Brian Edwards Media

Andrew Little: A Man for the Time?

In an ideal world good men and good women would be elected to government; the best would achieve high office and a few the highest office in the land. New Zealand, still one of the least politically corrupt nations in the world, may well have come closer to that ideal in the past than many other developed countries.

In the sixties the arrival of television in New Zealand complicated this simple equation.  The largely impersonal relationship between voter and politician, limited mainly to town hall election meetings and radio broadcasts, was gradually displaced  by the intimacy of the television close-up and the advent of the increasingly personal and probing political television interview.

In one sense this was for the public good. Television had the potential to reveal the cracks not only in the politicians’ policies and claims but in the facade of personal virtue which they hoped to project. The small screen was and remains a more effective lie-detector than radio or the town-hall meeting. It exemplifies the dictum that a picture is worth a thousand words.

But television in the 21st century is also first and foremost an entertainment medium. Those who appear on it are required to engage their audience, to hold their attention, to perform. As my colleague Ian Fraser once put it, “to act themselves”. If indeed it ever was, being a good person is no longer enough. You have to look good as well.

Whether being good and looking good, whether being yourself and acting yourself are entirely compatible is not something I want to canvass here. But I do know that if you don’t “come across” on television, your chances of political success are greatly and quite possibly fatally reduced.   

Which brings us to Andrew Little. I thought his reply when questioned about why he had won the Labour leadership, that it must have been “my bubbly personality” was great. But the irony behind that answer was also a clear indication of his awareness that he doesn’t meet the “performance” requirements that commentators like myself regard as essential to the aspiring political leader. Indeed, in a previous post I wrote him off as “a grim-faced, former union leader” with little chance of every becoming Prime Minister. When his supporters subsequently spoke of his having “a dry wit”, I was more inclined to regard it as “arid”. So the “bubbly personality” response was encouraging.

I’m nonetheless not going to resile from my opinion that it will not be easy for Little to win widespread popular support, given his somewhat stern and forbidding “cloth cap” image and the sense, largely confirmed in the election result,  that he is the trade union movement’s creature.

But there is another possibility. Little is known for his honesty, directness and willingness to speak his mind, to “call a spade a spade”. He may just be that “good man” whose appeal may transcend the performance requirements of the television age.

There can be very little doubt that, whether justified or not,  there was widespread voter mistrust of Labour’s former leader, David Cunliffe. John Key’s recent exercise in sophistry, in which he sought to distinguish between when he was speaking as the Prime Minister and when as the Leader of the National Party, not to mention when he was being a loving husband or putting out the cat – well, that was quite simply a moment fatal to his already fading credibility as an honest man.

So maybe, just maybe, someone who speaks his mind, calls a spade a spade and isn’t all that interested in how he “comes across” may be seen by the tens of thousands of primarily Labour voters, too uninterested, too jaded or too disenfranchised to vote in the last election, as just what the doctor ordered. Maybe, just maybe, a gap has appeared in the market. Maybe, just maybe, Andrew Little is a man for the time.

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  1. I think the thing about Andrew, rather than him calling a spade a spade is that he gives honest, no BS responses. He seems very genuine and unpolished (in the good sense of the word).

    Yes saying it was his bubbly personality that lead him to win the leadership is the sort of dry humour that I think will go down well.

    I heard him on checkpoint with a very aggressive interviewer who asked imo ridiculous questions such as “Will you resign if you haven’t gone up in the polls in two years time”. I thought Andrew was very skillful in not being pushed around by this. Just stuck to very clear brief answers.

    I voted for him because I was rather tired political speak from most politicians.

  2. The fact that Patrick Gower is frothing at the mouth, spouting conspiracy theories and, declaring the end is nigh – simply because Andrew Little is a Union man – shows Labour are probably on the right track :)

    • You know, not everyone regards Trade Union support for Andrew Little as a vile and evil thing. Many of us think – “Yay”!

  3. I love you too, Mr Little (with acknowledgement to R.D. Muldoon).

    Mr Little will have to capture brief moments that strike resonance with audiences. The majority no longer have the patience for long form interviews. The good news for him is that traditional television is not the only place people form impressions today. Starting now, he needs to build a/the cause through social media platforms where he can publish his point of view and build informed support and advocates. Tools will include video where young voters may watch it… YouTube.

    To speculate that he might succeed despite savvy use of the media, by him or his team, is a potential story that belongs in the world of entertainment.

