Friday 16 December 2011

A Fresh Face - For A Fresh Start

Authenticity: David Shearer feels real. And it's that quality, more than any other, that Labour needs if it is to recover from its worst defeat in 80 years and win the 2014 election.

THE BLUE SEDAN had been following their car for some time. The driver kept glancing in the rear-view mirror, saying nothing, but watching, with growing apprehension, as the distance between the two vehicles narrowed. He was pretty sure he’d seen the occupants’ faces before. They’d been part of the angry crowd of Israeli settlers who’d gathered to hurl stones and abuse at the West-Bank border checkpoint.

The Palestinian villagers who were the focus of the settlers’ rage just shrugged. This was their life now. What could they say? For a couple of hours the little delegation had stayed and listened, and then driven away with the details of yet another incursion; yet another seizure of Arab land. But, as their driver now plainly saw, they had not left alone.

The narrow streets of Old Jerusalem prevented any sort of fast getaway, and corner by corner, intersection by intersection, the blue sedan edged closer. The driver was certain now: these were the men he’d seen at the check-point, the ones who had eye-balled him directly and drawn their fingers across their throats in the universal gesture of murderous intent. Still the driver said nothing to his companions, but around the steering-wheel his knuckles visibly whitened.

And then, thanks-be-to-God, another checkpoint loomed ahead. Israeli soldiers moved towards the two now motionless vehicles seeking identification. The driver presented his United Nations ID and his three Kiwi companions offered up their New Zealand passports. While a weary-looking officer checked them out, the driver clearly overheard one of the occupants of the blue sedan tell the young conscript holding his papers: “Hurry-up and let us through little brother, we’ve come to kill that sonofabitch from the UN!”

As the soldiers patiently instructed the settler assassins to turn their car around, David Shearer and his friends drove on to safety.

"Let us through little brother, we've come to kill that sonofabitch from the UN!"

IT’S STORIES LIKE THAT that made David Shearer Labour’s leader, and may, in three years’ time, make him New Zealand’s next prime minister. Not because he is New Zealand’s most eloquent politician. Not because his grasp of detail is second-to-none. Not because he has a face and a manner perfectly suited to the small screen. If those were the qualities the Labour Caucus had been seeking they would have chosen David Cunliffe – who has them in abundance.

Labour’s Caucus, which the New Zealand electorate, just three weeks ago, saw fit to pare down from forty-three to thirty-four Members of Parliament, knows better than anyone that their party’s been judged and found wanting. Its deficiency was not one of intellect, or feeling, or capability. What Labour was deemed to lack was authenticity. More bluntly: it didn’t seem real. And unless and until it becomes real, Labour will remain in opposition.

And that is David Shearer’s great advantage. In spite of (or is it because of) his “lived-in” face and his hesitant speech Labour’s new leader feels genuine; feels true.

At the media conference that followed his election, David Shearer talked about bringing a “fresh face” to a “fresh start”, and of wanting to build a “clean, green and clever” economy “open to all New Zealanders”. Most importantly, Labour’s new leader wants to “reconnect” his party with the people whose support it has lost.

These are not the factory workers of yesteryear, they’re the independent contractors and self-employed workers of today. Workers who, for better or for worse, have only themselves and their families to rely on. Workers who, though unprotected by unions, and unsupported by the State, are nevertheless proud of what they have made out of the skills they have acquired and the opportunities they have seized.

Like the farmers of Palestine and the herdsmen of Somalia, all these New Zealanders want is a chance to get on with their lives in peace and without undue interference. An olive grove, a herd of cattle, or a little franchise business mowing lawns, altering clothes or splicing cables: the difference in the end is pretty negligible. These are “little guys” in a large and too-often-uncaring world. And all they’re looking for is someone and something to stand in their corner; a person and a party to watch their back.

And that, for his whole adult life, is precisely what David Shearer has been doing.

And the men in the blue sedan haven’t been able to stop him yet.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 16 December 2011.


Guerilla surgeon said...

"independent contractors and self-employed workers of today."
What about the thousands of service workers in this country that have been abandoned by Labour? For better or worse these are the ones that suffer under right-wing government, and deserve better representation and they get. This sort of work seems to be what is left now for people in developed countries with minimal skills. Perhaps it's time we devoted some thought to increasing their wages and bettering their conditions?

Anonymous said...

Can someone explain to me why the slogan 'fresh face for a fresh start' contains a reverent idea? To counter one metaphor with anopther, what is actually wrong with experience, being honed, seasoned?

alwyn said...

I think you left out the bit where he fed the hundreds of thousands of starving refugees with five fish and two loaves of bread. Or did he have two fish and five loaves of bread?
Can you give a reference to the origin of this story?

Chris Trotter said...

