Editorial: Robertson is the man

Last updated 10:59 05/09/2013

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OPINION: The odds on Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson becoming leader of the Labour Party are much higher than they were when he missed out in December 2011.

When Helen Clark stepped down from the leadership after Labour's defeat at the 2011 election, there was a hotly contested race to replace her.

Robertson dipped his toe in the water on that occasion, but the odds seemed against him from the start - the other three contenders were David Shearer, David Parker and David Cunliffe. With a first name that wasn't David, Robertson seemed to be up against it.

Sure enough, Shearer came through to win and chose Robertson as his deputy.

But Shearer's year and a half in charge did little for Labour's electoral prospects and, seeing the writing on the wall, he has wisely resigned.

Now Robertson, Cunliffe and Shane Jones are jostling for the reins.

We hope Robertson gets the job. He certainly has the credentials.

He is only 42, but knows his way around, having worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade at, among other places, the United Nations. He also worked in Helen Clark's office before becoming an MP in 2008.

Robertson's grasp of Labour policy and his natural empathy with life's strugglers are strong points in his favour.

He has been an outstanding local MP, even after he became Labour's deputy leader in 2011.

As one example of many, he has taken a close interest in the Downtown Community Ministry in Taranaki St.

It's a shelter for men struggling to cope and with nowhere to live.

While very few city councillors grace the ministry's doors from one year to the next, Robertson went as far as spending a night there to gain a truer appreciation of the place, and its requirements.

He has become an increasingly confident and witty public speaker, well capable of handling himself in the hurly- burly of the House.

The Labour leadership race is close.

Cunliffe, the Member of Parliament for New Lynn in Auckland, appears to hold some appeal to the Labour rank and file, though they might not be quite so enamoured if they knew him more closely.

Counter-balancing that, Cunliffe struggles to gain much traction among his fellow caucus members, which is telling.

Shane Jones, a list MP from Northland, entered the race as the outsider and, with little to lose, has handled himself well at public meetings.

Speaking largely without notes, he has been irreverent and funny. But he has a spotty past and it is doubtful if he could gather enough backing to earn the top job at the moment, despite his undeniable appeal.

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The race is likely to come down to Robertson and Cunliffe.

Labour has the chance to make a far-reaching decision.

Some conservative punters have raised an eyebrow in Robertson's direction because he is gay.

That should be an utter irrelevance now, as was illustrated by the overwhelming support recently for Louisa Wall's marriage equality bill.

But more than that, Labour should go for Robertson because he would bring energy, ideas and genuine political nous to the job.

He's from Wellington, too, and that's surely a good thing.

- The Wellingtonian

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