3 mins to read

The writing’s on the wall for David Shearer – and it’s in Tapu Misa’s hand

Brian Edwards
Mon, 12 Nov 2012

The writing’s on the wall for David Shearer – and it’s in Tapu Misa’s hand.

A quite remarkable thing happened this morning. Herald columnist Tapu Misa gave it as her view that David Shearer should stand down as leader of the Labour Party.

Misa is the finest columnist in the country – intelligent, informed, rational, considered in her judgements. More importantly, she is never cruel or unkind. Unlike most other columnists, including myself from time to time, she never sets out to wound. In keeping perhaps with her strong religious beliefs, she is ever a charitable critic.

Her politics are to the liberal left.

For these reasons I believe she will have thought long and hard before sending this morning’s column to the Herald for publication. It will not have been an easy decision. I can only assume that, after long deliberation, she concluded that this was something that, in the interests of the Labour Party and the country, just had to be said.

Misa’s message is by no means new. The opinion that Shearer, however decent, however nice, is the wrong man for the job, is now regularly expressed by both right and left-wing commentators. Shearer claims not to be bothered by this groundswell of disfavour, but he is either in denial or putting on a brave front. It must be a dismal experience to be subjected day in, day out, to such relentless public humiliation.

What is both new and remarkable is that Misa, albeit reluctantly, has joined the chorus of opinion that Shearer is harming rather than helping Labour’s cause and that he cannot continue to lead the party. The writing on the wall could not now be clearer.  

It has been my view, expressed in numerous posts on this site, that the Labour caucus made a serious mistake in selecting Shearer as leader in preference to David Cunliffe. They are now paying the price for the infantile thinking of the ‘Anyone but Cunliffe’ brigade.

It has also been my expressed view that Shearer’s image as a nice but bumbling and inarticulate political leader, could not be repaired. That would require a rewiring of his brain, in effect a personality transplant, a feat beyond the most skilled media trainer. Even the redoubtable Ian Fraser could apparently not pull it off.

As it approaches its annual conference, the Labour caucus will be comforting itself with the thought that they don’t need to concern themselves with Shearer’s deficiencies as leader; National will lose the 2014 election to a left-wing coalition. They can sleep-walk their way to victory.

That strikes me as a very dangerous non-strategy. It fails to take into account that Shearer’s leadership is losing the party support now, that it will continue to lose the party support and, most importantly, that Shearer has no chance of besting Key either on the hustings or in the live television debates that play an important role in influencing (in particular) undecided and swinging voters in an election.  Key will crucify Shearer in those debates.

As an advisor to Helen Clark during the 2008 election I learnt to my cost the danger of underestimating Key as a debater. My view and the view of Helen’s other advisors was that Key would be no match for the Prime Minister. He was a new boy and she was a seasoned practitioner. She was ’Minister for Everything’ and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of every portfolio. She would make mincemeat of this upstart. Key, it turned out, had been hiding his light under a bushel. He was aggressive, interruptive and in his element. Helen lost the first debate and we had to regroup.

Why is this relevant? Because David Shearer could not hold a candle to Helen Clark as a debater. That is why I say Key will crucify him in any face to face debate. It’s already happening in Parliament.

So here’s what I think should happen: Shearer should announce at the Labour Party Conference that he has told caucus he wishes to step down as leader and will do so as soon as a replacement has been chosen.  To avoid the inevitable chaos (and possible collapse of the Labour Party) which will  result from the implementation of their proposed new rules for choosing a leader (which could be tested as early as February of next year), caucus should quickly select David Cunliffe to take them through the next election. Cunliffe is the only person for the job. There is no-one else.

Yes, I know, there’s a squadron of pigs flying over the Beehive as I write these words. But I really would prefer not to have to say ‘told you so’ again late some night in November 2014.

Media trainer and commentator Dr Brian Edwards blogs at Brian Edwards Media

Brian Edwards
Mon, 12 Nov 2012
© All content copyright NBR. Do not reproduce in any form without permission, even if you have a paid subscription.
The writing’s on the wall for David Shearer – and it’s in Tapu Misa’s hand