The unfortunate experiment

April 27th, 2012 at 8:58 am by David Farrar


CONFESSION, THEY SAY, is good for the soul, so I have a confession to make. I was wrong about . I made the mistake of believing that a politician with a brilliant back-story couldn’t fail to give us an equally brilliant front-story. Well, as Sportin’ Life tells the true believers in Porgy & Bess:

 “It ain’t necessarily so.”
And, now I (and I suspect you) know it ain’t so. David Shearer is a thoroughly likeable, thoroughly decent bloke, and his record at the United Nations is truly inspirational, but, come on, let’s face it: he ain’t anybody’s kind of leader.
David Shearer, like David Lange, is a creature of the factional and personal animosities dividing the Labour caucus. Bluntly: he was put there by an unholy alliance of right- and left-wing MPs to prevent the Labour Party’s choice, , from taking the top job.
Personally I think people are over-reacting. It has only been three months since Parliament resumed this year. But stories like this become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But those two speeches showed not the slightest trace of “big picture” thinking. On the contrary, they showed every sign of having been inspired by an Auckland-based focus-group, and composed by a Wellington-based committee. The only picture they painted was one that revealed Labour’s deficiencies. That not only did the party lack leadership, but it also lacked ideas. 
This is the problem you get when Labour doesn’t know what it stands for, apart from opposing National.

So, what have we learned from this debacle? What has Labour learned?

If by “Labour” you mean its caucus, I would say absolutely nothing. If you’re talking about the party itself, nothing it didn’t know already: that Caucus picked the wrong guy.
It’s time for the Labour Caucus to put an end to “the unfortunate experiment” and begin a new one. They could call it “democracy” – and stop taking their party for Grant-ed.
I read this as a pretty clear sign that if or when Shearer falls, Robertson will not become Leader unopposed. You can see this in the Waitakere News blog by Mickey Savage who says:

Nothing good will come of this activity.  It is damaging to the party.  Despite National being in disarray the polls are static.  Labour is not moving upward.  A hint of disarray is the worst thing that a party can show.

And interestingly Cunliffe may now be Shearer’s best chance of survival as Labour Head Office and the Beehive are filled with Robertson supporters. 
This continuous attack on Cunliffe and the current undermining of Shearer show the same techniques being used and suggest strongly that the same “mastermind” is behind this.  In the interests of the party and of the country they should stop. 
MS does not say who this mastermind is, but by process of elimination there can’t be many choices. The Shearer v Cunliffe leadership contest was a fairly friendly good natured affair. I’m not sure a Robertson v Cunliffe contest will be.
In related news, Tracy Watkins at the Dom Post reports:

The Labour leader’s office appears to be in turmoil after David Shearer’s chief of staff abruptly left Wellington.

Former Labour MP , who has been in the job just a few months, was seen leaving Parliament yesterday after a meeting with Mr Shearer’s incoming chief of staff Alistair Cameron. He later confirmed that he would be working on projects from his home in Napier for the next couple of weeks. He is due to finish on May 31.

Mr Nash rejected suggestions he had been “frogmarched” out of the building or given orders to clear his desk but his abrupt departure coincides with rising conflict in the Labour Party over Mr Shearer’s continued poor polling and lack of a clear strategy.

It is highly unusual for there not to be a cross-over period, and for one COS to leave before the next one starts – especially if the outgoing one has no job to go to.

Some of that conflict has been laid bare in leaks to a Right-wing blog that could only have come from either senior MPs or highly placed members of the leadership team.

Or both 🙂

UPDATE: And by coincidence David Cunliffe has a column in the Herald on how NZ needs better leadership.

23 Responses to “The unfortunate experiment”

  1. Keeping Stock (12,403 comments) says:

    Trotter has really put a cat amongst the pigeons. Most interesting though is his loathing of the Labour caucus for not listening to what rank and file party members are saying. If the Labour caucus is so factional that it no longer enjoys the confidence of its core support base, what hope does Labour have of ever providing stable government?

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  2. hubbers (284 comments) says:

    Trotter is always one of the first to call for blood. Didn’t he say “some words that must never be said” and get the knives out for the Dear Leader?

    Seriously with Lefties like Trotter who needs the Right.

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  3. Adolf Fiinkensein (3,638 comments) says:

    Ya gotta larrrf at these Labour scmucks.

