Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Cunliffe's Cock Up II

So, a total no-story about a remark Standard blogger and Cunliffe campaign stalwart Jenny Michie becomes a fair-to-middling crisis for Team Cunliffe because of Cunliffe's poor judgement.

For the historical record, here is the original remark, made in a discussion recorded for The Nation:
That’s right, I think it's not a big a deal as it used to be. You know we now have gay marriage, and it actually went through without that much of a fuss, and the sky hasn’t fallen. Having said that I think we'd be na├»ve to imagine that there would be no resistance to a gay Prime Minister at this point. I think some people might have a problem with it, but I certainly wouldn’t.

Which is innocuous enough, especially as it was in response to a direct question from the interviewer, Rachel Smalley: "Grant Robertson Jennie says that he wants to be judged on his ability, not his sexuality. How do you think the socially conservatives might view Grant Robertson you know in the year 2013?"

That's the sum of the original incident, which, for what it was worth, was broadcast on the 25th of August, after Shearer had resigned but before Cunliffe had declared his intention to contest the leadership.

Fast forward to last night, and suddenly the story is on the news, some two weeks after the original discussion.  Michie is now working for the Cunliffe team and the Southern Were-Shrew, Clare Curran happens upon the quote and starts shrilling across Twitter, with the help of Patrick Gower, who never saw a crap story he didn't like.

At that point, the story should have died.  It was slightly surprising it made it onto the TV news, but everyone likes a bit of aggro, so perhaps it was to be expected.  Cunliffe made grumpy noises but nothing more that evening.  The next day, he announced Jenny Michie had been 'stood down' from the campaign team.

I am not impressed by Cunliffe’s behaviour. Sacking a worker who has done nothing wrong is not what you would expect from someone wanting to lead the party of the workers.  Even viewed pragmatically, it was a misjudgement, as it has made a small and rather silly story bigger and distracted people’s attention from Curran’s role in it.

On the Standard, this has been hailed, weirdly, as Cunliffe 'showing steel' and demonstrating effective action and sound political judgement.  I think that is wrong on all three counts.  I don’t think a CEO who sacks workers to hire cheap labour is showing steel. Nor is a politician who boots out his staff for no good reason.

Cunliffe's response is fairly strange, on many levels.  First of all, dismissing someone who had given their time and energy, for doing nothing wrong, was pretty repulsive behaviour.  Especially from a man who wants to lead the party of the workers.  And especially from a man who should have know what it is like to be treated unfairly - Cunliffe after all had been demoted last year for exhibiting  disloyalty which he had always denied.

Of course, Patrick Gower was involved in that farago as well, and perhaps Cunliffe panicked, seeing his nemesis once again manifesting.

Another other reason it was a strange move from was because it showed poor instinct.  The story was not interesting until he made it interesting by his poorly judged response.  Curran was only making herself look stupid. No-one really cared what jenny Michie said a fortnight ago on a TV show no-one watched, and most people would have agreed with her assessment that there are still some brain dead idiots out there for whom Grant Robertson being gay is an issue.  After one night, the story would have died as it seems to have little to do with the Kardashians, or loveable rogue sheep - unless Jenny Michie was booted because she was actually a Kardashian. Or a rogue sheep.

Doing nothing wouldn’t have hurt Cunliffe. But by doing something he made it look like it was a story after all.  If sacking Michie was supposed to close the story down, it didn;t work as it was on the news again tonight. I doubt the original incarnation of the story would have been. Sacking Michie gave it legs. Fortunately, probably not enough to make it into a third night.

So it was morally a pretty unpleasant thing to do.  It was also clearly ineffective and miscalculated.  And Cunliffe should have known this.  He should have realised that he was not killing the story, but turning it into a zombie that would lumber after him.  If he is smart, and if he has been ‘under constant attack’ from the ‘biased’ ‘MSM’ as some slightly paranoid sounding posters at The Standard make out, he would have seen how this would be seized on as an example of his remorseless ambition.

Robertson and Jones have shown a bit of nous on the issue, more than Cunliffe. Robertson got to look big by saying it was nonsense, and that should have been the end of the story. Jones got a good line about werewolves. Cunliffe gets a lot of bad coverage. Who won?

So, he botched it.  It happens.  Not the end of the world.  But if this is the sort of blundering reaction to a relatively feeble attack by a blethering idiot, what will he do when the National machine starts? Sack New Zealand?

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