Brian Edwards Media

Shearer or Cunliffe? Why I’ve changed my mind.

 

Fairfax NZ

I like David Shearer. He’s nice. On the one or two occasions that I’ve met him, he’s struck me as unpretentious, warm, natural, sincere. These are the qualities that make him attractive as a future leader of the Labour Party. And, in the now popular terminology, borrowed from the world of soap operas, his ‘back-story’ suggests both organisational competence and idealism.

David Lange had some of these qualities. But like so many political shooting stars, he burnt out quickly.

Helen Clark lacked Shearer’s engaging warmth. But her long political apprenticeship and iron will rewarded her with three terms as Prime Minister.

You can see where I’m going. Praising Shearer’s freshness and dismissing his lack of experience in the bear pit of the Debating Chamber as irrelevant has almost become the norm in comparing him with Cunliffe. I was on that side of the argument myself when Shearer first threw his hat in the ring. But I’ve changed my mind.  

Shearer has had nearly three years to demonstrate his skill as a debater and about a fortnight to provide some evidence of competence in handling the media. He has done neither. His television appearances have bordered on the embarrassing. He lacks fluency and fails to project confidence or authority. Watching him makes you feel nervous and uncomfortable – a fatal flaw.

My problem is that I just can’t imagine him on his feet in the House footing it with the Prime Minister or any of his hugely experienced lieutenants. And a Leader of the Opposition must have a mastery not just of his own portfolios but of every portfolio. Clark had just such a mastery, but it was the product of 18 years experience in the Debating Chamber before she became Prime Minister.

Shearer’s background is certainly impressive. His supporters have taken to saying that Key went overseas and made 50 million dollars; Shearer went overseas and saved 50 million lives. How could that be other than a recommendation for the job of Leader of the Labour Opposition? Well perhaps because that job requires relentless negativity and negativity does not seem to be part of Shearer’s genetic make-up.

And then there’s Cunliffe. We’re told there’s a group in the Labour caucus whose ABC mantra is ‘anyone but Cunliffe’. It’s hard to imagine a more childish or stupid approach. Your job, ladies and gentlemen,  is to choose someone who can win the next election, not someone who makes you feel warm and fuzzy. And when you’re making that choice you might like to consider this fact: above almost everything else, Kiwis like leaders who project strength. Kirk, Muldoon, Clark are prime examples. None of them was particularly ‘nice’. Rowling, Lange and Goff were ‘nice’. QED.

Cunliffe may or may not be nice, but he is hugely experienced, has an in-depth understanding of policy, conveys confidence and authority, handles the media superbly and can make mincemeat of anyone on the other side of the House. His ambition should be seen as an advantage not a disadvantage.

My instinct is that the Labour Party is about to make a huge mistake. Their logic, I suspect, is that they must replace an unpopular leader with a popular leader. But it is shallow thinking. What the next Leader of the Opposition must be able to do is best and bring down John Key. That really isn’t a job for ‘a nice guy’.

So will David Shearer ever be Prime Minister of New Zealand? I think it’s entirely possible. Making his run too soon will, however, do nothing for his future prospects.

, , ,

102 Comments:

  1. +1

  2. I agree Brian I changed my mind also.

  3. I disagree. Cunliffe would be poison to the party, it would not bring it together at all. Plus he is not well liked by the general Joe Public.
    Most of the public don’t give a monkeys about parliament, John Key is pretty terrible in the house. These things can also be ironed out, Cunliffe’s smarmy public persona. Not so much.

    BE: “Most of the public don’t give a monkeys about parliament, John Key is pretty terrible in the house.” But the journos and political commentators do and their judgements appear on radio, television and in the press. A weak leader in the House will not inspire the troops and will not last long. As for Key, he is often brutally unpleasant in Parliament.

  4. I agree on Shearer, I was interested when he put his hand up but he needed to step up quickly and he hasn’t done that. I suspect he put himself forward as a step on his path to leadership and was surprised by how quickly he was seen as a serious chance.

    Cunliffe is experienced and very knowledgable. He doesn’t necessarily have to be everyone’s BBQ buddy, Clark and Muldoon certainly weren’t. One of his biggest challenges will be to prove he can get his whole caucus working with him.

    Whoever takes over does need to beat Key, but they don’t have to bring Key down (I detest that destructive part of our ‘democratic’ practice) – they need to show they have leadershop competence and sensible policies so will have a bit of work to do.

  5. I agree, Brian, almost entirely. Shearer is an extraordinarily bad communicator. One of the worst communicators in Parliament in my opinion. However, communication skills can be taught, unlike that elusive quality Cunliffe lacks – likability I think they call it.

  6. Well I went that way myself when I heard Cunliffe respond so well to some bad news (was it the growing wealth gap this morning?) and I thought “Where is Shearer? Could he respond with such knowledge, such punch and such clarity?” Cunliffe is a fighter and only fighters will counterpunch the Nats and their smiling assassin. And he seems hungry for the job. I changed my mind this morning too, much as I liked the “fresh face, ordinary bloke” case for Shearer. If Shearer was ever going to be a political leader he should have shown on the radar after three years.

  7. The other way to look at this is if Labour makes the mistake we’re all expecting to see, how long will it take to put things right?

    Would it even be capable of putting things right before the next election?

    Australia’s Labor Party is brutal about these matters. Brutal but effective.

  8. I haven’t changed my mind about Shearer, but I have to agree that his recent efforts with the media have fallen far too short. Such a shame.

  9. After watching him on Q and A on Sunday I felt much the same as you Brian. The labour party is in danger of repeating the Phil Goff era. Shearer is a great bloke and a potential leader, but is just not ready to be a front man this time. Cunliffe on the other hand has all the skills needed to expose John Key for the hollow man that he is. No brainer really. Shearer has to concentrate on developing policy in the back room for the present and let Cunliffe do the talking.

  10. I agree with the analysis regarding Shearer’s lack of articulacy. At the moment he makes many tv viewers squirm over his lack of incisiveness. However, the fact that there is an ABC faction in caucus suggests many there find Cunliffe odious to work with, and, if that is so, if he is elected leader, the caucas division will be foully trenchant.

    BE: See my reply above to Peter.

