Brian Edwards Media

A conundrum: When is a secret ballot not a secret ballot? When you want to get rid of David Cunliffe of course!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In February of next year the Labour Party caucus is constitutionally obliged to conduct a secret leadership ballot. The key word in this simple statement of fact is “secret”. No caucus member will be required to say who he or she voted for.

None, that is, except David Cunliffe. Talk of Cunliffe’s demotion or exclusion from Labour’s shadow cabinet and, beyond that, of his possible expulsion from the parliamentary Labour Party, revolves largely around the issue of his refusal to say whether he will support David Shearer in that February ballot. Cunliffe is being asked to say how he will vote in a secret leadership ballot three months from now. His failure to do so is being taken as evidence of his disloyalty to Shearer and possible grounds for his expulsion from the Labour caucus.

This is not merely entirely unreasonable, it is a major breach of Labour’s own constitutional rules. A caucus member is being asked to declare in advance how he will vote in a secret ballot. 

This fact seems to have escaped the country’s political journalists who could see nothing wrong in demanding that Cunliffe tell them who he intended to vote for in a secret ballot three months from now. Leaving aside the constitutional absurdity of the question, it seemed to escape their notice that Cunliffe does not have a crystal ball to tell him what the state of the parties will be in February 2013, how well Shearer will be faring in the Preferred Prime Minister polls or anything at all about the political landscape against which the ballot will be conducted.

I have no crystal ball either, but it’s clear to me that if Shearer’s and Labour’s poll ratings were dire next February there would be adequate grounds for even the most loyal caucus member to consider whether Shearer ought not to be replaced as leader.

While they were demanding transparency and openness from Cunliffe, some members of the fourth estate had no such requirement of Cunliffe’s detractors. In an interview with Rachel Smalley on this morning’s Firstline, Patrick Gower thought it acceptable journalism to repeat for the amusement of viewers the tirade of abuse which an unnamed front-bench Labour MP had heaped on Cunliffe’s head.  Refusing to say how you are going to vote in a secret ballot three months from now is, it seems, unacceptable conduct in an MP; not having the guts to put your name to your opinions apparently isn’t.

As for Shearer, his Conference speech on Sunday was clearly brilliant. He has looked and sounded better in interviews than I have seen him to date. He is no doubt feeling supported and confident. But in considering Cunliffe’s fate he would be wise to consider Helen Clark’s approach to dealing with the malcontents who invited her to step down as leader in mid-1996. Three years later they were all senior ministers in her cabinet; one of them, Michael Cullen, was deputy Prime Minister. As Lyndon Johnston observed, ‘Better to have them inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.’

Shearer cannot rely on everything being rosy in Labour’s garden in February 2013; and his position has been weakened by the constitutional changes which the party has just made to how leadership spills are conducted. He may feel he has no alternative but to demote Cunliffe, but he ought to think very carefully about the extent of that demotion. Cunliffe is Labour’s most effective  spokesman and debater. No-one comes within cooee of him, least of all on economic policy. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater may satisfy the ABC brigade, but it may not be a sensible long-term strategy.

And then there’s the final solution – expelling this turbulent  priest from caucus. That would no doubt please Patrick Gower’s gutless informant. But it would please John Key more. The Labour Party would split in two. A National victory in 2014 would be all but inevitable.

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33 Comments:

  1. >Refusing to say how you are going to vote in a secret ballot three months from now is, it seems, unacceptable conduct in an MP; not having the guts to put your name to your opinions apparently isn’t.

    Very well said, Brian

  2. Agreed. Goodbye Labour

  3. The question should have been ridiculed ,as you have rightly noted here.

  4. Hi Brian, an excellent analysis of the leadership crisis within Labour.
    As a fellow political blogger (on Voxy) could not have surmised it better myself.
    I think that Shearer will have to tread carefully with Cunliffe.
    Clearly, the possibility of miscalculation on the part of both leadership contenders is high. One mistake, and one of the David’s could be out for good.
    I think that you could have added, though, in your last sentence that it will be a weakened National Party that will win in 2014. Labour, however, stands to be more weakened.

