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April 30, 2012 | by  | in Opinion |
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Political Porn With Hamish

SHearer’s Nightmare Timing

The most recent Reid Research poll had National’s support at 49.9 per cent, over 2 per cent higher than the 47.31 per cent they received on Election Day. Somehow, despite a raft of unpopular decisions and a Minister resigning, National seems untouchable.

Labour, on the other hand, has been flatlining below 30 per cent.

Leader David Shearer has been described as “the invisible man”. He has been overshadowed by the “real Leader of
the Opposition”, New Zealand First’s Winston Peters. The Labour brand seems to be confused and the party is fighting for airtime against Peters and the surging Greens.

Regarding Shearer, there has been much media comment about his performance and confusion about his party’s brand. What I haven’t seen a lot of discussion about is the Party’s continual bad timing when it comes to announcements.

In December last year, I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to undertake work experience with TV3’s Partick Gower in the Parliamentary Press Gallery. On my first day, Shearer was to announce the party’s new “line up” of MPs, including their new “portfolios”. Standing there in the Labour Caucus room, livetweeting the announcement and breaking a media embargo, I found the whole thing to be quite exciting; Jacinda Ardern up to number four, Shearer being the party’s spokesperson for science & innovation, it seemed like Labour was going to put forward an alternate vision for New Zealand.

Unfortunately, Parliament went on a month and a half recess two days later. Any momentum from having a new leader and a new front bench was lost.

A few months later, things looked up for Labour, with Shearer’s much billed first major speech. Delivered to the Cullen Breakfast Club, Shearer outlined in his speech a vision for a “new New Zealand”. Important as being both Shearer’s first major speech and one that “repositioned” the party towards the centre, it was overshadowed by John Key announcing the new “super ministry” that same day. For a party trying to promote a new leader, media attention was diverted elsewhere. Even worse for Labour was that when the media did pay attention, it was more about Shearer’s “brighter future” gaff, and less about his support for a capital gains tax as an incentive to move investment away from property and towards “the productive sector where we desperately need more capital.”

The Nick Smith-Bronwyn Pullar-ACC scandal is another example of Labour and Shearer again getting its timings wrong. Former party president Andrew Little called for Smith to resign on the Tuesday morning. After Shearer initially refused to go that far, Little was forced to backtrack but by the end of the day Shearer too was calling for Smith’s resignation.

The timing of theses announcements and speeches is not entirely Labour’s fault though. Some of just been plain unlucky. National has had the benefit of much of the SkyCity attention occurring during the recess, preventing any debate in Parliament. Shearer seems to be Mr Invisible though, because Labour has so far been unable to schedule their announcements at a time where they will have the most impact. The party also seems to be unable to capture the media’s attention; only three reporters made the trip from Wellington to Nelson for Shearer’s second major speech, with the media opting to run stories on One Direction instead.

So will Shearer stay in as Labour leader?

There is speculation about Grant Robertson rolling Shearer. Shearer’s new chief-of-staff, Alastair Cameron, is more closely aligned with Robertson, and arrives following Stuart Nash’s departure. Nash, a former list MP, fought with press secretary Fran Mold over strategy, and stepped on senior MP Trevor Mallard’s toes before leaving, telling colleagues he wants to be the party’s 2014 Hutt South nominee; his grandfather, Walter Nash, was the Member for Hutt for 29 years.

Over the Tasman, the Australian Labor Party is polling in the low-to-mid thirties. Like New Zealand, the Greens in Australia have eaten around 10 – 12 per cent of Labor’s primary vote. A Green party commanding that percentage of the party vote is a new reality and whilst that means Labour has had its left vote eroded by the Greens, it also allows the party to reposition itself to the centre, where elections are won.

Hamish is generally wrong. Tell him why on Twitter: @mishviews

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