Monday 30 November 2015

Puppet On A String? Has Andrew Little Become The Plaything Of Labour’s Dominant Factions?

Hardly Napoleonic Andrew: Consigning David Cunliffe to the rear of the battlefield, and replacing Nanaia Mahuta with Kelvin Davis do not strike me as the decisions of a wise general. (Although they may be those of a panicky one.) While advancing his Right, a wise general would have taken care to keep his Left strong – just in case his confidence in all these newly promoted commanders proves to be misplaced.
CLEARLY I ERRED in likening Andrew Little to Napoleon Bonaparte. Whatever else people may say of Napoleon, no one can fairly accuse him of dissipating his forces on the field of battle.
Concentration, concentration, concentration, was Napoleon’s mantra: what the American Civil War General, Nathan Bedford Forrest, later summarised as “getting there firstest, with the mostest”.
Consigning David Cunliffe to the rear of the battlefield, and replacing Nanaia Mahuta with Kelvin Davis do not strike me as the decisions of a wise general. (Although they may be those of a panicky one.) While advancing his Right, a wise general would have taken care to keep his Left strong – just in case his confidence in all these newly promoted commanders proves to be misplaced.
As a number of right-wing commentators have already pointed out, the treatment of Cunliffe is as wasteful of the man’s talent as it is self-indulgently vindictive. They contrast Little’s demotion of Cunliffe with National’s treatment of Bill English. In spite of leading his party to the worst defeat in its history, English’s colleagues did not consider it appropriate to signal his imminent political demise. On the contrary, his talent was retained and directed, very successfully, against the political enemy.
But that’s Labour’s problem, isn’t it? For far too many Labour politicians, the political enemy is seated on their own side of the parliamentary aisle. The Government benches contain only their opponents.
It is interesting to speculate about how Cunliffe’s supporters in the broader Labour Party will respond to Little’s brutal treatment of him. Some will recall the statespersonship of Helen Clark, who judiciously divided up the top jobs between her friends – and foes. The result – a “ministry of all the talents” – proved crucial to ending the serious factional strife that had long plagued Labour’s caucus. Others will recall with some bitterness the assurances given to them by the Labour hierarchy at the party’s recent conference.
The bitter divisions of the past had been healed, they said. Caucus and party were now working together, they said.
Yeah, Right.
It is now very clear that the only “peace” secured at Palmerston North was a Carthaginian Peace. Satisfied that their rank-and-file opponents had no more fight left in them, Cunliffe’s enemies immediately prevailed upon Little to order the New Lynn MP’s political demotion.
Expressed in the most brutal terms, Little’s reshuffle pushes Grant Robertson’s people (especially Jacinda Ardern) “up”; casts Cunliffe’s people “down”; and raises the very serious question as to whether Little has any “people” at all.
Are we looking at a Labour Leader in command of his own caucus, or a Labour Leader dancing to the tune of its dominant faction? A faction characterised by petty spitefulness, and almost completely lacking in the magnanimity so crucial to building and bringing together an effective government.
The last time we had a puppet Leader of the Opposition was in the years immediately prior to the 1984 general election. The difference then, of course, was that the public never doubted that David Lange was going defeat Sir Robert Muldoon and bring an end to nine years of divisive National rule.
That Andrew Little is about to do the same to John Key is not a bet that many New Zealanders would take. And this reshuffle in no way improves the odds.
This essay was posted on The Daily Blog and Bowalley Road on Monday, 30 November 2015.


Anonymous said...

It is pretty high risk and also very wasteful humiliating Cunliffe by making him Littles Skivvy. The message is clear, Cunliffe is being rinsed, its time for him to go. Im not sure your comparison with English is accurate, English was well aware he would never lead National again and he was not detested by most of his caucus colleagues, Cunliffe almost certainly still has leadership aspirations and although he is highly competent and very intelligent he is also arrogant and contemptuous to and thus hated by the mediocrities around him.

The risk of course is that being an electorate MP he can't simply be ejected by the ticking of a bureaucratic box at head office, he might not like being used as a metaphoric chamber pot by Robertsons little wooden puppet, better advice would have been to keep him close and under watch.

Anonymous said...

