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Parker heads queue for Labour leadership

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Last updated 05:00 29/11/2011
David Parker

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David Parker is emerging as the frontrunner to lead Labour, with Phil Goff set to formally announce his resignation today.

Mr Goff is expected to set a time to step aside, and wants to quit before Christmas to allow a new leader to take his place before Parliament resumes, probably on December 19.

Deputy Annette King is also likely to go, but both have said they intend to stay on in Parliament for the full three-year term.

Former president Mike Williams has suggested a decision should be delayed until the new year. Party insiders said that was unlikely. It would give more time for lobbying and for a consensus to be found, but it could also prolong and deepen any divisions that emerge.

The contenders are Mr Parker, New Lynn MP David Cunliffe, Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson and Mt Albert MP David Shearer.

Mr Cunliffe yesterday said he would not answer questions about his intentions until Mr Goff had created a vacancy.

But he rejected as "completely without foundation" reported suggestions he had been late producing Labour's numbers during the campaign.

Mr Shearer also declined to comment. The other potential candidates did not return calls yesterday.

Mr Shearer yesterday said in a speech that Labour should accept the message from the election that it needed to change. At the forefront should be education, training and science.

"The Labour Party needs to be articulating a vision and narrative that inspired New Zealanders," he said. "The party ... should be the voice of the dreams and aspirations of New Zealanders."

Asked if his speech signalled leadership aspirations, he said it was his way of saying Labour should take a good look at itself.

All MPs had to take responsibility for the loss on Saturday.

Labour MPs were due to pick new Whips today, to replace Rick Barker and Steve Chadwick who lost their seats on Saturday. That may give an early sign of the candidates' support, with sources naming Charles Chauvel and Moana Mackey as potential Cunliffe-aligned candidates.

Labour MPs face a quandary selecting a replacement for Mr Goff, with no clear contender emerging over the last term because of doubts over all the likely options; one of the reasons they did not move against Mr Goff despite his low popularity rankings.

With all the potential candidates there are questions about how well they connect with Labour's grassroots and the suburban and provincial voters the party needs to win back.

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THE LEADING PLAYERS

David Parker

FOR: The most popular option in the party and with a good intellect. His loyalty to Mr Goff through the hard times counts for him and he is credited with much of the grunt work in Labour's policy renewal. "Could become a latter-day Michael Joseph Savage?" as one party member put it. Some joke his strongest card is that he is not David Cunliffe. Could also slot in as deputy or as a Michael Cullen-like Mr Fixit and finance spokesman. Lifted his profile by standing in the unwinnable Epsom seat.

AGAINST: His voice is light for television and public speaking and he can appear a bit bookish. And even as the votes were coming in on Saturday evening he was still arguing the rights of the campaign and the policy mix Labour put forward. May be seen as too nice and too dull.

David Cunliffe

FOR: A good, proven performer on television and radio and in big set speeches; probably Labour's best. Has the intellectual fire-power to grasp policy and has cross-over appeal to the centre and right. Media-friendly and confident. Has learned te reo and is Harvard educated.

AGAINST: A great deal of negative feeling against him, including at senior level. Some raise questions about his judgment, and blame him for Labour's low ranking as economic manager as well as his inability to land a punch on Finance Minister Bill English. Criticised by some for not pulling his weight in the campaign, but he rejects claims he let Mr Goff down and did not prepare numbers in time.

David Shearer

FOR: Comes with little baggage and would represent a fresh face. Great back-story with the United Nations. Likeable, relaxed, confident and can do self-deprecation. Could be a sort of Key-lite who could develop a brand as the selfless and brave aid worker. Probably the closest to the mythical middle New Zealand of any of the contenders. Won a big personal mandate in the Mt Albert electorate on Saturday and early on was accepting Labour made errors and needed to reconnect.

AGAINST: Has not made a splash since taking Mt Albert in the by-election to replace Helen Clark, with some comparing his low-key start with the likes of David Lange or John Key who burst on to the scene. Talks often about the need for education and science but no big vision yet to emerge. Made enemies as well as friends with an early admission on Saturday that Labour needs to change and articulate "a vision and narrative that inspires".

Grant Robertson

FOR: Suggested as a deputy on a Parker ticket, but could be the wild card as a possible leader. A surprising number of party insiders say he is the most impressive option for the future. Appeals as a new generation. Strong on policy and in the party and from the inner circle of Helen Clark's government. Could make his status as the first gay leader a plus, lifting his profile and generating interest. Sports nut and bloke in that "former student" way. Trusted.

AGAINST: May be seen as too "beltway Wellington". Some in Labour struggling with the "acceptability" question: will the electorate accept – and so are they brave enough to pick – a gay leader?

Supporting cast

Jacinda Ardern: Young and glamorous. Lost narrowly in Auckland Central, but seen as a face for the future. May want to wait before she takes a tilt at the top echelons, but is being advised to grasp the chance when it comes. Could be a contender for deputy if Labour reaches for the change levers.

Trevor Mallard: Could fill in as finance spokesman if one of the other contenders bails out in pique. Strong debater and shadow leader of the House.

Shane Jones: Will probably get a prominent role because Labour is moving strongly to reclaim the Maori vote. Not in the front row of leadership contenders, and has lost many of his caucus advocates at the election. A powerful debater.

Annette King: Mother of the party and will be highly ranked – Labour needs women in high places – if she wants to stay.

Phil Goff: Can command a high spot and could take foreign affairs or leader of the House.

- Fairfax NZ

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