  5. Brian, you don’t need a crystal ball to tell you that come February, unless Cunliffe puts up or shuts up, leadership will still be a (if not the) defining issue for Labour.
    Cunliffe has been a weeping sore in the side of both Goff and Shearer, and seems quite content to undermine the general standing of the party to promote his self-interest. I have no truck with MPs who’ve had a guts full of putting on a brave face while Cunliffe, Chauvel, Mackey et al reek merry havoc with their efforts to promote a coherent party line. Although I must say I do have more respect for those like Chris Hipkins who are prepared to put their name to it when they’re calling Cunliffe out for what he is.
    As for ongoing appeasement and keeping Cunliffe high up the rankings, I say piffle! He under-performed in the finance role, and while he has the chops to be great in economic development (or finance if he put his mind to it), there is nothing that should inspire confidence about his ability to put his ample ambition to a task other than unseating any leader who is not him.
    In that sense, he needs either the leadership or the boot. I think after this weekend it has to be the boot.

  6. Well put Brian. Appears the caucus is now hellbent on punishing the membership for daring to change the rules. Like him or not, Cunliffe has done nothing wrong other than exercise his rights. The bloodletting is far from over and one good speech, not great speech, does not make a leader be.
    This isn’t done by a long chalk, I can see something brewing in the dark recesses once Cunliffe is hurled into the dungeons where Jones now resides.
    Don’t need the polls to tell us…National will cruise home in 2014..In one fell swoop Shearer, his advisors and his allies, have undone everything.

  7. Chanticleer, there is a worrying trend in Labour to talk about rights without any reflection on responsibilities. Cunliffe’s persistent exercise of his rights has often been in flagrant disregard of his responsibilities to his leadership, his caucus and his party.
    I’d put it to you that Shearer hasn’t undone anything, it’s Cunliffe and his coterie of the caucus’ poorer performers that have been unravelling things for Labour for years now.

  8. This is the inevitable end result of a political culture in which election to Parliament is seen first and foremost – and often solely – as a tool of personal advancement and or self-aggrandisement.

    Sure, everyone has ambition. But if that’s tempered with a belief in public service, you do first what’s best for the country.

    And that means you don’t distract and damage your own party when it’s in opposition purely to further your own career, because a hopelessly divided, inward-looking and weakened opposition is not in the best interests of New Zealand, no matter which party we’re discussing.

  9. From what I saw on TV, naked leadership ambitions have got the better of Cunliffe. In Texas Holdem-speak, he went ‘All-in’ on a low pair.

    This time, tomorrow, Cunliffe will be completely cleaned-out and ejected from the table. Nothing more certain than that. He’ll cut a very sullen figure as he shuffles off to the slots, rattling a coin cup. The inevitable consequence of “Self Before Party”.

  10. @ Trevor Albhert

    “Cunliffe has been a weeping sore in the side of both Goff and Shearer, and seems quite content to undermine the general standing of the party to promote his self-interest”.

    Generally, everyone who attempts a coup risks de-stabilising their party, but if they are successful (Kirk usurping Nordmeyer, Muldoon over Marshall, Bolger over McLay, Clark over Moore), the previous leader is erased from the memory. Politics is about winning.

    And it is disingenuous, in my humble and fallible opinion, Brian, to claim that a savvy ambitious politician like Cunliffe isn’t demonstrating disloyalty to Shearer by ruling out voting against him in 3 months. Of course he is.

    The correct answer for the media and public consumption is, “the leader has my full support”, and you refuse to be drawn into discussion of whether that may change tomorrow, next week, 3 months, or until the next election.

    Cunliffe knew very well how his words would be interpreted. It was a signal to all his supporters, especially those on the ground who have been mobilising to the effect constitutional change the conference adopted, to start the coup.

    And reporting the thoughts of secret informants has always been a means of mobilising the troops when the leadership is in the balance. Or leaking policy. Or getting stuff out that you can’t publicly be seen to reveal. Political reporting would cease to exist without it!

    Finally, that the Labour Party is considering disciplining Cunliffe confirms why they are unlikely to ever win my vote. Muldoon simply ignored Minogue when he publicly undermined him, and as much as Bolger disliked Peters, or English tried to sideline Williamson (as they were entitled to do as leaders of their caucus), there is no way you get thrown out of the National Party like Chris Carter did, or Cunliffe may, for following the dictates of your conscience and criticising the caucus leader.

