Stuart Nash

Holding out for a hero

David Cunliffe cannot beat National in 2017. That’s as close to a political certainty as there is. Labour did as poorly as they did this election in part because of Cunliffe. I know too many people who wouldn’t touch Labour with a barge pole while Cunliffe was leader.

Brian Edwards sums up Cunliffe’s problem well:

Perhaps the most widespread criticism you hear of David Cunliffe is that he doesn’t seem sincere, that the things he says seem to lack spontaneity, to sound rehearsed, scripted, to be part of a performance. It’s not just that the Labour Leader’s acting is over the top; it’s that he should be acting at all.

I think there’s some truth to this, to the ‘but’ that lies at the back of so many people’s minds, the ill-defined but nagging doubt as to whether this is a man you can trust or someone you can afford to like. I hear this all the time. On the street. At parties. In discussion with friends. Ask them for the evidence to support their conclusion and you rarely get a clear answer. It’s just an impression, a perception, a feeling. But it may account in part for Labour’s dismal showing in the election. And it may be enough to prevent David Cunliffe ever becoming Prime Minister.

But that’s only the start of it. From even before David Cunliffe was elected leader, everyone knew that most of his colleagues despised him. The term ABC – Anyone But Cunliffe – became a common expression on the evening news. Labour’s MPs may have put their vendettas on hold during the election campaign proper, but the previous year of leaks, backstabbing and continual undermining of Cunliffe had left the public with no illusions that Labour was desperately divided house.

If Cunliffe somehow manages to retain the leadership, the situation will be even worse. Voters will continue to stay away from Labour in droves.

Unfortunately, Grant Robertson doesn’t appear to offer much in terms of mending a broken party. Many in the caucus seem reluctant to get in behind him – they really dislike Cunliffe, but they’re still not sure whether Robertson has what it takes to defeat Key. And a majority of the members seem even less enthused by him, perhaps put off by his career politician, “beltway” background.

Besides, like a drunken fratboy, the Labour leadership contest has gone ugly early. Cunliffe is already damaged goods; by the time the primary campaign is over, Robertson might well be too.

So who else is there? David Shearer? He’s already failed once as leader. His on-camera appearances may have improved, but they’ve been in the context of defined policy areas, rather than the broad big-picture Q&A sessions he’d have to cope with as leader. If he were to revert back to the role of leader, he would once again fail.

Andrew Little? A possibility. If he threw his hat into the ring, he’d certainly command a great deal of support from the unions, and he doesn’t seem disliked by either the caucus or membership. As a contender for Prime Minister though, he’d likely struggle to be seen as anything other than a mouthpiece for the unions.

Stuart Nash or Kelvin Davis? Far too inexperienced, with no real support base yet to speak of. If either of them makes a tilt for the leadership, it will be for the purpose of increasing their profile and gaining a senior role from whoever wins.

Jacinda Ardern? Too young, with no solid form behind her. See my previous post: “The Mystifying Rise of Jacinda Ardern“.

Which leaves David Parker. As Cunliffe and Robertson fight each other to a standstill, Parker would be an ideal candidate to throw his name in at the last minute and cut through the middle. He’s intelligent and articulate, with a solid policy grasp. He was impressive in the finance debates with Bill English during the election. He’s the sort of stable, respectable figure who might just be able to convince the voting public that Labour can again be trusted.

Crazy? Perhaps. But no less crazy than any of the other alternatives…

 

Advertisements

The Labour numbers game

With a caucus of 32 MPs, David Cunliffe needs the support of at least thirteen MPs in order survive a confidence vote. His opponents need twenty votes to force a full leadership ballot. Yesterday, I listed nine MPs who have either publicly refused to express support for him or have – like David Shearer, Stuart Nash and Damien O’Connor – been overtly hostile.

This morning in the NZ Herald, Claire Trevett lists the pro- and anti-Cunliffe factions:

• Camp Cunliffe: David Cunliffe, Iain Lees-Galloway, Nanaia Mahuta, Sue Moroney, Carmel Sepuloni, Su’a William Sio, Louisa Wall.
• Another candidate: Jacinda Ardern, David Clark, Clayton Cosgrove, Clare Curran, Kelvin Davis, Ruth Dyson, Kris Faafoi, Phil Goff, Chris Hipkins, Annette King, Andrew Little, Trevor Mallard, Stuart Nash, Damien O’Connor, David Parker, Grant Robertson, David Shearer, Rino Tirikatene, Phil Twyford, Megan Woods.
• Unknown: Peeni Henare, Adrian Rurawhe, Jenny Salesa, Meka Whaitiri, Poto Williams.

