State Of It: Demotion Of Cunliffe Is A Disservice – NZ’s Economic Interest More Important Than Shearer’s
State Of It – By Selwyn Manning.
The demotion of Labour’s spokesperson for economic development David Cunliffe to the backbench is a disgrace that demonstrates a move to protect the current leader’s ambitions over New Zealand’s need to debate our economic and manufacturing sector woes.
Labour Party leader David Shearer’s move to demote Cunliffe appears motivated by beltway politics, a move to protect his patch from an obvious contender while denying the wider Opposition an experienced debating chamber attach-dog, a slick political operator and driver of solution-based economic policy.
To illustrate the point: New Zealand’s manufacturing and export sector has become engaged with opposition politics since David Cunliffe and David Parker demonstrated an ability to listen, think, and develop solution-based policies founded on evidence rather than ideology or rhetoric. For an example of this see these two video interviews with David Cunliffe on economics, and, David Parker on finance.
The strength of the Labour economic/finance team’s politics was that it pitched itself into a vacuum created by the National-led Government’s inability to develop policy connected to the economic-geography of this 2012-14 term.
What I’m talking about here is how Finance Minister Bill English’s argument left exporters wanting and deserted – the argument being that English insisted and insists the status quo arrangement between Government and the Reserve Bank is satisfactory, that the current mechanisms used to influence inflationary pressures at the Reserve Bank will not be broadened to include intervention when our currency becomes over or under-valued. Exporters wanted and want more from Government than that.
Cunliffe and Parker were quick to occupy that vacuum. They had the courage of their argument to draw other opposition leaders, from New Zealand First and the Green Party, into their space. It was impressive politics. Once in occupation of this arena, it left Bill English with little else to work with other than an explanation.
These are skills the Labour Party needs, what New Zealand needs, and frankly what David Shearer needs should the party be serious about taking on National in the 2014 General Election.
Remember, this country’s voting punters do not support one-term-wonders but rather prefer a party that presents a three-term brand and is convincing. A party that looks like it ‘might’ win 2014 will not cut it – Labour needs to occupy the debate with a plan of sustainable government with an agenda that solves the country’s woes – presents as able to deliver growth, equity, prosperity and equality.
To satisfy the voters’ want Labour (above all the opposition parties) needs to have its best MPs on that crucial front-bench, exposing the frailties of the National-led Government’s policies, driving debate on evidence-based, solution-branded policies so as to juxtaposition Labour ahead of National in the public sphere debate – the crucial discussions around the smoko-rooms and water-coolers.
This cannot be achieved when, under the guise of trying to look tough, Shearer relegates rare-talent to the netherlands. That move is not only folly, it demonstrates a weakness that his predecessor Helen Clark did not fall foul to.
Clark did what the writer Mario Puzo fictitiously advised in his popular novels: keep your enemies close.
Those who were natural threats to Helen Clark’s leadership, whether ideologically positioned or not, were recognised for their talents and moved into powerful positions. Dr Michael Cullen was promoted to deputy leader, and Phil Goff was handed leadership over justice, foreign affairs and trade policy.
Clark’s style was one that demonstrated confidence in sustaining her own leadership, rather than exposing a frailty of character by removing a petulant heir-apparent.
But to date, strategy has not been Shearer’s talent. He has relented to his strategists’ self-interest as pushed by the whip Chris Hipkins’ line (to demote Cunliffe). Now Shearer risks strategic failure and entrapment.
Remember, politics runs along a timeline. Those who feel powerful today are destined to be tomorrow’s losers.
The question now begs answering and not in the short-term: Does Cunliffe possesses the necessary political strategy skills and ambition to work the factions – has he time on his side?
What Cunliffe needs is to attract a faction beyond a handful of caucus supporters. He would then need to massage that faction’s self-interest and promise it power.
Another fall in the polls for Shearer will cause the caucus members to second-guess.
Remember now Cunliffe has been kicked out of the economics front-bench-frame, David Parker has been left without a pragmatic interventionist at his side who can take on the Government’s Steven Joyce and his factions. Parker’s response this week has been to state Cunliffe’s actions and comments at the Labour Party conference were “destructive”. Now Cunliffe has been removed from his role Parker may soon realise how alone he is and how destructive to Labour’s interests is this demotion of talent.
Dumping David Cunliffe into the Parliament’s rubbish bin only confirms those party activists’ resolve that their man, the MP for New Lynn and not the MP for Mt Albert, must assume the leadership. If David Cunliffe is to become leader in early 2013, David Parker is key – just as Cullen was for Clark.
Time will tell the outcome of this. Anyone for sauce with their sausage?