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Further thoughts on Team Shearer

datePosted on 01:08, December 3rd, 2011 by Lew

These things occurred to me while making my daughter’s birthday cake:*

Endorsement games continue, with a range of people from across the political spectrum still out for Shearer; including Goff’s erstwhile strategist John Pagani and that notorious Mooreite Phil Quin alongside the rest of us Tory plants. Meanwhile, David Cunliffe has the endorsement of the Young Nats, here and here. Cheap shots, but it is the Young Nats after all. When they’re not photoshopping your head onto a dictator they obviously have the hots for you.

This sudden and spontaneous outbreak of public-sphere democracy is sending Labourite dittoheads into a panic; they’re convinced it’s a trap — one so cunning they can’t see what the right has to gain from it, but it must be something. It’s like they’ve forgotten what they believe; they just read Farrar, Slater, Hooton and Odgers and believe the opposite. Tragic. Those guys are good and all, but they only have so much power because so much of the NZ left is stricken with paranoiac idiotosis.

Meanwhile Trevor Mallard has it all figured out: the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy decision to endorse Shearer is not a trick to ship Labour with an easybeat leader (or worse, a wolf in sheep’s clothing) — in fact it’s a double-bluff designed to give Labour second thoughts about choosing the obviously-best candidate. (Incidentally James Meager, formerly of the now-defunct Mydeology blog, called this on Thursday.) Someone should redo the poison scene from The Princess Bride with such rationalisations. It’s positively Kremlinesque; parallels to the well-documented phenomenon of impending-collapse paranoia within authoritarian regimes seem almost too obvious.

Nevertheless, amongst all the bogus objections, I think there are two legitimate concerns about Shearer’s potential leadership. The first I noted in the Close Up interview: his presentation is not strong. He ums, stutters and hesitates, speaks too softly and lacks cut-through. When he’s been put on the spot he has struggled. He is much better at the set-piece but that on its own is not enough. What he does have to say is often very good; he is a very perceptive listener and he has a pretty remarkable grasp on a wide range of issues. (There’s a comprehensive archive of his weekly in-depth interviews with interesting and important people on the radio here.) That having been said, our present PM is akshully not the world’s greatest public speaker, and the public may view a less-polished performance as a common touch. Whatever the case, this weakness can be overcome by training; presentation is one of the few things in politics that can really be taught. Key and Clark are both great examples.

(Incidentally, it amuses me greatly to see folk who’ve always been focused on wonkish detail and hard policy, to the stern exclusion of doing anything that might win elections, now complaining about a candidate on the grounds that he talks a bit funny.)

The second objection is a bit more substantive, and was raised separately by Anita and by Chris Trotter, and also by Audrey Young: Shearer is reputedly aligned with Damien “gaggle of gays” O’Connor, and perhaps other members of what I have previously termed the blue collars, red necks faction of Labour. Because of this, Young suggests, a Shearer-led Labour will be “a more pragmatic party, with less emphasis on gays and feminists”, or as others might say, he might mean the end of identity politics. Leaving aside the offensive dichotomy between pragmatism and support for equal rights, I don’t think this necessarily follows. O’Connor’s views as expressed in his infamous “gaggle of gays” comment were somewhat archaic, but it’s not clear they will greatly shape the party’s culture. In addition, O’Connor has a point: homophobia aside, his critique of the faction politics of the Labour party has some merit (he also criticised “self-serving unionists”, Trotter’s latest target). Absent any indication that Shearer himself shares O’Connor’s unreconstructed views I think it’s a long bow to draw. Even so, I think the priority for Labour now is sorting its institutions out, and that will mean deemphasising some other projects. I can see this being a touchstone issue for some people; vive la difference.

Lastly, what we have before us is a Labour leadership candidate that can be supported by the right-wingers and former strategists noted above, Sanctuary, AK, myself and presumably because of his potential appeal to Waitakere Man and supposed opposition to identity politics, Comrade Trotter. A person like that doesn’t come along very often.


* Huhu grub cake made of rolled lemon sponge filled with fresh cream and bush honey, lemon cream cheese icing. Yeah, colonial-bourgeois Kiwiana is how we postmodern Gen-X long-spoon suppers roll.

19 Responses to “Further thoughts on Team Shearer”

  1. K on December 3rd, 2011 at 09:46

    What is most needed is a candidate who can be supported wholeheartedly by the party. And, for those of us who are not pollies or party-members, we should mind our own business?