I believe that Little is controlled, he is a leading bureaucrat in a party of fellow trougher's. From his background he learned and knows that to survive and lead he must conform to the norms and influence's around him. He got the leadership by the block union vote, he has led from that point by acceding to the norms and wish's of the people he beat in the leadership vote. Shearer has been knee-capped for having the temerity to suggest he would like the deputies position. Parker is still around as the troughers know that if he ever spoke out about the direction of the party he would generate massive negative response from the business community.
How on earth did Ardern get to No:5, she has never won Auckland, she is less than light-weight on the present front bench, she is not a convincing politician, she is a liar, she said that she did not want the deputies job 'after' she did not get it.
But of course Ardern is a friend of the inner circle and the leader of such, Robertson who still is a Napoleon in waiting.

Michael Smythe said...

Anyone who had been at this year's Labour conference would know that talk of Labour factions is obsolete. Only cheap=shot tabloid journalists seek out split and division where there is none. The alternative is to think intelligently about how the future is being created (rather than the past being raked over).

Anonymous said...

Labour are finished as a serious contender, sadly another term for National with the support of Winston First is all but assured.

No doubt the fringe lunatics will drift into even more bizarre alliances with the likes of Mana/dotcom and god forbid the tat loo tinfoilhat party.

Chris Trotter said...

Your staunch defence of the peace and love that allegedly broke out in Palmerston North would be more believable, Michael, if Andrew Little had retained the talents of David Cunliffe. His petty vindictiveness in putting him on the furthest back-bench speaks volumes about the toxicity of Labour's current caucus, which still appears to consider the settling of old scores more important than uniting MPs and Party in an all-in effort to win power in 2017.

And if you're right about all talk of factions being obsolete, well, that would be sad indeed. It would suggest that the once roiling and rambunctious Labour Party - the Party of John A Lee, Arnold Nordmeyer and Girvan Macmillan and all those many other rebels with a cause who have come and gone over the past 100 years - has been taken over by bloodless automata. People who know how to say "Yes" and raise a cheer, but couldn't stand by a principle if they were nailed to it.

peteswriteplace said...

Andrew has become the LEADER and made his own decision. Cutting Cunliffe is something I would have done too, and sadly Nanaia has had her day. I believe she is tied up with Kingi movement so maybe her future is there?

peteswriteplace said...

Rebels are ok if you are in power, no good if you are trying to gain power. Actually Labour supporters are getting pissed off with all the bullshit going on in the Labour caucus over the years. It is now ten years since Labour led National in the polls. The vulnerable and the working poor badly need a Labour-led govt. Its about time you showed some leadership-like influence with your columns. I say to all Labour people and supporters - shape up or piss off! I have already had a dispute with a factionalist at the time of Cunliffe's demise. I said the same thing to her," Support the new leader or piss off!" I have not been a financial member since the rats took over in the 1980's and Lange showed himself to be piss-weak. I voted for New Labour in 1990 as a protest, and came back to Labour in 1993.

Chris Trotter said...

Gee, Peter, why don't you substitute the German word for LEADER and see how that first sentence sounds.

"Andrew has become the FUHRER and made his own decision."

Hmmmm. Should we expect a "Night of the Long Knives" - or have we just had it?

Chris Trotter said...

To: Anonymous@9:44

I gotta get me one of Tat Loo's tinfoil hats. They seem to be just the thing for anticipating bad behaviour on the part of Labour MPs! Hence last weekend's impressive pre-emptive walkout!

Maybe Tat and David should get together for a coffee?

greywarbler said...


"A faction characterised by petty spitefulness, and almost completely lacking in the magnanimity so crucial to building and bringing together an effective government."
I think implicit is 'almost completely lacking in the magnanimity [the vision and the strategic commitment] so crucial...

I think that my additions need to follow whether implicit or not, because 101 Human Resources (Election Requirements) need to be spelt out to these constantly failing recidivists.

greywarbler said...

"couldn't stand by a principle if they were nailed to it."
Think of the Labour Party being like a Norwegian Blue Parrot, and the critics of Labour trying to return it and get a real live party for their money. Hahhah! Such a good analogy. Have your daily laugh prescribed by your doctor as keeping depression and falling hair at bay. Or perhaps a sad case of pining for the fjords.

Anonymous said...

