Matthew Hooton writes:
Among moderate Labour MPs and activists, and even the odd union boss, talk is now incessantly about the party’s leadership.
Alarm has been raised after Labour’s private polling showed it was down to just 30% in February, from 35% before Christmas. Worse, those voters have not gone to the Greens but slipped back to National so that the gap between left and right is now wider than a month before Labour’s last election debacle. Since Helen Clark’s fall, only under David Shearer’s more centrist leadership has the Labour-Green bloc regularly polled above National and its minor allies.
This is the average of public polls since 2012. Shearer took them from 28% to 35%.
These issues have in common that all three were so-called “captain’s calls.” This has raised concern not just about today’s polls but also whether the current captain, Andrew Little, has sufficient feel for public opinion in West Auckland, Redwood, Shirley or provincial New Zealand to ever mount an effective challenge to John Key. After all, Mr Little’s entire professional career has been Wellington-based, first as a paid student activist and then as a union and Labour Party official. His forays to stand for election in 2011 and 2014 in his birthplace of New Plymouth, a strong Labour town under long-serving MP Harry Duynhoven, have both been disastrous.
Labour’s frontbench is dominated by Wellington based professional politicians.
Moderate Labour MPs believe the party is marching to another debacle next September. In response, Little loyalists have begun talking about “the Kirk model,” noting that the revered Norman Kirk took three elections as leader of the opposition to become prime minister. Similar tolerance, they say, should be granted to Mr Little to allow him to claim the prize after Mr Key retires.
So their cunning plan is to win power in 2023, and govern for one term, before allowing National back in. I like it!
This is all largely academic because it is dawning on even Mr Little’s strongest internal critics that there is no way of dislodging him anyhow. Mr Little only had first-round support of four of Labour’s MPs and a quarter of its members. He ultimately owes his leadership to Wellington union bosses exercising their influence over the final tally. Labour MPs know that, if they seek to roll their beleaguered leader, the Wellington union bosses will just impose him back on them anyway, prompting an unrecoverable crisis for the party in its 100th anniversary year. No one is yet that reckless.
An unsackable leader!
In his speech, Mr Parker focused on issues of capital allocation, making the case, without using the dreaded words, for a capital gains tax – an unmistakable challenge to Mr Little’s “captain’s call” that Labour should drop the issue.
Further contradicting another of Mr Little’s “captain’s calls” – that Labour must take a firmer line against the wild west of the business world – Mr Parker then argued cogently that capital raising in New Zealand is currently overregulated. He made the case that the law goes much further than necessary to require proper disclosure of risk, that prospectus and audit costs are too high and directors’ liability excessive. Such overregulation, Mr Parker says, is preventing medium-sized firms from attracting both capital and governance talent, hampering economic growth.
Very astute analysis from Parker.
At 3000 words, the speech was designed to be the kind of substantial effort one might expect from a Birch, Cullen or English in contrast to Mr Robertson’s vapid efforts. Mr Parker was disappointed it didn’t get more attention.
Of course, who can foretell the future? It may be, as Little loyalists insist, that Labour will move up in the March polls as students return to their campuses to discuss the tertiary education bribe. But if the polls again move the other way, it is poor Mr Robertson who dissatisfied MPs plan to target for the chop.
Chris Trotter writes:
It’s one of those pictures that freeze-frames a political leader in the making. Half-turned from the enthusiastic crowd of Prince Edward Islanders he is addressing, Justin Trudeau’s upraised arm acknowledges something beyond the image’s point of reference. A pale sunlight lightly gilds the palm of his outstretched hand and highlights the features of his face. Taken in 2013, Canadian Press photographer Andrew Vaughan’s photograph captures to perfection the same political magic that swept the 43-year-old Trudeau to victory in last Monday’s Canadian general election.
Inevitably, those New Zealanders favouring a change of government in 2017 are scouring the ranks of opposition parties for a Kiwi politician capable of bringing some Trudeau magic to our own political arena.
Labour supporters, in particular, are looking at the rather dour figure of Andrew Little and wondering whether he has what it takes to unseat a Prime Minister as popular as John Key.
So who does Trotter think may be the equivalent? He says it is not Grant?
In the end, however, most of the speculation about whether a Justin Trudeau is lurking, unrecognised, in the Opposition’s ranks circles back to the Labour Party. If Little is too dour and grumpy to beat the man Bill English once described as “bouncing from cloud to cloud”, who is left to bounce Labour’s banner up there alongside him?
Grant Robertson would probably say Grant Robertson. (And, to be fair, there are many in the Labour Party who would agree). But, to the rest of New Zealand, Robertson can come across as just a bit too complacent; a bit too absolutely, arrogantly, Wellington. For the best part of a year, he’s had plenty of chances to shine as Labour’s finance spokesperson. That his light has barely flickered in that role must count heavily against him.
I was listening to RNZ’s The Week in Politics today while running. It was on the budget surplus. What struck me was that Julie-Anne Genter came across as far more reasoned and logical on the economy, than Grant. He was still arguing that somehow the seven years of deficits were caused by National while also attacking National for not spending more. It was very weak, while Genter actually made quite reasonable arguments.
