Audrey Young starts the year off with a column about David Shearer and his leadership intentions. The alarm bells start to ring a little louder:
Labour may have elected a leader who, like Key, is hard not to like, but Shearer will be quite a different kind of leader.
Shearer is in no rush. He will be bold when he is good and ready to be bold.
Shearer won’t be responding to every issue just because he is asked – in the way that John Key does and Phil Goff did.
For a start, he is not politically dexterous enough to do so. And having so little experience, he doesn’t have the institutional knowledge of the party or politics generally.
His political compass will be grounded more in values than old Labour traditions.
He will be more positive generally. He will not automatically oppose. He will be measured.
This sounds incredibly similar to Phil Goff’s leadership style. Goff did take some stands: asset sales, obviously; trivialities like the sale of the Crown BMWs, but usually on issues that were damaging to his credibility, with no political upside – like the dispute over whether the SIS briefed him on some alleged Israeli spies. But in general his response to controversial issues and questions was to keep his head down and agree with whatever John Key said. (The canonical example: Key went on Tony Vietch’s radio show and talked about which celebrities he thought were hot. This kicked off a row about sexism, Goff was asked for comment, and replied that he liked the same babes as the Prime Minister, but also his own wife.) Goff very rarely engaged with National or the PM on points of controversy or substance.
The thinking behind this approach was outlined by John Pagani, Goff’s strategic advisor:
They’re waiting for Labour to demonstrate it genuinely understands their needs – and that means endorsing more of what National is doing – the things the voting public approves of.Every time Labour attacks policies and a government that voters generally approve of they alienate themselves further from potential supporters who are swinging between Labour and National.
Insisting the public is wrong is a recipe for even more disaster. Attacking constructive things the government is doing is exactly the wrong option.If anything, Labour should be pursuing more of a consensus approach, so that it can own more of the right direction.