I’ve blogged previously that I think David Shearer is the best contender for the Labour leadership, based on his back-story, his freshness and his moderation. However he is untested, and a more risky prospect than David Cunliffe. People need to see if Shearer can handle the pressure of being Opposition Leader and then Prime Minister.
I have a high regard for David Cunliffe also. When David was Minister of ICT and Communications I had a very constructive relationship with him. He never refused to deal with me, despite my National background, and I think his reforms were excellent. He was obviously one of those Ministers who could drive a policy agenda through a ministry, not one of those who just sits back and administers what the Ministry tells them to do.
Anyway the point of the post is the disparate treatment both Davids got on The Nation. First up was David Shearer. His questions were basically:
- When did you write you speech?
- Was it a road to Damascus moment?
- When did you decide to run?
- Did you discuss running with anyone previously?
- Are you surprised you are now the front runner?
- Does Goff support you?
- Are you happy with Labour’s policies?
- Will you sacrifice some in caucus even if they support you?
- Can you work with Cunliffe?
- What would you say to vacillating caucus members to get them to vote for you?
There wasn’t one tough question there. It was basically just an opportunity to talk about himself. Now let us contrast that with the questions to David Cunliffe:
- Why aren’t you more popular in the Labour caucus?
- Then four further questions on whether Cunliffe is unpopular!
- Do you take any responsibility for the fact that Phil Goff didn’t have the numbers?
- Four further questions on whether Cunliffe was to blame or trying to get him to knife Goff such as “So would you be a better campaigner than Phil Goff was?”
- Okay are you committed to the platform that Phil Goff presented and you presented at the last election?
- Okay do you rework them with a mind to making them more palatable to centre voters, or left voters?
- And you say you’re a diplomat. Have a look at this from the campaign in Avondale. (plays video and three follow up questions)
- Do you consider if you win this leadership battle, that your primary role in let’s say your first 100 days as leader, is to rebuild and reform the Labour Party or beat John Key?
Now look stuff like the video is fair game, but overall I think the two interviews were unbalanced. Shearer didn’t get a single tough question, while Cunliffe had most of his questions as tough questions, including multiple supplementaries on a topic to try and get him to say something damning.
I doubt this was a deliberate tactic of Sean or The Nation. Because Shearer has not held senior rank within Labour, there is not so much to question him about. But the media do have a responsibility not just to let Shearer be annointed by acclamation as he is a nice guy, but to actually put him under pressure and see if he copes.
As I said at the beginning, I think Shearer is most likely to get a better election result for Labour, but that is subject to him showing his mettle.
UPDATE: Pleased to report that Q&A was much more balanced, and sadly Shearer performed very badly. If he has another performance like that on television, momentum will flow to Cunliffe. I’d advise people to watch the show and see for themselves.