The case for David

Last updated 10:10 06/12/2011

Next week the 34 surviving members of the Labour Party caucus will vote for a new leader. Once that is done they will also need to vote for a new deputy leader, senior whip and junior whip.

This means that David Cunliffe and David Shearer need at least 18 MPs to vote for them to become the 13th leader of the Labour Party.

According to one report David Shearer has 14 votes locked in (including his own) and David Cunliffe has nine pledged to him. That leaves 11 MPs who will decide the leadership. Shearer needs just four of them and Cunliffe needs nine of the 11 - a challenging task if the numbers are correct.

I think Labour is fortunate to have two very credible candidates. Often a party has little choice about who the next leader will be, as was the case for Labour in 2008.

I suspect that whichever David wins the leadership will  get to contest only one election, unless Labour wins in 2014 (which is very possible). If Labour loses in 2014 then I would expect to see Grant Robertson and Andrew Little battle it out for the leadership.

But in 2011 it is a choice between David Shearer and David Cunliffe. Only Labour MPs get to vote, but the undecided MPs may listen to feedback from activists, supporters and potential supporters. With that in mind, I thought I would blog on the respective strengths of each candidate.

David Cunliffe

  • Would have the strongest business background of any Labour leader.
  • Economic credibility during a period when economic issues will be at the fore.
  • Strong performance record as a minister.
  • Has shown ability to master detail.
  • Strong debater.
  • Has promised his rival a seat on the front bench, so caucus does not split.
  • Ready to go head to head againgst Key now.
  • Nanaia Mahuta as running mate would potentially see first female Maori deputy PM.


David Shearer

  • Inspiring back story.
  • Not associated with the previous Labour government.
  • Has support of Labour big hitters such as Goff, King, Mallard.
  • Very likeable.
  • More likely to reform Labour.
  • Less ideological on policy.
  • Wide appeal - endorsements from far left to the right of the political spectrum.
  • Like Key, seen more as an ordinary guy doing some time in Parliament, rather than a professional politician.


I think both Davids would perform well as  leader, certainly better than Phil Goff did. I don't mean that as a personal criticism of Goff, who put up a string showing in the campaign. I never thought that someone who had been in Parliament for 30 years would be able to be seen as a leader with new ideas and policies they sincerely believe in. Both Cunliffe and Shearer will be seen as credibly offering an alternative to not just National but also to the Labour government that got thrown out in 2008.

Shearer has been regarded as the frontrunner (and is my pick as the best for Labour) but Cunliffe put up a much stronger performance on the weekend news shows.

So which David do you think Labour MPs should elect as leader?

David Farrar is a centre-right blogger affiliated to the National Party. His disclosure statement is here.

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Post a comment
ella42   #1   10:21 am Dec 06 2011

David Shearer. Labour needs charisma at the moment, which, with all due respect, David Cunliffe just doesn't have. There are enough of them there to be able to create new policies and polish the ideology as much as it may need; a leader doesn't do that on their ownsome. But there is no getting away from the fact that Labour needs to reinvent itself brand-wise, exactly the same as National did. And if you have have to fight fire with fire, and I believe they do - then Shearer, being a new face to lead the party out of the hole it has dig itself into, is by far the better bet.

Sam   #2   10:26 am Dec 06 2011

Good to see you giving credit where it is due David. I have seen you as a little biased in the past (obviously you are in the National camp), but this is a very even-handed blog. Well done. As a Labour/Greens supporter, I am encouraged by the strength of the leadership emerging from the rather insipid shadow of Phil Goff (I've no doubt he is a hard working politician, but was never leadership material). I am picking David Shearer as he seems to make a better connection with the public than Cunliffe who tends to cut a polarising figure.

Ben   #3   10:27 am Dec 06 2011

Until recently one would have to describe Shearer as the invisible man; he has hardly made an impact on parliament or the public consciousness in his first term. Against that he appears a bit warmer than Cunliffe and with his name is not a single consonant from disaster.

I am inclined to think that Labour will lose in 2014 and whether or not one of the Davids holds onto to the job depends on how badly they lose.

Henry Cooke   #4   10:34 am Dec 06 2011

The lack of a strong ideology really bothers me with Shearer, especially when he wouldn't call himself a leftist on TVNZ the other night. I like my politicians like I like my Beyonce hooks, to the left.

Long-suffering Labour voter   #5   10:48 am Dec 06 2011

I don't know much about either candidate so was interested to read Jane Clifton's column in the latest Listener. From that, and what little I have read/heard elsewhere, I think I'd lean to Shearer rather than Cunliffe. Cunliffe seems to have a very high opinion of himself and I think the next leader would do well to have a dollop of humility given the rebuilding that's required.

davidw   #6   10:57 am Dec 06 2011

I am puzzled at the surge for Shearer. He is described as having "charisma" while all I see is a grey beuracrat. His "interesting" CV (don't you just detest this newspeak 'backstory") is hyped to the max and has yet to undergo any really critical analysis or research. His ability to spend other peoples' money via the UN is unquestioned so he at least ticks that box. But what really is the attraction? I suspect it is that everyone is chattering that he is the man, led by the A(nyone) B(ut) C(unliffe) camp. We know so little about him that it is ludicrous to contemplate him as the country's leader

Having said that, the ABC camp have a point. Perhaps what is needed is a caretaker/builder. Someone who will do the hrd yards on organisational and policy development who will make way in 2014/15 for the leader of the future who will have been groomed in the interim.

Phil Goff should have been that caretaker/builder but forgot the builder bit and has thus wasted 3 valuable years. But the old proverb about real change only coming from crisis is at play and labour certainly have the crisis so the acceptance of teh need for change will be that much greater.

Brent   #7   10:58 am Dec 06 2011

Both candidates seem very average. Cunliffe makes my skin crawl and the more I learn of Shearer, the less impressed I am.

Ned   #8   11:08 am Dec 06 2011

David, why are you blogging on Labour and not the lurch to the right in National policies?

Bill   #9   11:10 am Dec 06 2011

Shearer got wealthy in his UN featherbed - a big pension, two trusts and several properties (at least two houses in Auckland). Let's not get carried away with the UN stuff. Anyone who has worked alongside them knows exactly what his role would have been. He looks a bit old and tired compared with John Key and has made little impression in the House where Key has become a strong performer. Labour hardly made a dent in the last term. Newbies usually manage to make a bit of a splash but he has been a nonentity.

Old Dude   #10   11:12 am Dec 06 2011

For what it is worth (from the right), I like Shearer. My observation is that National have taken the middle ground as well as the right and that is what has hurt Labour. Shearer seems more likely to be able to challenge for that middle ground (middle class, if you like) than Cunliffe.

Basically, as a National voter, I am more afraid of Shearer!!

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