Labour leader on a mission to 're-engage'

Labour Party leader David Shearer (right) talks to James Hardisty, of Wilson Electrical, during a...
Labour Party leader David Shearer (right) talks to James Hardisty, of Wilson Electrical, during a visit to Dunedin company Farra Engineering yesterday. Wilson Electrical carries out all electrical wiring work for the engineering firm. Photo by Linda Robertson.
He has run the biggest humanitarian aid camp in Somalia, worked for the United Nations in war-torn countries Liberia, Rwanda and Afghanistan and handled a $2 billion budget when he was head of the UN's reconstruction programme in Iraq.

So it is not surprising newly elected Labour Party leader and MP for Mt Albert David Shearer is confident he can turn the party's flagging fortunes around, reconnect it to New Zealand voters and win the next election.

"We have to do a lot of work ... to win confidence and respect. But, ultimately, I think we have every chance."

The party's dismal showing in the November general election saw it shed eight MPs and capture only 27.4% of the vote.

Mr Shearer (53), making his first visit to Dunedin as leader yesterday, said improving the vote next election would not be easy, particularly in rural and provincial New Zealand where the party had performed "particularly badly".

"We are at the very beginning of reconnecting. You don't do it in one day. What I am trying to do over the next few months is to go around the country ... re-engage with people and find out what Labour needs to do to be the party that will represent people better."

Asked who those people were, he said "everybody".

"In some ways, what people have tended to do is see us as a narrower party than we believe we are, as representing [mainly] workers. Of course we do represent workers ... but we have to recognise that New Zealand has changed and now many, many people are self-employed.

"They are contractors; they are holding down a couple of jobs; they are sitting at the kitchen table doing GST returns. I don't think many of those people see us as the natural party which represents them, and we should be."

Asked if Labour would continue its strong links with unions, Mr Shearer said it would.

The issue was about broadening the party's general membership, he said.

The big challenge for Labour over the next three years was to show its MPs were "competent, trustworthy managers of the economy", he said.

That would put it head to head with National, which he acknowledged had the same aim.

Yesterday, Mr Shearer toured Cadbury and two of Farra Engineering's workshops with Dunedin Labour MPs Clare Curran and Dr David Clark.

Mr Shearer said he was interested in visiting innovative companies which had developed niche markets at home and abroad.


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