    • Not entirely sure what your last sentence means. I agree that social media have become significant in forming public opinion on political leaders. However, the image-making potential of traditional media, particularly television, cannot be readily discounted. Leaders appear nightly on TV news bulletins where their performance is judged by commentators and by viewers. Election debates where party leaders confront one another are not insignificant and can be crucial in firming up opinion among the undecided. Leaders I have worked with are keenly aware of the importance of both traditional and social media. To neglect either would be foolish.

  4. I think it is possible to over analyse these things. Yes there are principles which explain why one politician is successful and another is not which can be stated and applied to new situations.

    However, there are a whole range of intangibles which need to be taken into account as well. After all, who would have thought that someone with the body and long lank hair of the morbidly obese would have won in 1984, or that Helen Clark would have grown on the electorate the way she did.

    The intangibles include the nature of the opposition, the state of the economy (which trumps anything else), the degree of decay in the existing government, the style of the times, and the extent to which newbies can develop a connection with the electorate based on whatever character they have.

    Good luck to AL, time will tell, none of us can be sure in advance, and just like I personally think we need strong unions to balance strong employers we need a strong labour party to balance a strong trader/employers party.

  5. He is the right man but in the wrong time….his direct approach will come across as refreshing after the ‘slight of hand ‘routines from all parties over the last few years…but trying to resurrect the fabled ‘lost cloth cap’ of the Blackball hall of days gone down won’t resonate with everyday nz’ers!
    if he drags us back into union-driven crippling strikes all he will do is piss off most of the nz voters and that will be the end…in the last decade , Labour has championed those that complained the loudest; not those that worked the hardest….maybe Little can alter that perception but i’ll be intrigued to see how…good luck, Mr Little…you’re the best chance they’ve got to halt Labour’s slide into oblivion within the next decade !

  6. I think you sum this up very well Brian. Can’t say I have seen much of Mr Little over the years and I didn’t vote for him.

    But what I have seen in the last couple of days he seems to be shaping up quite well. I just like the lack of bombast , he seems more decisive than one of his predecessers and he does not power dress ( well, at least not yet).
    Somehow I like his ordinariness, it is refreshing.
    Time will tell….

  7. I like this guy. He appears ‘honest’ and an understated straight talker. Is he the man for Labour? No. They are up against a ‘once in a lifetime natural politician’ who makes it all look so easy. Until you match him, you are pissing into the wind. Little’s election was muddled, and heavily union influenced, which caused the people’s favourite to lose. This is a setback for Labour for another election cycle. Even overseas politicians are studying Key, because this “charisma’ or appeal, is not something you can learn, it’s innate in some people. Labour must first focus on becoming a product that people desire, and trust, and then find an attractive leader to front it.

    • 7.1


      This “Charisma” or appeal that Key supposedly possesses is an interesting observation. Not words I would choose. For some of us he is very transparent, not in a positive way.

      It intrigues me that those people who see this so called “charisma” are possibly seeing a reflection of something inherent in themselves, something very dodgy and duplicitous. And that’s a worry because it’s a reflection of 47% of the population. It’s that face that the MSM always show of him – the smiling assassin one. How can anyone be sucked in by that. Did anyone ever read Paul Ekmans book – Emotions Revealed? Or watch the TV series “Lie to Me”, which was shown on TV in NZ in 2012, I believe.

  8. I don’t care what he looks like. The two important questions are what will he do and will he be allowed to do it or will he be knifed in the back like all the previous Labour leaders since Clark?

    • Well, Goff and Cunliffe both led the Party to serious electoral defeat. This is commonly followed by being dumped as leader. Helen had the good grace and wisdom to step down at once. I doubt she would have survived much of a fourth term.

  9. Better

  10. Quite frankly I wouldn’t know the man from a bar of soap, but then I’m hardly going to trust Brian’s take on things, given his idea that that buffoon Shane Jones was leadership material. Then the other matter of John Banks being not such a bad chap based on a speech he gave at some dinner function. Powers of perception and judgement are certainly fading away with advancing age. Something most of us will be unlucky to avoid.

    • Hopefully with age you’ll become less arrogant and less abusive. My comments on Banks were made four years ago at the Auckland Mayoral Fathers’ Breakfast. I spoke about never having known my father and the joy of grandchildren. Banks spoke very movingly about bringing up his own adopted kids and seeing his parents dragged off to prison. You now want to make cheap political capital out of this – anonymously of course. You’re entitled to disagree with my views of Shane Jones, but not to ascribe them to fading intellect as a result of age. Why on earth do you think the Nats pulled off the coup of stealing him from Labour? Senile dementia perhaps?