  11. You are right far more times than you are wrong Brian, but in this case, I think you may be wrong. Even though Shearer’s performances in the House and on TV may not be special, I am equally sure that he would improve dramatically into a leader of compassion, statesmanship and authority. I believe that Cunliffe, while being perhaps better/glossier, his fatal flaw is that he does not have the confidence of many of his peers. A party divided can never be successful. Shearer, I believe, will unite the party, Cunliffe, I fear will do the opposite.

    BE: Well, these are intelligent men and women. One would hope they would have the wit to get behind whomever is the most likely candidate to beat Key and win the next election, not to tear themselves apart with petty squabbling.

  12. Of course a leader who lacks communications skills represents a HUGE business opportunity for someone :-)

    BE: If he or she is a Right-wing leader possibly! With the Left it’s almost literally a Labour of love.

  13. Yes, one would

  14. I too started wavering after watching Q + A. Cunnliffe is sharper, no doubt about that, but is that always good. And what about Michelle Boag on The Panel saying Shearer would be a threat to Key, and others have said it. Do you think they are trying to get us to support him because they know he would not be the better choice?

    BE: Curiously enough, the thought occurred to me that Michelle might be playing a very clever game, endorsing Shearer. She wouldn’t, would she? Would she?

  15. “And when you’re making that choice you might like to consider this fact: above almost everything else, Kiwis like leaders who project strength. Kirk, Muldoon, Clark are prime examples. None of them was particularly ‘nice’. Rowling, Lange and Goff were ‘nice’. QED.”

    Now Brian, are you suggesting Key projects strength?

    The general public opinion seems to be that Key is ‘nice’ ‘friendly’ ‘smiley’ and that its only his political enemies that refer to him as the ‘smiling assassin’. Helen Clark is ‘nice’ ‘friendly’ ‘smiley’ when talking to her in a non political situation, however she is tough and sharp as a razor when engaged in politics. Key by comparison could hardly be described as the latter, either in parliament or out, when engaged in politics.

    I would suggest that Key projects his ‘natural’ self and that style, like it or not, seems to be what Kiwis like in a leader at the moment.

    BE:”Now Brian, are you suggesting Key projects strength?” No, not strength in the way I understand it. But he does project confidence and success.

  16. @ Morgan
    “However, communication skills can be taught”

    I doubt this. Shearer has spent years working in jobs involving leadership and negotiation to get to where he is today. But how you come across on television is different and to a great extent it’s not trainable. Goff didn’t come across well and with endless coaching and training just came across as a trained robot (and needed deprogramming to connect with people again). English as leader suffered a similar problem, I’m told he’s lovely in person but it didn’t come across.

    Not being liked by elements in the Labour caucus is not necessarily an issue. It seems that much of New Zealand doesn’t like half the Labour caucus so some pruning is in order. The pruner is seldom popular with the plants.

    BE: ” Goff didn’t come across well and with endless coaching and training just came across as a trained robot (and needed deprogramming to connect with people again).” Absolute nonsense. (I’m not objective of course, but almost no-one, on either side of the political divide, has expressed that view to me personally or in the media.)

  17. 17

    Either is suitable to lead Labour to its next defeat. Which, I might add, is a given.

  18. I wholly agree with you, Brian.

    But why has it taken you so long to recognise the bl…ing obvious?

    As I’ve written elsewhere, there’s a ‘Chauncey Gardner’ element to Shearer’s candidacy, with pundits and public alike keen to read all manner of significance into his maladroit media performances.

    That’s not to impugn his good intentions, his impressive CV or the obvious physical courage he would have shown in various hot-spots around our fractious planet.

    Meanwhile, I can’t help but think that Cunliffe’s alleged unlikeability is just another example of the good old Kiwi “tall poppy syndrome”.

    It’s the same reason that the best hoofer never won our local version of “Dancing with the Stars” and it’s a character trait New Zealanders can no longer afford.

    BE: “a ‘Chauncey Gardner’ element” Now that is an amusing thought.

  19. It’s mystified me the logic, “Key’s a nice guy, so stick a nice guy up against him.” Don’t you need a hard-arse to force Key onto the ropes. You won’t out-smile him. Agree with you, Brian. Sad maybe, but true.

  20. So, has the phone rung yet? We can’t seriously judge on the strength of one weekend’s airings on Q&A or the Nation – both of which are even further removed from everyday realities than Parliament.
    Actually I was wondering about having a ‘back-story’. Is this trendy new journo speak for ‘story’ or ‘history’?
    I noticed Tracy Watkins using it two or three times in the same article last weekend…is it the new ‘like’? Gets the word count up I suppose.

  21. A) MPs, knowing where the bread is buttered, will unite behind power.
    B) NZ politics has a long list of successful political leaders who were tough and smart, not likeable.
    C) Every day David Cunliffe seems more like our PM in waiting – he’s dominating this race, in terms of blows landed.

  22. And PS. David Cunliffe is actually not an un-likeable guy at all. This is a meme developed over time, I assume, by factions of the Labour caucus (and others) who don’t respect merit as a means of promotion.

  23. Hi Brian,

    Enjoy reading your pieces, even though I would not say I am of the same political persuasion as you. First time I’ve been brave enough to offer comment.

    For me, Cunliffe clearly has all the skills, but it’s about ensuring that any sort of aggressive, tough-guy persona does not transform into arrogance and snobbish superiority. At times he has the potential to come across in that way. Aggresive leaders are always polarising to an extent – but arrogant ones are normally universally panned.

    And Brian, I do have a question for you that has been bugging me for some time: while I enjoy your pieces, I also do like Michael Laws and Paul Henry, even if I don’t necessarily agree with what they say. Is it possible for me to enjoy you, Laws and Henry without being contradictory?

    Hope Judy is well, I did a Comparative Media Politics course in Semester 1 of 2010 at Auckland University taken by Joe Atkinson, in which she offered many a useful contribution. I hope she enjoyed that paper as much as I did, even if I don’t necessarily subscribe to Joe’s views on the subject.

    BE: “And Brian, I do have a question for you that has been bugging me for some time: while I enjoy your pieces, I also do like Michael Laws and Paul Henry, even if I don’t necessarily agree with what they say. Is it possible for me to enjoy you, Laws and Henry without being contradictory?” I’m sure we all have our good points. Just a bit harder to see Laws’ and Henry’s! I’ll pass your meassage on to Judy.

