The papers this morning look at Goff’s positioning. Tracy Watkins at the Dom Post reports:
Helen Clark’s heir apparent, Phil Goff, appears to be positioning himself for a leadership tilt if Labour loses the election, dropping his previous denials that he had ambitions for the job.
Mr Goff, Labour’s third-ranked minister, has also conceded Labour could lose the election as it battles a mood for change. …
Though he is widely accepted as Miss Clark’s successor should she step down after a Labour loss, his opening the door to that possibility now is likely to spark damaging leadership speculation. …
In response to further questions, he said being prime minister was “not an overwhelming ambition”.
That contrasts with a comment in February when, asked if he had ambitions to be prime minister, he said: “I have absolutely none.”
Goff claiming to have no ambitions to be Prime Minister could almost be called perjury. Even his statement about no “overwhelming” ambition probably rests on a Clintonian type definition of “overwhelming”.
The Herald also looks at his answers:
Mr Goff did little yesterday to make amends for his public admission that he wants Helen Clark’s job if Labour loses the election.
“There is no question about leadership at the moment,” he said yesterday when questioned about his pre-recorded television interview.
A seasoned politician who wanted to end discussion about leadership would usually give such an answer unconditionally, without qualifications such as “at the moment”.
It is no secret that Mr Goff wants to be Labour leader, but it is the first time he has acknowledged it publicly and it is the first time a senior Labour MP has openly contemplated defeat.
The qualification is unnecessary because people always know that the statement doesn’t imply forever. So by stating the obvious “at the moment” tends to be for a reason.
There is of course no chance Goff will challenge. But what he may be signalling is in the event of a loss, he wants a quick change. He doesn’t want Clark to stay on for 18 months, giving other contenders the time to build up support and get the job ahead of him.
John Armstrong also reads the tea leaves:
The body is still breathing – just. But some of the family already seem to be fighting over the corpse.
It is a sure sign that a Government is on its last legs when its members admit they might lose the coming election and discuss – even in passing – what might happen to their party afterwards. …
He may have stated the obvious in saying “there’s a prospect we might lose”. However, no matter how dire things might be looking – and they do look pretty dire for Labour right now – no politician worth his salt admits the possibility of defeat. Never. Full-stop. Period. And certainly not a politician as smart, seasoned, politically wired, competent and ultra-careful as Goff.
Goff is known as ultra-careful. He has been in Parliament since before most university students were born. He has especially been careful on issues of leadership as for the last 12 years he has been the focus of attention. Not once in 12 years has he said what he said last night.
This is the first time Goff has ever opened up on the possibility of his leading the Labour Party. Even if he did not say that much, it was in marked contrast to his line back in February. When he was asked then if he had leadership aspirations, he replied “absolutely none” and instead heaped praise on Helen Clark.
Those who argue this means nothing at all, have no experience with how leadership contenders position themselves. Now trust me, one thing I know about is leadership contenders and coups. I’ve seen MPs and leader’s press secretaries negotiate words so they can express confidence in the leader, yet keep their options open. The language around confidence in the leader is very precise and deviations from it are well understood.
Again this does not mean Goff will try anything before the election. He does not want to be Mike Moore, and he would not win anyway. But it is a signal that post-election he will vigorously contest the leadership and on his timetable, not necessarily Helen’s.Tags: Helen Clark, John Armstrong, Labour, Labour Leadership, Phil Goff, Tracy Watkins