Brian Edwards Media

Why my money’s on David Parker. And why Labour’s should be as well!

OK, eventually you have to put your money where your mouth is. So who, of the four declared contestants – Nanaia Mahuta, Grant Robertson, Andrew Little and David Parker –  should, in my opinion, win the Labour leadership contest? And let’s be clear: the only criterion for the job is that that person should have at least a snowball’s chance of beating John Key in 2017.

Nanaia Mahuta has already conceded that she’s unlikely to win the race and she is to be admired for her honesty.

Of the remaining three I’m going to discount Andrew Little first. I simply don’t believe that the country is ready for a grim-faced former union leader to be Prime Minister or to be this country’s envoy overseas.   

Much has been made of Grant Robertson’s sexuality as an impediment to his electoral chances. In a recent television vox pop an elderly man expressed horror less at the fact that Robertson was gay, but that he was “married to a man”. I found that interesting and it may in fact be the case that, if Robertson were single, there would be less objection to the idea of his becoming Prime Minister. There have been plenty of gay Cabinet Ministers on both sides of the house, but most, I’m reasonably certain, were unmarried or as good as. It’s as if it were OK to be a gay bachelor but not OK to be identified as a man married to – and sleeping with – another man. Sodomy is the elephant in the room in this matter

In a recent programme on Prime TV Bill Ralston and I were asked whether we thought Robertson’s sexuality would affect his chances of winning the Labour leadership and, if he did, his subsequent chances of leading Labour to victory in 2017. We both thought that it would. But my own view was that the effect would not be great. That is still my view and the effect may be lessened by his choice of Jacinda Ardern as a running-mate which is nothing less than a master-stroke.

My objection to Roberson has nothing to do with his sexuality. I simply don’t like the man I see on television – loud, overconfident, bullying, dismissive of other viewpoints. These are some of the qualities that have made him such an effective debater in Parliament, but I doubt they will serve him as well in broadcast election debates against Key.

David Parker is an entirely different cup of tea – boyish, quietly spoken, charming, erudite, a master in his field of economics, a brilliant dialectician and a man with his eyes firmly fixed on the glittering prize. He will take exception if you compare him to Harry Potter, but Potter is a modern folk hero and that can’t  be all bad. Most of all, Parker is likeable and likeability is a major plus in the era of presidential style elections and televised debates.

If he has a fault it is, as my mother would have put it, being backward in coming forward. If he is to win against Little and Robertson he cannot afford to be modest of self-effacing. He must learn to promote himself better.

And could he defeat John Key? In intellect and debating skill without a doubt; and match him at least in Key’s strongest suit – coming across as someone you’d be happy to have a beer with… or a cup of tea at least.

So my money’s on Parker. For one thing, I’m comfortable with the idea of him representing us on the world stage. Not so much his opponents. I’m not comfortable with that at all.

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  1. While not disagreeing with most of what you’ve said – our views diverge on Ardern, but I don’t want to be unkind in a public forum – I can’t help but wonder whether Parker isn’t too erudite for the New Zealand public?

    Another in the mold of Geoffrey Palmer, perhaps? You may be willing to sit down for a cup of tea, since he’s a nice enough bloke, but you’d feel a bit self-conscious about being able to hold up your side of the conversation.

    Part of Key’s “charm” seems to be his mangling of the language, his “aww gee shucks” response – a brilliant way of implying the reason he won’t answer is because he can’t – and his chameleon-like ability to assume the skin of Everyman while being, of course, anything but.

    I struggle intellectually with why this in fact works, but can’t deny that it does. I’d rather be represented by some I thought was far smarter than me, or at least equal.

    Which is not to say that any of the other contenders would do better at morphing into such a figure. Little certainly couldn’t… he’d be less able than Parker… Robertson possibly, but he’d have to work at it and he already has a strong brand which doesn’t really encompass that image.

    It may be that his likability – something that didn’t come naturally to Palmer – gets people past the whole “but he’s smarter than me” thing.

    Everyone should hope so, because regardless of which banner you march under, a government – and particularly *this* government – needs a focused and fearless opposition.

