Heir Apparent: If Andrew Little doesn’t respond to Jacinda Ardern’s emphatic by-election victory in Mt Albert by promoting her to deputy-leader, then he’s a fool. Voters only make prime ministers out of politicians who can see not only what needs to be done, but who also possess the guts to do it.
“JACINDA”, was the only name on Labour’s by-election billboards. Andrew Little will have noted that. When the electorate starts identifying politicians by their given name – “Rob”, “Winston”, “Helen” – it signals a significant up-tick in political familiarity. It’s easy to vote for a candidate who requires no second name. “Jacinda” has acquired a winning ring.
If Little doesn’t respond to Jacinda Ardern’s emphatic by-election victory in Mt Albert by promoting her to deputy-leader, then he’s a fool. Success merits promotion. Any failure on Little’s part to acknowledge Arden’s pulling-power in Auckland will only fuel suspicions that he lacks the fortitude to shake-up the delicate factional balance of Labour’s caucus.
Little simply cannot afford to let such suspicions grow: not inside Labour, and certainly not beyond it. Voters only make prime ministers out of politicians who can see not only what needs to be done, but who also possess the guts to do it. Little should tell Annette King (who first entered Parliament as the MP for Horowhenua in 1984) that she has sat there too long for any good she has been doing. Like Oliver Cromwell, he needs to tell her: “Depart, and let us have done with you. In the name of God – go!”
If I may be forgiven for quoting Cromwell a second time: removing King has become a matter of “cruel necessity”. Having embarked upon a radical re-shaping of Labour’s public image: reclaiming its former status as a “broad church” by bringing in the likes of Greg O’Connor and Willie Jackson; Little now needs to reassure Auckland’s young urban professionals (who’ve just voted for Jacinda in droves) that there is plenty of space on Labour’s pews for them.
Keeping King where she is for fear of reactivating the “Anyone But Cunliffe” brigade would not only flatter that waning faction’s significance, but also signal a serious loss of political momentum. Over recent weeks, Little has shown the country that he is willing to march right over and through his critics if that’s what it takes to get Labour ready for power. The thing is, once you begin that sort of forward march, you absolutely cannot afford to stop. Like the proverbial shark, you must keep swimming strongly – or drown.
Annette King has been in Parliament for all but three of the past 33 years. She was there through all the mayhem of the 1980s: a loyal foot-soldier in Roger Douglas’s all-conquering army. Throughout the 1990s and into the third millennium she served with distinction as a disciplined Labour staff officer. It’s a fine record, but King lacks the “optics” necessary for the 2017 campaign. Younger blood is needed at the top. A truly loyal servant of the party would see that – and make way.
Sacrifices will be necessary on Ardern’s part as well. First and foremost she must tear up the “Gracinda” (Grant Robertson + Jacinda Ardern) ticket upon which she ran against Little in 2014. The brutal truth she needs to face is that, in the eyes of the voters, at least, she has moved well beyond Robertson. His big moment arrived three years ago when he came agonisingly close to being elected Labour’s leader. He will not have forgotten, and neither should we, that he lost to Little by less than one percentage point.
Three years on, however, that losing margin may just as well have been 50 percentage points. Robertson’s star is fading. Indeed, amidst all the intense jockeying between Labour, the Greens and NZ First which is bound to follow a National defeat, he will struggle to retain his finance portfolio.
Ardern needs to move beyond the poignant television images of her and Robertson on the edge of tears, but applauding bravely, as Little’s victory is announced. The deputy-leader’s slot is hers for the taking now, and she should take it. Her star has a long way yet to rise.
In making Ardern his No. 2, Little would not only be making a statement about Labour’s future, he would also be moving decisively beyond Labour’s past. Sometimes, party leaders are required to anticipate their own, inevitable, demise by providing the public with a clear line of succession. Like a medieval king, they need to proclaim their dynasty’s strength by holding up a political heir for the people’s approbation.
Helen Clark did Labour an enormous disservice by failing to prepare the public for the day of her political death. The result has been a Game of Thrones-style bloodbath as rival contenders hacked and hewed their way towards pre-eminence across Labour’s seven kingdoms. Win or lose in September, Little owes Labour a better future than another three years of civil war. He may not look much like Jon Snow, and “Jacinda” may not look at all like Daenerys Targaryen, but after Saturday’s victory, she comes with dragons.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 28 February 2017.
