The Dim-Post

September 10, 2013

Labour and combinatorial game theory

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:33 am

The title of Bryce’s round-up of the Labour leadership contest is ‘Labour’s leadership being decided by media pundits.’

It’s certainly true that some senior journalists are (or were, see below) campaigning on behalf of one of the candidates, but they’re not going to decide it. Many Labour Party members are aware (a) that David Shearer was heavily endorsed by political-media elites and that didn’t work out so great and (b) Paddy Gower and Duncan Garner do not have the interests of the Labour Party at heart. If anything, they’re probably damaging Jones’ popularity with the rank-and-file. (And being endorsed by a crackpot libertarian multi-millionaire property developer probably isn’t that helpful to Grant Robertson right about now.)

I keep seeing left-wing commentators claim that Garner et al are endorsing Shane Jones because he’s the most ‘neo-liberal’ candidate, and I think this gives them way too much credit. He’s their mate, and these are journalists who have been around for a long time and covered a lot of elections, and a general election with their blokey friend leading a major party and talking about his dick for six weeks would be completely brilliant from a jaded media standpoint.

(Besides, I suspect the pro-Jones TV3 campaign died the minute TV3’s executive’s read Fran O’Sullivan’s column and twigged to what their reporters were up to.)

My sense of how the leadership vote will play out is this: Cunliffe will win the majority of the primary membership votes and almost all of the secondary votes, and win the membership vote in a landslide. He also looks on track to win the majority of the union votes. The gallery are reporting that he has about 1/3rd of the caucus votes. I suspect that most – if not all – of the Shane Jones secondary caucus votes will go to Grant Robertson, who will carry the caucus with a sizable majority but still lose to Cunliffe.

That’s actually a pretty good outcome for Cunliffe. He gets to indulge in the post-victory bloodbath that he probably deserves, justifying it on the grounds that the caucus is out of touch with the party, the affiliates and the public.

It also creates an interesting dilemma for Labour’s sitting MPs. Imagine you’re Chris Hipkins (it isn’t hard to do). You’ve devoted your adult life to Labour Party politics, and under David Shearer you rose to become party whip. While occupying this position you made some very public comments attacking David Cunliffe, and now, in just under a week, Cunliffe will almost certainly become your party leader.

What to do? Should you make a last minute offer of friendship and support to him in exchange for an offer of clemency when the party rankings get handed out? Cunliffe’s supporters will get the portfolios, obviously. But they’re mostly losers, and he’ll need to bring some experienced professionals in to replace them as they crash and burn. Why not position oneself to be one of those replacements?

And yet, and yet. What if? The public polls might not be very meaningful. They survey voters, after all, not Labour members. What if the membership does favour Grant Robertson? What if he swings the unions at the last minute? If you betray your friend and he goes on to win, you’ll be a pariah. The situation is even worse if you’re a list MP.

Very tricky political decisions, currently being made by a group of people who haven’t shown themselves to be very adept at making tricky political decisions.

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49 Comments »

  1. Great post – I generally agree with it all.

    And, in terms of the title of my post, I had meant to change it to: ‘Labour leadership being influenced by media pundits’! I certainly don’t argue in that column that pundits are literally ‘deciding’ it.

    Comment by Bryce Edwards — September 10, 2013 @ 8:55 am

  2. This pretty much squares with how I see it. However, there’s another calculus, Robinson doesn’t look good in the public opinion polls. Do list MPs vote for the leader who will keep them on the list, or do they vote for the leader who will see more list members get elected?

    Comment by Bill Bennett — September 10, 2013 @ 9:15 am

  3. “…And yet, and yet. What if? The public polls might not be very meaningful. They survey voters, after all, not Labour members. What if the membership does favour Grant Robertson? What if he swings the unions at the last minute? If you betray your friend and he goes on to win, you’ll be a pariah. The situation is even worse if you’re a list MP…”

    Or, if you are Clare Curran, you wonder if you like vanilla icecream. Blessed be the life of the simple.

    Comment by Sanctuary — September 10, 2013 @ 9:17 am

  4. “He gets to indulge in the post-victory bloodbath that he probably deserves, justifying it on the grounds that the caucus is out of touch with the party, the affiliates and the public.”

    I love this line (and I hope it happens).

