Labour needs to lose dead wood, but how?


Dave Armstrong at Fairfax writes about Labour needing to chop out some dead wood.

Boom boom! Last week began with pure farce as New Zealand’s largest centre-Left party performed the latest episode of Labour Behaving Badly.

Like a naughty fourth former who had just received bad end-of-year reports, Labour’s caucus rounded on leader David Cunliffe, who had bravely led them down the garden path to their worst result in almost a century.

Cunliffe could rightly argue that winning was always going to be a big ask and that he did his best. But he should know that it’s only in big multinational companies where CEOs are heaped with praise and massive bonuses after a disastrous result.

Cunliffe did well in the debates and drove himself to exhaustion in the final fortnight but it was too little, too late.

Yes, Dirty Politics and the Moment of Truth denied him oxygen but it was the first six months of his leadership where the real damage was done.

Various distractions, often thanks to leaks from both sides of the House, and too many gaffes never allowed him to focus on issues. Even during the campaign he made the mistake, as he later admitted, of not working more strategically with the Greens.

All that is just excuse making. In politics when you lose you go, that is the unwritten rule.

But there was a far bigger problem. Even people who appreciated the force of his arguments didn’t warm to him.

When Cunliffe had minority support in caucus it was difficult. But almost no caucus support makes it impossible.

But though he has now resigned, the question remains of how a party can have such a wide gap between the wishes of its caucus and its rank and file?

Most of Labour’s caucus are now electorate MPs. Though this gives them some sort of mandate, most presided over Labour’s party vote plummeting in their seats. And the caucus isn’t getting any younger.

That would be fine if they were coming up with ideas that fired the public’s imagination or were landing massive hits on Government ministers.

Yet over the last three years I can remember Chris Hipkins flooring Hekia Parata a few times, Shane Jones embarrassing the Government with his supermarket revelations, and Grant Robertson getting the better of Judith Collins during the Oravida scandal, and that’s about it.

However, there is a relatively simple solution to removing caucus deadwood. Vote them out at electorate selection time.

Dave Armstong really isn’t thinking that clearly. that solution won;t help Labour right now…in fact it won’t help them at the next election.

Here is what will happen. The existing MPs will dig in, being an MP is the best job any of them are ever going to get. Moreover at some of their advanced ages the only job. So they will dig and refuse to move.

Labours selection processes are such that it is almost impossible to move on someone who digs in.

It also means that even if Labour did manage to move on some of them they will go into the next election with either the old codgers or a bunch of wet behind the ears newbies yet to make any sort of impact.

Labour are doomed to a two term plan to re-gain the treasury benches.

The only heads that can be taken to set the train in motion are list MPs.

Renewal should have started after Clark left, now Labour have wasted two terms and gone backwards.


– Dave Armstrong, Fairfax


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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

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