I can Do This: At last Sunday's launch of its 2014 election campaign, the Labour Party reminded David Cunliffe that he had something worth leading, and he reminded them why they had considered him worthy of doing just that.
IT IS EASY to forget, sometimes, just how big the Labour Party truly is. When the party’s rank-and-file, their friends and families and the generally supportive turn out for Labour’s triennial campaign launch the numbers can be impressive. To fill the Viaduct Events Centre – a huge space – is no small achievement. It’s roughly the same as filling the Auckland Town Hall right up to the Gods – a common occurrence back in the days before television but a much rarer accomplishment in this grossly over-mediated era.
But gathering large numbers of people in a single venue remains a vital part of political campaigning – even in the age of Twitter and Facebook. Nothing else comes close to providing the party faithful with the excitement, the buzz, the magic that transforms mere information into conviction. And when you throw in the superlative skills of Don McGlashan and his friends, slashing out the chords of “Nature” in a hall pulsing with socialist crimson, and the whole audience is up on its feet and swaying to the beat, well, magic is what you get.
McGlashan and friends’ rendition of the Split Enz classic “Time For A Change” – channelling the Spirit of ’72 when Norm Kirk rode to a stunning victory on that simplest of slogans – also had the hairs standing up on the back of more than a few old-timer’s necks. And then the master of ceremonies, Oscar Kightley, was introducing “the next Prime Minister of New Zealand” and the place just went nuts.
It was Radio New Zealand’s Brent Edwards who best summed up the effect of Cunliffe’s near flawless delivery by observing that all those Labour Party members who had voted for him in last year’s leadership contest would have heard the speech and been reassured that they’d made the right choice. Yes, their loyalty has been tested of late, that is undeniable, but so, too, is the fact that when David Cunliffe is on form he is a very, very good performer. Yes, even better than John Key.
Who, if he’s not seriously worried already, must surely be getting that way. Because something strange is happening out there in the place Don Brash called “Punterland”. National’s spells are no longer producing the desired effects, and what’s worse: much, much worse; John Key’s vital political magic is also beginning to fade.
Darren Watson’s and Jeremy Jones’ extraordinary music video, “Planet Key”, in recapitulating all of the Prime Minister’s most inglorious moments, deconstructs the National Party leader’s hitherto indestructible persona with hilarious (but deadly) aplomb. Daily Blog Editor, Martyn Bradbury, insists that the animators at Propeller Motion set out to create the 2014 equivalent of Rob Muldoon’s infamous “Dancing Cossacks” cartoons of 1975. If that’s true, then I can only say they have succeeded magnificently!
But “Planet Key” was only the first straw in a rising wind of discontent. The rhythmic chanting of “Fuck John Key!” by Canterbury students was another. Now we are told that young people are burning the Prime Minister in effigy. It’s as if a dangerously large percentage of the electorate has suddenly noticed that the towering Tory idol which has loomed over them these past six years has feet of clay, and are all, simultaneously, reaching for their hammers.
Because why shouldn’t the elderly, pregnant women, children under 13 and the chronically ill have free access to their GPs? Why is that a bad idea? And why shouldn’t the wealthy pay more tax – just the way they did 35 short years ago? Who says New Zealand won’t be better off for paying its workers a living wage and making sure their families have warm and affordable houses to live in? Why have all these things been taken off the agenda? Who did that? And isn’t it time we put them back on New Zealand’s “to do” list?
As the final chords of “Time For A Change” reverberated around the Viaduct Events Centre, a beaming David Cunliffe looked out over a red sea of followers, almost in disbelief. He has been told that he is failing so loudly and so often that he’s had to fight very hard against the temptation to believe it. But yesterday, as he received the raucous approbation of his enraptured party, you could see it in his face; the realisation: I can do this.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 12 August 2014.