Is Cunliffe the answer after all?
Is Cunliffe the answer after all? Politics being what it is, the next leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition may not be chosen on the basis of a clear-sighted, altruistic assessment of which contender would be best for the party, and the nation.
The usual personal grudges and tribal affiliations will come into play, and the best hope is that these cancel each other out, somewhat.
Grant Robertson was the first to declare his hand, amid early assumptions that David Cunliffe would be Robertson’s only genuine opponent, with Shane Jones as a sideshow and spoiler.
It is a measure of David Shearer’s isolation that no loyalist residue of a Shearer faction has had to be taken into consideration.
From the outset, Shearer looked like an afterthought chosen for the job by the old guard (Trevor Mallard, Phil Goff, Annette King etc) after their first preference, David Parker, pulled out.
Shearer’s faults – his inexperience, his awkward presentational style – were rationalised into being advantages, as an unpolished contrast to Prime Minister John Key.
Shearer tried his best. The problem was that he made even his Ordinary Bloke persona look like hard work, especially when compared to the ‘‘at ease in his own skin’’ style of his millionaire opponent.
Shearer wasn’t a political animal.
If he was, he might have grabbed for the results of the last Roy Morgan poll, which showed National losing ground and the combined Labour/ Greens vote exceeding the support for the centre right.
In the end, Shearer decided it was too little too late, especially in light of the hammering he received in the House from Key during the final stages of the GCSB Bill.
Labour will be choosing its leader under selection rules that divide the relevant votes on a 40/40/20 basis between the caucus, the party and affiliated unions. As with the advent of MMP, these new rules were a byproduct of a dark history of division and abuse of power.
Shearer, for example, became leader in the wake of a consultation with unions and branch meetings at which anecdotally, Cunliffe emerged as the clear preference – only for this to be ignored by the caucus old guard.
Obviously, the rule changes mean that an Anyone But Cunliffe attitude in caucus will be less able to skew the outcome.
Unfortunately for Labour, the voting results could also starkly expose any split between a party that prefers Cunliffe and a caucus majority likely on past patterns, to support Robertson.
At time of writing, Cunliffe had not announced his candidacy.
At the very least, it must have crossed his mind whether the Shearer/Robertson team and their caucus supporters should be left to carry the can for this entire term, thereby enabling him to inherit a more united caucus in the wake of a 2014 defeat.
Potentially, the unions have a mediating role to play.
Above all else though, the unions need Labour to win the next election. For all Cunliffe’s flaws – and his fabled egotism has been brought under control in recent years – only the diehards in the Labour caucus could fail to see that while Robertson and Cunliffe are both excellent public speakers, Cunliffe has been better able in the House to score hits on the government front bench.
For Labour there are no riskfree options, whether it be Robertson or Cunliffe.