Sunday 9 March 2008

Trotter struts, frets

Another week, another column (1) from Chris Trotter calling for Labour to dump Clark in favour of Goff.

Perhaps Trotter is adopting a Churchillian strategy, saying the same thing over and over until eventually circumstances happen to match it. Even a stoped clock tells the right time twice a day. Or maybe he thinks if he keeps on going on about it long enough, Labour will hand Helen the black spot, just to shut him up.

As I said before, Tortter is wasting his privileged position as a commentator by pursuing this rabbit down the hole. As Peter Wilson pointed out, rolling your leader a few months out from an election doesn't often work:
Bill English lost in 2002 after ousting Jenny Shipley. He didn't last long after that and was replaced by Don Brash.

And Labour has its own bad memories of leadership changes. It panicked in 1990 when, with a few weeks to go, it replaced Geoffrey Palmer with Mike Moore. He lost, and soon after the election he was replaced by Helen Clark as Leader of the opposition. (2)
In his new column, Trotter decides not to borther with reason and instead constructs a phoney argument in support of his case.

His argument is that we should have Goff because there isn't an alternative, and Clark is now dragging her party down with her. He claims that "what the polls are telling me, in no uncertain terms, is that the electorate'sstopped listening to Helen Clark" (3) - though this is based on a spurious interpretation of poll data, where Trotter reasons that because Clark's rating is lower than Labours, she must be dead weight. This is nonsense.

In the February (4) poll, Key's rating (36%) is lower than National's (53%). Applying Trotter's logic, National should ditch Key, at which point their share of the vote will rise to about 80%. It is arguable that Clark's popularity (27%) is sufferring because of her association with Labour (34%). After all, it wasn't Clark that socked Tau Henare, sacked Madeleine Satchell, fluffed a simple explanation of party funding, or was David Benson-Pope.

Beyond that, Trotter ponders alternatives means Labour could use to regain popularity - drawing on discussion topics put up by the Socialist Worker's unityaotearoa blog (5). Bear in mind, the goals listed aren't actually a manifesto, or even a wish list for the SWP - just topics put up to provoke discussion. But having constructed his straw man, Trotter spends the rest of the column jousting with him, before declaring that since the radical niave socialism of the SWP won't work, we need to have Goff, pronto. Even though he's already ruled himself out.

This is outlandish. The Socialist Worker is not New Zealand's Labour Party. Conflating the two is laughable, and suggesting that the only alternative is between Goff and the programme of the SWP is pathetic. It does not follow that because Labour aren't pursuing the SWP programme (far less some half-ideas put up on a blog for debate) they need to invest Phil Goff.

There is an another option, inspite of Trotter's contention. Don't change the leader. Stop cocking up. Announce some sensible policies. Use Cullen. Attack National policies. Use Cullen. Wait for the leadership debates, where Clark will probably outgun Key. I'm sure National would be delighted to learn that Key would be facing Goff instead of Clark.

This is, in fact, what I expect Labour to do. They might still lose the election, but that is about as likely to happen under Clark as it is under Goff. Everyone seems to grasp this except Trotter. He might argue that he's trying to provoke debate, but I think he's just trying to establish himself as a Cassandra figure (I'm sure he looks lovely in a dress) in case of defeat, and also build his reputation as an iconoclaust not afraid to think the unthinkable. How calling for nice-but-vacuous Phil Goff to be crowned makes him that, I do not know, but on evidence of this week's column, it would be asking too much of Trotter to be able to explain it, logically.
1 - 'Got any better ideas, Labour?' by Chris Trotter, in the Dominion Post, on the 7th of March. Reproduced on unityaotearoa
blog. (
2 - 'Leadership change would be fatal for Labour,' by Peter Wilson for NZPA, 3rd of March, 2008. Reproduced on (
3 - Trotter, op. cit.
4 - 'ONE News Colmar Brunton Poll: Feb 2008,' unnattributed summary of the poll data for TVNZ, on 17th of February, 2008. (
5 - 'Election Year- the Centre cannot hold,' posted by UNITYblog on, um, unityaotearoa blog, on the 3rd of March, 2008.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I almost overlooked this - Chris Trotter’s column on Friday in the Dominion Post. Trotter advocates more stringly than his previous hints that Labour should make Goff Leader if they want a chance of a fourth term:

Prime Minister Helen Clark’s fast-dwindling coterie of media allies tell us it would be madness. The throng of political journalists hanging around John Key agree. But what, exactly, is mad about the idea of replacing Helen Clark with Phil Goff?

According to the latest Fairfax-Nielsen poll, Labour is now more popular than its leader. That suggests the Government’s catastrophic numbers are being driven by Miss Clark’s unpopularity not the party’s.

This marks an important shift in the electorate’s response. For most of the past eight years the prime minister has consistently outperformed her party in popularity. She was Labour’s greatest asset, the wind beneath its wings. She has now become the lump of lead on its back.


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