Labour’s future leadership

As I blogged yesterday, the chances of there being a -led Government after the 2011 election is very remote. Not just because of the gap in the polls, but also because of their failure to rejuvenate, but more importantly their failure to mend bridges with the Maori Party who might hold the balance of power after the election.

So unless there is some big event such as a second recession, or a major scandal, is unlikely to become Prime Minister. So who will replace him, when and why?

When?

Turning to the when, and I still maintain that Goff is safe until the election – even if Labour stay below 30%. There are three reasons for this:

  1. Lack of enthusiasm for the alternatives
  2. The shared delusion that the public will wake up to its mistake and restore them to power once they prove that John Key really is a nasty nasty man
  3. The impact of MMP, sheltering Caucus more than FPP did

The last point is quite important. Under FPP MPs got more panicked by the polls. If the polls showed they were in trouble in their seat, then they were facing the end of their political career, so they would desperately vote to change leaders to try and hold on to their seats – as Labour did in 1990.l

But under MMP, MPs can be protected on the list, so they do not fear bad polling so much. And even though the polls may show Labour losing as many as seven List MPs, the fact is no one knows which seven MPs may be toast until Labour ranks its list, and by then it is too late.

So I am quite confident that Phil Goff will remain Leader until after the 2011 election. But if they lose, I would expect he will retire from the leadership and politics within 6 – 12 months of the 2011 election.

Who?

I believe the next leader of the Labour Party will be David Cunliffe. And yes, of course I have my money where my mouth is and am backing that stock on iPredict.

Why?

It isn’t exactly a closely guarded secret that David Cunliffe isn’t the most popular MP with his colleagues. He probably isn’t the first choice for Leader of more than a handful of MPs. But he will become Leader, because he is basically everyone’s acceptable second choice.

Being the acceptable second choice can be a better position than a faction’s first choice. Similiar politics happened in the Waitakere selection – one faction was backing Twyford strongly and one faction (union) backing McCracken. came through the middle as the choice acceptable to all sides who could unify the electorate – either Twyford or McCracken would have left a significant minority disgruntled.

It is also worth remembering that Helen was positioning Cunliffe as a future leader, if she got a fourth term. She wanted to keep Goff out, and after Maharey retired and Mallard imploded, Cunliffe was her favoured candidate to succeed her. The 2008 loss, meant that Cunliffe did not have enough experience to be viable at that stage, so she let the leadership temporarily transfer to the man she she had worked so hard to keep away from it.

Why Not?

Cunliffe is basically the only acceptable alternative to the caucus. One can ascertain this by going through the others known to want the job.

– even before the hotel porn saga, Jones was not going to become leader. The women in Labour would rather slit their wrists than elect Jones, and while they are not a majority in caucus, they are a minority too powerful to ignore. Also Jones hasn’t shown the required hard work to become leader – he overly relies on his (quite considerable) natural talent. He is also too right wing economically to become Leader.

– Andrew has made a tactical mistake by combining the three roles of party president, union leader and aspiring MP. There is considerable resentment of this in the caucus, and he is blamed for the lacklustre fundraising to date. One Labour person commented to me that how can you expect the President one week to be getting donations from CEOs, when the next week he is delivering strike notices to them. Add onto that the resentment from List MPs that Andrew will be automatically given a high list ranking, knocking them down the order.

So Andrew will enter caucus with a degree of pre-existing hostility. While he may one day become Leader if he proves himself, he will not be given a Bob Hawke type coronation after just a year in Parliament.

– John Key would start going to church (to thank God)  if Labour elected Ruth Dyson as Leader. Nothing against Ruth’s skills, but she is a polarising figure strongly associated with the former Government.

– I rate Street as one of the smartest MPs, and she has the ability to be a strong Minister and maybe even Deputy Leader.  But I don’t see at all the charisma to become leader or prime minister. Maryan being elected as Leader would also see John Key, if not start attending church, at least sending his kids to Sunday School!

– Grant is a very smart political operator. Too smart to try and become leader after just one term in Parliament. He has what I expect will become a fairly safe seat for him, and time is on his side. I think the bastard might even be younger than me! If Grant stood in 2012, he might do surprisingly well, but I think he knows he is better to wait his time and get more experience before he tries to ascend.

– just kidding 🙂

Then what?

It is dangerous to look too far ahead, but my best pick at this stage is David Cunliffe become Leader in 2012, and he contests the 2014 election.

Labour will have a challenge in replacing him as Finance Spokesperson, with a so few MPs having the necessary skills or background. To my mind, the only credible option would be David Parker. So the leadership team could be Cunliffe as Leader, Street as Deputy and Parker as Finance.

Like Goff, Cunliffe will probably be a one shot leader unless he wins the election. They call this the Mike Moore slot. He doesn’t have (at this stage anyway) the loyalty of enough MPs to keep him in the job if he loses.

If National wins the 2014 election (and no predictions this far out), then Labour will have another leadership change. I believe their post 2014 leader will be their long-term leader – like Clark they will be in the job for 10 – 15 years or so, and they will become Prime Minister.

This could see a Grant Robertson vs Andrew Little battle. That would be very interesting. I’ve been pretty impressed with also, and wouldn’t rule him out as a contender also. has potential also – but I see him more as a future Education Minister.

Of course a John Key or Don Brash type candidate may enter Parliament for Labour in 2011, and also by 2014 become a potential leader. However the fact almost all their Caucus is standing again, makes it harder for them to parachute any stars in.

Time will tell if my predictions come true.

Tomorrow, I will blog on how I would “sell” David Cunliffe once he is Leader.

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