There's going to be a leadership contest (for those who have been hiding understones for the last couple of days). David "Shoulda been me" Cunliffe versus Grant "I'm Not David Cunliffe" Roberstson seem to be the popular picks - though I suspect things may still turn out differently, as they contemplate precisely what being leader of the Labour Party right now means. Neither has declared they are running, at this time. Both are consulting friends and family, or whatever it is politicians say when they are desperately doing the numbers to see if they can win.
If it is Cunliffe versus Robertson, it has to be Cunliffe. If it is Cunliffe versus anyone in caucus, it pretty much has to be Cunliffe – though I thought that was the case 20 months ago … The question is, will Cunliffe go for it?
Is his (oft commented on) high self opinion so high he thinks he can take on Key?
If he does become leader, I suspect there will be an immediate surge in Labour support – but mostly at the expense of the Greens, and perhaps NZ First. So Labour will be happy, but the 2014 result will still be a coin toss, for now.
But it isn't as simple as that. Cunliffe has to decide to run first, before he gets to be leader. If he does, he would probably win. You’d have to be stupid to take Robertson over Cunliffe.
But I’m still not sure he’ll go for it this time. In spite of his undoubted desire to be leader, he may decide to hold back. After all, he's been waiting a long time, and probably anticipated waiting longer before Shearer's sudden demise.
He may weigh up the likelihood of winning against the likelihood of losing and being out of a job in 2014. Unfortunately, his prime motivation will be the betterment of David Cunliffe. I don't think he wants to be remembered as the guy who lead the party to defeat in 2014, which will still be a distinct possibility for all the superhuman qualities some seem to attribute to him.
With this in mind, he might decide he'd rather play the assassin's role after the (very possible) defeat in 2014. So Cunliffe may nurse his ambitions and elect to sit it out - perhaps showing his loyalty and support by signing up as deputy - with a canny eye on 2014.
The same applies to Roberston. Both have time on their side, both are ambitious and neither would desire to be a pathetic footnote in Labour history. So we may - just possibly - have a situation where the two main contenders for the job are not contending, leaving it open to either Andrew Little or a stop gap candidate like Annette King - someone who will at least stop the defeat of 2014 turning into a rout.
Then, once the small business of who runs the country between 2014 and 2017 is dealt with, the important matter of who gets to shout at John Key for three years can be attended to.
The other reason Cunliffe might sit this one out (other than cynical self interest) is because he is too resented for his role – or perceived role – in all the undermining and plotting against Shearer. He might feel a period of loyalty, blasting national from a glamorous front bench position, might serve his interests better. Because it is always going to be about his interests, not the parties.
There will be some interesting meetings going on between bland little men in grey suits. Those meetings will determine who is going to be the leader of the Labour Party, because they will be where it is decided who will be encouraged to step forward, and who will be quietly told not to make themselves difficult. I suspect that these grey little men will mention to Cunliffe that not being difficult now might result in a swift return to the front bench, and perhaps even a hint of support if there should happen to be a vacancy after 2014.
NB – Whatever happens, I also anticipate Roy Morgan releasing some essentially random set of figures, calling it a poll and placing some frivolous interpretation on it, which will likely be contradicted by their next poll.