Which leaves just two names for Trudeau-seekers to play with: Stuart Nash and Jacinda Ardern. Both are well endowed with the skin-deep trappings of the Trudeauesque politician: youth and good looks. Nash even boasts a famous Labour name – although, the number of people who recall New Zealand once having had a Prime Minister called Walter Nash will not be large. Ardern, herself, is already registering in the preferred Prime Minister stakes – always a sign of better things to come. The positives are definitely there for both MPs.
Imagine then as leader and deputy? Nash could never win the leadership vote with the unions having 20%, but deputy leader is appointed by caucus only. I don’t think it will happen before 2017, but if they lose in 2017, it could happen.
The Herald editorial:
Labour needs to project the image of a fresh, new potential government.
Ms Ardern can help project that image. Ms King cannot. The bigger problem for Mr Little may be that Ms Ardern probably projects that image better than he does, and the last thing he needs is a deputy whose promotion might cause her to be seen as a rival to himself. Ms Ardern no doubt would deny any wish to replace him, and mean it, but if her public reception was much better than his, she would be a contender.
That is the trouble. Ardern as Deputy Leader might soon overtake Little in the Preferred PM polls.
This time next year, if the polls have not improved for Labour, some in the party may well push for yet another change of leader. Having held two contests in the previous term of Parliament, it is running short of candidates. Grant Robertson, who stood in both unsuccessfully, has accepted he will not be the next leader. Ms Ardern, who was going to be Mr Robertson’s deputy had he succeeded, has not been tarnished by the result. She could be a credible candidate; all the more so if by then she has been deputy leader for a year.
That’s almost an endorsement of Ardern to be Leader!
Phil Quin writes in the Herald:
When he installed Annette King as his interim deputy, Andrew Little said he would revisit the decision around this point in his tenure. It’s a promise he would be wise to break. The advantages of a generational swap between King and Jacinda Ardern, the widely touted alternative, are fewer than they initially appear, and the risks are greater.
Annette King is not a leadership rival to Andrew Little, nor is she likely to become one. The same cannot be said of Ardern. That’s the first, and most crucial, box ticked. Unfulfilled ambition is the characteristic a leader least wants to see in a deputy.
That’s true. Having a deputy who wants your job rarely works out well.
Combined with an absence of unrealised ambition, King’s standing in caucus uniquely enables her to play hardball when called for, giving Little room to establish goodwill and build trust among colleagues.
It is hard to imagine an MP less temperamentally suited to inheriting “bad cop” duties than Jacinda Ardern. In fact, a change in deputy would demand a recalibration of responsibilities, forcing Little to take a greater role in managing (read: disciplining) caucus. He doesn’t need that: it’s not among his strengths, and it shouldn’t be his focus.
A good deputy will manage much of the caucus relations for the leader, and to a degree help manage the office also.
Ardern certainly appears to be well liked by the public, and has the backing of many inside the Labour Party, as well as a sizeable bloc of MPs, in particular those aligned with Grant Robertson with whom she ran on a joint ticket as deputy in last year’s leadership election. These are put forward as arguments in favour of promoting her, but they leave me cold.
For one thing, personal popularity is neither here nor there in a successful deputy. None of the most successful second-in-commanders of the recent era – Geoffrey Palmer, Don McKinnon or Michael Cullen – were beloved by the wider public. What they each offered were complementary skillsets, along with personal attributes, that made their leaders stronger.
This is true, but Ardern does have the ability to grow the vote for Labour if she is in a leadership role. The problem is she may over-shadow Little, but they need to lift their vote in Auckland and neither Little nor King can really do that.
It may be that Annette King wants to retire – and who could blame her after 28 years in Parliament? This would bolster the case for Jacinda Ardern without making it a slam dunk. Breakfast telly affability – undeniably useful in a senior politician – is not what Andrew Little wants in a deputy. He needs a compelling or charismatic figure far less than someone who provides the space necessary for him to become effective and popular in his own right.
I think he needs someone who can lift their party vote in Auckland.
Duncan Garner writes:
A bunch of faceless union hacks chose Andrew Little to lead the Labour Party this week.
That’s the truth. It’s as simple and as brutal as that.
Six unions got to vote in the leadership race – but just one union, Service and Food Workers, actually gave all its members the right to exercise their vote.
The other five unions gave the power to about 100 senior delegates to cast the crucial votes on behalf of those on the factory floor.
Who are these delegates? Who knows. If it wasn’t for Little’s 100 union mates who wielded the power and the final say, Little would have come a distant second in this race.
The Labour system is awful. If you want to do membership voting, then do it as the Greens do it – one member, one vote. Not one union delegate having 30 votes.
This is unprecedented for Labour – 27 of its MPs don’t want Little to be their boss.
Yet leader he is. It’s a perverse outcome that looks farcical. But the process is the process – despite it looking like an ass. It certainly doesn’t seem fair to Robertson, and of course he’s gutted and licking his wounds.
So what to make of Little?
