Friday 23 November 2012

David Cunliffe's Pride

Momentary Triumph: David Cunliffe beams as the Labour Party democratises itself over the concerted resistance of his parliamentary colleagues. Within hours he was being set up as the scapegoat for the Conference delegates' insubordination. (Photo by John Chapman)
“OUR PROBLEMS aren’t external – they’re internal.” Chris Hipkins has one of those eternally youthful countenances which argue strongly against such ominous utterances. It’s as if such old words couldn’t possibly slither between such young teeth. And yet there he was before me, speaking darkly about the enemy within.
Hardly surprising, perhaps, given the fall-out from Labour’s tumultuous annual conference?
Except that Mr Hipkins’ political paranoia was being carried into the hall well before the acrimonious constitutional debate which caught so many Labour MPs and political journalists by surprise last Saturday morning. Because it was Friday afternoon, not Saturday morning, that the Chief Opposition Whip vouchsafed to me his grim opinion on the inherent character of Labour’s “problems”.
No matter. From the moment the failure of David Shearer’s followers’ all-out effort to defeat a proposal requiring Labour’s leader, in the February following a general election, to secure the backing of more than 60 percent of his caucus, or face an election involving Labour MPs, party members and affiliated trade unions, became clear, Mr Hipkins and the rest of Mr Shearer’s faction worked tirelessly to paste David Cunliffe’s face all over Labour’s “internal” difficulties.
The narrow victory (264/237) of the new party rule was presented as proof that not only were “dark forces” (as one journalist colourfully described them) conspiring behind the scenes, but that a Cunliffe-inspired leadership coup was imminent.
The eagerness with which journalists accepted this version of events is, from a week’s perspective, rather puzzling. Had a leadership coup truly been unfolding, how likely is it that its purported leader, well short of the numbers, would kick it off by publicly over-exciting TV3’s irrepressible Patrick Gower with repeated and repeated and repeated refusals to declare his support for Mr Shearer’s leadership?
Ambition, as Mark Antony said of Julius Caesar, should be made of sterner (or at least more tactically adroit) stuff. A genuine plotter would have grinned broadly, and with a twinkle in his eye, pledged undying loyalty to his leader. Continuing the Shakespearian theme: he would have “smiled and smiled, yet been a villain”.
The one really intriguing question still awaiting a satisfactory answer is, therefore: “Why did he do it?” Why did Mr Cunliffe not tell Mr Gower that a leadership challenge was out of the question? He must have known that his refusal to do so would dominate the news media’s coverage of the conference; overshadow the Labour Party’s radical democratisation process; and draw public attention away from both his leader’s keynote address and the party’s new housing policy.
What was he thinking?
I can, of course, only speculate. But my best guess is that Mr Cunliffe’s behaviour was driven by a combination of high political excitement; a powerful sense of vindication; and simple, old-fashioned, personal pride.
In part, the constitutional victories achieved at last weekend’s conference were the product of the rank-and-file’s indignation at seeing Caucus over-ride their clear leadership preference last December. One could say, therefore, that the votes against Mr Shearer’s allies on the conference floor were votes for Mr Cunliffe. Bathed in the golden light of victory; savouring the sweet taste of vindication after nearly twelve months of unceasing vilification at the hands of Mr Hipkins and his ilk, Mr Cunliffe simply wasn’t prepared to even ritually tug his forelock in the direction of Mr Shearer. (And certainly not via the leering medium of Paddy Gower!)
It was pride, and a surfeit of amour propre, that led Mr Cunliffe to turn a considerable political triumph into what has turned out to be a colossal personal defeat.
And that, surely, is the point. No man possessed of a serious intention to unseat his leader could possibly have made such a huge and career-damaging blunder.
Because, in politics, blunders are almost never forgiven.
From his now much-reduced position in Labour’s hierarchy, Mr Cunliffe can, however, comfort himself with the thought that although he has not conquered – neither has he stooped.
And there’s always February.
This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 23 November 2012.


Paul said...

Agree Chris, he has not stooped. I think the Labour Caucus members have their intentions in the right place, but with the exception of Dalzeil, Mackey, Morony, Parker most are a bunch of ex staffers and have had a limited experience outside of Parliament. Labour need Cunliffe more than Cunliffe needs Labour...I wonder how other members of Labour Cuacus would go if they were put to that test.

Anonymous said...

