Labour changes bizarre, says Michael Bassett

Michael Bassett

The Labour Party’s bid to change the way it elects leaders is only going to cause it more problems, says historian Michael Bassett.

Dr Bassett was a Labour MP from 1972-75 and 1978-90 and a leading minister in the fourth Labour government.

He has also written a biography of former Labour leader Peter Fraser, insider accounts of both the third and fourth Labour governments and extensive other writings on New Zealand political history.

The changes form the backdrop of the caucus showdown scheduled for 4pm today at Parliament between leader David Shearer and New Lynn MP David Cunliffe.

A weekend party conference was dominated by leadership bid rumours by Mr Cunliffe and a constitutional change which will give members and unions more say over the leadership from February next year.

Mr Shearer called today’s emergency meeting to try to stop further damage to the party.

“The constitutional changes are bizarre,” Dr Bassett told NBR ONLINE.

“Anything which departs from the notion that those who work most closely with a leader or potential leader are the best to choose the leadership – anything that departs from that is fraught with peril.”

There had been a similar effort in the early 1980s, when David Lange replaced Bill Rowling as leader, he says, and there was a public push for Lyttelton MP Anne Hercus for the deputy role.

“There was a great lobbying campaign. People would bail you up in the street, and when it came to the deputy vote she was bottom of the poll. That tells you something.”

Similarly, he says, the majority of the people who worked with Mr Cunliffe in caucus since he came to Parliament in 1999 made it clear they did not want him when he ran for the leadership last December.

“It’s exactly the case now with Shearer – I mean, people have made an assessment. I frankly don’t know that he’s any great shakes but I don’t think Cunliffe is either."

Some people have drawn parallels between Mr Shearer and the Bill Rowling era and there are some similarities, he says, although the differences are also large.

“Rowling, of course, had had a ministerial career, although not a long one. And he was an incredibly steely individual and had proved himself, even though he wasn’t really a leader.

“In Shearer’s case, he has been in Parliament for barely four years. He is really pretty new to the game and I think it shows.”

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7 Comments & Questions

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I agree. Neither of the two Davids are ideal to lead. The incumbent lacks the requisite parliamentary experience of sluggin' it out in the bear pit that is the House. The flexing of the muscles, now, seems more by proxy for the likes of Mallard and Hipkins. And Cunliffe is too self-centred, too polarising within caucus. He has shown an unwillingness to address his shortcomings.

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Yes - Labour will forever find themselves in a situation where the 60% faction elect a new "leader" who is then resoundly rejected by the 40% faction... and so an endless feedback loop is created. The snake eating it's own tail....

Labour will suffer paralysis by analysis trying to figure out what went wrong... and like their fiscal/monetary/finance credibility - they won't have a bloody clue!

From the outside looking in, Labour will just appear to be a big, continuous, slow-moving train wreck with endless bouts of factional in-fighting... which will only help the Greens...

But is a small taste of what an entity/person living in the real world must contend with trying to get a small project through the RMA process... larger projects are even worse eh Bathurst Mining...

The vocal minority holds sway over the elected majority - welcome to the real world Labour - and long may you be forever in a state of continuous coup's and constant flux... NZ Inc deserves nothing less...

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All Kiwi politicians, to varying degrees, are halfwits

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Damned with faint praise by Bassett! Can it get worse for Shearer?

Cunliffe had a stellar career before taking the Titirangi seat from National.
Cunliffe had a stellar career as a Minister and in Cabinet.
Cunliffe is very popular in West Auckland (unlike Bassett).
Cunliffe is very popular with the Labour membership. (VERY unlike Bassett)
Cunliffe is a lot younger that Shearer.
Shearer would be crazy to demote him.

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Given Michael Bassett's record we could expect the opposite to happen. Was he not the man advising Don Brash about the ACT takeover? And didn't that work well!

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I recall Bassett was himself pretty keen on another newbee politician - David Lange - at least while the portfolios were being handed out and then he did his best to undermine him.

Bassett should know the only person to win from this is Robertson, who will become the Labour leader either in February, or after the 2014 election if Labour does not become government.

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It's a bit rich for Bassett to present himself as someone of sufficient Labour credentials to comment on Labour today when he deserted his Labour ideals for those of the New Right in the 1980s and subsequently has been aligned with ACT.

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