I’m reading “The Life and Times of Lyndon Johnson.” It’s in four volumes. It’s fascinating, beautifully written, a must-read for anyone with an interest in politics. I recommended it recently to David Cunliffe over lunch, and he told me soon after he had got all four out of the Parliamentary Library. But he obviously hasn’t read it yet. His supporters clumsy attempt to make the Party leadership the focus of last weekend’s Conference has backfired on him and on others involved.
I’ve just returned from a wonderful family holiday in England. My first indication that something was up was the rising temperature of comments on the Standard, culminating with posts written under pseudonym days before the conference calling for Shearer to stand down. I don’t know if the posters are Labour members or not, but it now looks like an attempt to destabilise Shearer days before his first conference speech.
My response was to say look at what Gillard and Miliband have done to turn things around with one speech, and don’t panic.
The next intimation I had that something more was afoot was when I turned up at the Conference on Friday night to be told that the affiliates meeting had ignored the Party Council’s recommendation for what may trigger a leadership vote across the Party, and supported a motion from Northland and Te Tai Tokerau to turn the long-standing majority confidence vote, held at the start of each year, to an endorsement vote with a 60% threshold.
This was quite unexpected by the Party leadership but as became clear in the debate the following day, not unexpected by some in the unions, a few caucus members and some of the electorates.
While the rhetoric of the amendment’s supporters was about giving members a say in any future leadership change, that move was uncontroversial and supported by Leader and President. The actual issue under debate was about the trigger for a membership vote next February at the 60% threshold. This meant that a minority of the caucus could trigger another leadership vote across the party membership and the affiliates. Member say became member say now. Cunliffe refused to rule out a February challenge. If it walks like a duck…
After an extensive debate, the amendment to the rules was passed on a card vote by a narrow margin, with a block vote from the affiliate unions, apparently on the basis of a resolution at their earlier meeting. If David Cunliffe or any of his supporters drew from this any expectation that unions would support a change of leader in February, I suspect they are likely to be disappointed once the implications become clear inside the unions.
And after Shearer’s speech, for which Audrey Young, Clare Trevett and John Armstrong have all given him 9 out of 10, any talk of leadership change has collapsed. Shearer rose to the challenge magnificently, as I expected he would.
Now perhaps we can get on with the real task, working hard for a change of government in 2014. I like David Cunliffe and it’s a pity he didn’t take the advice I gave him at that lunch, and has had to learn the hard way that what was going on wasn’t doing him any good. Still a dose of humble pie will do him no harm; in fact it may be the best thing that has happened to him.
I think he could still play a big part in that campaign if he chooses. So could his supporters.