      • Why am I hearing maudlin Irish fiddle music in the background as I read your comment? A good memory of a politicians past utterances is worth a thousand moving stories that might play on the heart strings. Having the misfortune of no father present in the formative years of your life may have left you with overdeveloped feminine traits. Having the sort of father that Banks did, may explain a lot about his memory of selective convenience and inability to lie intelligently.

      • 10.1.2

        Evidently a forlorn hope, Brian. The Left are at their least attractive when they turn on each other.

  11. A thoughtful if not insightful perspective. I think you touched the raw nerve of difference between him and Key in the “honesty” stakes. I too get the impression that Key’s “hail fellow well met” and beer at the bbq is starting to wear thin and seen for what it is, a misleading facade.

    • “if not insightful”!

    • You may be right, Richard, but you have articulated what I thought six years ago and he’s still there, presenting himself in exactly the same way. I’m not convinced he has ever fooled the majority – it’s just that the majority haven’t seen a viable alternative. Time will tell whether or not Andrew Little can change that. Good to see you’re still around after all these years!

  12. “Why on earth do you think the Nats pulled off the coup of stealing him from Labour? Senile dementia perhaps?”

    Born in 1959, Shane Jones is unlikely to be suffering from senile dementia, but the National Party idiots who courted him may well be. They may well have taken a heady draft from a poisoned chalice. I most certainly hope not, but with Jones’ past performance I won’t hold my breath. Unlike you, Jones probably knew that Labour was already around the U bend and ready to be flushed away with the approaching election.

  13. I think that maybe, just maybe, you have nailed it this time, Brian. Little is entirely authentic. What you see it what you get. A straight shooter who “calls a spade a spade” as you say. He uses everyday language. Clearly he has a self-deprecating sense of irony and humour. But will he, after a couple of decades immersed in the deeply politically correct worlds at the top of the union and labour movement, be able to reprogram himself for the real world? Promising start, but as the Zen master said, we’ll see.

  14. I see that Key has enlisted the support of Russel Brown, and Andrew Geddis, and others who belittle Little Andrew before the first day of an era has even started. Weird really because Mr Key just has to sit tight and let them do his dirty tricks.
    Me? I am glad that Andrew is the man. Let the dopes in Grant’s team leak comments that Andrew did not win his electorate. (Though Andrew’s vote dropped by 10.3% Grant’s vote dropped by 10.8%.)
    Tomorrow is a fresh look at how politics is run. Optimistic me.

    • Andrew and Russell Brown know and like Grant Robertson and that has clouded their judgement somewhat I think.

      Grant having more support from the membership than Andrew is hardly surprising as he has been running a leadership campaign for well over a year now, while Andrew Little has had less than a month. Yet if you look closely at the 2 campaigns, Grant’s was all political speak and waffle, while Andrew had a detailed strategy that could actually work, and the experience to implement it.

      Grant may have the charm, but give me substance any day.

  15. Its up to Labour now to add value to their leader by giving him %100 support.United we stand …A united Labour will give Key and his cronies a good run for his money.

  16. You do know of course Mr Edwards, that we are on a team win to 2017. With me and the Conservatives working hard we will add another 8%, middle voter We will take NZ first for obvious reasons paul scott

  17. You do know it’s less about the messenger than is it is about the message. And I can’t see the message changing anytime, soon. Not with the amount of flotsam-and-jetsam, driftwood and deadwood that litters Labour’s tarnished shores.

  18. Little has spent his career taking on people like Key and Joyce. He knows how they operate and is more than capable of “taking the fight” to them. His ascension to the top has been well planned and almost perfectly executed – this guy knows how to get things done. At last, Labour has a clear path again.

    Little is a return to Labour’s brand…people who don’t like it should probably go and start their own Touchy Feely party for people who don’t like unions but like the idea that we can all get along if we just hug each other more.

  19. I agree that Andrew Little has presented himself well over the last few days. But that doesn’t detract from the fact that he lost New Plymouth by larger and larger margins each election. Part of the reason for this is that everyone in New Plymouth knew he wasn’t genuine or authentic, that he didn’t really want to be in NP. He wanted to be in Rongotai. John Key of course doesn’t live in Helensville but can pull off the trick that Little can’t. I wouldn’t get too excited about the new Labour leader yet.

  20. I think hes off to a good start, Key calling him a union man who is just going to turn nz back into a union state shows that Key doesnt have any rational reason to denounce him. Little has already shown hes not all pro union- ie demoting Cunliffe.
    I thought hes come across well, initially calling Key vile and now we hear about the atrocious use of the sis to smear phil goff. Vile seems very apt.