  24. I have seen David C in action in several settings, including in a private meeting about Telecom’s split. He is very sharp, and quick on his feet. You can’t out-popular Key. I know you are not religous, but we need a David who can defeat Goliath Key head on with the right weapon, with a payload delivered to the right place. David S is not the guy IMHO.

  25. “Curiously enough, the thought occurred to me that Michelle might be playing a very clever game, endorsing Shearer. She wouldn’t, would she? Would she?”

    Would you, Brian? If it was National, like they were casting around for leaders from about 1997 until they stumbled upon Key in 2006? Am interested to know.

    Key didn’t have that long a political apprenticeship (4 years) before taking over the National Party leadership. The reason for Key’s success thus far is similar to Lange’s – a light “chairman of the board” touch, that is a welcome contrast (in the electorate’s eyes) to the more activist “Minister of Everything” approach of the immediate predecessor, whom they ousted.

    Eventually Shearer’s skills will return to popularity. When all is said and done, he is a bureaucrat, and those are useful skills to have in the Beehive. As long as it doesn’t/isn’t perceived as degenerating into micro-managing. But I’m not sure that it will be in 3 years time…

    BE: The ‘light chairman of the board touch’ didn’t help Lange greatly after 1987. To all intents and purposes, he was Prime Minister for one term.

  26. With falling voter numbers, tactical voting causing Labour to loose party seats whilst keeping electoral seats and wholesale lack of interest from both young and middle age people, surely the next Labour leader has to be able to engage with these groups to have any chance of an increase of seats and return to government, not just be able to deal with the rigors of the debating chamber?

    As to haw ‘hard’ a leader appears, John Key ‘appears’ to be soft, friendly and cuddly to a majority, hence his popularity. That’s what the new Labour leader needs to be able to be as well, so as to have appeal across the board.

    BE: So the voters’ choice would be between ‘soft, friendly and cuddly’ and ‘soft, friendly and cuddly’?

  27. I’m not saying that Shearer hasn’t been stellar in interviews. Far from it. I just can’t see Cunliffe uniting the party, so far he has seemed to divide it with snipes and unthought though policy

  28. Face it, the choice doesn’t really matter.

    If they want to, the media will portray Shearer as a bumbling mouse (Rowling) or Cunners as an arrogant smarm (Hels).

    Labour needs to learn how best to avoid these traps from those who best have.

    Project cast-iron unity at all times (Nat, Green);
    Work the halls through grass-roots organisation (Winnie);
    Hold firm to bedrock principles at all times (Green);
    Target the letterbox (Conservative);
    Avoid the presidential cult by enabling talent as it emerges, whencever (Green).
    Aim through the media to the swing voter at every meagre opportunity (Winnie).

    The last is the most important. Keep em guessing or they’ll pounce with their own label. Which is why a full caucus agreed Double-Dave co-leadership for 12 months followed by an Xmas ’12 Grand Final appeals. Leaves it open and contestable to everyone, demands pro-active politicking for once, and allows bullet-proof private polling to take away the guesswork.

    Entirely dependent on the caucus being selfless and not ripping itself apart of course, but without that ability they might as well give up now anyway.

  29. Brian,

    I agree with you about Shearer, but one comment I don’t agree with. You say that Leader of the Opposition “requires relentless negativity and negativity does not seem to be part of Shearer’s genetic make-up.” I don’t think the public like relentless negativity. Indeed such negativity might help to partly explain Labour’s poor peformance at the last election. being Labour leader requires formulating and articulating policy and the benefits of that policy. That is hardly being negative. There may be some government policies which Labour agrees with – again, no negativity there and I think Labour shouldn’t be afraid to say when it agrees with the government. I think if the next Labour leader believes he has to be relentlessly negative, he and Labour may find themselves in electoral trouble again.

    I certainly want to hear what Labour would do differently but that does not mean that Labour has to criticise the gvoernment. There’s a subtle difference.

    BE: Perhaps ‘relentless attack’ or ‘relentless opposition’ would have been better.

  30. ‘Australia’s Labor Party is brutal about these matters. Brutal but effective.’

    Please – their recent efforts have almost doomed the party to certain defeat in the next election.

    I’m conflicted – Shearer certainly has his pluses … but Cunliffe seems an old time labour politician – and one who is succinct and quite capable of matching Key on things economic.

  31. I haven’t changed my mind – I’ve always felt Cunliffe was the bleeding obvious choice. Like others, I’m concerned that it may already be a done deal in Shearer’s favour. The last thing Labour needs is to waste precious time going through a series of ineffectual leaders as the British Tories did during the Blair years. And the greatest mistake is to try and out-Key Key.

  32. The main disadvatage with Cunliffe, to borrow an expression used by Joanne Black on The Panel, he is only one consonant from disaster.

    BE: If that means what I think it means, it’s no credit to her or you.

  33. To be fair to JB she used the expression in a quite different context.

    BE: OK Ben. But I’m intrigued now. Can you explain?

  34. “The ‘light chairman of the board touch’ didn’t help Lange greatly after 1987. To all intents and purposes, he was Prime Minister for one term”.

    True, although at the risk of prompting markus, I’d observe that Lange could have carried on in that role for at least another term, probably longer, if he had so chosen.

    Instead, as you have mentioned elsewhere, he forsook his partnership with Roger Douglas because he no longer believed the proposed change was worth the price, and essentially abdicated his position.

    I don’t see anything like that happening with Key. Labour’s best hope for 2014 is that the much-hearlded recovery doesn’t eventuate, and the news for Key goes from bad to worse. As always, events are the primary determinant of political fortunes.

    Savage and Rowling were almost identical as politicians – same squeaky voice, bookish appearance and political philosophy. One rode the coat tails of an economic recovery at the end of a long depression, and is remembered as a national saint. The other presided over an unprecedented fall in our terms of trade (1973-75) that was beyond his or anyone’s control, was opposed by the greatest opposition politician this country has ever produced (Muldoon), and is unfairly remembered as the quintessential Kiwi political loser.

