I tweeted recently suggesting that David Shearer would soon be rolled as Labour’s leader. This may or may not have happened by the time this issue of FishHead goes to print. I said Shearer faced a leadership coup and a letter of no confidence was circulating his MPs.
When I did that it created a shit-storm. Let me explain. I had two sources when I tweeted that message, one inside caucus and one outside. I have since spoken to many Labour MPs both in person and on the phone. That is a journalist’s job. We deal with these people. We have to. If you don’t, you should pack up your tent and go home.
This is what I know. Labour is bleeding internally. The day I tweeted that message they were in a bad space. My sources have told me internal polling showed them at 29 percent – the lowest Labour has been all year. I’m told a letter of no confidence was discussed – it never emerged.
Did it exist? Well, a bit like the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) tape of John Key addressing spy-agency staff that Shearer claimed existed, we’ll never know. Three senior Labour MPs also tell me that former leader Phil Goff took a group of MPs to see Shearer that Tuesday I tweeted.
Goff, I am told by my sources, told Shearer his leadership failings were being openly discussed by Labour MPs around the corridors, and he should watch his back. Goff apparently told Shearer that the next round of polls was crucial for Shearer, as it could be a trigger point for a coup. But this is how slow-burning coups work.
Labour MPs are unhappy with Shearer. That’s hardly a state secret. They believe that since the May budget he has performed poorly and John Key has not only regained his mojo, but his monster within.
But Labour’s problem is succession. No one in the caucus can agree on who should replace Shearer. David Cunliffe, I’m told, has 12 MPs supporting him. You need 17 to force a party-wide vote.
Deputy Grant Robertson may have that many as well – but my sources say his homosexuality wouldn’t be a vote-winner when Labour is trying to win the centre – and pull back the blokes – after the dreadfully handled man-ban issue. Robertson is highly capable and ambitious: he wants to become prime minister. That should not be underestimated.
Andrew Little’s name has popped up again, but he told me on RadioLIVE that “there is no vacancy” – just what John Key said before he rolled Don Brash. Watch him. He’s the former party president – he knows where the bodies are buried. And Shane Jones is an outsider’s chance, but the caucus is not convinced.
So that’s why Shearer has stayed in the role – it’s why he was put there in the first place. He was, and still is, the compromise candidate because so many in the caucus dislike Cunliffe. But is that changing? There is an ABC club (Anyone But Cunliffe) led by MP Clayton Cosgrove. Its membership includes senior MPs and it’s still very active, but it may not be as strong as it once was.
So where does this leave Labour? Struggling. Any leadership change has to be voted on by the party members. If caucus triggers a party-wide vote, Shearer, in my opinion, wouldn’t win that. He may not even stand. Now Labour is looking at a third term in opposition. But they could do one thing.
The potential leaders, Robertson, Cunliffe and Little, could drop all their personal and selfish ambitions – knock some heads together – and get the best leadership team in place to take it to Key and National. Shearer is a nice bloke – I’d leave my kids with him for the weekend – but is he the best Labour has? Can he beat Key? If the answer to these questions is no, then Labour’s senior minds need to nut this out quick smart. Next year is too late.