David Shearer has played the Cunliffe trouble spot on. He needed to act quickly. He needed to call Cunliffe out and tell him the vote is on, to line up all the supporters he can muster and count the hands. When Cunliffe loses that vote, which he will, he will then be demoted to the back of the caucus, be shown to be the treacherous, mischievous, untrustworthy back stabber he is.
In doing that Shearer will have achieved two things. Firstly, dealt with a potential threat head on and in good, quick time. Secondly, shown beyond any shadow of a doubt that Cunliffe is a stirrer and little more so that at least if Cunliffe continues to agitate from the back of the room, any sting he might have once had is gone. He is merely seen as the disaffected, dead weight who gets the attention he deserves.
What’s made Cunliffe’s weekend performance even worse is his sudden, if not remarkable, backing of his leader yesterday after presumably waking up to the fact that he didn't have the numbers and had put the party in a hopeless position for most of the weekend. It’s one of the weaknesses of the political system. If an employee of a company had done a Cunliffe, they would have been sacked. You can’t sack an MP but you can do the next best thing - remove any power position and credibility they may have and hopefully humiliate them along the way.
Make no mistake, what Cunliffe did infuriated Shearer and rightly so. I can’t tell you what Shearer said about it off air to me yesterday mainly because the expletive level raised even my eyebrows. But let’s just say if you ever thought Shearer was a mild mannered bloke not capable of uttering a few spectacularly colourful words, you’d be well wrong . If I was Cunliffe, I’d be avoiding all dark corners and alleys.
In a way this is a good thing. Part of the reason Cunliffe was never liked enough to win the vote was because of this very sort of behaviour. The ABC group - you don't get a group called “Anything But Cunliffe” unless you've behaved pretty badly a reasonably large number of times. That sort of reputation takes some doing and Cunliffe has clearly done it.
So in an odd way we have all been shown what many had seen and had warned about. You may not like Shearer, you may not think he’s up to it or a future prime minister, but you have to respect the system. They held a vote and he won it. In my book he has the right to contest the next election and he has the right to contest it unchallenged and unhindered by back stabbing and undermining. Anyone who thinks differently needs to be brought forward and dealt with in no uncertain terms.
By the end of the day, Cunliffe needs to be at the back of the room in disgrace having lost the vote and seen for what he is.
It's hard to argue against Mike Hosking's logic here, and the revelation that David Shearer was extremely angry about the whole deal is hardly surprising. David Shearer would have to be a saint not to have been infuriated at the way that Cunliffe has behaved towards him and the way that Cunliffe effectively derailed the Labour Party conference at the weekend.
The other perspective comes from the polar opposite of Mike Hosking, Standard blogger Zetetic who under the title Shitting on the shoulders of giants opines:
Labour is the oldest party in New Zealand. Those who control it at any given time are on the shoulders of giants. They have the duty to preserve and build upon the work of their forebears and the current members – not just Savage, Fraser, Kirk, Clark, but the hundreds of thousands of activists that put their blood, sweat, toil, and tears into building the party. Labour’s leadership should be dedicated to leaving the party better than they found it. But, now, as in the Rogernomics era, a clique has seized control of Labour and use its power for their own ends.
For the past four years, Labour has been controlled by a clique of 3 has-beens and 2 beltway hacks: Goff, King, Mallard, Robertson, and Hipkins.
This old guard clique led Labour to its worst defeat. A year later, with their second choice frontman as leader after they ignored the members’ will, Labour’s still below its 2008 result and on track for another defeat. (Funny story, since the start of the year, Hipkins has been telling all and sundry in all seriousness that ‘if these trends continue’ Labour will win in a landslide in 2014 – I parodied him here - now, take a look at the real trend)
The Douglas clique at least had an ideology they were working for. This clique what do they stand for? What are their values other than power for themselves? The failure of Labour to define a value set over the past four years is a reflection of this clique’s lack of values.
The membership voted no confidence in the old guard on Saturday. In retaliation, they’ve gone nuclear on the membership. The response of the old guard has been to unleash a nasty side that many who watch Labour politics have known about for some time, but never thought we’d see expressed quite this openly. After all, the preferred style of the ABCers is the off-the-record character assassination.
Their target is Cunliffe but the truth is that Cunliffe is just a vehicle for the membership – the alternative to the old guard who, like the membership and unlike to old guard, truly repudiates neoliberalism and respects the rights of members.
The attacks on Cunliffe usually take the form of what we’re seeing right now, with unnamed ‘senior Labour MPs’ telling media Cunliffe is a ‘fink’ and an ‘egotist’ and calling for him to be ‘cut down’. This talking campaign has been going on since beore the last election and I know because I’ve heard it from the old guard’s proxies more times than I care to count. Mostly this doesn’t surface publicly, except for the odd stuff up like when Goff and King went to Garner to shop a story that Cunliffe was despised by the caucus in an effort to undermine his position. It’s been relentless.
But now they’re rattled it’s come out into the open. Now we have Hipkins’ openly calling Cunliffe ‘dishonest’ and trying to blame him for undermining Goff as well (another ABC smear from just after the last election). Disturbingly, Hipkins extended his attacks to all MPs wanting a change, suggesting that they might consider “whether they are sticking around”. The old guard don’t care that the party is dying beneath them, as long as they’re on top for the ride down.
Notice by comparison the lack of vitriol and smears coming from David Cunliffe and his supporters. Cunliffe has faced this for more than a year but he’s chosen to remain above it all. He’s focused on doing his job and articulating a progressive economic vision for New Zealand. Perhaps his problem is he’s done his job too well.
So, remember, that isn’t about Cunliffe. It’s about the old guard clique trying to hold on even after the membership has told them that it is, in the words of one delegate, “taking the party back”. They want the membership as small and tame as possible, and they want any voice of the membership gone.
The old guard know for a fact that in an open vote including members and affiliates they’d be finished. They also know that if there’d been an open vote last year they wouldn’t be where they are now. Their power rests on holding a simple majority in caucus, and just as the empowerment of the membership threatens their hold (note the old guard were most vocal in lining up against the pro-democracy amendments) the existence of David Cunliffe reminds them of their lack of legitimacy and the threat to their power.
They’ll try to take him down today with an open ballot leadership vote – a Stalinist tactic that will hurt them next year and will be fruitless today because Cunliffe has launched no challenge and today’s vote will be unanimous. Their goal is to get Cunliffe and the membership out of the way so that when Shearer is replaced – it will be an open field for Robertson (have no doubt Shearer will be replaced, he must be because he is not up to the job. Temporary praise from the Herald’s rightwing columnists notwithstanding can anyone actually imagine him as PM? Shares in RIM would go through the roof)
It saddens me to see what a nasty, undemocratic little clique has done to this great party. Guess I’ll be filling out the membership form I got on Saturday… and waiting until February.
Whatever happens this afternoon, over the next few months and in February the deep divisions within Labour are not going to go away any time soon. There seems to be a serious disconnect between Labour Party members primarily in Auckland and what Zetetic describes as "a nasty, undemocratic little clique" comprising mainly Wellington-based MP's.
Interesting times await as Labour MP's fly in to Wellington this afternoon for the urgent caucus meeting. David Shearer may win the battle this afternoon, but will he win the war? Or is this the end of the political road for David Cunliffe, and might he decide that his talents are better used elsewhere?