That’s twenty anti-Cunliffe names right there already, without even the need to put pressure on any of the five ‘unknowns’. Cunliffe has just six supporters (not counting himself), five of whom flanked him at his pre-caucus meeting press conference.

Cunliffe’s opponents presumably therefore have the numbers to force a party-wide leadership ballot any time they like. And as predicted, before they make their move, they’re waiting for the full horror of a campaign review to erode Cunliffe’s support among the members and unions.

The only hope that Cunliffe has of hanging on to his leadership is to resign immediately and force a quick leadership contest. He’d have to hope that the party membership will be sufficiently hacked off about the caucus declaration of war against him that they’ll keep the faith with him. In my view, that’s a slim hope…

Cunliffe supporters are desperately trying to compare the situation to 1996, where Helen Clark lost in New Zealand’s first MMP election, before going on to win power in 1999. There’s no comparison there. Labour may have dropped 6.5% in that election to just 28.2%, but National was just 5.7% ahead, on 33.9% (having dropped 1.2% since 1993). Helen Clark could have formed a government, had Winston Peters jumped in that direction (the direction many had assumed he would go). Labour was well set up to oust National in three years time.

In 2014, however, National is able to govern alone, having received almost 50% of the vote. Labour finds itself 23.4% adrift, and in almost complete internal turmoil.

David Cunliffe is no Helen Clark.

EDIT:

Hmm, I appear to have been led astray by both the One News and 3News political editors, both of whom have been reporting that the anti-Cunliffe campaign requires 60% plus one MP.

However, David Farrar in his post entitled ‘Caucus in Charge‘ says Dann and Gower are wrong, and the ABCs need just 40% to spark a contested ballot. Peter Green confirms this to me on Twitter. That means that Cunliffe needs 21 MPs to survive a confidence vote, which means the ABCs already have the numbers by a huge margin.

Death by a thousand cuts for Cunliffe

When Stuart Nash called for David Cunliffe to immediately face a confidence vote in caucus, he was inadvertently playing into Cunliffe’s hands. Cunliffe knows when a confidence vote is held, he’ll lose. He has no hope of getting 60% plus one MP to side with him. His best chance of remaining leader is to lose the confidence vote early, and square off against his challenger(s) before the members and unions who put him there desert him.

Unfortunately for David Cunliffe, his caucus enemies are well aware of that. MPs such as David Shearer and Phil Goff have made it clear that they’ll be pushing for a delayed confidence vote. They want the results of a full review of the election campaign to be published before any vote. They’re hoping that the build up to the review (involving, presumably, a few anti-Cunliffe leaks), and the review itself, will be enough to destroy Cunliffe’s support base – death by a thousand cuts, if you will.

At the time of publishing this post, the Labour Party MPs had just left their meeting room after a marathon seven hour extravaganza of a post-election caucus meeting. As Cunliffe entered, he told reporters, “We must stop the leaks, we must stop the infighting.” It was a clear message to the caucus to keep their lips sealed. Which didn’t stop David Shearer, Phil Goff, Damien O’Connor and Clayton Cosgrove from talking to reporters on their way in, minutes later, making it obvious where the anti-Cunliffe knives will be coming from. Shearer was openly combative:

“What I don’t feel is that I should be silent when we need to be acknowledging our defeat. I’ve got skin in the game here. For two of the last three years I was the leader and all I am doing is speaking very candidly about the way we should go forward which is to own our defeat and move forward on that basis.”

And here’s Damien O’Connor on Labour’s primary-style method of choosing its leader:

“I think the last one we had didn’t necessarily deliver the best outcome.”

Not exactly a subtle attack on Cunliffe.

In terms of death by a thousand cuts scenario, the NZ Herald is reporting that Labour MPs will be demanding that Cunliffe release to them the internal polling results on Cunliffe’s popularity. Apparently the results won’t look good for him. And if Cunliffe expects that the results will remain secret once released to the full caucus, well, he’s dreaming.

