The media are all telling us Phil Goff will tell us he intends to stand down as leader tomorrow. It seems John Key has already picked his replacement, despite not actually being a member of the Labour Party (although at one point he did think he led it…).
But in reality, if Goff does intend to quit tomorrow, he should look at what the UK Conservatives did in 2005.
The day after the election (May 8 ) party leader Michael Howard announced his intention to quit… but after there had been a look at the leadership election rules (although they ended up unchanged) and a proper leadership contest, the centrepiece of which would be the party’s next Conference.
The Conference was in early October, so there was 5 months of media interest in the contest, slowly building. And then the conference was decisive. David Cameron was an outsider, ranked 3rd in betting. But an excellent speech meant that in a day he and the previous front-runner had swapped places.
The Conservative leadership rules stated that MPs selected the top 2 contenders, and a postal ballot of all members decided the winner. After the conference a round of meetings around the country ensued as David Cameron and David Davis (hmm, Davids – still a popular name…) lobbied the members. Media were allowed in the meetings and more coverage followed, ensuring that when Cameron w0n the final postal ballot, he had a huge public mandate and a profile to match.
Now Labour may not wish to change the rules of their contest, but they could still organise something similar. Have (media attended) town hall meetings of all leadership contenders around the country. Let local Labour activists feed back to MPs what they think. And then have a final big contest at next year’s conference, with a vote on Sunday morning, and the newly elected leader doing the closing speech.
Phil Goff found out that a quick shuffling of the deck and a new leader 3 days after the election doesn’t do them or the party any favours. Hopefully whenever he hands over the baton it will be in a much more useful way with a polite, well-run and prolonged contest to affirm the next leader.
[Update: Realised I failed to mention what the contest did for the UK Conservative Party! Partly the contest, partly the choosing of the new face of Cameron, but they went from the “Nasty Party” with a toxic brand (far far worse than anything Labour have to counter) to one that the public felt more comfortable voting for again. The memory of Thatcher cannot be erased, so it still wasn’t enough for them to govern alone, but it made them electable again.]