    • I’m not of course suggesting that Parker should try to be like Key. I’m simply noting that both men are personally likable and that this has been a significant element in Key’s success. It may also stand Parker in good stead.

  2. Actually Brian, I thought his behaviour after the election was extremely poor. The “no confidence” in David Cunliffe was stabbing someone in the front in view of the voting public, did Labour no favours. He’s entitled to have no confidence in DC, but behind closed doors. Then the flip flop around standing not standing. When he finally did stand it made the “no Confidence comment” look worse, ie. that he discredited a fellow candidate. All this when DC had always spoken very warmly of DP in public. Nasty stuff in my opinion.

    However, even if I eliminated this, I heard him at one of the candidates meetings and I honestly thought he was the least impressive of the speakers. He is number 4 for me. And I haven’t even mentioned my belief that he is the most right of the caucus.

    • What a load of rubbish, Anker. You are obviously a National Party supporter who would hate to see a match for Key elected.

  3. he’s the best of a sad bunch but he’s still not got ” the right stuff”….anyway, it’s time Labour got over it’s obsession with john key…. this thing that if they can match him and overtake him… if they can only find a clone amongst their ranks…it’s far more complex than that….Labour per se is a sunset political party and other than eschewing their cloth cap roots they have nowhere to go?
    and if they do that then where is their relevance?

  4. “I simply don’t believe that the country is ready for a grim-faced former union leader to be Prime Minister or to be this country’s envoy overseas.”
    I didn’t believe that the country was ready for a former forex trader with the nickname “Smiling Assassin” to be Prime Minister or this country’s envoy overseas.

  5. Brian,

    On the Disagree Scale of 1 to 10, I’m about a 27.

    Bottom line up front, I quite like Andrew Little. I’ve always enjoyed his up-front style. It has been his job to be up front, informed and authoritative. Yes he may need to be tuned for the Prime Ministerial Stakes of 2017 and, just as you say David Parker may need to learn things, so too might Andrew Little.

    But Grant Robertson could do what is needed. You think he is “loud, overconfident, bullying, dismissive of other viewpoints” That sounds a lot like John Key, and look how popular he is. Maybe key isn’t loud, but I don’t think Robertson is any louder!

    Robertson bullying? I don’t see it. Indeed I think Key is most probably subtly bullying the voters to follow him. Is John Key overconfident? Most certainly. Is he dismissive of other viewpoints? Most definitely.

    Then you ask, speaking of Parker, ‘Could he defeat John Key?’ I really think this is where we are in danger of going very wrong! Are we trying to beat John Key on personality, or on substance? Are we asking David Parker to change his personality?

    Back to basics. What about trying to beat National? Not beating John Key, but his party! What would we do if we set out to beat John Key, and five minutes before the election, John Key died? Then everyone is stuffed, to coin a phrase.

    Labour needs substance. I think the people are hungry for substance and they’ve nowhere to get it. So National (or should that be John Key?) wins by default.

    Gimme substance!

    • Gimme substance too. But the reality is that National and Key are one and the same thing in terms of voter perception.

  6. BTW, Andrew Little is very witty. Seriously funny and quite a dry sort of wit. Didn’t realize this till I heard him at the leadership campaign meeting.

  7. “… I’m going to discount Andrew Little first. I simply don’t believe that the country is ready for a grim-faced former union leader to be Prime Minister or to be this country’s envoy overseas.”

    Well, I recently attended a function where Andrew Little was present and he made a first class speech. I found him anything but a “grim-faced former union leader”. Indeed he came across as having a very sharp mind (qualified lawyer) and he also has a dry wit.

    I think you have allowed a media created myth about union leaders in general to colour your judgement Brian.

    • Anker and Anne both say that Little has “a dry wit” and I have to take their word for it. I wasn’t there. Maybe he’s been hiding his light under a bushel, whatever that is. I’m afraid he still looks pretty grim to me.

      • Not just grim, he looks totally wooden and sour to me.

        Whereas I think Mr Parker is smart and whether you agree with his solutions or not, he does have an appreciation of some of the fundamental issues eg retirement etc.

        In time , I think he would come across as someone serious about the role cf the flippancy and fatuousness of the incumbent.