    Comment by geoff — September 10, 2013 @ 9:23 am

  5. Cunliffe’s supporters will get the portfolios, obviously. But they’re mostly losers, and he’ll need to bring some experienced professionals in to replace them as they crash and burn.

    This is going to be the most interesting aspect – how far will Cunliffe go in purging the front bench?
    This is a generational (regenerational?) opportunity for the NZLP but as you note, fraught with risk – particularly with terrorists like Mallard holding safe seats and showing no signs of voluntarily getting their noses out of the trough.

    Comment by Gregor W — September 10, 2013 @ 9:27 am

  6. R&F who like the blokey Jones are unlikely to give their second preference to Robertson, for reasons that dare not speak their name lest it moves Clare Curran to tweet from within the chardonnay fog. So his second preference will probably favour Cunliffe. That, alone, is game over for Robertson. And R&F “geldings” who like Robertson are unlikely to favour Jones as their second preference, for reasons to do with Jones’s obnoxious drongo sexist act. So unless they are really, really disciplined in a way one usually associated with North Korean mass gymnastic displays they’ll probably also favour Cunliffe. Or they’ll just get in a huff and talk about Lorde instead of voting. Either way, Cunliffe wins again.

    I would say Cunliffe has won it – he has the membership vote in the bag, and almost half the union vote. His caucus supporters will see him comfortably over the line. His win will mean the end of the line for some senior MPs who should have started to think about mayoraltys, consultancies and various government board appointments before the 2011 election anyway. Hipkins and most of the rest of the younger pro-Robertson faction are not as stupid as Curran, so they have not firmly nailed their colours to the mast of a clearly sinking ship as she has.

    Comment by Sanctuary — September 10, 2013 @ 9:45 am

  7. The situation has delicious potential for mahem – let the good times roll.

    Comment by TransportationDevice A7-98.1 — September 10, 2013 @ 10:01 am

  8. I think Cunliffe is smart enough to understand that a Prime Minister has lots of power, and an opposition leader has very little.

    So there won’t be an instant purge. Shearer purged Cunliffe to the back benches, and stood Jones down for a while. They didn’t go away. You can’t make MPs – especially electorate MPs – disappear from Parliament, you can’t stop them chucking toys at the nearest TV camera.

    But you can exclude them from what they really want – the Ministers’ jobs and perks. If Labour get into government in 2014, they should have 40-50 MPs, up to 20 new ones. The new PM will have a double mandate (party and people) and the ABCs will have to kiss ass or go to the back of the queue.

    Comment by sammy 2.0 — September 10, 2013 @ 10:13 am

  9. sammy 2.0 should be a political strategist.

    Comment by Sanctuary — September 10, 2013 @ 10:17 am

  10. Sir Robert Jones is not a property developer.

    Comment by swan — September 10, 2013 @ 10:20 am

  11. He has never struck me as a libertarian either. He is a Labour party supporter (is he a member?)

    Comment by swan — September 10, 2013 @ 10:21 am

  12. So that leaves us with crackpot [Labour supporting] multi-millionaire property [investor].

    I think you’re off Sir Bob’s Christmas list now, swan.

    Comment by Gregor W — September 10, 2013 @ 10:34 am

  13. @swan – Bob Jones a Labour part supporter? He says that he likes Labour governments, because they typically do more things, and thus require a bigger public service, which drives up the value of commercial buildings in Wellington, but I’m not sure that’s the same as being a Labour Party supporter.

    ‘Though there could be stuff that I don’t know about that indicates that he is a supporter (c/f someone who makes more money when Labour is in power).

    Comment by Deborah — September 10, 2013 @ 10:39 am

  14. Bob Jones effectivly got the Lange govt in 84, when he took about 20%? Of the vote in a fpp election.

    Comment by Dv — September 10, 2013 @ 11:42 am

  15. The idea that the leader can ruin careers is massively overstated. Especially important, the caucus elects deputy and whips, and cabinet when in government. It’s not an autocracy internally.

    Comment by The Fan Club — September 10, 2013 @ 11:46 am

  16. Cunliffe’s supporters will get the portfolios, obviously. But they’re mostly losers, and he’ll need to bring some experienced professionals in to replace them as they crash and burn.

    If Cunliffe chooses to reward people based on their loyalty instead of their competency, then the actual election will be a harder fight.