    But with Labour (with the notable exception of Clark, whom you mentioned, Brian), there are far too many busy-body know-it-alls, and control freaks, who just can’t allow folks the dignity of following their conscience. Has all the hallmarks of air-brushing out former members in those 1930s Stalinist politburo photos. And it confirms to the electorate that they will ride roughshod over people’s freedoms if they are ever given power…

  11. Another interesting conundrum is that given respective experience and capabilities Cunliffe may best represent grass roots Labour, and Shearer may best represent the country. So the question is who in the long run would best meld Labour policies and at the same time be a successful prime minister for all New Zealanders.

    As for the mainstream media they of course will hammer and twist that conundrum to death.

  12. An interesting perspective:

    “…This is not merely entirely unreasonable, it is a major breach of Labour’s own constitutional rules. A caucus member is being asked to declare in advance how he will vote in a secret ballot.”

    At face value, it’s one that is hard to disagree with. However, I feel the perspective changes somewhat when you consider that Cunliffe may well be the subject of such a vote, rather than just a participant.

    Asking for his view on what choices may be available to members in such a ballot may be less ‘unconstitutional’, yet solicit the same result.

    Of course, whatever Cunliffe may be he’s no idiot and having shown his hand a little too vigorously, a little too early, I rather suspect if you asked him when he last shaved he would be coy…

  13. “Cunliffe’s persistent exercise of his rights has often been in flagrant disregard of his responsibilities to his leadership, his caucus and his party.”

    Nonsense. The problem is an entrenched group of MPs who think they know better than everyone else and who would rather cripple the party than lose control of it. The membership just sent them a warning, but they still don’t get it.

    Labour is in some danger of losing its status as the opposition. Ask the Canadian Liberals about how that worked out for them.

  14. My test of leadership is how any leader treats EVERYONE in the group which they are supposed to be leading, not just their mates. Labour can follow the Mike Moore/Bill English model (really successful) or Helen Clark’s and John Key’s -which seems to work even better! I understand that some in the Labour caucus were upset that the Conference has changed the rules but ACT and the Greens don’t disintegrate when their members choose their leaders. The Labour Party has joined the 21st centuary.

  15. @ Kat

    “So the question is who in the long run would best meld Labour policies and at the same time be a successful prime minister for all New Zealanders.

    As for the mainstream media they of course will hammer and twist that conundrum to death.”

    As they are entitled to do, and as they have a duty, because it is in the public’s interest. If Labour can’t govern and unite itself, then it has no right to be given the chance to govern and unite the country.

    Let me know when you guys have resolved the conundrum. Until you do, the phone of the election-determining majority is rightly off the hook.

  16. @ Kimbo

    “If Labour can’t govern and unite itself, then it has no right to be given the chance to govern and unite the country.”

    From what I saw of the makeup of those at the Conference, the Labour Party is divided into two camps. And it’s not by way of preferred leader. Rather, it’s between those who are on a salary and those who are paid an hourly rate (wages). The former, being considered top of the hierarchy.

    Take a good look at all of them and then ask yourself, “Do they have the talent and the capability to govern the country?”.

    My answer is an emphatic, “No”.

  17. Given the very public internecine warfare within the Labour Party my prediction is that come February they will be so far behind in the polls that any leadership change will be academic. Their best hope is that the Mayan prophecy of the end of the world on 21 December comes true, and with the state of the Middle East, that could well be the case.

    Out of interest why does DC when speaking give the impression that he is speaking out of the corner of his mouth? It makes him look like a spiv.

  18. @ Kimbo

    I would have thought the fourth estates ‘duty’ was to appear, at least, to report events truthfully.

  19. So which “events” have been untruthfully reported?

    Chris Hipkins didn’t criticise and call for thr side-lining of Cunliffe for undermining the Labour Party, or side-tracking the conference?

    That grass-roots Cunliffe supporters in particular weren’t mobilising to change the constitution? I know of one Labour candidate from 2011 who told me about it months ago.

    Or that there is isn’t a split developing between whom the caucus and party members should be leader (which seems to be the point of your ‘interesting conundrum’ post at November 19th, 2012 at 14:57)?

    Kat, you may be fuming at the media’s coverage, and I may be saying “pass the pop-corn@, but as with the teapot tape saga when our roles were reversed, one thing you can’t accuse the media of in this matter is untruthful reporting.

    Unless you can give an indisputable fact to support your opinion?