    Also, I didn’t get an answer to my prior question. Which is fair enough, and is an answer of sorts…

  35. 35

    Totally agree with everything you said Brian! It’s exactly what I have thought – the leader of the opposition has to be great on tv – Parliament is televised, so is the news, current affairs etc. David Cunliffe has an ease on tv due to his many years in the house and in politics. I admire Shearer, but his amazing backstory doesn’t mean he will be a superb politician! Labour needs an attack dog, Labour mps should remember what happened to Rowling, a brilliant man, but awful on tv and Muldoon destroyed him! It has to be Cunliffe this time or I fear Labour will be doomed again in 2014! Just my opinion!

  36. Here’s my take …

    Putting a “non-politician” up against a “politician” can work … sometimes. (Note: I use the “scare quotes” because they’re all politicians really, it’s just a question of public perception).

    In 2008, Key (non-P) versus Clark (P) was a success (albeit when the tide was going out on Labour). So it’s arguable that Shearer (non-P) can appeal to that anti-politician sentiment, like the USA presidential candidates who always campaign against “Washington”, in order to get there.

    BUT what cannot work is the “non-politician” having a quick makeover, to try and become a “politician”. And that’s the danger with David Shearer. He doesn’t look like a guy who is challenging the rules of the game, he just looks like a beginner at the game. He turns up for his interviews on Q & A and The Nation and Close-Up, and just comes across as a guy doing the old thing badly … not a new thing.

    If David Shearer wants to portray himself as the outsider storming the citadel, he’s going to have to start ignoring the insiders who surround him. Being “fresh” doesn’t last, unless you start talking and acting differently. There’s little sign of that so far.

    Otherwise it’s simply a choice between two politicians, one of whom (Cunliffe) is an experienced, competent professional insider, and the other isn’t, but wants to be. That’s an easy decision to make.

  37. Have really enjoyed the jousting of the two Davids. Wanted to dislike DC but don’t. Really admire a quicksilver mind of any type. But don’t get the Grant Robertson thing. What is that? Large and bloated with the presence of a couch. Ditto Nanaia Mahuta. I know appearance shouldn’t enter into it but just can’t make it not. Just call me shallow.

    BE: Shallow!

  38. 38

    Interesting choice of photo for your column, Brian. That Fairfax photomontage makes the pair of them look like a couple of used car salesmen from a UK sitcom.

  39. These economic issues need dealing with over the next three years; who are you going to call? The GFC, the housing bubbles and private debt blowout, questions of whether ownership of revenue and profit producing assets and companies really matters or not, economic geography and how a small place like ours copes with increasing scale returns that would see all regional head offices in Melbourne or Sydney, monetary policy and how to actually enable exports, building something new on the back of primary production, dealing with inequalities and the labour market, how to deal with fundmanagers who via Kiwisaver will run much of the nations savings, deal with the housing market which has probably done more than anything else to contribute to rising child poverty (rising real rents) and suck money out of productive investments, deal with the utilities ‘market’ which ditto has added vast amounts of household outgoings, deal with duopoly in supermarkets, deal with the sugar lobby who have stymieed public health reform, deal with strategic national investment coming out from from the Cullen and other sovereign wealth funds, deal with regulating Aussie banks and building KiwiBank and Kiwisafe and govt Kiwisaver into …. The longer the list, the more I struggle to imagine David Shearer leading in these areas…

  40. I too have changed my mind about Shearer, but for a different reason. Shearer is in the wrong party and will take Labour in the wrong direction. It will be more of the same, bashing the poor, and doing everything else which is competing with National for the centre-right vote. Labour will never beat National at its own game and must stop trying. Labour needs to go back to being the Labour Party. Shearer isn’t a person who can or would do this, so for this reason is wrong for the job.

  41. Do you want to declare a conflict of interest here Brian? Have you ever provided media training to Cunliffe?

    BE: I have to say that I find these repeated inquiries about whether I have trained X or Y tiresome and offensive. The implication is that I am so lacking in professional integrity that I would publicly praise people Judy and I had trained and criticise or ignore those we had not trained. What makes this even more offensive is that I could not possibly have been more open about our long-standing relationship with the Labour Party or my personal political allegiance. We were media advisors to Helen Clark, her front bench when she was in opposition and her Cabinet when she was Prime Minister. We trained every Minister in that Cabinet, including David Cunliffe. As I have declared elsewhere on this site, we were approached by Labour Party people about six months before the election to provide assistance to Phil Goff and other Labour Party front bench spokespeople, including David Cunliffe. We were not asked to provide training or advice to David Shearer, but would of course have done so, had we been asked. This is far more information than you are entitled to or deserve. I really should have told you to mind your own bloody business. But this sort of nastiness gets right up my nose. Now you can sit down and write suggesting that I do protest too much, the predictable next move from people like you.

  42. Two great candidates but I feel on edge when Shearer is interviewed because he cannot present his argument concisely. So I agree with you except for your point that the caucus’ job is to elected someone who can win the next election because you’ve omitted to mention that the person they elect should also have the right valuesas if winning the next election should not be an end in itself.
    Cunliffe would be immeditely effective.

    BE: I agree about ‘the right values’ of course.

  43. Labour should think only of “how are we going to re-connect with 40-45% of voters in the 2017 election to lead a government”. Leadership for the 2014 election campaign is to give party a chance for 2017.

    Which of its MPs proved in 2011 that they could connect and gain more support than they had three years earlier? Forget the “Media Trainers” and PR experts – what is the empirical data, the evidence?

    Clearly the team should be Damien O’Connor & Shane Jones, or Clayton Cosgrove. That is the evidence at hand to build party up to 40% in 2014 to prepare the next leader to have a chance in 2017 – that next leader would not be any of the 4 names mentioned in the current contest – Robertson, Mahuta and the Davids – none of these people is going to be PM in 2017- they are not of that quality and none offers the prospect of significantly raising the vote achieved this November.

  44. Some commentators have said that not choosing Shearer would indicate serious lack of judgment within the Labour Party.

    I’m of the opposite view – not choosing Cunliffe would indicate that the party has totally lost the plot. The insanity of the ‘ABC’ comments and the hero-worship of an unproven, inexperienced candidate show that the party is still not fit to govern anything.

