The Dim-Post

April 26, 2012

Strategy and tactics

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 10:50 am

This Herald article gives an insight into the strategic thinking behind David Shearer’s first four months as Labour leader:

Mr Nash and, to a lesser extent, John Pagani – another of Mr Shearer’s advisers – are understood to have disagreed with his chief press secretary, Fran Mold, about the extent to which Mr Shearer should lead attacks on the Government rather than refuse to be drawn into oppositional politics.

Mr Nash is believed to have been keen for Mr Shearer to focus on building up his “non-politician” image, focusing on being optimistic rather than engaging with National.

And how’s that non-political politician, non oppositional opposition leader approach working out?

A Roy Morgan poll at the weekend boosted National to 49.5 per cent, up 5.5 on last month.

The results show Mr Shearer has made little headway.

Rumblings over splits in his backroom team and speculation on a Left-wing blog left deputy Grant Robertson denying he was preparing to mount a challenge.

Mr Shearer said the poll results were “sort of surprising”.

Not really.

My sentiments over the past few months, informed by chats with those few Labour staffers/members who still talk to me have been (a) excitement when Shearer became leader (b) apprehension when he appointed Nash as his Chief of Staff – you want the CoS to lead you into the next election, not leave six months out from it to go run for office himself (c) appalled stupification when he re-appointed Pagani, who (fairly or unfairly) seems to be regarded as the architect of Goff’s worst blunders (d) deflation when it became apparent that Shearer didn’t have any sense of direction and (e) resignation that Shearer isn’t working, became leader far too soon, and that there will be a leadership coup, but that the caucus isn’t ready for it yet so short of a crisis there will be another six months of drift.

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45 Comments »

  1. I just cannot see Grant Robertson as a leader, and as a prime minister is unimaginable. There may be unhappiness with Shearer, but Robertson simply cannot be the solution. The man has no presence or charisma.

    Comment by DT — April 26, 2012 @ 11:04 am

  2. How’s that reboot of the Labour Party organisational structure going? And when will they ditch the Blair Third Way focus group policy by bingo strategy?

    Comment by Will de Cleene — April 26, 2012 @ 11:08 am

  3. Maybe Shearer would be an excellent PM, but he’s a totally useless Leader of the Opposition – the qualities needed are different. Is it Nash’s fault for wanting him to wander round the country and be “optimistic” and “non-oppositional” ? Dunno but it’s not working and I can’t see how this change is going to help. The Leader of the Opposition needs to have a bit of mongrel, be able to attack and score points – Shearer has hardly been a star in these areas, and is totally useless in the House. He’s a nice guy, and smart, but I am sure he won’t be leading Labour into the next election.

    Comment by Michael S — April 26, 2012 @ 11:10 am

  4. Anyone who heard Josie Pagani on nine to noon Monday can only despair further. Her arguments (or more accurately excuses), given she is the wife of John Pagani, have to be taken as accurately reflecting the thinking of Shearer’s top advisors. Like the obstinate juror who has never come across twelve such unreasonable people in her life, she seemed convinced problem lies with everyone else. There is nothing wrong with the leader (or, by extension, the advisors he has – funny that) it is the party membership which is obstinately refusing to change. It isn’t Shearer’s advisors who are holding labour back, it is an unholy alliance of bloggers left and right. Shearer is getting best of class ideas, it is just the unreconstructed membership of the Labour party that can’t see that insisting the party remains a left of centre social democratic Labour party is entirely unreasonable. Worst of all, she appeared to actually believe the nonsensical bullshit she was burbling, despite the skepticism of both Kathryn Ryan (a very experienced political journalist) and Hooten.

    Her excuses for labour’s poor performance were equally pathetic. According to her, people are not yet of a mind to change. Somehow, some sort of seminal event will magically occur and shift sentiment away from the government. Her arguments are typical of those of non-performers, who hide behind the need for long-term strategies as an excuse for failure.