From someone who was there, Alwyn. The Kiwis in the car were journalists.

Anonymous said...

It is an interesting anecdote, and maybe Shearer is cool as a cucumber under pressure in the Middle East, but the obvious point is that he is lucky. As in right place and right time, given his previous political aspirations were foiled.

So his self-professed talent is team building. And if he is a genuine progressive, and he becomes PM, he will need someone who is good at details and knows about bureaucratic ploys and tricks. Because every previous Labour admin, apart fromt he secret agenda of 1984, has been misled over the state of the public accounts, especially Nordmeyer. Maybe the new man from Dunedin North will emerge in the critical finance role. Otherwise the key person will be Parker, if he is the finance minister, while Shearer neutralises Key's apparent everyman/millionaire chic.

peterquixote said...

sounds a good story dude, why don't I believe you

Apollo said...

Chris do you actually know the states in this country about how many people are technically employees - giving their LABOUR to someone else? Because statistically wise they are totally overwhelm your self-employed. These 'labourers' are the real people of the labour party - ever was thus!

Anonymous said...

Both Shearer and his wife were UN paid, tax free, in US$, employees to do a job. They undertook this willingly I would expect. It pays very well.
I hope you are right though, but let us not idolise their roles.

Anonymous said...

"A fresh face for a fresh start".
Sounds nice, but Labour will need a lot more than a fresh face if it is ever to govern again.

It will need a leader with an in-depth knowledge of policy and economics, not just someone who waffles his way through as Shearer has done so far. His public utterances have been all fluff, no substance.

It will need a leader who realises that "Waitakere man" has had a gutsful of stupid Labour policies like extending WFF to beneficiaries or removing GST from fruit and veg.

It will need a leader with pragmatism. A leader who realises that if iwi get a chunk of the partial asset sales, that WILL help a large number of "Labour's people". Likewise with charter schools, for which there is a huge mountain of evidence for their success. They too will help "Labour's people".

It will need a leader who fights the battles of tomorrow, not the ones of the past.

If Shearer doesn't realise all of this, then he's doomed to the same fate as Goff.

AnnaLiviaPlurabella said...

Shearer’s failure so far to offer Cunliffe a credible role indicates that he is continueing the games of the last unsuccessfu caucus. If he keeps it up the Labour people who saw Cunliffe around the country will suspect that Shearer actually is Trevor’s poodle. The party won’t accept a claque taking it over and white-anting lefties.

The open approach of the “primary” process is now gone. It is back to the smart ass stuff of Trevor &co that lost us the election. Have a word with your local MP. Ask him or her to tell you what is going on.

Cactus Kate said...

If cool war stories are a pre-requisite now to being Prime Minister, watch for Mark Mitchell to be PM in 2014.
He's actually killed the bad guys, not just handed out food and being paid millions for it.
The Shearer "backstory" is quite frankly pretty boring. If a movie was made most people would be asleep before the half hour was up.

jh said...

""We have no fear of migrants. The Green Party says 'Welcome Home - this is your country now'. Our welcome extends to the families of new migrants. The Green Party policy is fundamentally humanitarian, not exclusionary like Mr Peters'."

O.K so that is the Green Party not labour but Labour (today) is also more humanitarian than "exclusionary". The truth is that while the old FOL would keep the foreign worker out and prevent immigrants from buying our houses (essentially land with lifestyle), modern labour has gone in boots and all.

Neither the left or the right recognize the implications of population growth or the benefits of defending our turf.

jh said...

The Productivity Commission blames land supply for house prices. The Savings Working Group blames Immigration, tax breaks for investors and land supply (they also claim that hasn't. They also say that immigration hasn't increased incomes as we are a low wage economy and all the new infrastructure required has to come out of taxes. The Greens respond by citing the SWG's position on tax. One thing National. Labour and the Greens agree on is that immigration is good so that leaves the taxation angle and density. Who would believe that wealthy foreigners arriving en masse would put house prices up. this demonstrates the castration of the left.

Anonymous said...

This fresh face has been around since 1999 trying to gain favour with Labour. Candidate for somewhere he was not wanted. 61 on the List that year, was he not?
Parachuted into Mt Albert because of ABT (anyone but Twyford) to keep Tizard from being next on the List if Twyford won.
Yeah, great backstory there.
Labour has simply run out of options.

Anonymous said...

Bullshit story.

The Left have traditionally supported the Jewish occupation of Palestine and this is particularly true of the NZ Labour Party.

Victor said...

Being myself one of the self-employed, I recognise that "It's the economy, stupid".

Mending our economy needs something more than waffle, focus groups, warm fuzzies and bluff, matey populism.

It needs leadership, proven expertise and a good grasp of counter-cyclical economics. That's what Cunliffe offered.