    Comment by Auto_Immune — September 10, 2013 @ 11:51 am

  17. If Cunliffe chooses to reward people based on their loyalty instead of their competency, then the actual election will be a harder fight

    The evidence from the past twenty months would back this up.

    Comment by Deborah — September 10, 2013 @ 12:21 pm

  18. This whole process has been a cumbersome drawn out farce and only underlines the general perception that those on the left couldn’t organise a piss up at a brewery. If this is the way they run things in their own party how could anyone seriously consider giving them control of the country?

    Comment by Redbaiter — September 10, 2013 @ 12:38 pm

  19. How did things work out for the Confederacy again?

    Comment by Sanctuary — September 10, 2013 @ 12:59 pm

  20. I concur.

    How could we expect a political party that has the temerity learn from past mistakes, and – absurdly! – one that enacts a relatively democratic and transparent leadership process, to be possibly capable of running the country?

    Pinko c*nts.

    Comment by Gregor W — September 10, 2013 @ 1:04 pm

  21. Everybody knows Cunliffe’s mates are the B team, and that includes Cunliffe. He can’t be rolled until the next election. If he loses in 2014, he’s gone. If Cunliffe wins in 2014, he’s safe. Therefore, Cunliffe doesn’t need his mates after they’ve cast their votes, but he does need to win the next election. I would suspect he’s bright enough to knife the shit ones and reward the good ones.

    Comment by The Fan Club — September 10, 2013 @ 1:08 pm

  22. >sammy 2.0 should be a political strategist.

    Yes, I concur with sammy’s analysis. Cunliffe could purge, but I don’t know if it will be wholesale, just the most difficult customers. Whoever is the head of “anyone but Cunliffe” should probably go, you can’t really have that in a functional team. But they do still need the experienced players. If they manage to increase their numbers in Parliament (even if they don’t win) then there will be the much needed injection of new blood.

    However, I don’t really know the inside dealing that goes on, so a bigger purge wouldn’t be that surprising. If it happens, I doubt they’ll win in 2014, but at least the face of Labour will be drastically changed.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — September 10, 2013 @ 1:39 pm

  23. ….lest it moves Clare Curran to tweet from within the chardonnay fog.

    Speaking of…

    Comment by Gregor W — September 10, 2013 @ 2:59 pm

  24. I may be a bit out of date but it certainly used to be the case that the Labour caucus chose the members of the cabinet and the Prime Minister could then allocate them portfolios. That was what finally broke David Lange, I suspect. Caucus returned Douglas to the Cabinet in spite of Lange’s wishs.
    If this is still the case in the Labour Party you could see, after they win power in 2017, that the caucus would elect all the non-Cunliffe supporters and Cunliffe’s friends were left on the outer. I think he had better start the purge immediately.

    Comment by Alwyn — September 10, 2013 @ 4:03 pm

  25. Speaking of…

    That wasn’t tweeting “from within the chardonnay fog,” more like “from within the gin stupor.”

    Comment by Psycho Milt — September 10, 2013 @ 4:21 pm

  26. I agree with Ben and Sammy. The whole ‘the Cunliffe purge is coming, start investing Gulag real estate’ narrative reads like someone trying to amp up the stakes in order to sell newspapers.

    I don’t think it’s entirely untrue – people who have supported Cunliffe during the wilderness years can expect their reward, for example Nanaia Mahuta. But nor will Cunliffe be able to hire and fire frontbenchers at will like a medieval despot*. Having supported Robertson or Jones will not necessarily equate to a death sentence, not even in the short term. Cunliffe needs a faintly credible frontbench that has at least a 70% chance of making it through an election campaign without saying more than the allowable one or two idiotic things when there are cameras around, and to achieve that, he needs to dip into the ranks of his political opponents.

    This is probably a good thing. Political parties should be able to have leadership elections where people vote for the person they think will be best without it ruining their careers, just like countries should be able to. But as I say, if you’re a hack trying to play up the momentous nature of the vote, it’s an appealing spin to put on it.**

    *In fact, even medieval despots couldn’t do that.
    **You know, the same way every election is a ‘landmark election that exposes the deep social divide in New Zealand society’ or whatever.

    Comment by Hugh — September 10, 2013 @ 4:22 pm

  27. But you can exclude them from what they really want – the Ministers’ jobs and perks.

    Under Labour Party rules, the caucus elects the cabinet, unlike in National where it is all appointed by the Prime Minister.

