The Dim-Post

December 8, 2011

The false start argument

Filed under: media,Politics — danylmc @ 6:39 am

Via the Herald:

Labour leadership contender David Cunliffe says the party cannot risk a “false start” by choosing the wrong leader in the contest.

He’s taken aim at his rival David Shearer’s lack of experience, saying that while his opponent might be ready for the job later, he himself is “ready now”.

“I am ready now. I have a hard head and I can communicate. I’m experienced in Parliament, I’ve been a minister and sat on the front bench. I’m ready to go and I don’t think Labour can afford to have a false start.”

Changing leader again a year out from now wouldn’t be that big a deal (Key replaced Brash a year after the 05 election). So Labour can afford to have a false start. But this will probably only happen if Cunliffe is elected leader. Like he says, he’s ready to go. If he can’t move the polls in a year then it’s probably not going to happen. But if Shearer wins the leadership contest then they’ll probably have to stick with him on the hope that he’ll get better with experience.

On that note, Brian Edwards – the communications maestro behind, uh, Phil Goff – has announced that Shearer’s lack of media savvy makes him unelectable. The ability to answer questions without saying anything meaningful is held in high regard by media elites like Edwards, but I’m not sure it’s actually that attractive to voters.

 

30 Comments »

  1. David Cunliffe has to be careful. So far, the caucus has retained an admirable discipline and a near public silence on the leadership contest and the party members are engaging in a debate in good faith. By getting all publicly bitchy about his opponent David Cunliffe risks a serious backfire. Public bitching only makes an impression on the general public, and the David Cunliffe also risks having his career left dead in the water if he public isolates himself to much from the potential next leader – such public slagging is not a mistake Shearer has made so far.

    I think Brian Edwards does media coaching, not PR.

    I disagree that Labour can’t change Shearer if he has performed poorly in 12-18 months. Shearer is a “change” (or at least, a break from the Helen Clark era) candidate. Simply by winning the leadership he will have achieved a significant milestone in allowing the public an opportunity to start listening to Labour again. It is ironic that we all profess to hate having a presidential style of politics, yet the mere act of changing the leader is hailed as “renewal” but there it is. If Shearer has not delivered the promised polls lift half way through the term of this government then he will have already served the pyschological purpose of providing a break with the past and could be rolled by Cunliffe then.

    Comment by Sanctuary — December 8, 2011 @ 7:23 am

  2. I think Shearer attracts public support because of his ordinary blokish not saying anything meaningful, compared to Cunliffe’s smarmy not saying anything meaningful.

    More exposure of both last night on Q+A, same old, Shearer still personable but hasn’t really shown much sign of rising to the occasion yet, and Cunliffe still knowledgable but hasn’t shown much sign of eliminating doubt about his character – he often comes across fine but keeps throwing in comments that are a worry.

    Any new leader is a punt, we’ll just have to see what the Labour caucus comes up with and see how the chose one pans out over the next three years – if Labour holds it’s nerve.

    Comment by Pete George — December 8, 2011 @ 7:29 am

  3. Shearer was the heavy favourite among randoms vox-popped on the street for Back Benches last night, even though most of them didn’t know who he was and couldn’t articulate why.

    There’s a lot of this sort of research been done in the US — people with no knowledge of a particular electoral contest can usually predict with decent accuracy who will win it based on next to nothing — a still image, a few seconds of video, with or without audio (in some cases, predictive accuracy decreases when people are asked to make a call based on more information; a longer clip, or a clip with audio rather than without).

    To a considerable extent this is because the characteristics that make someone electable aren’t really down to how slick they are, or how good their policies are, or whatever; they’re down to how a candidate makes voters feel, about themselves and about their polity — involuntary gut decisions made by electors in the initial moments of assessing a candidate rather than the obsessive hyperanalysis of tragics like us.

    With that in mind, I think the similarity between David Shearer’s bearing and speech — not to mention his name — and this guy might have something to do with it:

    L

    Comment by Lew — December 8, 2011 @ 7:58 am

  4. Sanc, I don’t think we all profess to hate the “presidential” politics — mainly it’s the golden-agers of who decry “what Key has done” to politics while conveniently forgetting Helen Clark’s massive contribution to that change.

