David Shearer works on low-key brand

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Last updated 05:00 20/04/2012
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DAVID SHEARER: Kiwis aren't reaping the rewards of their hard work.

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OPINION: David Shearer wants everyone to have a living wage, but, in a characteristic move, the Labour leader says no-one will be forced into it.

In his second "vision" speech, in Nelson yesterday, Mr Shearer said the idea – sparked by former socialist London mayor "Red" Ken Livingstone and backed by UK Labour – would not have the backing of law.

If he was prime minister, a unit of government would decide what a living wage should be. That would become "the aspiration to which people would aspire to".

It was the only new idea in a speech which, by any standards, was ordinary. There was no tub-thumping or soaring rhetoric. Just an outline of his hope for a better country with higher wages, more young people in jobs, and a clever, green economy.

Rather than slam the Government over paid parental leave, he talked compromise. Labour would look at phasing it in or lowering the costs in "a sincere effort to move something forward".

Consensus, he said, was his first instinct.

It is a style Mr Shearer is making his brand; a reasonable man talking in a measured tone that rejects the politics of charisma.

To the political media present – and in a warning to Labour, only three reporters made the short hop from Wellington – it was about as dull as a leader's speech can get.

With the Government on the ropes over issues from the pokies deal with SkyCity to Crafar farm sales and asset sales, the soft-shoe approach is not without its critics.

There is no crisis yet, but there has been some internal arm-wrestling.

Chief of staff Stuart Nash has quit after just a few months in the pivotal role, mostly for personal reasons – a new baby and the commute from Napier. But insiders say he was ill-suited and clashed with chief press secretary Fran Mold over strategy. She pushed for a (relatively) higher profile, arguing the Greens and NZ First leader Winston Peters would fill the vacuum if Mr Shearer left one.

Finding the right replacement for Mr Nash is crucial, especially with the key party secretary job expected to be vacant soon when Chris Flatt leaves.

There is no clear favourite for either job, although policy guru Jordan Carter is tipped as secretary, while the Wellington rumour mill favours Wellington lawyer Alastair Cameron as chief of staff.

Both are closer to deputy leader Grant Robertson than Mr Shearer.

That has fed the conspiracy theorists an obvious line: if Mr Shearer's low-key style does not boost Labour's fortunes, his deputy's allies will be in place to move.

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But back in Nelson the audience reaction suggests Mr Shearer is pressing the right buttons. He had "sounded reasonable", one said, and "seemed like a nice guy".

He was "open to ideas" and did not "go on" about health and law and order, as another put it.

They agree that, like Prime Minister John Key, Mr Shearer "doesn't come across as a politician".

- The Dominion Post

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