Cunliffe v Shearer

by Jake Quinn

It’s a nice situation to be in as a Labour supporter. Two candidates called David both highly talented individuals. I’m happy this leadership contest is happening publicly and I’m happy that David Parker pulled out, he being the most Goff like of the three David’s.

I actually think David Cunliffe ‘should’ (yes, those are inverted commas) be the next leader of the Labour Party. By that I mean he’s the most experienced and probably more skilled (in the practical, political sense) to be a leader of a political party in this country. He’s bloody clever, a Fulbright scholar at Harvard, has real private sector experience, is a fantastic facilitator and has impressive people skills (he remembers names and details in a scary way). For what it’s worth (to me not a great deal) he goes to church on Sundays (Key doesn’t).

Hell, even National Party types in my extended family are his close friends. Cunliffe is genuinely a really nice guy. He would be a really good Prime Minister.

David Cunliffe’s rise to the almost-top has been solid if not predictable. He’s always been the guy most likely to succeed Goff. My mother strongly holds the view that he should have been made leader a year ago. He’s a little bit like Kevin Rudd I suppose (smartest guy in the room), but the people who work for him actually like him.

However, I don’t think the Labour caucus will select him, at least not without massive public support for that to happen, which it probably won’t. When numbers first appeared care of Phil Quin’s blog (no relation) David Parker was supposedly out in front. When Shearer arrived he made a big splash and was the early public favourite, leading polls on Stuff, Close-up etc by 2-1 versus his opponents. With Parker departing and endorsing Shearer, it’s obvious that much of his support will head that direction.

David Shearer has an incredible and inspiring story. From top jobs in the UN (and not pushing paper) to almost-leader of the NZ Labour Party – he’s like Helen Clark in reverse. Shearer is, as they say, and as they also say about his eventual competition, John Key, an anti-politician. David Shearer is Labour’s answer to John Key. If only he’d arrived a few years earlier the last election might not have been a foregone conclusion.

But just because he is Labour’s version of National’s prize fighter doesn’t mean he should be the next leader of the Labour Party. The public like him because he’s not really Labour in their eyes – at least he’s not the labour they’ve come to know and not really like. When they see Shearer the public don’t see Goff, Mallard, King, Clark, etc, they see a warmer, brighter, friendlier future. Great… Sounds like a recipe for success in modern politics doesn’t it?

Shearer is the higher risk candidate, because he’s relatively untested. Cunliffe is the lower risk option – you know he will perform. He may not capture the imagination of the nation in the way that Shearer seems to be doing right this minute but he can be relied upon. Cunliffe holds his own in debates and in Parliament. He can seriously charm a crowd and work a room. He can reach across the political divide and win National party supporters back to Labour, hell he has dinner with them, stands on the sports field with his kids with them (he goes to church with them). Shearer might be able to do these things too, but we don’t know that yet.

Shearer could definitely pull in some serious voters, don’t get me wrong. His back story is worth an immediate 5 point bounce. But will he deliver over the next 3 years? If he’s picked I hope he can. I want him to, and it’s possible he could, but with Cunliffe you’d spend less time wondering. Either way, as a Labour voter I’m happy to see two impressive candidates vying for the top job and at the end of the day I don’t mind which of them wins, I just hope the right one wins. For the sake of the Party.

Oh and how about Shane Jones as Deputy for either candidate, that’d put the cat amongst the pigeons.