The Labour circus is back in town

Like a lot of people, I had hoped for a careful, considered post-mortem of Labour’s loss, followed by a smooth change of direction from a united party. Instead, Labour will have its second leadership primary in 13 months. So far it’s Grant Robertson vs David Cunliffe, and hopefully it stays that way. And I hope Cunliffe does just as well in the leadership selection as he did in the general election.

But what about David Shearer? I think Shearer’s analysis of Labour’s problem is correct, and I (mostly) agree with his solution (turn blue votes into red). But I don’t think he is the answer. The personal issues that cost him the leadership remain. No one doubts that he is a good man, but he is basically a bumbler. I’m not sure New Zealand would elect a good-hearted stutterer.

I’m not a fan of careerists in general, or Grant specifically, but I hope he destroys Cunliffe. As I’ve previously argued, I believe that Grant can go to the centre without infuriating the party’s vocal left. Under Grant, fighting for the centre would mean fighting for New Zealand’s first openly gay Prime Minister. Such an historic achievement would likely focus the Labour left and allow them to swallow their quota of dead rats.

Screenshot 2014-09-28 17.17.24

Sadly, Grant can’t escape questions about whether New Zealand is ready for a gay Prime Minister. One of the common arguments is ‘if Obama can win in the United States, then Robertson can win in New Zealand’. However there are important differences between Robertson’s situation and Obama’s.

Firstly, Grant is no Obama. Obama is a gifted orator and, while Grant does well in the house, his recent appearances on The Nation and Q & A were pretty average. Secondly, New Zealand is not post-Bush America. Obama ran against a deeply unpopular Republican party. Robertson has to run against John Key.

That being said, with the exception of a shrinking pool of homophobes, I think (hope?) most New Zealanders will shrug and look past Grant’s sexuality. For the good of the Left, I hope Grant destroys David Cunliffe.


3 thoughts on “The Labour circus is back in town

  1. That being said, dude, New Zealand is no post-Bush USA. Part of our national identity (what scraps of it we have) is openness to everyone a giving everybody ‘their fair go.’
    I tend to think that unlike a lot of places, most kiwis’ internal dialogue will go something like this: “Oohh yeah, first gay Prime Minister. Goodness, what a thing that would be, eh? I’d like to see that. Oh and he’s such a NICE man… let’s give him a go, eh?”
    Or: “Hmmm yeah. So he’s a queer fulla eh? Well ah, I don’t like that stuff but whatever turns you on eh? At least he’s a decent bloke, not one of those Queens (they freak me out mate). Not that I’m ‘phobic at all! Just not for me, is all. Yeah hell, why not? First time for everything eh – no not like that!”
    They’ll then go back down the pub and make gay jokes over a jug of Tui, but they’ll have voted for him.

    • Yeah I agree. Maybe I wasn’t clear enough? I suspect a lot of people don’t really care that much, as long as he can do the job. And I think he can. There might be a few ‘swing bigots’ (or is ‘marginal homophobes’ better?) who don’t mind same sex relationships in the abstract, but get a bit antsy when it’s beamed into their living room through the TV. And of course the media will probably be awful about it.

  2. Robertson’s sexuality is probably irrelevant for a nominally left candidate — Any pros and cons will even out. The main issue will be whether the Party re-establishes connection to workers concerns instead of letting identity politics sideline them.
    It’s a whole-Party issue; I don’t think Robertson is any more susceptible than we have already seen from straight leaders.

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