I was in favor of a lengthy ‘primary’ style leadership contest for the Labour Party, but the two week show-down is working pretty well. Mostly because the Nats can’t really negotiate with the Maori Party until the specials come in, so they can’t form a government, so there’s a media vacuum that Shearer and Cunliffe can fill. And the leadership of the party will be done and dusted by the holidays, which gives the new leader a break to plan and put together a team and a strategy over Christmas and New Years.
The pro-Shearer right-wing conspiracy
I think people like Michelle Boag and David Farrar endorsed Shearer because (a) they were genuinely impressed by him, and (b) he stood no show of winning the leadership battle, which was a contest between Cunliffe and Parker, so (c) supporting Shearer was a nice way to undermine whoever eventually won, while still voicing a genuine opinion. The Nats ‘researchers’ will now be working over-time to try and find dirt to throw at Shearer, so I expect to see ‘serious questions’ raised about him in the event he takes over the party.
Performances on the Sunday talk shows
I thought Cunliffe was ‘better’, but only marginally so, and not to a degree proportionate to his superior political experience. I have this (unfounded) theory that the Labour Party has decided to commission a nationwide poll in the week before the caucus decision, and that this will help inform the undecided voters in the caucus – which is why we have, say, Cunliffe announcing Labour needs to clean out the old guard, when he needs some of the ‘old guard’ to vote for him.
Strategy going forward
In one of the debates Cunliffe announced that the Labour Party needed to win votes back off the Greens. Maybe I’m just sensitive to this because I voted Green this election, but this seems like a zero-sum strategy.
Labour lost votes in three directions this year: low turn-out among core-demographics, centrist voters voting National or New Zealand First, and urban liberals voting Green. I guess Cunliffe would say that the party needs to address all of those issues – but you can’t really pivot left to peel urban liberals off the Greens, and also move right and win back National-leaning centrist voters, because both National, New Zealand First and the Greens can then wedge-issue Labour on both fronts. And even if you DO win, say, 5% of the vote off the Greens, when the elections done and dusted and you’re trying to form a government you still have the exact same number of seats for a centre-left coalition.
In addition to that, one of Labour’s big problems is that they can’t win marginal electorate seats because the Green candidates split the left-wing vote. Going to war against the Greens isn’t likely to solve that.
Re-building the Labour party
There seems to be consensus that Labour needs to (a) rebuild and (b) distance themselves from the Clark era. I think these two things are linked. Clark was party leader for seventeen years – this may even be a record – and during that period the party transitioned from an FPP to an MMP electoral system. And Helen Clark handled this transition very well, but because of her personal genius, none of the party processes and institutions were updated to reflect the new environment – which is why Labour’s candidate selection and party list process seem so broken.