Carter is probably telling the truth

The Herald reports:

MP Charles Chauvel is thought to be one of the three members of Parliament claims he plotted with about a leadership change on the night before he sent an anonymous letter to media.

Mr Chauvel denied plotting against Labour leader Phil Goff but said he could have been in Mr Carter’s office on July 28 – the night on which Mr Carter claimed he met with three other Labour MPs to discuss the best time for a leadership change. …

His submission to the disciplinary meeting in defence of his actions was leaked to media and included the July 28 meeting as well as a further claim that there were 17 Labour MPs with whom he had discussed a change of leadership.

I think on this occasion, Chris Carter is telling the truth. And the Labour MPs all denying that have ever had any such descussion about the leadership are probably relying on Clintonian definitions.

I have some experience of being in an Opposition (as staff, not MP) which is struggling in the polls. Let me tell you that the leadership is discussed constantly, and by most MPs. The notion that Labour has spent two years in Opposition, are constantly 20%+ behind in the polls, has a Leader who fails to make 10% as Preferred PM, yet they have never discussed leadership options is insane. I would even wager on any given night there are MPs talking leadership options. This is how MPs socialise – discussing who will be the next Leader, and when. Most of us discuss the rugby – MPs discuss the leadership!

So Carter I am pretty sure is telling the truth that he would have discussed leadership changes with at least 17 MPs.

Now Labour MPs in their denials use terms such as “plot”, saying “I have not plotted against Phil Goff”. This is different to have you ever discussed the leadership and under what situation would you want to change it (such as Labour staying below 30% for more than three months). An MP will not regard their frequent conversations as plotting, until it reaches the stage that there is a definite challenger and you are commiting yourself to that challenger.

As far as I know there is no challenger (mind you Shane Jones looked like he would before his hotel porn episode put paid to that), and hence Labour MPs can deny formal plotting. But as sure as hell, a very common topic of conversation will be the leadership and whether they would do better under another leader.

Carter suggests that in at least one discussion, they had discussed the best time for a leadership change. Again, this is quite plausible, but it does not mean there was in fact someone willing to challenge. The conventional wisdom is you don’t change leaders in election year, so any change would have to occur in the second half of 2010. It would be quite natural for MPs to be talking in terms of “If there is a challenge, then it has to be in November”.

So if Carter does name any names, the questions that should be put to them is not “Were you plotting to roll Phil Goff?” to which they can honestly answer “No” but “Did you have discussions with Chris Carter about the leadership of Labour?” which they will find it harder to deny.

UPDATE: A reader writes in:

Both Chris Carter and Charles Chauvel were on the Select committee hearing submissions on the Local Government Amendment Bill over the period that Carter drafted and dropped off his letter.  Indeed they sat next to each other.

Carter was really edgy and kept on getting up and leaving and at one point he asked Chauvel to leave the room with him.  They had a 5 minute chat and then they both came back into the room.  Chauvel was then looking just as worried as Carter.  At the time I thought it all very strange and was wondering what was going on.  I then heard the news on the radio as I was driving and everything fell into place……

Very interesting information.

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