In my time covering politics I found him to be straight-forward, competent, organised, gruff, a little grim, dry and blunt but likeable.
So it’s not all bad. Get Labour back up into the early 30s and it’s game on – that’s MMP.
At 30% you lose less badly. At 35% you can govern if Winston chooses you.
At least Little’s not a trumped-up fake like the last leader and a stuttering mess, like the one before that.
But this is a divided bunch. If I was Little I’d offer the deputy leader’s job to Jacinda Ardern.
They need some Auckland influence in there – and she’s a Robertson loyalist. Little could offer the job to Robertson – but then the leader and deputy are from Wellington and that’s a problem.
He must not offer it to failed leadership contender Nanaia Mahuta for all the obvious reasons. And he must promote new blood like Kelvin Davis and Stuart Nash on to the front bench.
I agree Ardern is the logical choice for Deputy. She doesn’t want to be his Deputy, but she is a List MP and a servant of the party. She should be told that she has to take the role.
And what about Robertson? Is he finished? I say no.
He’s promised not to run again for leader – but surely that commitment only lasts for this term.
Robertson, in my view, will always have ambitions to be the leader. But he wants to give Little three years.
However, should Little fail and John Key wins a fourth term, Robertson’s commitment to never stand again means nothing.
Little is now the boss. But don’t write off the apprentice – politics is a long game and Robertson is still running a marathon, not a sprint.
Or will he be Jacinda’s campaign manager next time, rather than vice versa?
Patrick Gower writes:
It is the great union robbery – the unions have stolen Labour’s leadership.
The unions have installed their man Andrew Little as Labour’s boss through a backdoor takeover, in what you’d call a perverse outcome. …
You see, only Labour’s six affiliated unions have control over the 20 percent vote for the leadership – Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing (EPMU), Dairy Workers, Meat Workers and Related Trades, Rail and Maritime Transport, Maritime, and Service and Food Workers (SFW).
So it is not actually “the unions” which stole Labour’s leader – it is actually just six private sector unions.
Just six unions out of the 144 in New Zealand is hardly representative.
And the EPMU which Little was of course the boss of, has the most votes for the Labour leadership.
It gets even worse. Only the SFW give their members a vote; the other five let delegates decide for its members.
The union vote is not one person, one vote. It is not democracy – it is a union muscle job.
A few score union delegates got to decide the leadership.
And there’s an example of a Labour leader installed by the unions – his name is Ed Miliband.
Just like Little, Miliband didn’t win the British Labour party membership, and he didn’t win the MPs, but he did win the union vote. And right now, Miliband has terrible poll ratings.
The truth is this: Little won the Labour leadership thanks to a handful of his union mates. That doesn’t mean he can’t or won’t do a good job.
Little could not win the New Plymouth electorate. Little could not win the Labour Party membership. Little could not win the Labour MPs.
All Little could win was his union mates.
Chris Trotter also writes:
If Grant Robertson’s young followers genuinely want to roll back the influence of neoliberalism, both within the Labour Party, and in New Zealand generally, then radically democratising the affiliated unions’ processes of representation would be one of the best ways to do it.
if the union vote had been open to every union member, rather than just the bosses, it is highly unlikely Little would have won.
Andrew Geddis writes:
The only thing worse than electing the wrong person as leader of Labour is electing him by the narrowest of margins, by virtue of the influence of a handful of individuals acting under instructions.
Labour just made the wrong choice, in the worst possible way.
Obviously, I think that the decision to choose Andrew Little over Grant Robertson was the wrong one however it came about … that’s because Grant is a good friend whom I think will one day make a fantastic Prime Minister of New Zealand. So Andrew Little could be the reincarnation of Jack Kennedy mixed with Bob Hawke by way of Michael Joseph Savage (which he most certainly isn’t) and I’d still be lamenting the Labour Party’s decision to appoint him leader ahead of Grant.
So let’s put aside my personal disappointment at the actual decision that Labour has made and instead look at how it has done so. Because it looks to me like it’s created an almighty cluster&*k.
First, Little beat Grant by just over 1% of the weighted votes cast. That’s about as close a margin of victory as you can get, achieved on the third round. So the overall mandate for Little’s leadership is … fragile, at best.
Second, Little lost heavily to Grant in both the Caucus and the Membership vote in every successive round of voting. Little was the first choice to be leader of only four of his colleagues (assuming he voted for himself, that is). Only 14 of 32 backed him as leader over Grant by their third choice – meaning 18 of 32 think Grant is a better person to lead them. And in respect of the membership vote, Little was consistently 10% behind Grant at each stage of the vote.
The thing that gave Little the edge, of course, was his support amongst “affiliates” – which means those unions that still retain membership ties with Labour.
Now, I’m not a knee-jerk anti-union person. I am, and always have been, a member of AUS and then the TEU. I served on the local branch committee for a while. I believe strongly in the need for collective organisation and action to protect the rights and interests of working people.
