What a mess. OK, this is how I see it: Cunliffe stepped aside, thank the lords, but that actually doesn’t solve much. Cunliffe had union support and he endorsed Little and, sure enough, Little now has that union support. Who else likes Little? He hardly made any impact as Labour Party President. Labour needed reform, and either there were simply no efforts made to undertake reform, or Little was singularly unsuccessful at it. Neither is very good on his CV. So apart from throwing out most of Labour’s policies, many of which were very sound if very not well sold, it’s hardly a platform for a resounding Labour future.
Little now looks like a de facto Cunliffe representative, but he represents the union movement which still holds power in Labour if almost nowhere else (more’s the pity, but that’s just a fact of life). This is a dysfunctional facet of Labour’s leadership process.
Nanaia Mahuta’s candidacy surprised everyone. She’s a Cunliffe supporter too, so this actually could spike the Little campaign a bit, and Mahuta might actually gain some headway amongst Maori voters. Maori supported Labour strongly in the last election. But it would be very presumptuous to assume Mahuta would have the support of Pacifica voters, and both groups are as prone to factionalism as the rest of Labour’s current interest groups and caucus. On the good side, Mahuta is not a white middle class man, but her record is not exactly breathtaking and her running obfuscates Cunliffe’s almost undoubted string-pullings.
But maybe that’s a good thing, as no one expected (or expects) Cunliffe to go quietly – least of all David Cunliffe and his supporters.
Then we have Grant Robertson. I can’t help thinking he’s a very clever bloke with all his heart – and all his brain – in the right place, and he certainly has a fantastic running mate in Jacinda Adern. This combo may appeal to young sophisticated urban voters, but might do little to assuage the somewhat more jaundiced and moribund views of most of the rest of Labour’s electorate. I would love this combo to lead Labour … but I wonder if it’s time yet. It might be for me, it might not be for Labour’s more usual supporters.
Finally we have David Parker. In a way, like Goff, Shearer, Cunliffe et al, Parker also represents ‘Old Labour’. But in Parker’s case, is this a bad thing? He has a clear mind, he speaks and understands economics, which is National’s (perceived, anyway) strong point, and he can be coached to show well in interviews etc (but Parker already proved he’s made great strides by his performance in the TV debate versus Bill English). Parker wrote some very sound policies which would have worked to better New Zealand, and they will work if Labour were to win an election. Parker has a good team behind him, he has few enemies in caucus (apart from Cunliffe, perhaps, and his diminished band of stalwarts) and, perhaps most importantly, Parker doesn’t use dirty tactics. David Parker is morally courageous, and everyone who has met him (including me) knows he’s a nice guy who thinks deeply and genuinely listens.
Since Parker is quite progressive, the line from Old Labour to New Labour would be more of a redefinition than an umbilical cut if he were to win. The first job Parker would have is to reunify the party, which basically means addressing every single faction and demanding – then getting – compromise to progress towards a goal that they – and we – can all believe in. Parker’s mana and charisma would rise with each success in this task.
This all comes back to the clear messaging around a position we can understand easily, as I have been banging on about for years.
But none of this is impossible … for whoever wins. I say good luck to David Parker’s aspirations, and to his toil ahead: and may Grant Robertson and Jacinda Adern somehow fit into all this if it’s Parker who wins!