Espiner on coups and Shearer

July 12th, 2013 at 5:02 pm by David Farrar

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.

19 Responses to “Espiner on coups and Shearer”

  1. unaha-closp (1,600 comments) says:

    1: Deny you’re planning a coup

    2: Don’t lose

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  2. Colville (3,120 comments) says:

    Everyone should just leave the lovely Mr Shearer alone and let him get on with the job 🙂

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  3. Pete George (24,828 comments) says:

    Except the caucus don’t choose any more. Only 40% – with members 40% and unions 20%.

    So that makes it even more uncertain, counting caucus numbers isn’t enough – unless caucus can decide on a single candidate so it doesn’t go to the party vote.

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  4. kowtow (13,193 comments) says:

    These nobody journalists must think they’re so important!
    Love themselves to bits.

    All they are are little pawns in a very undemocratic power play.But they think they’re the real power.

    Who the hell is Espiner to tell Shearer how to run (or miss run )Labour?

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  5. David Garrett (10,969 comments) says:

    Espiner was a man I took an instant dislike to…and the feeling was mutual. I used to bemoan his clearly biased writing when he was supposedly a disinterested commentator…but now he’s “out” I find him good reading….and he has nailed this situation perfectly IMO…”When to leap and into whose arms? Those are the only things keeping Shearer in a job”. Spot on

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  6. huckleberryfinsbrother (25 comments) says:

    Agreed above Mr Kowtow about strutting little journalists,
    For whatever reason I have almost never seen Shearer on TV talking,
    but to me people like Cunliffe and Robertson and Little are fundamantally unlikeable.
    Lets go acoss to Key, you know he is likeable otherwise the polls would be different.
    I don’t care a rats arse if he fibbed about big megaupload, it will teach him to get smarter.
    They all travel around the truth
    I am in Thailand now where the graft and corruption runs about 15% of all Government contracts.
    That effects every citizen here for the worse, but they accept it.
    Every sentence the PM here speaks is corrupt and self serving, and the stupidity is patent .
    My feeling is that when they get rid of Shearer they will find the troubles just be starting.
    They are just so far behind. I think another two elections, thank goodness we really can not afford a Labour Green Government.
    Being labour leader Its like being Mayor of Christcurch, do you really want that crucifix

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  7. Redbaiter (11,656 comments) says:

    “Who the hell is Espiner to tell Shearer how to run (or miss run )Labour?”

    Exactly. Self infatuated no talent nobody.

    Partisan commentators who pose as “journalists” have long ago worn their welcome too thin.

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  8. Manolo (21,951 comments) says:

    Espiner is nobody but a…talentless hack. Living proof of today’s lamentable level of NZ political journalism.

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  9. bhudson (4,770 comments) says:


    Under the new rules the caucus cannot institute a leader without it going to wider vote.

    They can prevent a change by ensuring the current leader has greater than 50% support if put to the test in caucus, but they cannot group together and put a new leader in place and bypass the vote by members and unions.

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  10. Whaleoil (705 comments) says:

    Rule 3. Don’t get Farrar to do your counting
    Rule 4. Don’t celebrate Farrar’s counting at the bar across the road with Farrar.

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  11. Whaleoil (705 comments) says:

    Pete…caucus chooses who goes on the ballot…if there is only one name what the membership thinks is irrelevant…or the unions for that matter.

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  12. RandySavage (223 comments) says:

    the Espiners and Garner need to get out more.
    As for the Whale, oxygens very much wasted on him

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  13. bhudson (4,770 comments) says:


    I hadn’t considered the possibility that there could be a single candidate in such a deeply factionalized caucus, but I can see that they could band together and agree that only one person would nominate for the job.

    That really would be something.

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  14. Pete George (24,828 comments) says:

    bhudson – unlikely amongst that lot but possible. Surely one day someone is going to wake up from their nightmare and realise that have to get their shit together and work together.

    But it’s been four and a half years so far of not doing it.

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  15. mavxp (504 comments) says:

    How best would you use the ‘phoney war’ period aside from conspiring behind closed doors?

    How would you present yourself to the media if you were angling to drive the knife in come the ‘Ides of October’ (in time for the Labour party conference)? Who is the heir apparent, the Brutus to Julius Caesar?

    If it we me I’d come out very strongly in the media at any opportunity to not so much defend Shearer, but instead to attack the ‘enemies of the party’ and employ clearly articulated sound-bites of spin – so as to bolster my standing within my own party that I am fierce leadership material and ready for the leadership mantle, in stark contrast to the mumbling-bumbling Mr. Shearer.

    So perhaps we should look out now for the “statesman in the making” / “heir apparent” speeches and appearances from the would-be candidates. This is necessary since no one can say for certain who is clearly leadership material in their ranks right now.

    From what we have seen after this warning shot, Robertson or Ardern strike me as possible knife-wielders. Time will tell.

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  16. Sir Cullen's Sidekick (1,293 comments) says:

    Just dream on guys, while Shearer is having a good laugh with Norman, Peters and Hone. MMP will give them the Government in 2014.

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  17. s.russell (2,072 comments) says:

    If you are really organising a coup you DO NOT tell reporters about it. They only find out when the plot is extended to some incontinent flake who blabs in order to curry favour with the reporter or inflate their ego.

    If you are on the other side and find out about the plot you don’t leak and deny. You would only leak in order to out the people responsible so they can be crushed.

    Hence I think the most likely explanation is that there is no letter and no coup, and it is just one (or maybe more) MP making mischief, in the hope that this will destabilise the situation enough that there will be a coup later.

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  18. Ross Miller (1,762 comments) says:

    Sir Cullen’s Sidekick 11.39 …. so, the Maori racist Peters (bugger the Chinese) is going to team up with the Maori racist Harawiri (bugger the Pakeha) with the ‘reformed’ Marxist Norman as Deputy PM.

    Could be ‘on’ for young and old.

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  19. ChardonnayGuy (1,604 comments) says:

    Re: Muldoon. From what I hear, only if they locked the drinks cabinet first!

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