I also accept that the Labour Party has been (and to a degree remains) the political expression of that need. So I don’t have any sort of problem in principle with the union movement having some sort of guaranteed input into the process of selecting the leader of the Party. Plus, of course, its really only the Labour Party’s business how they do things.
But for all that, as a “concerned observer”, I think that the sight of the Labour Party leader being chosen almost purely because of lopsided support amongst the union organisations is a terrible,terrible one for it.
They have a leader rejected by his colleagues and the party members, but there due to the union vote.
It’s not that 75% of the individual members of all the affiliated unions think Little is a better leader than Grant. It’s instead that 75% of those people that each union allowed to decide the issue plumped for Little ahead of Grant. People who, in the case of (say) the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, basically were told by their leaders that they should vote for the guy who used to be their boss.
Only one of the six unions allowed their members to vote. The other five had the bosses cast the votes for them. A few score union bosses got to decide the labour party leadership over the wishes of the caucus and the party members.
Try to imagine if the National Party had a leader who had the support of only four of his colleagues. It’s so ridiculous that you can’t even imagine it.
But then imagine if the National Party had a leadership system where the Auckland Chamber of Commerce Board got say 7% of the vote, the Wellington Employers Association Council got 5%, the Federated Farmers Executive got 6% and those three employer and industry groups got to determine the National Party leadership over the wishes of the caucus and/or the membership?
Here’s the real problem for Labour. In a rational party, some senior members or activists would be speaking up and saying “hey our rules have led to us having a leader who failed to win a majority of support from either the caucus or the members, this is a bad look, so we should review the rules”. But no one dares say this in public, even though they are saying it in private.
Someone asked me what would the result of the Labour leadership election if the unions bosses didn’t have 20% of the vote. This is pretty easy to calculate as you weight the caucus and the members 50% each. If the union bosses (barely 100 bosses vote in five of the six unions) did not get 20%, the results would have been:
- Round 1 – Robertson 41.0%, Parker 22.2%, Little 20.7%, Mahuta 16.2%
- Round 2 – Robertson 42.4%, Little 34.2%, Parker 23.4%
- Round 3 – Robertson 55.7%, Little 44.3%
So without the unions Little would have been third on first preferences and easily lost to Robertson in the third round.
Andrew Little has been elected leader, but with the support of only four of his colleagues. That’s half the support David Cunliffe managed!
Full results are here.
Here’s how it went each round
- Round 1 – Robertson 14, Parker 7, Mahuta 6, Little 5
- Round 2 – Robertson 14, Parker 7, Little 11
- Round 3 – Robertson 18, Little 14
- Round 1 – Robertson 38%, Parker 22%, Mahuta 14%, Little 26%
- Round 2 – Robertson 41%, Parker 25%, Little 34%
- Round 3 – Robertson 55%, Little 45%
- Round 1 – Robertson 19%, Parker 7%, Mahuta 10%, Little 64%
- Round 2 – Robertson 20%, Parker 9%, Little 71%
- Round 3 – Robertson 24%, Little 76%
Overall Little beat Robertson by 50.5% to 49.5%. This is a disaster of a result for Labour. Not in terms of Andrew winning, but the way the votes split. The takeouts are:
- The new leader was the first choice of only four of his colleagues!!
- The new leader wasn’t the preferred choice of the members, barely beating David Parker
- The new leader is only there because of the bloc union vote
- More Labour MPs thought Nanaia Mahuta would be a better leader than Andrew Little
- If only two (or at the most three) faceless EPMU delegates had voted Robertson instead of Little, then Robertson would have been leader
Andrew has the personal ability to do well, but this result makes it much harder for him. To only have four of your colleagues vote for you makes the job of convincing the public to vote for you much harder.
- Grant Robertson has said he will never seek the leadership again. However his statement is not a Shermanesque one which leaves wriggle room in future. I think his statement is premature. If he had lost the members vote it would be justified, but Grant was the popular choice of both the members and caucus and if Little fails, he is the logical sucessor.
- David Parker has said he will refuse the Deputy and Finance portfolios. He says no plans to leave Parliament but I predict he will be gone by 2016.
- Little will either make Cunliffe Finance spokesperson (which will make him even less popular with his colleagues) or go to Nash or Clark in the next generation
- Names being bandied for deputy are Mahuta, Sepuloni, Robertson and Ardern
Have had a number of discussions over the last few days with various Labour people on the leadership. Everyone expects Little will win, but will it be on the first ballot, and how will the members, unions and caucus vote.
Below if my best estimate of where the Labour MPs loyalties lie. However this may not be reflected in the actual vote. With a Little victory highly likely, some Labour MPs may vote tactically and give Little their first preference to minimise any stories on him being elected with little Caucus support.