  21. Something I wrote on Facebook, just after Andy was voted in as leader… I would add two things – not only has substance been missing from the Labour camp, it is still missing from National, in my view; and, I am happy with Little’s cabinet line-up announced yesterday! Anyway…

    John Stokes
    November 19 at 7:43am · Wellington ·


    I think Andrew Little will drag Labour out of the quagmire.

    I am already tired of the media opening their Andrew Little topics by saying “he won the leadership by the narrowest of margins”. I am already tired of them saying he only got in because of the union vote (they seem to forget that the union vote accounts for just 20 per cent of the vote).

    If Robertson had got in, they’d be saying he’s gay.

    If Parker got in, they’d be saying he’s dull.

    If Mahuta got in they’d be saying she’s a woman.

    Andrew Little got in because he had the majority vote. Now, let him get on with the job.

    If other Labour MPs don’t get behind this opportunity they should go elsewhere. Time will tell about that but, if they do pop up publicly, they ought not to be there. Helen would not have tolerated it – and nor should Andrew Little. And I don’t think he will (hopefully he won’t be faced with it). If they toss their toys they can play with them outside the cot.

    Personally, I am happy with the choice. But like so many others, I also like Grant Robertson. My problem with Robertson is that he chose to market himself with Jacinda Ardern. At first glance, that looked good. I like Ardern, a lot, but she’s young. The appeal at present is that she’s “sexy”. So is John Key (apparently). Is that the appeal of Ardern? That she can take on Key based upon the sexiness scale?

    Who knows? Who cares? Andrew Little doesn’t give a fat rats bum about sexy – he is going to take on the role, based upon substance. YES! To me, that’s sexy, and it has been missing from Labour since Helen Clark’s departure.

    So, with his feet on rock solid substance, which he’s already demonstrating he has, Andrew Little will pull Labour out of the quagmire.

  22. @ John Stokes
    “If Mahuta got in they’d be saying she’s a woman.”
    Not quite – what would offend them even more is that she’s Maori.

  23. The worth of the man is often judged as to how they rise to the occasion. We don’t know yet if Andrew Little will turn out well or not. But he seems straightforward, intelligent, and a nice line in self-depracting and gently lampooning humour, and certainly he’s a welcome change from the shallow and glib persona of John Key, and whilst I like David Cunliffe, he could be overbearing. Appointing Annette King as deputy is a surprise, but poor Jacinda Ardern, the expectations on her are ludicrous, she’s not yet 35 for heaven’s sake, and whilst she is a career politician, she needs time in several portfolios to learn her trade and develop the mental toughness required for a leadership role. She’s a lovely person, don’t spoil her yet.

    I felt though that Labour had a job to do before they voted for a leader. And that was to have the searching internal debate as to what Labour actually stands for in the 21st Century. Labour has good ethical roots, they’re sturdy and worthwhile, but they do arise from some now very old and frayed societal fabric, including a working class that barely exists any longer, or a strong methodist tradition. The problems that face us now were unimaginable even fifty years ago – overpopulation, the cruel neoliberal ascendancy, global warming and other huge environmental issues, globalisation, the absurdity of permanent economic growth, ageing populations and a very chaotic scene in international relations etc. Labour’s principles and ethics need to be updated, and Labour needs to take on much more robustly the environmental concerns of our age. They need to be much less apologetic about their opposition to neoliberalism, even though they started this here in NZ. They should apologise and move on. I think this debate should have happened first, and interim leader appointed, and a new leader elected say in six months time to reflect the new understandings that the Labour party will have agreed on.

    And that’s where I do have a concern. Is Andrew going to be firm enough to advance these causes against the powerful opposition of so many vested interests? The first test for this might be National signing the TPP. I think Labour could well fail this hurdle, as the provisions in this treaty will almost certainly include the very damaging and anti-democratic investor-state dispute settlement regime. Labour must join those parties who have been active in opposing the TPP; I attended the rally in Wellington where Labour party representation was notable by its absence. If such investor-state dispute regimes remain in the agreement, and they will, because National don’t care about this, indeed they positively welcome it as ensuring a neoliberal consensus even if they’re not in office, then Labour must refuse to ratify it, and also state that when back in power, they will unilaterally withdraw from such an arrangement. Anything less than this will be a massive failure for their or any future government’s ability to govern in a fully sovereign manner, and a massive failure of their own principles.

  24. LOVING ANDREW LITTLE. “JKeys …obfuscation” ! brilliant – (love to hear JK try and say that. )
    Hah! and have to admit did not expect to love this guy, but bring it on.