So I went along to the Labour Party leadership debate/discussion today in order to make up my mind.
It didn’t work. I’m still an undecided non-voter.
The issue for me is one of presentation. I am convinced that both Shearer and Cunliffe are, by and large, politically in about the same place. I don’t see the leadership campaign as a left versus right battle, and the issues they spoke about during the meeting made it abundantly clear to me that they want the same things and want to take the party in much the same direction.
So it comes down to this: is the best leader going to be the superb communicator who can cast a spell over an audience during a speech and who has a grasp of policy detail? Or will he be the guy who is less polished but has spent his life living Labour’s values?
To connect with the disaffected voters who turned from Labour in their thousands do we need a great orator who can savage the government in the House, or do we need someone with a compelling life-story who provides a stark contrast to the money-trader who made millions on the financial markets?
Cunliffe’s almost Obama-like style of oratory will have appealed to many in the audience today. There were even the hoots and cheers from his supporters that you would expect from a US Presidential campaign. Shearer, by contrast, was down-to-earth, and for some will have presented as an agreeable alternative to the hype and noise of Cunliffe and his supporters. Shearer exudes a genuine humility that some say will make him a potent force against the Flash Harry currently in charge of the country. Others, however, think someone with a bit more “mongrel” is needed to match John Key.
Well I don’t get to vote, which is probably a good thing. I don’t see how anyone can be totally convinced one way or the other about who is the best candidate. Each man is a gamble, because he has obvious strengths and weaknesses. Neither man is the complete package, but then who in a leadership role ever is?
A quick comment on the deputy leadership contest. I have not heard Nanaia Mahuta speak before, but she impressed. Grant Robertson was also a compelling speaker, and he is unquestionably a future star. I’m not sure if either is ready for the role yet, but in the case of Mahuta that’s because I haven’t seen enough of her.
Putting aside the question of who the right candidate is, what strikes me about the leadership contest is how the party has opened up and listened to criticism. At the meeting there wasn’t too much blaming of the usual suspects (e.g. the media, public stupidity, others on the left, etc etc), and all of the leadership candidates seem to understand that the party has failed to explain to the public why they should give Labour their vote. It feels like any lingering complacency from the Clark years is disappearing.
Finally, a prediction. I don’t have any inside knowledge, and I haven’t heard any whispers from within the caucus. But while I can’t personally choose between the two Davids, I suspect Shearer will win it by a couple of votes. Note: this is not a confident prediction, so don’t hold it against me if the other David wins.