The five key points to consider when choosing the next Labour leader

So, David Shearer has pulled the pin on his leadership of the Labour party and killed off his own ambition because, he says, the party's ambition is more important. A decent sentiment from a decent man; it's cliche to say he's a good and likeable man, but he is. However he lacked what New Zealand is looking for here and now.

Shearer's leadership stood in the shadow of John Key's, and that remains the greatest challenge for whoever can win the election to take the mantle. What Labour is looking for now, more than anything, is someone who can find a path to beating an immensely popular Prime Minister, who nevertheless is now leading a government with public trust and coalition issues.

The hope was that Shearer would be an intelligent everyman, a surfer bloke who connected with middle New Zealand. His policies showed moments of that, but his communication skills proved insufficient for the 21st century bear pit of politics.

The surprise is not that he's gone, as I've written before, but that he's gone today.

He could make a very good education minister one day and it seems he plans to stick around.

One question is what role he'll play in the coming election. Will he endorse anyone, for example?

Labour now has to ask itself who is the man for the times; and the new leader is certain to be a man. Robertson, Cunliffe, Jones and Little - they are the only ones with a chance. Little is the longest shot.

The new leader has to try to rattle Key, has to be able to take him on as a communicator, debater and economic leader. Have no doubt, times are tough enough and 2014 will be an economic election. Who knows the numbers? Who has the charisma?

And this leader has to be able to feel safe. They need a loyal deputy who isn't looking for the chance to take over and the backing of both party and caucus, which Shearer lacked for too long.

If I was trying to figure out who to put in charge, these are the bullet points I'd have on my white board:

John Key - who can beat him?

Turnout - who can get south Auckland out to vote and who can excite middle Auckland?

Winston - who gets on well with coalition king-makers?

Economics - who can offer a vision of a growing and prosperous New Zealand, balancing the needs of the Greens and the workers? Social reform policies will not win the next election.

Five percent - for years now the numbers have always meant Labour need to get about five percent, mostly off National, to get back in the game. Who can swing those numbers?

To start to answer my own questions, they surely point to Cunliffe or Jones, don't they? Neither especially popular within caucus, but maybe New Zealand Labour needs to hold its nose just like Australia Labour did.

Let the debate begin below. Over to you...

Comments (26)

by Katharine Moody on August 22, 2013
Katharine Moody

Jones and Little as co-leaders, Cunliffe as Minister of Finance - and start forming the policies for a grand coalition with Greens and NZ First now. JMTCW.

by Ross on August 22, 2013
Ross

To start to answer my own questions, they surely point to Cunliffe or Jones, don't they?

Jones, really? I can't see the elctorate warming to him. He comes across as smug, almost arrogant. His sense of humour only slightly mitigates.

I can only see Cunliffe and Robertson as genuine contenders who may get across the line in 2014. Whether they can work together as leader and deputy is the question.

by Tim Watkin on August 22, 2013
Tim Watkin

Cunliffe suffers from the same problem Ross, but then Key has his moments too. We don't seem to mind the odd bit of arrogance in our leaders. He plays the "naughty Maori boy" (as someone here put it) rather well. He's clever as hell, knows business and has some energy, humour and power about him.

Having said that, he's never won an electorate seat.

by Annie Wright on August 22, 2013
Annie Wright

Cunliffe: yes.

Jones: no  - one word:  porn.

by Ross on August 22, 2013
Ross

Tim,

Actually I think Jones comes across more pompous than smug...maybe its the way he speaks. He might be all the things you say he is but I can't see the elctorate warming to him.

by Matthew Percival on August 22, 2013
Matthew Percival

I like Shane Jones but sometimes I wonder if he is in the wrong party. Can't see him garnering widespread support within the party to be Labour leader. Plus his past indiscretion with pornography doesn't exactly provide a connection with middle New Zealand families and you need that to win the middle.