        And ( the clincher ) my elderly mother who has met him says he is a very nice person and he looks a bit like M J Savage :)

      • A ‘bushel’ is an archaic woven basket for measuring grain quantities. Thus “hiding his light under a bushel”

        BTW – why is it that when people talk about gay men having sex there’s an automatic assumption that this means anal. This is not necessarily the case at all. Quite a lot of gay men (possibly even the majority) don’t do anal because they actually don’t like it. And as someone once remarked at any given moment you can bet that there are more straight men by far doing anal sex than gay men

        • I agree of course. I had intended to put an ironic aside in after the sodomy reference along the lines “…which everybody knows is their main activity.” But my experience tells me that Kiwis don’t get irony and take what you’ve written literally.

          • God! Are we as bad as that?…and the problem with that is, exactly…..? Of course, if 92% of men who are having sex right now are hetro, 8% might be having gay anal sex. That doesn’t mean 92% aren’t having hetro anal, does it?


              My point precisely. Anal sex is used in many cultures as a means of birth control (including historically in European culture). In many other cultures it is regarded as just another variety of sex. In Japan for example it has never been against the law whether between men/ women or men/ men.

              The word is ‘hetero’ by the way, not ‘hetro’. You are not alone. I saw the same spelling mistake on a poster advertising the Columbian Bar in Oxford Street (a gay hangout) during the last Sydney Mardi Gras

  8. Insightful piece, Brian. I have liked all three Davids. David Parker has a suppleness of intellect which is most appealing. My sense is he would have emerged as the obvious candidate if the vote had been deferred for six months. He brings experience at Cabinet level, brains and honesty to the contest.

    • John ‘oh great one’ Key is on record saying that one of the Davids will ultimately lead Labour, he wasn’t sure how many or in what order though. Then again that comment might have been just another cunning rouse, ‘oh great one’ is obviously wanting a fourth term.

  9. Granted, Little comes across as rather wooden on the telly, but with some assistance from your good self and your other half Brian I’m sure that could be fully rectified. (smile)

  10. “In reality if we say yes then it is”.I really don’t care who assumes the mantle I’m just astounded at the gibberish our prime minister (if I can catch him wearing that cap)speaks .He needs to be removed .

  11. I think Parker comes across terribly on TV. When he’s being interviewed by a journalist he keeps looking for the camera to look into it—even my husband noticed it and found it off-putting during this most recent campaign.

    Going with Parker or Little (and the Ardern love-in) underscores the problem with the caucus and core party membership: they’re looking for one of their own, rather than someone the people beyond the Labour core vote would find more appealing.

    Ardern, Parker, Little: can’t win their own seats and rely on the list for their seats. Ardern isn’t winning Auckland Central because of vote splitting with the Greens—but someone with more gravitas could easily take it off the Nats.

    • You are dead right about Ardern.

      A light-weight who cannot even win what should be a natural Labour seat. Looks good, sounds good courtesy of the Degree in Communications from Waikato Uni (nothing wrong with tertiary study or the discipline itself), and seems like a nice person,…but little of substance.

      • 11.1.1

        Friends of NZ Parboil Association

        Further to my comments below, Jacinda Ardern is a complete featherweight in the House, makes a tumbleweed look like a paper weight.

    • You should have gone to SPECSAVERS!

  12. Frankly Brian I am not convinced.

    First of all he is not self effacing at all, he has a massive ego.

    As the Mana candidate I was on campaign trail with David Parker when he stood in Epsom in 2011, where he actively campaigned for the electoral vote. virtually guaranteeing ACT’s John Banks got in.

    Did David Parker really think he could win that seat?

    Compare this to the campaign of Michael Wood, who did not seek the electorate vote.

    Come to think of it, having met both men, I think Michael Wood is much more leadership material than David Parker.

    I also found Michael Wood to be personally warm effusive and non-sectarian. Compared this to David Parker who refused to even share two words with me or shake my hand.

    This sort of sectarian arrogance does not bode well for David Parker being able to work well with support Parties to the Left of Labour, though David Parker has expressed his willingness to Work with New Zealand First if they ditch their opposition to raising the age of Super Entitlement, his fanatic support for deep sea oil drilling fracking and more coal mines are very problematic for him ever being able to work with the Greens.

