Brian Edwards Media

The Labour Leadership: TV or not TV


Following my earlier post, in which I argued that the ability to communicate effectively on television is a sine qua non for any politician hoping to occupy the highest office in the land, I thought it might be worthwhile to rate the current pretenders to the Labour leadership with particular –  but not exclusive –  reference to how they perform on the box. To assist in this exercise I’m using the Television Compatibility Matrix or TVCM (My own invention!) to place the prospective leaders on a scale of 1 to 10, one being ‘totally hopeless’ and ten being ‘makes Bill Clinton look like an amateur’. So here goes:

David Cunliffe – See previous post.


David Parker – Current Labour Party Deputy Leader, Finance spokesman and shadow Attorney General. Deceptively ambitious, quietly spoken policy wonk, passingly reminiscent of MJ Savage. Hugely intelligent with boyish appeal concealing steely determination. Ran for the Party Leadership in 2011, but withdrew early in  the contest to be replaced by David Shearer. Comes across well on the box. Says he’s not standing for the Leadership, but just in case…

TVCM 6.5

Annette King – Hugely experienced MP and former Deputy Leader, Labour Minister of Health and Minister of Labour. Generally regarded as one of the nicest Members of Parliament. Comes across extremely well on the box. Unlikely to be Labour Party Leader, since she has never wanted and still does not want the job. A pity!

TVCM 7.5

Grant Robertson – Shadow Leader of the House holding several portfolios. He is perhaps Labour’s strongest debater in Parliament and possibly the only Labour MP with the capacity to best Key in that environment. Highly intelligent, he previously worked as a diplomat at the United Nations in New York. Quietly effective, if somewhat drab, low-key television performer.

TVCM 6.5

Jacinda Ardern – Widely touted as a potential Leader or Deputy Leader of the Party. Performed exceptionally well as Labour candidate for Auckland Central, coming close to ousting popular incumbent and National Party Minister, Nikki Kaye. Highly intelligent. Stylish and attractive. Perhaps too young for the Leadership but Deputy Leader a distinct possibility.


Stuart Nash – Held the Labour, Revenue and Forestry portfolios under Phil Goff. Later David Shearer’s Chief of Staff. MP for Napier. Great-grandson of Walter Nash. Highly ambitious. Stylish and good looking, he is also one of the Party’s most articulate and effective speakers. All of this may well cause resentment among his fellow MPs. A possible contender for the Deputy Leader position.

TVCM 7.5

Chris Hipkins – MP for Rimutaka and Labour Party Chief Whip.  Former senior advisor to Helen Clark. Previously worked as a  training consultant in the oil and gas industry  and in the health sector in the UK. Forceful and sometimes acerbic personality, capable of being divisive. Highly intelligent and articulate. An excellent performer in television interviews.


David Shearer – MP for Mount Albert and Former Leader of the Labour Party. Currently Foreign Affairs spokesperson. Nearly 20 years working for the United Nations, managing the provision of aid to countries including Somalia, Rwanda, Liberia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Iraq. Widely admired for his  previous work and as an honest broker. Undermined by his inability to speak fluently on television, though there have been recent signs of improvement.

TVCM 5.5


[Note: The Television Compatibility Matrix has no scientific validity whatsoever and should not be used as a voting guide.]



, , , , , ,


  1. How about Phil Twyford?

  2. You’ve underated Shearer, he is a TVCM 7.5 and in my opinion leaves the others behind. He did well on Q and A on Sunday – came across as honest and sincere and telling it like it was (and I suspect he was correct) If Labour want a leader to challenge Key then they need to get someone who will get the same public appeal and I think that if Labour have brains they may consider Shearer as the best hope. He has the persona to do it – if allowed to and coached. And yes he has improved since he was the leader, but ye gods how would you ever know where you stand when you consider Labours fractured political machine (running on one cylinder). If they united as a whole Shearer will come into his own. Second place behind Shearer in my view is Hipkins. The rest don’t bother about. None of them have any public appeal outside of their own party.

    • You may well be right. I’m a huge admirer of Shearer who is undoubtedly one of the most honest men in politics. What you may not be aware of is that his lack of fluency is related to stress in front of the television cameras. This may not be evident now, but he’s not the candidate for the leadership and things may change if and when he is. I’d be happy to see David as leader too. But the odds are against it.

  3. Maaate, give ‘em all a 10.

    The party is on its knees. They’re in such a desperate state, that they better get used to hunkering down in the Opposition trenches, indefinitely. Trouble is, the trenches are so shallow, that all their arses are pointing skywards. Lucky for them, the Nats can’t be bothered taking pot shots at such easy game.

    • Thank you for that deeply incisive and insightful post….maaaate.

      (And if you knew anything about Question Time, you’d know that Mr Key likes nothing better than cheap shots.)

      • 3.1.1

        Look at’em: Desperate, Dissolute, Disillusioned, Disenchanted, Disorganised, Disaffected, Disconsolate, Disengaged, Dispirited — in short, in complete Disarray.

        If the Labour Party were a dog — which it is — the owner would be charged for not having it euthanised. Prolonging its existence is cruel and an abdication of decency by prolonging the suffering.