  20. Has the Labour Party hierarchy succumbed to the media’s idea that there is a party leadership issue, although Cunliffe stating publicly several times that he gives his full support to the party leader? Me thinks that David Shearer had consumed too many Red Bulls and developed visions of ” I must be bold,strong and look decisive”.
    What will a quick caucus meeting resolve?? Let’s keep the Labour Party mechanism democratic, the secret labour leadership vote will, after all take place next February.

  21. “Take a good look at all of them and then ask yourself, “Do they have the talent and the capability to govern the country?””

    Nobody does. That goes for the rest of parliament as well. .

    Looks like I’ll be staying home again next polling day. Given that many people I know feel the same, the ” Can’t Be Arsed” Party looks likely to be the big winner in 2014. What does it say about the calibre of our politicians when an increasing number of citizens actively refrain from voting?

  22. Brian

    Thoughtful and considered as always. Perhaps Cunliffe is playing chess; going to the backbenches makes him the obvious successor should Shearer be dead in the water come 2013. It is certainly not an ace card for wannabe leaders in the Shadow Cabinet to have ‘I backed Shearer in 2012′ on their CV.

    If the nuclear card is played and expulsion beckon, I could easily see Cunliffe gravitate to NZ First. Cunliffe is a talent and let us face it, NZF faces an age-related leadership crisis of its own. If the personalities could mesh (I know, I know), Cunliffe could alter the political landscape by giving NZF a much needed intellectual grunt. Labour would then be bracketed by the Greens to its left and an enegergised Waitakere-man NZF to the right.

    My bet though is demotion, which, ironically, frees Cunliffe to work on Labour’s tiny backbench (who must remain nervous electorally). If Shearer is not careful it may not be the beginning of the end for him, but could turn into the end of the beginning (Winston Churchill knew a thing or two about aisle hopping).

    PS Did Judith Tizzard serious when she wrote “ACT and the Greens don’t disintegrate when their members choose their leaders”. The Greens haven’t but what is ACT!!

  23. Cunliffe could command a 7 figure fee as an international consultant, he doesn’t have to be a politician for his livelihood. He is choosing to be a Labour MP because of his beliefs. I have worked with him and found him to be an exceptional leader and incredibly bright. I suspect that this caucus have chosen a weak leader for their own conveniance. I see Garner is still quoting from his sources within Labour, why is the Shearer so weak on these wrecker while acting tough against the best Polititian in NZ Parliment. Unbelievable. .

  24. Cunliffe could command a 7 figure fee as an international consultant, he doesn’t have to be a politician for his livelihood. He is choosing to be a Labour MP because of his beliefs. I have worked with him and found him to be an exceptional leader and incredibly bright. I suspect that this caucus have chosen a weak leader for their own conveniance. I see Garner is still quoting from his sources within Labour, why is Shearer so weak on these wreckers while acting tough against the best Polititian in NZ Parliment. Unbelievable.

  25. 25

    Negligent Holdings Ltd

    Shearer showed some real signs of leadership material at the Conference. And he was more fluent, self-assured and confident when interviewed for TV.

    If Cunliffe had shown even a modicum of nous, he would have expressed his support of the leadership status quo; putting the emphasis on cohesiveness and unity as the central themes of the Conference. He had a victory-of-sorts, having achieved the lowering to 40% of the caucus vote in order to precipitate a test of the leadership.

    He shouldn’t have signalled his underlying intentions at that time, but impatience and impulse got the better of him. His timing was naff, as was his political astuteness. I had a glimpse of his demeanour and it wasn’t pretty.

  26. @ Kimbo

    Sounds like your supporting the msm’s notion that Cunliffe definitely set out to sabotage Shearer.

    That aside, you should direct your question at Patrick Gower regarding the supposed unnamed Labour MP that heaped abuse on Cunliffe’s head!

    The rest of us ‘guys’ were at some other function.

  27. I’d could indeed direct questions at Patrick Gower. However, as per your side-step response to my post of 17:31, it seems that I have the knack of asking questions people avoid.

    Which in itself is an answer.

    Tell you what, Kat, I’ll go round two with you because I love a game of fox-and-hounds.