Chris, in all fairness Grant Robertson and Maryan Street (from memory and possibly ruth dyson) have also been Labour spokespeople on Health so it is not all Annette King's fault the lack of headway on health. But what policy hits has Jacinda Ardern actually acheived, what are her achievements in her years in Parliament? Why is she actually rated so highly?
Apologies, it was another article which questioned King's lack of cut through as health spokesperson
My younger son used to busk outside the supermarket. His winning trick was to make eye contact with the old ladies and give them a smile as they went in, they must have bought that as he always came back with a killing. Never underestimate the power of a youthful smile singing a pleasant tune. Jacinda has this in bucket loads.
So do the younger crew of Labour, the likes of Nash, Hipkins, and Kelvin Davies. Put them on the front bench and in front of the camera. Add a few of the not so fresh faces but those displaying energy and desire such as Wood and Curran. Compare this to Nationals old grey hairs. An appeal to youth.
To quote the Bard "Let me have men about me that are fat, sleek-headed men and such as sleep a-nights. Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look, he thinks too much; such men are dangerous".
In a social media / marketing age image is everything. This team have "it" factor. The question is are Labour and Little brave enough?
Yes, there is no doubt about Jacinda's ability of delivering clear messages in an appealing way - but ultimately, is it not policies rather than personalities that are more important for attracting votes on the way to go ?
And that requires beside a clear conviction of policy goals also ideas on the means and actions to achieve them, and the ability to compromise, if necessary, between competing ideas on the ways of achieving those goals.
Therefore, is it not a little "premature" to think of Jacinda as crucial for Labour's success at the 2017 elections, rather than Labour's policies compared to National's ?
Ultimately, does not the success of all promises depend on "the economy...." ?
At first reading Chris you sound wise and I feel that will stay with me through the second and third. Labour needs a way forward, going round the potholes of political oblivion. Looks a good path, the road less travelled recently, lead on Macduff!
'Lead on Macduff' is an invitation for someone to take the lead and that you will follow on. But as any keen Shakespearian or wordsmith will tell you, this is a misquotation from Shakespeare's Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 8. The phrase should be 'lay on' which means to make a vigorous attack.
Looks like it's a quote laden with twice as much meaning as I first thought, so it's getting better and better for relevance.
Some further related thoughts on mega trends affecting the next NZ election.
The "centre" did not hold in the USA, Britain and now France. When everyone is the same there is only one way to go and that is to diverge. Labour need to recognize this and take notice of who voted for Trump, Trudeau and BREXIT, and why? Being the "same" or a "lite' version wont be electable, the course has to be definite and different.
People want change, note Trump and BREXIT. The electorate is not stupid, if there is unemployment and you are told there is not it creates cognitive dissonance. The people have seen through it, look at the reaction to Smith and water standards. There are pain points and the people want them fixed. Labour needs to appeal to the pained or discomforted by the current regime. This does not need to be called "populism".
The faux Leftism of the identity groups took a pasting this year. This will continue as their cover has been blown. For example the "internationalist middle class educated social justice warriors" who railed against Trump and against BREXIT, and now all through Europe were rejected by the less educated more proletarian "deplorables". Labour take note, you dont have to drop the progressive policies BUT you do need to allow other views to be as prominent.
Economically the "globalist" era has been challenged. It has not gone away but it is under siege. Trump torpedoed the TTPA and National are still hanging in a space of unreality. Labour if they announce a more "realistic and flexible" approach can win those voters whose lives have been impacted by "globalist" constructs. There are rich pickings for votes there as Le Pens unlikely on the back of pro French policies demonstrates. Labour in doing so could appear the voice of reason whilst making a decisive visible break from the Rogernomic past.
Last is a mega trend that is gathering: the potential of the disaffected internet social media generation. They like their own...notice Trudeau. In case nobody noticed one of Trumps appeals he used mercilessly was his daughters. Being old and ugly as I am I am fully aware of the power of youth and good looks. And young people like their own. For Labour this is the chance to "own" a generation.
Last comment: the "old" centrist Labour of recent years is dead meat. Change or perish. Be the "future".
Annette King.. or Lind.. will be well remembered in these parts as the Labour Minister of Health, who, along with her shadowy husband Ray Lind, determinedly saw destroyed a modern ferro-concrete public hospital in Napier, thereby finally presiding over public hospital bed reductions from 815, in 1991, to under 300 today.
