Hard News by Russell Brown


So long, and thanks for all the fish ...

Firstly, apologies for that headline. I just couldn't go past it after this. David Shearer has stepped down as leader of the Labour Party and his replacement will be known after a three to four week election process.

The only thing that surprises me is the timing. Two Labour people have told me in the past week that the widely-shared view in the party was now that Shearer did not possess to the ability to lead Labour to victory next year.

I formed that view myself last month, before the warning shot of John Key's Campbell Live interview. I went along to a meeting hosted by Shearer at my local RSA and could hardly believe what went on.

At a meeting apparently themed on arts and culture, there was no mention at all of policy in that area, unless you count middle-aged men playing folk songs. I mentioned to Shearer during a break that I'd spoken to Labour's new Arts, Culture and Heritage spokesman Grant Robertson (Jacinda Ardern is the deputy) and been impressed by his determination to revive Labour's ownership of that small, important policy sector. Shearer just looked at me and seemed unnerved.

A couple of weeks later, I guested with Selwyn Manning on a commentary panel at one of Jacinda Ardern's Locally Left events. It was everything Shearer's meeting hadn't been: lively, useful and well-attended. If Shearer couldn't rally the resources to do something so basic, how could he lead a victorious campaign? The same was true at a national level: every bit of punditry as to who in his office could form a winning strategy for for him just emphasised that he couldn't seem to do it for himself.

We can all chew the fat in comments, so I'll conclude by saying this: David Shearer seems a genuinely decent man who has been out of his depth in a party leadership role but clearly has a contribution to make yet. (John Key's snide suggestion this week that Shearer, who has demonstrated actual courage under fire, would be a coward in the wake of a terrorist attack was a low point in a low month for the Prime Minister.)

In part, Shearer was thrust into the leadership role as a consequence of his own party's factionalism. Who the party chooses to replace him will clearly be important. Just as important will be his caucus's ability to demonstrate common purpose from here on.

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