The Dim-Post

November 21, 2012

Come at the King you best not miss watch

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:17 am

The canonical ‘but what did David Cunliffe do wrong?’ posts have been from Brian Edwards, but they’ve also popped up on The Standard and various other sites. I don’t know how genuine the bewilderment is, but briefly, all politicians – even senior Labour MPs – know that the public won’t tolerate open factional infighting in a political party. We know from history and our own life experience that organisations consumed by infighting are highly dysfunctional and we won’t trust them with government. (If I have a legacy, let it be Mclauchlan’s First Law of Politics: People don’t want idiots running their county.)

That’s why the media jump all over alleged coup attempts and rumours of war. And it’s why politicians bend over backwards to give the illusion that there is no factionalism within their party. So when a senior caucus member refuses to rule out a coup, it’s a big deal. It’s Doing Something Wrong. It’s kind of like your wife or husband asking you if you plan to cheat on them in three months time. You can give all sorts of cute answers like: ‘I haven’t made a decision on that matter yet,’ or ‘That is not the current subject under discussion.’ But really, any answer other than ‘No’ is unacceptable.

So Shearer had no choice but to demote Cunliffe. The press gallery love it when politicians fight in public and sack each other, so we’ll probably hear lots of giddy squealing about how Shearer is ‘tough’, and that he’s finally showing his leadership qualities. But being forced to sack your top-performing MP from your under-performing front-bench is not a great development for an opposition leader. Shearer isn’t being tough, he took the only option available to him because he’s spent the last year making poor choices, which provoked this coup. He’s cauterised a self-inflicted wound.

He does seem to be turning his public appearances around, at least over the past few days – he’s now well briefed by his staff when he speaks (I guess we’ll hear about how we’re now seeing ‘the real Shearer’). So who knows – maybe this will be a turning point for him. But as usual I remain cautiously pessimistic.

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30 Comments »

  1. Meanwhile some at the Stranded, others like Mickey Savage and Mr Edwards are trying valiantly to hide the dirty washing by calling for loyalty and unity now the matter is supposedly resolved. Well at least for now until February. Even by restarting trying to gain traction on their common arch-enemy, the nice Mr Key. Smacks of utter desperation in as you put it ‘an under performing front-bench’.

    Comment by pmofnz — November 21, 2012 @ 8:28 am

  2. “He does seem to be turning his public appearances around, at least over the past few days ”
    Except when he appeared on TV last night to announce the demotion and his 100% support he got the date for next Febuary vote wrong
    Mr Mumble-mumble strikes again

    Comment by Raymond Francis — November 21, 2012 @ 8:51 am

  3. I disagree with most of what you’re saying here Danyl. Media don’t jump on infights because the public won’t tolerate it, they do it because it makes dramatic news. News in which they themselves become part of the news, since they are the means of stirring up trouble.

    Cunliffe is not married to Shearer, and even if he was, a wife asking a husband if they’re going to cheat may have good reasons to wonder why, perhaps their marriage is on the rocks. Perhaps he wants her to change her ways, which is why he’s non-committal. So “No” is not the only acceptable answer, not at all. It could easily be caveated with “Maybe, if you lay off the bottle, stop criticizing me in public, and get your mother to move out”. But it’s a fuxored analogy, marriage is a lifelong choice by the very construction.

    Shearer DID have a choice. There were dozens of other things he could have done. The question is whether it was the right choice. I guess we’ll see soon enough.

    That said, I’m less bitter on Shearer than I was last week. The policy announcements are promising, and I think this coup beat-up shit is happening because the party is divided internally. Which is probably why they’re started to come out with policy that isn’t National-lite.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — November 21, 2012 @ 9:19 am

  4. I don’t see what choice Shearer had. With the lead up speculation, blogs etc it was quite clear Cunliffe was making a play for it. If he hadn’t done anything the media would jump all over him for being weak. Damned if you do damned if you don’t stuff.

    Comment by max — November 21, 2012 @ 9:25 am

  5. If I have a legacy, let it be Mclauchlan’s First Law of Politics: People don’t want idiots running their county.

    Yet citizen’s voting behavior often results in exactly that.

    Comment by Gregor W — November 21, 2012 @ 9:27 am

  6. >Damned if you do damned if you don’t stuff.

    Yes, although in that situation you really are free to choose. If you’re damned either way, then no decision is forced.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — November 21, 2012 @ 9:28 am

  7. Problem is, Cunliffe is still there. He doesn’t have to do anything except speak in coherent sentences (or not even speak at all), and he’ll be called a leadership rival.

    Shearer can’t make Cunliffe go away, he can only make speculation go away, by being very good at his job. That’s the hard part, because he isn’t.

    Comment by sammy 2.0 — November 21, 2012 @ 9:37 am

  8. Didn’t you say that Goff was going to be Key’s nightmare? And then when Shearer was elected you were ecstatic with optimism? Forgive me if my faith in your Leader predictions/knowledge is low.

