State Of It: A Silent Tactic Will Progress Cunliffe Group’s Interests
State Of It – By Selwyn Manning.
Now that it is reasonable to assume there is little love to be lost between Labour MP David Cunliffe and the current leader David Shearer, will February actually be the date when the leadership issue is finally put to bed?
Can David Cunliffe come back from being dumped to the nether-regions of Parliament?
For Cunliffe and his group of supporting MPs now is the time for some savvy and shrewd politics. Call it Machiavellian, but they must now realise they have nothing more to lose than to work the caucus toward their shared advantage.
Really, considering Shearer’s strategic blunder (sacking Cunliffe from his economics portfolio) – Cunliffe’s group is now in a strategically sound position to mount a push for the leadership in February.
However, a question to consider is: is Cunliffe exhausted by the demoralising experience of his demotion or has it confirmed his resolve to wait, prepare, and strike when the stars are in alignment?
The most likely scenario will see David Cunliffe’s supporters silently work their caucus colleagues. They will do the networking, reconnecting with their caucus chums. This gives Cunliffe space. This tactic uses the connections, friendships, networks of Cunliffe’s supporting group rather than pushing the heir-apparent into a desperate one-to-many bid.
This is a similar strategy to what was deployed way back in the early 1980s when David Lange rose up and bowled Bill Rowling from the party’s leadership.
Back then, David Lange had clearly indicated he wanted the leadership. He delivered an important speech to party members, he framed policy points they had in common, established common-ground.
Then, Lange returned to Wellington. He quietly worked a faction that wanted to solidify its power. He promised that faction conditionally that he would honour its want for power over economics and finance – if they persuaded other caucus colleagues to join the team. It was a numbers game.
That faction’s actors were Roger Douglas, Michael Bassett, and Richard Prebble. They knew they needed a leader that could perform, who could take on the Party’s arch-rival Robert Muldoon. Lange was clearly the only one among that caucus who could do so.
So Douglas, Bassett, and Prebble set forth to firm up their caucus networks, garner silent commitments from their caucus colleagues, and count the numbers.
Once they were assured of victory, they struck. Rowling was removed. Lange ascended the leadership. He won the 1984 General Election. He unseated Robert Muldoon from the prime ministership and the National Party was left shellshocked and virtually leaderless… for a time.
By applying that strategy to these times is Cunliffe’s challenge – shared by his small group of MPs. Remember, he has some impressive politicians with ambitious plans among his supporters. For those outside the faction, they need to be acutely attuned to where the weather-vane points.
For Cunliffe to make a successful pitch for the leadership in February – his people need to silently work the definable factions, identify who among them is unsettled, apply added pressure when the political opinion polls dip.
They need to work their colleagues when the leader David Shearer stumbles on points and performance. They need to chronicle a performance appraisal of their leaders strengths and weaknesses – perhaps on a weekly basis, and build a case where other MPs are left to consider their own self-interest.
Summary – including audio from Selwyn Manning & Simon Maude’s The Wire discussion on 95bFM:
In summary: The Cunliffe group needs Lianne Dalziel and Charles Chauvel to advance the party’s interests, and for others within the group to work David Parker and his people through the Christmas season. To have, as they say, a few friends over for a BBQ.
Parker’s group is key. He knows when Cunliffe was onside it was impressive teamwork. They shared a taste of success in recent months over the economics/finance debate – framing solutions founded on evidence – listening, debating, developing policies to solve the country’s challenges.
There is common-ground between the two.
By February, if Cunliffe’s group cannot facilitate a nod and a wink from Parker’s people, and if the Unions remain satisfied with David Shearer’s pattern of drawing the party into the centre-right, then Cunliffe’s ambitions to lead into a 2014 General Election will be exhausted. He will need to sit, grimace and wait. Should Shearer lose 2014, then Cunliffe’s group could make a decisive move and strike with some authority. But at that juncture, it will have competition.
As Labour’s women’s faction knows, these tactics embrace long-term strategies which need to be cleverly thought through and precisely timed.
This is why David Shearer’s strategy – to sack David Cunliffe and dump him onto the lowest seat on the backbench – is a strategic blunder. It fails to put the leadership issue to bed once and for all.
The Party’s membership and union affiliates have considerations to make and now have time to ponder them.
Was it proper for David Cunliffe to reserve his opinion of David Shearer with respect to the February vote?
Was it democratic for Shearer to censor Cunliffe under threat of disciplinary/expulsion action should he talk publicly about this debacle?
What is David Cunliffe’s take on these events? He cannot say.
So, what do you readers think?