Blood in the water | The Jackal

13 Nov 2012

Blood in the water

It has been rather disconcerting to read some of the commentary about all round nice guy David Shearer recently, not least because it takes the focus off more important issues. Of particular concern is the amount of articles that completely write him off without a second chance, and as far as I can tell, without really giving any valid reasons for doing so.

There are some reasons though, and perhaps well-respected Herald columnist Tapu Misa, whose observations are usually spot on, has made the most powerful argument for a change in Labours leadership.  In fact the clarity and investigative depth of Misa’s articles has ensured that the right wing propagandists generally leave her alone, which makes reading her latest effort all the more disquieting:

But it's a punishing gig being Opposition leader, and Shearer is, sadly, out of his depth.

A year after taking over as leader, he's missing some essentials: experience, sound political instincts, the ability to persuade and inspire. Even more basic than having the gift of the gab is the critical ability to clearly articulate his party's thinking.

On that count, Shearer has been wholly unconvincing - seeming at times not only to lack a real understanding of the issues, but, more worryingly, the conviction of his words.

As political scientist Dr Raymond Miller observed after watching Shearer on TVNZ's Q+A in September: "I honestly felt that here is a person who has not been able to clear his head and think through the issues that are very important to his party. He seems to me like a very reluctant leader, and he's trying to explain himself, but without the passion or the clarity that you need as a leader, particularly a leader of the Opposition."

Being that whether he can inspire people is entirely a matter of opinion; it appears that there are four main arguments against David Shearer remaining as leader of the opposition, the first being that he sometimes fluffs his lines. This in my opinion is hardly a dismissible offence. In fact it would be against the law to determine that Shearer wasn't right for the job simply because of such a trivial matter, and something that can no doubt be improved upon.

The second slightly more valid argument (which isn’t saying much) is that Labour has reduced support in the latest polling results. This is mainly concerning because of the huge amount of negative coverage National has recently received in the media, and Labours lack of traction despite it. Although Shearer is obviously responsible as leader of the Labour party, his actions are not the only thing that can affect polling. In fact support for Labour has generally trended upwards since he took over, and it’s the trend that really matters, not a blip in the polling.

Then there’s the claim that Shearer doesn't hold true to Labours principles, as apparently exhibited by the painter on the roof comments. Despite the various misrepresentation of what Shearer said, I think it’s safe to say that he does believe in a fair and equal society, as exhibited by the brevity and contents of his speeches and press releases. Claims that he’s somehow anti-welfare are quite obviously incorrect, and only promoted by the ignorant or those with a vested interest in seeing his political demise.

Lastly is the issue of leadership itself, and David Shearer’s ability or lack thereof to control the Labour caucus. This I'm afraid to say is where he appears to be failing, especially with one particular MP, Shane Jones. Some people have labelled Jones’ attack on the Greens as a Labour strategy, but I find this highly doubtful. It’s much more likely that he's simply a rogue MP that David Shearer hasn’t had the opportunity to reign in yet. In my opinion, Shearer needs to make that opportunity happen as soon as possible, because as long as Jones is undermining Labour by promoting National party policy for them and attacking potential coalition partners, the left wing will appear divided.

If this is truly a tactic by Labour to gain media attention, it's woefully inept. In fact it's even worse than announcing a Capital Gains Tax policy just before the election without enough time or any proper way to inform the public about its benefits. Sure, Labour has somewhat won that debate now, but like the debate on asset sales, which mostly occurred after the election, it’s not much help to the public in deciding whom they really want to vote for. The thing is that Labour must continue trying to convince the public of the benefits of a CGT leading right up to the next election or they once again risk losing the publics attention to Nationals extensive propaganda machine. They also risk losing sight of their policy over personality politics, something that John Key has down to a fine art form. Labour needs to compete on its strengths, not Nationals.

I don’t mean to be too critical, but Labours strategists effectively left Phil Goff out in the cold holding a little placard that read CGT, while the people it could help scratched their heads and wondered WTF a CGT actually means. They wondered WTF Labour was on about because Labour failed to gain the media attention it required to properly promote its policy.

Property investors, speculators and tax evaders on the other hand knew exactly what a CGT was, and National used people’s self-interests against policy that is clearly beneficial for New Zealand. This ensured Labour was alienated from a large sector of society, namely homeowners. The subtleties in Labours policy were not emphasized, and unless Labour can sell its policy to the public and not alienate any particular group of people they will not gain momentum leading up to the next election. The same can be said about changes to the retirement age, Labour need a plan, and it needs to be well thought out ahead of time.

Despite Shearer having nothing to do with the CGT policy cockup, he must run with the ball now, and quickly do away with some political niceties. In my opinion he’s performing OK, and that leaves me wondering why so many on the left are calling for his head only a year into his appointment? Perhaps it's a case of blood in the water from Kate Wilkinson's resignation that was entirely unsatisfactory... The pundits are clearly still hungry for more, and it appears anybody is up for grabs.