    L

    Comment by Lew — December 8, 2011 @ 8:01 am

  5. they’re down to how a candidate makes voters feel, about themselves and about their polity — involuntary gut decisions made by electors in the initial moments of assessing a candidate

    Onnit Lew. We forget that we are governed by the non-tragic 5% at our peril.

    Comment by ak — December 8, 2011 @ 9:03 am

  6. The ability to answer questions without saying anything meaningful is held in high regard by media elites like Edwards, but I’m not sure it’s actually that attractive to voters

    Hmmm… perhaps that explains why John Key is so popular. Always says meaningful things in response to questions and never just smiles, waves and brushes off hard questions.

    Comment by Hakawai Online (@hakawaionline) — December 8, 2011 @ 9:07 am

  7. Cunliffe has already made a false start – based on his credentials, especially compared to Shearer, he should be hot favourite for the leadership role. He has had plenty of time to prepare for this bid – and he is obviously well prepared in some respects – and plenty of time to lock in support from senior colleagues, but he doesn’t seem to have done that successfully.

    Goff seemed a bit like the disjointed head of a chook party. There’s hints that Cunliffe is a bit of a drake in a henhouse.

    Comment by Pete George — December 8, 2011 @ 9:26 am

  8. Goff seemed a bit like the disjointed head of a chook party. There’s hints that Cunliffe is a bit of a drake in a henhouse.

    I’m surprised resisted slipping Mallard reference in there, Pete.
    Something about a ‘lame duck’?

    Comment by Gregor W — December 8, 2011 @ 9:30 am

  9. Shearer was the heavy favourite among randoms vox-popped on the street for Back Benches last night, even though most of them didn’t know who he was and couldn’t articulate why.
    There’s a lot of this sort of research been done in the US…

    That’s entirely understandable – and you can see the same thing occuring in the US Presidential race. Put Obama’as name head-to-head against any of the current primary-challengers, and the sitting president generally comes out on top in voter polling. But the moment you switch to Obama vs “Generic Republican”, the tables turn.

    Why? Because voters are much more likely to project their own ideals and preferences on to a blank candidate slate.

    A known quantity like Cunliffe, with all his particular views and political history, will struggle to win the support of undecided Labour voters from the blank canvas Shearer.

    Comment by Phil — December 8, 2011 @ 9:40 am

  10. Cunliffe has been a prominent part of Labour’s image to the public for a while now. Not all the blame for Labour’s poor performance rests with Goff.

    Did Cunliffe at any time in the past 3 years say “this is not what the Labour Party should be doing”?

    Did he oppose the destroy the Maori Party stragegy, did he oppose Goff’s Nationhood speech?

    I can’t see what sort of change having him leader would make in terms of Labour’s reinventing itself.

    Comment by NeilM — December 8, 2011 @ 9:48 am

  11. “There’s hints that Cunliffe is a bit of a drake in a henhouse.”

    Yep, that stare down the barrel warning potential investors he would buy back assets.. which was withdrawn in confusion next day, showed him off message, fighting an old battle and unaware of consequences.. not a good look.

    JC

    Comment by JC — December 8, 2011 @ 9:51 am

  12. and just what was his proposal re buying back those shares? He’s had plenty of time to think about what a furure Labour govt might do but he had nothing concrete to offer.

    But his purpose was not to offer any concrete measure that could perhaps benefit the NZ economy, the issue for him was just a mere stepping stone in his bid for the leadership.

    Comment by NeilM — December 8, 2011 @ 9:58 am

  13. If there’s a drake in the hen house then at least the chickens are safe. Different story if it were a bantam cock

    Comment by insider — December 8, 2011 @ 10:01 am

  14. Brian Edwards swapping sides is a sure fire indication that he approached Shearer to offer the media training he needs, and Shearer turned him down. Before repeating Edwards’ lines, someone should ask him if he has a financial interest in the outcome of this contest.