  2. Lew on December 3rd, 2011 at 10:12

    Absolutely not. The party can disregard our advice and arguments as it likes, but it should at least have the option of taking them into account.


  3. felix on December 3rd, 2011 at 10:22

    I don’t really buy the equating of Key and Shearer’s speaking styles. More a case of opposites I’d have thought.

    Key can’t string a simple sentence together but importantly he doesn’t seem to care, and much as it bothers me, it seems that quite a lot of the country doesn’t care either.

    Shearer OTOH seems painfully self-aware that he’s stuttering, mumbling, and nervous – even though what he does say usually seems to be well thought out and articulately phrased.

    Confidence goes a long way I reckon.

  4. Chris Trotter on December 3rd, 2011 at 10:49

    You can now throw Matt McCarten into that eclectic line-up of Shearer supporters, Lew.

    I’m glad to know there’s at least one political matter we CAN agree on.

  5. Lew on December 3rd, 2011 at 10:56

    Chris, I find myself saying that often enough that I’ve come to the conclusion there’s quite a lot we do agree on. It’s just that when we disagree, we seem to disagree very acrimoniously.

    And edited to add: You can drop the “hail fellow, well met”, “agree to disagree”, “all in the game” nonsense, Chris. A couple of days ago, based on absolutely nothing, you declared me an enemy combatant; you can’t just unring that bell. It’s not quite as offensive as the time you accused me of supporting slavery, but it shows your fundamental attitude towards me hasn’t changed in the past few years.


  6. Anita on December 3rd, 2011 at 11:30

    In some ways it matters far more what non-Labour people think – the Labour people will vote Labour in 2014, isn’t part of the question “who will a swing voter be more likely to switch to Labour for?”

    BTW I don’t necessarily count O’Connor’s support against Shearer – it depends on whether Shearer is supporting O’Connor :) I just saw the media running the story and thought “are they setting him up for a backlash?”. Linking someone in Labour to O’Connor is not a kindness IMO.

  7. Mickysavage on December 3rd, 2011 at 14:55

    Lew the one piece of analysis totally lacking from your post is the ability of the respective candidates to actually do the job. I would have thought that lefties or progressives would decry the advancement of a candidate on the basis only that they have had an interesting career.

    Surely such things as a good brain, eloquence, ability to perform in Parliament and the ability to think on your feet were things that deserved attention.

    Or have we all been sucked into a battle for the best smiler and waver?

  8. Idiot/Savant on December 3rd, 2011 at 15:48

    Lew the one piece of analysis totally lacking from your post is the ability of the respective candidates to actually do the job. I would have thought that lefties or progressives would decry the advancement of a candidate on the basis only that they have had an interesting career.

    That’s because both remaining Davids are pretty obviously capable of doing the job.

  9. Pablo on December 3rd, 2011 at 16:19

    There is an interesting conundrum here. A record loss is the best time for major change. Out with the old and in with the new and all that. But you need a new cadre that knows its way around the traps in parliament. Hence the dilemma.

    On the one hand you have someone with monster international credentials but limited parliamentary experience (although he is quick on the uptake). On the other hand you have someone who knows the inside game very well but is short of global gravitas (and networks). People like me tend to favor the guy who was a serious player on the global stage, but I am not sure that the NZ public could give a darn about Shearer’s experiences in places like Iraq, and in fact may be put off by his “worldly” background (i.e. he is seen as some sort of Euro-sophisticate who cannot fix a broken tap without assistance). Cunliffe may be droll and blunt but he may just have enough “common” touch to appear more attractive to voters.

    In spite of the tribalism infecting Labour as it scrambles for relevancy, there is an argument to be made for having a practiced insider hand as the Leader and a global player as the Deputy. That combination, rather than the ones so far enunciated, may not tick all (or any) of the tribal boxes, but it can pack some punch when arguing with the other side of the aisle. And that, it seems to me, is a core issue: the ability to get up on a daily basis and out-argue Mr. smile and wave, Mr. English and the CERA czar on matters of policy. The more the new leadership team can do so, and in so doing move the terms of debate to a more favorable framing of policy matters, the more it will be able to thwart National’s ambitions while building back popular support. Even the tribes would have to accept that as a positive for the party as a whole.

  10. mickysavage on December 3rd, 2011 at 16:39

    I agree with most of your comment Pablo but the one thing that I would disagree with is the suggestion that Shearer would represent major change. have you thought what the respective front benches would look like under Shearer and under Cunliffe? And have you thought about who Goff, King and Mallard, the three MPs with the longest records, are supporting?