    “Despite National being in disarray the polls are static.”

    The party in disarray is the party tanking in the polls, old chap. If 49.5% support is disarray then lets have more of it.

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  4. graham (2,382 comments) says:

    “David Shearer is a thoroughly likeable, thoroughly decent bloke, and his record at the United Nations is truly inspirational, but, come on, let’s face it: he ain’t anybody’s kind of leader.”

    Spot on.

    As I said yesterday, he reminds me somewhat of John Major – likeable enough, probably very competent, but does he grab your attention? I have to think hard before I can even remember John Major’s name – and he was the British Prime Minister!

    David Shearer is just … dull.

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  5. jaba (2,181 comments) says:

    have been saying this for ages .. recently on Twitter .. They are so dysfunctional that they are being swallowed up by the dopey Greens who are picking up support daily. I much prefer are strong labour party than anything to do with the Green party.
    mallard is a major roadblock to success but he simply can’t see it.
    Their recent rants include pokkies (they introduced casinos), land sales (they have sold off more land than anybody) and assets sales (hullo)

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  6. RRM (12,583 comments) says:

    The unfortunate experiment of putting someone who appears to be a reasonably good middle-of-the-road guy in charge of Labour?

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  7. slightlyrighty (2,423 comments) says:

    What has Labour learned? Nothing. The party has let itself been taken over by teachers and academics who have risen to the top of a party they purport to represent, but have hijacked for their own self interest.

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  8. kiwi in america (2,687 comments) says:

    Labour is fast sinking into a fatal conundrum – its electoral success lies in the centre ground that it has abandoned largely to National and yet what’s left of its activist base wants to drag Labour away from this key election winning demographic to the left to steal left leaning votes back off the Greens and Mana. Shearer’s not stupid – he knows voters have recoiled from the “gaggle of gays and trade unionists” influence that has turned off middle NZ and so he set in motion both a policy and internal structural/rules review (eg reducing or eliminating the power of the trade union affiliates) to modernise Labour and broaden its appeal. Trouble is that the power base of Labour tilts well to the left of Shearer and is tone deaf to the reasons for Labour’s electoral demise. True believers on the left never accept that its their policies that the voters have rejected – only that the policies were unsufficiently well explained or explained by someone with too much baggage (Goff) or demonised by evil right wing bloggers.

    To Labour’s left sits a clean pure Green Party untainted by history or the realities of governing and led now by younger leaders well schooled in pretending to believe in a capitalist economy with a green twist to disguise their true inner socialist. Labour long ago burned off its small c conservative white working class base and its lower middle class aspirational small business owners – two demographs that were reliable Labour voting constituencies for decades leaving it with a base of unionists, academics, beneficiaries and rainbow coalition activists that represent well 27% of NZ’s voting population as we learned only 5 months ago.

    Neither Cunliffe or Robertson can or will take Labour to where I believe Shearer was thinking of positioning Labour. Either will need to placate the unions and the left to win the leadership and so neither can or will truly reform Labour. It will be left as a shell of its former self fighting with the Greens for the crucial urban liberal professionals and under 30 Millennials votes….and losing.

    Pass the popcorn people!

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  9. virtualmark (1,604 comments) says:

    I see this as just the next stage in Labour’s ongoing decline into irrelevance.

    Labour was the working mans’ party … the political arm of the trade unions. When trade union membership was strong (1940s-1970s) then Labour had a clear voter base to draw from. But trade unions are irrelevant to nearly all Kiwis today. Even if every trade union member voted for Labour that’s not enough to get them into power.

    So now Labour is the three-legged stool of the union rump, the Rainbow coalition, and Maori. It relies on winning votes from poorer PI and Maori voters, who I’ll wager are socially conservative. But it’s led by a Rainbow mafia who have social values most of that PI/Maori voter base would feel uncomfortable with.

    I think the three factions are going to spend all their energy fighting with each other over which of the three rats gets to keep their head above water the longest while the ship sinks. Should be a fun spectacle.

    Meanwhile those that don’t want to vote for National will swing over to the Greens. But just wait until the Greens are actually in power, and have to make hard decisions with real-world implications, rather than just make trite calls and dream of unicorns and fluffy kittens for everyone. I think Green voters dreaming of the day they will be Government will find it’s actually a nightmare. The real world is more complex & messy than their economics can handle. The problem is, they will do a lot of damage to our national economy before the voters wise up that they don’t have any answers and vote them back out again.

