The lead-up to next year's general election suddenly looks
like it could hold some real excitement.
The resignation of Labour Party leader David Shearer on
Thursday after a period of much speculation has cleared the
way for an injection of fresh ideas, energy and impetus.
Under Mr Shearer's leadership, the party has failed to fire.
Aside from its recent housing policy announcement, there has
been little real meat to engage voters.
And although ''nice'' and ''integrity'' are the words often
used to describe Mr Shearer, his lack of experience in the
political sphere seems to have become more, not less,
apparent over time, and his performance in the House and in
front of the camera has failed to inspire.
It is to his credit that he realised he was not the man to
lead the party into an election, and resigned, as the
rumblings of discontent had been getting louder, and the time
frame in which a new leader could make an impact shorter.
Despite continuing to deny there was dissatisfaction in the
ranks and stating he would head the party into the election,
an anonymous Labour MP had said at the end of June that Mr
Shearer had been put on two months' notice to improve
personal and party poll ratings or face a likely leadership
The speculation, backbiting, whispering and divisions within
the party have not done it any favours - at a time when it
could be making an impact and working to reverse its
unprecedented poor showing at the 2011 election.
While John Key's personal popularity has remained largely
consistently high, and he is hoping to lead his party into a
third term, there is enough public concern about the
Government's more controversial policies and legislation
(think mining on conservation land, state-owned asset sales,
the Sky City casino deal, and those that have been viewed as
undemocratic and threats to freedoms such as the GCSB
changes, rights of caregivers of disabled adult children, the
right to protest at sea, combined with ongoing job losses in
various sectors) that a clever, charismatic leader, could -
and should - be able to exploit through a combination of
policy and personality.
The only realistically viable contenders - David Cunliffe,
who challenged Mr Shearer for the leadership in 2011 after
Phil Goff's resignation, and deputy leader Grant Robertson -
are being coy about their intentions.
Mr Cunliffe has been biding his time on the backbenches and
clearly has the nous, standing and more ''aggressive''
personality that could really threaten National, although he
has less support in the Labour caucus.
Mr Robertson is widely liked and immensely capable, but is
still far more junior in experience. His sexuality - despite
the progress being made on that front through legislation and
general attitudes - cannot be discounted as a factor for more
conservative party members and voters.
It would seem the best possible combination for Labour could
be Mr Cunliffe as leader, with Mr Robertson continuing as
deputy. Under the party's new rules, if there is a contest,
the leader will be chosen by the caucus (40%), party members
(40%) and unions (20%) and a decision likely to take a month.
While some believe a challenge would be good, there is
clearly much work to be done.
This newspaper believes it may well be better for a
leadership decision to be made quickly and cleanly, without
exposing the party to further speculation and highlighting
the divisions. A united front is vital if Labour is to make a
The new leader needs to be firmly established ahead of its
conference on November 1 so the real hard yards can begin,
and the conference can concentrate on policies not
MPs only have to look across the Tasman at the damage caused
to the Labor Party there with years of in-house political
bad-blood, bickering and undermining in Canberra.
Strong, stable leadership is the keystone to Labour's support
here. It must get back to those basics if it has any hope of
making a difference going forward.