Time fast running out for Labour leader

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 05:00 11/11/2012
david shearer
Labour leader David Shearer

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OPINION: Here's not what's going to happen at Labour's annual conference later this week. David Cunliffe is not going to rugby tackle David Shearer to the ground while Grant Robertson sits on his head, with Andrew Little shouting "bags be leader".

Irritatingly, leadership spills don't happen that way. If only.

Labour is especially good at the nasty, tortured coups - so if the party is going to roll Shearer, expect it to be beastly. But don't anticipate blood on the floor of the Ellerslie Racecourse come next Sunday night.

All an opposition party leader has to do at his annual conference is suggest he might do a better job than the bloke presently in charge. Unfortunately in Shearer's case, it's not the incumbent prime minister, but himself.

For when he stands up to deliver his keynote speech, the 500-odd delegates will be staring at a bloody great leader-shaped hole. He's got about 20 minutes to convince a disillusioned party faithful that he's not invisible, hasn't got a speech impediment - and that he's got a cunning plan to convince the voters that Labour can deliver a costed, credible alternative to National-omics.

Of course, while he's doing it, the commentators and the pundits will have one eye on him and the other scrutinising the wannabes and couldvebeens.

And say Shearer doesn't give a whizz-bang, tub-thumping speech? His performance this year suggests it's not going to be a belter. This far out from a election he's not going to be unleashing any astonishing new policies to distract watchers from the leadership question.

So does the party risk unseating him and reinforcing the view that Labour is interested only in talking about itself? Dumping him could be more trouble than it's worth. For according to some polls, Shearer is sleep-walking to victory with a coalition on the left. Granted, it's in spite of, rather than because of Shearer and his front-bench, that National have had the year sent from hell.

The risks in rolling him are inherent, but the party appears to have gone past that now. Shearer could give the speech of his life but for many it will be too little, too late. Labour have floundered in opposition, they are impatient for power and can't afford him any more time.

He's had more leeway and more time than most would have got (from the media pack and party members) simply because he's such a nice man.

But, sadly, it seems Labour are facing that awkward conversation: "David, we're sorry, it's not us, it's you."

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