    Is the following also an MSM beat-up?: -

    http://thestandard.org.nz/shearer-or-labour/

    ..or this?

    http://thestandard.org.nz/an-apology-to-david-cunliffe/

    Keep up the cheer-leading, Kat, but when they bring out the Kool-Aid, and blame it on all the forces ‘out there’, its time to take in the view from outside the camp looking in.

  28. Agree completely. Leadership challenges are a legitimate part of the democratic process within the party. This is not the mafia – leadership challenges are allowed. The standard of journalism around this has been appalling.

  29. Here is a letter I sent to the Herald yesterday (yet to be published):

    Democracy at risk

    Journalists become a danger to democracy when they use their power to manufacture high drama out of an improved process for choosing our political leaders. For many years the Labour Party has scheduled a leadership review in at the beginning of the second year of a parliamentary term. Labour has simply made the process more open and democratic than a caucus deciding behind closed doors who our next prime minister might be. All involved in that process should allowed to remain open-minded as they consider the possibilities.

    Why has the media made a meal out of David Cunliffe honestly being unable to predict what his view will be in three months’ time? The result has been to corner David Shearer – who completed a hugely positive conference with a brilliant speech – into behaving like an autocratic, dictatorial leader. That is not his nature. Nor is it consistent with the hard-won democracy that we hold dear and which the Labour Party works to continuously improve.

    Maybe Steven Joyce should insist that the tertiary training of journalists include an understanding of democracy and the value of not sabotaging it.

    Michael Smythe
    Northcote

  30. Kimbo, I don’t regard The Standard.org blog site as mainstream media.

    Herald, Fairfax, TV3, reporting the conference events as quote: ‘A catastrophe, ‘A train wreck of a conference’, ‘A disaster’, ‘Mayhem’, ‘Angry vote damns Shearer’, ‘Labour may have pushed Shearer off a cliff’, ‘Labour has lessons for lemmings on self-destruction’, would make anyone who wasn’t there think that’s what went down. There’s the lie.

    Interesting irony with the ‘teapot saga’ was in that instance the mainstream media showed that lies can be reported truthfully.

  31. So this was mainstream media lies?:

    “David Cunliffe has been working for some time now to destabilise the current leadership. He worked to destabilise the last leadership. And I think it’s time to call him out on that,” Hipkins told ONE News.”

    http://tvnz.co.nz/politics-news/cunliffe-s-labour-leadership-bid-looks-set-fail-5222488

    I know Chris Hipkins, despite his obvious and clear talents and through no fault of his own does look a bit like a Thunder Birds marionette, but I’m pretty sure no one was pulling his strings.

    Tell me, Kat, what, other than the change to the party constitution, and Cunliffe’s refusal to endorse Shearer at the scheduled vote in February 2013 – both of which occurred at this wonderful conference you are trying to spin us – could have prompted Hipkins’ comments?

    And if you watch the item we have a lament from Louisa Wall that talk of Cunliffe being demoted after the caucus vote today will detract from the Conference. Sounds like it was indeed, “a disaster”.

    Watch out, Kat. Blaming the MSM is likely to distract you from the key thing you must do at a time like this if you are a Labour party member with aspirations – plotting, scheming, and back-stabbing to make sure you end up on the winning side, and your enemies get sent to the Gulag.

    I admire your loyalty, Kat. Ambitious Labour Party office holders, as they have for years, will continue to be grateful for the useful, uncritical assistance of folks like you.

  32. @ Michael Smythe

    “Why has the media made a meal out of David Cunliffe honestly being unable to predict what his view will be in three months’ time? The result has been to corner David Shearer – who completed a hugely positive conference with a brilliant speech – into behaving like an autocratic, dictatorial leader.”

    So what you are saying is the Labour leader is so incompetent and lacking in self-control, he is unable to withstand the pressure of an alleged media beat-up, and instead lashes out against his perceived opponents.

    Remind me again, if that is true, why your guy should get anyone’s vote for PM, especially when the pressure of that office will be vastly greater than what he experienced at the weekend?

    And if it really is Labour Party rank-and-file opinion that the “media is to blame” for Shearer’s actions, tell me why anyone should vote for people who have no doctrine of personal responsibility for your actions, starting with the leader of their party?!

  33. Assuming Cunliffe was to get demoted and did jump waka – not to NZF (unlikely I’d think) but to Mana (OK, also unlikely), that’d put the cat among the pigeons.