The preferences appear to be:
|Unite the caucus||Well placed to do so, as few enemies. Cunliffe endorsement did not help him though||Would unite the caucus, but against her, not with her||Well respected. Would be given a fair go||Would have very loyal support from majority of caucus, but resentment from a few|
|Establish competent Leader’s Office||Would recruit mainly from unions which has problems||Very unlikely.||Has little personal networks, so would leave to his deputy||Robertson has huge networks and would attract a very talented staff|
|Satisfy the activists||Most likely to be given support from the activist base||Has gone down well with some activists||Unlikely to motivate many||Would have huge loyalty from many, but also huge resentment from Auckland ones especially|
|Attract donors||Little had a constructive relationship as EPMU head with many businesses and could do okay here.||Unlikely to attract any outside Maori organisations||Very credible with business and would rebuild finances||Unlikely to attract donors unless Cullen and Palmer agree to become party fundraisers for him|
|Manage the parliamentary team||Little has not made a big impression in Parliament, but did well in growing and managing EPMU||Unknown||Has been a competent deputy who does much of this for the leader||Robertson is hugely experienced and would by far be the best parliamentary team leader|
|Develop and stick to a political strategic plan||Little shows signs of this with his campaigning on removing issues that distracted core voters||Unknown||Generally good at focusing on important issues||Robertson tends to forget the bigger issues of the economy, and go after the scandal of the day.|
|Media appeal||Reasonable relationships with journalists||No strong relationships with journalists||Rather boring||Robertson is very close to many in gallery and would get favourable coverage|
|Match Key in House||Little has been solid in the House but never spectacular||Did not perform well when on front bench||A solid performer in the House but unlikely to bother Key||The only Labour MP who can cause trouble for Key|
|Likeability||Rather dour||Rather sour||Bland||Projects likeability – someone you want to spend time with|
|Hold own in debates||Little is a competent debater||Unknown, as has rarely been on TV, but did well last time she was on||Won’t get a knock out, but won’t stuff up||Formidable and tricky|
|Have economic credibility||Little does have some economic credibility from his EPMY days. He was a welcome change from the old style unionists who only striked, and often struck sensible deals with employers||Unlikely Mahuta will be seen to have economic credibility||Parker has strong economic credibility||Robertson’s employment record has been purely public sector which makes economic credibility challenging for him|
|Appeal to Waitakere Man||Little is from provincial NZ, and EPMU work kept him in touch – but proposals like reverse burden of proof in rape go down like cold sick||Mahuta could do quite well here – she is down to earth and relatable||Too nerdy||Too Wellington|
|Appeal to Maori||Little has no special appeal here||Mahuta is effectively a Tainui Princess, and well connected and respected||No special appeal||No special appeal.|
|Appeal to Pasifika||EPMU background can help||Mahuta has significant support here||No special appeal||Sexual orientation is an issue for some|
|Appeal to unionised workers||Little well ahead.||No special appeal||Wants to increase their retirement age – not popular with union workers||Robertson struggles here.|
|Appeal to urban liberals||Little is effectively an urban liberal, but hides it well, so should retain support from them||Unlikely to appeal to urban liberals||Parker has some appeal||Robertson is King of the urban liberals|
|Appeal to Auckland||Little has little profile in Auckland. Would need Ardern as his Deputy if he wins.||Unlikely to appeal to Aucklanders||Parker has built up some respect in Auckland||Robertson seen as alien to Auckland, hence why he named Ardern as his preferred Deputy|
|Lift Labour to 30% so they lose less badly||Little should safely be able to get Labour back to 30%||Hard to see Labour becoming more popular with Mahuta as Leader||Hard to see Parker doing better than Goff||Robertson should safely be able to get Labour back to 30%|
|Lift Labour to 35% so they can win if Winston will let them||Difficult to see Little attracting an extra 10% of the vote||Will not happen||Will not happen||Robertson has an interesting back story (his father etc), very good communications ability and an association with Clark which could bring some former Labour voters back. Make take more than one term but could get Labour back to mid 30s|
|Lift Labour to 40% so there can be a Labour/Green Government||No||No||No||No|
So this is my honest opinion of the four candidates. They all have some strengths, and none of them look like they have the potential to be a game changer (Shearer and Cunliffe had the potential to be, they just didn’t manage to do it).
If I was a Labour Party member and wanted to maximise the chances of winning at the next election I’d rank Grant Robertson first. Also even if he doesn’t win, he has the best skill set to rebuild the party organisation team and parliamentary team so they are less dysfunctional – and this would help the leader after him.
My second preference would be Andrew Little. Andrew was hugely impressive as EMPU General Secretary and a pretty good Labour Party President also. However he hasn’t been a star in Parliament. He may rise to the occasion, if given the leadership (which seems likely), but his record in New Plymouth shows his electoral appeal may be limited.
Prior to them both entering Parliament, I had said that Robertson and Little are potential future leaders.
The third preference would be David Parker. He’s a better Deputy than Leader though.
The last preference would be Nanaia Mahuta. I have nothing personal against her, but when she has had front bench opportunities such as being Education Spokesperson, she doesn’t seem to have been highly effective. I suspect her candidacy is more about becoming Deputy Leader.
I expect Andrew Little will be the winner tomorrow. It will be interesting to see if he gets 50% on the first ballot, and if not, how the preferences flow.