  11. Lew on December 3rd, 2011 at 20:20

    Mickysavage, do you believe either of the candidates really lacks any of those qualities? I don’t. I also recall quite vividly how everyone on the left claimed a career in forex wasn’t any use as leader, that he’d be an easybeat, and look how that panned out. In fact, I vividly recall warning folk like you to not underestimate him. That’s the thing: it’s not so much whether someone’s had an interesting career that matters — it’s whether they’ve had a complex, high-autonomy, high-responsibility, high-stakes career that matters. Key had. Shearer has. Cunliffe has too, to an extent, but not to the same extent.

    That said, I’m not in a strong position to judge, so I’ll rely on those who are (ie, those who have the votes) to take those factors into consideration. Again: it’s not that I think Cunliffe would make a bad leader; I think he would make a good one. But Shearer’s experience gives him the edge for me.

    I think the “generational change” argument is over-egged; Bomber made it too, that Shearer is a baby boomer and Cunliffe is Gen X. Both are on the margins, though — only six years separates them. I am keen to hear details of Team Cunliffe’s “radical plan for change”, but to be honest, the fact that existing senior MPs support Shearer doesn’t concern me too much. Most of the existing old guard will be gone by or soon after the 2014 election whatever the case. In addition, indications are that the top echelon under both leaders will be quite similar, including two or more Davids, Jones, Robertson and Ardern for a start. Still, you might be right — it may be that this leadership campaign turns into a bidding war around regime change. If that’s true, so much the better.

    Pablo, your distinction is an important one. The sense I get, though, is that the common impression of Shearer is as anything but a pampered sophisticate, but actually as the kind of guy who wore combat boots to work, because that was what his works was, not in the symbolic way that the Bush-era apparatchik whose name escapes me insisted on doing. I have no idea how credible this impression is, but there’s a great deal of mythology to be made of his adventures in foreign aid diplomacy.

    The point about the importance of strong debating chops and command of the material is a fair call as well. Cunliffe has those skills in spades. In addition to the reform agenda, much should hinge on whether Shearer can persuade the caucus that he also has, or can learn, those chops. And even if Cunliffe is a better all-round speaker, the leadership can work — Clark/Cullen, for instance.


  12. the sprout on December 3rd, 2011 at 22:10

    mmm Shearer
    the MP for Mt Albert, installed by Phil Goff, representing change :lol:

  13. Idiot/Savant on December 3rd, 2011 at 22:43

    The sense I get, though, is that the common impression of Shearer is as anything but a pampered sophisticate, but actually as the kind of guy who wore combat boots to work, because that was what his works was, not in the symbolic way that the Bush-era apparatchik whose name escapes me insisted on doing.

    Paul Bremer, ProConsol of Iraq.

  14. Chris Trotter on December 4th, 2011 at 11:32

    Those who accumulate their grievances, Lew, end up in very poor company.

  15. Hugh on December 5th, 2011 at 13:36

    I think it is important to remember that Shearer was very much Goff’s personal choice for Mt Albert and was as close to a political protege as Goff has (odd given the fact that Goff has been around for so long).

  16. barry on December 6th, 2011 at 21:51

    Les – you comment: ..”he might mean the end of identity politics”

    Well that would be a bloody good thing. Real issues have too often been diverted by these crazy ideas that we have to bow down and adore all these weird identities. Carter was an example of why we dont need that sort of crap, and we have heard several times from the likes of Chauvel that …’they are only having a go at me “because Im gay”. No – its because he was stupid (writting self congratulating letters in someone elses name).

    Good ridance to such behaviour if Shearer can do it. Although he will have his work cut out with the vitriolic feminists.

  17. Anita on December 6th, 2011 at 22:53


    He will also have his work cut out with the common or garden feminists, not to mention the majority of the rest of the population (who also fit your definitions of “weird”).

  18. The blogosphere on Labour leadership | Kiwiblog on December 12th, 2011 at 13:02

    […] – was Shearer, and now CunliffeJohn Pagani backs ShearerMickey Savage is a Cunliffe supporterLew Stoddart supports ShearerPhil Quin is in the Shearer campMorgan at Maui Street defends Nanaia Mahuta, saying she was […]

  19. […] Here’s Keith Ng, who, to be fair, seemed more anti-Cunliffe than pro-Shearer. Here’s Lew. And I wrote: I think both of the contenders in the Labour leadership will (probably) be strong […]

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