The Cunliffe detractors say he comes across as smug and arrogant. Incidentally I've heard many people say the same thing about John Key yet it doesn't seem to affect Key's approval rating.

Grant Robertson is interesting but he isn't articulate enough. When he debates he is like a steam train running through the stations without stopping. Robertson is also one who doesn't let the facts get in the way of a good story. I think the electorate would grow tired of him and his style after time. I also think that being the deputy to the current leader is a bad position from which to mount a campaign. He is too close to Shearer to be seen to be bringing a new vision to the party.

For my money the answer to the leadership conundrum is fairly easy.

David Cunliffe

 

by Katharine Moody on August 22, 2013
Katharine Moody

Isn't Labour the party of Maori, unions and youth? Don't see Cunliffe aligning with any of those in particular - just as David Shearer did not.

by Lynn Prentice on August 22, 2013
Lynn Prentice

Jones has about as much chance as he has support inside the Labour party - minimal. Screwing up once or twice is just part of politics. But Jones is simply too sloppy, he screws up pretty much all of the time. 

And in recent years he has looked like being a parliamentary representative for Sealords rather than for the Labour party. None of which gives any chance of him carrying the membership of the party or even the unions (they are quite aware of Sealords appalling labour relations).

I have never quite understood why various members of the media think that Shane Jones has a chance of anything apart from leaving the NZLP.

by Nick Gibbs on August 22, 2013
Nick Gibbs

Labour need to tap the youth vote to combat the greens and stop their continual slide. Jacinda should be at the top of their list.

by Katharine Moody on August 22, 2013
Katharine Moody

And in recent years he has looked like being a parliamentary representative for Sealords rather than for the Labour party.

Really?

http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/8915572/Sealord-to-face-angry-iwi

 

 

by william blake on August 22, 2013
william blake

Shame David Parker pulled his own pin. Probably will have to wait till 2017 for a real contender; by then Key will off in Hawaii having blue drinks with umbrellas in them and pizza and the Labour party will be trimmed down to a minority party dependent on the Green Party for succour, led by Lila Harre of Hellen Kelly.

by Chris Webster on August 22, 2013
Chris Webster

Tim: At the town hall the other evening David got up to talk & it was empty & half-hearted & he seemed dis-interested. In fact he got little applause for any of his statements. When he made reference to him leading the labour party in 2014 as the next government - it sounded to me - like a silent death knell. The pattern was the same - lifeless and unimaginative.  I felt sympathy for him.

Compare that to a summer's day - being Russel Norman - every sentence he uttered was applauded & loudly & sustained - each sentence had a kick to it - relevant to the topic - the waves of applause were in stark contrast to David Shearer's presentation.  Hei aha - I digress.

As I do not vote for Labour - never have - never will - and Shane Jones had the temerity to suggest I promote the policies of the Act party - he should remember what he was chair of & how that party went to war to protect commercial and private property rights of all citizens.

In my view Shane is indeed in the wrong party - his tastes for life & other excusions do not quite fit the labour party mould/mold? (Not it is not a pun - but talking of Mold - what will she do now? having left a well-paying job at that other place? 

Should it matter - Cunnliffe - LIttle - Robertson - and do not forget the bolshie women in Labour's ranks - they are not going to accept the old-boy-blue-collar male line-up - no ma'am.

by Chris Webster on August 22, 2013
Chris Webster

Tim: At the town hall the other evening David got up to talk & it was empty & half-hearted & he seemed dis-interested. In fact he got little applause for any of his statements. When he made reference to him leading the labour party in 2014 as the next government - it sounded to me - like a silent death knell. The pattern was the same - lifeless and unimaginative.  I felt sympathy for him.

Compare that to a summer's day - being Russel Norman - every sentence he uttered was applauded & loudly & sustained - each sentence had a kick to it - relevant to the topic - the waves of applause were in stark contrast to David Shearer's presentation.  Hei aha - I digress.