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — September 10, 2013 @ 5:01 pm

  28. Under Labour Party rules, the caucus elects the cabinet …

    And yet Helen Clark sacked plenty of Ministers. Any leader worth his/her political salt knows the difference between rules and reality. Especially a leader who has just won the two elections, internal and external.

    Comment by sammy 2.0 — September 10, 2013 @ 5:28 pm

  29. My information may be out of date, but I think that, while caucus chooses who goes into Cabinet, the PM has discretion about which position they occupy in Cabinet. So while Lange couldn’t keep Roger Douglas out of Cabinet, he could theoretically have made him Minister of Disarmament or some other non-job. (He chose to chuck his toys and resign, of course, but Cunliffe might be made of sterner stuff).

    Comment by Hugh — September 10, 2013 @ 6:54 pm

  30. Both the Republicans and Democrats seem to be able to survive far more drawn out and rancorous leadership elections than this one.

    Comment by Adrian — September 10, 2013 @ 7:53 pm

  31. @Adrian – The big difference there though is that both parties do it, so the process is normalised in the minds of voters. National would never ever consider doing a primary style leadership election.

    Comment by alex — September 10, 2013 @ 8:53 pm

  32. If Jones comes third it will not bother him. He will have resurrected his career and re established himself in both the party’s and public’s eyes as a formidable. force to be reckoned with. It is a good space to be in for politicians. How many politicians would the public at large recognise? Both he and Tamihere will have enjoyed flexing their Maori muscles (soft or not) in this exercise in brand establishment The public will have forgotten Jones’s muddied history and will recall the jovial witty wanting to be leader of the Labour Party.straight talking Maori Fella.

    What makes me salivate is what happens to Hipkins after his despicable and disgusting behaviour after Shearer’s appointment. Robertson could not trust him and I doubt anyone else could.

    Comment by peterlepaysan — September 10, 2013 @ 9:14 pm

  33. Fresh from watching the Australian Election and Tony Abbott’s victory over a divided Labor it must be time to make comparisons with New Zealand.

    David Cunliffe must be the Kevin Rudd character. “Son, your ego is writing checks your body can’t cash”

    Grant Robertson must be the Julia Gillard character. More competent than the other contender but hamstrung by identity politics issues dragging them down (Woman in her case, Gay in his).

    Who ever wins we can look forward to much white anting right to and including the Election in 2014.

    @peterlepaysan Might Chris Hipkins be the Bill Shorten character? So he’ll be a contender for Labour leader in the not too distant future.

    Comment by OECD rank 22 kiwi — September 10, 2013 @ 9:37 pm

  34. Except of course unlike Rudd, Cunliffe has never been the party leader or PM, nor backstabbed by deputy – he was stabbed in the chest by his enemies.
    Similarly, Gillard wasn’t really hamstrung by identity politics at all, rather blugeoned by brute misoginy.

    Comment by Gregor W — September 11, 2013 @ 10:41 am

  35. Labour needs to be Labour. Being National-Lite hasn’t worked for them. Their progressive social policies annoy a big chunk of their potential base…and the too-close-to-Neo-Liberal economic approach drives still other people to the Greens.

    They have to get their legs on the same side of the fence. They tried to have it both ways for far too long…and its done them great harm. If Cunliffe is the person to restore coherence to Labour…then bring it on. But I have a feeling THIS causcus isn’t coherent….so things will get very messy either way. They lose the next election under Jones or Robertson….or they fight a civil war internally for the soul of the party under Cunliffe.

    Comment by Steve (@nza1) — September 11, 2013 @ 11:05 am

  36. @Adrian re US approach.
    The other main difference is that in New Zealand after a leadership election the other competitors for the job are still in the caucus afterwards.
    In the US they are out of power. There is only one President and they have total control over who they appoint to the various Cabinet positions and other jobs in the Executive Branch. They might appoint people who were their opponents for the Presidential nomination but they don’t have to and even if they do they can sack them at any time.
    The other contenders may still have positions in the Senate, or as a Governor but they are not in any way comparable to a President in either status or power.
    That isn’t the way it works here, or in the same way in Australia, where Gillard couldn’t get rid of Rudd no matter how much she would have liked to.