Cunliffe is a hard-working, very experienced man of the people politician, who has paid his dues and is very media savvy and clever. The wider public prefer him, if the spate of letters to the Herald are anything to go by, as well as the heavy support he receives in blogland.

Shearer, through no fault of his own, is a Johnny-come-lately and so far, his abilities in the political arena are not up to that of Cunliffe's. David Cunliffe is the better choice, the more able leader and should have been made leader in the first place. (I am in neither club, just an outside supporter and observer).

Ennui in Requiem said...

I looked at the Labour website and reviewed the paucity of talent amongst their MPs: has beens, self serving time wasters, spotty faced whips, so very little to inspire.

Having just read Bob Jones book on Muldoon (20 cents well spent at a garage sale) it occurred that even his most sycophantic hack MPs showed more flair and street appeal than this drab uninspiring rabble. Muldoon was amongst them a giant, there was no obvious challenger. Shearer by contrast is by default position in top position, surrounded by totally uninspiring amongst third rate also rans.

I really despised the 1974 Roger crew: Lange, Douglas, Prebble, Palmer (yawn,,boring), any one of whom dwarfs the current mob. Even Key at his most vacuous beats this rag tag bunch of Labour non entities. Why would I vote for them?

Unknown said...

Policies Ennui. You'd vote for them because they have the best policies.

Anonymous said...

David Cunliffe has got exactly what he wanted.

He has extricated himself from the unfolding train-wreck that is the Labour leadership/front bench. And he hasn't had to walk - Shearer has put him on the outer.

So, when the time comes for a leadership challenge, it will be clear that he bears no responsibility for Labour's failure to tackle John Key in any effective way. As a considerable bonus, Cunliffe also now has "underdog" status - which always goes down well with the NZ public.

Sooner or later, when he decides the time is right, David Cunliffe will walk into the Labour leadership.

Phil said...

Policies Ennui. You'd vote for them because they have the best policies.

Labour's policies are nothing more than a grab-bag of blue and green leftovers, littering the political landscape like haphazardly discarded wrapping paper on christmas day.

KjT said...

It seems more likely to me that David Cunliffe was simply being honest.

He repeatedly said he was supporting Shearer, Now!

And is perfectly within his rights to challenge Shearer in February.

If Shearers was actually any good the problem would never have arisen.

Now Shearer has shown he is a petulant and vindictive child who is in no way ready to be a leader, along with Hipkins and others.

By completely destroying one of their most effective MP's, the ABC club have killed Labour for their own short term advantage.

Anonymous said...

Phil, at least Labour's policies are heart-felt and caring rather than cold, calculating and from the Capitalist (I've rich, sod the rest of you) type group thought.

If anyone can match or better Key in all departments, and be of much greater substance, it is David Cunliffe.


Brendon said...

Not that any of us really knows what was going on in Cunliffe's head but I agree with KjT. I think that Cunliffe had not made the final decision on whether to challenge for the leadership or not.

So he could only honestly say Shearer has his current support.

My bet is that is what the majority of caucas really think too.

Victor said...

I've long been of the opinion that David Cunliffe is by far the best qualified available leader for Labour and for New Zealand.

But I wonder whether the ABC patch protectionists and their media pals haven't already succeeded in convincing the apolitical public that Cunliffe is just not a nice person.

They don't know why he's not nice. They just know that he's reputed to be not nice. By such irrationalities are political reputations made and/or destroyed.

I certainly hope that I've misread the public pulse on this one!

Kat said...

Yes, Chris there always 'is' February. What about the notion now then that 'may the best candidate win'?

Are you prepared for and would you accept a result that even under the new constitution may not go the way you would like it?

It would surely be then very interesting who would be leaving who. The result could even perplex Jim!

Bobby Moore said...

David has been vilified in public and tried in secrecy for a crime he has not committed with no right of reply. One writer has likened this to the infamous show trials of Stalinist Soviet Union. In my opinion it is much more like schoolyard bullying.

The harsh treatment of David Cunliffe demonstrates David Shearer’s weakness as a leader rather than his strength. A strong leader would be self confident about his ability to earn the loyalty of his colleagues and to respond to criticism by logical argument.

What does the Labour Party stand for if not for the democratic process?

The Labour Party Caucus needs to understand that their function is to carry out the wishes of the party’s rank and file and not to lead or control the membership.

David Shearer’s leadership is focused on a scrabble for control of the middle ground. This leaves those on low incomes without representation and the division of society into the haves and have nots.

