Friday 11 December 2009

With Friends Like These ...

Think Little: David Farrar's preferred Leader of the Opposition. Is the current Labour President preparing to play Jim Anderton to Phil Goff's David Lange?

IT WOULD SEEM that David Farrar took exactly the same message from Andrew Little’s conduct vis-à-vis Phil Goff, at this week’s Labour Caucus meeting as I did.

Karl Rove was always reminding President George W. Bush that most Americans watch the news with the sound turned down – so image is all-important. And, as Farrar writes in the latest NBR, the key visual image of that Labour Caucus meeting was of Little and Goff "walking side-by-side as equals and co-leaders".

But as David Lange discovered after deposing Bill Rowling in 1982, having a party president (in Lange’s case it was Jim Anderton) who is hostile both to yourself and to the faction which elected you, is a sure-fire recipe for disunity and conflict.

Now, if Andrew Little was cut from the same cloth as Jim Anderton, I might not find the prospect of a little disunity and conflict all that unsettling. Anderton was a staunch defender of core Labour values, and not at all afraid to promote new and often unorthodox ideas.

Andrew Little, on the other hand, gives every impression of being born old, and as orthodox as the Patriarch of Moscow. Farrar commends him for transforming NZUSA from a hotbed of student radicalism into a bloodless, no-frills lobbying organisation. He also notes approvingly how willing Little – as the leader of the EPMU – has been to work with employers (instead of trying to "destroy" them).

Naturally, these are precisely the aspects of Little’s career that give me such pause. It is hard to view the man as anything other than a rather dour and colourless technocrat – as bereft of personal passion as he is over-burdened with conventional political wisdom.

Farrar hails the speech Little delivered to this year’s Labour Conference as "the sort of wide ranging policy and political speech you normally get from the leader". He's half right. Little’s speech – on paper – was impressive. Unfortunately, its delivery was woeful. And it’s this inability to infuse the words on a page with the motivational energy of unmistakable personal conviction that encapsulates the problems I have with Little.

He is, in short, a man the National Party would feel extremely comfortable with as Leader of the Opposition – in fact, the sooner the better. Like the unfortunate ALP leader Simon Crean (another union technocrat) the current Labour President is regarded by the Right as essentially unelectable.

Not surprisingly they are singing his praises to the skies.


Anonymous said...

Anyone who seriously promotes Andrew Little as a future leader of the Labour Party has obviously never heard him speak.

Chris Trotter said...

"Hear, hear!" - or, rather - "Don't, don't!"

Anonymous said...

They were singing Goff's praises too when Helen was in power. And they'll sing the praises of another contender when the next leader is in power. It's called wedge politics.