    Comment by Bill Engrish — December 8, 2011 @ 10:02 am

  15. Edwards has stated he did not approach Shearer, and has declared his (common knowledge) history of training the Labour front bench (Cunliffe included) very clearly in comments to his post, which you clearly didn’t read.

    L

    Comment by Lew — December 8, 2011 @ 10:05 am

  16. When I first saw this ‘false start’ comment from Cunliffe, my immediate reaction was that he would shortly regret the statement. He could have been talking about himself.

    In my view, Shearer is by far the best choice. Forget about Question Time. Only reporters and political junkies take any notice of what goes on in parliament. The real battle is two fold.

    1 Uniting the caucus and party. Cunliffe already is a ‘fail’ on that score.

    2 Stealing back from National and NZ First at least ten percentage points in the polls. Shearer has ten times more capacity to do this than does Cunliffe who is (a) largely regarded with scorn and derision and (b) inevitably seen as a continuation of the Clark regime. The latter is a king hit on him.

    Yes, of course Shearer is a risk but, by Hell, he’s no where near the risk for Labour that is Cunliffe.

    BTW, I’m sure my dearly beloved National Party would prefer to go up against Cunliffe in 2014.

    Comment by Adolf Fiinkensein — December 8, 2011 @ 10:26 am

  17. “BTW, I’m sure my dearly beloved National Party would prefer to go up against Cunliffe in 2014.”

    Like fuck they would. Shearer will disappear within months if elected leader.

    And I dont get this meme that Cunliffe is ‘nasty’ and the public are turned off him. To my ears he’s smart and sounds onto it on radio. As BE notes, Key is an asshole when unscripted and people apparently like him.

    Comment by Alistair — December 8, 2011 @ 11:06 am

  18. I tend to agree Alistair.

    I Shearer love-fest and endorsements from the likes of Hootten does have the ring of clumsy reverse psychology about it.
    It’ll probably fool enough of the people enough of the time though.

    Comment by Gregor W — December 8, 2011 @ 11:14 am

  19. Shearer is by far the best choice.

    When you see Adolf so strongly supporting Shearer, you immediately know it is Cunliffe who will do the best job. Not just Adolf but the whole VRWC who are spinning and promoting Shearer for all it’s worth and many of whom met him just before he announced his candidacy.

    Comment by johnsonmike — December 8, 2011 @ 11:14 am

  20. If they want to avoid a false start, they could delay the start until they are actually sure. A bit more face time for these guys (and everyone in Labour) will quickly show who the public likes. This internally divisive party wrangle is music to the Right’s ears. The thing they most fear is that Labour might actually come forward with a united front, some sound policy, and no leader to pit against Key until he’s played his own policy hand. They desperately need surety right now, so that they can start the spin machine against the winner, hoping against hope for another divisive leadership battle in a year or two.

    There’s no fucking rush, except amongst those wishing to make a fait accompli out of the leader most favored by his political enemies. There’s 3 years until the next general election.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — December 8, 2011 @ 11:28 am

  21. “The ability to answer questions without saying anything meaningful is held in high regard by media elites like Edwards, but I’m not sure it’s actually that attractive to voters”

    Stammering when flustered and drifting off on tangents isn’t either. It appears those in the Shearer camp are those who are at a loss to explain Key popularity and therefore assume it must just be the uplifitng backstory or apparent lack of pretention must be what appeals. So they think if they find a candidate who ticks both of those boxes Labour is away. Trying to “out key” key is doomed to fail and worse still shows disturbingly condescending attitude to the electorate. When Shearer has the near unanamous endorsement of the right don’t you have ask yourself why?

    Comment by CB — December 8, 2011 @ 1:32 pm

  22. >Trying to “out key” key is doomed to fail and worse still shows disturbingly condescending attitude to the electorate.