Chris hope that your opinion turns out to be true that the challenge to the MP’s at the Labour Party Conference may be the beginning of a revolution.

Chris Trotter said...

Kat, you know what went on and we know that you know. If I were you I'd bow out of this thing now - before you get hurt.

Sean Fliegner said...

=Sean Fliegner here - ALP member, NZLP member - a true "Labour Tragic"

- See latest Brian Edwards' blog on this topic - not to chase CT's readers away - but BE worth listening to.

Chris - in your latest article, yes you outline where DC stuffed up. Cunliffe is it excess ego ? Will DC last till February ?

Is it Cunliffe saying "I'm right" ? Does Cunliffe have a real policy difference to Shearer ? If Cunliffe does - lets hear Cunliffe's alternative vision. Lets hear it now.

Cunliffe - he did grab a lot of attention. Thing is that Radio and TV producers want interesting punters on their shows. Lately this was Cunliffe.

Different if CT, anyone else in these pages is saying that Cunliffe is on a frolic of his ego own. Is Cunliffe in a frolic of his own ? If Cunliffe stuffed up owing to ego - DC, you've hurt the Left.

CT, your latest article lights up several options. Not all are good for DC. Many bespeak ego, not policy and not discipline. Does DC have a policy paradigm ?

Yes the rules have changed for election of "The Leader"

We in the left want to know about policy and direction differences - CT, DC, all who read here - what are the policy and direction differences between Shearer and Cunliffe ? I'm not being cute.

Really what are the differences. We need to know. The differences decide the debate.

Because these differences - in direction, in policy, in State intervention, rescuing New Zealand from deregulation - see Pike River, Leaky Homes, CTV Building - in Education, in Public Health... the differences matter.

The differences matter. Differences decide the debate.

If there are no differences - between Shearer and Cunliffe - ok. I'll move on.

If there are policy and direction differences - lets hear them. If Cunliffe is being gagged - it's time to revolt. We go to next Conference and get free speech in NZ Labour re-established.

Kia Kaha Chris

Sean Fliegner

Chris Trotter said...

Whew! There's a helluva lot of questions there, Sean.

I invite Bowalley Road readers to help Sean out with some answers.

Sparky said...

I suspect that Cunliffe was just testing the waters this time. I suspect that he was subject to a media beat-up as well.

I have a concern with him; he's a Roger accolite and we really don't need another Nat party. Labour needs to get back to its grass-roots and start supporting ordinary working people again not pandering to the rich and the academics that they have done in the recent past.

Much of the problems we have politically in NZ is the two major parties are; the Gnats and the Gnatslite. The Greens are more socialist than Labour is.

Anonymous said...

"The eagerness with which journalists accepted this version of events is, from a week’s perspective, rather puzzling."

It is rather puzzling. John Armstrong, in particular, has written some dreadful pieces in the Herald, none worse than this:
Some commentators on The Standard believe this to be evidence of a right wing conspiracy.
I think it has more to do with Armstrong, Claire trevett etc just trying to generate a response. At heart they are just sensationalist journalists who probably have to justify their jobs with page hits and numbers of comments left to try and show their editors that they are still relevant and hip rather than out-of-touch and hip-replacement.

peterpeasant said...

if Cunliffe is not restored as an important mimister or even leader
then labour will still be irrelevant.

Kat said...

Chris, ok, I will take your 'ahem' advice and will bow out of Bowalley Rd.

Can't find that helmet I had in 81, and my body and spirit won't survive getting 'hurt'.

Here is a last word from another Len:

"Everybody knows that the dice are loaded, Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed, Everybody knows that the war is over, Everybody knows the good guys lost, Everybody knows the fight was fixed, The poor stay poor, the rich get rich, That's how it goes, Everybody knows.....

Anonymous said...

Kia ora Sean,
Ill have ago at answering your question...while I watch the NZ Maori Awards (very entertaining!)

Policy Differences between Cunliffe and Shearer. Labour is in the process of setting up the Policy Platform, so both David's policy will be constrained within this framework. Cunliffe is currently gagged by Shearer but over the years he has made a series of speeches. He was the first Labour MP to reject the Neo Lib orthodoxy which is probably the biggest thing as Labour has been on this path since 1984. At the Conference last week Labour officially rejected the Neo Lib orthodoxy, Cunliffe set up the path for this to happen.(Great!)

Cunliffe was the only Labour member who had the courage to suggest that we could repurchase our infrastructural electricity assets if sold by National. (this is conditional on NZ financial position, It is clear national are driving the country backwards so Labour may not be in a position to re purchase).(Great!)