    If they choose Shearer, Labour will be guaranteed to still be on the Opposition benches in 2014. And what’s more they will deserve to be there.

  45. I wonder if we could get caught up in a “defeat Key” approach when it may come down to the simple proposition that by 2014 most Kiwis and the media will be over Key and looking around for a good alternative. Will Labour and whoever its leader it by then be a credible, attractive alternative amongst the many options on offer.

    I am still not sure we fully understand the implications of MMP. Beyond the echoes of the old two party dynamic perhaps another voice is coming through, a for more complex one. For example I heard a large number of Labour voters switched to NZ First at the last minute just to counter an all-out win by the Nats. I have Labour friends in Epsom voting National in a (failed) attempt to keep John Banks out. It’s getting complex.

    When I was a youngster there were two type of bread on offer , White and Brown. Now I find myself looking for just the right mix of ancient grains/low gluten/poppy seed/Omega3/organic etc bread and we haven’t added in fair trade bread yet.
    I wonder if MMP at its most representative will bring us a wide spread of political flavors one of which may be Labour, whatever that really means nowadays. Labour used to be the ordinary workers party with its roots back in the birth of unions. I heard on Public Address that my local MP, David Cunliffe, is a millionaire living in St Heliers – if that is true I struggle to reconcile that fact with Labours whakapapa.

    On a rather bizarre side note, did you know his namesake is a “spiritual” teacher http://www.davidcunliffe.com/

    David or David, is the question even meaningful?

  46. Sigh! Neither of these two have the makings of a PM-in-waiting. One’s a paint-by-numbers stolid bureaucrat who’s attended the Kofi Annan School of Do-Nothing; the other, appears to have limited appeal within caucus.

    Every political commentator has made a point of saying that the Labour Party needs to rid itself of the dead wood, for there to be rejuvenation with an accompanying infusion of fresh blood. Until there is a major cleanout and/or voluntary retirements, the party will not only stagnate but begin to rot from within.

    NZ needs a strong and effective Opposition party. But looking at the ramshackle denizens who currently occupy Labour’s seats in the House, it makes me feel very sad.

    Goff needs to lead by example. A shame, that his best performance, as Leader, was on the night of the Election. Time and Opportunity have, sadly, passed him by; he needs to announce the timing of his retirement.

  47. At the Wellington meeting tonight I found Shearer immensely likeable, and much more confident at the front of a hall full of people than he appears on TV. He was quick thinking and warm and seemed very genuine. I have always found Cunliffe rather smarmy and too well-practiced, but he was more relaxed and warmer also, I liked him too. He is a quick thinker and I think I have come to your point of view. I think if Cunliffe is the only other choice he seems like a person who can take the hard decisions and see matters clearly. I am concerned that Shearer, whilst immensely experienced in very dfficult areas of endeavour, is a bit of a political neophyte – who did really elude my gaze throughout the past 3 years, both in the house/question time or with any kind of public profile. I really like Shearer, I really want him on the front bench. I dont want him leading yet, but I certainly see he could lead in the future.

    And for deputy? Mahuta/Robertson co-deputies!

  48. @ Merv are you a closet Labourite?

    Vincristine – thanks for a very useful personal reflection, taking your co-deputies idea one step further – how about co-leaders of the Labour party?
    The Greens and Maori have done it successfully why not Labour?

  49. Tony “I know appearance shouldn’t enter into it but just can’t make it not.”

    Why on earth do you like DC then? DS has far better conformation, not to mention a chin.

  50. Any ticket which has ‘United Nations’ going through him like ‘Brighton’ goes through a stick of rock candy, will only do this country far more harm than good.

  51. I see the Shearer camp are currently claiming about 15 caucus votes to Cunliffe’s 10 – with 9 or so undecided (and 18 needed for victory). Let’s hope either (a) the current divide’s actually a little closer than they realise or (b) Cunliffe’s impressive television performance wins over all or most of the undecideds.

  52. Quite frankly I don’t believe either of these two genteman are suitable for Labour’s leader. David Shearer a likeable man, David Cunliffe, arrogant smug, and smarmy, and not liked by the majority. Having to wander around the country trying to get a popularity base, is quite childish to be honest.You can have the best person leading, but if you don’t have sensible policies it won’t make a skerric of difference. Neither of these two would set the world on fire. What makes us laugh is there seems to be so much intent, to be better than John Key, LOL. It will take better than these two to make any impression on John Key’s popularity. We voted for National because we liked the policies better and it was a bonus to have John Key.

  53. I made the same switch in opinion from Shearer to Cunliffe a few days ago also. As a Green Party member I made a mistake in the wake of Rod Donald’s death by voting for the leadership candidate who I liked best. Fortunately my candidate was beaten by Russel Norman who is much more competent and better able to take the party forward. In the end you just have to go with political competence. It’s what the job is about.

  54. I say we’re getting the last minute jitters – opting on bottle feeding rather than the breast, because we can see how much milk is in the bottle. Just keep calm and stay with Shearer. We may be pleasantly surprised by unexpected outcomes.

  55. “it may come down to the simple proposition that by 2014 most Kiwis and the media will be over Key and looking around for a good alternative.”

    That may well be true. Labour seemed to expect to win the last election despite the fact that it’s been a long time before an encumbent government was kciked out after one term. There have been few one-term governments. So all the despair seems a little over the top. By 2014 the honeymoon for Key may well be over.

    But Brian, you say ‘relentless attack’ or ‘relentless opposition’ would have been better descriptions of what’s required from an opposition leader. I couldn’t disagree more. As I said, there will be times when the opposition will agree with government policy and shouldn’t be afraid to say so on those occasions. On other occasions, the opposition will be talking about the benefits of its policy. There is nothing negative in any of that. I think many voters are turned off by negativity and they certainly saw plenty of that from Labour in the last 3 years. Why would you think that going down the same path will be successful?

    BE: Not the view of Helen Clark who often described being Leader of the Opposition as “the worst job in the world” more or less for the reasons I’ve described.

  56. “we liked the policies better and it was a bonus to have John Key.”

    What would those policies be, Darryl? Asset sales? That doesn’t strike me as a particularly sensible policy. Bear in mind, you don’t speak for all National voters.

