So after a 20 month battle with the polls, David Shearer resigned as leader of the Labour Party. I’ve worked for David and Phil Goff and I know being Leader of the Opposition is extremely challenging. While everyone likes to think it is hilarious to call Russell Norman the Leader of the Opposition, he does not face nearly as much scrutiny as a Labour leader does. And perhaps that is how it should be. Phil Goff and David Shearer faced a lot of criticism and they knew it would come with the job. Leader of the Opposition is a position that is necessary for democracy and when one takes it on, one takes on a huge responsibility. That said, David Shearer was elected to Parliament in 2009 and in a very short time he tackled one of the hardest public service jobs out there and I believe he did so honourably.
Where to now?
We have 3 people vying to be the new Leader of the Opposition and while I have opinions on all three, having worked in the Leader’s office while they have been MPs, what I think about them as people hardly matters. So I won’t be dishing out any secrets here. I do think however, that this is the last chance Labour has before the election to get the leadership right. In the lead up to the election people will love some policies and they will hate some. Some issues will be more interesting than others. Gaffes may define an election or they may be forgotten. How all of these matters are handled by the leader will be the defining aspect of the election.
For those in the left, this is an important election. We will have had 2 terms of a National Government enacting policies that are less than palatable. Whether it was the GCSB, the Sky City deal, the Hobbit deal, the erosion of workers’ rights, the erosion of our environmental responsibility, the lack of any economic growth that is measurable, deplorable state of income inequality, the fact that child poverty is even a slight concern let alone now a major problem, there are plenty of issues for us to fight and win on. Whoever becomes the leader must take on this responsibility knowing that they carry this burden on their shoulders. John Key can accuse Labour of being left wing. He will do that no matter who the leader is. What he thinks really doesn't matter.
I note that there has been a lot of discussion on the voting of the new leader. The ‘right wing’ blogs are busy calculating who has what percentage of the power. I won’t be voting on the leader and frankly I don’t really care who has how much power. I think it’s pretty amazing that anyone other than the caucus has power. I’m not a hard core unionist but I know enough history to know that if they want to have a say in how the leader of the major left wing party is chosen they will have it by votes or by other channels. This at least is transparent. I commend it. They are also weighing in on the people themselves. Matthew Hooton was practically going to have an aneurysm yesterday (has someone checked up on him?). The general voting public doesn't spend time reading blogs (it will be a miracle if more than 1 person reads this), they are too busy struggling to create a better life for themselves and their children. Hidden amongst the 270,000 children living in poverty is a sleeping artist who could only dream of studying art in France. While the Government can't provide that, it can invest more in the arts here in NZ (this is an example not a policy expectation). We shouldn't all have to study engineering to contribute to society (yes, this is a dig at Steven Joyce).
Basically my hope is that the candidates remember for the next 3 weeks what the big picture is and what needs to be achieved in 2014 no matter what the outcome. While I am excited for an open campaign, it should be one that allows the activists, the supporters, the members, and the caucus to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get straight to work on September 16 for whoever the leader is. There is no way the public will put up with another internal struggle, a staff ‘re-shuffle’, a gimmick with no value. But there are plenty of substantive issues that we in the left need to fight for and we need someone to be the face of that fight.
I am what they call a millennial. Someone who has left New Zealand reluctantly in search of a brighter future somewhere else after 5 years of disappointment. I want to come home and I want a good reason to do it.