    So there you have it. At the highest level of its leadership, Labour has employed as advisors delusional fantasists who hope magic will somehow save them.

    Comment by Sanctuary — April 26, 2012 @ 11:49 am

  5. I thought the whole damn story was completely undermined by Claire Trevett quoting Irish Bill from the Stranded (IB wasn’t even in speech marks indicating it wasn’t his real name). What is the media coming to quoting anonymous blog comments as some form of authority? Next week’s headline: “the Revolution is coming! says Sanctuary on Dimpost”, the follwing week, mass redundancies for NZ HErald journos as Trade Me forums become the news.

    Comment by insider — April 26, 2012 @ 11:57 am

  6. @Insider: “What is the media coming to quoting anonymous blog comments as some form of authority?”

    I think that horse bolted when Whaleoil (sorry, sorry “Cameron Slater”) became a “legitimate news source”.

    Less snarkily, aren’t we just seeing a convergence of “new” and “old” media? Would it be better if the Herald, et al just ignored what “the blogosphere” is saying (despite the fact that “the blogosphere” increasingly is the way that politically minded individuals chat amongst themseleves)? Or should it just steal shamelessly from bloggers without attribution (as has happened in the past)?

    Also, in the context of the story, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to note that one of The Standard’s long term and frequent contributors also is speculating that Shearer is toast … given the makeup of The Standard’s readership.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — April 26, 2012 @ 12:09 pm

  7. @Sanctuary – it was pointed out a while ago, here I think, that the thing that lost Labour the last election wasn’t necessarily a surge in National’s popularity, but a huge increase in the number of people that didn’t vote for anyone, specifically Labour. I didn’t hear the 9 to noon bit, but the sort of thinking that says the electorate has to change to align with the new leadership, I have to say baffled and continues to baffle me. It’s that sort of thinking that causes people not to vote for a party because … the party doesn’t represent them anymore. sigh.

    Comment by Ben — April 26, 2012 @ 12:13 pm

  8. journalists going to the Standard re the health of the Labour Party says a lot about the health of the Labour Party.

    Comment by NeilM — April 26, 2012 @ 12:20 pm

  9. @ Andrew

    I know I’m fighting a losing game expecting some standards from politcal reporters but someone has to keep keeping the faith.

    I have no problem with blogs being quoted when the people are identifiable and/or what they are saying is verifiable. Cameron Slater has been open about who he is and he is usually only newsworthy when he has documentation. No Right Turn occassionally gets coverage for his OIA exposes. Danyl even got on radio. But a blogger just having an opinion is not newsworthy.

    ‘Irish Bill’ is not identified, nothing indicates he is anything more than ‘a contributor’ to TS (well so am I) so how his whinging is different from any other punter’s is hard to determine, and we all know that the Standard is not a Labour blog ( ;-) ), so the comment’s relevance is questionable. NB if Greg Presland was the person saying it, it would have been a very quoteable quote given his Labour Party role.

    Trevett will get her comeuppance though. Lynne Prentice will put on his angry face and she will find herself banned for a week for aligning TS with Labour. We all of course know that the Stnadard is a machine, and its authors are all compeletely independent.

    Comment by insider — April 26, 2012 @ 1:32 pm

  10. I don’t think one should presume Josie and John Pagani speak for each other or even think the same on issues. That is insulting to Josie.

    Andrew G: Cameron is a known actual person, and so if he is quoted people can judge those comments on the basis of what they know about him. Hard to do the same with an alias.

    On Grant R, I do think he has a degree of charisma. I would not under-estimate him.

    As for David Shearer, I agree with Danyl that any change in the next six months is unlikely.

    Comment by dpf — April 26, 2012 @ 1:32 pm

  11. I don’t think one should presume Josie and John Pagani speak for each other or even think the same on issues. That is insulting to Josie.

    Shit, you’re right David.

    I mean, it’s inconceivable that a party “strategist” and flack married to another flack and aspiring MP of the same party, would have the same opinion on issues affecting said party.

    Absurd!

