2014 was a disaster. Unfortunately for Labour, the disaster has now been surpassed. The party will be beginning (another) process of determining what went wrong, and what can be done to fix things.
I hope they don’t throw all of their policy out with the bathwater. Some parts, like their intended nationalisation of the electricity market, were a dog and should be dispensed of, but in areas such monetary policy, the retirement age and a Capital Gains Tax, they should be looking to refine their policy rather than engage in wholesale change. In the provinces, their regional fund to partner with councils on the building of important infrastructure was a good idea.
What Labour most need to do now is work on its stability. As I’ve already written:
[F]or almost three years (and another three before that, if you include the Goff years), Labour has presented itself as a chaotic pack of self-absorbed in-fighters, too busy playing identity politics and sticking the knife into opposing factions to give a damn about Middle New Zealand. Labour may have stayed on message with grim determination during the actual campaign, but by then it’s a bit late. Staying on message for six weeks cannot outweigh more than two and a half years of self-mutiliation. The public had already made up its collective mind that Labour were a pack of muppets.
Labour needs three years of the discipline they showed during the campaign. They need the public to view them once again as competent. And that means they need to sort out their leadership situation. Cunliffe was busy white-anting Shearer while Shearer was leader, then damn near half of the Labour caucus spent the last year white-anting Cunliffe. Whoever ends up leading Labour needs the support of caucus. Otherwise the Left can look forward to a fourth straight loss in a row.
So, on the leadership question, can Cunliffe stay on as leader? He didn’t perform badly, but (debates aside) he didn’t perform well either. He’s a seasoned campaigner, but given the chance to do it as leader, he blew it. He was hazy on policy detail. The media were scathing of the disorganisation of his day-to-day campaign, whereas Key’s by contrast ticked along like clockwork, ruthlessly efficient.
For the good of the party, Cunliffe should put aside his personal ambition to be Prime Minister, and resign. He was hated by half of his colleagues even before he became leader. He lost the caucus vote in the leadership primary, and was installed by the members and unions against the wishes of the Parliamentary wing of the party. Now it’ll be even worse. He’s lost allies amongst those MPs who failed to make it back in off the list, and in their place he now has to put up with Kelvin Davis and Stuart Nash, who certainly aren’t Cunliffe supporters.
Cunliffe has already said he’ll put his leadership up for a vote before Christmas. He will be challenged and he won’t win the caucus vote. If the members and unions put him back in again, Labour can look forward to another three years of disfunction, as Cunliffe’s colleagues stab him in the back with monotonous regularity.
The party needs someone that the whole party can unite behind. The question then becomes who? But it sure as hell isn’t Cunliffe.