With a caucus of just 32, when the confidence vote arrives Cunliffe needs the support of at least thirteen MPs in order to triumph at the first hurdle. His opponents need twenty votes to trigger a contested ballot. With Shearer, Goff, Robertson, Parker, O’Connor, Cosgrove, Nash and Davis already having lined up in opposition, the anti-Cunliffe camp is well over a third of the way there. It’s hard to believe that Labour’s terrible result, followed by Cunliffe’s astonishingly badly timed “concession” speech and election night letter to supporters seeking a new mandate to continue as leader, hasn’t already got at least twelve more MPs sharpening their knives.

Now they just need to poison the members and unions against him and the job is done. Cunliffe certainly isn’t helped by people like former party president Mike Williams appearing on National Radio’s Nine to Noon show yesterday to say that he wouldn’t go with Cunliffe again:

“I’ve always thought that there were three elements to a campaign – there’s organisation, there’s policy and there’s leadership. I think the organisation was certainly better than last time – I saw a lot more activity on the ground. I think that the policy was relatively bulletproof and I don’t think the National party scored any particular points off that. That really only leaves leadership.

“Personally at the moment I don’t think I’d go with David Cunliffe again – this is a historic defeat, it’s the worst Labour vote since 1922 – I think there are people in the wings who could potentially do a better job.”

I’d have to say, I think Cunliffe is toast, no matter when the confidence vote is held. I find it difficult to believe that he’ll pull nearly as many membership votes as he did last time, and his percentage of caucus support will be further reduced. Nonetheless, leaving the vote till after the campaign review will make doubly sure of Cunliffe’s demise.

And National rubs its hands with glee…

UPDATE (with edit as to numbers needed to force a ballot):

And there’s no immediate confidence vote, as expected.

Plus 3News reporting that Jacinda Ardern isn’t ruling out a leadership bid, albeit “reluctantly”. That’s nine public declarations of no confidence…

On a wave of mutilation : where to now for Labour?

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.

Labour candidates’ destiny out of their hands

Consider the Super 15 (or whatever name the competition is currently going by), as the final round of the regular season arrives. Most teams don’t have a chance at qualifying top of their conference, but there’s still a chance of getting through in one of the remaining spots. But various results have to go their way. Team X must lose to Team Y by 23 points. Team M must draw with Team Q. Their destiny is no longer in their own hands.

Come Election Night, there’s a few sitting Labour MPs who might well be in a similar position. This site’s Poll of Polls currently has Labour on 26.0%, with 33 MPs. Let’s assume that Labour gets 33 MPs on Saturday, and look at who might be in or out.

First, some assumptions. Carmel Sepuloni will win Kelston, and Jenny Salesa will win Manukau East. One’s in a new seat, and the other’s a new candidate, but they should romp home.

There are some relatively marginal seats, but it’s likely than not that Damien O’Connor will win West Coast Tasman, Iain Lees-Galloway will hold Palmsterson North, Trevor Mallard will win Hutt South, Stuart Nash will win back Napier, and Tony Milne will win back Christchurch Central.

If those are the only marginal results that go Labour’s way, then Raymond Huo would be the cut-off point on Labour’s effective list. Carol Beaumont will be gone, as would Ruth Dyson (who isn’t on the list, and is dependent on winning Port Hills in the face of unfavourable boundary changes).

But what happens if a few more close races go in Labour’s favour, with Adrian Rurawhe winning Te Tai Hauauru and Peeni Henare winning Tamaki Makaurau? Well, Kelvin Davis and Raymond Huo won’t be returning. And if Ruth Dyson wins Port Hills? Then it’s sayonara to Moana Mackey.

Attempted new entrants Priyanca Radhakrishnan and Tamati Coffey must have initially thought their respective list positions of 23 and 30 were pretty good. With Labour’s current polling though, Ms Radhakrishnan is certainly no shoe in, and even if Trevor Mallard was to lose Hutt South, Adrian Rurawhe and Peeni Henare were to lose their Maori seat campaigns, and Stuart Nash was to fail in Napier, Tamati Coffey would still only be the next cab off the rank.

List MPs such as Sue Moroney, Andrew Little, Maryan Street and Moana Mackey will be hoping that the Conservatives get 4.9%, therefore bumping up the effective Labour Party vote share.

