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.