Phil Goff must act, as Helen Clark did

00:18, Mar 29 2011
Helen Clark
POWER PLAY: Helen Clark brought Michael Cullen close to form the powerbase the leadership team that was so effective for Labour during her nine years in office.

Phil Goff's leadership may not be on the line today at the shadow cabinet meeting in Dunedin, but no change is no longer an option.

Looking again at the wider leadership team including Annette King and David Cunliffe and making a change there may be the answer.

Helen Clark did it in 1996 to shore up her leadership.

At the time her rivals did not have the numbers to roll her, but she recognised the concern in the party at its poor poll rating and knew she needed to act.

The result was her deputy and finance spokesman David Caygill hit the cutting room floor in favour of Michael Cullen, creating the leadership team that was so effective for Labour during nine years in office.

Following that logic through, Labour and Goff could promote David Parker - a thinker and an economic and policy heavyweight who could inherit the Cullen-Birch role. He is arguably better suited to that role than to the leader's office.

He has also been prominent in supporting Goff as the rumour mill swung into action last week, denying any plans were afoot and scotching the suggestions, seeded in some media, that he was somehow doing the numbers with left wingers Ruth Dyson and Maryan Street.

It was significant that according to Labour insiders Parker was a regular visitor to Goff's office last week, and the two were last night spotted together leaving a Labour social function held at a Dunedin bar.

Is some sort of alliance or deal in the offing? Or is it a case of my enemy's enemies are my allies?

Beyond personnel changes, it is hard to see what changes Labour can make.

The policy process is in train and is widely supported, so that is probably not an option.

One theory inside the party is that the Hughes affair, and Goff's mishandling, will blow over and the ultra-tight Budget and its effects on household wallets and state service delivery to low and middle income voters will take centre stage.

That sounds like wishful thinking.

There is clearly a split between Goff and the party or at least president Andrew Little over the handling of the issue and the lack of communication. It goes deeper than the papering over of the cracks that occurred late on Sunday when the two finally talked about the issue.

Labour is in full fund-raising mode, made difficult by the current controversy. Its activists on websites and blogs are openly questioning the party's direction and Mr Goff's judgment. Its union backers and foot soldiers need to be motivated but are in danger of being demoralised.

Business as usual is simply not an option.