Chris to your question is Little in command ?, the answer is no the ABCs have re-asserted themselves since their election defeat for the leadership by the unions/ Little. They have asserted control of caucus, pushed Shearer and Parker to the sidelines, maintained stability for both Little and themselves for the future, pushed up a few favourites including Ardern and Wood's, kept Hipkins and Mallard in strong position without either of them lifting a finger or getting off the couch.
The ABC,s then dumped on David Cunliffe in a pack attack, Little succumbed and one of the most able speakers in the Labour camp was hog tied and thrown off the bus. Their action was crass, unfair and unjustified and Little was the employed assassin.

Robert said...

But then of course, Cunliffe buried Little in a low list place for 2014 and Little was lucky to sneak back to parliament. In 2014 Little was clearly an outstanding Labour spokesman and one of the bravest in standing up on the real issues. Cunliffe had basically shafted Little and Cunliffe also showed in that placement that he was not motivated by rational factors or courage and was likely to be fickle and wesk if he had won the election as PM. Offered now only third rail issue spokesmanship, Cunliffe should resign and the New Lynn seat might be possible for Little.

Wayne Mapp said...


While you correctly noted the treatment of Bill English, who I might add was and is very well liked by his colleagues, perhaps the better example to compare David Cunliffe with is Dr Don Brash.

Dr Don quickly got the message that he did not have much of a future in the National Party caucus once the leadership changed. And as events have turned out over the last 7 seven years of government, that very much looks like it was the right decision.

Bill English has a similar world view as John Key. Dr Brash certainly did not. Perhaps the same point might be made about David Cunliffe. And this point extends beyond policy differences.

Richard McGrath said...

"Labour are finished as a serious contender, sadly another term for National with the support of Winston First is all but assured."

Labour are becoming irrelevant, but National need to get rid of the dead wood such as Nick Smith and start delivering on the small government promises if they want to last more than one more term in office. I can see Key winning the next election, and if he can do that with an absolute majority we might finally be rid of the RMA. If the Nats can do that, along with privatising broadcasting and education, I'd vote for them for the first time since 1981.

Michael Smythe said...

I suppose you get some mileage out of being a drama queen, Chris, but those of us focused on winning the next election find it unhelpful. I walked with Andrew Little, David Cunliffe, Jacinda Adern and David Parker on Auckland climate action march and the team cohesion felt good. David Cunliffe needs to regroup both personally and politically. Meanwhile Andrew has promoted good performers who have earned their elevation. Who would you have pulled back to make room for DC?

Tat Loo said...

Miyamoto Mushashi wrote that there is a certain rhythm to victory and a certain rhythm to defeat.

Labour has had multiple opportunities over the last 8 or 9 years to change its rhythm from a familiar losing beat to a victorious new tempo. Almost every single time however, Labour has quickly and almost unconsciously chosen to head straight back to a well worn, long established but failing pattern, one which is badly out of sync with contemporary New Zealand.

And on more than one occasion when things were on the improve, Labour have simply and readily let National nudge them straight back out of time.

Active members of our Labour Party branch did not predict the specific outcomes of Little's anaemic, captive, reshuffle. It was not prescient, but many of us saw straight away that it fit within Labour's losing pattern.

Little, the New Leader too weak and disrespectful to show any courtesy to the most recent past Leader, and seemingly unconcerned what messages that would send to the wider party.

A long line of electorate MPs left out in the cold while multiple List MPs incapable of winning a seat are fêted.

An almost obsequious level of signalling to the right wing that Labour does not intend to mount any sincere challenge to the political economic status quo.

As far as I can tell, none of the officers or delegates who voted for putting the Andersons Bay Peninsula Branch into recess regret it one iota. Because while no one can tell when exactly the next mistimed and misjudged beat will fall, with Labour you know it will.

And who wants to be around for that.

Anonymous said...

Basically it's two dominant fingers thrust in the air by the ABC's at the rank and file who overwhelmingly supported David Cunliffe when he became leader.

Their way of getting the members back with a big FU.

Anonymous said...

Tat Loo, agree with your comment, Labour have been disrespectful to Bro:Cunliffe. The reshuffle was a humiliation for him and his supporter's. They want his seat for Ardern or some other ABC adherent.

pat said...

lmao...had the same mental picture.....second time as farce perhaps?

peterlepaysan said...

