Cunliffe v. Shearer

Frontrunners Impress Labour Faithful

at Wellington  Meeting

By Russell Marshall

About 300 Wellington Labour Party members have had their first reason to smile since the heavy election defeat eleven days earlier.

Faced with the need to elect new leaders, party members for the first time had an opportunity to hear the contenders and to ask them questions last night.

Wellington’s meeting was held at the Taranaki Street Methodist Church and chaired by CTU President Helen Kelly.

The two contenders for the leadership, David Cunliffe and David Shearer, and the two running for deputy, Nanaia Mahuta and Grant Robertson, all performed well.

Nanaia Mahuta and Grant Robertson

Cunliffe and Mahuta have both been in parliament for over a decade and were both ministers in the latter years of Helen Clark’s government.

Shearer and Robertson entered parliament in 2009 and 2008 respectively but both have a wealth of valuable prior experience.

‘A New Generation’

Notwithstanding the length time that two of them have already had in parliament, this felt like a new generation.

All four will probably be on Labour’s front bench in the new parliament, together with people such as Jacinda Adern, Shane Jones and David Parker.

Despite the present contests, they seem to get on well together and there were promising signs of willingness to be a strong opposition, which is healthy.

Cunliffe ‘on top of issues,’ Shearer less experienced

The experienced Cunliffe is well on top of issues, speaks and debates well, and made a good impression.

Shearer, much less experienced in the debating chamber, has good instincts and will learn quickly. He also thinks quickly on his feet and has a useful self-deprecating humour.

Mahuta would still not be well known to many, but her ease and commonsense marked her out as a newly formidable senior Maori politician.

Robertson has for some time been seen as destined for seniority in the party and it was easy to see why.

If David Shearer wins, which seems at least 50% likely, he will inevitably be on a steeper learning curve than Cunliffe, but either of them would do the job well. Whoever wins the caucus votes next Tuesday, from this performance I expect Labour’s new front bench, once settled, to give John Key and his ministers quite a good run for their money.

(Russell Marshall is a Life Member of the Labour Party, which he joined in 1968)


Giving Key and offsiders ‘quite a good run for their money’ is not an ambitious objective. Now that Shearer has the job, I hope he can come up with some more inspiring call to action than that, but it may be only too accurately a description of his style. Cunliffe would have been a sometimes irritating but often inspiring spokesman. Let’s hope he’s given leave to follow his instincts.