Could things get any worse for David Cunliffe than they did this week?
It is quite conceivable they might, of course. Cunliffe’s leadership of Labour still has a way to go before it hits rock-bottom. But this week’s very public exhibition of the disunity which flows freely and abundantly from the deep schisms within the party may well have proved to be sufficiently damaging to have put victory in September’s general election out of reach.
Has there ever been another case of such a senior MP retiring from politics not at a scheduled election – but just five months before the election?
Labour’s embarrassment at losing Shane Jones as a result of a quite brilliant piece of politics on Murray McCully’s part left Labour powerless to hit back at National.
But that was no excuse for the outbreak of factional warfare in the form of the Labour left indulging in a danse macabre on Jones’ still warm political corpse.
Yes the fact some have been celebrating the departure of Jones, shows how divided they are.
Jones’ departure immediately prompted an at times bitter argument over whether he had been of any real value to Labour during his nine years in Parliament. As far as those on Labour’s left flank were concerned, he was just an over-ambitious blowhard who had a way with words but who was driven by self-interest, rather than being imbued with team spirit – something which was amply illustrated by the shocking timing of his going as far as his many critics are concerned. They had two words to mark – or rather celebrate – his exit: good riddance.
For those on Labour’s right flank, Jones had been someone who, for all his faults, could reach into segments of the voting public which those on the left professed to represent, but with which they had long lost touch.
I think what some on the left have missed, is that it is not just about Jones – it is about the symbolic importance of an MP effectively saying Labour is now too left wing for me, because they’re too close to the Greens.
With the left of the party running its own agenda which puts purity ahead of pragmatism, Labour’s appeal is shrinking. Those voters whom Labour needs to capture will see Jones’ exit as a further narrowing of Labour’s appeal. The “broad church” is turning into The Temple of the Tyranny of the Minority.
There is an intolerance of diversity of views. National is comfortable that some MPs did and did not support same sex marriage. Likewise National is comfortable some MPs are economically interventionist and some are small state market libeals. However in Labour if you don’t support Fabian type economic policies and socially liberal policies then you are told you are in the wrong party.
Whether it is truth or simply perception is irrelevant: Jones was seen as the last bastion of the centre ground for Labour as well as providing an important buffer from the view that the party was more obsessed with identity politics and political correctness than everyday grafters.
He was certainly the one who articulated it best.
The party now has to work out how to at least hold those voters and shed the perception it is lurching ever leftwards without Jones.
And wait until the gender quotas come into play and all the top candidates on Labour’s list are women, because they have to do so under Labour’s new rules to ensure equality of outcome.
MP Kris Faafoi said despite the perception Jones was on his own in the centre, others were there as well. “Many think economically he was on the right track as well. I don’t think it’s a sin to have opinions like Jonesy’s in the party at all. I guess it’s our job now to fill that void. We need to, because we need that centre ground.” He had hoped Jones would be “in the trenches with us” for the campaign.
The trouble is that the reality is that in almost every policy area, Labour’s policies have moved to the left and are now closer to the Greens than they are to say what Clark and Cullen did.