Friday 9 December 2011

Staying Ahead Of The Power Curve

Joint Take-Off: Only by joining forces can David Shearer and David Cunliffe free themselves from the tutelage of Labour's "Spent Forces". Shearer alone will be beholden to them. And Cunliffe alone will be undermined by them. Only together can Shearer and Cunliffe isolate and disarm Labour's Old Guard. Only by working together can the forces of reform stay ahead of the power curve.

THERE’S A SCENE in the movie Missing where Captain Ray Tower, the US Naval Intelligence officer, gives Beth, the leftist hero’s girlfriend, a piece of advice.

“You gotta learn to stay ahead of the power curve, kid. You know what I mean? It's an old aircraft carrier term. If a pilot gets ahead of the power curve and something happens, then he can pull up and away. But if he falls behind the power curve and something happens, then it's adios. You gotta stay ahead of the power curve, kid.”

By now David Cunliffe will have a pretty good idea of whether he’s ahead of, or behind, the power curve that’s about to determine the Labour leadership. My guess is, he’s behind. My guess is David Shearer will, by the time you read this, have enough support to win the caucus vote on Tuesday.

If Mr Cunliffe remains on his present course, then, in the words of Captain Tower, “it’s adios” to his leadership hopes. He will have fallen behind the power curve.

But, there’s still a way Mr Cunliffe’s fighter plane can clear the aircraft carrier’s deck. Because, from the moment David Parker abandoned the race and released his supporters, Mr Shearer has also been behind the power curve. If Mr Shearer wants to get ahead of the power curve, then he’s going to need Mr Cunliffe.

How can this be? How can Mr Shearer be poised to become Labour’s leader and yet lack the power to get his plane off the flight deck? The answer lies in the composition of Mr Shearer’s support.

When he, almost casually, added his name to the list of leadership candidates on 29 November, I really don’t think Mr Shearer had much of a game plan beyond signalling to his colleagues that, at some point, but probably not this point, he might be considered for the top job. What he failed to grasp was that by adding his own candidacy to the leadership contest he’d unwittingly strengthened the hand of Mr Cunliffe’s enemies.

Prior to Mr Shearer’s announcement, the “Anyone But Cunliffe” (ABC) clique had been forced to place all their hopes in Mr Parker. But, as the three-Davids encounter on TVNZ’s Close-Up cruelly exposed, Mr Parker was never going to beat Mr Cunliffe. Mr Shearer, on the other hand, looked like a winner.

Almost overnight, Mr Parker found himself abandoned by his erstwhile backers. Even Grant Robertson, the man Mr Parker had nominated as his preferred Deputy, snuck off to “Camp Shearer”. Stricken, Mr Parker withdrew from the race and threw his support behind Mr Shearer.

Now Mr Shearer was a serious contender, but his new front-runner status came at a price. Like David Lange before him, he was no longer his own man. Labour’s spent forces, the MPs epitomised by the politically exhausted figure of Trevor Mallard, were now wrapped around Mr Shearer like Supplejack around a Totara. And they were clinging to him for only one reason: survival. Their arch-enemy, Mr Cunliffe, had long ago read their use-by dates. That’s why the ABC’s couldn’t allow him to win.

But, if Mr Cunliffe cannot defeat Mr Shearer, he can, at least, defeat Mr Shearer’s backers. A rejuvenated, restructured, or, to borrow Labour stalwart, Jordan Carter’s, term, “refounded” Labour Party cannot be created by a glove-puppet.

If Mr Cunliffe cannot beat Mr Shearer, then he should, over the next 72 hours, think very seriously about joining him. It’s not too late for the best qualified candidate to contact the most popular candidate; set up a meeting; and make a deal. Mr Key and Mr English did it – why not Mr Shearer and Mr Cunliffe?

Together, they’ve more than enough strength to tear off and make a bonfire of all that parasitic caucus Supplejack. Together, they could bend the arc of history towards a Labour victory. Together, a new power curve could hurl their fighters skyward – heading straight for the National fleet.

This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Otago Daily Times, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 9 December 2011.


Victor said...


A neat but unconvincing partial retreat from your previous post, with its all too fashionable suggestion that the under-skilled neophyte, Shearer, had something close to Messianic potential.

I lack the gift of prophesy and rarely make firm political forecasts. But I will venture the following:

With or without Cunliffe to hold his hand, Shearer will be eaten for breakfast almost daily by John Key.

Whatever's left will be skilfully nibbled at by Winston Peters for morning tea.

And then Russel Norman will finish off much of whatever's left for lunch, with a soupcon remaining for John Banks.

