The decision allows Labour no time to find a promising successor. In the absence of a new face, it will probably elect the capable Phil Goff to lead it for the time being. Mr Goff has many of the attributes of Helen Clark: wide ministerial experience, a good command of all issues, instinctive common sense and a sure political touch. And he is a more forceful public speaker than she is.
But he is not much younger than she is, and as a minister in the 1980s has been on the national scene for just as long. He can never give Labour the fresh image a party normally needs to recover from a long period in power. By the next election Mr Goff would be in much the same position as Bill English was in 2002. As a leading minister in a recently defeated Government, Mr English could not lead National back to office.
Actually a lot worse than Bill’s example. Bill entered Parliament during the 4th National Government and was Leader of the Opposition for the 5th Labour Government. Phil Goff entered Parliament during the 3rd National Government, served as a Minister in the 4th Labour Government, spent nine years in Opposition during the 4th National Government, nine years as a Minister in the 5th Labour Government, and now will become the fresh face of Labour during the 5th National Government hoping to lead a 6th Labour Government to power.
At the next election, Goff and King celebrate the 30th anniversary and 27th anniversary respectively of their first election to Parliament.
So I think Goff and King will struggle to be seen as long-term Leaders. In a way, that is a pity. Goff and King are amongst the more moderate Labour MPs (or have been to date) and should move Labour more towards the centre. They both are regarded as amongst the more competent Ministers also (even though King’s halo took a beating this year) and should be an effective team working together.