All three major daily editorials say the early leadership vote was a mistake made under pressure.
… if he imagines the vote will see off a challenge from David Cunliffe he is already disappointed.
A more experienced leader would have dismissed any suggestion he should try to “call out” a challenge with an early vote. When a leader wins – as usually happens the first time – the question does not go away. It merely leaves the party divided and ensures the discontented faction will choose its moment to make another bid.
If David Shearer wishes to retain the leadership of the parliamentary Labour Party he should put aside any thoughts he may have for a surfing holiday this summer.
Yesterday, he obtained the support of the party caucus in a wholly unnecessary vote of confidence that he called. He also demoted his rival, David Cunliffe. His problem, however, is not his support in caucus but rather that in the wider party.
Since the weekend, Shearer’s supporters have been talking up his performance at the conference and it is true that the keynote speech Shearer gave on Sunday went down well amongst the faithful. But the bar had not been set very high. Preaching to a roomful of one’s most committed activists (and those who turn up for conferences are by definition the hard-core of the party) is not much of a test of a leader. Furthermore, no-one has ever doubted Shearer’s capacity to read a fully scripted, exhaustively rehearsed speech. It is his performance off the cuff that is the worry.
The performance at the post caucus press conference was not impressive and would have done little to reassure the doubters.
Because a leadership vote in February is mandatory, Shearer’s call for a vote of confidence yesterday was unnecessary. He was driven no doubt by the urge to be seen to do something. He also might have hoped he could put the question of a challenge behind him. Shearer, and his caucus supporters, want the matter over, but it is unlikely anything before February is going to end it.
There are 76 days to go before the real vote.
David Shearer has been reconfirmed as leader of the Labour Party. Given that even his caucus critics declared in advance their intention to vote for him that is hardly surprising.
However, far from being the resounding victory claimed by Mr Shearer’s cheerleaders, yesterday’s caucus vote served only to lay bare the deep divisions within the party. Those divisions are between the pragmatic, centrist MPs such as Phil Goff, Annette King and Trevor Mallard who have installed Mr Shearer as their standard bearer, and the wild-eyed idealists who forced a rule change through the party conference at the weekend enabling caucus malcontents to force a leadership vote in which party members and unions will have the final say.
It is more than about the leadership.
The reason Mr Shearer has not scrapped some of Labour’s sillier 2011 election promises is now apparent. Labour is in the midst of a power struggle between those who recognise that spending promises have to be paid for and those who do not understand that capital and skills are mobile. Increase taxes beyond a certain point and both will depart for greener pastures.
Neither yesterday’s vote nor the demotion of Mr Shearer’s putative challenger David Cunliffe to the backbenches resolves the question of Labour’s leadership. The real contest, if there is to be one, will come in February on ground not of Mr Shearer’s choosing.
Then, just 13 or 14 of Labour’s 34 MPs will be able to force a party-wide vote if they choose to.
If a party-wide vote is triggered, I don’t think Shearer would contest it. How could you? Imagine how hobbled you would be in the House having to take on the PM, while fighting for your political life. If a vote is triggered in February, then I’d say it would be Cunliffe vs Robertson.