The premise behind my question is that this National Government is stuffed and has little or no chance of retaining office after the 2014 election. A serious mishandling by the Prime Minister of the infamous ‘cup of tea’ episode, the Crafer Farms cock-up, asset sales in general, the ACC debacle, the factionalism within National which that debacle has revealed and the emergence of a less assured and grumpier John Key, all point to an administration in meltdown. Given all of that, the next Government ought to be a Labour-led coalition. But led by whom?
In his weekly Herald on Sunday column, Matt McCarten correctly states that ‘this has been a good week for the left. Labour has been useless for so long we’ve forgotten what it’s like for it to have the National Party on the back foot in Parliament. This week Labour was on fire.’ The column is accompanied by a photograph of Labour Leader David Shearer with the caption: David Shearer and his colleagues finally have the Government in their sights. But there is no mention of Shearer anywhere in McCarten’s piece. Instead he singles out Trevor Mallard and Andrew Little as ‘pressing the attack’. In a column headed ‘Scrappers thrive as Shearer acts statesman’, The Sunday Star Times’ John Hartevelt singles out Labour’s Deputy Leader Grant Robertson as ‘the party’s political scrapper He’s been called up repeatedly as the point guy in the debating chamber on ACC and asset sales – two of the government’s worst bleeding sores.’
He also singles out Andrew Little:
‘If there were any doubts Little was genuine leadership material, his unflinching performance against a steely-eyed Collins should have put them to bed. That may be discomforting news to Shearer but it will be welcomed by his party.’ No more discomfiting to the Labour leader perhaps than Hartevelt’s description of him as ‘still dangerously bereft of a firm identity and without a proper grip on the leadership.’ Just four months after an election then, political commentators are suggesting replacements for the current Labour Party leader. My own view is that the strategy, devised by his Chief of Staff Stuart Nash, of having Shearer stump the country making speeches, rather than leading the charge against the Government in the House, has been misguided. The effect has been that Shearer is rarely seen on prime time television, while the Greens, Winston Peters and his own Deputy make the 6 o’clock running. Out of sight really can mean out of mind.
So let’s just indulge in a little speculation. Between McCarten’s and Hartevelt’s front-runners – Little and Robertson – who might make it to the finishing line? I’m going to plump for Robertson. Yes, Little enjoys the support of the unions and is a forceful debater in the House. But it’s hard to see this rather dour, uncharismatic unionist as the face of a rejuvenated Labour Party. At 41, Robertson, on the other hand, who lists his interests as ‘watching too much sport, playing a bit of indoor netball and squash, cooking, movies, listening to New Zealand music and reading New Zealand literature’, projects a youthful, energetic, upbeat and thoroughly modern image. And he’s fiercely ambitious.
What else? Oh yes, he’s gay. His life partner, Alf, is a bus driver. The two were ‘married’ in a civil union ceremony in. So are we ready for a gay Prime Minister? I can only speak for myself. I find the idea invigorating. Other than prejudice, I can’t really think of any objection to it. And we Kiwis are for the most part an open-minded lot. After all, we had no trouble electing the world’s first transsexual MP. And we didn’t seem to mind a mincing John Key. It’s true that gay Prime Ministers are thin on the ground. Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, elected Prime Minister of Iceland in 2009, was not only the country’s first woman Prime Minister but also Europe’s first openly gay head of state. She was followed in 2011 by Belgium’s Elio Di Rupo. When asked whether he was gay, the new Prime Minister replied, ‘Yes. So What?’ That strikes me as the only sensible answer to the question.