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Corin Dann: Labour needs a strong David

opinion Corin Dann

By Corin Dann ONE News Political Editor

Published: 11:31AM Monday November 19, 2012 Source: ONE News

Troublesome gall stones and a date with the operating table kept me away from the Labour Party's annual conference this weekend.

However if I was worried beforehand that I might miss out on some juicy behind the scenes tit bits over the asparagus rolls, I needn't have been.

That's because it turned out that such is the level of unease in the party at the moment about leadership and the party's direction that in hindsight there was little hope of the party's dirty laundry staying behind closed doors.

I say in hindsight, because while I was well aware of discontent amongst Labour party activists and members over the performance of David Shearer, I have to admit it I still thought that the wiser heads in the party would be able to come to together with a plan and keep a lid on things over the weekend.

If only in the interests of putting on the best possible face to a wider electorate, who because of the nature of the TV coverage of these events might just be paying a little more attention to Labour than usual.

It is telling that that party were not able to do this.

David Cunliffe will no doubt cop much of the blame given his refusal to endorse David Shearer during the conference.

Many will feel he put his own ambitions and ego ahead of the party. There is some truth in this.

It was by all means an extraordinarily brazen stand by Cunliffe and it did totally ruin hopes that some in Labour had of hyping up a new housing policy.

However, disagreement in the wider party, not only about David Shearer's performance as leader, but also it's overall direction is real. This is not just about David Cunliffe.

David Cunliffe's action, whilst perhaps being opportunistic, also reflects a deeper dissatisfaction and desire by some to see the party move further to the left.

The party rank and file backing Cunliffe are the ones wanting a tougher Labour party that is prepared to intervene more in the economy and cut more of its ties with the neo-liberal policies of the 80s and 90s.

They were not entirely convinced that Shearer was with them on that stuff.

The new housing announcement was an attempt by Shearer to address those policy direction concerns and by and large it looks to have done the job. With the speech and housing policy getting a ringing endorsement from party faithful.

However it's hard to see how the issue of leadership is going to be so easily solved.

One great speech by Shearer will not stop the rumblings about him.

Neither will an early caucus vote on his leadership next week or the suspension of David Cunliffe from caucus.

The fact is a compulsory leadership review looms in February. And Cunliffe has not ruled out the possibility of a challenge then.

In the end the only thing that can realistically stop more leadership rumblings in the new year is a flawless showing by David Shearer over the next two months.

No more overcooked scandals, no more fluffed lines in stand-ups with the media, no sluggishness in reacting to events.

If he is commanding and assured then there is unlikely to be an issue.

The speech and his subsequent media appearances have been a solid start. But he still has a long way to go.

Whilst some commentators believe Labour is assured a victory in 2014 given the lack of support for National on the right, I still feel that If Labour is to form the next government it will also have to have a leader who can beat or at least match John Key on the campaign trail.

Key will be formidable in the next campaign, particularly when it comes to articulating issues around the economy, which will no doubt dominate.

He will be trying to turn the campaign into a presidential style popularity contest, in the hope Kiwis, whilst maybe grumpy with his Government, may still like and trust him just enough to keep National in power.

Labour can try but it won't be able to avoid such a contest come 2014, its leader must be up to the challenge.

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