    Comment by David C — November 21, 2012 @ 9:40 am

  9. cautiously pessimistic

    i wuv u

    Comment by petronious — November 21, 2012 @ 10:07 am

  10. Yes, no doubt we will hear about how Shearer is tough and has ‘changed’. The problem is that Cunliffe doesn’t rule out anything. He doesn’t abide by your law because he’s used to being prepared for anything. Judging by his reaction to being demoted, he has some information that he will be using early next year. It will be damaging to the party and he may well leave politics.

    Comment by Dan — November 21, 2012 @ 10:10 am

  11. I’ve thought for sometime that the centre-left today lacks the sort of issues that once binded its disparate components.

    These days for most people it’s about the economy and in reality the issues there are complex and any govt has restricted tools at its disposal to make changes.

    Comment by NeilM — November 21, 2012 @ 10:30 am

  12. @NeilM, I don’t know about that, I think the issue of true fairness between younger people saddled with student loans etc and people sick of seeing corporate welfare when they’re struggling is ripe for exploitation, if they could just construct a decent narrative around it – and not announce policies designed to split the group who could be united by such things by exploiting their desire to own a house.

    Occupy in particular showed (and continues to around the world) that there’s some latent feelings of unfairness there about the ladder being pulled up, of course this won’t win the baby boomer votes…

    Comment by Chris Bull — November 21, 2012 @ 11:28 am

  13. “Judging by his reaction to being demoted, he has some information that he will be using early next year. It will be damaging to the party and he may well leave politics.”

    And he will look aweosme in doing so. Like Chris Carter.

    Comment by max — November 21, 2012 @ 11:54 am

  14. Cunliffe did not have to say if he would support Shearer in Feb,it is a ‘secret’ vote,for god sake.
    He told the chasing media scrum that he supported Shearer for now,what the hell can anyone
    expect ? Shearer has shown himself to be a total loss as leader,just imagine him up against
    Key in the 2014 election debate,he will be trounced and take Labour to yet another loss by
    an incapable leader,the members voted for 40/40/20 split in deciding who the leader will be
    this is the members wish at the conference and should be honoured by those politicians
    who have spent 30yr or so at the trough,if you dont like it leave parliament, resign,that will
    be the best outcome for the left of labour,because the right in labour are clinging on for
    grim death,they will get a handsome payout from taxpayers for the rest of their natual life
    so money wont be an issue.

    Comment by anne — November 21, 2012 @ 1:25 pm

  15. “Shearer has shown himself to be a total loss as leader,just imagine him up against
    Key in the 2014 election debate,he will be trounced and take Labour to yet another loss by
    an incapable leader,”

    Don Brash came within a whisker of winning and he was a rubbish debater

    Comment by max — November 21, 2012 @ 1:33 pm

  16. Yes, I see where you are coming from Danyl, but at the conference you could not walk out the door without spotting Patrick Gower hunting Cunliffe down, it was weird. Hi looked like he was on some sort of amphetamine. He was absolutely obsessed with David Cunliffe. My question is, how should David Cunliffe have extricated himself out of the situation?

    Lets look at this from Cunliffe’s point of view, he just watched the members fight an awesome debate, lets be honest, on his behalf for 40% trigger vote in February. Then overlay that with your comment (Shearer has) “spent the last year making poor choices”. Well we all think that, Shearer is hopeless and John Key will already be beside himself that he will be facing Shearer in the 2014 debates.

    Cunliffe is a very clever man, but even a person with 5% of his intellect would have calculated that a Leadership change was on the cards in February. Cunliffe is a committed Labour man and given Shearers performance and as many commentators have pointed out, the Labour front bench are under performing, the best thing for Labour would be a coup. Cunliffe has the brains and leadership to sort the caucus out.

    So with a crazy looking Paddy Gower honing down on him what was he meant to say??? Was he meant to Lie? Was he meant to say the I commit to David Shearer now and February? Then in February the media would have been in a frenzy about him breaking his promise.

    I don’t think Cunliffe had any way out of this, he was trapped. Probably set up by a crazy, psycho looking Paddy Gower, egged on by the biggest flop in Parliament, Trevor Mallard.

    My view is that the members are a great bunch of caring, clever and passionate people but there is a huge disconnect between the members and the caucus. This caucus are turned on by game playing and showing how clever their petulant little games are. This caucus are never going to win in 2014, because as you stated in your 1st Law of Politics:People don’t want idiots running their county (Mallard, Hipkins, etc).

    The only way that Labour will be saved is if the Cunliffe team can make the trigger and members make sure that they take back the party, I wont be voting Labour until the IDIOTS are sorted out, who would?

    Comment by Paul — November 21, 2012 @ 3:46 pm

  17. >Was he meant to Lie?