  57. 57

    AnnaLiviaPlurabella

    Jan Farr writes: “Just keep calm and stay with Shearer. We may be pleasantly surprised by unexpected outcomes.”. There lies a problem. Even his own supporter is indicating that there is a lot of wishful thinking behind Shearer.

    This “primary” campaign is a perfect manifestation of the Tall Poppy Syndrome. Cunliffe comes prepared, polished, proven and proud of what he has delivered and confident that he will lead the party and the country very well. We can’t have that type of behaviour: God Forbid. Let us opt instead for the “nice guy” who won’t be arrogant enough to hold anyone to account or rattle any cages.
    Are we sleep walking into being “one of the three opposition parties”? With Cunliffe we will be the THE opposition party and THE government.

  58. @ Ross

    Your sentiments about negativity are noble, and I wish what you said was so, but I’ll strongly disagree, Ross on the required strategy when in Opposition.

    With the rise of presidential-style politics, the leader of the opposition struggles enough to differentiate themselves from the incumbent PM, let alone get the necessary media oxygen. The last two governments (Bolger-Shipley 1990-99, and Clark 1999-2008) both eventually succumbed to death-by-a-thousand cuts, fling mud at a wall until something eventually sticks approach (‘scuse the mixed metaphors). As Bob Jones rightly observed, when in opposition, Marquis of Queensbury rules no longer apply.

    Of course you have to propose coherent policy alternatives (and Labour need a good look in the mirror over nonsense like gst-free fruit and vege), and project yourself as the “government in waiting”. But that message that Armageddon awaits unless you vote for us has to be sold with relentless vigour. Voters figure if you aren’t really passionate about the job, why the hell should you be given control over the country and their lives.

    Also, it helps if you know where you win elections. Contrary to what Chris says, elections are won in New Zealand by winning the soft-core centre right.

  59. Cunliffe becoming even more prominent (as leader) than he is now, will be the Labour Party’s equivalent of having the charisma-free, but mouthy, John Banks in your face all the time (he’s already started).

    My God, three years of both of them at the same time…now, where’s my passport?

  60. The only way Labour is going to reconnect with its traditional support base is to appoint a hard-nosed gutter fighter who is unafraid to say things some will not like. One of Phil Goff’s shortcomings in the last three years was his attempt to “out-nice-guy” John Key. Labour supporters don’t want a Mr Nice-Guy. Forget Cunliffe’s reported unpopularity with at least some in the Labour caucus; only he appears to have the ability to crush John Key as Muldoon crushed nice-guy Bill Rowling.

  61. I am disappointed Shane Jones is not being considered. His qualities are far superior and is very able to connect with the working class

  62. My anxiety over David Shearer’s bid for the Labour leadership has nothing to do with his qualities. I think he will make a fine leader – but he needs more experience in the bear pit that is our Parliament. Like contestants in “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”, NZ political leaders get to sit in the hot seat only once. When you’re bowled, you’re bowled for good. A premature promotion could prove to be the waste of a man with strong, durable leadership talent.

  63. Brian, thank you for being forthcoming. I can appreciate your dilemma, but I genuinely feel that a frank declaration of potential perceived conflicts of interest serves one better than leaving inferences to be drawn from assumptions about what’s not being said.

    With regard to the two Davids, what particularly appeals to me about David Shearer is his explicit statement that he’s not offering anyone in the caucus anything until after the election. The Labour Party has been very effectively painted as a hotbed of horse-trading and croneyism for a number of years now. I think that’s in large part because it’s more true than not and I feel that building a team based on merit rather than based on political expediency will be one of the major challenges facing the new leader. David Cunliffe might talk a slick game about change, but in reality his campaign appears to be the very embodiment of that expedient croneyism. Which leaves his promises of renewal feeling rather hollow.

    I also find it disquieting to consider the number and frequency of rumours about David Cunliffe’s disloyalty in this last term. While Mr Cunliffe has denied it and Phil Goff has been diplomatic on the matter, I worry that the scale of the murmuring must have its root in some truth. Call me naive, but that doesn’t sit well with me.

    That said, perhaps David Shearer’s advantage in that last point is that he hasn’t been around long enough to start scheming. It is an interesting contest and I wish Labour’s MPs well in making their decision, and making the best of it.

  64. 64

    AnnaLiviaPlurabella

    Re Trevor Albert
    “what particularly appeals to me about David Shearer is his explicit statement that he’s not offering anyone in the caucus anything until after the election.”

    An alternate and more credible interpretation is that he had no plan, there was no preparation and he got himself into this situation by accident. It was visible to the blind for the past year that there was a high probability Phil Goff and Annette would loose and stand down.
    A real leader is ready for a succession event.

  65. 65

    AnnaLiviaPlurabella

    Re Trevor Albert:

    “…..consider the number and frequency of rumours about David Cunliffe’s disloyalty in this last term” . David Cunliffe is the last person in the Labour party to play stupid stunts. Phil himself will tell you that they are baseless rumours: ask him.
    Cunliffe’s strategy papers on a range of economic, currency , taxation and treasury matters were widely circulated and nobody in the caucus could plead a lack of access to the figures. Phil’s TV debate briefing team had everything they requested adn more.

  66. 66

    AnnaLiviaPlurabella

    Re Trevor Albert
    “..what particularly appeals to me about David Shearer is his explicit statement that he’s not offering anyone in the caucus anything until after the election.”

    A more credible interpretation is that Shearer had no plan, there was no preparation and he fell into this situation by mistake. It was very obvious for the past year that there was a strong probability that Labour would lose and that Phil and Annette would stand down. A real leader is always ready for a succession event.

  67. The ABC are jealous of Cunliffe’s abilities, that’s all so they would prefer to take Labour to an even worse defeat with an embarrassment.
    Political novices who can only see a nice man have no idea of what is ahead in the Bearpit the next 3 years where with Shearer Labour will become irrelevant. While he stutters along like Brash M2,(for God’s sake don’t let him near a plank!!) the resurgent Greens and Winnie will be the key players.
    Its a no brainer really but those 34 precious souls obviously enjoy being Lemmins

  68. Could the opposition divide up the jobs according to their talents? i.e. Let Winston lead the opposition for the next 3 years? That gives the Davids plenty of time to slug it out in the niceness stakes, to emerge as the PM after 2014

  69. “…David Shearer’s advantage in that last point is that he hasn’t been around long enough to start scheming.”

