Stop being 'Mr Wiffly-Woffly' Mr Shearer

00:35, Mar 19 2012
David Shearer
BREAKFAST TALK: Labour's David Shearer makes his first big address as leader of the party.

When I was a kid, I looked forward to the first week of school. After six weeks of holiday, there were new teachers, classmates and subjects to encounter. But during those February days, I would find myself staring longingly at the unused school equipment, while our friendly new teacher would have us sitting in a circle doing what my father, a science teacher, called "bum rubbing".

"Bum rubbing" involved the class playing endless "getting to know you" games and doing "trust" exercises. Yet all we wanted to do was rip into some schoolwork. I remember the frustration I felt back then, and have had exactly the same feeling about the Labour Party since David Shearer was elected leader.

Mr Shearer, an affable and intelligent centrist, has been doing what is currently de rigueur in chief executive circles. You don't start your new job by taking drastic, effective action and alienating the troops. Instead, you immerse yourself in endless "envisioning" and "team- building" workshops - in other words, bum rubbing. And the Labour Party has lots of bums.

That is why in this speech last Thursday, many New Zealanders wanted the new Labour leader to stop being Mr Wiffly-Woffly and turn into Action Man.

If you're aware of what people like Sir Paul Callaghan, Gareth Morgan and the late Lloyd Morrison have been saying about the economy, much of what Mr Shearer advocates will be familiar. New Zealand's continued reliance on primary exports and the local property market will not lead to economic prosperity. We need to develop hi-tech industries with a low-carbon footprint. With the help of a capital gains tax, we can do it, provided we invest in science and education.

What Mr Shearer is parroting is largely sensible stuff and contrasts with Prime Minister John Key's obsession with asset- stripping and amalgamation.


The prime minister displays all the vision of a retired Hastings motelier, although it's also true some of National's more enlightened ministers (yes, they exist) have been saying similar things to Mr Shearer.

Among Mr Shearer's bum rubbing, he did nudge rightwards towards a few actual policies. Good riddance to GST off fruit and vegetables, and welfare beneficiaries might get a "nudge" compared to the "whack up the bum" they are currently receiving from National. Labour will put "badly run schools on notice".

I suspect the freshman Labour leader has been gazumped by the Right wing and parroted its use of "badly run" to mean state low- decile. Hopefully, Mr Shearer's charter schools will be slightly more caring than Banksie's.

Rather than boring the class with more stories about facing down Somali warlords, Mr Shearer constantly referred to the economic success of Finland.

Where would Labour be without Scandinavia to copy from? No nasty Alabama-style private prisons for them.

I look forward to Jacinda Ardern appearing on television in Pippi Longstocking pigtails and Grant Robertson building Danish furniture during press conferences. The trouble is if Finland's economy melts down like Iceland's did, then Labour's 2014 campaign is munted.

Meanwhile, the vision-lite Mr Key has taken lots of action, but none of it effective. His latest fad is to amalgamate government departments.

After the super-ministry announcement, I expected him to tell us New Zealand has the best cricketers in the world, but Thursday's massive collapse was simply because John Wright had the wrong batting order.

I'm sure the country's flat economic performance is because last year's Budget was printed in the wrong font. Will Mr Key ask us to delay criticising our country's low growth until after the economic benefits of the new give-way rule have kicked in?

Soon New Zealanders must choose between an action man with little vision and a vision man with little action. Let's hope both can up their game in the next few months. After all, the first school holidays of the year will start soon and we've had more than enough bum rubbing.

Related stories:

Shearer wants NZ to be more like Finland

John Key confirms mega ministry

Opinion: Shearer's speech a vague start

Full Text: David Shearer's Speech

Full Text: John Key's March 15 speech