OPINION: Late on Saturday night, Phil Goff offered a tantalising glimpse of what might have been.
Speaking without notes, Labour's soon-to-be-departed leader connected the dots that remained disconcertingly unconnected throughout his term as leader.
Labour wanted a prosperous society, Mr Goff said, but it wanted it to be a society in which prosperity was shared. If Mr Goff had championed policies that fitted that prescription, he would not have woken up on Sunday morning to the knowledge he had led his party to its worst result since 1928.
Instead, the Goff Labour Party could not make up its mind whether to be fiscally responsible or profligate in its social spending. In trying to be a bit of both it wound up pleasing few and annoying many. Those who welcomed its courageous decision to advocate an increase in the age of retirement and the taxation of capital gains were dismayed by the proposed extension of the in-work tax credit to beneficiaries. Those who looked forward to benefit increases were dismayed by the prospect of having to wait another couple of years for their super.
The party's problems do not stop with muddled policy. Labour's preoccupation with gender and ethnic balance and the influence of powerful sector groups has robbed the party of two of its most promising newcomers – Kelvin Davis and Stuart Nash – who were mystifyingly ranked behind a gaggle of has-beens and never-was's on the party list. The result: Labour begins the new parliamentary term even shorter of talent than it needed to be.
For Mr Goff, the misery is about to end. He is expected to tell his colleagues today of his intention to stand down as leader. It is the correct and only option open to him given Saturday's result.
However, before he goes he has one more service to perform for his party. It is to stay long enough to ensure a proper contest to replace him.
Labour's problem is not its leader, nor its campaign strategy, although it would be wise to choose a new leader whose image the party's MPs are not embarassed to display on campaign billboards. The problem is not even John Key's popularity. It is the absence of a coherent set of policies that give effect to its core philosophy.
The new leader needs to be more than the master of the sound bite and more than the best schemer in the Labour caucus.
He or she needs to be someone with a vision for the country who can lead the development of policies that give effect to that vision.
Neither of the leading contenders to replace Mr Goff – David Parker and David Cunliffe – has demonstrated that capability to the public. Nor have the others whose names have been mentioned in connection with the position – David Shearer, Andrew Little and Grant Robertson.
Labour needs a vigorous contest to reconnect with the public and to rediscover its soul. It needs time for the contenders to show their mettle.
The 2014 election will not be won in the next few days. It could be lost by a hasty, ill-considered decision.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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