    My personal opinion is that David Parker as leader would be a train wreck for Labour in 2017.

    I find it interesting Brian that as you say; you have put your money on David Parker. This puts you firmly in the ABC camp.

    For the ABC faction David Cunliffe is far to Left wing to be in the parliamentary wing of the Labour Party.

    ABC supporters like yourself obviously want to relegate Cunliffe to the back benches again, their will be no role for him in the labour shadow cabinet, but I doubt this will be enought, you won’t be completely happy until you can see David Cunliffe out of the party and out of parliament.

    David Cunliffe’s questioning of neo-liberalism and his raising concerns about Business As Usual in the age of climate change have no place in the modern Labour Party.

    • I’m not in any “camp” as your facile logic suggests. Parker is hugely and openly ambitious, as I suggested in the post. He’ll happily tell you that he wants to be Prime Minister I find this preferable to the coy denials of so many others.

    • If, as you say, David Parker threw the Greens under the bus on the campaign trail, or at least treated them as both a potential partner and rival for votes, then I can only say that he has the qualities to maybe tempt me to vote Labour again one day! At least he would be following the winning strategy that saw Helen Clark form 3 governments. The “left wing support parties” you speak of have nowhere else to go…unless the Greens want to continue their unbroken 18 year tradition of remaining outside of government…and even their idealism is wearing thin. Plus the default setting of the NZ electorate is centrist. That is where you win elections.

      Labour is a left-centrist party, the Greens (dissembling to the contrary) are a left wing party. To form a potential government Labour must differentiate itself on the campaign trail and take votes off National, rather than letting the Greens bludge and siphon off their oxygen. There are too many far left wing camp-followers and Utopian dreamers trying to hold Labour to ransom and leverage off them. Time to clean out the stables. That will allow Labour to be Labour, the Greens to be the Greens, and then the electoral chips will fall where they may….as happened in 1999, 2002 and 2005.

      However, from personal experience I do heartily agree with your assessment of Michael Wood. A pity he did not make it into Parliament this time.

    • …and having done a quick subsequent google search my comments apply 5-fold to Mana, Pat.

      On your own you are electoral poison to Labour’s chances of forming a government. Along with the unholy Internet alliance, you sank whatever chance they had. Labour’s vote would likely have increased by at least a couple of percentage points if Cunliffe had thoroughly and unambiguously repudiated you right from the beginning.

      And now you have the sheer cheek and gall while aligned with another political party to try and agitate over the Labour leader. A typical example of radical left-wing malcontents with an over-hyped sense of self-righteousness and contempt for the true democratic process sticking their nose in. “Power without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot”.

  13. Parker has no chance. And neither does Robertson, really. The unions and membership will go for Little.

    • You may well be right. That’s why this system of electing a leader is so pernicious. The perception that the union movement is the tail wagging the Labour Party dog, does the Party no favors at all.

      • 13.1.1

        No-one should be surprised that the unions have influence on the Labour Party. They set it up in the first place (in 1916) to represent their political interests. The union movement was the dog (not the tail) for many years and got the shock of its life in 1984 when the tail (the Labour caucus) went off on a quest of its own. In the meantime the industrial working class which was the main Labour oriented union base has pretty much disappeared as a demographic (most of the remaining unions of any significance are white collar and in the state sector and were never affiliated to Labour). This has left the Labour Party stranded nowhere in particular, but this reality has passed the current Labour leadership by and so they continue to shadow box their way through yet another leadership debate when reality is happening somewhere else entirely. Unfortunately for them ‘somewhere else entirely’ is where the majority of the electorate now live

  14. Who is the tail, and who is the dog? The thousands of members and affiliates or a plurality of 32 MPs? This election model was voted in because MPs have refused to listen to Labour supporters and voters and refused to adopt policies in the interest of the people who vote for them. Like naughty spoilt children, they’ve had their wings clipped, and they have reacted by throwing a tantrum.

