Andrew Little “pretty much on track”. Eh?

Claire Trevett used to write good stuff, but over the election period the other apples in the barrel got to her and she hasn’t quite recovered.  Today she’s reviewing Little’s first year on the job.

This weekend is Little’s first annual conference as party leader, the first time he will front up to the union members who backed him and the first since last year’s election drubbing. Little quite rightly identified that his first challenge was not dealing to Prime Minister John Key – it was dealing to his own party.

By all accounts Little has been a soothing balm on the caucus. He has managed what many believed was impossible – quietened much of the unrest within the Labour camp. Most MPs speak highly of him, his style and his decisiveness. He has set some order in place, calling each MP in for individual sessions a couple of times a year to talk about their portfolios and any issues they might have. One said it was an effective way to build confidence in him. Miraculously, he even managed to staunch leaks from within caucus. The Trans Pacific Partnership is the most polarising issue Labour has faced. What is astounding is not that there is a difference of views in caucus, but that very little of that internal conflict has spilled over into the public arena.

Little says he reads far and wide on leadership styles – from other political leaders to business leaders and sports leaders such as Sir Alex Ferguson. He points out democracy gives him a disadvantage sports coaches do not have. “It’s the whole thing about taking a group of people and turning them into a high-performing team. That’s what politics is like, but you’re not like a sports coach where you can tell people you’re in the team or out – you have to deal with what you’ve got.” He also analyses organisations that fail “to see why. That’s equally important.”

Labour in NZ will not be the only ones looking at new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s win in Canada for lessons. But Little points out the situation Trudeau faced in Canada was not a carbon copy for New Zealand. “I think the difference there is they had a government that was looking tired, that was looking autocratic, that was manipulating sittings of Parliament to suit itself and I think the Canadian public just found that distasteful.”

I guess we can admit that the reductions in external expressions of dissent is a change from over a year ago.  But none of the underlying problems have been solved.  If anything, it’s Annette King that’s applying the right pressure on the dangly bits around caucus.

Little’s personal ratings have gone backwards, and his party is stuck at 28-30% in the polls.  Less when Little fronts the party.

And ultimately, Labour has to cow-tow to its union masters.  No matter how sensible caucus may wish to become, they remain merely the parliamentary arm of the union movement.

Andrew Little is hanging on by the skin of his teeth.  The only reason that it appears calm is that in politics timing is everything.


– Claire Trevett, A newspaper

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