Today the Labour Caucus will vote unanimously to retain David Shearer as Leader. It’s the right decision, and my expectation is he will continue to lead Labour into the 2014 election. It is too early for Robertson and Little, and a Cunliffe leadership would probably see half the shadow cabinet resign. Shearer is the only logical answer for Labour and they need to unite behind him.
Amusingly there is a thinly disguised last minute plea from Waitakere News (well known to be the Auckland Regional Chair of the Labour Party) to vote for a conviction politician (ie David Cunliffe), as the UK Labour Party has. And on The Standard they continue their amusing hobby of posting David Shearer’s regular newsletter just so they can rip it to shreds.
So does winning this confidence vote, mean Shearer is absolutely safe until after the election, when there is another scheduled vote? Not entirely.
If at anytime the majority of caucus thought it necessary to make a change, then they could push Shearer out. Shearer has no real factional support in his caucus. If at some stage Grant Robertson went to him and said “I’m sorry David, but it isn’t working” he would probably go without a fight. Robertson has significant support in the caucus, the party organisation and in the leader’s office.
But Grant is relatively young, and in no great hurry. He knows a hostile takeover would be divisive, and absolutely the sensible thing to do is support Shearer, and hopefully become Deputy Prime Minister. He is 14 years younger than Shearer.
So what could trigger a change between now and the election. Basically just two things – the polls, or very poor performance.
I think a poll driven panic forced change is unlikely. While some in Labour are smart enough to know they really need to be polling in the high 30s to have a strong Labour-Green government, many are happy with any government that has them in it – even a Labour/Green/NZ First/Mana Government. And if you look at the polls, that combination is going to stay theoretically possible for the next two years. Labour would have to drop below 28% for them to panic. Remember Labour/Greens/NZ First/Mana have 57 seats already, so the way they see it they need just four more seats to be able to govern. So even if there is significant discontent within Labour (which is clearly the case amongst some activists), I just can’t see Labour polling badly enough to force a leadership change.
So what is the other possible catalyst? It would be if Labour is still polling okay, but Shearer has a series of terrible performances and the caucus goes into a funk at the though of how he’ll cope with the election campaign. But again I think this is relatively unlikely. While he has had some shockers, such as the stand up after sacking Cunliffe, he is generally getting better. Also performance is linked to confidence. With Cunliffe out of the way, and Labour polling okay (compared to 2011) he will gain in confidence and I expect performance.
So today’s vote isn’t the final word on his leadership. All leaders lead only with the support of their caucus, and can be removed by their caucus (except Winston). Even with Labour’s new rules, any leader who lost a caucus vote would inevitably not contest the membership ballot. However as I said my expectation is that he leads Labour into the election, and on current polls has a more than reasonable chance of becoming Prime Minister.
Of course a path to becoming Prime Minister that is dependent on what Winston may decide is a rather perilous one. The ideal for Labour is to be able to form a Government just with the Greens. But to do that they need to be polling very high 30s.
UPDATE: Stuff reports Shearer has of course been re-elected. Sounds like the vote was not unanimous, but “overwhelming”.