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.
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.