        • Wow, you’re on a cliche roll – and just as insightful the second time around. Anything to contribute, other than Key-esque playground slurs?

          Were you in long pants at the time that National got under 21% of the vote in the 2002 election? Don’t write off a long-lived party because it is in need of renewal…

  4. “came across as honest and sincere and telling it like it was”

    I agree.

    “if allowed to and coached”

    Seems to be a contradiction. Last time as leader Shearer seemed over-coached and under-natural.

    I think Hipkins would be a good investment in what looks to need to be a six year plan but it looks like Robertson is next cab off the rank – looking too much at now and not at the next two elections.

    Because it’s such a big step up whoever does it starts with a fairly clean slate. Anyone who steps up to leadership is untested and needs to be given time to grow into the job and needs to be given a fair go.

    • I grasp your point. My point, badly expressed by me, was
      “if allowed to and coached” means let him be his normal self,and caoch him to be so. The thing that I like about Shearer is that he never flew the “plausible deniability” flag when he was leader. He was honest. So what if he didn’t have fluency on TV. I never noticed it when he was leader as I listened to what he said not how he deliovered it. His body language seemed good to me. It’s kind of interesting – he’s critiocised for the way he delivers messages but not criticised for what the messages contains. Cunliffe on the other hand is criticised about his messages but not the way he delivers them. So guess to be the Labour Leader you must be able tro deliver the messages well, even if the messages were crap.

  5. Would wonder about Kelvin Davis – first Maori PM of NZ?

  6. What ever they do its important to allow the selected candidate to have a decent opportunity to succeed.Establishing a new leader every year really doesn’t

  7. Agree with PJR. The tendency of biffing leader overboard the minute they have lost an election is a bad habit. Harry Holland, Mick, Norm and Helen all experienced failure at winning elections.But learnt from the experience.

  8. Speaking from outside the camp, I’d say Shearer is the most credible option at the moment. Of the alternatives mentioned, Hipkins would be the best investment for the future and shows promise of growing into the leadership role. Parker did well through the campaign, but shares Cunliffe’s handicap of a beefed-up CV. Blis Technologies, which was Howard Patterson’s initiative not his, is hoping to break even this year after thirteen years of losses. Not the best advertisement for skill at picking winners. But I could be wrong.

  9. Who the leader of the labour party is, is irrelevant.

    The reason is that labour has run off to identity politics. It is more concerned with these various groups – and there are plenty of then from the bigger ones such as maori thru to the small ones – transgender people. In between are the homosexuals, the feminists, the anti – feminists, the homeless, the poor, the etc,etc.
    And every time they come out supporting one of these groups they loose some more voters from the middle ground.
    Theyve almost run out of males to vote for them (who would after the man ban and the ‘sorry Im a man’ stuff) and a lot of females have jumped ship too – there are a lot of women in the middle who dont care a rats arse about all these special interest groups and just wish that labour would pay more attention to mr & mrs smith who have two jobs and have trouble paying the rent or the mortgage.

    So – forget who the leader is – they whole party has to change.

  10. Stuart Nash? Hmmm I recall seeing him on TV the other night for all of two seconds. Are you sure you are not thinking of someone else, Brian?

  11. I would rate Grant Robertson more highly than 6.5.

    And while your critique, “Quietly effective, if somewhat drab, low-key television performer” may be correct, that also sums up Key in many TV interview situations. His post-election interview with Campbell springs to mind. And Key’s message is almost invariably “steady as she goes”, so there are few fireworks.

    Back to Robertson – he certainly has projecting ‘authenticity’ nailed down, which regrettably for Labour was not the case with Goff and Cunliffe (Shearer’s lack of elocution disqualified him, sadly. A great guy, and he will make a superb Minister of Foreign Affairs one day). Which is why the Labour Party should have listened to those in the caucus who worked closely with David Cunliffe for many years…and decided he was lacking in a crucial quality.

    But I wonder if trying to match Key’s strengths directly is the answer. Muldoon seemed impregnable, but Lange de-fanged him with humour, and in that famous last TV debate before the 1984 election, love.

    And Key’s affable insouciance provided a contrast to Clark’s close attention to detail.

    You need some point of difference. In retrospect Shane Jones may have provided it. So maybe Davis or Nash.

    But all of this presumes your central premise that TV presence is the reason for electoral success of failure. Maybe, but whatever else you project on TV, it has to address the decisive factor that decides elections: Are you and your team perceived as competent? Man bans, apologising for being a man, and failing to answer an important detail in a debate (shades of Phil Goff in 2011), as seemingly trivial as they are, still provide an insight for the voting public into your competence. And if you can’t run a competent campaign, you can’t competently run the country…

    Welcome back, btw

  12. Hi Brian

    welcome back. I note you were silent in the months before the election, and now active once again within days of the result. Does this mean you were involed with one of the party campaigns?

    • No, it doesn’t mean that, and I wasn’t. More to do with waiting for Judy to have a full recovery. Which, I’m delighted to say, she now has.

  13. I would give David Cunliffe at least 7
    and David Parker too because it is all about intelligence for me.
    It was intelligent thinking that got me listening to you earlier in your career.