In contrast, Shearer apparently wants to go round the country posing as one of the lads and imbibing the collective wisdom of those brainwashed by three decades of neo-Liberalism.

Labour has fluffed a once in a generation opportunity to reset the terms of our economic discourse.

What a waste!

Loz said...

As the status quo hierarchy of the parliamentary wing (including the remaining 1980's Labour politicians) were united in supporting a man who is known for the jobs he's held and not the principles he represents it's hard to see how this is anything other than window dressing.

Mike Moore was also a fresh face for Labour. Mike Moore also had an impressive sounding work history. Mike's fresh face led Labour to the worst election defeat of any government in NZ's history.

Anonymous said...

David Shearer quoted in the Dominion post: "Guitars should be considered essential tools of diplomacy. Banjos are acceptable alternatives, but a bit sissy."

Bela Fleck, Earl Scruggs, Paul Trenwith, Johnny St Cyr, Buddy Watcher, Eddie Peabody and Ralph Stanley are sissy are they?

Crawl away somewhere Shearer.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Anonymous@4:49

Not this guy. His role in exposing the Israelis' duplicity in the siting of the West Bank Wall is well-documented.

Your knee-jerk prejudices do you no credit.

To: Victor.

A wee bit early to write him off wouldn't you say?

The bitterness among the Labour rank-and-file is worrying. Was Cunliffe really that different from Shearer? Intellectually? Ideologically?

I think not.

Kat said...

At least a bit of rumbling in the Labour ranks shows that the thinking free minds are still active. Unlike Nationals rank and file who would support a stuffed turd if it made money and had a cheesy smile.

Victor said...

Hi Chris

What can I say?

I hope I'm wrong and I'll be delighted if I'm proved wrong.

But I don't think I will be.

You ask how different Shearer is to Cunliffe in terms of intellect or ideology.

How would we know? His views on many important issues aren't (to the best of my knowledge)available in any detail and, when asked, he backs into his default position of needing to find out what the punters think.

Well, this punter would like to know what Shearer thinks.

Perhaps the hostility of many on this thread is not really Shearer's fault. Perhaps it's merely hostility to the way that you and his other supporters (of both Left and Right)have sold his candidacy.

Perhaps, if we knew what he stood for on the great (primarily economic) questions facing the country, we might feel a bit better about him.

But the unceasing mellifluous waffle about a new face and the need for some sort of undefined "change" is a bit of an insult to one's intelligence.

It's the sort of warm fuzzy evasion that, I'm sure, you'd be the first to condemn if it came from the right of the spectrum.

And it's all the more objectionable when contrasted with Cunliffe's marked willingness and ability to expound and defend policy.

Sanctuary said...

"...The bitterness among the Labour rank-and-file is worrying..."

Sometimes when you've been in a marriage to long, it is time to go your separate ways and let someone new come along.

I was having lunch today with several people who mostly voted National a few weeks back. Shearer's appeal to particularly the men was astonishing to me.

A lot of people in Labour seems to have developed a seige mentality from spending to long defending unpopular cultural war issues. They seem suspicious of being popular, behaving like little Moe Szyslak when confronted with positive feedback. If some can't get their heads around having a leader who is actually popular on mainstreet then they only solution is to leave the party.

Olwyn said...

I agree Victor - "But the unceasing mellifluous waffle about a new face and the need for some sort of undefined "change" is a bit of an insult to one's intelligence."

I would add that the mellifluous (lovely word) waffle also raises one's suspicions. It is not as if this waffle adds a rhetorical flourish to concisely stated intentions, it replaces them. And you cannot help but want to know why:if your intended actions would be welcomed, why not state them? You and others are asking people to support Shearer as a politician, not a movie character.

Chris Trotter said...

Is there a difference, Olwyn? If politics isn't a drama, then its nothing but administration.

Olwyn said...

A false dichotomy Chris. It is not a matter of either pure drama or pure administration, and I allowed in my post for the possibility of concisely stated intentions, enhanced by a rhetoric flourish. It still remains that we have seen little or nothing of David Shearer's intentions, and one might have reason to fear that if they were all that interesting or welcome they would serve as the basis for the drama, and not be occluded by the dramatisation of his back story.

Anonymous said...

But you still have to get the administration sorted and have the space to govern. Sorry to harp on, but the usual story is that most Labour ministers will accept things put up by officials, rather than trust party instincts about the bureaucrats. No doubt there are counter examples.

I still think that Shearer is part of a media strategy, and that the TV people really wanted to use their old footage of Shearer in action. I know this is simplistic but image seems to be everything. If Shearer hates bureaucracy like he says, he will be very reliant on colleagues who have ministerial experience. That assumes that he can raise his profile in the provinces, with people who have no idea what the UN does in the former Palestine etc., no room for such subtleties there.