    It is a sad commentary on the Labour party that the gap between MPs and the party membership has grown into such a chasm. But across the English speaking world in the wake of the GFC and the ideological false idol of third way economic managerialism and identity politics Labour parties are locked in an existential debate about what they stand for.

    But your idea of doing nothing except accepting the domination of MPs who owe their loyalty to the existing establishment is a recipe for disaster for the left. It is an indictment of the left’s primary political vehicles like the Labour party that it has been left to populist “right wing” parties like UKIP to express popular outrage at the cosy political/media/business elites and the establishment. Unless the Labour party again becomes a radical, anti-establishment change agent it will die. National is the natural party of the establishment, and those seeking radical change will only find it on the extreme right if the left’s primary political vehicle meekly surrenders to defending the status quo.

    • “Unless the Labour party again becomes a radical, anti-establishment change agent it will die.”

      …yet you overlook the fact that while Labour is indeed the party of change, historically it is of the incremental rather than “radical” variety.

      That the Labour MPs kicked against the goad is because they have a better feeling for the pulse of the electorate with whom they interact on a daily basis compared to the echo-chamber inhabited by the agitators who have moved into Labour after the implosion of the Alliance.

  15. Just to put pussy cats amongst the pidgeons…

    I would really like to see Labour and the Greens come together. Not as a Mana/Internet style of orchestrated and selfish alliance, but a more formal unification. I see there being much common ground and I thought it a grand opportunity wasted to not join forces before the last election.

    In its most basic form, politics is about the three Ps – people, place and profit. I can see Labour, focusing on people, giving the Greens the leg up to focus on place, and jointly on profit. National couldn’t get near that.

  16. “…That the Labour MPs kicked against the goad is because they have a better feeling for the pulse of the electorate with whom they interact on a daily basis compared to the echo-chamber inhabited by the agitators who have moved into Labour after the implosion of the Alliance…”

    Concerned trolls gonna troll I guess.

  17. As a Green Party supporter I have up until now not commented on the Labour Party leadership contest.
    However hopefully I may be permitted to put my perspective on who should lead the Labour Party.
    Bluntly for the left to form a coalition to win the next election Labour needs to gain more support from the centre.
    The Greens will look after the left.
    So if I was voting I would be voting for Parker who I feel will more readily connect with middle NZ [or Waitakere Man as Chris Trotter describes him] than any of the other candidates.
    I realise he is a man and white [but not that old by my counting] but the only candidate who breaks this mould is in my opinion unelectable by many NZers.Quite frankly [and I am a keen follower of politics] she has been largely invisible to me.
    Of the other two candidates one is wooden and represents a small [and getting smaller] segment of the NZ workforce and has turned a Labour held seat into strong National seat in only two elections and the other just doesn’t seem to have any appeal for the vast majority of voters [and I am not talking about his sexuality].As I am gay myself one would expect me to be supportive of him but I am persuaded by how he would fare as a leader rather than other considerations.
    An acquaintance of mine who holds a senior position within the National Party informed me that if he had a vote it would be as follows.

    Obviously listed in the order of HIS preference.If I had a vote it would be exactly the reverse.

  18. Dead on Simon C

  19. Older readers will be familiar with the saying “look after the pennies, and the pounds will look after themselves.” It is a metaphor for the idea that one should concentrate on getting the fundamentals right, rather than obsessing about a desired outcome which cannot be reached all in one step. I am not a Labour supporter – never have been – so my advice is probably unwanted. But, wanted or not, it is to quit obsessing about John Key/National and get your house in order. Figure out what the Party really means to you, and then the choice of leader will be obvious.

    • Unhappily, they are doing it the other way around. That is, choosing the leader then figuring out what the Party stands for in this day and age.

  20. If David Parker was responsible for producing Labour’s economic policy statements running up to the election, then he’s not up to the task.

    There was total absence of ‘due diligence’ in the CGT proposal and Labour was, quite rightly, laughed out of court. Exempting the ‘family home’ was a ludicrous move as was their inability to answer questions over the treatment of trusts.

    That’s on face value. However, it may be that Parker actually had some good policies but his the in-fighting within the party prevented them going forward.