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  10. hmmokrightitis (1,919 comments) says:

    Adolf, it seems from my brief observation – last 12 months or so – of everything that the truly awful Mickey Savage has to say is prefaced with those words – “with National in disaray” – sometimes he adds in total as well. I suspect he wakes up some mornings fully expect to see red flags flying outside, and is disappointed all over again when he sees JK on TV.

    Quite how a seemingly intelligent person could be so publicly deluded is quite beyond me.

    But, long may it continue. 🙂

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  11. BeaB (2,512 comments) says:

    I think we are seeing the Greens becoming the true party on the left and this will give voters a very clear choice at the next election.

    Any aspiring Left-wing politician should join the Greens and let Labour quietly wither and die as its anachronistic ideas already have.

    What a sorry lot Labour has become – cynical muckrakers desperate for the baubles. Give me the Greens any day, not that they will ever get my vote either.

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  12. backster (2,509 comments) says:

    TROTTER “This continuous attack on Cunliffe and the current undermining of Shearer show the same techniques being used and suggest strongly that the same “mastermind” is behind this. In the interests of the party and of the country they should stop.”

    He is right, this how the homosexual faction works they get a member in a key position and then he gets his mates in positions to consolidate his power. Cunliffe should have operated in the same manner installing Little and Fenton in key positions instead of getting the huff and sulking alone. Shearer’s backstory won’t save him, and Cunliffe’s inaction has made sure Roberston’s backstory won’t condemn him.

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  13. hmmokrightitis (1,919 comments) says:

    Question: Did the she-beast rule over the dying days of labour, and with her election night cut and run, put the knife into the belly, ensuring a long slow death spiral?

    The smile that comes to my face at the thought of that is quite wide, I have to say. History will tell. 🙂

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  14. flipper (5,300 comments) says:


    You summarise the position well. In fact, with more realism than Trotter who, like most left wingers regard politics and the government of New Zealand as a game to which only they have a claim (sort of like a perverse version of “To The Manor Born”.

    The Outside The Beltway Group made similar comments (to yours) in their January paper “Dermolishing” (apologhies and forgivness sought for length) :

    ” …. Prior to and following Labour’s leadership “primaries” and the selection of David Shearer, there have been erudite micro analyses on where Labour should go, how it should be re-structured, and how the new leadership team should proceed. Most have concentrated on the personalities, and to a lesser extent, on Labour’s union-weighted constitutional structure – and the electoral consequences of their processes.

    ” …. There has so far been no meaningful analysis of the red-melons (the Greens) and their new image which, it appears, has resulted in them stealing much of the “Kelburn progressive” vote from Labour, thereby creating a massive intellectual void in that old party. Almost all of the micro-analyses have been by known left wing media, academics, or activists and, while interesting, ignore wider- issues that, in the long term, will have far more influence on Labour’s future fortunes than the 2011-12 personality games. Notwithstanding leadership change, Labour’s failure to recognise those issues in 2005, 2008 and 2011 have placed it in a difficult situation pre-2014. ….” and ….

    ” …… As 2011 drew to a close, the mood of Labour MPs and their supporters must have been black, if not nearly suicidal. They simply could not understand why their overtures were rejected. Part of the problem is the influence of sectoral and focus group soundings which, looking back, were eventually responsible in large part for the demise of Clark. (Contributing much also to Labour’s 2011 downfall since their leadership was side-tracked by issues such as “asset sales.”). …. and ….

    ” …. Socialism or left wing politics as practised by Labour and the red-melons is simply applied metaphysics – an abstract theory with no basis in reality. There have been two notable attempts to apply metaphysics to world politics, both with disastrous consequences. Communism, as was Nazism in the 30s, is metaphysics applied ruthlessly to the real world: When things don’t fit it is the fault of the poor square sods that will not fit into round holes. All that has changed in 2011 is the absence of violence – well, so far. ” ….. and …..