Auckland Pacific Labour have said:
The Auckland Pacific Sector of the New Zealand Labour Party met last night to discuss and rank the Labour leadership candidates. After much debate and discussion it was carried by a unanimous vote that the leadership candidates be ranked in the following order:
#1 – Nanaia MAHUTA
#2 – Andrew LITTLE
#3 – David PARKER
#4 – Grant ROBERTSON
Rating Robertson last is ridiculous. But fair to say that it looks very difficult for him to win.
Brian Edwards writes:
Iain Lees-Galloway has taken over responsibility for the ‘End of Life Choice Bill’ after its sponsor, Maryan Street, failed to get elected in September. Lees-Galloway is apparently gauging support before deciding whether to put the Bill back on the private members’ bill ballot. It was removed last year under pressure from the Labour leadership who, according to the Herald, “were concerned it could be an election-year distraction or that it could deter conservative voters”. The new Labour leader, whoever that is, could apparently have the deciding voice on the voluntary euthanasia question.
So what did the contenders for that position have to say?
Well, Nanaia Manuta was in favour of reintroducing the bill because it would show “that Labour would stand up for those difficult conversations that need to be had”.
I thought that was a pretty principled position to take.
David Parker, who voted against legalising voluntary euthanasia in 2003, didn’t want to comment till he’d talked to Lees-Galloway.
Non-committal and therefore less satisfactory perhaps.
Grant Robertson and Andrew Little both support voluntary euthanasia, but neither considered it a priority at the moment. The fairly clear subtext of their replies was that it was a vote-loser and that a party that had polled 25% in September couldn’t afford to be seen supporting unpopular policies.
I’d call that unprincipled.
So are Grant and Andrew saying they would not have supported same sex marriage going to a vote if it was less popular?
There are precedents galore for this sort of thinking of course, for the abandonment of principle, of forward-thinking, enlightened or socially responsible policies and platforms because they’re unlikely to win or more likely to lose your party votes. Leadership gives way to “followship”.
It’s a depressing view not only of our politicians but also of us, the voters. Are we really so selfish, so venal, so incapable of persuasion that the towel has to be thrown in before the contestants are even in the ring? Have we no admiration for those who stand up for their principles against the seeming odds?
I say “seeming” odds, because the odds can never be totally accurately predicted. But, with the exception of Nanaia Mahuta, these prospective Labour Leaders are betting on the electorate not being motivated by anything other than unprincipled self-interest. That’s pretty bloody offensive really and were I a member of the Labour Party, which I’m not, I wouldn’t vote for anyone who thought so little of me.
Harsh words, but true.
Judy and I worked for Helen Clark from June 1996 to November 2008. She made mistakes of course but she was willing to espouse unpopular policies when she thought it was the right thing to do. In the process she took a lot of flak, but the sky didn’t fall in. She still got 3 terms. She wasn’t always loved, but she was greatly admired and respected.
With the exception of Nanaia Mahuta I’m not finding much to admire or respect in this lot. Their core philosophy appears to have everything to do with giving the punters what (they think) they want, and tossing out anything that doesn’t satisfy that principle.
There seems to be no excitement at all over who will win the leadership contest – unlike last time, when there was genuine excitement and interest.
The Herald reports:
The four Labour leadership contenders have defended using taxpayer funded flights for their campaigns, saying most of the other costs will have to come out of their own pockets.
The four — Andrew Little, Nanaia Mahuta, David Parker and Grant Robertson — were at Labour Party HQ this morning to sign a Code of Conduct and go through the campaign rules.
They can use the MPs’ unlimited air travel allowance to travel around the campaign — but have to pay for any other costs themselves including hotels, taxis and meals.
Mr Robertson said the use of air travel was within the rules. “[The taxpayer] is not picking up the tab for the contest. We are obeying the rules we have around airline travel. Everything else is our own cost.”
Mr Little said the contest did involve meeting with the public, which was part of an MPs’ job.
They’re meeting people to get them to vote for them – ie campaigning.
I think it is fine for MPs to get travel to party conferences, just as they also get free travel to speak to rotary clubs, business conferences, union conferences and the like.
But this is different. This is travelling to events which are specifically to get people there to vote for you. There is a direct personal benefit, rather than an indirect political benefit.
They should pay for their own airfares.
Vernon Small writes at Stuff:
By rights the political debate should be focused on the Government’s handling of two things.
How does it meet its self- imposed need to do something alongside traditional allies and friends in Iraq and Syria without getting too deeply embroiled in the war against Islamic State?
And how will John Key make a dent in the number of children in poverty, given the Government’s pre-eminent focus on work as the best route out of poverty? …
But then along came Andrew Little, Nanaia Mahuta, David Shearer and the whole Labour three-ringed circus to demand its place in the limelight.
Don’t forget David Parker who wasn’t standing and then did stand.
Just what Shearer, a former leader, hoped to achieve with his frustration-download is hard to tell.
He seemed to have an irony bypass attacking David Cunliffe, his supporters, the union voting strength and even Labour’s brand – all in the name of a call for party unity.
He probably has every right to feel aggrieved at Cunliffe’s behaviour at the 2012 annual conference, though Cunliffe continues to deny any involvement in a coup or intent to undermine him.