As I do not vote for Labour - never have - never will - and Shane Jones had the temerity to suggest I promote the policies of the Act party - he should remember what he was chair of & how that party went to war to protect commercial and private property rights of all citizens.

In my view Shane is indeed in the wrong party - his tastes for life & other excusions do not quite fit the labour party mould/mold? (Not it is not a pun - but talking of Mold - what will she do now? having left a well-paying job at that other place? 

Should it matter - Cunnliffe - LIttle - Robertson - and do not forget the bolshie women in Labour's ranks - they are not going to accept the old-boy-blue-collar male line-up - no ma'am.

by Tim Watkin on August 22, 2013
Tim Watkin

@Nick, the youth vote won't get close to winning anyone the election (even if it turns out) and Jacinda isn't nearly ready. She's already highly ranked.

@Lynn – gee, maybe because your opponents fear him and he's popular with the public. But hey, Labour (at its worst) has a habit of thinking it knows better than, y'know, voters.

@Katharine. I think the unions can work with Cunliffe, less so with Jones and more so with Little (obviously). But if Labour is the party of just those three groups it's doomed.

As for the porn, there's a part of me that's always suspected that almost becomes a virtue at some point – makes him seem real, a little naughty. Tough for women voters though and Key's already taken enough of them, where they were more of a Labour strength.

 

by Katharine Moody on August 22, 2013
Katharine Moody

But if Labour is the party of just those three groups it's doomed.

Hopefully MMP is moving us past centrism which in the early post-MMP environment has seen these two parties trying to be all things to all people - or as I'd call it the Bill English 'swallow a few dead rats' strategy. To me such centrism forces these parties to be unable to represent anything based on principled argument and credible analysis. Instead we get "spin" and never really understand what the underlying intention is. Give me a Hone anyday, as at least he's honest enough to let us all  know exactly where he stands.     

by Richard Clark on August 22, 2013
Richard Clark

Shearer(ing) Season Over . . . Now we have a real window for change. I vote Russell Norman to head Labor. Merge the Greens Maori and Labor. The Green Labor Whanau. Fresh ideas, 100% Natural Aotearoa. Time for a revolutionary evolution of Kiwi thinking.

by James Green on August 22, 2013
James Green

The surprise is not that he's gone, as I've written before, but that he's gone today.

I was thinking the opposite. You might recall that last week (?) I suggested your hypothesised swing back to the left was mere noise, after the Roy Morgan poll this week, there is perhaps starting to be enough evidence for me to agree. When I saw it, I actually started to wonder whether if that turned into a full blown shift whether there might be more than one set of knives being sharpened. I think for the first time in ages, National seem a bit vulnerable, and I think in his heart Shearer knew that he was not in the best position to take advantage.

by Nicole on August 22, 2013
Nicole

Tim: I agree re Shane Jones' image problem with women voters.  Given that the Labour line up is pretty blokey these days, a deputy leader with a known penchant for (state-funded) porn would not be a good look.  

by Tim Watkin on August 22, 2013
Tim Watkin

James, I think that's a very sound take on things. While Roy Morgan is the most erratic of the main polls, there's perhaps more of a sign, not that National is in trouble, but just that the swing towards it had stopped. Which is all I was claiming last week. But you're right, if there is an opportunity there Shearer wasn't the man to exploit it. There's really very little bad you can say about Shearer except that he just wasn't the man for this most terrible of jobs at this time and in this place.

@Richard, the same Labour-Green merger suggestion was made when I was on Nat Radio's panel this afternoon. It's seems a nutso idea to me – economically the parties have different takes and for all the policy common ground, their traditions and modus operandi are so different. And anyway, why would you want to get the left to cram itself into one box.

One clear advantage it has over the right in MMP is that the differences mean the parties can be more than the sum of their parts and aim at different targets. Having eaten all its friends, National has to be all things to all centre-right and right voters; that's working under the popularity if Key, but will become much, much harder to manage under a different leader.

by Tim Watkin on August 22, 2013
Tim Watkin

Chris, I think we're going to see Labour MPs accepting all sorts of things they wouldn't have even considered not that long ago! Each of the contenders comes with such baggage... And really, we all know that Labour has to embrace at least some its working-class blokiness if it wants to get finally clear of the Clark era. That may not be fair, but it's needed if they want to win a few punters off National.

