Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Battle for Labour Leadership

What's funny about Labour - a party of unionists and organized socialists, is struggling to figure out who should be leader. 

The battle for the loser party after it's biggest loss in nearly a century is amazingly fascinating. It's bizarre that people are so desperate to claim leadership where there is no cleanup from the last election campaign, nor is there a strategy to rebuild the party coming from the contenders. This is a crucial moment for Labour to rebuild and rebrand itself properly, in order to make a competent opposition until 2014 and give National a real run for it's money at the next election. They need a vision, a plan,and a leader.

The Outgoing - Phil Goff (with Annette King)

A real soldier in the party, he's been there through thick and thin for over 27 years, and now it seems his time is up. Despite his best efforts and strong qualities, he's gracious enough to pass on the leadership to the next man for the good of the party. This will allow the party to move on from past mistakes and bring a fresh new brand to the voters. 

Phil Goff isn't an inherently bad guy, nor did he make a lot of stuff ups. The problem with presidential-style elections (which we've had in the country for a while, admit it) is that the general public does not VOTE IN a new leader on policy or reputation, it generally VOTES OUT a leader it is fed up with and opts for the lesser of two possible evils. Goff went up against John Key, a dangerously popular leader who had less popular policies, but still got in. The next leader will need to be what John Key won't be in 2014, they'll need a leader that won't have any of the aspects of John Key that people will be sick of by then. They need to offer a refreshing change for the next election, while proving good opposition in the mean time.

The Contenders

David Cunliffe
One of the three Davids, this one has spent the last three years and the run-up to the election as the finance spokesperson and the party's number three. His claim to fame this election is being the front man on Labour's economic plans, being the arrogant presenter explaining Capital Gains Tax (CGT) on the Labour website. His big whoopsie in the last election was saying that if Judith 'Crusher' Collins was the last woman on Earth, he'd refuse to procreate with her and allow the human race to go extinct, getting a great deal of backlash from women and National supporters across the country.

In another presidential style election in 2014, he wouldn't be the best choice against John Key. Remembering people VOTE OUT leaders when they get tired of their quirks, John Key will likely get voted out because of his perceived smugness and arrogance; Labour fronting a candidate that offers the same annoying traits will just turn potential voters off.  

David Parker
The number four man on the Labour list, and biggest carpet bagger of the 2011 election for running in Epsom when his home is in Dunedin.  David Parker stayed relatively competent and well behaved over the election, though those of us who watched the Epsom race very closely will know that he can get flustered relatively easy, and can will appear hysterical and insane when debating issues. His performance as candidate for Epsom almost made him look weak and immature as he ripped on Banks and Brash with total lunacy, and at times, more smugness.  

Mr Parker would make a better leader than Cunliffe in my opinion, as long as he can learn to control his emotions and stay in character. At the beginning of the Epsom race, he did appear very claim, collected, and competent. He impressed people by saying that he is a capitalist at heart, and is purporting Labour's economic policies as a measure to alleviate the financial crisis and have an end goal of a competitive market economy. I do appreciate people who advocate social democracy as a means to a market economy, and at a time when economic stability is a key issue, he wil garner support for his realistic thinking. He also appears more youthful and promising, but has plenty of experience on his side, including a high degree of competency working in both government and opposition. His soundbite on TV One news "make Labour relevant to New Zealand for 2014" says he is ready to take on the job and follows my advice!

David Shearer
The lesser known of the three Davids; Shearer has been MP for Mount Albert in Auckland since 2009 after two unsuccessful electorate campaigns, though beating Melissa Lee for his current seat is a feat worth a mention. He has the least political experience in New Zealand, though he has done extensive work in the United Nations before returning to New Zealand. This experience may be a blessing and a curse of him, as it shows that he has a high degree of competency in many areas, but leadership of a party, an opposition, or a government may not be for him. He could certainly gain a cabinet position in a Labour government, but it's unlikely that he would ever lead Labour into government and would likely suffer the same fate as Phil Goff. 

As for his pitch against John Key, Shearer would likely appear boring and out of touch with many New Zealanders. Labour needs to swing voters from the center and wealthier demographics to gain a victory, Shearer would be unlikely to gain this from his experience, much of it due to his time spent outside of New Zealand, and his lack of experience in the private sector.

Grant Robertson
Labour's openly gay MP, his story is similar to Shearer's in that they share experience in the UN before joining Labour comparitively recently. He is currently Wellington Central MP and has risen through the party list from 46 to 14 in a few years. He appeals the urban liberal lefty hipster crowd that congregates in Wellington, but would have a hard time convincing swing voters in the heartland or the business tycoons in Auckland that he would be competent for the job. His youthfulness and defense of the public sector gives people the impression he's a young socialist, which is not vote-winning material in contemporary New Zealand. 

His mention in this post is because he may not be Labour leader in 2014 and have a shot at being prime minister, but he may be deputy leader and would need to complement and support the next leader. He may end up making Cunliffe look more abrasive and further turn off centrist voters, would risk contradicting Parker and give the impression of a factionalized Labour, and complement Shearer by adding youthfulness but would not add any economic credibility to Labour and risk looking socialist.

Nanaia Mahuta 
She may be a name most don't know, but her presence in parliament goes back to 1996 where she has been wining electorates and gaining support right through her parliamentary career. She is a strong advocate of Māori rights and development, and principled where she stuck with the Labour Party when her colleague Tariana Turia split to lead the Māori Party. Her reputation may be little known, but her record shows competency and a team player within the party. She has been quietly promoted to the front bench of the Labour Party and has gained support from within the party.

Her role may also be to support one of the contestants for leader and become a deputy. Her role would fill in Annette King's position as the alpha female of the party, and would do well to earn back Māori and Pacific Islander votes from Mana and Māori parties. It has been said that Labour needs to reconnect to their Māori support base, and her position would do just the trick. She would also be useful in softening the image of any of the Davids, so long as she can maintain a high public profile too. Her position on Māori development could create balance to Parker as long as they do not contradict, and a very high public profile would prevent leadership from going to Cunliffe's head. 

The "door is closing on [Phil Goff's] political career"

Soon, the torch will be passed on to the next generation. Goff's 27 years as an Auckland MP could make him a career politician, especially as we've watched his political views change from being a vocal Rogernome to the "Stop Asset Sales Guy" over that time. The next generation needs to be a team that can front up to National's powerful front bench and popular leader; someone that has had real experience living and working alongside all sorts of New Zealanders, with some private sector experience to show that they can represent the average worker and still have respect for the businesses that employ them.

To counter John Key's government, they need to prove themselves as a worthy opposition, and really highlight flaws in the National government where they can show that Labour is working for the people better as an opposition than National is as a government. They will need to stay principled, and a major party must be a broad church, uniting factions and ensure they are all consistent in working towards a common goal. 

Thier leader will need to be charismatic and command a great deal of media interest, for all the right reasons, of course. The run up to the 2014 election will have to prove this leader is a refreshing and interesting change from John Key, firstly by exhibiting none of the negative aspects Key has (such as his perceived smugness, which is already starting to turn voters off him), and then by providing an exciting point of difference that appeals to a large majority of New Zealanders.

Labour needs a big shake up to get voters back on their side. If they don't take drastic action now, they could end up losing the left vote to the Greens, or give National many more terms and run unopposed. An ACT supporter just gave them a recovery blueprint, they'd be wise to use it. 

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