May 24, 2008

The Labour Leadership

Phil Goff's ambitions are the subject of an opinion piece by Fran O'Sullivan in the Herald and the Editorial in the Dominion Post. Both see Goff's Alt TV performance as being aimed more at David Cunliffe than signalling an imminent challenge against Clark. We wouldn't have thought that Goff would need to worry too much about the seriousness of a Cunliffe challenge, but as everyone watching the TV news last night would have seen very clearly, Cunliffe is very much glued to the PM's side at Auckland. Word is out that Cunliffe is the choses one and some lobby groups and the media are treating him with increased respect as a result. If The Hive was as politically aligned as some suggest we would be quick to endorse Cunners as next Labour leader. But because we believe in strong and effective leadership for the country and because we don't want to make things too easy for National we will keep pointing out the obvious weaknesses of a Cunliffe leadership bid.

Some immediate reactions to some of the themes in Fran's piece and the Dom Post Editorial.

How important is Clark's endorsement? Well this isn't the first time that Clark has been whispering the name of a possible replacement. First it was Maharey, then it was Mallard. Where has this endorsement got these two gentlemen (well in the case of Maharey the VC job at Massey is one of the better jobs in the country, but we were thinking politically)?

Would Cunliffe represent generational change? We don't think that an age gap of 5 or six years makes that much of a difference. Politically, while Goff was more actively engaged on them, Cunliffe would have been exposed to exactly the same forces that helped shape Phil Goff in his formative years. True generational change would see one looking more in the direction of Grant Robertson (watch this space everyone) - not yet in Parliament. [update - we have had time to check and the gap is 10 years, but we still think they are the same generation - indeed we sometimes think Cunliffe is the older of the two]

What is the battlefield for this leadership contest going to look like? The probablility is that Labour is going to have suffered a huge defeat. Helen Clark will have to take responibility. Her political mana will have been substantially erroded. Would you really want her endorsement?

Finally, there is the key factor. Most of his colleagues don't like Cunliffe. Because the PM seems to be favouring him people are treating him with a bit more public respect, but the favoritism probably makes them hate him even more.

There is also a bit of a grwoing smell around Cunliffe. We don't yet know how much he knew about the immigration service mess, and there are many unanswered questions around the Hawkes Bay DHB. The current Government has been playing every trick in the book to supress the full story but should we have change expect to be reading many articles on the subject. These factors again work against Cunners.

So our conclusion is that it has to be Goff in 2009. The best thing for Labour would be uniting behind Goff now, as opposed to have this silly behind the scenes positioning that can only add further weakness during an election campaign. Cunliffe would probably be best to signal now that he will not be competing for the leadership in 2009.

Of course, this analysis pre-supposes that Labour loses in October/November. It also ignores Cullen. We hear that he was given a chance yesterday to deny any leadership ambition but that he chose not to reject the analogy with Walter Nash - interestingly Nash was exactly the same age as Cullen when he too delivered his 9th budget in 1944.

Should Helen Clark still be PM post election then we will all need to reassess.