    My sentiments exactly. Indeed, my words, I think.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — December 8, 2011 @ 1:44 pm

  23. When it comes to two guys who look and sound like Key http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJcj_smv2h0

    Comment by Ben Wilson — December 8, 2011 @ 1:48 pm

  24. my understanding is that Edwards only got involved with media training Goff towards the very end of his tenure, you know, the part when he started getting good and his leadership popularity rating jumped up.
    feel free to provide evidence to the contrary

    Comment by the sprout — December 8, 2011 @ 2:21 pm

  25. And then there are those of us who have been telling people since before Key beat Clark in that 2008 election debate why he would be an effective and dangerous PM, and that folk shouldn’t underestimate him just because he has poor diction and a tenuous grasp on policy detail.

    This argument by Team Cunliffe supporters that Shearer is just like Key, a bumbling nobody because he can’t talk the hind leg off a donkey, misunderstands the job description. The eventual Labour leader — and any party leader, really — has to master (at least) two very distinct sets of tasks: first, he has to establish an organisational, political and policy strategy and forge a party of egomaniacal individuals not of his choosing into a coherent and effective unit to enact it; and second, he has to persuade opinion leaders, party members and ultimately voters that he can and should run the country.

    These look similar but require very different skill-sets. It’s very easy to mistake failure at one for failure at the other. very few leaders are strong in both; most are strong only in one, and many can do neither to the required (very high) standard. I think Goff had the latter but not the former; Hide also. English had the former but not the latter. Clark had both, but she started with only the former set of skills. Key, likewise, started with only the former and developed the latter, and the result is an extremely capable National party that was one teabag from breaking all the records at the past election. Cunliffe, on paper, has the second set of skills but it is not clear these can be translated into public appeal. And he seems to lack sufficient support in caucus to make a strong play at the task of reforming the Labour party. Shearer lacks many of the skills for the latter task but these can be learned, and based on his CV he has the experience required for the former task of reforming the party in spades. That task is the really crucial one here — Winston Peters demonstrates that it’s no use being a great retail politician when your product is fundamentally broken.

    As I’ve said, both candidates are good but neither is perfect. No leader is when they assume the role. I have concerns about Shearer, along the lines of those Brian Edwards articulates. If he can’t bring his presentation and portfolio knowledge up to scratch in very quick time he is going to struggle, and so is the party. If Cunliffe had (or has) the overwhelming confidence of the caucus and wider party then he would be the only candidate. As it is, Shearer is stronger on the more-immediately-important, hard-to-learn stuff while Cunliffe is stronger on the less-immediately-important, easier-to-learn stuff. Not an obvious choice.

    L

    Comment by Lew — December 8, 2011 @ 2:23 pm

  26. and yeah, false start? shearer – he’d be rolled in 18 months.
    the reason why some of caucus don’t like the idea of cunliffe as leader is they know they won’t get their own shot at the title for a long long time if he’s elected.

    Comment by the sprout — December 8, 2011 @ 2:23 pm

  27. – I think Muldoon is probably the best example of a fruitful late leadership change, since the switch was driven within the party rather than by Nicky Hager. By July 1974, when his minions convinced Jack Marshall to go quietly, it was obvious that Muldoon, regarded as the most effective National MP in the debating chamber and with a strong public following, should run his party, and he was PM 17 months later. Impossible to know what would have happened if Kirk had lived, however.

    – They shouldn’t tell anyone if they do this, but Labour could set a hard poll target for the leader (e.g. back to 31% within 12 months). If the target isn’t met, decapitate.

    Comment by bradluen — December 8, 2011 @ 2:34 pm

  28. “If the target isn’t met, decapitate.”

    Then bring in the real first choice, Robertson, having been nicely shielded from that difficult first year.

    JC

    Comment by JC — December 8, 2011 @ 3:05 pm

  29. Edwards also campaigned against Shearer when he sought the Mt Albert nomination against the Clark/Edwards protege´, so this is no real surprise. I believe Shearer may also have already rejected Edwards’ assistance in his current campaign.

    Comment by arants — December 8, 2011 @ 5:11 pm

  30. “The ability to answer questions without saying anything meaningful is held in high regard by media elites like Edwards, but I’m not sure it’s actually that attractive to voters”

    As Hakawai Online said at 9.07am. National have been doing this since 2005, and Key since 2008. That’s all they do.

    Comment by aj — December 8, 2011 @ 5:50 pm


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