John Armstrong writes:
Phil Goff emerged from Labour’s caucus meeting yesterday claiming his MPs were unanimous in their backing of both the tone and content of his now-infamous “nationhood” speech. There is no reason to doubt him. Short of doing what is currently the unthinkable – toppling him – the caucus had little option but to weigh in behind their leader – in public at least.
I’m reminded of the old adage that anytime a Caucus feels the need to pledge unanimous support for a leader, the coup is not far off. Not as Armstrong says, this is not the case at the moment – but unanimous pledges of support are things best avoided.
There could be no halfway house. The priority was to present a united front to the world outside. That was evident in Goff and party president Andrew Little, who has acknowledged party members’ worries with aspects of the speech, entering the meeting shoulder-to-shoulder.
Given Labour is rating around 30 per cent support in the polls – 20 percentage points behind National – the party could not afford go into the summer recess amidst internal dissent and with questions over the leader’s actions unresolved.
Goff insists he was not playing the race card when he gave the speech. If he was not overtly playing the race card, however, he knew perfectly well that he was producing enough evidence – be it the use of loaded language like “porkbone politics” or the choice of a provincial city audience for the speech – to lay himself open to that charge.
Yeah I’d love him to make that speech at Ratana, on even in Wellington Central, rather than Palmerston North Greypower. Instead Goff says he is not going to talk about the topic again. Dr Brash had the sincerity of his convictions and was happy to defend his views from one end of the country to another.
The PM put it this way yesterday: the tragedy of Phil Goff was that he had made a speech he did not believe in and as a result the Labour Party no longer believed in him. Not quite. The party has to believe in Goff because for the time being it has no one else it can believe in.
What Goff’s advisors do not realise is that the speech did not have credibility coming from someone who has been an MP for around 30 years and a Cabinet Minister in the last Government.
Colin Espiner blogs:
What I found interesting was that neither Goff nor Little tried to deny that there had been discontent within the party over the speech – they simply used the usual political euphemisms such as “robust debate” and the intriguing comment that “the Labour Party is not a Stalinist organisation”.
Heh the missing words are “no longer”
Ironically while Goff claims Labour is not “Stalinist” and has always vigorously debated issues, that actually isn’t true. It didn’t debate very much at all when Helen Clark was in charge, and that’s why Labour was so successful.
I’ve no doubt the party is probably a more relaxed and even pleasant place to be now that Clark and her iron-fisted rule have gone, but the free flow of debate and opinion can always be interpreted the wrong way if one isn’t careful.
That’s all I think has happened with Goff’s speech – at least, so far. No one is going to use this to challenge the leader, partly because no one else wants the job right now and partly because there are so many people in that caucus who think they are next in line that they’d never get any agreement on a candidate to replace him.
I’ve always said it is likely Goff will survive until the election, but it will be fascinating to see who stands after the election. At a minimum you could expect Jones, Cunliffe and Little.