Husband Ray, came up to HB on a motorcycle, as 'adviser" to the DHB. From humble advisor he transited to a top power position in the DHB at memorable speed, faster than any Trump in the Trump empire could manage.
Never mind. A new private hospital, Royston, has grown from the wreckage of public health around here.
The Labour Party, like the rest of the country, needs dated Rogergnomes like Annette King like gastrointestinal infections.
The proposition of Labour?Green,alliance is suiltable to the personality of Adhern,light weight her favoured tenure has been.All Parties,at present are now at the cross road of long over due renewables,and all sides that matter are scarce of both.
Time for their new world political romantics, to salavate about our future better than before,and capitalism is still king exploiter.
Helen Clark's extreme power-crazed selfishness has kept Labour in opposition for the past three terms.
If she could 'get over herself' and put in place a succession plan for Labour the damage would have been lessened.
But no, it was all about her.
History will judge Clark as the 'Selfish Prime Minister'
Jacinda comes across as a bit of a ditz but in politics that's ok; you don't have to be a major intellect.
What is good for Labour is that she can attract mellenials to the ballot box in Auckland; and that's a good thing for Labour.
Bill English loses 2 general elections in a lifetime.
I can see many National people crossing the street when they see him ahead so they don't have to say 'Hello' to a loser.
The bland Southland farmer-duffer personality coupled with the conservative catholic image does him no favours.
Royston? Just an 'ow' away from Raystown. No doubt a Freudian slip.
I think the young of today with all their countless interests to follow and things to discover will be just as keen as we were 60 years ago about the prospect of universal non means tested NZ Super from age 65 - and would vote with enthusiasm for NZ Super Fund contributions out of taxes paid as a priority over freely consumable tax reductions.
Furthermore, resumption of an unconditional $1000.- Kiwi Saver kick-start to all from cradle to grave who have not received it yet would be a terrific boost to national solidarity in an egalitarian way, and proof of the personally tangible benefits the NZ Super Fund can deliver to the whole nation already including those pre baby-boomers who have contributed to the NZSF already with no prospect of any benefits for themselves whatever.
Isn't that an innovation and a political chance "to own (even more than) a generation" ?
Few that are generals at the start of a war survive it to the end.Almost all are surpassed by younger more dynamic individuals. If the vital rapprochment with the Greens is to prosper and not just be tolerated then Ardern has to be no 2.
You can't imagine there isn't a lovely person behind that open smile. And maybe that is what maters to most voters.
It would be good to know what she believes on the things that preoccupy my brain, but an honest intelligent politician who seeks goof advice when it is needed rather than claiming to know everything about everything would be a nice change.
They might/should push her into the top job if Andrew craps out this time; I don't think she will push herself into the leadership role. Labour after this election if they fail should perhaps open up leadership selection to the whole membership like the British L P and the Greens, and see what happens.
David J S
Chess-set. Like the recommendation for Phil Goff in 2008. I prefer draughts.
Please, from our ideologist, we need strategy not tactics. I understand absolutely the need, but the words of Cicero were more important than his actions. You are our orator. You talk for 1891 and 1935.Come on , Winston Peters is really a fatuous fellow?
Think it is too late in the piece to be contemplating such a change, it would present as panicked/indecissive......though if circumstances forced a change of deputy then JA may not be a bad option.
" Little now needs to reassure Auckland’s young urban professionals (who’ve just voted for Jacinda in droves) that there is plenty of space on Labour’s pews for them."
What evidence is there to support this assertion.It is difficult to equate it with her performance in Auckland Central in the last two general elections.Perhaps those who voted for her in a by election with less than 30% turnout were not young urban professionals but committed Labour voters.
After all she got less than half the votes that Shearer did in 2014.
Well done, Annette King - an MP who is respected and loved right across the NZ Labour Party! Thanks for staying on to help the transition from DC to Andrew!
And welcome, Jacinda. It's good to have an Aucklander with ability and inspirational qualities in the Labour leadership!
Red-Black-Green is already on 52%, compared to 46% in 2014. Looking good...
it would appear we are going to discover if your theory is correct.....are you perhaps advising the strategy team?
If only they would seek all their advice on Bowalley Road.
D J S
Lol...I suspect some of Labours broad church may take issue with that
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