How long has Labour been in the wilderness? How long has Labour been bereft of money.

How long has A Little been leader of Labour?

Chris you have lost the plot.

Realpolitik rules, it always has.

Er! Excuse me is there not a General Election dusomettime in 2017?

Maybe some constructive activity (apart from discussion) might be in order.

OBTW nazi references are more revealing of your mind set. Silly.

Chris Trotter said...

I have no idea how old you are, peterlepaysan, but I am certainly old enough to remember these same arguments in the mouths of the people who brought us Rogernomics.

The acquisition of power, at any cost, which is the position you are really advancing, is what led Labour to betray every principle it ever stood for back in the early 1980s. And that's a plot I am very determined should remain lost.

The most constructive activity any Labour Party member can engage in at the present political moment is to do everything they can to prevent their MPs' hunger for power dragging the party over another cliff.

It is, precisely, the cult of "leadership", which has developed an alarmingly wide degree of currency in this country - especially in business circles - that makes tragedies like Rogernomics possible.

Demanding obedience purely on the basis that someone is the "LEADER" is a dangerous indication of how rapidly authoritarian norms are taking hold in the Labour Party.

Reminding readers of "the leadership principle"'s provenance is both sensible and reasonable in such circumstances.

Anonymous said...

"The acquisition of power, at any cost, which is the position you are really advancing, is what led Labour to betray every principle it ever stood for back in the early 1980s."

Your going to hate this Chris, but Ive got to remind you of your unctuous support of Twyford and Labours recent crack at asian bashing, which lead to the resignation of Phil Quin, I can't remember your exact turn of phrase - but it was something like for all the supporters leaving, 5 more will be pouring in on the xenaphobia train.

Im guessing the acquisition of power at any cost is fine in Trotterham provided a nice lefty like Cunliffe is doing it, not so nice when the centrists play at machiavelli.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Anonymous@9:16

Guilty as charged, Your Honour.

Yes, I allowed myself to be caught up in the "Labour - right or wrong" mind-set over the Chinese Buyers issue. There's an exhilaration about throwing away your own moral compass and blindly following the man with the drum. Marching in step, being part of "the team", and, best of all, getting to heap burning coals on all those who deviate from the Party Line - these are all dangerously rewarding experiences.

Erich Fromm wrote a whole book about it: "The Fear of Freedom".

Fortunately for me, it never lasts very long. But, having fallen for the line on more than one occasion, I know whereof I speak.

My punishment is being called on my apparent hypocrisy. I say "apparent" because the drug of power is so strong that, when we're under its influence, the hard-line authoritarian rhetoric is all-too-genuine.

That's why the blind pursuit of power is so dangerous: it allows us to do evil things in good conscience; it convinces us that the end justifies the means - thereby corrupting the ends we seek by the means we use. Fundamentally, it swallows our soul.

So, thank you, Anonymous@9:16. And, if you catch me doing it again, please, call me on it with the same asperity.

Anonymous said...

Chris massive respect to you for confessing your mistake vis a vis asian buyers, I was pretty angry for you for falling for that nasty bit of bait - from a party you know all to well has a very cruel side to it - as we are seeing now with the humiliation and elimination of Cunliffe, who in spite of his failure as a leader was undeniably a star cabinet minister - presiding over local loop unbundling, a breathtakingly complex tangle which he unraveled successfully.

It will be interesting to see where he heads to now, his time in politics is finished, such a waste of ability and all because Robertson and his puppet envy his superiority to they're mediocrity.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Guilty as charged, Your Honour."

You gotta laugh. You never see that answer on any of those rancid right-wing blogs. :-)

Victor said...

"CLEARLY I ERRED in likening Andrew Little to Napoleon Bonaparte"

Bit of an understatement really.

Anonymous said...

A considerable problem for Labour is its treatment of people who fall out of favour. They want them "hung, drawn and quartered". That continues to be what they do. In comparison, National smacks people over the hand, tells them to go and stand in the corner with the dunce's hat on, as well as face the other way. Look at what happened to Maurice Williamson so many times. In the end Maurice did not have the sense to avoid being chastised completely.

Labour does not seem to have the capability of recognising the value of forgiveness. Forgiveness, would build a party of strength. Vindictiveness, because this is exactly what it is, leads nowhere but to continuing resentment.