But to argue Cunliffe should have stayed in the race for leader in order to be defeated, as part of a scenario that would take him out of contention in perpetuity?
It all smacked of a stake through the heart – of taking revenge a kilometre too far.
He was right that Cunliffe’s backers in the blogosphere were off the wall, painting anyone but Cunliffe as a dangerous conservative running dog in harness with the mainstream media.
Danyl McL also has an opinion on how the Labour-aligned blogs are doing more harm than good to the left.
Also, Labour’s Maori caucus is asserting itself as a significant proportion of Labour’s reduced 32-person caucus.
Party sources say it is seeking greater autonomy within the caucus, and is even arguing for a share of research and other resources.
Oh that would be fun. A semi-autonomous caucus within a caucus. So if they formed Government, would they also be a semi-autonomous government within the Government?
Shearer said the people who walked away from Labour were middle New Zealand – “white blokes” – and Labour needed to win them back.
He also believed every worker in the unions should vote for the leadership rather than delegates casting affiliated unions’ votes, which count for 20 per cent of the vote deciding the leader.
“If we are going to have affiliates contributing to the leadership it should be one person one vote,” he said.
“That’s democracy … not two dozen people voting on behalf of 4000.”
The most powerful delegates are the EPMU ones. Only 35 of them voted on behalf of probably 30,000 or so affiliate members.
In the last leadership election only 149 delegates over five unions decided the votes for the union. Only the SFWU gave all members a vote.
If the Labour Party itself decided that all members should vote, rather than just the caucus bosses, then why not apply the same to the unions?
The Herald reports:
Labour’s Hauraki-Waikato MP Nanaia Mahuta will contest the Labour Leadership.
Ms Mahuta said late this afternoon she had made the decision to stand after giving the matter serious consideration.
“This decision has been made with the knowledge that if the party reviews the election outcome, we can learn from the base of support that was demonstrated across Maori electorates in South Auckland and amongst Pacific and ethnic communities.”
Ms Mahuta’s announcement brings the number of contenders to replace David Cunliffe to four with former Deputy leader David Parker, Andrew Little and Grant Robertson also in the running.
Her candidacy announcement at 4.30pm came just before the deadline of 5pm.
Cynically I think this is more about a play for the deputy leadership, or at a minimum ensuring she remains a front bencher.
However it may also be as a result of complaints that all the contenders had been middle aged white men.
There are seven Maori MPs in caucus. If she picks all of them up, then that gets her over 20% of caucus. But hard to see here getting many votes from members or unions.
I think we are starting to see the reality of life in Labour. One former leader is telling another to quit politics. The Herald reports:
Mr Shearer said he would have preferred it for the new leader’s sake if Mr Cunliffe had stayed in the race and lost.
“I think it would have been easier for whoever wins if he had stood and lost. It would be a cleaner break for whoever takes over. His followers undermined Phil Goff and myself and I think he continues to be a presence that will make it difficult for a new leader.”
He said if Mr Cunliffe had lost this would have sent a clear message to his supporters, rather than let them have the impression he could have won if he hadn’t withdrawn. He was also disappointed with Mr Cunliffe’s decision to stay on as an MP. “It would be easier for the new leader if he decided to move on.”
It was a sentiment echoed by several other MPs, although none would be named.
To quote Lady Macbeth – Out, damn’d spot! out, I say!
Cunliffe has pointed out:
Mr Cunliffe pointed out Mr Shearer was also a former leader.
“I think that’s an unfortunate thing for him to say and it belies my long-term loyalty to the party and caucus.”
But Shearer has only been an MP for one and a bit terms. Cunliffe has had five full terms. And I think Phil Goff and David Shearer have a different idea of what loyalty looks like.
“It’s about making sure we set ourselves up for the future so the new leader doesn’t have the same experience I had.”
He had been white-anted by Cunliffe’s supporters when he was leader and did not want the same thing to happen to the new leader.
If Parker or Robertson wins, it is inevitable I’d say that they will also face undermining.
“The people who had attacked himself and Mr Goff were mostly anonymous, Mr Shearer said.
“There are certainly some who’s names I think I know, but these are people who sit behind darkened screens and blog and undermine people.
And several of them now work in the Labour Leader’s office – which explains why so many are so unhappy.
This afternoon David Cunliffe announced he is pulling out of the contest for the Labour Party leadership, and is endorsing Andrew Little. This should boost Little’s chances considerably and may have David Parker regretting his entry into the race, as I suspect if Little wins, that Cunliffe will be his Finance Spokesperson.
This is obviously the end of the road for David Cunliffe’s prime ministerial ambitions. Cunliffe had many political skills, but being able to lead his caucus was not one of them.
It is worth reflecting though that his political career should be judged on more than his 15 months or so as Labour Leader.
He was one of Helen Clark’s better performing Cabinet Ministers. I’ve said many times that I thought he was an excellent Communications and ICT Minister. Also his reign as Health Minister was relatively successful, with the exception of his sacking of the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board.
