Thanks to the initiative of Moira Coatsworth and others after the 2011 defeat, we now have experience of an open leadership contest giving us a sense of voice and engagement, and something positive to focus on after a difficult year.
Thanks to the robustness of the party’s constitutional process over the last year, we now have the democratic machinery in place to make that kind of contest a regular, strong feature of Labour party processes.
We needed it. We have it. And now, I think, is the time we need to use it.
I think the only way to put the events since the weekend to rest, to start to heal the hurts and to give us a leader with a strong, uniting and unchallengeable mandate would be for David Shearer to act now, and bravely take his leadership into the new process. There he will have it challenged, endorsed, and cemented, or if he doesnt succeed, at least applauded for its integrity and honesty.
I want to see a proper leadership contest, not one that is broken or manipulated before it starts.
I would like to see all the real contenders throw their hats in the ring, and may the best person win: Grant Robertson, David Parker, Jacinda Ardern, David Cunliffe, Andrew Little. I suspect the winner may surprise some people, just as David Shearer’s speech surprised some on Sunday: but they would have a clear mandate and undisputable leadership rights.
The alternative David Shearer and the rest of us face is a leader not at all with no mandate, but with a weak mandate, based on two flawed processes to date:
1. the initial, embryonic leadership process, where David Shearer was supported by a coalition who were concerned among other things that Grant Robertson wasn’t ready yet (I thought he was, and certainly is now), where David Parker withdrew early and we didn’t see his strengths in full contest, and where caucus were widely seen as voting against the will of the party; and
2. the latest awful episode, designed and executed explicitly to pre-empt a public spill and democratic process in February, by a threatened and angry 2/3 of caucus whipped up by a media beatup, smarting a little from losing independent power, and not reining in some deep and narrow personal antipathies.
David Shearer and our Labour leadership need to move well beyond this. So too do the people who David Shearer is acknowledging today in his mailout have been distressed in the process. The people, as I observe, from New Lynn and many other places who are hurt, angry, dismayed, who dont see the justice in the outcome, and are now finding it mighty hard to engage in anything Labour.
David Cunliffe deserves a chance to present his goods to the party and colleges: and so do the others. The party and colleges deserve to be able to call up exceptional talents like Robertson, Parker, Ardern, Little, Cunliffe.
The alternative is a wound of hurt and injustice that doesn’t heal; the prospect of a repeat of the last election cycle, where we were locked into a leader who struggled for support on several fronts, and felt trapped in a horrible countdown to a losing election; or, should we sneak across the line with Winston and the Greens and Maori and Mana on board, and low 30%s of the vote, a weak and unstable coalition that would not give us 6 years of government: or many more MPs and cabinet posts.
Maybe, though, this is all too hard, and all we can and should do is try to forget, and grind it out. Maybe I am foolish and undisciplined and doing damage to even say we should lift the heavy lid that’s been put things, now, or ever.
Or maybe things are just better, out in the open, and leaving the lid on wont heal anything?
My biggest fears relate to the latter- leaving the lid on and not healing anything- most.
This has been a significant episode: the most so for twenty, twenty five years. At some point, if we are to get past this, we will need to come back and talk about this. We do it now, we get past it. We wait: does it come back and get us?
I would say this.
Things have changed: as of now, the NZLP is a more democratic organisation. Silence and mere submission, leaving the knowing to others, is not how we want to do things now.
I believe that we, the New Zealand Labour Party, ultimately have nothing to fear from a democratic, open process around leadership, policy and more. Ultimately, the caucus too will only gain from this.
We have two years until the next election. We could do it now, or in February. For David Shearer, it’s better done from a position of power. But I think we should do it now.
Now is the time we need unity. Now is the time for healing wounds and trauma, before they fester. Now is the time to put the recent events firmly into the past. Now is the time to get on with being the next Labour government in waiting.
Labour members, we need to able to unite behind our leader, not because you should or silently must, but because she or he has an unchallengeable mandate.
David Shearer, you need a mandate from this new organisation, not a prop-up from the shards of the old one.
Give us this chance to really unite behind you, or your successor, and give you the backing you surely will have earned.