    Yes. I’m not entirely sure why he didn’t. Makes me think he’s either got something up his sleeve, or his political nous is ironically nothing like what’s attributed to him.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — November 21, 2012 @ 4:42 pm

  18. For the record Cunliffe did not endorse Shearer’s leadership until Monday. Well after the conference had ended.

    And for those who are suggesting the media conspired to get rid of David Cunliffe – really? The story was done because there was a story to follow. The responsibility for there being a story rests solely with Labour, not with the fourth estate.

    Speaking for myself I don’t care who leads the Labour Party. But if elements within the party choose to make it an issue then I’ll be writing stories about it.

    Comment by Felix Marwick (@felixmarwick) — November 21, 2012 @ 5:13 pm

  19. What I really want to see is Patrick Gower walking up to Mallard and asking, on camera:

    “So, Trevor, how did Helen Clark become leader of the Labour Party? And how did Mike Moore feel about that?”

    2nd Law of politics: you mustn’t “white ant” or “plot” or be “disloyal”, unless you win. Then it’s all good.

    Comment by sammy 2.0 — November 21, 2012 @ 5:22 pm

  20. He could at least said “I’m fully behind David Shearer” without mentioning February and then when pestered by Gower for a follow-up, reiterated the statement and made no further comment.

    It’s was perfect time to say more by saying less and he blew it.

    Comment by Gregor W — November 21, 2012 @ 5:24 pm

  21. 19.He could at least said “I’m fully behind David Shearer” without mentioning February and then when pestered by Gower for a follow-up, reiterated the statement and made no further comment.

    Here’s one I thought of, right off the top of my head without any media training whatsoever: “The caucus are united behind David Shearer, and fully committed to winning the 2014 election.”

    Comment by Phil — November 21, 2012 @ 5:41 pm

  22. Was he meant to Lie?

    dissimulate at least, there’s a reason the main British political parties go through the Kabuki of a stalking horse.

    @Chris Bull, the Greens have an easier time partly because their brand is clear and they can rally round “save the planet” rhetoric fairly easily. Labour have it lot harder with broader social equity issues because they’re harder problems to deal with. If hey were easy then Clark and Cullen would have solved all our problems.

    I still sense though that Labour, to get votes, is trying to convince the electorate that the problems are simple and have simple solutions which aren’t being implemented because the Nats are evil adherents to neo-liberalism. Which I think is simplistic and hasn’t got much traction with the electorate so far.

    Comment by NeilM — November 21, 2012 @ 6:31 pm

  23. You mean that policy vacuum thingy that Labour have trouble with Neil?

    As an observation I suspect half of Labours problem is that after a decade of rule by the Iron Lady and Cullie they are now left without senior members with initiative, beyond the one horse wonder bully boys & girls like Mallard and King. Goffs just ineffective as a strong leader. So we have the modern NZ Labour party, a mad house of competing factions.

    Succession planning anyone….Mike?

    Comment by Tim — November 21, 2012 @ 6:44 pm

  24. It’s easy to forget that we had the same problem with National when Labour was in power. No matter what Bill English did, and he did make an effort to appeal to a wide range of voters, he still couldn’t seem to do anything right.

    Comment by Dan — November 21, 2012 @ 7:53 pm

  25. Cunliffe, and others, desire top LP job.

    So what?

    Come March 2013 things will have been sorted.

    All the ranting/pontificating on various blogs will not alter that.

    What is clear is that this conference has finally put the LP caucus in its place.

    Hence the drama.

    Roll on March 2013!

    Comment by peterlepaysan — November 21, 2012 @ 11:01 pm

  26. “Didn’t you say that Goff was going to be Key’s nightmare? And then when Shearer was elected you were ecstatic with optimism? Forgive me if my faith in your Leader predictions/knowledge is low.”

    Come on now, issuing a different basic rule of politics every six months is a blogger’s prerogative.

    Comment by Hugh — November 22, 2012 @ 3:35 am

  27. Demoting Cunliffe may not be a solution to the challenge he represents in and of itself, but it is probably a prerequisite to solving the challenge.

    Comment by Hugh — November 22, 2012 @ 3:37 am

  28. So basically the unwritten procedure of the Labour party is:
    – party loses election
    – incumbent leader resigns
    – another white guy gets elected
    – new leader draws salary and car for three years
    – party loses election
    … etc.

    Challenging this process mid-term and suggesting that maybe the leader isn’t working out isn’t democracy, it’s a disloyal coup and any MPs involved in this will be demoted, if not expelled.

    Comment by richdrich — November 22, 2012 @ 11:37 am

  29. @richdrich – you f*kn traitor how dare you suggest The Party has issues.

    Comment by Tim — November 22, 2012 @ 8:25 pm

  30. So Labour really want to keep their mumblebum leader with all the charisma of a wet singlet and really don’t want an articulate, feisty, experienced politician with balls. Makes no sense to me. Unless Labour really DON’T WANT to be in power any time before 2017. Can’t handle the jandal over water rights?

    Comment by Scintilla — November 22, 2012 @ 9:52 pm


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