  21. I don’t find Andrew Little hard faced in the slightest. He actually has a great sense of humour. If he ditched the glasses it may be easier to see (but perhaps not for him).

    Parker has a bad habit of staring into space when being interviewed on camera, but I guess that could be trained out of him. He also needs to ditch the funny fringe – it’s okay to be bald. He also seems a bit smug to me. Very intelligent of course, but although that appeals to me, it doesn’t seem to count with the voting public or Cunliffe would be PM by now.

    I don’t trust Robertson, and although I like Nanaia Mahuta tremendously, I don’t think she will get enough votes.

    Out of Little and Parker, I’d prefer Little because I think he has a better chance of getting that caucus working together.

  22. i agree that the plucky boyish Parker D is the logical successor
    Given the de rigour makeover.
    Howeve he fails the Mother assessment. Conversation
    with my diehard Labour mum, ‘that boy Parker will never
    cut it with the voters’.

  23. 23

    Friends of NZ Parboil Association

    Let’s be honest: none of them have what it takes to be a future PM.

    What has Mahuta done in all her years in parliament? Answer: Zilch.
    Andrew Little can’t even validate his leadership quest by winning an electoral seat.
    David Parker was Cunliffe’s invisible sidekick during the Election.
    And Grant Robertson is more Bluster than ‘Keen Intellect’.

    To think, that any one of these hopefuls can revive the Labour Party’s fortunes, is knocking on the doors of ‘Fanciful’ and ‘Wishful’.

    • Parker wasn’t at all invisible in the election – the Finance spokesmen debates were much better than the leaders’ debates, and he acquitted himself well…better than English actually.

  24. Considering I haven’t heard a single policy from the Left which is not either economic suicide, mere fantasy dreaming or both I think that choosing their leader is the least of their problems and that long may it continue.

  25. I traveled the world with David Parke and he is a truly decent and honest man. We where visiting economists at the OECD, IMF, World Bank, Joseph Stiglitz and others. Parker already had the bit between his teeth (2011-2012) on first confirming his understanding of whats driving the economies of the world and secondly whats driving the rising inequality. All the policy stuff that followed was well considered coherent and fits into the learning from that trip and his prior experiences of course. He is not rattled by Key or English as he has spoken in depth with the best minds in the world and held his own. Ie Stiglitz (Noble Prize for Economics)and Olivia Blanchard the top economist at the OECD. They both lay awake at night concerned about inequality and the impact that’s going to have to social cohesion, local law and order and rising Geo-political issues.

    David Parker is my pick because of his intellect, genuine passion to improve New Zealand for everyone, his ability to break down complicated problems into the various parts and then create coherent policies to deal with them. He has also managed to stay out of any factional blokes and is therefore able to select the best people not those he has made deals with.

    Many opposition MPs think they only have to throw rocks at the Government to justify their existence but Parker knows he has build a vision, strategies, tactics, policies and a marketing machine to become the Government again.

    He is not a career politician with zero transferable skills to the private sector he is here to do a job and he is committed to giving it his best shot. I hope he gets there.

  26. The sad part is only three of them can lose.

  27. I am a Labour Party member and I wrote to all four candidates about Labour’s animal welfare policy, pointing out that the last Labour-led government did nothing for animals in the 9 years they were in power. This present Labour Party has a policy of phasing out factory farming, but by itself, without better funding of the animal welfare inspectorate and the SPCA, this will not achieve much.

    The only candidate who had the decency to actually reply and demonstrate that he had read my letter was Grant Roberston. As a result he goes from 4th on my list, to first. He does not have very much experience, but he has shown that he makes up for this by listening to those with experience, which to my mind makes him a better leader.

    • An entirely reasonable position.

      • I think you underestimate Grant, Brian. He is a far better operator than you give him credit for. He is also way more likeable than you suggest – a shame you have possibly not spent much time with him. Very genuine. However David Parker is also likeable and genuine. I see them more naturally as Grant 1 Parker 2. I like both Andrew and Nanaia too, but neither have the dynamics to lead the party.
        Like Environmental Education says above, Grant shows that he can listen and will take the time to do so. I would prefer Parker to be busy with economic policy.