    Comment by Gregor W — April 26, 2012 @ 1:45 pm

  12. “…don’t think one should presume Josie and John Pagani speak for each other or even think the same on issues. That is insulting to Josie….”

    Josie Pagani is hardly likely to articulate a view 100% at odds with her husband. If she goes onto to nine to noon and mounts a vigorous defense of plainly idiotic ideas I suppose one could imagine the same stupidity has been invented twice independently in the same same house house, but I doubt it. One could discover if her views differ from her husbands in any substantive way by asking John Pagani, but I note he can’t even be bothered with the pretense of maintaining an internet presence anymore, presumably finding the heat in that kitchen a bit to much for plans that are anyway so awesome he feels doesn’t have to defend them.

    Comment by Sanctuary — April 26, 2012 @ 1:50 pm

  13. Lynne Prentice will put on his angry face…

    his idea of “moderaton’ is to waddle into a conversation, drop his nappies, shove his thumb up his arse and cry “look what you made me do – that’ll serve you right for wasting my time”.

    It’s difficult to judge why Shearer and Labour aren’t getting any traction with the general public. My guess is that most people are focused on the economy and there’s consensus that were in trouble, have been for sometime and it’s not going to be easy getting out. So magic wand solutions from the oppoistion just don’t wash like they used to.

    For me, Shearer promised a new look and hasn’t delivered so I doubt there’ll be any form of centre-left coalition I can vote for any time soon.

    Comment by NeilM — April 26, 2012 @ 1:56 pm

  14. I think Labour are trying the ‘anti-politician’ thing, because it seemed to work for Don Brash and John Key. The catch is that what really worked for them was being the anti-helen-clark. What is needed now is the anti-John-Key, which would be a person with long experience who is perceived as being driven by ideals and an aversion to doing deals. The only New Zealand political figure I can think of who really fits that image is Jeanette Fitzsimons, and she is no longer in parliament.

    Comment by kahikatea — April 26, 2012 @ 2:14 pm

  15. I got 99 problems with anonymous sourcing….

    Seriously.

    “sources close to the negotiations” is far more problematic, let alone “rumours are flying”.

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — April 26, 2012 @ 2:20 pm

  16. “Maybe Shearer would be an excellent PM, but he’s a totally useless Leader of the Opposition”

    They said the same thing about Helen Clark.

    Not that I necessarily think Shearer is going to be a politician whose success is comparable to Clark’s, but it’s very easy to overemphasise the importance of any given indicator.

    Comment by Hugh — April 26, 2012 @ 2:21 pm

  17. “The only New Zealand political figure I can think of who really fits that image is Jeanette Fitzsimons, and she is no longer in parliament.”

    What about [the leader of whichever party I voted for in the last election] because [asinine reason]?

    Comment by Hugh — April 26, 2012 @ 2:23 pm

  18. I think Cunliffe would’ve ticked some of the “clearly not john key” boxes – reminds me of Bartlett vs Richie… – but whether or not everyday people (i.e. people who are clearly not like me because they don’t like David Cunliffe) would go for it is left to the gods…

    Comment by Chris Bull — April 26, 2012 @ 2:29 pm

  19. Its is also approximated 2 1/2 years until the enxt election. I realise they haven’t got the traction that Don Brash had with Orewa, but really that was a cynical race card playing stunt (that somehow worked).

    Comment by max — April 26, 2012 @ 3:26 pm

  20. I feel sorry for Shearer, and Nash, who are being tarred and feathered by the factions of the Labour movement that never wanted them and were never going to give a full term to build an opposition that was not a negative PR, union based class warfare driven entity. Well done Team Labour you’ve just recreated the old Labour that lost everything.

    Comment by merv — April 26, 2012 @ 3:30 pm

  21. I have no problem with Shearer “focusing on being optimistic”. As a Labour voter, I just want him to be coherently optimistic.