    What was that meeting straight after the election at Matthew Hooten’s place all about, then?

    BE: This sounds bizarre. What are you talking about?

  70. The more I hear about this leadership contest, the more firmly I feel that the loser is Labour if they continue with it. It is simply too early to pick the leader. It’s time for them to do something a bit unpredictable, and that could be to have no leader for a while and work as a team finding their plan together. If they can.

    I doubt this will happen. But I think it important to note that it could happen, that there are other options outside of the ridiculously false binary of who must lead Labour by the end of this week.

  71. According to Slater, that is:

    http://www.whaleoil.co.nz/2011/12/not-a-good-analogy/

    http://www.whaleoil.co.nz/2011/12/shearer-backed-by-vrwc/

    BE: Somewhat unusual. But then from time to time I have lunch with Michelle Boag and assorted Nats. I can assure you that we aren’t plotting anything.

  72. >BE: This sounds bizarre. What are you talking about?

    Probably the iPredict afterparty. Of course, it could have been a meeting of the VWRC. Or maybe they just wish.

  73. Re AnnaLiviaPlurabella
    “A real leader is ready for a succession event.”

    I differ with you on that point. I’m more inclined to think a real leader steps up to the plate when needed. I think it’d be fair to say both Davids are doing that right now. The difference between them as I understand it – Mr Goff’s demure statesmanship aside – is that only one of the Davids has been planning this “succession event” for the last three years. For my feelings on that matter, refer back to my original post. And you’re welcome to try and pass yourself off as an insider, but your protestations don’t ring true with what I’ve heard widely and consistently about Mr Cunliffe’s performance.

    Re Chris
    “What was that meeting straight after the election at Matthew Hooten’s place all about, then?”

    I’ve not seen anything to suggest that’s more than Cameron Slater pretending to be relevant, but to labour a theme, if it did happen, at least it happened after the election.

  74. Shearer to win, Edwards an old weak yapper

  75. Ben Wilson – I thought this was common knowledge, but nobody seems to be asking Shearer why he was there (if he was there) and what was talked about. You’d think the very public competition for the leadership would’ve brought such questions.

    Trevor Albert – Perhaps you’re right and that nobody’s bothering because there’s nothing in it. That did cross my mind, but it’s interesting that all of the right-wing blogs are singing Shearer’s praises, at least compared to the usual foul-mouthed vitriol that gets aimed at anyone who dares to disagree with them. At the very least, though, you would’ve thought that given the particular views of those allegedly at that meeting (Hooton, Odgers et al, Slater and Farrar were invited) someone like Sainsbury could’ve asked Shearer to briefly explain the allegation.

  76. Whoever is selected Labour ,and the rest of the left,have 3 years to sort out their problems.National is really looking more like its old self with its return to more right wing stance.Pointing the finger at John Banks doesnt stand up to close scrutiny.More of us will have had enough by then.

  77. Ben Wilson – I thought this was common knowledge, but nobody seems to be asking Shearer why he was there (if he was there) and what was talked about. You’d think the very public competition for the leadership would’ve brought such questions.

    Trevor Albert – Perhaps you’re right and that nobody’s bothering because there’s nothing in it. That did cross my mind, but it’s interesting that all of the right-wing blogs are singing Shearer’s praises, at least compared to the usual foul-mouthed vitriol that gets aimed at anyone who dares to disagree with them. At the very least, though, you would’ve thought that given the particular views of those allegedly at that meeting (Hooton, Odgers et al, Slater and Farrar were invited) someone like Sainsbury could’ve asked Shearer to briefly explain the allegation.

    BE – Sure, but you’re not an MP in a party that’s just lost the election, who probably knows his leader is about to walk, then meets with a group of people known to hold political views similar to and probably stronger than those of the opposing political party, then announces he’s running for his party’s leadership.

  78. BE – Sure, but you’re not an MP in a party that’s just lost the election, who probably knows his leader is about to walk, then meets with a group of people known to hold political views similar to and probably stronger than those of the opposing political party, then announces he’s running for his party’s leadership.

  79. I look in vain for signs of arrogance, smugness or smarmyness in David Cunliffe.

    All I can detect is focus, intellect, lucidity, relevant knowledge, straight shooting and a redeeming light touch.

    I’ve lived in New Zealand for 26 years and regard this country as home. But the dislike that obvious talent tends to generate makes me tremble for our future.

    No wonder so many of our our best and brightest leave.

  80. I look in vain for signs of arrogance, smugness or smarmyness in David Cunliffe.

    No, I have other words for someone who’d make crude sexist comments about female politicians of any stripe when they’re supposed to be talking about their party’s policy costings. But I suspect our host would rather I not use them here. :)

  81. Well, as an occasional Labour voter (they only ever seem to win when I vote their way) I hope the caucus has enough sense to look hard at the team who leads them after the leadership battle
    The two Davids would make a formidable team, who ever takes the top job, some of the other deputies hopefuls while pandering to special interest groups would leave a divide that promises to lead to factional scrapping for some time
    Miss Clark offered the Deputy job to Cullen one of the group who had just asked for her to stand down when her popularity figures were gloomy
    The rest is history, so is the present crew smart enough to follow her lead, time will tell

  82. Rest easy, guys. There’s just no way either of these two are going to be holding the PM mantle, three years from now.

    Neither has the wherewithal — or the cajones — to instigate a Night of the Long Knives-type purging of the parliamentary wing, that is so very necessary. By my reckoning, three-quarters of them need to be pink-slipped.

  83. Thank you for your honesty. I also changed my view as David Parker was my first choice.
    Labour must have a leader with a clear understanding of their political position and why. Experience is needed for this, and David Cunliffe has clearly demonstrated his ability to deal with the media, an example of his instincts is noticing Nanaia Mahuta’s competency and the long standing loyalty from Maori.
    I find it embarrassing that Labour have not been sensitive enough to both the need and political nous from Maori.

