Labour’s Golden Opportunity

Quite clearly a lot of New Zealanders who I think do associate well with Labour’s values around issues like fairness and equality haven’t seen the party as one they want to vote for. Grant Robertson

Good news amongst the gloom?

By Roger Childs

cunliffeOut of last weekend’s election trouncing there was some good news for Labour: a gain of four electorate seats. Also less than half of those who voted – about 77% of people eligible –gave their party vote to National. Unfortunately less than a quarter supported Labour! Even in many electorates where Labour candidates walloped the opposition, the highest party vote was for the Tories.

Bad weather, Kim Dotcom, Dirty Politics and spying allegations can’t be blamed for the rout; the leadership has to be accountable. David Cunliffe tried and failed, and is clearly yesterday’s man. He needs to resign to clear the decks for the careful selection of a new leader.

A flawed leadership process?

Phil Goff resigned from the leadership after the heavy loss in the 2011 election. David Cunliffe and David Shearer toured the country talking to the party faithful and it was the Mt Albert MP who prevailed in the leadership vote. Many who listened to the candidates felt that David Cunliffe had the better delivery and greater confidence, however David Shearer’s more personable style won the day.

September last year saw Cunliffe again challenge for the leadership, and this time he competed with Grant Robertson and Shane Jones for the position.

The Labour Party prides itself on being democratic in selecting a leader and there are three voting groups

  • Caucus
  • Unions
  • Party Members.

David Cunliffe won the race, but with only minority support from caucus. Many feel this well intentioned, but flawed, voting process has to change. After all it is caucus that has to work most closely with the leader.

Leadership and the Cunliffe enigma

For the voting public, leadership is a critical factor in the appeal of parties. John Key is the consummate performer on the hustings. He has carefully cultivated a personable image and comes across as a good Kiwi bloke with the common touch. The ready humour, the glib one liners and the availability for endless photo opportunities, all go down well.

David CunliffeThe public hasn’t warmed to David Cunliffe and a number of lapses in judgment hasn’t helped. Revelations about having a trust fund for his leadership bid, playing down the value of his expensive Auckland home, the well intentioned, but unwise gender apology and the holiday break in Queenstown early in the election campaign, didn’t aid the Labour cause in 2014.

However, he debated well in the eletion campaign and lost nothing to the prime minister in the TV confrontations. But then unaccountably, he was flummoxed on details of the crucial capital gains tax policy which he had helped to formulate.

Some argue that he didn’t give enough credit on the campaign trail to his talented colleagues. Also his ego problem was a worry and came to the fore at a New Plymouth election rally, where local candidate, Andrew Little, could hardly get a word in as Cunliffe held the floor. Furthermore, the excellent range of policies which offered the nation a clear alternative to National, never got enough emphasis.

David Cunliffe also turned down the opportunity to campaign in concert with the Greens as a centre-left government in waiting. He needed to pull in the party vote for Labour at the election and failed miserably. The 24% support for the party last weekend was well below the backing the party had under David Shearer in earlier times.

It would now be in the best interests of the party for David Cunliffe to resign as leader and retain his dignity. He failed to appeal to voters across the nation in 2014 and never had a solid support base in caucus.

Looking ahead

Nicky Hager Dirty PoliticsThe election is now history and Labour has the chance to plan a new future. Lessons need to be learned and careful analysis done on what went wrong. The Dirty Politics bombshell should have derailed the National campaign, but although John Key was wrong footed for a while and Judith Collins became sacrificial mutton, the Tory show was soon back on the road.

Labour does need to have a hard look at its party organization, how it delivers policy to the community, its media systems, its front bench and, of course, the leadership. David Cunliffe is history and a lot of blood-letting could be avoided if he went quietly.

There are plenty of contenders for the leadership:

 ~ David Parker. He was the brains behind the alternative budget which even Bill English grudgingly admitted could work. He speaks well, but may lack the charisma needed for the top job. He has also been tarnished by being the deputy on the campaign trail.
 ~ David Shearer. He was the previous leader, but didn’t capture the nation’s imagination. There is no question about his ability and he would make a fine Minister of Foreign Affairs, but he is sometimes hesitant in his delivery.
Jacinda Adern ~ Grant Robertson. He is based in the capital and is well thought of in caucus. Very personable and articulate, Grant has the charisma, confidence and good humour to gain national appeal. Is the country ready for a gay prime minister? Hopefully we have grown up enough to make this a non-issue.
 ~ Jacinda Ardern. As the tide flowed out on Labour last Saturday, she performed well in Auckland Central. Jacinda has a polished delivery, clearly enunciates policy and has great stage presence.

How about a Robertson-Ardern leadership team?


National: buoyant but vulnerable

KeyJohn Key and the team are understandably delighted with their success and talk confidently about a fourth term. The prime minister has been quick to embed the raggle-taggle allies on the right. Peter Dunne will no doubt accept the baubles of office once again; Te Ururoa Flavell, with the only Maori Party electorate seat, will get the Maori Affairs portfolio and even the representative of the minuscule ACT party, may get a deputy ministers position.

Nicky Hager’s books Dirty Politics and The Hollow Men, have exposed the dubious tactics National has used in the past to shore up its support and finances, and discredit its opponents. Dirty Politics has swept away cabinet minister Judith Collins and Key staffer Jason Ede, and there may be more casualties to come.

Labour needs to get its house in order, bring the best talent in caucus forward and unite behind a popular leadership team so that it can benefit from the changing political climate. It also needs to strengthen its relationship with the Greens to offer the country a credible alternative to the confident National government. It’s a golden opportunity.