    Hate to admit it, but Hooten (Nine to Noon) was spot on. Shearer doesn’t cut through because he sounds like he doesn’t know what he’s meant to be saying. He was brilliant on “Would I lie to you?”, and hopeless on “The Nation”. Unfortunately, the latter is the day job.

    Key is also linguistically-challenged, but he became leader after 7 years in opposition, not 3. The tide had already turned … whereas Shearer is trying to turn it.

    Comment by sammy 2.0 — April 26, 2012 @ 3:35 pm

  22. @ sanc

    Just listened to the Pagani on NatRad.

    What baffled me was her insistence that one one hand, the factional battles within the NZLP are not ideological but personal and yet perversely, the sensible strategy is for Shearer to get out there and continue to engage in a “contest of the ideas” with the electorate rather than get his own house in order.

    It seems that the NZLP strategy dream team have forgotten that elections are won by 2 years and 9 months of mongrel attack politics and 3 months of policy campaigning.

    Monkeys.

    Comment by Gregor W — April 26, 2012 @ 3:38 pm

  23. Or Gregor, by shear good luck at being in the right place at the right time when the political pendulum swings the other way.

    Comment by merv — April 26, 2012 @ 3:52 pm

  24. ” but really that was a cynical race card playing stunt (that somehow worked).”

    It’s fascinating to me that the Orewa speech remains both a touchstone of political rhetoric and yet an utterly inexplicable event.

    Comment by Hugh — April 26, 2012 @ 3:54 pm

  25. “It’s fascinating to me that the Orewa speech remains both a touchstone of political rhetoric and yet an utterly inexplicable event.”

    Especially seeing there was nothing particulalry new in what he was saying. English made a very similar speech to the conference as leader a few months before, http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=3512357

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — April 26, 2012 @ 4:06 pm

  26. “Labour leader David Shearer has… Alastair Cameron as his new chief of staff”
    Wow, he’s really taking that Blairite Third Way thing a bit far isn’t he?

    Comment by garygoodguy — April 26, 2012 @ 4:25 pm

  27. So they are still going for the old “out Key, John Key” strategy eh? The same one that was such a raging success at the last election.

    Comment by TB — April 26, 2012 @ 5:00 pm

  28. @insider/dpf

    Here’s what actually was said in the article: “Most of it that [speculation about Shearer's leadership and the ambition of his deputy] is driven by right-wing blogs, such as Cam Slater’s Whale Oil blog in which he has wondered whether Mr Cameron’s appointment was driven by Mr Robertson filling key positions with his loyalists.

    Mr Robertson has dismissed the speculation, but it has spread to others, including the left-wing blog the Standard.

    Contributor Irish Bill observed that it was no secret Mr Robertson wanted the job and, although he hoped he was wrong, “it’s starting to feel like a leadership challenge is inevitable”.”

    This seems to me to be a perfectly OK citing of a nom-de-web. All Trevett is saying is “there is chatter in the blogosphere … from those you may expect to be trying to stir up trouble, but also in places you’d expect to be more supportive of Shearer.” So, once again, what would you have the “mainstream media” do – just pretend the blogosphere doesn’t exist (unless, of course, the author gives themselves a name like “Cameron Slater”, in which case it’s a fertile seam to mine because, of course, the average punter out in punter land knows EXACTLY how much credibility to assign that source)?

    Comment by Grassed Up — April 26, 2012 @ 5:53 pm

  29. Totally worrying if NZ Labour Party is admiring British “Bliar” Blair when he’s been discarded and derided in UK .. well when I was around there 2005-2008 anyway – with a lot going on politics- and values- wise. Great Telly viewing times.

    Comment by animalspirit — April 26, 2012 @ 6:12 pm

  30. This is good for Phil Goff….

    Comment by statlerandwaldorffromthebalcony — April 26, 2012 @ 8:20 pm

  31. f*&king wordpress and avatar nonsense…

    Sorry all.