    ” Just as the Democrats and Obama are trapped by the “progressives”, academia, Government employees, and other trade unions, so it is for the New Zealand Labour Party. The real left wing of the “labour” party is to be found in academia, teacher unions and modern trade union “employees” – folks “elected” to full-time paid positions who regard the House of Representatives as a career step on the way to Ministerial office. Among Labour MPs and Ministers a frequently observed career path is: School, tertiary education, academia, university lecturer, / labour apparatchik, Member of Parliament, Minister or Prime Minister. Almost no real world employment experience. Add in trade union lawyers and it is almost identical in Australia.
    The “cloth cap”, trade union driven image that Labour continues to portray may have been “acceptable” in the 1990s and through early 2000s, but it is now clearly a major downside for that party.

    ” It is easy to skip over Labour’s structural and philosophical problems and to bring the Greens (red melons) into the equation as an excuse for Labour’s nadir – its worst electoral performance in some 80 years. ……. Both National and Labour have grown out of the economic circumstances and beliefs that motivated their adherents. Labour was driven by the passion of Holland, Savage, Fraser, and Nash. Arnold Nordmeyer was a cold fish and never established any rapport with the voting public.

    ” Labour was concerned about worker safety, employment security, social security, wage rates, and a raft of allied matters, but the reality was that it was all about the re-distribution of incomes and in the 20s and 30s they had a point – not so in 2011. (All those driving issues have been largely made irrelevant as a consequence of education, legislation and the “March of the Welfare State”.)

    ” ….. And now, eleven years into the 21st Century, Labour is facing a situation where it can either change or fold its tent. There will always be left wing / socialist academics. They will always think they are intellectually superior and, ergo, know best what is good for OTHER folk. There will always be union power brokers who manipulate their members for political ends. But in 2012 the blow-torch of the modern media and the internet will require them to don asbestos underpants, or give up.
    That said, there is no point in Labour blaming Goff for their electoral debacle. It was the message that failed. Shooting the messenger, so to speak, or in the case of the 2011 General Election, failing to promote him, was confirmation of an absence of self-belief. In effect, they took advertising monies under false pretences.

    ” David Shearer has now been selected as leader by the majority of a small Labour caucus. He has, in effect, been nominated by the rump of the Parliament as the Prime Minister-in-waiting. Shearer has now been quoted as saying he wants to change the New Zealand flag. This is an irrelevant side show that will do nothing for Labour. Moreover, the traditional “opposition”-type media statements are, at mid-month, emerging from Labour – statements which simply confirm that the party has learned nothing from its failure to connect with voters.

    ” Labour must resist the urge to continue with its 2008-2011 playbook (statements by Cunliffe et al on “failed Key policies” and a claimed absence of “skill training”, as are the risible, machine-gun- like statements from the red melons on matters of little consequence, are also part of the side show) and start intense introspection. …. ”

    Apologies for length

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  15. virtualmark (1,604 comments) says:

    To be fair to Labour … strikes me that if you want to use the term “The unfortunate experiment” in recent New Zealand politics then it should be applied to ACT.

    I can’t for the life of me see why there isn’t a vibrant party to the right of National. National’s practically centre-left, and has no vision. Surely the 10%-15% of the voters at the right hand end of National must be crying out for a mature measured and consistent party of the right.

    NZ politics unfortunate experiment was the bunch of bumbling egos, extremists, fools and outright idiots who have f@&ked up the ACT party.

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  16. thedavincimode (8,131 comments) says:

    Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh. That would be the stunted yellow canary, the silly little girl woman (forgotten her name already) and the Don. But was it really an experiment or just egos colliding with stupidity and incompetence?

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  17. UpandComer (665 comments) says:

    There is a lot of great analysis on this thread regarding the present and future state of the Labour party.

    I would just ask people to remember very similar analysis regarding national in the early 2000’s. I remember many commentators stating that the party had no political niche any longer, that big government was working wonderfully, that Labour was the new centre party. Tax cuts were not necessary and in fact were evil, National was the old white mans party with no place in a cosmopolitan, green, fairyland NZ. National had lost women forever Helen Clark. National was just Labour, National would be replaced by United future!

    I take the future decline of the Labour party with a grain of sa lt. I think they will unfortunately get their nasty, entitled, paranoid noses back into government based on fear, jealousy and ignorance, eventually.

    I like David Shearer. I think it’s a shame he has so many poisonous little lapdogs nipping away at him when he has only had a few months. I would feel as awkward as fuck trying to have a drink with that pompous prick Cunliffe, and that other dude off modern family.

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  18. virtualmark (1,604 comments) says:


    Let’s not forget Donna Awatere-Huata, David Garrett, Hilary Calvert, Penny Webster and others.

