The forces are now marshaling for the Labour party civil war. Chris Trotter has been drafted:
Confession, they say, is good for the soul, so I have a confession to make. I was wrong about David Shearer. I made the mistake of believing that a politician with a brilliant back-story couldn’t fail to give us an equally brilliant front-story.
Well, as Sportin’ Life tells the true believers in Porgy & Bess: “It ain’t necessarily so.”
And, now I (and I suspect you) know it ain’t so. David Shearer is a thoroughly likeable, decent bloke, and his record at the United Nations is truly inspirational but, come on, let’s face it: he ain’t anybody’s kind of leader.
David Shearer, like David Lange, is a creature of the factional and personal animosities dividing the Labour caucus.
Bluntly: he was put there by an unholy alliance of Right and Left-wing MPs to prevent the Labour Party’s choice, David Cunliffe, from taking the top job.
David Lange, however, had one thing going for him that David Shearer does not – a gift for oratory.
When David Lange opened his mouth the words flowed out in gorgeous, highly ornamented and persuasive profusion. His soaring rhetoric had the power to transport entire audiences to the vivid world of the Langean imagination. “I see a country”, he would say, and within a few inspirational sentences, we could see it too.
David Shearer, by contrast, can barely string 10 words together. And, when he says “I see a country”, he means Finland.
Chris Trotter then gives us a rose tinted view of the Lange years and then returns to the present:
If the first David story was a tragedy, the second is pure farce, and everybody can see it. In certain Labour circles his elevation to the leadership was hailed as “the experiment”. In those same circles, it is now being described as “the unfortunate experiment”.
That kind of vicious, stiletto thrust might have been avoided if David Shearer had made up for what he lacked as a speaker, with what he offered as a thinker. If only, in his two, much ballyhooed, “direction-setting” speeches he had given the country some juicy, red, ideological meat to chew on.
If only he had been able to plainly set forth an overarching philosophical framework from which later, more specific, Labour policies could be hung, then none of the muttering and stuttering would have mattered.
But those two speeches showed not the slightest trace of “big picture” thinking. On the contrary, they showed every sign of having been inspired by an Auckland-based focus-group, and composed by a Wellington-based committee.
The only picture they painted was one that revealed Labour’s deficiencies. That not only did the party lack leadership, but it also lacked ideas. Oh, that Labour possessed speechwriters like The West Wing‘s Toby Ziegler and Sam Seaborne.
Then the summary, making it clear that though he has been drafted to help knife David Shearer, he isn’t yet in Team Grant:
So, what have we learned from this debacle? What has Labour learned?
If by “Labour” you mean its caucus, I would say absolutely nothing. If you’re talking about the party itself, nothing it didn’t know already: that caucus picked the wrong guy.
It’s time for the Labour caucus to put an end to “the unfortunate experiment” and begin a new one. They could call it “democracy” – and stop taking their party for Grant-ed.