While I would have disagreed with many of his policies, I always thought that David Cunliffe could have been an excellent Labour Finance Minister. While he has gone left to win over the activist base, he does have a rare (in Labour) understanding of the business world and private sector.
While Cunliffe had many skills, there was no better display of his weaknesses that on election night, and in the weeks following. Launching his campaign to stay leader on the night of the worst election result for Labour in 90 years was incredibly dumb. And then declaring he won’t resign to try and get caucus to sack him, and then resigning, and trying to cling on despite barely 20% of caucus backing him – well it was a sad end to a career which deserved better.
It will be interesting to see what portfolio Cunliffe ends up under the new leader, whoever that may be. Finance is the logical pick, but I can’t see that happening with Robertson or Parker.
I thought it would be interesting to look at how the four (if Shearer stands) Labour leadership contenders have gone in their respective electorates. This may give some idea of their personal appeal, and also their ability to convince people to party vote Labour.
So I looked at the changes in their local party and electorate votes from 2008 to 2014 (or for Shearer from 2009 for his electorate vote).
This is what has happened:
- David Cunliffe (New Lynn) -4.2%
- Andrew Little (New Plymouth) -10.3%
- Grant Robertson (Wellington Central) -10.7%
- David Shearer (Mt Albert) -13.1%
So New Lynn has actually held up best on the party vote, compared to 2008. The other three electorates have all lost more than 10%.
- Grant Robertson (Wellington Central) +9.8%
- David Cunliffe (New Lynn) +0.5%
- David Shearer (Mt Albert) -4.8%
- Andrew Little (New Plymouth) -15.9%
This indicates that Grant Robertson is very good at increasing his personal vote, but not so the party vote. Cunliffe has held steady, Shearer has declined a bit (but from a by-election high) while Little got 16% less than the former Labour MP in New Plymouth.
The Herald reports:
Nominations close on Tuesday and it appears increasingly likely acting leader David Parker will be a last-minute entrant.
A group of MPs, understood to include Kelvin Davis, have been pushing for him to put his name in although yesterday he again said his position had not changed. …
Former Labour leader David Shearer is also still considering a tilt. Yesterday he echoed concerns also expressed by Damien O’Connor that the leadership contest meant the candidates had to appeal to Labour members – but that did not necessarily translate into appealing to the wider voter base.
Little and Robertson are both on the left of the party. Cunliffe in reality is more centrist but went left to gain the leadership. Therefore all three candidates are fighting in the same space.
Grant Robertson has made his pitch for the party leadership, signalling a crackdown on banks, supermarkets and power companies and a plan to rebuild the party.
As he moved to counter the momentum building behind former party president Andrew Little’s bid, Robertson formally filed his nomination yesterday, signed symbolically by Maori MP Rino Tirikatene and Mana MP Kris Faafoi.
He is expected to launch his campaign in Auckland next week aiming to reverse the 2011 leadership launches where David Cunliffe overshadowed him.
As rumours swirled in the party that Cunliffe may withdraw, given Little’s hit on his union base, Robertson yesterday promised ‘‘a three-year programme to rebuild and reconnect the Labour Party as the driving force for progressive change’’.
The rumours over Cunliffe withdrawing have been around for weeks, but I’ll believe it when it happens.
But he defended key policies, saying Little had ‘‘possibly got ahead of himself’’ by questioning plans for a higher pension age, centralised wholesale power prices and a capital gains tax.
It’s a good thing, not a bad thing, if the different contenders put forward different policy programmes.
He endorsed aspects of former MP Shane Jones’ criticisms of supermarkets as one way to address issues that mattered to voters.
‘‘New Zealanders pay way too much for food … in a country where we produce enormous amounts of food. We need to look at supermarkets in the sense of the duopoly and what needs to change in the Commerce Act and how do we protect consumers,’’ he said.
I remind people of this graph, when Labour start talking food prices.
Low pay in supermarkets was also a problem.
‘‘We say to the supermarkets, ‘you’re in our society this is how we want it to be’.’’
Does anyone else see the problem here? In one breath you say food prices are too high and in the next that you want to increase costs for supermarkets.
He said Labour did not make the argument for lifting the minimum wage, which he agreed with.
‘‘But when he went into workplaces … you could see the workers there were worried that their boss couldn’t afford the minimum wage.’’
But Labour first needed to build confidence and lift its vote to 40 per cent. It was easy for National to run a scare campaign about the Greens or Internet-Mana when Labour was on only 25 per cent, he said.
Yep. People don’t worry that much about the coalition partners when the main party is strong, but when the main party is weak, then it is more of an issue.
Lifting the vote from 25% to 40% is no small thing. That’s convincing 360,000 New Zealanders to change their vote to Labour.
— Grant Robertson (@grantrobertson1) October 9, 2014
The choice of nominees is interesting. Kris was a strong Shearer supporter and Rino is a member of the Maori caucus, and voted against same sex marriage. While one can read too much into these things, I suspect the choices were made to show Grant can unify and appeal widely.
I noted that it is dated today. I do wonder if it was actually signed around six months ago? 🙂