The McCarten appointment

Vernon Small reports:

seems to have burned off one of its most effective campaigners after leader confirmed former Alliance president Matt McCarten will be his new chief of staff.

Former deputy Jim Anderton yesterday said he would not help Labour at the general election, after managing the party's campaign in the Christchurch East by-election last year and working on the 2011 general election campaign and for Megan Woods in Wigram.

That is a big loss to Labour in Christchurch. It may not be the last.

Matt is very high profile and has fallen out with a fair few people, and criticised a lot of them also.  He's even said on the record:

There's no doubt Cunliffe is a gifted performer. What is discomforting is his every nuance and action seems calculated.
With you can sense his real character. With Cunliffe, I can't escape the feeling that he has the same phoniness as the Republican US presidential nominee .

There's an old quote about Rasputin along the lines of “You can be a famous poisoner or a successful poisoner, but not both”. I tend to think the same applies to being a Chief of Staff. 99% of New Zealanders do not know who John Key's Chief of Staff is, and that is a good thing.

Matt has great campaign skills, but his relationship skills are not so strong. And the Chief of Staff role is 90% about releationships. You have to manage relationships with the caucus, the relationship with the party, manage a staff of 20, and also manage relationships with other political parties.

I wonder if Labour would have been better to make David Talbot Chief of Staff, and have Matt as the Campaign Manager.

If Labour do win the election, then would Matt become the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff – a key role basically running the country. With no disrespect to Matt (whom I personally like a lot), but that would make me very nervous.  Vernon Small thinks not:

He may or may not stay on after the election, if Labour wins, but it is hard to see him running the back office in government.

Maybe what Labour have done is bring McCarten in as the de facto campaign manager, but in a taxpayer funded role (as they have so little money). So McCarten may be 90% working on the campaign, and they'll just have a deputy chief of staff do the back office . That may work, but it is a risk.

The real risk for Labour is the signal it sends that they are heading towards the far left. Matt left Labour because it was not left wing enough and with Jim Anderton set up the Alliance. He then left the Alliance because under Anderton it was not left wing enough and ended up in Mana – a party that gained 1.1% of the vote in the last election.

John Armstrong notes:

He has been brought on board to inject much-needed pre-election urgency, fresh thinking and attention-grabbing strategic audacity into a party whose political reflexes and energy – with the exception of Shane Jones – are on a par with a sloth on tranquillisers.


McCarten's campaign skills should help draw voters back to Labour in its metropolitan strongholds. The real test is whether his input can break National's stranglehold on provincial New Zealand, as well as broaden Labour's appeal among lower middle, middle and upper middle income earners.

Given the country's present conservative disposition, the initial impact may be the reverse. Regardless, winning over those voters to Labour's cause is likely to require him to compromise personal beliefs, something that has not been part of the McCarten fabric.


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