Espiner on coups and Shearer

Former Press political editor blogs:

If you are ever of a mind to stage a coup against your party leader – or your boss, or even your mother – there are two golden rules you must follow. 

1: Deny you’re planning a coup

2: See rule one

So true.

I thought it might be useful for readers who have had less experience with covering than Garner – or myself – to set out again a few basic rules of coup plotting. 

The idea is to destablise the leader first, to soften him or her up for the bloodletting to follow. This is normally done by having a word in the ear of a journalist you can trust not to dob you in. 

You do this for a number of reasons. Going public makes the leader’s job more difficult. It probably leads to a further decline in the leader’s popularity with the public. And it sends a signal to your colleagues that a plot to roll the leader is under way. 

What we don’t know is which of the many factions was behind it?

The third point is, as I emphasised above, that those involved will absolutely lie about it. Indeed, their dishonesty is expected and accepted by press gallery journalists. One of the first things I was told when I started in the gallery was that coup plots were the one time when MPs were expected to lie to journalists – and when it was considered acceptable for them to do so. 

The counterfactual – anti-politician Don Brash notwithstanding – is laughable. “Yes Mr Journalist, you’ve got me bang to rights. You’ve rumbled me. I am planning to overthrow my leader. I admit it. Righto, I’ll just go and give the party my resignation.”

So when all MPs deny it, it means nothing.

I am absolutely sure Labour MPs are plotting against Shearer. Why wouldn’t they be? It’s sheer self-preservation. Shearer’s personal popularity with the public is woeful. Most people have no idea who he is, and those who do know think he’s a shambolic, equivocal, spineless ditherer with the political nous of a first-term MP. 

Shearer is a lovely man. I’d let him babysit my kids without hesitation. But to date he has revealed neither the fortitude nor the authority to lead a political party – let alone be a prime minister. 

I doubt anyone would have ever said they’d let Rob Muldoon babysit their kids 🙂

What sealed it for me was when Shearer was asked why he didn’t put a stop to the “man ban” proposal when he first heard about it. He replied Labour was a democratic party, “and I can’t just bang my fist and get what I want”. 

Excuse me? Why ever not? Does Shearer honestly believe Clark ran Labour as a democracy? Flat hierarchies may work fine in NGOs like the UN but party politics is feral. The leader of the pack needs to be, at best, a benevolent dictator. 

Labour’s MPs know this. They are wringing their hands in despair. The window for rolling Shearer is open, but not for much longer. But when to leap, and into whose arms? 

Those are the only questions keeping Shearer in his job. 

I still think Shearer may hang in, because the large ABC faction can not risk Cunliffe winning a membership vote and becoming Leader. It would mean several long serving MPs would have to retire from Parliament – and they don’t want to.

If the caucus still elected the leader, the Shearer would probably be toast. But unless the factions can agree on a suitable alternative, and deputy, he may hang on.

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