Another important difference between the two is Cunliffe can articulate complex ideas/policies to the media and the public, Shearer cant, on TV3 on Wednesday night he choked explaining Labours new housing policy. Shearer only had one policy to get his head around and he couldnt do it. (Oh dear!)

Cunliffe can beat Key/English/ Joyce in debates (view Mood of the Boardroom 2011 Cunliffe versus Enlish). As a Labour member this is important, I want our Leader to WIN in every debate against National, with Shearer I feel very nervous when he is on The Nation/Q& is clear that Shearer will choke at some stage, Key will get another "Show me the Money" moment with Shearer in the 2014 TV Debates.

Cunliffe has been in Parliament since 1999 and has had major achievements including the unbundling of telecom to improve competition and reduce our telecom costs (great!)

And lastly I feel that there is a real injustice committed by the old guard of Labour, MP's who are desperate to hold onto their positions because they have no where else to go (Mallard, Goff and King). They know that if Cunliffe becomes leader, they will have to sort their act out. Currently they are having a great time controlling their puppet, Shearer...I am sure they are very afraid of Cunliffe. It makes me sick inside to read that Mallard goes out with Jane Clifton and surprise, surprise, Jane Clifton does a very negative article on Cunliffe. (Unethical!). Then I read that Mallard and Clifton attend Duncan Garners pissup...(it just gets worse!)

So the choice is Shearer (under the influence of Mallard/Goff and King) or Cunliffe...its a no brainer.

Cheers Sean, that is my view.

Labour Party Member and Cunliffe voter in February 2013!!!!!!

Lisa Carrington wins Supreme Maori Sports Award (Great!)

Sean Fliegner said...

Sean Fliegner here - thanks anonymous

- Sparky says DC is a "Roger acolyte" meaning Roger Douglas. That sent a shiver down all my nether regions: what's Sparky on about ?

- anonymous: why shouldn't NZ re-purchase over time 3-6-9 years ? Why shouldn't NZ force the privatised property owners to sell - only back to the Crown? And repay over time ?

- I haven't given up on resuming ownership ... or regulating prices and service levels of privatised essential infrastructure while it is in private hands. I know I'm not the only Kiwi who supports such Heresy

- If NZ can't get essential infra-structure back into public hands on the day if/when Labour wins, NZ can and should regulate prices and service levels so that NZ is not priced back into the stone age.

- For example electricity price rises hurt low income earners, hurt small businesses, schools and hospitals and feed directly into inflation...

- Remember Prebble's card board cut out "guarantee" of prices and services with the sell out of Telecom NZ ... Labour can and should make the same promise, but back it up with legislatively based regulation - of prices and services - or the threat of such regulation...

- Lets reply with "Pike River", "Leaky Homes", "CTV Building" when the usual suspects decry regulation as bringing back Stalin/the Berlin Wall/ and the same old other rubbish...

Anonymous said...

Hi Sean,
Cunliffe has often mentioned the GFC disaster as his motivation for moving left. That to me makes sense, the GFC showed how catastrophic an absolute free market is. Im not sure what Sparky may be meaning but from what I have read about Cunliffe, he was the first in Labour to publicly reject Neo Liberal idealogy, now the Policy Platform states that Labour has rejected this orthodoxy so Cunliffe was the influence behind this.
Re buying assets back, I understand Labour might, conditional on available resources, fiscal priorities, and the strategic importance of each asset. I'm pretty much with you on everything else you write about. Cheers Sean, P.S.

Victor said...


A genuine Social Democratic, Keynesian leader for the Labour Party and potential Prime Minster for New Zealand.

The successful candidate will be articulate, lucid and able to explain the mega-narrative of the centre-left in terms that most people can understand.

A proven ability at problem solving is an absolute requirement in this post, as is a sophisticated understanding of economics.

The candidate must also show evidence of comprehending the challenges facing Labour's traditional supporters and be prepared to provide leadership in tackling these issues.

Corporate experience and board room credibility would be highly advantageous, as the successful candidate will need to persuade potentially hostile business leaders of the need for a new approach.

Ideally, the successful candidate would also have experience in the field of overseas relations.

Of course, such a paragon couldn't possibly exist. And, if he or she did exist, it would be necessary to deny his or her existence. This could best be achieved through obfuscation, innuendo and, if those approaches fail, outright personal attacks.