I note the many reasoned calls for unity in the Labour Party once the new Leader has been selected. I’ll happily add my name to that list, but the odds on a harmonious outcome seem to me slim. It’s a matter of simple mathematics. The largest group in the current Caucus is the ‘Anyone But Cunliffe’ group, including no doubt most Robertson supporters and a few Jones supporters. If David Cunliffe wins the leadership, this large group will, to put it mildly, be extremely miffed. Faced with the near impossibility of mounting a challenge to a newly elected Leader, making Cunliffe’s life as difficult as possible for the next 14 months might just seem an attractive option. True, the resultant disharmony and internal division would almost certainly mean losing the election, but the upside of that is that, having led the party to defeat, Cunliffe would be gone.
So strongly is this group opposed to the Member for New Lynn, that they might just see three more years in the wilderness as worth it. In this hara kiri scenario the party members and trade unionists who had been responsible for Cunliffe winning the leadership in the face of Caucus opposition, would also be extremely miffed that their man was not receiving unqualified loyalty and support from Caucus. Such would be the level of dissent that the Labour movement could implode, inviting the possibility of John Key becoming only the country’s fourth four-term Prime Minister. We’ll call this ‘the apocalypse scenario’. The next matter to be taken into account is the election of a Deputy Leader. Caucus retains that power and, in the event of Cunliffe winning the leadership, the most likely person to be appointed Deputy must surely be Grant Robertson.
Commentators, including me, have described this as ‘the dream team’, but the reality is that, though Robertson may not be an actual member of the ABC group, it is primarily from that group that his Caucus support comes. How long then before those supporters start whispering treachery in his ear? Then there’s the possibility that Robertson, not Cunliffe, will become Leader on Sunday. That can scarcely be seen as a recipe for unity or harmony between the factions either. Caucus will have thwarted the will of the party and the unions. If Robertson were sensible he would follow Lyndon Johnson’s adage, later adopted by Helen Clark, that it was better to have your opponents inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.
He would persuade his supporters accordingly. But would the ABC group sleep easy in their beds with Cunliffe as Robertson’s Deputy? I very much doubt it. Yond Cunliffe has a lean and hungry look! And what are the chances of unity if Cunliffe is denied both the Leadership and the Deputy Leadership? Not great, I would have thought. Lest you think I’ve forgotten him, I’m working on the assumption that there’s no way Shane Jones can become Leader of the Labour Party. The ABCers can be unreasonable, but they’re surely not mad. I see meanwhile that my friend, the former Labour Party President Mike Williams, has endorsed David Cunliffe. I find that significant. Mike is perhaps the canniest and most experienced observer of party politics in this country.
He rarely backs the wrong horse. My personal endorsement of Cunliffe dates back to December 2011 when I wrote a post: Shearer or Cunliffe? Why I’ve changed my mind. There are a dozen more posts in similar vein, endorsing Cunliffe as the only possible Labour Leader to evict John Key and return the party to office. Whether the party has learned anything since cutting off its nose to spite its face by opting for the lovely but unelectable David Shearer and rejecting the maybe-not-quite-so-lovely but highly electable David Cunliffe, remains a moot point. I really do hope they have. I hope this is one post which will turn out to have been utter nonsense and I have to apologise to the many talented and really neat people in the Labour Caucus whom I’ve defamed. Hope springs eternal in the human breast.