    Comment by andy (the other one) — April 26, 2012 @ 8:21 pm

  32. It seems that the NZLP strategy dream team have forgotten that elections are won by 2 years and 9 months of mongrel attack politics and 3 months of policy campaigning.

    it took National 9 years to win with those tactics and the way Labour have shed MPs it may take longer for them.

    Apart from it not working, personally, I find the mongel approach really off-putting. Maybe that’s because not only have they applied that to National but they’ve also applied that tio anyone with leftish sympathies who have dared suggest there might be a better way than speeches about Nationhood. Maybe it’s the feeling that Labour could have taken inspiration from Obama back in 2008 and turned away from blind partisan aggression.

    Comment by NeilM — April 26, 2012 @ 8:23 pm

  33. The answer for Labour is simple: David Cunliffe. Thats why every right wing blog/politician/supporter (boag, hooten, farrar…) were stating that Shearer would make a “fantastic new labour leader”. I never saw even ONE right wing blogger/politician/supporter suggest Cunliffe. Cunliffe cleans up when debating against english, key, joyce…I have never seen any National politician get the better of him. The worry is why the labour caucus made what is turning out to be a seriously bad judgement…

    Comment by saarbo — April 26, 2012 @ 10:46 pm

  34. @Gregor W – I am seriously worried that she seems to think the problem with Labour is that it is Labour, and if it just became more National everything would be hunky dory. I do wonder why people like Josie Pagani are even in the Labour party when it appears they have no serious socialist convictions. I suspect she sees the party primarily as a vehicle for her career rather than an institution whose raison d’être is to gain political power in order to enact socialist and social democratic policies. Certainly, her patronising attitude to those who don’t see the awesomeness of the current Labour party strategy team makes closer in tone to Maggie Barry than anyone on the left on NZ politics.

    Comment by Sanctuary — April 27, 2012 @ 8:08 am

  35. @ saarbo +1

    “The answer for Labour is simple: David Cunliffe. Thats why every right wing blog/politician/supporter (boag, hooten, farrar…) were stating that Shearer would make a “fantastic new
    labour leader”. I never saw even ONE right wing blogger/politician/supporter suggest Cunliffe. ”

    Exactly and I was also perturbed by Jane Clifton’s claim in her Listener column that Cunliffe, not Shearer, was Helen’s pick. Our Helen prefers the so-called millionaire King of Herne Bay, to the splendid humanitarian who flew home as the anointed prince. *Sure.*

    They picked the wrong guy. That simple. Key’s ploy of a grand, rugby run-up to the election succeeded in putting everyone “on hold”. Distraction – a perennial tactic that still keeps on working. Amazing. In fact, some folks went to sleep for the election and didn’t bother to vote at all. Distraction got the Nats back in, but it feels like the national consciousness has awoken in a grumpy mood.

    Now is not the time for a thoughtful, consensus-building, Mr Nice.

    Comment by Kerry — April 27, 2012 @ 11:33 am

  36. Continue with the factional internecine warfare is what you’re saying then Kerry.

    Comment by merv — April 27, 2012 @ 12:55 pm

  37. @ NeilM

    it took National 9 years to win with those tactics and the way Labour have shed MPs it may take longer for them.

    In some ways the situation is comparative.
    The Nats were in disarray after ’99. English was as equally ineffectual as Shearer and lead them to further disaster in ’02 up against a tightly managed NZLP.

    However, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that English had much mongrel in him.
    Neither did ‘Gentleman Don’ and for that matter; neither does Key if you were to look at his performances in the House. What he does have is good branding.

    Apart from it not working, personally, I find the mongel approach really off-putting.

    So I disagree that it doesn’t work.
    The Nats were rubbish at it when up against the calibre of Clark and Cullen (and dare I say it Mallard).
    The got out-mongreled on almost every issue during their time in the cold. They were weak and divided (until ’03) like the Labour Party of today.

