | Reply

      @ Leon

      I guess, at least, if Shearer isn’t a socialist, he’s definitely a humanitarian…

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