Interesting about the meeting, thanks for sharing that. However don't forget how much easier it is being Russel Norman – you only have to charm or at least not alienate 15% of the people, not 35%. And to be frank, that crowd was an easy crowd for him – his kinda people. Those votes are in the bag for one of the left parties and, as Key has intimated, of no interest to anyone. The only two types that matter now are the middle swinger and the left-leaning non-turn-outer. They will decide the next election.

by Richard Clark on August 23, 2013
Richard Clark

Nutso ideas are new ideas that challenge people's comfort levels. Aotearoa needs a change of direction we are creating a nightmare.

by Bruce Thorpe on August 23, 2013
Bruce Thorpe

If I remember my fourth form Shakespear right, Caesar had a preference for sleek headed men who slept o' nights.

Very sensible too, if you want to retain power, it is the early to rise and late to bed who will be the serious challenger.

That rules out the Ngapuhi sealord, I would guess.

Cunliffe is not wanted by the old guard, which is a serious recommendation. 

Let the deputy remain the deputy.

by Alan Johnstone on August 23, 2013
Alan Johnstone

"Isn't Labour the party of Maori, unions and youth? Don't see Cunliffe aligning with any of those in particular - just as David Shearer did not."

Neither did Helen Clark and it didn't stop her leading for over a decade and being PM for 9 years.

I can only assume that people talking about Jacinda Arden as Labour leader are drunk; she's a 33 years old list MP with no ministerial background. Could you imagine her going head to had with John Key in a pre-election debate ? Frankly she doesn't remotely justify her present ranking. Talent is there, is a decade maybe.

Cunnliffe the only viable option; Labour wants power and will suck it up and elect him. Labour needs someone with sometime in the provate sector. Only he has the background in business and finance to go against Key.

 

by stuart munro on August 24, 2013
stuart munro

A Cunliffe Little team would do the most to energise the electorate.

Shane Jones is out for me - a slave-ship operator. Reflagging is a ruse de guerre.

 

by Tim Watkin on August 25, 2013
Tim Watkin

Quite agree with you Alan, especially on the finance heft to take on Key. Not only does he understand the stuff, he can articulate a different economic vision to National in a non-threatening, non-woolly way... and even though Labour is meant to be a much broader  church than just Maori, youth and unions, I wouldn't underestimate Cunliffe's appeal to those groups these days. He's sucked it up the past year and he's been endearing himself to the left of the party, especially the unions.

Good to see Robertson announce he's standing today – a contest has the potential to do the party good re profile, engagement, stimulating ideas and ultimately election turnout.

 

by Peggy Klimenko on August 26, 2013
Peggy Klimenko

I'd consider returning to voting Labour if either Cunliffe or Robertson is elected. Not a chance if Jones is elected. It isn't just the porn thing, it's his misogyny. I heard him interviewed on Nine to Noon today; when Lynn Freeman challenged him on his use of the repellent "geldings", he was dismissive and contemptuous. He couldn't apologise for using the term, justified it by saying that it was given to him by a woman at a meeting up north (so that's ok then, if a sheila says it?), then sneered at "university graduates" taking exception to it. Really clever on his part, taking a swipe at graduates: I'd wager the overwhelming majority of Maori graduates are women. So there he goes, insulting a significant part of his own constituency. He's an arrogant blowhard.

It might be possible to overlook the arrogance, were it not for the rest of the package. In my view, not only does he exemplify the misogyny that underlies Maori society, he lacks insight into his own behaviour and motivations. This lack of insight has caused his pratfalls in the past, and wihout a doubt there will be more. These characteristics make him unsuitable for leadership.

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