OnPoint by Keith Ng


Dear Labour Caucus

This isn't a test of the Davids. This is a test of you.

Let's face it, if Cunliffe didn't offer his supporters portfolios and positions, there wouldn't even be a contest. That's why this contest isn't about him - it's about the Labour caucus and the Labour Party, and whether it'll ever be able to rid itself of the entrenched interests of patronage and machine politics.

This is not new. Labour has been rewarding time-servers and party hacks over actual talent for as long as I can remember. The party list was the obvious focus of that, because that was main interface between the political machine which got people elected - the party - and the parliamentarians, and because during Helen's era, she dominated the caucus and so the horse-trading there were low-key affairs.

The problems at the list level and the caucus level aren't exactly the same, but they are deeply intertwined. They have the same basic cause: The system rewards self-promotion and factionalism (which is self-promotion + block voting). Those who gained their positions through that system then perpetuate it. And they have the same effect: The party and the caucus are stacked with time-servers and party hacks.

Although I'm an unabashed fan of Shearer, I didn't think of myself as anti-Cunliffe per se. But his leadership bid has come to embody the very things which have poisoned Labour.

Yeah, sure, Cunliffe is prepared for the leadership role right now. That's because he's been doing nothing but prepare himself for the leadership role for years. Where the hell was he - the Finance Spokesperson - when Goff was getting grilled over Labour's fiscals? It was his job to have the answer to those questions. I'm not sure if it was by design, or whether he was simply too busy campaigning for the leadership, but he wasn't there.

On election night, when Parker and Shearer quietly joined the grim gathering at Mt Albert, Cunliffe sent an advance fluffing party to the event. They loittered by the carpark, and when Cunliffe arrived, they - on cue - adoringly mobbed his car to create a set-piece for the gathered journalists.

There are a few questions that arise. The first and most salient is: Who the fuck *does* that? When Labour talks about re-engaging with New Zealand, is *this* what this mean? When Cunliffe's supporters talk about him being a great communicator and a master of "modern direct engagement methods", is this what they mean? Do they think people can't tell the difference between authentic engagement and lame political theatre? Can Labour?

And this is the punchline, dear Labour Caucus. If Labour is led by someone who has been tirelessly campaigning for himself at the expense of the party - if its frontbench is stacked with people who earned their positions purely as payment for someone else's political ambitions, in order to advance their own political ambitions - you can't expect it to be a party of talent, you can't expect it to be a party of values or integrity, and you can't expect anyone to believe in it.

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