Quite a few on-the-cusp Labour MPs may be spending their Saturday night hoping that their colleagues fail in their electorate challenges…

Has Garth McVicar handed Napier to Labour?

About a month ago, I predicted that Stuart Nash would win Napier with a majority of 3,000, almost reversing the existing 3,701 majority achieved by retiring National incumbent Chris Tremain.

With regards to Garth McVicar throwing his hat in to the ring, I wrote:

Now comes the final nail in the National candidate’s coffin – Garth McVicar. He’s decided to stand in Napier for the Conservative Party. He doesn’t have a hope of winning it, but he’ll certainly take a chunk of the votes that might have gone to Wayne Walford. A few Nash votes might go McVicar’s way, but I wouldn’t expect it would be many.

Well, last night’s One News Colmar Brunton poll of Napier had some unexpected results.

Yes, Stuart Nash was out front, with 39% of the vote compared to 33% for National’s Wayne Walford (and based on 2011’s turnout of 33,268 votes, that would give Nash a majority of approximately 2,000 – close to my 3,000 prediction).

However, Garth McVicar, in third place, was sitting on 22%. Take McVicar out of the race, and Nash might well be struggling to take the seat, despite having been favoured to win it long before McVicar’s entrance.

Let’s assume that McVicar wasn’t there. Taking some rough and ready numbers, which assume that all of McVicar’s votes would go to either the National and Labour candidates, Wayne Walford would need to pick up just shy of 64% of McVicar’s votes in order to make up the six point deficit. That’s a difficult, but not impossible ask, given that McVicar voters would surely be rather more naturally sympathetic to National than Labour.

In fact, looking at the party vote stats in the One News poll, National is on 44% in Napier, with the Conservatives on 9%, making a combined 53%. Nash is punching well above Labour’s weight (39%, compared to Labour’s party vote of just 25%), while Walford is on just 33%, compared to National’s party vote of 44%. It’s not unreasonable to suppose that a significant portion of National Party support has got behind McVicar, rather than the National candidate.

Without follow-up questions as to second choices of candidates, it’s impossible to come to a firm conclusion, but there’s a significant possibility that National could still have held Napier had Garth McVicar not entered the race. It appears that McVicar has handed the Napier electorate to Labour.

Napier is definitely now Labour’s

Napier used to be a safe Labour seat, held by a Labour candidate from 1954. Then National’s Chris Tremain won it in 2005, with a 3,500 vote majority, rising to just over 9,000 three years later. Last election, rising star Stuart Nash slashed Tremain’s majority back down to 3,700. Of course, despite being number 27 on Labour’s list, Nash missed out on being returned on the list.

With Chris Tremain retiring, the scales had tipped back in Nash’s favour. Nash was selected as Labour’s candidate back in February, and he’s been campaigning hard ever since (not that he hadn’t already been assiduously keeping his profile high in the area during the preceding two years). National’s, Wayne Walford, although a solid candidate, hasn’t exactly been setting the campaign on fire.

And then there’s the amalgamation issue. National supports a local referendum on combining the Napier, Hastings, Wairoa, Central Hawke’s Bay and the regional council. Napier residents are dead against it by a large majority, as they don’t want to see their rates money going to prop up the satellite regions. The satellite regions seem to be dead against it as they don’t want to lose their autonomy and end up as a small, out-voted voice on a big council. Stuart Nash has been campaigning strongly against amalgamation – for months prior to the official election period he’s had billboards everywhere, associating his name with the campaign to say no to amalgamation.

Now comes the final nail in the National candidate’s coffin – Garth McVicar. He’s decided to stand in Napier for the Conservative Party. He doesn’t have a hope of winning it, but he’ll certainly take a chunk of the votes that might have gone to Wayne Walford. A few Nash votes might go McVicar’s way, but I wouldn’t expect it would be many.

The fact that Nash has also declined to go on the Labour list this election surely can’t hurt his prospects either. He’s banking everything on the support of the Napier electorate. I’d expect the electorate will deliver that support to him in spades. Certainly, the sheer number of Stuart Nash billboards throughout the electorate suggests a vibrant, well-supported campaign.

I’m picking Nash by 3,000 votes, almost reversing the current National Party majority.