I wasn’t paying much attention to politics back in the 80’s, so the current leadership stoush within Labour is quite an eye-opener for me. I have friends, people I admire, well informed people whose opinions I greatly respect, in each of the two Camp Davids. Tempers are running hot, and at the moment the risk of a serious fracture in the Labour Party seems very real. What to make of it all?
My position is on record. During the selection process last year I found Cunliffe more impressive, but I’ve been happy to support Shearer as leader. I support him still. I understand (and share) the frustration of those who would like to see a bigger and a quicker turnaround in the polls, but I think that their impatience has driven them to set unrealistic expectations of Shearer, and then abandon him far too soon. I think that solid unity around Shearer would have won the 2014 election.
But that was not to be. Impatience overflowed. Cunliffe positioned himself for a leadership challenge at conference (those who protest his innocence are naive in the extreme). It distracted attention from excellent policy, an excellent speech, and an opportunity to position Labour as the government in waiting. All very regrettable.
So much for the past. What about the future? The perception is that Cunliffe over-reached, and the tide has turned against him. There is a caucus meeting later today where, it is widely reported, Cunliffe is going to be demoted.
I understand the temptation for Shearer. When challenged on his leadership he wants to portray the strong leader. When pushed to show some “mongrel” he wants to bare his teeth. His supporters want “revenge”. It is what the political world expects, bread and circuses, the loser goes to the lions.
But there is a better way. A different kind of strength and leadership in turning the other cheek. In reconciliation. Overturning the conventional wisdom could see both Shearer’s leadership, and the Party, emerge much stronger.
Cunliffe is too good a politician to waste, and his supporters are too big a constituency to discard. Shearer should leave Cunliffe in his current role, reach out to him and the people that he represents. Cunliffe in his turn should admit that the game is up, put his leadership ambitions on hold for the foreseeable future, and publicly pledge his unconditional support until the next election. A joint statement, two men shaking hands, then they can both get to work on winning 2014. Cue picturesque sunset and closing credits.
Yeah I know, only in Hollywood right? Still, a blogger has to dream. Because the alternative, frankly, looks like a bit of a nightmare.