Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell on Labour’s leadership vote

November 20th, 2012

According to one of RNZ’s Morning Report hosts this morning, David Shearer “needs to stamp his authority” on the Labour caucus over the David Cunliffe affair. Well, when people feel the need to stamp their authority on something, it usually means they don’t bring natural authority to the table, and have to over-compensate. Feeling the need to stamp your authority is usually a sign of weakness, not strength.

Not only are the attacks on Cunliffe looking disproportionate to his alleged sins, but demonising him will mean that the caucus is willing to throw overboard one of its few capable public performers and political assets. Yep, let’s keep Trevor Mallard but do our level best to end Cunliffe’s career, once and for all. That makes sense. Let’s crack down on Cunliffe but continue to let Shane Jones publicly go after our coalition allies if they dare to criticise one of his corporate donors. That’s the right thing to do.

What we have seen within Labour in the last few days looks like a witch hunt. This kind of Stalinist stuff for instance, belongs back in the mid 1930s:

There has been speculation some of Cunliffe’s supporters could also be demoted today with names suggested including shadow attorney-general Charles Chauvel, education spokeswoman Nanaia Mahuta, early childhood education spokeswoman Sue Moroney and energy spokeswoman Moana Mackey. However, there is not expected to be a wider reshuffle today and Shearer is expected to detail only Cunliffe’s fall when he holds a press conference after the leadership vote.

That’s not how many in the Labour Party seem to see this situation. They had seen Shearer installed as leader over the heads of the party rank and file who had been invited to express their preference, chose Cunliffe by a clear majority and who were then ignored by a caucus that elevated Shearer, regardless. They then saw Shearer struggle all year in asserting himself as the leader of a credible alternative government.

Come the party conference last week, and delegates voted for a more balanced and more democratic say in the outcome of the leadership vote due in February. Cunliffe indicated his support for the measure, and would not rule out standing then if it came to such a vote – as surely is his right, and the right of anyone else in caucus. At which point, Team Shearer got spooked by the media and cried treason. Apparently in the current climate of the Labour Party you can only have a democratic right to a vote related to the leadership if you declare your intention beforehand that no-one will exercise it. If David Shearer is such a delicate flower that he needs this kind of jackup in order to win a vote within his own party, what chance does he have of winning an election in 2014?

Couldn’t Shearer have said: “If David Cunliffe has an alternative vision to mine, lets hear it. We’re both Labour. My door is open anytime to anyone with good ideas, and if David or anyone else wants this job, we have a vote due in February. I’m happy with that. The party voted on the weekend to become more involved, and I welcome that, too. I’m confident I can continue to earn their trust.” (Shearer’s excellent closing conference speech would then have sealed that deal.) The only conclusion one can draw from the current course of action is that Team Shearer feared losing in February, and today’s pantomine of feudal fealty has been staged to pre-empt that possibility.

Along the way, it seems open season on Cunliffe, to judge by this shabby little hatchet job. Maybe the likes of Chris Hipkins might care to reflect on Labour’s recent history. By general agreement, the biggest mistake made by the Labour government of the 1980s was the selling off of Telecom, and its entrenchment as a private neo-monopoly that pillaged the country, blocked competition and delayed investment in new technologies for years and years. The person who finally took on Telecom and brought it out of its 19th century robber baron phase and into the 21st century was the Telecommunications Minister in the Clark government, who was one David Cunliffe.

True, the buying back of Kiwirail and the bailing out of Air New Zealand were also important – but Cunliffe’s reform of Telecom has been the main act of atonement that Labour has made for its sins of the 1980s. If Cunliffe seems arrogant at times, at least he’s earned it. The modern Labour Party owes him a debt of gratitude on the Telecom score.

In particular, Cunliffe has earned his right to be a candidate for party leader based on his policy record while in government – and not simply because he looked like a political commodity with marketable potential to the group of MPs that finally settled on Shearer. The faint hope is that Shearer will accept the unanimous endorsement he will receive this afternoon, and treat that as being enough. The genuinely strong can afford to be generous in victory, especially to their own kind.