If you like the man, which you clearly do, why wish this fate upon him, let alone upon the Labour Party?

This willful leap into a wholly forcastable disaster is worthy of lemmings (or even of Bush'n Blair)!

Dave Kennedy said...

Labour's leadership change process appears to be highly flawed and overly public, they could learn a lot from the Greens. Considering we elect joint leaders and have only had four since 1995 and two of them are current there is some proof that our processes are robust and stand the test of time. Sound decision making processes lead to internal stability and good results over time, surely this is what we should expect from our leading political parties.

Anonymous said...

At risk of being repetitive, I have to agree with Victor. On a certain Grey Lynn-based TV programme screened today we heard some more wishful thinking about Shearer. Apparently it is good to be able to grow into the role, and so it doesn't matter if he isn't ready. The other one was about the need for his absence from Parliament as Leader of the Opposition, the strategy is to go around the country meeting small groups and showing how nice he is, unlike that awful Cunliffe joker.

On this basis Labour will be looking to forfeit the role of the Leader of the Opposition. So in three year's time, if Shearer is still around, they'll be saying that he was a nice guy but not ruthless enough to be leader. Just like his friend Phil Goff.

Victor said...

The Sentinel

And, of course, Shearer may never grow into the role.

If, following his long career with the UN and his 2.5 years in the Beehive, he still can't articulate policy in an informative way, he might justifiably ask himself whether he's in the right profession.

Meanwhile,the truly outrageous aspect of this contest is that Cunliffe's obvious strengths are being turned on their heads and twisted by commentators and then used to discredit him.

Lucidity becomes 'smoothness', a grasp of the issues becomes 'sharpness' and his unusually (for New Zealand)straightforward manner becomes 'arrogance'.

So what is he meant to become? Maladroit, ill-informed and mealy-mouthed?

Do we really want to immitate the faux populism of the US Republican right, which seems to value candidates in inverse proportion to their intellectual attainments or sophistication?

If so, we're on a hiding to nowhere as a country!

Olwyn said...

In politics, scaring some group to at least some extent shows you mean business. Who does National scare? A lot of people, including many who voted for them, oddly enough. Who does ACT scare? All but 1%, consisting of very rich people and a few wild-eyed boys & girls. Who do the Greens scare? Farmers and coasters. Winston is a kind of centrist, but is anti-neoliberal and a keen whistle blower, and defends his position fiercely. So he scares ACT & National. Hone is less scary with a small percentage than he would be with a big one, but a number of people would be quite scared if his party climbed above the 5% mark & began to throw its weight around.

It is no good thinking, well we lost our middle-class voters to the Greens, so we should be more centrist. What about the even greater number who were too disengaged to vote? Having already cast off class politics in the 80s and then identity politics under Goff, there is nowhere to return to the centre from, and sticking a cautious toe in leftish waters one month out from the election is not enough to turn such a move into a genuine compromise.

To be taken seriously you have to scare the horses a bit; make a few property developers, landlords and similar nervous. Then people really want to know what you are up to, so you get media attention. Once you have gained enough traction, you can compromise a with the centre to some degree. Cunliffe in my eyes, is more capable of achieving this that Shearer. As Machiavelli said, you can withdraw love easily, but not so fear, though he did not think you should take fear so far as to find yourself hated.

Anonymous said...

Vic: With or without Cunliffe to hold his hand, Shearer will be eaten for breakfast almost daily by John Key.

Ah. Therein lies the misconception, I fear, Victor.

the notion that political struggle consists of "daily" verbal battles between two individuals and that one is eventually "eaten", yeilding power to the winner's party.

Nothing could be further from the truth, on every level: or Hels would still walk amongst us. Cunners could eat Key for breakfast, dinner and tea twice daily, but if it's never seen, it never happens. A single "show us the money" or "National still at record lead" would trump a million words.

Our governance is solely determined by the swinging voter; by definition, susceptible to mainstream media suggestion and the the self-fulfilling prophesy of ubiquitous poll results.

Get past that with the unorthodoxy, unity, wide vision, branch stimulation and innovative direct personal appeal of First Lab, or the past six years are a wasted lesson.

For example, a Kiwi Primary: a twelve month Shearer/Cunners co-leadership with an absolutely open and transparent December '12 membership ballot. What's to lose? Media respect? Har har.


Anonymous said...

All of this is irrelevant. The new Labour leader will have to be someone capable of managing a transition from neoliberalism to whatever comes next.

This will be necessitated by events overseas. New Zealanders are behaving as if this is business is usual. It is not. We are now in a transitional period, similar to 1935-45 and 1975-85. We don't need people who will follow the status quo, but leaders.