    I think Richard Prebble, Roger Douglas, Rodney Hide & Stephen Franks were all good candidates. But ACT never seemed to be able to stay on message, and had too many single-issue MPs.

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  19. RRM (12,583 comments) says:

    Virtualmark – exactly.

    But the rot had set in even before the Rich / Hide / Brash / Banks fiasco.

    I would have voted for ACT, if they had ever shown even a glimmer of the appearance that they were real about advancing some of the very good policy ideas they had, especially Prebble’s.

    Unfortunately all they ever campaigned on was empty slogans (“Policies, not politics”) that people couldn’t be bothered reading up on, or else issues that made them look like nothing more than a dead old white money party for people mourning the loss of xtian heritage (“we will get tough on crime”)…

    When they did front the media, they usually put up some arrogant fkwit who would say little on-topic that anyone could understand, and mainly just speak sneeringly about how stupid people who don’t think like her/him are.

    It was almost like they wanted the left’s PR machine to demonise them as crony-capitalist cronies of the most closed-shop kind. Sad.

    FWIW – I think Act could have attracted a fair few of the people who today vote Green, if only they’d sold their ideas right.

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  20. David Garrett (10,993 comments) says:

    virtualmark: I am acutely aware of the damage my past emerging did ACT…my defence of course is that they ALL – and I mean ALL – knew everything there was to know before they selected me.

    And in your roll of shame you omit one Heather Roy who, if she hadn’t believed the bullshit her right hand man was telling her about her huge ability, would have in all likelihood have still been there now, along with John Boscawen, Rodney, and someone else.

    Hide told us at our first caucus that if we did not all pull together we would share the fate of every other small party which has been in government since MMP – factionalism followed by disintegration followed by annihilation. In that as in so much else, he was dead right.

    RRM: I agree with your last statement about the Green vote…at least the intelligent older Green vote.

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  21. slijmbal (1,270 comments) says:

    I find Chris Trotter’s addiction to grand sweeping statements, conspiracies and showing off his mastery of the english language detracts from some of the his occasional moments of clarity. He is the opposite of Occam’s razor. Never see a simple explanation when a more sinister one is present. From his perspective there is a ‘royale’ driver behind everything. However, he, unlike, many does not resort to personal insults or attacks and likes to argue the point and not the man for which he should be complimented.

    I still like reading his articles as they are well written and normally argued from a different perspective but treat them more as works of fiction than reasonable commentary.

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  22. thedavincimode (8,131 comments) says:

    virtual …

    I’d forgotten all about Donna Awatere. Simply don’t remember Penny Webster, so she clearly made an impression on me. Heather Roy was the stupid girl woman whose name I couldn’t remember (per Garrett’s post) and whom I shall now promptly forget..

    I agree about their failure to stay on message. That all disappeared when Rodney went perk-busting to grab some attention. That turned out well didn’t it. He did well to capture the public imagination as a consequence of Liebour’s legislation to legitimise their theft of public money and suppression of free speech. But as RRM points out, in public at least, it all seemed to be sound-bite material and I could never work out whether they had a grand plan; it appeared to just be a bunch of spot issues and a promise to support National. It left me with the sense of them saying that if A, B and C were fixed, then everything in our society would be apples.

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  23. kapiti (11 comments) says:


    Re: John Major, he was as dull as the sky in a thunderstorm, and so unpopular Tony Heard once quoted “If he became an undertaker people would stop dying”…this is Shearers trouble, Labour thinks they have National on the ropes, “in dissaray” a la Trotter quote an labour would be triumphant if they had a more dynamic leader!…they have learned nothing since 2008 and 2011 defeats, and this rhetoric shows it. Muck raking and ‘oppose everything’ stance has failed now for years, labour voters (and ALL NZ voters in general) actually want to hear costed alternatives in policy and THAT’S where Labour fall short and had worst defeat in 85yrs.

    Can anyone please tell me of any political party that had a head stratagist that delivered their party to an 85yr historic loss and STILL kept his job? (wasn’t demoted at the least)….what does Mallard have to do to get the boot in this party…I find it very strange and surely even the most avid/rabid Labour fan base acolyte must be wondering the same?!?….don’t get me wrong…i’m for keeping him exactly where he is as he is a gold mine for national with his constant fuck ups…trade me trev as a good example of many.

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