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    1. 9 Responses to “Gordon Campbell on Labour’s leadership vote”

    2. By Ruz on Nov 20, 2012 | Reply

      I suspect that those Labour MPs rallying around Shearer are doing so simply to protect their own positions on the front bench. Shearer has no hope of leading Labour to a win in 2014 so the leadership issue will keep on coming up, and if Cunliffe does come through then he will no doubt remember his friends.

    3. By Delia on Nov 20, 2012 | Reply

      The are a party that is truely lost. Since 1985, with only a breather with Helen, it really has been a struggle to support them. I am ‘hopping of’ the Labour train. A lot needs to change, especially this public fighting. I also think most come across as lazy, picking up their pay. Unemployment, homelessness, public sector cuts, does not excite them to action. It is the latest petty leaders fight. Å hopeless lost cause. Hope they read this, from a 55 year old centre left voter since 17.

    4. By solly on Nov 20, 2012 | Reply

      you’re lucky Armstrong’s got Cunliffe to go after now:

      “The quality of Shearer’s speech must have been a shock for Cunliffe, who had been preening himself in front of any passing camera, a veritable peacock in full feather were it not for the nakedness of his ambition.”

      Considering the monopolies and influential companies (Sky and Sky) who now seem to have an ear of the government, sitting alongside the farce of the Hop pass decision, maybe sidelining a monopoly breaker is seen as a good thing to some.

    5. By donna on Nov 20, 2012 | Reply

      How tiresome. This nonsense should have happened after the 2008 election when everyone on the Left was privately conceding that 2011 would be a phony war. By now Labour might have found an effective leader whose biggest idea wasn’t making Kiwisaver compulsory.
      One might think that given the major problems National are having in education, the simmering discontent in the health sector, and an economy going down the crapper faster than you can say ‘global financial crisis’, that Labour would have plenty to call them out on. So why the yawning silence?
      Labour won’t lose the 2014 election because they were too brave; they’ll lose because they haven’t quite been able to bring themselves to repudiate the policies National is building on as it proceeds to steal our assets.

    6. By philg on Nov 20, 2012 | Reply

      It seems to be a cosmic law that, just when the incumbent government is on its knees with cock up after debacle, that the Labour opposition slits their own throats. Interesting….

    7. By Alex on Nov 21, 2012 | Reply

      What rot. Cunliffe has clearly been a total pain in the butt, and was guilty of going AWOL in the last election campaign, in order to accelerate his own leadership bid. He doesn’t have the right kind of personality to be a leader or prime minister.

      Demoting Cunliffe’s supporters probably would have been harsh, but then, of course that didn’t happen. It certainly wouldn’t be ‘Stalinist’ or whatever to demote Mahuta though, she has been totally absent as spokesperson for education through all of the Hekia Parata shambles. Can she really be that slow off the mark? It seems more likely a deliberate hands-off approach to weaken Shearer.

    8. By Joe Blow on Nov 25, 2012 | Reply

      Yeah, I think that this over reaction by Team Shearer in demoting Cunliffe has resusitated Cunliffe’s popularity when his actions at the conference could have hurt his reputation with the party rank and file.

      I predict that neither of them will be leading come 2014…

    9. By Robert M on Nov 27, 2012 | Reply

      To the modern Labour Party created by the Rogernomes and Helen Clark, Shearer is an embarrasment. Shearer is an ordinary non political plodder- the embodiement of old provincial New Zealand and working class Auckland of the 1950s.
      During the 1970s and 1980s the bulk of Labour Party support became the middle class of clerks, teachers and secretaries and service workers. The 40% of New Zealand that were genuinely working class, largely voted National, third party, Winston or non voted.
      Helen Clarks Labour Party Government had almost nothing to do with working class other than a patronising elitist publicly polite relationship with a residual amount of working class supporters. Clark would have been wiser to end the relationship with Labour and call her party something like the Green Centre Party. That would have been ideal.
      To Clarks somewhat sophisticated voting support, Shearer is worse than an obscentity. Most likely the average Standarite will actively work to see Shearer defeated as they did with Moore and to a degree Goff.
      It is not impossible Shearer will win with the Greens and Winston, but he will be hated by the intelligensia and the voters who vote for Shearer will be a more working class demographic and a different group to a significant degree from the Clark vote.

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