Cunliffe has the brains for this. Shearer is a lightweight, and we all know it.

Victor said...


I know you to be an assiduous student of events. It will not, therefore,have escaped your notice that Auntie Helen led a three term government.

That's despite our much-botoxed,aspirational, soggy centre and its media mind-benders judging her guilty of witchcraft, poisoning wells, the inducement of nationwide male erectile problems and pilfering the public purse.

So tough-minded intellectuality and the unceasing antipathy of the Pundificate might not be the total handicaps you suggest them to be.

I agree with you that there's more to leading a political party than verbal jousting over the Despatch Box and that the media plays an untoward and often overwhelming role in shaping perceptions.

But it's already pretty clear that the media wants to anoint David Shearer as Mr Nice Guy, whose non-threatening, shambling persona will act as a foil to John Key's incisiveness, street savvy and well-cut suits.

When ,as now seems inevitable, Shearer is duly crowned Grand Panjandrum of a dwindled-down Labour party, he can, initially, expect to be patted and patronised in a soporifically deceptive way by the Espinerality.

But, as 2014 draws closer, the gloves will come off and nice guys, we'll be reminded, finish last!

By then, of course, both Winston and Russ will have had their cudos brightly burnished by Labour's eclipse.

And, actually, I suspect that both Davids are really quite nice guys. But it's perception that counts, in a funny, contradictory, sort of way.

Anonymous said...

..judging her guilty of witchcraft, poisoning wells, the inducement of nationwide male erectile problems and pilfering the public purse.

Nicely put Victor! And if I might add...a barren crone sending thousands of good parents to jail.

I'd suggest though, that the anti-Lab media blitz only began and sunk to its current nadir around 2006. Orewa One was the warm-up, Anti-anti-smacking and Death of Democracy the blatant examples of what has become the pathetic norm.

he can, initially, expect to be patted and patronised...But, as 2014 draws closer, the gloves will come off

Correct: nice guy or tough guy - or anything in between - the media will pounce regardless, on the flimsiest or barely-existent excuse. Which is why Labour should take the patting while it lasts.'s perception that counts, in a funny, contradictory, sort of way.

Nothing funny about it. It's just the rules. Play them at their own game with Nice Guy/feint to Little Guy/switch to Tough Guy/flash a Helooo Jacinda/chronicle Nanaia or any combination of the above and more, or do not pass Go.


Victor said...


....and attempting to pass herself off as Vincent van Gogh without even having the decency to slice off her ear!

BTW I think the relentless media negativity started around half way through HC's Term Two. But it was the sort of stuff that's hard to protest about, e.g. a perfectly reasonable newspaper story with a totally incendiary headline or a fairly conducted interview with a tendentious lead-in.

Maybe nice cop/nasty cop will work. But I have my doubts.

Anonymous said...

No leader has to passively accept the MSM villification. Clark or Goff both had the choice of setting a radical agenda and calling on people to come onto the streets in support of them.

Their inherent conservatism meant they chose to play the game according to boss class rules which preclude telling the truth about power relationships.

The only way Labour is going to become relevant again is to engage with the huge number of people who have stopped believing in voting as a way to get a better life.

To do this they need a leader brave enough to throw away the rule book and start telling the truth about our economic system, about climate change and about who really makes the decisions.

The media can try to suppress or distort everything they say but that is no different to the situation the original Labour Party was in - just take a look at some of the Herald coverage of them.

A good leader will not be stopped by the MSM or use them as an excuse for failing to connect with the people and lead them to a better future.

Anonymous said...

What I'm hearing around the traps is that Cunliffe/Mahuta are clearly preferred by the membership, because of their competence, but that Shearer/Robertson will get the caucus votes because they are less threatening. I hope what I'm hearing about caucus is wrong. The Labour MPs need to listen to their membership.

Anonymous said...

I was at this afternoon's Labour Party meeting. It's a shame Chris that you weren't. Honestly I felt sorry for Shearer. He just doesn't cut it. I want someone with fire in their belly who will inspire me and other Party members to go out and encourage others to want to vote for Labour because they believe it will make a difference to them and their community.
The low turnout in the recent Election was a deliberate strategy of John Key and his spin machine. It is no coincidence that he went on Radio Live for a much publicied "politics free" zone. Because if Labour people don't feel inspired to vote, that is just perfect for the Nats.
So are Labour MPs serious when they say we need a "nice guy" to match John Key? I think not.
No one who attended this afternoon's meeting could, hand on hreat, say Shearer outshone Cunliffe. Cunliffe's speech was inspirational and punctuated by enthusiastic clapping. Nanaia was also very impressive -- her speech warm and engaging.