    So while going pitbull on the Government might be distasteful, it’s the bloody opposition’s job!
    At the moment, National is the gift that keeps on giving; perceptions of corruption, the PM wheeling and dealing like a sideshow barker.
    But still, Labour can’t make the shit stick and are ceding the ground to NZF and the Greens who are attacking the Govt on almost every issue.
    As evidenced by Pagani the strategy team seem to be more interested in lotus eating.

    It’s landing hits, making the cabinet squirm, forcing them to respond with soundbites that can be ridiculed, and generally, making it blindingly obvious to the public on a daily basis how venal and incompetent this Government is that counts.

    It’s the death of 1000 cuts that wins an election, not the soul searching.

    Comment by Gregor W — April 27, 2012 @ 3:22 pm

  38. Labour should have made Mallard leader in ’08: they’d have lost the election, but they’d be in much better shape now.

    Comment by Trouble Man — April 27, 2012 @ 4:07 pm

  39. Ancient political truism.

    Parties do not win power.

    Governments lose power.

    That is why oppositions oppose.

    Comment by peterlepaysan — April 27, 2012 @ 7:55 pm

  40. @36 merv

    Heh. Love a good stoush, myself – as long as it’s about the issues. Cunliffe’s a great debater and has the requisite presence to be Leader of the Opposition.

    Comment by Kerry — April 27, 2012 @ 8:24 pm

  41. It’s the death of 1000 cuts that wins an election, not the soul searching.

    you might be right.

    But here’s my little theory. National portrays itself and is generally seen as a party not of ideals, but of pragmatism. Labour on the other hand likes to think of itself as a pary of ideals. But these days no one believes that. Does any one believe that under Labour the Crafar farms wouldn’t have been sold to the Chinese?

    The Greens have become the party of ideals and Labour just looks like a wannbe NZF.

    Comment by NeilM — April 27, 2012 @ 11:06 pm

  42. Sadly, another factor working against Labour is the successful divide-and-rule exploitation of the latent inferiority complexes that emerge from a weakening middle class – the likely battleground for floating voters – it previously worked for Brash at Orewa Rotary. The kind of inferiority complex that blames the victim instead of the One Percenters, exhibits anger at seeing their incomes eroded to the level of those below them, and sour grapes towards the Ports of Auckland unions. It’s the same in other major Anglophone nations. To boot, a great deal of the non-voters stayed at home out of disillusionment and hopelessness.

    Robert Reich’s The Truth About The Economy video and Paul Graham’s Why Nerds Are Unpopular go some way of providing some background.

    There’s an emerging groundswell rising up against the Key/English/Joyce triumvirate, but it’s mostly been the Greens who’ve made hay from it. I also suspect Blairism is past its prime.

    Comment by deepred — April 28, 2012 @ 5:17 pm

  43. “The worry is why the labour caucus made what is turning out to be a seriously bad judgement…”

    I was both baffled and angry that they made the decision so fast. For that, I blame Goff, who needn’t have stood down immediately, but could have arranged for a longer, more consultative decision making process.

    The only good thing about it is that having done it so fast, they could do it again without having lost too much time. Makes me wonder if that was intentional :-)

    “Hate to admit it, but Hooten (Nine to Noon) was spot on. Shearer doesn’t cut through because he sounds like he doesn’t know what he’s meant to be saying.”

    Considering Hooton was calling Shearer “The next Labour Prime Minister” before the election, I’m wondering whether I distrust his opinion or his motivation more now.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — April 30, 2012 @ 2:25 am

  44. Considering Hooton was calling Shearer “The next Labour Prime Minister” before the election

    Hooten, like a lot of us on the right, were naively mistaken in assuming Labour would, like, you know, actually get behind their newly elected leader and support him.

    Comment by Phil — May 2, 2012 @ 6:11 pm

  45. Considering Hooton was calling Shearer “The next Labour Prime Minister” before the election, I’m wondering whether I distrust his opinion or his motivation more now.

    I’d assume that Hooton’s sentiments are similar to mine when I happen to spot next door’s amiable neutered tomcat happily sunning himself.

    Comment by Joe W — May 3, 2012 @ 9:48 am


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