    Comment by Alwyn — September 11, 2013 @ 11:10 am

  37. To me, one of the most brilliant things to come out of this Labour party primary process is the jump is NZLP membership of over 20%. The last thing the aristocrats of the old guard in the Labour caucus wants is an active party organisation. When they dominate, they control the list selection process. With a motivated and involved membership the controlling of the list selection process becomes another area their power is significantly weakened. Assuming Cunliffe wins, the general mood of the NZLP membership means it would be a foolish list MP indeed who white ants him, whilst MPs like Curran may be safe in electorate seats, they’ll be exiled from power and will drift off.

    I suppose it must be politically quite hard for the neo-lib Labour MPs. They dedicated their best political years to an idea their own party loathes, and is trying to dismantle. it must be hard to give something up in the knowledge that the minute you are gone, your legacy and your reputation will be vigorously trashed by your own side.

    But that is what happens when you end up on the wrong side of history.

    Comment by Sanctuary — September 11, 2013 @ 1:42 pm

  38. >They dedicated their best political years to an idea their own party loathes, and is trying to dismantle. it must be hard to give something up in the knowledge that the minute you are gone, your legacy and your reputation will be vigorously trashed by your own side.

    I don’t think so. I doubt they even see themselves as neoliberal. The neo part of that would mostly have been expedience, a buying into the professionalism of the economic handlers who have locked in this pattern practically everywhere around the industrialized world. I don’t think that Labour is going to stop being liberal, and undoing progressive social change their own party made. This is still something they’ll be proud of, and something that wins votes (which is why National also do it). What they will do is start to become more active on the economic front (well at least I hope they will), challenging the orthodoxy, trying new things. I also doubt there will be much trashing of legacy or reputation. That’s never a good look for any party.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — September 11, 2013 @ 2:15 pm

  39. “But that is what happens when you end up on the wrong side of history.”

    I don’t think the “neolibs”, as you call them, are on the wrong side of history.

    Comment by Swan — September 11, 2013 @ 7:46 pm

  40. Indeed, swan.
    It would be fair to say in fact that quite the contrary is true, given that periodic and engineered crisis captalism merely serves to strengthen the grip of the plutocracy over the rest of us.

    Comment by Gregor W — September 12, 2013 @ 2:50 pm

  41. Gregor models the new season tin foil hat

    Comment by toby — September 12, 2013 @ 8:03 pm

  42. I believe neo-liberals think they are already at the end of history, wondering why nobody else has yet caught up.

    Comment by Higgs Boatswain — September 13, 2013 @ 12:04 am

  43. Francis Fukuyama’s google alert must be ringing like crazy

    Comment by Hugh — September 13, 2013 @ 5:07 am

  44. Shane Jones’s partner Dorothy would make the best “first lady”: poised; down-to-earth; elegant; friendly; natural. Granted, though, this would not be hard because one of the other contenders for the position of First Lady is a guy; the other one lives in a snooty area and is arguably out of touch with ordinary New Zealanders.

    Comment by Daniel Lang — September 13, 2013 @ 9:28 am

  45. Mr Shipley apparently made an excellent first-man (got on really well with slick-willy Clinton). Grant’s partner, presumably, would also be adept at gabbing with the gals while their premier lovers are huddled around an APEC or UN conference table.

    Comment by Phil — September 13, 2013 @ 9:58 am

  46. “…Shane Jones’s partner Dorothy would make the best “first lady”: poised; down-to-earth; elegant; friendly; natural…”

    As opposed to his wife, who presumably is to busy looking after the seven kids Shane dumped on her when he walked out to be a suitable first lady?

    Comment by Sanctuary — September 13, 2013 @ 10:13 am

  47. What Sanctuary said, sevenfold! How could anyone take seriously Leader of the Opposition Shane Jones (or worse, PM Jones) pontificating on the need for welfare beneficiaries to get off their butt and get a job (and we know Jones would be likely to give such a speech), when he has dumped his ex in a position of presumably requiring such welfare. Or perhaps Shane could tell the nation about the dire need for men to ‘man up’ and pay their child support….

    Comment by bob — September 13, 2013 @ 11:01 pm

  48. Yawn, how could anyone take Sanctuary seriously.

    Comment by toby — September 13, 2013 @ 11:23 pm

  49. Wow it’s reading like KB here. . .

    Comment by Lee C — September 14, 2013 @ 7:04 am


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