  84. Thank you for your honesty. I also changed my view as David Parker was my first choice.
    Labour must have a leader with a clear understanding of their political position and why. Experience is obviously crucial for this
    as David Cunliffe has demonstrated with his ability to deal with the media. An example of his good political instincts is noticing Nanaia Mahuta’s competency and long standing loyalty from Maori.
    I do not think Labour have been good enough in appreciating Maori political nous and loyalty.

  85. “Voters figure if you aren’t really passionate about the job, why the hell should you be given control over the country and their lives.”

    It seems, Kimbo, you agree with me, not strongly disagree as you suggest. Of course I expect the Opposition to be passionate. But that is a far cry from being negative which I was railing against.

  86. Brian you were admirably restrained with Avi !

  87. DARRYL: “You can have the best person leading, but if you don’t have sensible policies it won’t make a skerric of difference…..We voted National because we liked the policies better…..”

    Putting you in a decided minority. Polling consistently shows most voters preferred Labour’s policy stance on the substantive issues.

    TREVOR ALBERT: In terms of a refreshing change from “horse-trading and croneyism”, I think you’ll find Shearer is the one being backed by the Old Guard in the Party. Cunliffe has said the frontbench under his leadership will be a meritocracy.

    CRAIG RANAPIA: Disingenuous, me old mate. As you well know, Cunliffe was replying in kind to a joke question from the interviewer (and subsequently expressed regret). Interesting that so many dyed-in-the-wool Nats have suddenly transformed themselves into cheerleaders for Shearer. I’m sure there’s nothing you’d like better than a Blairite leader of the Labour Party – and worse still, an ineffectual Blairite at that.

  88. Tena koutou e hoa maa. Ka nui taku mihi kia koutou.

    I have herad Cunliffe speak on changes that need to be applied to the economy. I have heard him speak on Labour’s Economic directions. That is why I am supporting him. We are facining the prospect of a new Depression. The “greed is good” mantra is still being practiced by the Finance and Banking sectors. Bonuses are still huge. The banks have been bailed out but the people paying rent are being ignored. We need to organise around Social Security which meaan sFull Employment for everyone who wants a job or training and wrap around support to be able to train and study. Cunliffe is on to all these things. Now is the time for Proven Experience and the ability to perform on the Media and also to get across to all Kiwis that we have to have a radical change of direction in terms of our Economic policies. Neo-Keynsian or some new form of a Social Democrat Contract to set the directions. Look at the recent OECD Report on Inequality in NZ. The solution slie in its analysis.

    So let us go with Cunliffe with Shearer in support. If we go the other way then we are putting inexperience and little Parliamentary experience ahead of a credible and proven track record. The future is an contest of Economic Ideas and a contest about the Role of the Welfare in providing Economic and Social Security.

    Cheers David Tolich

  89. I thought Shearer in the beginning but found pretty soon that the ‘I’ve got a good back story’ began to grate. The NZ way is not to skite about doing good. Ever.

    He may have other talents and strengths but we have seen it’s not oratory or being able to think on his feet and he seemed to have signed up to the Labour Party just as a lot of us were leaving. In disgust.

    David Cunliffe is at ease with an audience, a mike, a camera, Parliament and nit picking toadie journalists. He’s no push over.

    He’s selected a capable woman who will do us proud as his deputy.

    My one suggestion Mr Cunliffe is to stop talking about winning the 2014 election and bring us to our feet with a pledge to win the next election, whenever it may be. Race ready now is what we need. The Two Johns Govt won’t last three years. Already it sounds like a toilet block….

  90. @ Ross

    Nope. You cherry-picked my comment out of its wider context. To refocus, and I’ll quote you: -

    “There may be some government policies which Labour agrees with – again, no negativity there and I think Labour shouldn’t be afraid to say when it agrees with the government”.

    …may be appealing if you are a disinterested observer or an academic with the time and inclination to consider various shades of nuance and perspectives (i.e., the sort of people who supported leaders like Bill Rowling and Geoffrey Palmer). However, as a vote-winning strategy, especially in the age of the sound-bite it is a disaster.

    Negativity differentiates. If you agree with the government you shut up about it as much as possible, and move the discussion on to a subject matter where you don’t. If not, people figure why should I vote for something different?

  91. Conspiracy theorists above can relax and, Brian, I’m not sure what is “bizarre”. All sorts of people came to my post-election party, from every party (except NZ First of course). Shearer was invited by Bomber Bradbuy I think. It was nice he dropped in, having appeared on the iPredict TV show.

  92. I must be Last Man Alive On Earth (a-la Charlton Heston in “The Omega Man”) who doesn’t care much for personalities, as I do for policy…

    Brian, more than ever I think that Civics needs to be taught in our schools. Our maniacal obssession with personalities is perhaps one of the reasons why we collectively make awful decisions when it comes to electing governments…

  93. 93

    Well, that was one way of putting the mockers on Cunliffe.

  94. 94

    AnnaLiviaPlurabella

    Shearer’s failure so far to offer Cunliffe a credible role indicates that he actually is Trevor’s poodle. The party won’t accept deliberate dissing of those who don’t bow to a small claque.

    The open approach of the “primary” process is now gone. It is back to the smart ass stuff of Trevor &co that lost us the election. Have a word with your local MP. Ask him or her to tell you what is going on.

  95. Great synopsis, Brian. Pity the caucus didn’t take heed. I’m tired, however, of reading and hearing comments – including from some of your readers, as well as from media reporters – which say or imply that David Cunliffe is “not likeable” and suggesting that he is devoid of humour.

    I suspect that the media comments are the result of listening to caucus colleagues’ jealousies, but I wonder how many of those “non media” commentators have actually met him.

    I worked in his ministerial office for a time and found him to be a warm, considerate, generous person with a great sense of humour. Together with his intellect (and intelligence), debating skills and ministerial/parliamentary experience, those qualities should have made him the ideal choice for Leader of the Opposition. An opportunity lost!

  96. Apologies for the lateness.

    “……….Kiwis like leaders who project strength. Kirk, Muldoon………..”

    Kirk’s infamous words on Waitangi Day in the mid- seventies have led to disaster. With two very young Polynesian girls holding his hands, he announced that our doors will be open to one and all – or words to that effect.

    The doors were opened very wide and the result is obvious to us all. Rather than offend I will not detail the outcome.