Saturday, 27 September 2014

What now?

By the time I post this, I suspect David Cunliffe will no longer be the leader of the Labour Party.  He's on his way into a conference with the party's governing council, and he's called a press conference for afterwards.  Those are not great omens.

As I said on election night, I'm indifferent to whether Cunliffe, or Robertson, or Shearer, or Old Uncle Tom Cobbleigh is the leader.  I don't particularly like Cunliffe and I think he comes over as arrogant and (unlike most people) I think he did badly in the debates, waving his hands about and trying to shout over Key and being poorly prepared for blindly obvious attacks.

But when the talent pool is as small as Labour's is, you can't really go about changing your leader every five minutes.  It's  a measure of how few options Labour have that some people are seriously talking about bringing back David Shearer for another shot.  One wonders, what are thinking?  One wonders, what dead animal will he present to parliament this time?

People seem to be fixated on the importance of the leader.  Cunliffe's advocates seemed to think - I remember the conversations on The Standard - that his elevation to the top job would see the party surge to above 40%.  Quite seriously.

I don't blame Cunliffe for the debacle on Saturday night.  It would be beyond the ability of even the most profoundly useless leader - and Cunliffe is/was not profoundly useless - to accomplish that feat, and in just eleven months.

Labour were up against a dreadful political perfect storm - incumbency, a growing economy (though watch this space), the miasma of Dirty Politics which prevented the party getting their own campaign underway, and the profoundly difficult issue that they were massively behind in the polls.  Floating voters obey the laws of gravity.  They will tend to be drawn towards the greater mass.  I'm no mathematician, but I think 45% is bigger than 25%.  And their own overwhelming, systematic incompetence.  Let that never be forgotten.  Like who thought it was a good idea to announce the New Zealand Inc policy - which was interesting and important - on the same day as Dotcom's Big Reveal?

If there is one issue that should always be front and centre of every single Labour campaign it is education.  I'm trying to think of times when it was mentioned in the campaign.  I'm struggling.  I'm sure it was but ... Not exactly with feeling.  It is one issue that the left own and on which National is eternally vulnerable - charter schools!  Novopay!  Classes of over 40!  Branding children losers at 6!  And it is the Great Issue that unites left and centre - because everyone, pretty much, sends their kids to school, or employs people that have been through school.

Now we have an ACT associate minister of education, who will likely be used to front for every hideous policy National want to inflict on New Zealand.  He won't mind the opprobrium heaped on him - he's safe in Epsom, where people are hardly likely to oppose charter schools or bulk funding or support teachers' unions.  It's looking grim for the rest of us, however.  While mouthing sweet nothings over child poverty, Key's government will push through changes that will gut the education system and reinforce the pattern of inter-generational poverty, failure and despair that has blighted New Zealand since the 80s.

I don't care if David Cunliffe is still Labour leader in half an hour's time.  Because it doesn't matter who is.  Until the party sorts out it's prodigious crap mountain, whoever leads it is never going to be Prime Minster.

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