Anonymous said...

Chris, I'm deeply disappointed.
No post about the passing of the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-Il?
The socialist "par excellence".
The inspiration for Comrade Helen and countless unionists.
Even us right-wingers have marked his passing on WO's blog.

Anonymous said...

When I was a child my father and all the other adults I knew had been in a war. No doubt many of them were cool under fire, and some of them were certainly hero's, but I don't think any of them would have been much good as politicians.

Drama helps keep people engaged in politics but it is the policies and actions of the politicians that make the drama, not their backstories.

If Shearers rapid rise to leadership is simply a move by the commentariat to put themselves centrestage as the playmakers of politics, rather than the drivel hawking bystanders they really are, then he will surely fail.

However if he really does have a programme designed to reconnect with the third of New Zealanders who are so disillusioned with parliamentary politics they don't even bother to vote, then I wish him well.

Victor said...


The drama of politics emerges from passions, ideals, character and cogent thought lucidly expressed.

What you get from empty spin is just melodrama.


I would agree that Labour has a blind spot concerning the black arts of branding and suffers accordingly.

However, a brand normally has to be based on some substance if it's to stand the test of time.

We're still waiting to discover what Brand Shearer is about, apart from the "back story" and "ABC".

Branding, moreover, requires skilled marketing and, on current showing, that doesn't seem to be Shearer's own personal forte.

Right now he's got the media pack baying on his side. How will he fare without them? You're surely not imagining that they'll prefer him to John Key in 2014.

As to Shearer's spurt of popularity with your National-voting male chums, I can't help but recall that ilke circa 1990 and their sudden enthusiasm for Mike Moore.

Karl Marx was only partly right when he wrote that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.

Sometimes it's farce the first time and farce the second time, as well.

Chris Trotter said...

No, thor42, I see no reason to mark the passing of the pampered offspring of a tyrant, whose unfortunate Korean homeland has about as much to do with socialism, as its Chinese ally has to do with communism.

To claim, as you do, that North Korea offered some sort of inspiration to Helen Clark, or any other Labourite (with the notable exception of the risible Graham Kelly) merely confirms your status as a right-wing crank.

Brendan McNeill said...

I'm a fan of conviction politicians on either side of the political divide. To me of the two, Cunliffe was the conviction politician, or at least one with a clear policy position, and the ability to articulate it.

That counts for a lot in my book.

Shearer on the other hand may prove to exceed my expectations, but that task lies ahead of him, not just for me, but as I note, for others on this blog.

I could also do with a few politicians who were able administrators rather than thespians, or social pioneers.

Less drama and more competency would do us all a world of good.

My sense is that the present Government remains a 'safe pair of hands' in difficult economic times. One that will not satisfy the demands of the left, but neither will it satisfy someone like myself completely either.

Unless Shearer can articulate a clear and sensible policy platform of 'difference' that resonates with middle New Zealand, he will be an 'also ran'.

My take is that National under Key's leadership has captured that space, and unless he dramatically miss-reads the public mood over the next three years, he will get a third term.

There is historical precedent.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Chris, I appreciate that... ;)

jh said...

The Government commisions reports but tells them what they are/ aren't allowed to consider. In my view that is pre and unadulterated corruption???

Victor said...


Obviously you are correct on the subject of Kim Jong-Il.

But might I suggest that those of us who occasionally say prayers, say one for Vaclav Havel.

Chris Trotter said...

Amen to that, Victor. One of the 36 Good Men.

Victor said...


However, many of the 36 are women. I suspect there's at least one such in Burma right now.

Shona said...

Great story I first thought and then nah not impressed. All over this world expatriate kiwis carry out diffcult and dangerous jobs, albeit well paid. There more than one million well educated ( thanks to our state education system) New Zealanders who form the kiwi diaspora. My partner is one of them. He has worked for transnationals for more than 30 years. His present employer has a budget that dwarfs the UN's a few times over.He has built more teams of people than Shearer or any other NZ politician, mostly with people for whom english isn't even a second language.He has towed oil rigs and other vessels through typhoons, hurricanes and pirate strewn waters usually with ex SAS mercenaries from places like Opotiki guarding them.Those are just a few of the "on tow" tales. I could go on.He values the men who work under him his employers value him for amongst other things his Kiwi values.Being non racist and non violent. BUT he can't earn what he is worth in NZ and neither can thousands of kiwis like him. And so hundreds of families have absentee dads so they can have the " good life" the kiwi lifestyle so much promoted by our idiotic overpaid news media. Little wonder skilled workers and professionals have little time for this Labour party of the snmall contractor.The majority of the present LAbour poiticians are the people who wouldn't last a nano second in the work environments of NZ's truly skilled.And as for Nact only a country of drongos would have voted those mongrels back into power.