3 mins to read

Loser heads Labour review panel

if you must have a review panel, head it by someone who knows how to win elections.

Chris Keall
Mon, 20 Oct 2014

I'm against Labour’s whole review process.

The reason the party failed on September 20 is crystal clear. With Shearer leading Labour, the left bloc was in a winnable position, with Labour polling in the mid-30s. After Cunliffe took over, policies – bar a couple of mangled efforts -- continued to get good approval ratings, even outpolling National in key areas like property sales to foreigners and partial asset sales. But the party tanked to the mid-20s. The new primary system produced a leader with minority support in his own caucus, and little appeal to the public.  Solution: dump the primary system, change leader. 

But if you must have a review panel, head it by someone who knows how to win elections.

The convenor for Labour’s panel is Bryan Gould – the ex-pat famous for being a senior MP in the British Labour Party. He even got as high as making a bid for the party’s leadership in the early 1990s, but was outmanoeuvred by rivals and returned to NZ to become vice chancellor of Waikato University.

Gould is a smart man, I’m sure. But he’s not a winner in the game of politics. The ex-pat was a senior MP between 1979 and 1992 – a period of course dominated by Thatcher and the Conservatives as Labour struggled to make itself look anything close to electable.

Gould has poured vitriol on Tony Blair – the man whose up-beat style and move to the centre saw the party finally return to power.

Many in Labour will agree with Gould’s critiques of Blair for going too far in greasing up the press, moderating policy, and poodling to America on Iraq. In various newspaper editorials and his memoirs, Gould won the moral high ground hands down. But he lacks Blair’s ruthless and practical streak, and focus on likeability, that’s so necessary to win power.  

A key question for NZ Labour is whether to shore up the party’s base with hard left policies or move to the centre, where elections are won. No prizes for guessing where the academic Gould will land.

Just last Thursday, Gould was comparing Key to Kim Jong-un. Great lorks if you're a humour writer for the Internet Party. Not so much if you're trying to talk to middle NZ.

Why not Mike?
Why not have Mike Williams head the panel? The campaign manager and party president during the Helen Clark years knows how to win (a winner; how gauche!). He’s still dishing out sensible advice, if the party wants to listen. 

After National was thrashed to 20.93% in 2002, under leader Bill English and party president Michelle Boag, it brought in Steven Joyce to drive its review — at the time a relative newcomer not tied to any faction, and with the centre right instincts required to get the party back on track.

The other three members of Labour's panel are reasonably logical picks: Margaret Wilson (if you must have a review, you need a policy and constitutional brain onboard), Brian Corban (good to have a voice for business) and Stacey Morrison (good to have someone from broadcasting on board, because media performance does matter, but I’m not sure about Morrison’s experience at the political end of the game; the review blurb also pitches her as an iwi advocate – though I would say the broadcasting bit is the key. The Maori electorates were the one area Labour actually made gains).

Not that it matters. The leadership campaign will be over before the panel reports, and it will be up to the new leader to drive through change, and win party and popular support for their ideas. If the report recommends scrapping the primary system, that will be a useful springboard for the new leader in his or her efforts to ditch it. Otherwise, it will go in a drawer.

Chris Keall
Mon, 20 Oct 2014
© All content copyright NBR. Do not reproduce in any form without permission, even if you have a paid subscription.
Loser heads Labour review panel